Harrismith’s Gold Cup

Harrismith had a Gold Cup winner!

First run in 1921 – or in 1926 ? – over 3200m for a stake of 2000 pounds sterling, the Gold Cup is Africa’s premier marathon for long-distance runners. It boasts a proud history and captures the public imagination. The race starts at the 400m mark in the short Greyville straight; there’s much jockeying for position as the runners pass the winning post for the first time before turning sharply right and heading towards the Drill Hall; normally many runners are under pressure before they turn into the home straight; the race is known to suffer no fools when it comes to fitness and stamina, and it takes a special type of horse and jockey to win the event.

And away they go!

Usually the final big race meeting of the South African racing season, the Gold Cup is often decisive in determining the Equus Award winners for the season. Initially a Grade 1 race, the Gold Cup was downgraded to Grade 2 in 2016 and to Grade 3 in 2017. Nevertheless, it is still the most important horse-racing marathon in the country.

1985 - Occult
– 1985 – Occult wins –

The distance and unforgiving conditions that prevail as the field go past the Greyville winning post twice, are great levelers and a look at the list of champions beaten in the Gold Cup is a long one, with less-fancied runners carrying less weight often winning.

Sun Lad won the first running in 1926. He raced in the silks of leading owner-breeder Sir Abe Bailey. The Gold Cup was one of just two wins for Sun Lad that season. He is frankly unlikely to be regarded as one of the race’s better winners.

The first horse to win the Gold Cup on two occasions was Humidor, who was victorious in 1933 and 1935.

And so to us:

Harrismith’s winner was the horse Rinmaher (pronounced ‘Rinmahar’) owned by the George Shannons of Kindrochart. What year? Probably 1932 or 1934?

Mom and Dad both tell the story of raucous parties on the Shannon farm where at a suitably ‘sensible’ stage the Gold Cup would be taken off the mantelpiece, filled with champagne or whatever hooch was going, and passed around to the ritual comments from the more sober of “Here we go! We’re drinking moths and mosquitoes again!” At least it had lovely handles to give an imbiber a good grip!

– that golden ‘Grog n Mozzie’ drinking cup –

Here’s a nephew of the winning owner on a slower horse:

– Jack Shannon on his Shetland pony ‘Suzanne’ on Kindrochart – with Peter Bell –

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Later: Sheila rousted Colleen Walker, granddaughter of George Shannon, who straightened me out on some Gold Cup details. She even had an earlier pic of Jack and Suzanne the Shetland. More questions: Is that Kindrochart? Is that George?

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May 2020 – Mom sent a message that I must phone her! She wants to tell me the full story of the brothers Shannon. Phone Me Soon does not mean that her cellphone will be on, or charged, or answered; so it was a full two days later I got hold of her;

And away they go! She took a deep breath and set off:

Jim and George Shannon left Ireland on a ship bound for South Africa. Somewhere on the journey they had a fight and fell out; They never spoke to each other again!

They reached Harrismith where they both became ‘rough riders’ – breaking in horses for the British army – I guess also for anyone else who wanted horses broken in and/or trained? Somehow and sometime, they both ended up as farmers, George on Kindrochart and Jim on Glen Gariff.

George married Mrs Belle Stephens who came complete with two daughters Betty and Bobby. Then they had a son Jack – some called him Jock – who also featured in our lives as a friendly, lean, handsome, side-burned, smiling, pipe-smoking, pickup-driving, genial figure in khaki. We loved Uncle Jack! He married Joan from Joburg – Mom Mary and her older sister Pat went to the wedding. Later Bobby married a mine manager and some people thought that was very important. Betty never married, stayed on Kindrochart, worked in town and became a beloved young-in-spirit ‘auntie’ of ours, always a smile and always a tease and some fun. We called her Betty Brooks.

Meantime Jim on Glengariff married Amy, and they had three kids, one of whom they named George, despite the feud ongoing! Maybe there was a prior ancestor George? Other kids were Marshal (died young, not sure what of) and Sylvia. George married Betty McGore and they had sons Jim and Patrick who we knew in Harrismith in the sixties. Handsome lads, Patrick maybe too handsome for his own good!

– Jack and Joan years later –

When the second of the original Jim and George died (I think it was Jim), Jack contacted young George, son of Jim, and said ‘We’re having a party. You and Betty should be there.’ And so a reconciliation took place and they normalised family relations. Up until then, their mothers Belle and Amy had been forbidden to talk to each other! She remembers that after a good few drinks and a meal and another good few drinks, the Gold Cup was taken down off the Kindrochart mantelpiece, filled with wine and passed around! George offered his wife Betty first sip and after a gulp she exclaimed ‘George! It’s full of moths and mosquitoes!’

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No doubt there’ll be other versions of this tale – and much more detail. But this is how 91yr-old Mother Mary fondly remembers the story of these good friends from days of yore.

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Elizabeth de Kock spotted this post and wrote:

This was so interesting for me to read. My grandfather, William Stocks, was a neighbouring farmer. We spent many holidays on their farm called Lust. We visited Aunty Betty often and enjoyed sitting on the big swing overlooking the dam. She gave us the use of a little grey pony (very naughty) to ride during our holidays.
As children we got our blankets from her shop in Harrismith. The shop was an experience in itself.
I’m 69 years old now and still have very fond memories of Aunty Betty.

I replied:

Hi Liz

Thanks so much for commenting! Lovely memories! Betty was a lovely lady.

I’ll ask my mother Mary Bland Swanepoel (93) what she remembers about the Stocks family. I know I have heard her talk about the Stocks but can’t remember any detail.

Kind regards – BTW, I’m 66, my sister Barbara will 69 in January – maybe you remember her?

I phoned my Mom Mary Bland.
..
She was tickled pink to reminisce about her friend! Here’s her tale:
..
She nursed with Margaret Stocks at the Harrismith hospital and they were great friends. She says Margaret was much bolder and naughtier than she was!
..
She once visited her on their farm at Lust. Margaret’s brother was there.
Later, that brother was killed in a plane accident in the airforce. His plane wing clipped a sand dune.
When she heard about it, Mary phoned Margaret to say, If you like, you can join me to mourn your brother.
Margaret said, No thanks, we may as well stay here on the farm and be miserable together.

..

Margaret married John Reed, a farmer.
A few years later, Mary took her two year old daughter Barbara and visited Margaret on the Reed’s farm near Belfast in the Transvaal. (I wasn’t born yet, so this was probably early 1955).
One day he was lying in the bath and Barbara wanted to go and see him. Margaret said ‘No my girl, you’ll have to wait another twenty years for that!’
.
Once in Harrismith, Margaret called out the houseman on duty for her patient. When he didn’t arrive, she sent her junior nurse (who she called ‘Ginger Biscuit’) to call him.
The nurse found the houseman in bed with the matron. He had to leave town.

..

Those were Mary’s memories of Margaret Stocks!

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Pony with Pleasure

Sister Sheila sent this lovely old photo – she thinks ca 1920 – of Jack Shannon and our Mom Mary’s cousin Peter Bell on their ponies on Kindrochart, the Shannon farm on the Oliviershoek road and near Mom’s parents Frank and Annie Bland’s farm Nuwejaarspruit, on the Witzieshoek road. Sterkfontein Dam now lies between the two farms – in fact, the Nuwejaarspruit homestead is now submerged under the clear waters of the dam.

Peter Bell was Mary’s first cousin – his Mom Jessie Hastings-Bell (neé Bain of the Royal Bains) was Annie’s sister. Peter joined the Rhodesian Air Force in WW2 and went MIA – missing in action – his body was never found.

1920 Jack Shannon & Peter Bell.jpg

Mom tells the story of how Jack was urged to give his Shetland pony to “the Bland girls”, Mary and her sister Pat, once he’d outgrown it. He was reluctant but his folks urged him to be generous and asked again if he would be so kind.

“Yes” he said, “but not with pleasure.”

Mary Bland Grew Up On A Farm

This was taken on my grandparents’ Frank and Annie Bland’s farm, Nuwejaarsvlei in the Harrismith district, eighteen miles out on the road to Witsieshoek. The farm is now under Sterkfontein Dam. The solid sandstone stables (‘five loose boxes’) were more stable (!) than the house, which was a long thin prefabricated structure bought from the British army on Kings Hill when they left town in 1913, eleven years after the end of the Boer War. Frank bred race horses. For a while . . .

Frank had the prefab carted out to the farm, then cut off a portion of the long house so they only lived in four rooms: A lounge, a kitchen and two bedrooms. They bathed in a zinc bath in the kitchen while Frank showered with cold water in a reed enclosure outside. Bath water was heated in paraffin tins on the coal stove. Lighting was by lamplight. The toilet was a long-drop outside under trees along a path of white-washed stones leading from the kitchen door.

Here’s older sis Pat pushing Mother Mary in their dolls pram in the farmyard. See the stables in the background.

pat-mary-nuwejaarsvlei

Frank started to build a big stone house from sandstone quarried on the farm. Built on a slope it was level with the ground at the back, but ended in a high drop in front, which never did get the steps that were to lead up to the big veranda. The walls went up and the kids would roam around the big house, four bedrooms, big rooms, big kitchen but Mom says “no bathroom.” Frank believed in an outside bathroom.

The roof never went on. The builder wanted many sheep (Mom thinks 200!) to do the roof and Frank balked at that / couldn’t afford it.

Other buildings on the farm were a workshop, Frank’s office and a garage for his yellow ‘Erskine’ tourer. Mom remembers: “It had open sides; when it rained you put up side flaps.”

Erskine_Touring_1927

Later Frank bought a 1936 Chev Standard – perhaps like this one, but ‘light brown’:

Mom Mary remembers cousin Janet leaving the door open after she and older sister Pat had jumped out just before Frank drove into the garage. The door, she says, was “damaged forever.”

The Nuwejaarspruit runs from Nuwejaarsvlei down to the Wilge river downstream of Harrismith and then into the Vaal Dam. Sterkfontein dam was built on the spruit and drowned the farm under Tugela river water pumped up from KwaZulu Natal. You would now have to scuba dive in the clear water to see the farmhouse. The pictures are taken from roughly above the farm looking back towards Harrismith’s long Platberg mountain with Baker’s Kop on the left:

sterkfontein-dam

They called the hills on the farm ‘Sugar Loaf’ and ‘Horseshoe’. Mom loved the walks they would undertake with Dad Frank.

I wish we had pictures of the farm. Here are the only ones I have found so far of areas near the farm before it was flooded:

Annie also always drove. Frank said she always drove too fast. Years later the younger crowd John Taylor and Mike Malcolm-Smith said she should speed up – “to the speed limit”!!

Annie in old car
Annie & dog in a _____

Then the Blands moved into town – the metropolis of Harrismith – ca.1939 to start a petrol station and garage, having lost the farms. In September 1943 Frank had a colosistectomy for gallstones’ performed by GP Dr Frank Reitz. Mom went to visit him in hospital on her fifteenth birthday, 18 September. He died two months later, aged fifty. The next year when Annie needed an op she sent Mary off with Granny Bland to stay with Mrs Jim Caskie – ‘a huge fat lady’ – in the Echoes Hotel in Durban.

Durban Echoes Hotel Mom Granny Bland

While in Durban they saw a movie “This Is The Army.”

Luckily Annie came through the ordeal intact. She would live for many a year yet.

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Nearby farm neighbours on Kindrochart were the Shannons, George and Belle, with son Jack, a few years older than Pat and Mary. The Shannons also bred racehorses and achieved forever fame when they won the Gold Cup with their horse Rinmaher.

When Jack had outgrown his Shetland Pony his parents suggested to him that he give it to the Bland girls on Nuwejaarsvlei. He looked dubious but his parents encouraged him.

“Will you do that?” they prodded him.

“Yes, but not with pleasure” said Jack.

Recently Sheila found a pic of Jack – probably on that very pony!

1920 Jack Shannon & Peter Bell
Jack and Peter Bell

Peter Bell (or Hastings-Bell) became a pilot in the Rhodesian airforce and tragically went missing in action in WW2.

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1930 Bland group at NJV
Jessie & Annie sitting with Janet & Mary between them – (then two unnamed guests) – Frank lying on the lawn with Pat

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Decades later, here’s Mary in 1990 cruising above Nuwejaarsvlei in a boat the ole man built, with her old family home somewhere underwater below her:

1990 April Sterkfontein 50003

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More decades later and I phoned Mary (now aged 92). She said she’d had a lovely night’s sleep and . . . see here.

The Erskine was an American Automobile built by The Studebaker Corp. in South Bend, Indiana from 1926 to 1930.