Fine, thank you. I’m tucked up in bed already, waiting for the sister to bring my pain muti and eyedrops. They put a drop in my left eye and five minutes later another drop. Same eye. Only my left eye.
It’s 6pm. Early to bed, my Ma in frail care.
Do you sleep well?
Like a log. I’m warm and comfortable. And Kosie! I’ve been having the most wonderful dreams lately. Nice, happy dreams. I wake up smiling.
That’s so nice! Can you remember what they’re about, or are they too racy to repeat in polite company?
No, they’re about the farm. The wonderful farm, the beautiful view, the walks with my Dad. It’s all underwater now, of course.
The farm Nuwejaarsvlei on the Nuwejaarspruit. Now submerged beneath the waters of Sterkfontein Dam. About ’15 miles’ from Harrismith towards Oliviershoek Pass and ‘on the Witsieshoek road.’
I was eight years old when we left the farm.
That was 1936.
muti – medicine;
Kosie – my nickname; Ma pronounces it the Afrikaans way, Kuwa-see; unlike Annie and her friends who all called me Koosie, rhyming with pussy or wussy; True fact; Accounts for a lot?
Nuwejaarsvlei – New Year Marsh or wetland
Nuwejaarspruit – New Year creek or stream
Sterkfontein – strong fountain
Oliviershoek – the place of the Oliviers, a surname
Witsieshoek – the place of the Basotho chief Witsie who lived there from 1839 to 1856.
The pic shows Mom floating on the water above her old farm in 1990. Its somewhere in the background in this pic:
We good people of the Harrismith Methodist Church would never have taken Mrs Brunsdon to court for her singing! Sure, her singing was awful, but church would have been duller and there would have been less giggling and less to skinder about without her. She would bellow off-key and at her own pace, sniffing loudly from time to time and gazing all round the church mid-hymn; sometimes through her glasses, sometimes over her glasses; sometimes turning right round to see who was behind her. The sniffs would put her behind, so soon she’d be a few words and then a few lines behind but no way she would play catch-up. She got her money’s worth, singing every single word. In fact, our Mom Mary Methodist, the organist, would wait for her, as would we all.
Not so the Methodists in Lumberton, North Carolina USA. They were considerably displeased when William Linkhaw sang hymns very loudly and very poorly. Deviating from the correct notes, he continued singing well after the congregation reached the end of each verse. On one occasion, the pastor simply read the hymn aloud, refusing to sing it because of the disruption that would inevitably occur. The presiding elder refused to preach in the church at all. Upon the entreaties of a prominent church member, Linkhaw once stayed quiet after a particularly solemn sermon. But he steadfastly rejected the repeated pleas of his fellow congregants to remain silent altogether, responding that “he would worship his God, and that as a part of his worship it was his duty to sing.”
In their defence it must be noted that some of the better congregants of Lumberton Methodist – like us in Harrismith – found Linkhaw’s singing hilarious, but the bitter lot won out and decided to show him! They had the law hand down a misdemeanor indictment against Linkhaw, charging that he had disturbed the congregation. Obviously the LumberMeths had never heard Jesus’ clear instructions in his sermon that we ‘Turn The Other Tympanum.’ Or if they had, they were ignoring him! No wonder Ghandi reputedly said, ‘I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.’ And if he didn’t he should have, as ‘Christians’ were mismanaging both his countries at the time: India and South Africa.
The case went to trial in August 1872. Several witnesses, including the church’s pastor, testified that Linkhaw’s singing disturbed the church service. One witness, being asked to describe the way in which Linkhaw sang, gave an imitation of it, singing a hymn in Linkhaw’s style. He provoked what the court described as “a burst of prolonged and irresistible laughter, convulsing alike the spectators, the Bar, the jury and the Court.” Witness testimony also showed, however, that Linkhaw was a devout and spiritual man, and the prosecution admitted that he was not deliberately attempting to disrupt worship. Linkhaw asked the court to instruct the jury that it could not find him guilty unless it found intent to disturb the service. He was right, but the judge rejected his request, ruling instead that the jury only needed to determine whether Linkhaw’s singing actually disrupted the service. The jury found Linkhaw guilty, and the judge fined him one penny.
William was not gonna take this lying down. He appealed the judgment to the North Carolina Supreme Court; the case was heard in 1873 and the court unanimously set aside the verdict. It accepted the jury’s ruling that Linkhaw had indeed caused a substantial disturbance. It also agreed that intent can generally be presumed when the defendant could have anticipated his actions. However, the court observed that the prosecution had expressly admitted that Linkhaw had no malicious intent. The justices therefore held that the presumption, being contradicted by uncontested evidence, did not apply. The court issued a writ of venire de novo, nullifying the jury’s verdict.
Well! We of the Harrismith Methodist Church liked our Mrs Brunsdon and we did not take her to court. We instead thought like the 1873 Supreme Court that since she was attempting in good faith to worship, she could not be subjected to criminal penalties. And we also thought thus:
“Although the proof sure did show / Ms Brunsdon’s voice was awful / us judges found no valid ground / For holding it unlawful.”
“While LumberMeths grumbled / and acted all nefarious / us Harrismithians benevolently / Thought it all hilarious.”
“If all things bright and beautiful / the Lord God made them all / Then sniffs and squawks discordant / Are welcome in the hall.”
“Old Brunsdon raised the rafters / some congregants did cringe / But she was screeching to her Lord / so we laughed, we did not whinge.”
I’ll stop now.
“Some thought that they could bellow / in holy tones so fine / but oo’s to know what the Mighty One / regards as a voice divine?”
I mean, how do we know the Good Lord likes it when he hears the famous Three Fat Blokes Shouting (some call them The Three Tenors)?
Ina Prinsloo came into the bottle store one day many years ago to get stuff for a party. Said, “Don’t tell Egbert. I’m arranging a surprise party for him.”
She bought plenty of grog.
Later Egbert came in. Tongue-in-cheek he said: “I don’t like this Harrismith tradition on your birthday. People fall all over you and you have to buy them food and drink!”
He also bought plenty of grog.
Dear old honest Mom was torn: I didn’t know what to say . .
I didn’t know this: Mom met Ina when she first started nursing at the Boksburg-Benoni hospital – her very first hospital. Egbert was a houseman there and that’s where he and Ina met. Years later Egbert joined a general practice in Harrismith. They stayed and raised their kids and became a big and well loved part of the town.
In February 2021, out of the blue, Leo Caskie Wade wrote:
Good morning Rob.
I thought the Caskies in SA were something of the past.
I am 81 years old and my Caskie connections were from Harrismith years ago.
Should you feel inclined I would like to hear from you.
Regards - Leo wade
Rob Caskie replied: Good morning, Leo, Thank you for your email which arrived as a great surprise. Yes, indeed, our family also stems from the Caskie family in Harrismith. Our cousin Sheila Swanepoel knows far more about the family and early Harrismith days than I do. Neither I nor my brother have children, so this line of the Caskie family unfortunately dies with us. Our father, Alexander Maynard Caskie (Taffy) died on 6 March 1989, aged 61. His brothers and both parents passed on early in our father’s life.
Enter Sheila, she with the family info: Hello Leo, What a delightful surprise to make contact with another Caskie.
Alexander (Alec) Caskie was born in Scotland in 1839. He married Mary Craig, and they came to Harrismith from Pietermaritzburg. He was my great-great grandfather and Rob’s great grandfather.
They had two sons and two daughters: 1. Robert (Bob) married Doreen (Doe) and Rob is his grandson; 2. James (Jim) married Ethel and they had four kids; 3. Mary who is my great grandmother – she married John Francis Adam Bland II. She was my Mum’s beloved Granny Bland, who died in Harrismith in 1959, so she had me as a great-grandkid till I was three; 4. Jessie who married a Mr Tapling and then a Mr Tarling – she had no children.
Alec Caskie died in Harrismith on 14 August 1926.
My Mum Mary – grandaughter of young Mary on the lap above – is 92, still alive and well, and now living in Pietermaritzburg. She remembers all the Harrismith Caskies very well. She and Taffy (Rob’s father) were both born in 1928 and were great mates when they were little.
There are three Caskie homes in HS – all beautifully restored, all in Stuart Street. We grew up in this one from 1960 to 1973. It had been owned by the original Alec Caskie .
It turns out Leo Caskie Wade is the grandson of Janet Caskie, who came to Harrismith from Australia, and Harrismith’s well-known doctor Leo Hoenigsberger, who our gran Annie insisted on calling Dr ‘Henningsberg’. A great friend of her Dad, our great grandfather, Stewart Bain, he was the family GP as well as the Harrismith government doctor, or ‘district surgeon’.
One day, driving back to town from his duties at the prison, he missed the bridge and his car landed in ‘the spruit with the name.’ The Kak Spruit. Only his pride was injured. In the meantime, back in town, the hostess of the weekly bridge evening was getting a bit perturbed as Dr H hadn’t arrived yet and they couldn’t start playing bridge without him. She ‘phoned the Hoenigsberger home and was told by Dr H’s young son Max:“No, I don’t think my father will be coming tonight. He’s had enough bridge for one day.”
After decades of hearing this story from mother Mary, here’s Leo Caskie Wade to add some more detail:
“Leo Hoenigsberger, methodical, careful and pedantic as he was, was rushing in his huge German Sperber motorcar over the narrow bridge that led to the Harrismith Hospital. It was an emergency. He crashed over the side into the river and was admitted to his own hospital.
Now fast forward to the mid-1970’s. I am at university in Durban; I am asked to take an Italian female exchange student to digs where she would stay over the week-end on her way to Rhodes University. I dropped her at the gate to return later to take her out. When I arrived she was not ready yet, and in chatting to the elderly German landlady I discovered she was my grandfather Dr Leo Hoenigsberger’s theatre nurse! She had nursed him after the said crash. She wanted to know all about the Harrismith family etc. What a coincidence!”
** The ‘Two Marys’ photo: To make the image, a daguerreotypist would polish a sheet of silver-plated copper to a mirror finish, treat it with fumes that made its surface light sensitive, expose it in a camera for as long as was judged to be necessary, which could be as little as a few seconds for brightly sunlit subjects or much longer with less intense lighting; make the resulting latent image on it visible by fuming it with mercury vapour; remove its sensitivity to light by liquid chemical treatment, rinse and dry it, then seal the easily marred result behind glass in a protective enclosure. (thanks, wikipedia)
Mary Caskie Bland’s Stuart Street home:
Sheils found this handwritten note – most likely written by Alec Caskie himself – among her gran Annie’s effects. Annie was his granddaughter:
Born at Kilmarnock Dec 1839. Brought up in Stewarton where his father’s folks lived for several centuries. Was sent to the parish school under Mr Sinclair Sincular ?. Graduated in the big college of the worlds.
” survived 4yrs to the (WHOLE LINE MISSING) ” in __ of the large __ __ __ questions involved __ __(HM ??) Paul to release political prisoners. ” Am a JP for many years.” A freemason for 40 years, passed through the chair three times and am affiliated with several other Lodges. Belong to all the churches and a number of _____. I have served on the village management for 35 years barring 2 years I was out. I have been several times mayor retiring for good in March 1921. I have served on the Hospital board; learning / licensing? board; on the Library committee; the (?Ways – maybe ‘Ways and Means’) Board. The Literary Society. Have (?passed) the (?port) on many occasions. __ under Dr. and I. __. Married Mary Craig daughter of Robb Craig, High Street (?Stewarton__). Sailed on the Vanguard from Glasgow to South Africa – 1862 – 69 days passage. Was (?pro cantor) and organist Rev Campbell _____ Church for Maritzburg, where I have lived for about 10 years. Came to Harrismith in 1873 where I have lived since. (those of you who can read old bullets’ 19th century spidery inkwell-and-quill handwriting, please click on the pic bottom right below and do some deciphering and add it in the comments!).
. . and a pleasantly flattering bio in Afrikaans (by historian FA Steytler’s Die Geskiedenis van Harrismith, 1932) which I translate here:
Grew up in difficult circumstances; not much schooling; worked on a farm as a boy; then apprenticed to a lumberjack (or timber merchant?); Came to PMB and started as a builder; poor health saw him seek ‘higher altitude’ and move to Harrismith for the climate in 1873; seemed to suit him! He built the landdroskantoor, the hofsaal (magistrates court and offices), and the town gaol; Disaster struck in 1874 when the house he was renting (the Ou Pastorie of Ds Macmillan) burnt down; he lost all he possessed; he then decided to take advantage of the increased traffic between Durban’s harbour and Kimberley’s diamond fields and open a hotel – the Commercial (later called the Grand National), which he ran as hotelier till 1899; He was described as pleasant in company, a keen debater, with many friends; He did an incredible amount for the town. Town Councillor; Mayor 1896 to 1899, 1904, 1910-1911 and 1920. For fifty years he was involved in almost everything the municipality established or started: eg. electric light, water supply, town hall, Victoria Lake in the park, the pine plantation on the slopes of Platberg, etc. A member of the Hospital Board, a director of the Building Society, the School Commission, Library Committee, etc. A prominent Freemason; Active in politics: he stood for the Unionist Party for the Harrismith seat in the Union Parliament, but lost the election to Kommandant Jan Meyer. Died 14 August 1926, aged 86.
Sheila also has an undated newspaper article about the death of one John Caskie in Kilmarnock, Scotland – brother? cousin? He served in the 72nd Highlanders and saw action in the Crimean War (1855) and the Indian Mutiny. John was likely a relative, as Annie Bland kept this article amongst her papers.
Potted Caskie history (like all my history ‘lessons’: pinch o’ salt): The Caskies originated in the Galloway – Dumfries region of Scotland. The name is the anglicization of the pre-10th century Gaelic ‘MacAscaidh’ which derives from the Old Norse personal name ‘Asketill’, and translates as ‘The cauldron of the gods.’ How’s that!? The first recorded spelling of the family name is that of Thom McKasky, 1494, Edinburgh, during the reign of King James IV of Scotland. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation, so no wonder the Scots kept spellin’ them different! Stewarton seems to be known for Ayrshire cattle, body snatching and being a good place to leave, but of course – I may be wrong.
Sheila made a Caskie Family Tree. Anyone with more info, please add / amend (as I have) so it can be improved / updated! Simply do it in the comments here, or email email@example.com
This is a rambling post cos it started with an email thread that began with gardens and then moved on to sport – swimming and athletics, and lots of old school pals’ names. The gardens were Mariette van Wyk Greyling’s Cape garden with a pin-tailed whydah at her garden feeder; and mine with KwaZulu Natal meadows rather then lawns.
Subject: Sundry garden pictures – Here’s one showing the bit of lawn and the more of meadow. Plus your pintail added in.
Mariette wrote:Green with envy. My type of garden. You have a stunning pool. And you don’t even swim!
Swim? So The Talk Turned To Sport – and Injury!
Me: I swim like a corobrik. In the warmest weather I dive in, swim to the far end, halfway back, and walk up the steps. Swimming training over. At all times I am able to touch the bottom.
Pierre, Tuffy, Sheila, Ilse, Lulu (and maybe you?) used to go to Mazelspoort outside Bloemfontein for the big Free State gala. Me I was still swimming breadths, not lengths and even then in the shallow end! That’s why I took up canoeing: When there’s water about, I need a boat.
Mariette:Yip I went to Mazels. Second team though. The others were all in the elite team. I always aspired to follow in Sheila’s footsteps. Didn’t get there.
Well, now I’m in hospital – probably for the next week. Shattered my ankle walking the dog. Just want to get out. Gave me the wrong meds last night. My drip came undone and spilled over the bed. The op is only on Friday – provided the horrendous swelling is down.
Me: I just re-read: What? “Op on Friday”!? Ouch! Hope all goes well. As a dedicated coward I will cross fingers and hope you’re well and that I never land up there. Note to self: Walk slower. Especially near bridges or mud.
“Aspired” – that’s so good. I can’t think I ever aspired to anything. It’s so weird. I have always suffered from complete complacent contentment. Weird. A non-planner. At the atletiekdag in Std nine I won something and De Wet Ras came up to me and said “Hey jy! Jy moet ophou wen. Ek wil die beste seunsatleet wen hierdie jaar!”, digging me in the ribs. We laughed and I thought, ‘He’s actually aiming to win it!’ That struck me as unusual. I didn’t think you set out to win things. You just went your hardest and it just either happened or it didn’t. Ridiculous in retrospect. I had won it the year before ‘out of the blue,’ that’s why De Wet was saying ‘hold back!’ And he did, in fact, win it that Std 9 year – 1971.
Mariette:That’s quite something beating De Wet at something sport-related. What was it? Think hard!! Strange that you weren’t competitive. You were good at a few things. Mind you, I wasn’t competitive in sport either. Academically yes. Just wanted to do my own thing sport-wise. But I did want to join Sheila and them in first team swimming. Not for competitive reasons. They simply were a fun crowd.
Even though I was in the first team tennis, there was never much FUN among us lot. Actually got bored with tennis. The car accident gave me a reason to stop without being seen as a drip. Team members I remember were De Wet, Fluffy, you, Scottie or was it Blikkies? Elsie, Ina, I think, me and Noeline? Can’t remember a single fun thing, even when we took bus trips to all those mal rock n rollin’ places. Ha ha. Maybe getting some free koeksisters 🙂
Me: I didn’t beat De Wet – he was an age group older. I just won something and he was kidding that I should stop winning as he was going for the victor ludorum (beste senior seunsatleet) that I had won the previous year in Std 8. Here’s old Ella Bedford handing me that beker that year – 1970. Ann Euthimiou took the picture. When the announcement was made it didn’t register with me. De Wet, sitting next to me, dug his elbow in my ribs: ‘Hey! Dis jy, jong!’ That’s when I mosey’d down for my Ella Fitz-Bedford handshake.
In the inter-regional athletics byeenkoms that year – 1970 – in Senekal we had a blast.
So DeWet won it in 1971. The next year – 1972, our matric – things were different: I just couldn’t lose! I won the 100m, 200m, 400m, 3000m, long jump, high jump (edit: WRONG: Fluffy Crawley won the high jump – I see he also won the paalspring), the discus, the javelin, the U/17 4X100 relay and the U/19 relay. It was ridiculous. I felt like the wind was under my wings and I could always run faster, throw harder, jump further. An amazing feeling. I was really fit, fittest I have ever been. I’d been training to do the Dusi canoe marathon, but that didn’t happen till eleven years later. Sheila found the cutting from the Chronicle that Mom had sent to her mother Annie down in George.
But not quite ‘couldn’t lose’ – in the 800m I thought, ‘better take this one easy, lots of events still to go,’ so when Klein Uiltjie Earle ran off I let him go thinking Ek Sal Jou Vang but he just gaan’d aan and aan and I ended up coming third. Well done Klein Uiltjie! I think Stefan Ferreira came second (edit: WRONG: Stefan passed him; Uiltjie got second). Stefan also got seconds in the high jump, 200m and 400m, and he won the 1500m easily.
In the paalspring – pole vault – teacher Ben Marais said “Ons begin op 2m,” and I said Nooit Meneer! Ek kon in die hoogspring net 1,56m spring, hoe gaan ek hoer spring met n paal in my hand? I had never paalspring’d in my life. So I ran at the 2m bar, ducked under it and gave up. Went and rested on the pawiljoen – and tended to blisters on my heels while Fluffy won, adding it to his win in the high jump.
That year Gabba Coetzee broke the U/19 shot put record and I broke the U/17 100m record. Mine stood for over 20yrs and I think Gabba’s still stands! I used to see him in Harrismith from time to time and he’d always update me: ‘Die rekords staan nog steeds.’ Then one year he told me ‘Yours was beaten. A new boy came to town who ran like the wind.’ His was still standing.
Tennis – You’re right, that was definitely Scottie Meyer in tennis. I lost most of my singles matches, but Fluffy and I won a few doubles games. Years later I was sent to Addington hospital in Durban by the army and there was Petrie de Villiers from Warden who was a tennis foe and also a team mate when we went to Bloemfontein to play at the Vrystaat whatevers. I got knocked out in the first round by a Symington who went on to win, I think. Petrie would usually beat Fluffy and his twin brother Jossie would always beat me, but Fluffy and I would usually beat the broers in the doubles. Our tennis role models were Ray Moore and Frew MacMillan – especially Ray with his Afro frizz hairstyle. I drew his cartoon image everywhere, even on a white T-shirt!
Interesting times. We drove to Bloem in Bruce Humphries’ little brand-new white Ford Cortina. Dunno where we stayed. In a school koshuis, maybe.
Fluffy tells of another year we went to Bloem to play rugby against Sentraal or JBM Hertzog. Daan Smuts took us in his old VW. The night before the match he took us to a party. Beer! Late at night he dropped us off at an empty skool koshuis to spend the night. There were beds but no bedclothes. We lay shivering in our clothes on the mattresses. Daan was our kinda guy: Lotsa fun, zero organisation! Laid back. Rules = optional.
The swimmers were a fun crowd. They were probly – definitely – the coolest bunch at school over the years. And, of course, also the coldest in those Harrismith temperatures.
Mariette: Jis, you were hot in so many things. I knew you were good at all sorts of stuff, but forgot about your athletics achievements. At that stage athletics didn’t interest me much – probably because I wasn’t good at anything. Tried ‘em all: From shotput (whoever the teacher in charge was said to me ‘nee man, gaan sit op die bank’), ditto with discus and javelin, high jump (too short) and whatever else was going. Fourth or maybe it was fifth in the 100m at some stage was my big achievement. I just enjoyed shouting for the Kudus and listening to Jan van Wyk’s mal quips. Oh, and being a hot drum majorette J.
Ja, old Gabba. What a rock. And what a sad end.
I remember Petrie well. Quite smaaked him, but Elsie won his favour – I didn’t stand a chance. Saw him years later again at varsity – same mischievous face. Strange that the girls all fancied him so much and his twin brother never got a second glance.
Sheila has just had a treasure chest smuggled to me by James, Mignon’s husband. A dozen books, old letters, a diary of her 1985 trip taking Mother Mary right around those small islands which made such a damn nuisance of themselves in the era they call the Breetish Empire Daze. Of course, they’d just say ‘The Empire.’
So where to start among these riches, which could take ages to sort through? Here:
I now know that in November 1957, at a concert to raise funds for the Harrismith hospital, venue ‘Kerksaal,’ Mom Mary played this piano solo – Rustle of Spring by Christian Sinding:
. and in March 1957 at an earlier concert – also funds for the hospital – Mona du Plessis played Chopin’s waltz in E minor:
At the March concert, Mary also sang with Mona and Esther Mouton in a ‘vocal trio,’ and in another trio with Trudy Else and Esther, they sang ‘Come To The Fair.’
Mary also played Cecile Chaminade’s ‘Pierette’
Also my letters from America, from Veld and Vlei. from the army in Potchefstroom and to Mom and Sheila in the UK. Lots of work!
Oh – and under all this good old stuff there was a bottle of champers and a bottle of red! Sheila and James run a proper smuggling ring!