Mom says they loved swimming. All the boys were at the baths – the Harrismith Municipal Swimming Baths about a kilometre away up the hill past the Town Hall.
Some days they’d get ready to go – cozzies and towels over their arms, but Granny Bland would be standing on the back stoep with her hand on her hip, looking at the mist on the eastern end of Platberg and announce firmly, ‘No, you can NOT go swimming. You can put that in your pipe and smoke it!’
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). Later, he’d go mad from the mercury fumes, of course.
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! The Stewarton region seems to be known for Ayrshire cattle, body snatching, variable spelling 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
Annie was one of the seven Royal Bains in Harrismith. She was born in the cottage behind the hotel where her parents Stewart and Janet raised all the kids.
Her daughter Mary says they were Ginger, Stewart, Carrie, Jessie, Annie, Hector and Bennett. They had eight cousins who were ‘Central Bains’ – children of James Bain who owned the Central Hotel.
Mom Mary says only Hector got off his bum and got a job – he went off to become a bank manager in Ndola, Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. The rest hung around the hotel and had fun, got married, whatever. Ginger played polo; Carrie got married and left for Australia. Stuart did a bit of work on their farm, Sarclet, not far out of town on the Jo’burg road. None of the other six felt compelled to move on, up or out. After all, the hotel had a bar, and Dad was the Lord Mayor of the metropolis and was known as The Grand Old Man of Harrismith to many townsfolk, and ‘oupa’ to his grandkids; so enjoy! Why leave!?
When Annie married Frank Bland, she moved out to their farm Nuwejaarsvlei on the Witsieshoek road;
When the farm could no longer support the horseracing they moved in with Frank’s mother Granny Mary Bland, nee Caskie, now with two daughters, Pat and Mary. When Frank died aged only 49, Annie and the girls stayed on. They were joined there by her sister Jessie when her husband Arthur Bell died in Dundee, where he had been the dentist; Then later they were joined by now married daughter Mary, husband Pieter Swanepoel, and daughter Barbara when they arrived back from his work in the Post Office in Pietermaritzburg.
Some time after that – maybe when Granny Bland died? – Annie moved into Randolph Stiller’s Central Hotel; She then left Harrismith for the first time in her life and went to stay with sister Jessie down in George for a few years after Jessie’s daughter Leslie had died; When Jessie died, Annie returned to Harrismith and lived in John Annandale’s Grand National Hotel. John said to Mary he was battling to cope with hosting her, so Mary moved her home. Much to Pieter’s delight. NOT.
So within a month Mary moved Annie into the Eliza Liddell old age home. Two years or so later, Mom remembers a night hosting bowling club friends to dinner when the phone rang. It was Sister Hermien Beyers from the home. “Jou Ma is nie lekker nie,” she said. Mom said I’ll be right over and drove straight there, she remembers in her red car wearing a navy blue dress. She sat with her dear Mom Annie holding her hand that night and – experienced nursing sister that she was – knew when Annie breathed her last in the wee hours.
Her visitors the next morning included Mrs Woodcock and Miss Hawkins. Mom regrets not letting Miss Hawkins in to see Annie. She should have, she says. She remembers being fifteen years old and not being allowed to see her Dad lying in Granny Bland’s home and has always been glad that she snuck in when no-one was watching and saw his body on his bed and so knew it really was true.