Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 5_Army days 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal Family sport

Buckle the Blacksmith

After Maritzburg College, Dad joined the General Post Office as an apprentice electrician. Around 1st April 1938. Here’s a spirit level he was issued that day:

– Spirit level – Wilson Lovatt & sons Wolverhampton –

While he was still apprenticing, he tried to enlist to join the WW2 war effort, but was sent back. He was transferred to Harrismith, from where he again made his way to Durban and was sent home again, finally being allowed to join after Oupa gave his reluctant blessing. He left for ‘up north’ in 1941.

While in Harrismith ca.1940, he met old Mr Buckle the Blacksmith down in McKechnie street, near the railway station. He was from England.

He ended up with a few tools from old man Buckle: a back saw and a set square with a beautiful brass inlay and brass leading edge.

Dad stayed on a plot outside town – townlands – and bought horses, schooled them and sold them for a profit. I assumed he’d had them shod by Buckle but he corrected me. Buckle was a blacksmith, upholsterer and wagon-maker. He didn’t shoe horses. That was up to Charlie Rustov, Harrismith’s only farrier.

From his plot out west of town he would ride out to Boschetto Agricultural College for Ladies on the slopes of Platberg, the mountain that dominates the town. Boschetto was where the girls were. The first time he went he met the formidable Miss Norah Miller, the founder and principal. Luckily for him she needed something done, he was able to help and so became a firm favourite of hers from the outset.

While he was telling the story Mom remembered a story about Norah: She knocked on someone’s door. Whoever answered went back and was asked ‘Who was there?’

They said, I don’t know, but she’s got one eye, one leg and a hell of a cough! Norah had one lens of her glasses frosted out, she wore a leg brace (probably childhood polio?) and smoked like a chimney. When her leg brace buckled, Dr Frank Reitz made her a new one. A better one. He would have loved that challenge. He was a hands-on fixer.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Harrismith author Leon Strachan found some fascinating info on Norah Miller’s leg – it was not polio. His source, Isobel Kemp (Dr Frank Reitz’s receptionist for thirty years): It was probably osteoporosis resulting in a hip fracture in 1928, only six years after she established her college. Usually this would have resulted in incapacity and excruciating pain, but Norah was in luck: she was in the right place at the right time, and knew just the right man, bold innovator and pioneering surgeon Frank Reitz.

He operated and joined the femur using an ordinary screw to hold the femur ends together! This trick would only become common decades later, in the fifties. Thirty years later she was still walking – with difficulty, but still mobile, and in charge of her college. When Cedara took over Boschetto she moved there, where she died in 1959, aged 79.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia

Boschetto Agricultural College

I know very little about Boschetto Agricultural College on the slopes below Platberg and above the town of Harrismith, Free State, so I’m writing this hoping someone who knows more will make sure we preserve the history.

‘No successful South African settlement for women’s agricultural or horticultural training appeared until Miss Norah Miller, an émigré from the Edinburgh College of Domestic Service, acquired a farm and began receiving students in 1922, forming the basis for the Boschetto Agricultural College.’

– it’s somewhere near here . . – nearer the mountain though –

‘Boschetto’ is Italian for a copse or grove – and there are a few of them in that picture. Ah! Leon Strachan found a bit more – a snippet from Eric Rosenthal’s 1967 Encyclopedia of Southern Africa: The Boschetto property was about 250 acres and had belonged to a relative of Norah Miller’s named H.R. Wisely. It was named after a house in Malta that belonged to the family. Although it was a private undertaking, Boschetto enjoyed the support of the government. Rosenthal noted ‘it no longer exists.’

– a plaque for Boschetto’s founder, in the Anglican church, Harrismith –

I found a 1931 video clip on Boschetto showing the students working in the grounds of the college. Platberg can be seen in the background. The students are seen milking a cow, making butter, spraying trees with fertiliser or pesticide, and tending to beehives wearing protective clothing. The clip is worth watching if only to shake your head at the jolly, gung-ho, empire-confident British what-what voice of the narrator!

– the west end of Platberg in a still capture from that 1931 video –

Here’s something on a Boschetto graduate:

Gwendaline Bessie Ryan was born on 22 January1917 in Keiskammahoek, Cape, the daughter of Hugh Joseph Ryan and Louise Alvilde Thesen. She was educated at Boschetto Agricultural College in Harrismith. Gwen founded a dairy farm at Charlesford, on the Phantom Pass near Knysna, and was a keen horsewoman – in one article she is called the doyenne of Cape polocrosse – and was a well known horse breeder. Gwen also bred racehorses. She ran a horse livery yard and riding school from the farm and held regular polocrosse events at the Old Drift.

Gwendaline married Col Robert Devenish, Dep Commissioner South African Police, son of Robert Devenish, of Rush Hill, county Roscommon, Ireland, on 29 Nov 1952. Gwendaline died on 8 August 2002, in Knysna, Western Cape, and is buried in Knysna cemetery.

More Boschetto old girls Mary remembers:

Rosemary Dyke-Wells was in or near Kruger Park in the 50’s. Mom & Dad Pieter & Mary Bland Swanepoel visited her on their honeymoon.

Sir George Albu‘s daughters;

Sir Percy Fitzpatrick‘s daughter, who dated Michael Hastings for a while.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Sources:

Burke’s Landed Gentry Of Ireland, 1976 p1037

Una Monk, New Horizons: A Hundred Years of Women’s Migration (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1963), p. 137 (quoting Lady Aberdeen);

Wolseley, Gardening for Women (cit. n. 1), p. 234 (on the Canadian situation);

britishpathe.com

Also Harrismith’s best blog deoudehuizeyard.