The Harrismith Chronicle started publishing in 1903. Annie was ten years old, still living in the cottage behind the Royal Hotel. Eighty years later the paper celebrated. That milestone edition included our dear old Annie’s obituary. She’d reached ninety. Lovingly cared for from when Frank in died in 1943 right to the end forty years later, by her daughter Mary, our loving Mom.
Now in 2020 comes more sad news. After 117 years, the old Chronic has folded. Maybe it won’t be the end? Maybe someone can revive it in digital form, online? Sure hope so.
‘Mom! Dad’s in pain,’ said Mary, out of breath. She’d run up to the Caltex garage in Warden Street. Annie drove her back and took her husband Frank Bland to Frank Reitz, his friend, rugby team-mate and physician/surgeon. Gallstones, a gallbladder op needed, was the verdict.
Mom was fifteen, ‘about to write my JC‘ – Std eight, Grade ten – it was 1943. Frank did the op and sent Frank home to convalesce at 9 Stuart Street, his mother Granny Bland’s home, his pain considerably eased; but he was weak, recovering slowly.
One Saturday morning he walked out to the wisteria-covered outside toilet, about twenty metres off the back veranda. Granny Bland watched him walking back, hand on hip as she always stood and wearing an apron, as she always did.
She spoke to him and he didn’t answer her. That was unusual. When he got to her he collapsed and she caught him in her arms before he could bang his head. They had no phone; it was a Saturday, Annie was at work, eldest daughter Pat was away nursing in Boksburg-Benoni. This time Mary didn’t run to the garage, they must have sent someone else.
‘Poor Dr Reitz’ says Mom, ever empathetic. She knows he would have hated it that Frank didn’t recover fully. She speculates that a bloodclot to the brain did him in. The funeral was soon after. Annie told Pat not to come down and she and Mom stayed at home. After the funeral people came around to tea and to pay their respects. Annie didn’t do funerals.
The only picture of Frank Bland that I have doesn’t quite include all of him. It does have his daughters Pat and Mary, and older niece Janet Bell.
Soon after, Mom’s dear friend Dottie Farquhar’s father died. Then Jessie’s husband __ Bell died. Jessie was Annie’s older sister and they lived in Dundee down in KwaZulu Natal where he was a dentist. Maybe the only dentist? Jessie then also came to stay with Granny Bland.
When Mary aged eighteen came home on her first leave from the Boksburg-Benoni hospital where she’d also started her nursing, a phone had been installed in the house! Where? I asked. She showed me:
Part of the stone wall which surrounded Granny Bland‘s home in Stuart Street, Harrismith; and the oak tree her grand-daughter Pat Bland planted.
Our great-grandmother ‘Granny Bland’ was a Caskie who married a Bland who begat Frank (JFA) Bland who married Annie Watson Bain. Bain Sisters Annie Bland and Jessie Bell lived there with Granny Bland after their husbands died. Her granddaughter – Annie’s daughter – Mary and great-granddaughter Barbara also lived there for a while, some sixty five years ago. Four generations in one home!
The old home now has an artist family living in it and has been beautifully restored.
My Mom Mary Bland learnt to play the piano on her Granny Mary Bland’s upright Otto Bach at 13 Stuart Street. Mom’s sister Pat didn’t play, but when Granny Bland died the piano had to go to the older granddaughter. But how to get it there?
Jack Shannon had a bakkie and he volunteered to schlep it to Blyvooruitzicht, or as the Cowies called it, ‘Blayfore’. It got dropped at some stage in the loading or offloading and had to be repaired when it got there. All was well.
Years later Pat died and Bill decided it should go to Barbara as she played, and his daughters Frankie and Gemma did not. So another farmer with a bakkie was roped in to schlep it back from Blayfore – this time Barbara’s long-suffering husband Jeff Tarr carted it to PMB or Howick or Greytown (must ask Barbara). Barbara still has the piano in her home on their farm Umvoti Villa on the Mispah road outside Greytown. It’s now her daughter Linda’s home and Linda does play – hockey, jolling, all else – just not the piano. Maybe her daughter Mary-Kate will keep up the tradition of ‘Marys that play that piano’?
Meantime Mom had bought another: an upright Bentley. Marie Bain had bought her daughter, Mom’s cousin, Lynn the Bentley hoping she’d learn to play ‘like Mary.’ Well, Lynn never took to playing, so Mom bought it from Marie for the same £100 she had paid for it years before. This was the piano we were so privileged to grow up with at 95 Stuart Street, listening to Mom playing Hymns, Classical and Popular music. Who could forget the late night drinking songs when the Goor Koor gang would gather round her and bellow out their alcohol fumes, cigarette ash and varying levels of talent with gay abandon.
Mom still has the Bentley in PMB and still plays it beautifully. They’re upright pianos, not ‘grand’ pianos, but they certainly have been a grand part of our lives from about 1920-something – Mary was born in 1928 – to 2019. And more to come.
Here Mary at 90 plays someone else’s piano. Her classical pieces she always played with the music score in front of her. She can no longer see well enough to read it, so mainly plays her popular pieces by memory now.
We grew up to these sounds in the background. How lucky can you get!? These next few classical pieces are ones she played. Played here by some wonderful pianists who are almost as good as Mom in her prime!
I remember a few times getting so overcome by the music – melancholy or something? – I’d run down the passage and ask Mom to stop playing! weird.
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.
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.
Our distant cousin Hugh Bland has been doing some wonderful detective work sniffing out the Bland family history.
Today Hugh found the grave of Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland.
Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland was born in 1799 in ‘the UK’ – England, I guess! He arrived at the Cape in 1825 on the good ship Nautilus, under the care of the ship’s captain, a Mr Tripe. The voyage cost his family £42. He got a job on a wine farm, in the Drakenstein area of Stellenbosch, met his future wife Cecelia there (du Plessis?), married her, packed their belongings in a Cape cart and trekked to Mossel Bay. They found land on the Gourits river and settled there. Their first son, John Francis Adam, was born, followed by eight more children. John the eldest then married Nellie de Villiers and had a son, John Francis Adam II. He and Nellie left for inland while the baby was just a few months old. They headed for Colesberg, Bloemfontein, Winburg and on to Harrismith, where they settled ‘in a house not far from the centre of town’ – 13 Stuart Street, maybe?.
Back in Mossel Bay Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland became mayor and the main street is still called Bland Street. He died in 1861. His grave is hidden in thick bush on a farm in the Wydersrivier district near Riversdal.
The farmer very kindly took Hugh to the gravesite. Hugh says you can still read the inscription on the gravestone – it’s indistinct, but there’s no doubt that it’s JBA’s grave. He says it was “quite a moment” for him – JBA was buried there 156 yrs ago and Hugh wondered when a Bland last stood at that grave.
Hugh put two proteas – which it looks like he skoffel’d out nearby? – on the grave; then laid his shadow next to his great-great-great grandfather and took this pic:
The Harrismith Branch of the Blands:
Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland had a daughter, Annie Emmett Bland, who married Louis Botha, Boer war general who became the first President of the Union of South Africa in 1910.
He also had a son John Francis Adam Bland, born in 1836.
This JFA I later trekked inland ca.1861 to Harrismith in the Orange River Colony with a small baby – John Francis Adam Bland the Second – JFA II. This started ‘our branch’ of the Blands, The Vrystaat Blands. One of them – I must try and find out who – would end up as a prisoner of war in Ceylon for doing the right thing and fighting for his new homeland against the invading thieving British in the Boer war of 1899.
John Francis Adam Bland II married Mary Caskie, who became the beloved Granny Bland of Harrismith. They had five sons of whom our grandfather Frank was the oldest, again: John Francis Adam; JFA III.
Hugh found out that JFA the First died on 10 September 1891 aged 55, and is buried in the lost, dusty, verlate metropolis of Senekal, Vrystaat. In Harrismith Granny Bland buried her husband JFA II and four of her five boys, including JFA III. As Sheila said, ‘What a tragic life.’ She loved her grandaughter Mary, our Mom, and she lived long enough to know us, her great grandkids before she died in 1959. Lucky Granny Bland! We knew Bunty, the only child who outlived her, very well. He died in 1974 and joined his father JFA II, his mother, and his four brothers in the family grave in Harrismith.
JFA III married Annie Watson Bain – our granny Annie Bland. Known as just Annie. They farmed racehorses and clean fingernails on the farm Nuwejaarspruit (Nuwejaarsvlei?) outside Harrismith on the road to Witsieshoek, towards the Drakensberg. He died in 1943 while my Mom Mary and her sister Pat were still at school. Pat died in 1974. Mom Mary then looked after Annie until she died aged ninety in 1983. Mom Mary is still alive and well. She turned ninety in September 2018.
(I’m hoping sister Sheila will fact-check me here! Also that cousin Hugh will tell us what happened to the misguided Bland branch that didn’t go to the Vrystaat, but got lost and ended up in Zimbabwe. They lived near Oliviershoek for a while before trekking on, I think. Hugh tells tales of transport riding, ox wagons, meeting Percy Fitzpatrick, farming in Rhodesia and other exaggerations . . )
Annie’s other daughter Pat Bland – married Bill Cowie, and had two daughters Frankie & Gemma; Bill worked in Blyvooruitsig on the gold mine; We would see them on their way to their wonderful Wild Coast fishing trips.
Mary Bland – married Pieter Swanepoel in 1951
Bland might sound bland, but hey, the surname is thought to derive from Old English (ge)bland meaning ‘storm’, or ‘commotion’. Don’t use dictionaries that say, ‘dull, flavorless, or just plain ‘blah.’ Use the Merriam-Webster that says it means ‘smooth and soothing in manner or quality;’ or use vocabulary.com that says it means ‘alluring;’ or try ‘flattering’ from the Bland Family History on ancestry.com; That’s better.
Some of the information on Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland first coming to the Cape I got from a book about Susan Bland. Susan was born in Harrismith, had a brother Willie, married a Theo Allison and lived outside Harrismith farming ostriches for a while. The book And Not To Yield by Penelope Matthews, Watermark Press – ISBN 978-0-620-58162-2