The Grand Old Man of Harrismith

  • Stewart Bain was born in Wick, Scotland on 9 September 1854;
  • He came to South Africa in 1878, and trekked on to the metropolis of Harrismith in the Orange River Colony;
  • He married Janet Burley, who predeceased him in 1924;
  • Became Mayor of the town and ‘reigned’ for years, becoming known as ‘The Grand Old Man of Harrismith’;
  • He pushed for the building of a very smart town hall. Some thought it was way too fancy – and too expensive – and called it “Bain’s Folly” (shades of our Moses Mabida stadium in Durban for 2010 – “Do we need such a fancy stadium!?”).

He died in 1939 and the town pulled out the stops for his funeral; The pictures were taken from the balcony of his Royal Hotel.

Oupa's bible and Grandpa Bain's funeral

Stewart Bain 1939.jpg

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I thought I remembered that, despite every dorp in South Africa seeming to boast a ‘Royal Hotel’, the Harrismith Royal Hotel was one of only two that could officially call itself ‘Royal’. Sheila has hereby confirmed that I have a flawless memory; Well, something along those lines:

Royal Hotel article

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Here’s a close-up so enthusiasts can read which cars were around in 1939:

1939 Sept. Funeral of Stewart Bain Harrismith

Bain of Harrismith

My granny Annie had an older brother Ginger. He was the oldest of the seven ‘Royal Bains’ and a great sportsman. They owned the Royal Hotel and were not to be confused with the ‘Central Bains’, who owned the Central Hotel!

Playing rugby for Hilton, ‘Bain of Harrismith’ became the ‘Bane of Michaelhouse’ in the first rugby game between these two toffee-nosed schools.

This old report was reprinted in the 1997 Hilton vs Michaelhouse sports day brochure: 

Hilton Ginger Bain_2

Drop goals were four points and tries were three in those distant days. I like that the one side was “smarter with their feet” . . and that that beat “pretty passing”.

A century later these rugby genes would shine again as Bain’s great-great-grandson also whipped Michaelhouse.

Lovely picture of the Michaelhouse scrum on top.

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Rugby in Harrismith was full of Bains and Blands:

1921 Rugby Team Bains Blands

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