1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 7_Confessions, 8_Nostalgia, 9_KZN, Family, travel

New Country, New Identity

I was reading about Andrew Geddes Bain, geologist, road engineer, palaeontologist and explorer in the Cape up to 1864, and his son Thomas Charles Bain, road engineer in the Cape up to 1888, when it suddenly struck me!

First, let’s see what these two very capable men achieved: Andrew Geddes Bain built eight mountain passes, including the famous Bain’s Kloof Pass, which opened up the route to the interior from Cape Town. And he had thirteen children. His son Thomas Charles Bain built nineteen passes! His crowning glory was the Swartberg Pass that connects Oudtshoorn in the Little Karoo with Prince Albert beyond the Swartberg mountains in the open plains of the Great Karoo. And he had thirteen children.

And I suddenly knew exactly what happened when my Great-Grandfather Stewart Bain and his brother James Bain got off the ship in Durban in 1880. They were fishermen from the tiny fishing village of Wick, in the far north-eastern corner of Scotland, used to being ‘knee-high in brine, mud, and herring refuse.’

People in Durban asked them: ‘Bain? Are you the famous Bain road builders? We need road builders here. Can you build bridges too?’

And I know just what the brothers Bain said. ‘Roads? Och aye, we can build roads. And bridges? We can build them with one hand tied behind our back.’

And so they built the railway bridges between Ladysmith and Harrismith, learning as they went, ‘upskilling’, thus enabling the railroad to reach that wonderful picturesque town in the shadow of Platberg. This gave them enough money to buy and build a hotel each, marry, have children – only seven and eight apiece, though. Then one of the seven had two children; and one of those had me! And here I am.

  • edit: I wrote nine kids in the pic, but I think it was worse – only seven.

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Think I’m being unkind to Wick, village of my ancestors? Read what Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about it to his mother when he stayed there in 1868:

‘Certainly Wick in itself possesses no beauty: bare, grey shores, grim grey houses, grim grey sea; not even the gleam of red tiles; not even the greenness of a tree. The southerly heights, when I came here, were black with people, fishers waiting on wind and night. Now all the boats have beaten out of the bay, and the Wick men stay indoors or wrangle on the quays with dissatisfied fish-curers, knee-high in brine, mud, and herring refuse. The day when the boats put out to go home to the Hebrides, the girl here told me there was ‘a black wind’; and on going out, I found the epithet as justifiable as it was picturesque. A cold, BLACK southerly wind, with occasional rising showers of rain; it was a fine sight to see the boats beat out a-teeth of it. In Wick I have never heard any one greet his neighbour with the usual ‘Fine day’ or ‘Good morning.’ Both come shaking their heads, and both say, ‘Breezy, breezy!’ And such is the atrocious quality of the climate, that the remark is almost invariably justified by the fact. The streets are full of the Highland fishers, lubberly, stupid, inconceivably lazy and heavy to move. You bruise against them, tumble over them, elbow them against the wall — all to no purpose; they will not budge; and you are forced to leave the pavement every step.’

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Then read a sterling defence of our ancestral dorp by Janis Paterson – also a descendant of the Bains of Wick who read my post and reached for her quill (I have paraphrased somewhat):

Ya boo sucks to RLS! Robert Louis Stevenson, was a sickly child. His father and his uncles were engineers who built lighthouses all over Scotland. Robert was sent to Wick, likely to get involved in building a breakwater there with his Uncle. But he was more interested in writing stories and was just not cut out for this sort of work. I believe he was also ill while in Wick. The first attempt at building the breakwater was washed away during a storm and also the second attempt. The work was then abandoned. I therefore propose that Robert just didn’t want to be in Wick, was ill, fed up with the weather and just wanted to get away to concentrate on his writing. The Stevenson family must have been excellent engineers, as all the lighthouses are still standing. Did Robert also feel that he was a failure as an apprentice engineer?

Stick it to him, Janis! How dare he call Wick fishy? Or smelly!? Or breezy!?

Janis adds ‘Read this book review:’ ‘ . . .fourteen lighthouses dotting the Scottish coast were all built by the same Stevenson family that produced Robert Louis Stevenson, Scotland’s most famous novelist. Who, unlike the rest of his strong-willed, determined family, was certainly not up to the astonishing rigours of lighthouse building.’ Janis was right! 😉 All HE could do was scribble – like me . .

1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 8_Nostalgia, Family

Pencil Thin Moustache

(draft)

Whenever I hear Jimmy Buffet singing Pencil Thin Mustache I think of my uncle Dudley, oops, my cousin Dudley.

Dudley Bain was a character and my cousin. I’d known him over the years when he used to visit his old home town of Harrismith, but really got to know him once I started practicing optometry in Durban. He was very fond of his first cousin, my Mom Mary – and thus, by extension, of me.

Dudley worked in the Mens Department of John Orrs in downtown Durban back when there was only downtown. Anybody who was anybody worked in downtown. Anywhere else was “the sticks”. Even in 1980 I remember someone saying “Why would you want to be out there?” when optometrists De Marigny & Lello opened a practice in a little insignificant upstairs room on the Berea above a small gathering of shops called Musgrave Centre.

Dapper, hair coiffed, neatly dressed, he had a pencil thin moustache and definite opinions. He was highly chuffed he now had a pet family optometrist to look after him when I first hit downtown and then Musgrave centre. Fitting his frame was a challenge as he got skin cancer and his surgeon lopped off ever-bigger pieces of his nose and ears until he had no ear one side and a tiny little projection on which to hook his glasses on the other side. He would come in for endless appointments “to see my cousin” – where’s my cousin? – for me to adjust his frames by micro-millimetres to his satisfaction. If the ladies said I was busy he’d get an imperious look, clutch his little handbag a bit tighter and state determinedly “I know he’ll see me”. They loved him and always made sure I saw him. He’d “only need a minute” just to adjust his frame, not to test his eyes, and half an hour later their knocks on the door would get ever more urgent. Then they’d ring me and I’d say “got to go”.

I would visit occasionally at their lovely old double storey home in Sherwood – on a panhandle off Browns Grove I think. Then they moved to an A-frame-shaped double storey home out Hillcrest way.

We had long chats while I was his pet optometrist and I wish I could remember more of them. I’ll add as they come floating back. (I’m trying to remember his favourite car). One thing he often mentioned was the sound of the doves in his youth. How that was his background noise that epitomised Harrismith.

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Dudley married the redoubtable Ethne, Girl Guides maven. I found this website, a tribute to Lady Baden-Powell, World Chief Guide:

Olave St. Clair Soames, Lady Baden-Powell, G.B.E., World Chief Guide, died in 1977. In 1987 her daughter and granddaughter, Betty Clay and Patience Baden-Powell, invited readers to send in their memories of the Chief Guide to The Guider magazine.

They wrote:-
Everyone who knew Olave Baden-Powell would have a different story to tell, but if all the stories were gathered together, we would find certain threads which ran through them all, the characteristics which made her beloved. Here are a few of the remembrances that people have of her, and if these spark off similar memories for you, will you please tell us?

Here’s Ethne’s contribution:
3 West Riding Rd., Hillcrest, Natal 3610, South Africa
When I was a newly-qualified teacher and warranted Brownie Guider in Kenya in 1941, our Colony Commissioner – Lady Baden-Powell – paid a visit to the Kitale Brownie Pack.  Due to an epidemic of mumps, the school closed early and Lady B-P was not able to see the children, but she took the trouble to find me and had a chat across the driveway (quarantine distance) for a short time.

A year later at a big Guide Rally at Government House in Nairobi, the Guides and Brownies were on parade, and after inspection Lady B-P greeted us all individually, and without hesitation recognized me as the Guider who had mumps at Kitale.  Each time we met in the future, she joked about the mumps.

My next encounter was some twenty years later, on a return visit to Kenya, in 1963, with my husband, our Guide daughter D. and our Scout son P.  We stayed at the Outspan Hotel at Nyeri where the B-Ps had their second home Paxtu.  We soon discovered that Lady B-P was at home, but the Hotel staff were much against us disturbing their distinguished resident.  However, we knew that if she knew that a South African Scout/Guide family were at hand she would hastily call us in.  A note was written – “A S.A. Scout, Guide and Guider greet you.”  Diana followed the messenger to her bungalow but waited a short distance away.  As lady B-P took the note she glanced up and saw our daughter.  We, of course, were not far behind.  Immediately she waved and beckoned us to come, and for half-an-hour we chatted and were shown round the bungalow, still cherished and cared for as it had been in 1940-41.

Baden-Powell house Nyeri Kenya

It was easy to understand her great longing to keep returning to this beautiful peaceful place, facing the magnificent peaks of Mount Kenya with such special memories of the last four years of B-P’s life.  From her little trinket-box, Lady B-P gave me a World Badge as a memento of this visit which unfortunately was lost in London some years later.  Before leaving Nyeri we visited the beautiful cedar-wood Church and B-P’s grave facing his beloved mountain.

My most valued association with Lady B-P was the privilege and honour of leading the organization for the last week of her Visit in March 1970.  Each function had a lighter side and sometimes humorous disruption by our guest of honour.  The magnificent Cavalcade held at King’s Park, PieterMaritzBurg deviated from schedule at the end when Lady B-P called the Guides and Brownies of all race groups to come off the stand to her side; they were too far away.  A surge of young humanity made for the small platform in the centre of the field where she stood with one Commissioner, a Guide and three Guiders.  Without hesitation, Gervas Clay (her son-in-law) leapt down from the grandstand two steps at a time and just made Lady B-P’s side before the avalanche of children knocked her over.  Anxious Guide officials wondered how they were going to get rid of them all again.  The Chief Guide said to them, “When I say SHOO, go back to your places, you will disappear.”  Lo, and behold, when she said “SHOO, GO back!” they all turned round and went back.  You could hear the Guiders’ sighs of relief.

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Steve: Hilarious – I reckon every family worth its salt should have had an uncle like that. Something for the kids to giggle about in secret at the family gatherings while the adult dads make grim poker faced humorous comments under their breath while turning the chops on the braai. And for the mums to adore the company of. Good value.

And funny Steve should mention that! Sheila remembers:

“After Annie’s funeral, in our lounge in Harrismith, Dudley was pontificating about something and John Taylor muttered to me under his breath ‘Still an old windgat.‘”

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Family tree:

(Sheila to check): Dudley was the (eldest?) son of Ginger (Stewart) (eldest?) son of Stewart who came out to Harrismith from Scotland in 1878. My gran Annie Bain Bland was Stewart’s sister, so Mom Mary Bland Swanepoel and Dudley Bain were first cousins.

2_Free State / Vrystaat, 8_Nostalgia, Family

The Grand Old Man of Harrismith

  • Stewart Bain was born in Wick, Scotland on 9 September 1854;
  • He and his brother James came to South Africa in 1878, to Durban. Then they trekked on to the metropolis of Harrismith in the Orange River Colony;
  • Stewart married Janet Burley, who predeceased him in 1924;
  • He 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!?” I called it the Moses MaFIFA stadium). Did Stewart have the tender?

Here’s a lovely 3min slide show of the building of Bain’s Folly – completed in 1908; by Hennie & Sandra Cronje of deoudehuizeyard.com. Biebie de Vos is Harrismith’s archive and treasures man – thank goodness for all the stuff that Biebie has saved and rescued! See where Biebie was born. WHAT an impressive building undertaking for a dorp on the vlaktes!

Stewart Bain died in September 1939 and the town pulled out all the stops for his funeral; The pictures were taken from the balcony of his Royal Hotel, with ‘his’ Town Hall visible in the background, and ‘his’ mountain behind that. All Harrismithers and Harrismithians regard Platberg as ‘theirs.’

Oupa's bible and Grandpa Bain's funeral
Oupa Bain’s funeral procession – who paid?!
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’ – from whence ‘hier sirrie manne innie Royal Hotel’ – the Harrismith Royal Hotel was one of only two in South Africa 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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Couldn’t resist this close-up so enthusiasts can read which cars were around in 1939:

1939 Sept. Funeral of Stewart Bain Harrismith

Postscript:

A young post office worker left his little 1935 Morris in that garage in the care of the owner, Cathy Reynolds while he went off to war, ca 1940; When he returned around 1946 it was waiting for him. He then met Mary, second daughter of Annie Bland, nee Annie Watson Bain, Stewart’s fifth child. They got married in 1951. He was Pieter Swanepoel, originally from Pietermaritzburg, and my Dad.

Details of the 2007 refurbishment of the Town Hall

2_Free State / Vrystaat, 8_Nostalgia, sport

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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1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 8_Nostalgia, Family

The Bain Family’s Scottish Roots

Katrina (nee Miller) Duncan, from near Oban in Scotland, stumbled across my other blog here and made contact with us. She sounds delightful, but so she would – she’s family!

She has been researching the Bain family tree and she and my sister Sheila have worked out that we share a Great-Great-Great Grandfather, one Donald Bain, born in Wick on the 14th of April 1777. He married Katherine Bremner and they lived in Sarclet, just south of Wick way up in north-east Scotland.

sarclet, scotland.jpg
– Sarclet coast –
sarclet, scotland_2
– Sarclet village –

I reckon if you dipped your toe in that Wick water you’d know why some Bains moved to Africa! Also, the castle looks  like it needed a revamp . . .

wick castle scotland
– Wick Castle –

Stewart Bain was born in 1819 in Caithness, to Donald (42) and Katherine (41). On the 7th of February 1845 Stewart married Christina Watson in his hometown. They had four children during their marriage.

In 1853 Donald’s sons George and Stewart were out fishing when their boat was swamped and Stewart drowned. He died as a young father aged 34 on 19 February 1853, and was buried in Thrumster, Caithness.

Katrina found an 1853 newspaper article about the tragedy.

Stewart Bain drowning 1853.jpg

It seems Stewart’s father Donald also died that year. The next year, 1854, his brother George and wife Annie (nee Watson) had a son. They named him Stewart.

He is the Stewart Bain who came to Harrismith, Orange River Colony in South Africa with his brother James in 188_ and married Janet Burley. They had seven kids: The seven ‘Royal Bains’ of Harrismith, named after their hotel, The Royal Hotel in Station Road. This ‘title’ was to distinguish them from the ‘Central Bains’, not to claim royalty! My grandmother was the fifth of these seven ‘Royal Bains’ – Annie Watson Bain.

Stewart and Janet raised their ‘Royal Bain’ family in this cottage adjacent to their hotel in Station Road, down near the railway line:

1990 April Royal Hotel Cottage0003

James Bain, Stewart’s brother and owner of the Central Hotel, called his home ‘Caithness’. It was in Stuart Street near their hotel in the centre of town. There they raised their brood – eight ‘Central Bains.’ One of them was also Annie Watson Bain. Her story ends tragically. Thanks to Katrina we know more about it.

Caithness, Harrismith
– Caithness, Harrismith –

On Katrina’s ancestry web page “Miller Family Tree” the names Annie, Jessie, Stewart, Katherine, Donald etc have been used for generations.

.

  • Many thanks to katrina duncan for getting in touch!
  • The Scottish Tartan register confirms that there is no ancient Clan Bain tartan. This one – ‘The Bains of Caithness’ – was designed in 1993 for Robert Bain of Caithness.
  • There are a few coats of arms; I chose two examples.

This is not true:

– Not –