I was born in Harrismith in 1955, as was Mom Mary in 1928, and her Mom Annie in 1893. Annie thought “the queen” of that little island left of France was also the queen of South Africa (and for much of her life she was right!).
I attended the plaaslike schools in Harrismith till 1972. A year in the USA in 1973 as a Rotary exchange student in Apache Oklahoma. Studied optometry in Joburg 1974 – 1977. Worked in Hillbrow and Welkom in 1978. Army (Potch and Roberts Heights, now Thaba Tshwane – in between it was Voortrekkerhoogte) in 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980.
I stayed in Durban, paddled a few rivers, and then got married in 1988. About then this blog’s era ends and my Life With Aitch started. Post-marriage tales and child-rearing catastrophes are told in Bewilderbeast Droppings.
‘Strue!! – These random, un-chronological and personal memories are true of course. But if you know anything about human memory you’ll know that with one man’s memory comes: Pinch of Salt. Names have been left unchanged to embarrass the friends who led me (happily!) astray. Add your memories – and corrections – and corrections of corrections! – in the comments if you were there.
Sister Sheila has been doing some research on our early ancestors: Some genealogical sleuthing. We all know one should be careful what ye seek – ye may find!
We now have a new colourful ancestor – the Cape’s first ‘Bergie‘ or homeless person. He was probably one of the many unfortunates that the ‘civilised western world’ ‘captured’ and/or ‘owned,’ enslaved or sold, or otherwise dominated. In addition to our ancestors Louis van Bengal, Maria van de Caep and Lijsbet van Abyssiania, there’s now Amsoeboe van Timor: born around 1640 in Pekanbaru in Indonesia.
Amsoeboe van Timor’s movements from Indonesia to Mauritius (1676) to the Cape of Good Hope (1679) – Amsoeboe, his wife Inabe van Timor, and daughters Iba and Baauw are sent by the ‘Dutch East India Company’ (VOC) from Batavia [Jakarta on the Indonesian island of Java] on the hooker Goudvink to Mauritius – a VOC outpost (buitenpost) governed from the Cape of Good Hope which latter colony is itself governed from Batavia. Their unnamed son, however, remains at Batavia. They are described as a ‘politically exiled, but un‐enslaved,’ family from Timor .
The commander on Mauritius at the time is a ‘reformed privateer’ (! – do pirates ‘reform?’) Hubert Hugo. There, the family is accused in 1677 of conspiring with Company slaves and exiled convicts to overthrow the colony, massacre its officials, and escape. Note how they are ‘un-enslaved,’ yet accused of wanting to escape! Amsoeboe and his family are all separately interrogated in a pre‐trial investigation by Commander Isaac Johannes Lamotius and his council. Also implicated in this conspiracy is a Company soldier Hans Beer, ‘concubine to Iba.’ Two conspirators hang themselves. Behr ‘dies mysteriously during interrogation.’ (I’d call that tortured to death, most likely).
Washing his hands of the pickle by claiming no authority to legally try Amsoeboe and his family, Lamotious (so, like Lamontius Pilate?) sends them to the Cape of Good Hope in 1679. There, the family settle amongst the colony’s free‐population, and – most likely being in abject penury – apparently start a brothel.
Their household ‐ one of the small colony’s two operational brothels – is censured by Commander Simon van der Stel and his council in 1681, authorizing the fiscal to arrest any offenders he finds there. The 1682 census enumerates seven unnamed members for this family ‐ including presumably three daughters of Amsoeboe’s daughter Iba. Amsoeboe is now recorded as Paay [‘Father’] Timorees or Moor ‐ and his wife as Ansela van Timor. After the death of his wife Inabe in 1682, the Orphan Chamber makes an inventory of the impoverished family’s meagre worldly goods.
Iba – now known as Anthonique ‐ joins the Stellenbosch household of freeburgher Jacob Aertsz: Brouwer and his twice‐widowed wife Agnetha Rix. Brouwer assaults his wife regularly and on one occasion also another free‐burgher’s wife. He later viciously assaults Iba (1686) with a broomstick soon after also whipping his slave Tido van Goa. Tido dies from his injuries.
In 1693 Iba jointly baptizes her three daughters, each adopting their own biological father’s name.
Amsoeboe next appears in the records in 1692 as a miller with both daughters in the Cape District alongside free‐burgher Gerrit Theunisz (from Utrecht) ‐ concubine to Iba ‐ which couple is again recorded in 1695.
Death: Amsoeboe van Timor passed away on February 4, 1708. “The body of an old black, known as Paay Moor [Amsoeboe van Timor, exiled from Batavia and Mauritius], found dead in the gardens in a small hut. He was accustomed to beg his food in the town. The Fiscal & surgeon & secretary of justice went to examine it. It is believed that he died of natural disease & great poverty. The body being partly decomposed, (it) was buried on the spot.”
Research on the Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) results of the family are fascinating. Mitochondrial DNA is passed only from your mother, unlike your nuclear DNA which you inherit from both parents. Read more at wikitree, but just one finding of the research is that Ansela and Iba could not have been biological sisters (confusion, I thought they were mother and daughter?), as their descendants do not share the same mtDNA haplogroup. One of Ansela’s descendant’s results yielded identical matches to:
1 African American individual
1 individual from the Democratic Republic of Congo
2 ‘South African Coloureds’
1 ‘South African Indian’
1 ‘South African White’
67 South African Bantu-speakers.
Besides being one of my ancestors, Amsoeboe was also the Cape’s founding father of the Erasmus, Blom & De Jager families – innit lovely to see how apartheid was all built on myth and bullshit!? Isn’t it tragic to see how poor people are targeted?
We went to Durban around this time and stayed in the Impala Holiday Flats, self-catering. Free Staters on the loose in Durbs-by-the-Sea!
We probably drove down in OHS 154, a beige Morris Isis – or in OHS 155, a pale blue VW 1200 Beetle, along the narrow national road between Joburg and Durban. I remember talk of dreading the infamous “Colenso Heights” – apparently the most challenging section of the route.
The high-rise we stayed in was in Gillespie Street one street back from the Golden Mile, or Esplanade. If you took all Harrismith’s houses and stacked them, you’d have a building like this. I remember the lifts and I remember getting back tired and full of sand from the beach. I don’t seem to recall the beach – weird.
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