Family, Free state, Vrystaat, Nostalgia

The Grand Old Man of Harrismith

Janet & Stewart Bain – Royal Hotel Harrismith
  • Stewart Bain came to Harrismith in 18__
  • Became Mayor of the town and ‘reigned’ for years, becoming known as ‘The Grand Old Man of Harrismith’
  • 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”

He died in 1939 and the town pulled out the stops for his funeral:

Stewart Bain 1939.jpg

I thought I remembered that, despite the fact that every dorp has a Royal Hotel, the Harrismith Royal Hotel was one of only two that could officially call itself ‘Royal’. Sheila has confirmed that I have a flawless memory (well, something along those lines):

Royal Hotel article

Here you have Platberg mountain & Town Hall seen from the Royal Hotel:

Oupa's bible and Grandpa Bain's funeral
Oupa Bain’s funeral from the Royal Hotel balcony
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Family, Free state, Vrystaat, Nostalgia

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 14 April 1777 – died 1853). He married Katherine Bremner and they lived in Sarclet, just south of Wick way up in north-east Scotland.

Donald’s son George was out fishing with his brother Stewart in 1853 when their boat was swamped and Stewart drowned. Katrina found an 1853 newspaper article about the tragedy.

Stewart Bain drowning 1853.jpg

When Stewart Bain was born in 1819 in Caithness, his father, Donald, was 42 and his mother, Katherine, was 41. On 7 February 1845 Stewart married Christina Watson  in his hometown. They had four children during their marriage. He died as a young father on 19 February 1853 in Thrumster, Caithness, at the age of 34, and was buried there.

The next year, 1854, his brother George and his wife Annie (nee Watson) had a son. They named him Stewart.

He is the Stewart who came to Harrismith, Orange River Colony in South Africa in 18____ 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!

On Katrina’s ancestry web page “Miller Family Tree” the names Annie, Jessie, Stewart, Katherine, Donald etc have been used for generations.  My gran – one of the seven Royal Bains – was Annie Watson Bain.

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Many thanks to  katrina duncan for getting in touch!

 

Family, Free state, Vrystaat, Nostalgia

Annie Watson Bain

By the time we knew her she was Annie Bland. Never ‘granny’. Only Annie.

In fact ‘Annie Watson Bain’ to me was the lady who died (WW1?) whose name was on one of the monuments outside the Town Hall (a cousin of our Annie?).

They’d already lost the farms and the racehorses, and our gran Annie now owned the Caltex filling station in town. It was on Caskie Corner, opposite our posh Town Hall which Annie’s father Stewart Bain had been instrumental in building. It was called Bain’s Folly as it was such an imposing structure for our modest dorp.

HS Town Hall

Harrismith Town Hall Bain's Folly

Town Hall3

Annie always spoke with great admiration of her late husband Frank – the granpa we never knew – and told me proudly how she’d never seen his fingernails dirty (as she looked disapprovingly – probably more disappointedly, she never had a harsh word for me –  at mine). She called me Koosie (and the way she pronounced it, it rhymed with ‘wussie’ but don’t say that out loud).

Annie

And the car she drove was like this one, except faded beige:

Chev Fleetline 1948

I think a 1948 Chevrolet Fleetline.It had a cushion on the seat for her to see over the dash.

She was born in 1893, the fifth of seven Bain kids of the ‘Royal Bains’ – meaning the Royal Hotel Bains. There were also ‘Central Bains’.

She went to school at St Andrews in Harrismith:

StAndrews School_Boarding House

and St Anne’s in PMB where she played good hockey ‘if she would learn to keep her place on the field’. She’s the little one on a chair second from left:

Annie St Annes

Looks like St Anne’s in Pietermartizburg was a riot of fun and a laugh-a-minute.

HS Caltex

She ran the Caltex and rented out the Flamingo Cafe and Platberg Bottle Store premises. At that time she lived in the Central Hotel a short block away across the Deborah Retief Gardens and I do believe she drove to work every day. Maybe drove back for lunch even?

Sundays were special with Annie as your gran. She’d roll up at our house in the big beige Chev, we’d pile in and off we’d go on a drive. The back seat was like a large lounge sofa. Sometimes she’d drive to nowhere, sometimes to the park, sometimes cruising the suburbs. OK, the one suburb. I’m sure she told us the whole history of Harrismith and who lived where and who was who. All of which we ignored, so I can’t tell you nothing!

Later she got a green Opel and for some reason (she could no longer drive?) it was parked on our lawn. I sat in it and changed gears on its column shift about seventy thousand times. Probably why I (like all males) am such a good driver today. Like this but green and white:

Annie's Opel Rekord

The pic of the Town Hall with the green Chev is thanks to De Oude Huize Yard – do go and see their blog. They’re doing great things in the old dorp, keeping us from destroying everything old and replacing it with corrugated iron and plastic (excuse little rant there!).

Family, Nostalgia, travel

Road Trip with Larry

Mom lent us her Cortina. Like this, but OHS:

cortina 1970

How brave was that!? The longer I have teenagers of my own the more I admire my Mom and her quiet courage and fortitude back in the ’70’s! The thought of giving my teenage son my car and allowing him to disappear (it would be in a cloud of dust and tyre smoke) on a three week jaunt fills me with querulous whimpering. (I’ll do it, I’ll do it, but only cos Mom did it for me).

We drove to PMB then on to Cape Town. Took us ten days in going nowhere slowly style back in 1976.

Wherever we found a spot – preferably free – we camped in my little orange pup tent. Weza Forest – free; Tsitsikamma – we paid:

Tsitsikamma campsite internet pics till I find mine

Driving through the Knysna Forest we saw a sign Beware of the Effilumps. So we took the little track that turned off nearby and camped – for free – in the undergrowth. Maybe we’d see a (very) rare Kynsna elephant. Not.

knysna forest

In Cape Town we stayed with Lynne Wade, lovely lass who’d been a Rotary Exchange Student too. She played the piano for us and I fell deeply in love, then disappeared on yet another beer-fuelled mission. Coward.

Malmesbury – We visited Uncle Boet and Tannie Anna. Oom Boet was on top form, telling jokes and stories and laughing non-stop. That evening he had to milk the cow, so we accompanied him to the shed. Laughing and talking he would rest his forehead against the cow’s flank every now and then and shake with helpless mirth at yet another tale. Meantime, this was not what the cow was used to. It had finished the grain and usually he was finished milking when she had finished eating. So the cow backs out and knocks him off the stool, flat on his back, bucket and milking stool upturned. He takes a kick at the cow, misses and puts his back out. Larry and I are hosing ourselves as we help him up and try and restore a semblance of order and dignity.

Back at the house we give them a bottle of imported liquer to say thanks for a lovely stay. It’s a rather delicious chocolate-tasting liquer and it says haselnuss mit ei. Its only 500ml so we soon flatten it. Something like this, but smaller:

haselnuss liquer

Ja lekker, maar ag dis bokkerol, Kosie – Ons kan dit self maak! (We could make this stuff ourselves!)

Ja?

Larry and I decide to call his bluff. In the village we looked for dark chocolate and hazelnuts, but hey, it’s Malmesbury – we got chocolate with nuts.

Oom Boet is bok for the challenge. He dives under the kitchen sink and starts hauling things out. He’s on his hands and knees and his huge bum protrudes like a plumber’s as he yells “Vrou! Waar’s die masjien?” Anna has to step in and find things and do things as he organises. She finds a vintage blender and – acting under a string of unnecessary instructions – she breaks eggs and separates the yolks, breaks chocolate into small pieces. He bliksems it all into the blender and adds a fat dollop of a clear liquid from a label-less bottle. “Witblits (moonshine), Kosie!” he says triumphantly. He looks and goois more in, then more. Then a last splash.

like this, but the goo inside was yellowy-brown:

Oom Boet blender_2

He switches on the blender with a flourish and a fine blend of egg yolk, chocolate and powerful-smelling hooch splatters all over the kitchen ceiling, walls and sink. He hadn’t put the lid on! And it was like a V8 blender, that thing.

Vrou starts afresh, we mop, we add, he blends, and then it’s ready for tasting at last.

And undrinkable. That aeroplane fuel strength home-distilled liquor was just too violent. We take tiny little sips, but even Oom Boet has to grudgingly admit his is perhaps not quite as good as the imported stuff. We add more chocolate and more egg yolk, but its only slightly better.

Ten years later I still had the bottle and it was still three-quarters full!

 

 

Family

Barbara se Ouma woon in Boomstraat

She actually did. My sister Barbara’s granma lived at 131 Boom Street Pietermaritzburg.

Born in the bedroom on the left on 15 December 1922

and right across the road was this school. Going to the Afrikaans school would have meant a bus ride, and Oupa was frugal. And so started the ver-engels-ing of Dad. The rooinek-erisation. Pieter Gerhardus became Peter.

131 Boom St PMB (1)

*ver-engels – Anglicisation

*rooinek – Boer word for Poms – anyone from ‘England’ (which meant any of those islands left of France. (Literally ‘red necks’ – but not America rednecks). NB: This excluded Irishmen who fought for the Boers against the plundering, wicked, invading, looting Poms.

 

Family, Free state, Vrystaat, Nostalgia

Being Bland in Africa (one branch . . )

Our distant cousin Hugh Bland has been doing some wonderful work sniffing out the Bland family history.

Today he found the grave of Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland – he was born 1799 in the UK and arrived at the Cape in 1825. He settled in Mossel Bay, where he became mayor and the main street is still called Bland Street. He died in 1861. The grave is hidden in thick bush on a farm in the Wydersrivier district near Riversdal. 

The farmer very kindly took Hugh to the gravesite where Hugh says you can still read the inscription on the grave stone – 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 on the grave and then laid his shadow next to his (and our) great-great-great grandfather:

JBA Bland's grave

Harrismith Branch – After Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland came John Francis Adam Bland (born 1836) who trekked inland to Harrismith in the Orange River Colony with a small baby – John Francis Adam the second. This started “our branch” of the Blands. JFA II later married Mary Caskie (who became the beloved Granny Bland of Harrismith). They had five sons of whom our grandfather Frank (JFA III) and Bunty were the oldest.

Hugh found out that JFA the first died on 10 September 1891 aged 55, and is buried in Senekal.

In Harrismith Granny Bland buried her husband and four of her five boys – what a tragic life. She did live long enough to know us, her great grandkids before she died ca 1960. We knew Bunty, the one son who outlived her, very well. He died in 1974 and joined his mother and father JFA II and four brothers in the family grave in Harrismith.

JFA III (Frank) married Annie Watson Bain – our granny Annie Bland. She died aged 90 ca 1981. Her eldest daughter Pat (Cowie), our mother Mary’s sister, died before her in 1974. Mom Mary is still alive and turned 88 in 2016.

I’m hoping sister Sheila will fact-check me here!

 

Family, Free state, Vrystaat, Nostalgia, school

Mother Mary Memories

Mr Pretorius was a new teacher in Harrismith. This is back in the ‘forties. One Geography lesson he asked a question and the answer he wanted was the town “Heilbron”.

Johnny Priest (chosen because the teacher knew he wouldn’t know?) answered “The Free State” at which Mr P lifted his eyes to the heavens, rolled them and sighed sarcastically “Why don’t you just say The Union of South Africa?” at which Johnny hastened to say “I meant the Union of South Africa”.


Outside toilets

Toilets were outside, well away from the house, usually at the back border of the yard where the alley ran past so the night car (or ‘Honey Cart’) could get to them. If you had a big yard it could be a long walk. Mrs de Beer used to say theirs was “Halfway to Warden”!

Oh, the embarrasment, says Mom, of meeting the Honey Cart at night when walking home from the bioscope! “So embarrassing!”


Mom’s doctor in Harrismith was Dr Hoenigsberger, who was married to Janet Caskie, an Australian cousin of Mom’s Granny Bland. He was the government doctor (district surgeon) and part of his job was to attend to the inmates in the Harrismith Gaol. On the way back from there one day he hit the bridge over the Kakspruit and landed up in the spruit below the bridge. He was taken home, a bit shaken.

Later one of his friend phoned the house and one of his sons (Leo or Max) answered. “Hello, is the doctor in? We want him to come around and play bridge with us” said the voice.

“No, I think he’s had enough bridge for one day” answered the son.


Wealthy Casper Badenhorst was apparently very tight with a dollar. Had plenty, spent little. When Harrismith people free-wheeled downhill in their cars they would say “One ry nou op Casper se petrol”.