Witness to a Century of Change

7 06 2008

This site will contain the text of the memoirs of my late father Murray McGregor, who was born in Worcester, Cape Province, on 26 May 1908, when the Province was still a colony of Great Britain. He died in 2002, having lived through two World Wars, the unification of the four British colonies into the Union of South Africa, the exit of apartheid South Africa from the British Commonwealth of Nations in 1961, when it became a republic, and its increasing isolation from the rest of the world, and then the birth of a new, non-racial democratic country after April 1994, which once again joined the British Commonwealth of Nations.

He was in many ways a man ahead of his time and also in so many ways a man very much of his time. His memoirs will show him to be a man of deep compassion and insight, with a sometimes firm grip on his own position in life and sometimes a less firm grip on that. He was a man of principle which earned him many friends and admirers and also some enemies, and it also made him sometimes seem quite stern and unbending. At other times his lively sense of humour would shine through to the delight of all who loved him , and we were many who did.

Blessed with a photographic memory he was a mine of information and could remember masses of facts. This made him a formidable subject teacher, especially in his favourite subject of history. It also made him an expert on ships and shipping, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of ships of the Royal Navy, especially his great love, the famous Four-Funnelled Cruisers.

Margery McGregor

The portrait shown above was painted by Will Macnae in 1987, some months after the death of his beloved Margery (left), who died in December 1986. They had been married 51 years.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

From John Masefield’s “Sea Fever”, one of my father’s favourite poems.

Two themes run strongly through my father’s life: the sea, in a rather romanticised way often, and the Christian faith. He was deeply religious and committed to spreading the Word and the life of faith. In addition to these two themes he had a deeply-held belief in personal growth, that all people in whatever circumstances, can be better, can grow in knowledge and wisdom. This belief flowed directly out of his Christian convictions.

In practical terms this belief in human growth led to his commitment to missionary work which took up most of his life. So the sub-title he gave to these memoirs is:

Murray McGregor’s Missionary and Maritime Memories

Page One of the Manuscipt

Page One of the Manuscipt


24 03 2010

Sometime in the early 1970s Murray McGregor gave this talk to the KAFFRARIAN HISTORICAL SOCIETY in King William’s Town.

The first steam-driven mailship was the Bosphorus, a fully-rigged vessel of 500 tons (smaller than our harbour tugs of today!) which came out in January 1851 after a passage of 40 days. To us this seems a very long time, but then it was easily the record for the Cape run; the sailing-ships of those days used to take three months or more on the trip. The famous Cape artist Bowler painted a water-colour of the arrival of the Bosphorus in Table Bay.

Probably the finest ship of the ‘General Screw Steamship Company’, owners of the pioneer mail-steamer, was the Lady Jocelyn, called after wife of one of the directors of the firm. She was also a full-rigged ship, of 1 750 tons. It must be remembered that in those days all steamers were driven by a single screw-propellor activated by one engine, so that if anything happened to cause an engine break-down or the loss of the screw the ship would then have to complete her voyage under sail. Those old-fashioned engines were very uneconomical and used tremendous quantities of coal, which meant that sometimes all the fuel would be exhausted before the ship arrived at her destination and, again, she would be forced to depend on her sails.

The Lady Jocelyn in 1853 brought from England to the Cape the constitution for the Colony, under which its first parliament was elected some months later. A painting of the ship was later hung in the Cape Parliament House, and was still there when he last visited the House some fifteen years ago.

The evening of the 18th November 1857 was a noteworthy one. This was during the period of the Indian Mutiny, when ships were being rushed from England via the Cape to India, all laden with troops and stores. Amongst the sixty-four ships anchored in Table Bay were the two largest ships in the world, Brunel’s famous Great Britain of 3 400 tons, and the former P. & O. mailship, then an Admiralty transport, Himalaya, of 3 500 tons. (The former of these ships is still in existence in Bristol, carefully preserved in the dock in which she was built, 1839 – 43; the second remained an Admiralty store-ship until 1940, when she was sunk by German aerial bombs!). To have these famous ships there together was a unique occurrence; but more noteworthy still was the presence at anchor near them of a ship of only 530 tons, the Dane. This ship was the pioneer mail-steamer of the ‘Union Steamship Company’, a firm founded at Southampton in 1853 and the senior partner in what later became the ‘Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company’, so well known to most of us.

The ships of the Union Line were called after nations or tribes. The Dane was joined by others such as Briton, Saxon, Roman and Cambrian (this last the first Cape mailship with a tonnage greater than 1 000!). Later they used South African names for their coasting fleet and ‘intermediate’ steamers, such as Kafir, Zulu, Basuto, Gaika, Galeka.

In 1872 the Scottish shipowner Donald Currie, well-known in South Africa for his gift of several gold ‘Currie Cups’ for inter-provincial sport, introduced his ‘floating castles’ on to the Cape run. The discovery of diamonds a few years before had brought such an upsurge of trade with the Cape that a new line could easily be profitable. So soon ships like the Conway Castle, Taymouth Castle, Balmoral Castle, Windsor Castle (first of the name) became well-known in the Cape and elsewhere. For some time they out-did the senior company, so that in 1876 the government divided the mail-contract between them, an event commemorated last year by the issue of a special stamp showing one of the early Castle mail-steamers. Under this contract the lines dispatched mailships on alternate weeks. So for the first time a weekly mail-service between Britain and the Cape was run. Apart from dislocations caused by the two world wars this has been maintained ever since.

The next twenty years were marked by intense and extremely interesting (and sometimes amusing!) competition between the rival companies. The mailships grew bigger, faster and more powerful. The decade 1890 – 1899 was especially exciting, when the Transvaal gold-rush saw many fine mailships built, most of them later well-known to me. Then in February, 1900, the two rivals at last agreed to unite and form that great company whose mail – and passenger – service has just ended.

The McGregors in South Africa

15 01 2009

by Tony McGregor

Two Scottish clans came together in South Africa in the 1860s and started a South African dynasty.

The Robertsons

An unknown artist painted a full-length portrait of the Rev Dr William Robertson, which was cut down to leave this portion.

An unknown artist painted a full-length portrait of the Rev Dr William Robertson, which was cut down to leave this portion.

The first was the Robertson clan, established by the Rev Dr William Robertson, born on 13 July 1805 on his father’s farm Burn Riggs near Inverurie, near Aberdeen. He went to study at King’s College, Aberdeen at the age of 13. Three years later he had to abandon his studies as he became very ill with tuberculosis.

At about the same time, many nautical miles to the south, the new English governor of the Cape Colony, Lord Charles Somerset, was keen to do something to improve the educational facilities available to people living in the colony, and also to address the shortage of properly trained and qualified ministers in the Dutch Reformed Church. He looked to Scotland to find people to assist in both these areas of work.

Lord Charles Somerset

Lord Charles Somerset

Somerset commissioned an English minister, the Rev Dr. George Thom, who had joined the Dutch Reformed Church and was on furlough in the United Kingdom, to find suitable people in Scotland. Dr Thom visited Aberdeen and there engaged Church of Scotland minister the Rev Andrew Murray and, as a teacher, William Robertson.

And so in February 1822 William Robertson, then still Mr. Robertson, in the company of the Rev Andrew Murray, set sail from London for a four month journey to South Africa in the 180 ton brig Arethusa. They arrived in Table Bay on 2 July, some 17 weeks after leaving the United Kingdom.

Robertson’s first posting was to Graaff Reinet, where he was to open the Free English School. Andrew Murray was also sent to Graaff Reinet to become minister of the Dutch Reformed Church there. For the first two years Robertson stayed in the pastorie (parsonage) with Rev Murray.

Robertson, in spite of his being only 17 years old, was very energetic and soon had the school up and running. The town at the time had a population of about 1800. On the advice of the Landdrost, Mr Andries Stockenstrom (later Sir Andries) Robertson started an evening school called the Evening Academy for Secondary Education.

After five years, when his contract expired and his health had improved greatly, Robertson returned to Scotland to resume his studies at King’s College, Aberdeen, where he graduated with his M.A. in March 1828. He then continued studying divinity, first at Aberdeen and later at Edinburgh.

Robertson was ordained a minister in the Church of Scotland in January 1831 after which he went to Utrecht in Holland to improve his Dutch, which he had started to learn in the Cape Colony.

By October of the same year Robertson was back in the Cape Colony where he was ordained as a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church and appointed to first the church in Clanwilliam and two years later to the church in Swellendam.

He was conferred with the degree of Doctor of Divinity by King’s College, Aberdeen, in October 1840.

Eliza Truter

Eliza Truter

Meanwhile Dr Robertson married Eliza Truter, daughter of a well-known Cape family whose founder had arrived there in 1722 and was for many years the master gardener of the Dutch East India Company.

Dr and Mrs Robertson had ten children, of whom nine survived. The one of relevance of this story is Elizabeth Augusta Robertson, born in Swellendam in 1839.

This brings us to the connection with the other clan in our story, the McGregors.

The McGregors

In the town of Golspie, Sutherland, in the far north

The tombstone of Alexander McGregor, merchant of Golspie

The tombstone of Alexander McGregor, merchant of Golspie

of Scotland, a merchant called Alexander McGregor ran an enterprise called “The Emporium”. He had a son, Andrew, born in 1829, who entered the Church of Scotland as a minister of the Free Tolbooth Church in Edinburgh.

Dr Robertson was in Scotland in 1860 looking for more Scottish ministers to serve in the Dutch Reformed Church in the Cape Colony. Andrew McGregor joined the group of ministers Robertson had recruited and arrived in South Africa in 1862. He went to work in the Robertson parish. This parish was in the village called Hoopsrivier, which had been renamed Robertson in 1853, in honour of the great Doctor.

Three months after his arrival in the Cape Andrew McGregor married Elizabeth Augusta (fondly known in the family as “Lily”) and took his new bride to live and work with him in Robertson. They lived there until Rev Andrew retired in 1902, when they moved to Cape Town, to live in the house he named “Rob Roy Villa” in Hillside Road, Tamboerskloof.

While ministering in Robertson Andrew was very actively assisting in a neighbouring parish in the little town of Lady Grey. As a result of his work this parish became a separate congregation in its own right. The village was renamed McGregor in his honour in 1902.

During their time in Robertson Andrew and Lily had ten children, of whom four died in childhood. All of the surviving children were interesting in their own rights.

The first son was Alexander John McGregor, born in 1864. He was an outstanding scholar and rose rapidly in the legal profession after obtaining degrees at the South African College (the forerunner of the University of Cape Town) and Oriel College, Oxford. He was called to the bar at the Inner Temple and then returned to South Africa where, in 1889, he was

Rev Andrew McGregor (Snr) and his wife with (standing Lily, Andrew, Hetty and Mina and sitting to the right of the picture Alexander and, in front of him, John

Rev Andrew McGregor (Snr) and his wife with (standing Lily, Andrew, Hetty and Mina and sitting to the right of the picture Alexander and, in front of him, John. They are on the sidewalk in front of the pastorie (parsonage) in Robertson. Taken circa 1895.

admitted as an advocate of the Supreme Court of the Cape Colony. Thereafter he became Staats Procureur (State Attorney) of the Orange Free State, later becoming a Judge under first the Republic and then the British colony and finally in the Union of South Africa after 1910.

Judge McGregor married Elizabeth, the youngest daughter of the President of the Republic of the Orange Free State, President Jan Brand, in 1891. Their only son William (Willy), a Rhodes Scholar, was killed in action in Flanders during the First World War. Their oldest daughter Sybil married an Inner Temple barrister, Alan Corbett, who for many years was Commissioner for Inland Revenue of the Union. Their son Michael eventually became a judge himself and later the Chief Justice of South Africa.

Gerrit and Mina du Plessis

Gerrit and Mina du Plessis

Andrew and Lily McGregor’s first daughter, born in 1869, was also called Elizabeth and also known as Lily. She married a Beaufort West farmer Mauritz de Villiers and they had five children before Mauritz died at the age of 37. Their first son Frank was a banker in Springfontein. Their second son Maurice studied at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, UK., and came home to South Africa to join the South African Army. During the Second World War he rose to the rank of Brigadier. The three daughters of Lily and Mauritz were Elise, who married John Otway Hayes (their son and grandson made names for themselves as professional golfers); Laetitia, who married Reginald Charles Rand, a Durban businessman; and Pansy, who married Allanby Henderson-Jones, a banker.

The second daughter, also born in 1869, to Andrew and Lily was Mina Hepburn Wallace McGregor, who married the Rev Gerrit du Plessis, a dominee of the Dutch Reformed Church in Calitzdorp and later Army Chaplain in Namibia (then still South West Africa) during the First World War. They had no children.

My own family

Two Revs Andrew McGregor

Two Revs Andrew McGregor. Not sure who the little boy is.

Now we come to my direct line of descent, with the second son born to Lily and Andrew McGregor, also called Andrew, second name Murray after the well-known Andrew Murray of Graaff Reinet, who was also his godfather. He was born in 1873 and after gaining his BA from the South African College studied at the Theological Seminary in Stellenbosch. After serving in the ministry in Cape Town he went on to minister to the concentration camp in East London during the Anglo-Boer War. From there he was called first to the church in Oudtshoorn and later to Three Anchor Bay, Cape Town. He retired from this church in 1939 and answered a call from the Presbyterian Church in Oudtshoorn, where he ministered until his death in 1943.

Andrew and Miemie McGregor

Andrew and Miemie McGregor

Andrew McGregor Jnr married Maria (Miemie) Hofmeyr, who was the daughter of Ds Arend Hofmeyr of Hanover, Cape.

Report of the death of Rev Andrew McGregor (Jnr) in the Cape Times, 21 September 1943

Report of the death of Rev Andrew McGregor (Jnr) in the Cape Times, 21 September 1943

Miemie and Andrew Jnr had five children, four girls and one boy, who all graduated from the University of Cape Town. The oldest, Louise, married Alex Kirstein, a physiotherapist and farmer, who also happened to be blind. He was a most amazing man who bred race horses, introduced peanut farming to the then Transvaal (now North West Province) and was the last United

Alex Kirstein with one of his horses. The young men are Chris McGregor on the left and I think Jan Kirstein on the right

Alex Kirstein with one of his horses. The young men are Andrew Kirstein on the left and I think Jan Kirstein on the right

Party Member of Parliament for Klerksdorp, being succeed in that seat by the forgettable Peet Pelser.

Louise (usually called Lucy) and Alex farmed on the farm Dennegeur, near Klerksdorp, where I spent many wonderful holidays with my cousins Andrew, Jan, Marie, Helena, and Alex Jnr (usually called “Oubaas”). I remember Uncle Alex pulling a peanut plant out of the ground and explaining its features to me, my brother Chris and our father. This must have been in 1949 or 1950. I also saw him stitch up a long gash in the leg of one of his horses which had made an ill-considered jump over a barbed wire fence.

Lily McGregor

Lily McGregor

Elizabeth, the second daughter, married Tielman Roos, the Parliamentary Librarian. This was the sister who was idolised by my father. She had studied in the United States before her marriage, and died after having one son, Johann. I never met her but knew Uncle Tielman and cousin Johann very well.

The next daughter was Isabel Henrietta (Hetty) who became a teacher and later a lecturer at the Teacher Training College in Paarl. She never married, and after her father’s death her mother came to live with her there. She lived in three different houses over the years that I knew her there, and I came to know each of the houses very well. My brother Chris also boarded with her after he had completed his training on the SA Training Ship General Botha. He went to Paarl Boys’ High to write his matric prior to going to the South African College of Music in Cape Town.

Murray McGregor, my father, was born in 1908 in Worcester, Cape Colony, and was the fourth child of Andrew and Miemie. After schooling at Sea Point Boys’ High and two years on the SA Training Ship General Botha, he went on to the University of Cape Town where he obtained first

Hettie, Murray, Lucy with Miemie McGregor on the occassion of her 90th birthday. Paarl.

Hettie, Murray, Lucy with Miemie McGregor on the occassion of her 90th birthday. Paarl.

a BA and then a B. Ed degree. His thesis for his B. Ed was a history of the amamFengu people of the then Transkei, which showed the way his mind was moving even then. He married Margery Morris, daughter of James H Morris, a pharmacist from George, in the Cape Colony.

The youngest member of the family was Mary, who qualified in medicine, went to work at a mission hospital in the then Transkei, whyere she met and married John Smithen, a teacher at an Anglican mission school in Mthatha. They had three children, Louise, McGregor and Andrew.

Miemie McGregor (left) with "Big" Aunt Hettie in Paarl.

Miemie McGregor (left) with "Big" Aunt Hettie in Paarl.

Back to the older generation of McGregors: Andrew and Lily McGregor’s last daughter, born in 1878, was Henrietta Maria, always known as Hetty. To the family she was “Big Aunt Hetty” to distinguish her from “Little Aunt Hetty,” my father’s sister, although “Big” aunt Hetty was physically very much smaller than “Little Aunt Hetty! This Hetty was in one of the first classes of women students to graduate from the South African College, in I think 1906. She did not marry, as it was thought that she was too frail to marry, although she outlived by many years all her siblings, dying in 1979 just before her 101st birthday. She was the family historian and all her life collected material relating to the family, most of which has been passed onto the Jagger Memorial Library at the University of Cape Town.

Lily and Andrew’s last child was John Robertson, born in 1880. He studied medicine at Edinburgh and Dublin and became a general practitioner in George. It was on a visit to his Uncle John in George that my father met my mother! John married Marion de Wet and they had four sons. Two of their sons practised law in George, one joined a financial institution and one followed in his father’s footsteps and became a doctor, practising on the mines. John died in 1938.

Tony McGregor


15 January 2009

Murray’s diary of the transfer from Blythswood to Ndamase Junior Secondary School, Buntingville

29 11 2008

Murray’s transfer from Blythswood Institution (see Chapter 20: Transfer), where he was the Superintendant, to being the Principal of a Junior Secondary School (i.e. a school that had classes up to what was then called Standard 8, now called Grade 10) was a great shock to him. He had devoted his life to Blythswood and worked incredibly hard for the all the schools in the Institution.

The fly-leaf of the diary

The fly-leaf of the diary

He kept a diary of the period in a diary of the South African Legion of the British Commonwealth Ex-Servicemens’ League (BCESL), of which he was a member at the time.

The diary entries were typically rather terse, starting from the entry for 15 March 1960, which happened to be a Monday: “Received notice of transfer to Ndamase, Buntingville.”

The next entry was on Friday 18 March: “a.m. Farewell ceremony at P/S (Primary School) – staff, pupils and parents.”

The next day there was a farewell from the people of Nqamakwe at the tennis courts in the village.

Sunday 20 March had two entries: “a.m. Last service at Blythswood, followed by communion (Rev John Anderson). P.m. Farewell at Blythswood from Girl Guides.” The sadness of that “last service” comes through to me so strongly in those few words. He must have been heartbroken that after all his efforts to keep the missionary spirit alive at Blythswood it had come down to this “last service.”

The next day there was a “presentation by students at Assembly in the morning” and then “Farewell by white staff at afternoon tea in De Wet’s house.” The double irony of that was that was that firstly “De Wet’s house” was the first house Murray and Margery had lived in when they moved to Blythswood and secondly that De Wet was the very one whose complaint about the non-segregation of the High School staff room had led to Murray’s demotion. I wonder how they managed not to choke on the tea?

On Tuesday 22 March Murray notes: “p.m. took staff prayer meeting in T/S (Training School) library.” That library was again the venue the following day: “Farewell by African staff in T/S Library.”

Perhaps the saddest entry in the diary is for me the one for Thursday 24 March: “Last Assembly in Blythswood. 1st Quarter ends.” That’s all. And so much effort, so many hopes end right there!

On the next day, Friday, Murray and Margery started their packing and then attended another Farewell Party in the Nqamakwe Hotel for all their friends from the village, as well as for the BESL.

Packing continued the next day and the Grundlings arrived from Buntingville with the pantechnicon with all their stuff. Murray and Margery spent the night at the Nqamakwe Hotel. It must have been hard for them not to be able to sleep in the house they had called home for so long.

The following day, Sunday 27 March, was spent finishing the packing and then “Visited Blythswood friends to say ‘Goodbye’. Do., in village. Lunch at Botha’s (Mr Botha was the magistrate in Nqamakwe). Handed over to Grundling. 2.10 p.m. left for Cape Town. 8 p.m. arrived Humansdorp.

The next day they left early (4.40 a.m.) and arrived in Cape Town at 2.45 p.m. where they went to stay with their friends Queenie and Cherry. The entry continues: “After supper Geff (Margery’s brother-in-law, Capt Geff Keen) arrived to take us to see Christopher.”

They left for Mthatha on Friday 1 April and had car trouble along the way. They arrived at Buntingville at 2.30 p.m. on 2 April and immediately started unpacking.

On the following afternoon their friends Seton and Margaret Jacques arrived (Seton was at the time Principal of Shawbury High School near Mqanduli, not far from Mthatha) for afternoon tea and then took them to dinner in Mthatha.

The entry for Monday 4 April reads: “Ndamase Secondary School 2nd term started. Met staff.”

The last entry in the diary is for Tuesday 5 April: Introduced to students by Mrs Homan. Took Assembly. Classes started. P.m. choir won Music Competition in Umtata (Mthatha).”

I guess the fact that these are the only entries in the whole diary, except for a record of the matches and scores of the end of year Springbok Rugby teams’ tour of the United Kingdom (they played 16 matches and lost one, winning the rest) might be indicative of my father’s low state of mind during this difficult time for him

I was at school in Bloemfontein and only arrived on my vacation after they were already settled into Buntingville. My father buried himself in his study with his ship pictures and books when he was not at school.

Two Victorian books celebrate the Cape of Good Hope

12 11 2008
The title page of the book

The title page of the book

“There are few ships more happily christened than the steamers of the Castle Line. They, the ‘beautiful adventurers’ of today, inherit by right the traditions of the old strongholds of adventure. Sailing through distant waters, touching upon strange shores, they seem to offer the chance of stirring incident once sought in the castles that kept watch upon the land. Life at home may fall into the prose of routine, but in the very smell of ships there is promise of romance.”

So begins the text of Tantallon Castle the Story of the Castle and of the Ship told by Elizabeth Robins Pennell. This book, with its handsome illustrations by five artists, one of them the renowned print maker Joseph Pennell, whose wife Elizabeth was, was printed by T and A Constable in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1895. This copy of the book was inscribed on the fly-leaf to: “Mrs. Lewis with Captain Hay’s compliments.” Stuck onto the fly-leaf is an undated


The fly-leaf

newspaper article announcing the death of Captain W. Hay, then Marine Superintendant of the Union Castle Line.

Joseph Pennell at work

Joseph Pennell at work

Said Joseph Pennell explained the genesis of the book in the introductory Note to the book: “The germ from which this book sprang was Sir Donald Currie’s desire that I should make a series of drawings of the very delightful interior decorations of the ‘Tantallon Castle,’ designed by Messrs. Niven and Wigglesworth. The drawings were made, and around them, the book has grown up. My designs have become but a part of what I hope may be a beautiful whole.”

The name of Sir Donald Currie, the founder of the Castle Line, precursor of the well-known Union Castle Line, is still a household one, especially among white South Africans, as it was he who donated, in 1891, the eponymous “Currie Cup” for which rugby teams still vie, with their fanatical supporters. The Currie Cup competition is one of the oldest rugby competitions in the world today.

Pennell and W.L. Wyllie were the most distinguished and well-known of the five artists who contributed to the book. Pennell was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1857 but lived for many years in London, where he and his wife were very close to their fellow-United States artist James McNeill Whistler, whose biography they wrote and published in 1908.

William Lionel Wyllie was born in London in 1851 where he trained at the Heatherleys and the Royal Academy Schools. He won the Turner Medal in 1869. Wyllie lived for many years in Portsmouth and became known as one of the leading marine artists in England. His work, like that of Pennell, was widely shown and widely admired, especially in the early years of the 20th Century. The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, holds a large collection of Wyllie’s works.

The title page of Arthur Vine Hall's book

The title page of Arthur Vine Hall's book

At about the same time a book of poetry entitled Table Mountain and sub-titled Pictures with Pen and Camera was published in Cape Town by J.C. Juta & Co. The writer of this book was Arthur Vine Hall, and it celebrates his arrival at the Cape some six years before. According to The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). Vol. 14. The Victorian Age, Part Two this book was published in 1896. Before finding this reference the closest I could come to an estimation of the book’s publication date was the inscription in pen of the date 27 Nov 1897. This is written below an indication of the price of the book: 2 shillings! I assume that this is the date on which the book was bought by its original owner, or perhaps it is the date it was given by the buyer to someone else as a gift.

A note on the Contents page says that, “The majority of the illustrations are taken from views by Mr. S.B. Barnard of Cape Town, the others by Mr Jarman of Claremont.” Which are which though, is impossible to say, I believe.

One reason for this article about these two books is that they were both in my late father Murray McGregor’s collection and are to me interesting examples of a particular Victorian genre of bookmaking marked by somewhat overblown and bombastic writing combined with rather charming illustrations.

The writing of Elizabeth Robins Pennell seems bland when compared with Vine Hall’s:

“O morning music of the wak’ning glade!

O fiery noon and pine-wood’s purple shade!

O timid Twilight, beautiful but fleet!

O star-eyed balmy Night! Whose gentle feet

Awake no sleeping flower so light they pass,

Nor shake one diamond from the dewy grass.

Great Summer, Hail! All hail!”

Tantallon Castle and the Bass by Joseph Pennell

Tantallon Castle and the Bass by Joseph Pennell

And those are just the first seven lines! It gets worse, believe me! And how almost normal by comparison is Elizabeth Robins Pennell’s description of the Tantallon Castle in Scotland, after which the Castle Line ship was named: “Earls of Fife, Macduff’s descendants, were the pioneers who entrenched themselves upon the sea-vexed promontory; Stewarts made it for a time their home. But fortune was fickle in the feudal age as now, and there came a day, in 1425, to be accurate, when the Duke of Albany, then in possession, forfeited Tantallon to the Crown.”

Another reason for writing about these two books together is that they both celebrate Cape Town and Table Mountain in a particular, somewhat romantic, but nonetheless interesting way.

Nearing Cape Town from teh Arthur Vine Hall book

Nearing Cape Town from teh Arthur Vine Hall book

After the description of the “eleven days between Madeira and the Cape” in which “life on board never savours of the monotonous” Elizabeth Pennell describers the arrival at the Cape in typically florid but somehow fitting prose:

“For all the pleasure of the journey, joy is keen enough when the first rumour is heard of the South African coast fast approaching. And, now, steaming into the Bay, the great, square-topped Table Mountain, with the ‘Twelve Apostles’ on guard and white Cape Town spreading over the plain to climb up its sides, is a contrast, indeed, to those quiet, low fields and shadowy roofs that lie on Thames’ side. Table Mountain has had its frivolous critics to suggest ‘Hill’ as a name more appropriate. But whoever has seen it first from the Tantallon deck will be impressed by its severe outlines and solemn simplicity, as was Drake in his day, and Diaz in his.”

The mountain from Table Bay from the Arthur Vine Hall book

The mountain from Table Bay from the Arthur Vine Hall book

How different is the bombast of Vine Hall in the opening lines of his long, incredibly long, poem called “Table Mountain”:

“More blue than cloudless canopy of Noon,

More bright than star-pavilion of the Moon,

The sapphire pavement of the sunlit sea

Sparkled before thy feet unceasingly;

Yet when I first across that shining bay

Drew near to thee, my thought fled far away,

Back o’er the twice three thousand miles to where,

From out the wave, white cliffs like sea-birds fair

Arise; more dear to England’s scattered sons

Than e’en to those whom ever runs

The roar of her thunderous seas.”

And so on, for page after page!

Elizabeth Pennell, in her description of the arrival at the Cape, goes on to highlight the contrasts she experienced there:

“To go ashore at Cape Town is to enter a capital unexpectedly like home, and yet curiously foreign. For if its position has been described as a plagiarism of Edinburgh, there is nothing British in the brilliant sunlight and clear radiance of the atmosphere; if Houses of Parliament and more than one public building suggest an English town, there are old mansions and a castle that would be more in keeping on the canals of the Hague or of Leyden; while the dusky faces that outnumber the white are essentially African and Oriental.”

The view from the summit overlooking Wynberg from the Arthur Vine Hall book

The view from the summit overlooking Wynberg from the Arthur Vine Hall book

Vine Hall takes a loftier (literally – he is looking down on Cape Town from the summit of the great mountain at daybreak) view of the scenes so prosaically described by Pennell:

“More frequent grow the voices of the plain:

The leader of each farm-yard’s feathered train

Gives shrilly call; the house-dog’s honest bark

Follows the hurrying footsteps of the Dark.

These homely sounds alone distinctly come,

With the toy village’s faint murmurous hum,

Climbing to Heaven. All is more clearly seen:

(Except the vleys, which now have lost their sheen),

The little houses, gardens, fields of vine,

The heathery waste, and many a thin red line

Of dusty road. Yon speck? Some crazy cart,

Whose dusky driver, seeks the morning mart.”

And after some more expostulations on the geography, Vine Hall continues with the description of Cape Town, which you might see from the summit as:

“The chess-board city, and you might descry

The red spot where our legislators ply

The tasks which on the plain appear so great.”

A present-day writer, who actually lives in Cape Town, also highlights the contrasts which are so great a feature of Cape Town. He is Mike Nicol and his book on Cape Town Sea-Mountain Fire City is a wonderful read. This passage in particular is relevant to what Elizabeth Pennell also felt about the place:

“From the beginning Cape Town was built on an accumulation of paradox and contrast: to every development a shadow side. The heart of the city formed below the mountain, yet even as the mountain gave the town its distinctive beauty it also gave the town’s slaves a passage to freedom. And when the white citizens saw the night fires on escaped slaves flickering above the town they surely must have recognised a threat.”

And at the end of the preface to the book, entitled “Imagining Cape Town”, this wonderful paragraph:

“Centuries ago the Portuguese described this spit of land that extends stubbornly into the Atlantic Ocean as the Cape of Storms and the Cape of Plagues. The Dutch changed this to the Cape of Good Hope – of course they had to, they were going to establish a settlement. In that simple act of renaming, the fate of the future city was determined on principle of contrast and paradox: it would be a city of trouble; it would be a city of hope. It would be a city of beauty; it would be a city crippled by disease. Like many, I was seduced by the attractions and opposites of this city, just as I was fascinated by its story.”

The Voyage of the Tantallon Castle

The Tantallon Castle leaving dock by Wyllie

The Tantallon Castle leaving dock by Wyllie

Of course, the Tantallon Castle book is about much more than Cape Town. The ship herself and the journey from London, around the Cape to Durban are substantial parts of the book, and make for fascinating reading (once one reads past the overblown language!).

I found an interesting companion description of a journey on the Tantallon Castle by no less a personage than Lord Baden Powell, the founder of the Boy Scout movement. In his book on the The Matabele Campaign, published just a year after the Pennell’s book, he tell how he was “invited” to take a trip on the Tantallon Castle by a memorandum from the War Office. It is worth quoting in full:

WAR OFFICE, S.W., 28th April, 1896.

Passage to Cape Town having been provided for you in the s.s. Tantallon Castle, I am directed to request that you will proceed to Southampton and embark in the above vessel on the 2nd May by 12.30 p.m., reporting yourself before embarking to the military staff officer superintending the embarkation.

You must not ship more than 55 cubic feet.

I am further to request you will acknowledge the receipt of this letter by first post, and inform me of any change in your address up to the date of embarkation.

You will be in command of the troops on board.

I have the honour, etc.,

Evelyn Wood

Evelyn Wood

The Evelyn Wood who signed this memorandum was at the time the Quarter Master General. He had served in South Africa in both the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879 and the First Boer War. He had won the Victoria Cross at the age of 20 for rescuing a merchant from a band of robbers in India.

Back to Baden Powell and the Tantallon Castle. His reaction to receiving the above invitation was natural: “What better invitation could one want than that? I accepted it with greatest pleasure.”

He then goes on to describe the journey from Southampton in ways often very similar to the way Elizabeth Pennell had described her experience on board.

His entry in his diary for 4 May reads: “.—Perfect weather, palatial ship and fast. Delightful cabin all to myself. Best of company.”

For both Elizabeth Pennell and Powell Madeira is the first place of note on the journey. Pennell describes her experience of the island:

“In a journey of contrasts Madeira, following upon England, presents, perhaps, the strongest. A bitter east wind may have met the Tantallon as she steamed down the Thames; here the air is soft and balmy, and boys bathe in the sunny waters that wash the island’s coast. The ship amiably waits for a time in these waters, while the modern Rinaldo goes ashore to feel something of that thrill which the maiden excursion in the Tropics must ever give. There is an excitement in the first walk under palms which few other travel experiences can rival; and the gay exuberance of Southern blossoms, the flamboyant eccentricity of Southern foliage, strikes the

Diving boys at Madeira by A.S. Hartrick

Diving boys at Madeira by A.S. Hartrick

unaccustomed Northerner with a delighted wonder hard to excel. Moreover, Madeira has certain unique sensations to offer the wondering traveller. For he may go swinging through the streets in a hammock, and he may coast down its steep stony roads in a sled. In his consequent bewilderment, as like as not he will let the screaming, struggling natives fleece him to their heart’s content; and in the bargain for the chair which he carries back to the steamer his sensations will have had their price.”

Baden Powell is rather more restrained in his diary:

“6th May.—Madeira. You know. Breakfast with fruit at Reid’s Hotel. The flowers and gardens. Scramble up on horses to the convent, up the long, steep, cobbled roads, and the grand toboggan down again in cars. How I would like to live there for — a day!  Then back on board, off to sea by eleven. Dock loaded up with Madeira chairs and fruit skins.”

The contrast between the two experiences is, though, more than literary. For Pennell the voyage from Madeira provides ample opportunity for putting the recently acquired Madeira chairs to use: “days of steaming through an ocean that has a cloudless sky for roof and a sun-swept sea for floor, and is fed with air hot from the Equator. Awnings are up over promenade deck and bridge. Thin white linen is in fashion. And there is quenchless demand for long, cooling drinks. The burning hours follow each other relentlessly, day and night, night and day.”

By contrast,Baden Powell notes in his diary of the voyage:

“8th May.—Daily parades, inspection of troop decks, tugs of war, concerts on deck, and gradual increase in personal girth from sheer over‑eating and dozing. Our only exercise is parade for officers at seven every morning in pyjamas, under a sergeant‑instructor, who puts us through most fiendish exercises for an hour, and leaves us there for dead. We just revive in time so put the men through the same course in their turn, stripped to the waist, so that they have dry shirts to pat on afterwards. “Knees up!” I’d like to kill him who invented it,—but it does us all a power of good.”

Sports on deck by A.S. Hartrick

Sports on deck by A.S. Hartrick

But both Pennell and Powell experienced on board what Pennell described as the ship’s “athletic sports to prove – if proof were needed – that manly vigour and physical prowess were not the monopoly of old Tantallon’s lords and men.”

Powell, of course, puts it much more economically: “15th to 18th May.—Athletic sports, tableaux, concerts, ‑ and the fancy dress ball, and oar dinner party to the captain.” (I’m not sure if the “oar dinner party” is a typographical error or not?).

Only in describing the dances does Powell exceed Pennell in description. He writes: “The ball was interesting in showing the diverse taste of diverse nationalities. Four Frenchmen and one lady so prettily and well got up. The British officer, save in one or two instances (of which, alas! I wasn’t one), could not rise to anything more original than uniform. An ingenious young lady put us all to

Britannia At the fancy dress ball on board the belle of the ship appeared as Britannia. The only incongruity was the helmet, whose peak did not agree with the wearer's nose; the hat had therefore to be reversed, and the back-peak was bent for additional comfort.

Britannia At the fancy dress ball on board the belle of the ship appeared as Britannia. The only incongruity was the helmet, whose peak did not agree with the wearer

shame, appearing as Britannia, “helmet, shield, and pitchfork too,” all complete. (Nose and helmet didn’t hit it off – at least—yes—the nose did hit it (the helmet) off, and the hat had to be worn the wrong way round to allow more room.)”, where Pennell puts the dances into one sentence: “And there are dances in the sweet still evenings, when the stars shine so gaily that the gayer electric lights on deck seem impudently superfluous.”

Baden Powell’s description of the ship’s arrival in Table Bay is also interesting in its contrast to Pennell’s:

“19th May.—At 4 a.m. I Awake with an uncanny feeling. All is silence and darkness. The screw has stopped, the ship lies like a log, the only sound is the plashing of the water pouring from the engine, and occasionally sharp footsteps overhead.

“And looking from my port, I see, looming dark against the stars, the long, flat top of grand old Table Mountain—its base a haze from which electric lights gleam out and shine along the water.

“Old Cape Town just the same as ever. Same lounging warders and convicts digging docks, Malays and snoek fish everywhere. Adderley Street improved with extra turreted, verandahed buildings. The Castle, venerable, low, and poky as of yore, and—of course—under repair. Short visits there, to Government House, and to that beautiful old house in Strand Street where one learns the Dutch side of the questions of the day.”

That phrase: “Malays and snoek fish everywhere” is just so redolent of the casual racism which I take to be characteristic of the Victorian era, with its perhaps unconscious equation of “snoek fish” and “Malays” as of the same order of creation, worthy of only a passing glance.

Pennell also shows something of the same attitude: “Zulus and Kaffirs gave the soldier his chance, lions and elephants his to the sportsman.” Such words have an incredibly insensitive ring to them, read just more than 100 years later.

A Victorian view of South Africa

A scene in South Africa by Joseph Pennell

A scene in South Africa by Joseph Pennell

The Pennells’ book makes an interesting link between the Tantallon Castle of Scotland and the South Africa of the end of the 19th Century:

“The Castle may rest in the twilight of its troubled life. But the name has taken on a new youth, and, in picturesqueness, Tantallon’s latest records vie with the old. Adventure was not at an end when the last feudal fortress was dismantled: after the sword and buckler age, commerce itself gave the chance to those who chafed at the counting-house desk, and grew restless behind the shopkeeper’s counter. For across the seas were unknown lands, and each boat bound for foreign ports, though its hold might be packed with commercial cargo, went well laden with romance.”

From the Willy Pogány illustrative interpretation of the E W Rolleston translation of Wagner's Tannhäu

From the Willy Pogány illustrative interpretation of the E W Rolleston translation of Wagner

Pennell goes on: “The Cape’s story is old as the Pyramids; that southernmost point of the African peninsular, delightful in climate, rich in possibilities, was as irresistible a magnet to the ancient sailor as the Hörselberg to the mediaeval knight.” (This is a reference to the mediaeval minstrel contests celebrated in Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser)

The story of the Cape is continued in the book, after a brief survey of the circumstances which led to the British taking over the colony (for the second time, and finally) from the Dutch in 1806, with the comment: “The Dutch may not have been wise rulers, but they were the best of pioneers. Pretty Dutch towns were scattered over the country. There were fertile farms in the Veldt and pasture-lands in the broad Karroo, while the excellence of the wine proved to what good purpose grapes had been made to ripen on the slopes of Stellenbosch and Constantia.”

Then the story of the opening up of the hinterland by first the Boer Trekkers and then the fortune hunters of Kimberley and the Witwatersrand are recalled: “For the more adventurous was all the excitement of spying our the land, the ‘trekking,’ as the Boers call it, in search of fresh pastures; all the joy of the hunt after gold and earth’s hidden wealth; the squatting in the wilderness at the first faint clue, the sudden clearing in the woods where, from the squatter’s hut, a town would spring up in a day; while, no matter how far the hunting and the ‘trekking’ might lead, still beyond lay the Undiscovered Country, a snare to the reckless who cared not whether the quest led to King Solomon’s Mines or to malarious swamps, since their joy was ever in the continued chase.”

Tropical forest by Joseph Pennell

Tropical forest by Joseph Pennell

Pennell’s description of the beauty of the land, to my mind, begs the question of whether she actually saw this or not: “There was the endless beauty of the mountain passes; of the strange rivers, wide as lakes; of the great tracts of tropical forest.”

Still, the books and its illustrations are a wonderful window into the way the Victorian mind saw this great country and its colonisation by Europeans, with the consequent dislocation of the way of life of the native inhabitants: “But if trade-winds, the old enemy, were conquered, there was now a savage native to dispute the land, inch by inch, with the new-comers. Bushmen and Hottentots were never pleasant foes to meet.”

The Ship

The sailing ship Tantallon Castle by Wyllie

The sailing ship Tantallon Castle by Wyllie

Much of the book is taken up with descriptions of the ship. But before going into some of the more technical descriptions, the section on South Africa ends with this: “A fine boat calls for a fine name. The little record-breaking ship (the original sailing ship Tantallon Castle) yielded up its rights, and there was a new Tantallon Castle in southern waters to keep fresh the memory of the old Tantallon Castle on the bleak northern coast. And thus was the last link added to that long chain stretching from Scottish promontory to African Cape.”

Elizabeth Pennell gives a good description of the technical details of the ship: “To the technically learned there will be clue to perfect proportions in the record of her dimensions; in her 456 feet of length, her 50 and a half breadth, her 35 of depth moulded, in her one huge funnel that accomplishes the work of two, in her 5700 tons of registered tonnage. One can fancy the wonder of Diaz in his little 50 tons ship could he return to watch this monster steaming by!”

Pennell goes on to give glowing accounts (how could it be otherwise, considering she and her husband were travelling at Sir Donald Currie’s expense and invitation?) of the appearance, both external and interior, of the ship. The following passage is typical, and singles out the music room on board for especial praise:

In the music room by Jospeh Pennell

In the music room by Jospeh Pennell

“But, in decoration, there is endless scope for variety and on the Tantallon not an opportunity has been neglected. Its companion-way, with the lions on guard, has a fine air of dignity and restraint in the sober sweep of its lines. The rich sombre brown of its deck smoking room is as elegant as appropriate. But it is in the music-room, above all, that it has achieved its success. This, indeed, might answer as a background to a new Ballade a la Mode. The pale gilded walls, the rose-strewn green damask of the long cushioned seats, the wide bow-window with its tiny glass panes and flowers on the sill, the little recesses, one with its pretty inlaid

A bookcase in the music room by Joseph Pennell

A bookcase in the music room by Joseph Pennell

piano, the others with writing tables, no less dainty, – all these might well serve as a setting to the modern substitute for powder and patches, for periwig and buckles.”

One wonders what the apparently straight-forward and practical Baden Powell made of such a room?

The End

Unfortunately, even so grand a ship as the Tantallon Castle is mortal. The end came for the ship on 7 May 1901, when she ran aground on Robben Island in dense fog. Not the sort of ending one would have hoped for for such a ship, but perhaps more dignified than the breakers yard.

The Tantallon Castle on the rocks off Robben Island

The Tantallon Castle on the rocks off Robben Island

Nevertheless the end of the ship was not in keeping with the final words written about her by Elizabeth Pennell:

“It is in all truth upon the shores of the Undiscovered Country that the Tantallon Castle touches, though along its coast South Africa has grown so staid and sober with civilisation. If the steamer carry in her name memories of an adventurous past, in her route she holds out promise of a present no less stirring. She wears gallantly, as Castle of old, the watchword of her Douglas inheritance: – ‘Forward.’”

What was Bantu Education? – “A Man in Jackboots Walking All Over the Garden”

31 08 2008

“The Bantu must guided to serve his own community in all respects. There is no place for him in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour. Within his own community, however, all doors are open … Until now he has been subjected to a school system which drew him away from his own community and mislead him by showing him the green pastures of European society in which he was not allowed to graze.” Thus in the Senate of the South African Houses of Parliament did Dr H.F Verwoerd justify, on 7 June 1954, the introduction of the system of Bantu Education, a system designed, explicitly and without reservation, to keep Blacks in South Africa subservient to whites, and to provide them with a vastly inferior education. This policy still haunts South Africa today, 14 years after the end of apartheid, in spite of the brave call of the Freedom Charter in 1955 that “the doors of learning and of culture shall be opened.”

Bantu Education was thrust on the people of South Africa by the arrogance of the Afrikaner Nationalist establishment in the midst of increasing resistance to apartheid and all its ramifications. It was a particularly pernicious system with far-reaching and long-lasting political, social, economic and psychological impact on South Africans of all races.

The Freedom Charter was a declaration issued by the Congress of the People at Kliptown, Johannesburg, on 26 June 1955. The Congress was a gathering of some 3000 delegates from all over South Africa called by the Congress Alliance. The Alliance was a grouping of a number of anti-apartheid organisations in South Africa. Its membership came from the African National Congress (ANC), then South African Indian Congress (SAIC), the South African Coloured People’s Organisation (SACPO), and the Congress of Democrats (the white element of the Congress Movement), the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) and the South African Peace Council.

The Freedom Charter went on to state:

The aim of education shall be to teach the youth to love their people and their culture, to honour human brotherhood, liberty and peace;

Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children; Higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit;

That apartheid education was far from such ideals is clear. Even whites got an education that was not designed to encourage them to “honour human brotherhood, liberty and peace.” Indeed white education was conducted on the lines of “Christian National Education”, which as many commentators have noted, was neither Christian nor National and could scarcely be called “education.”

What Bantu Education meant to those who had devoted their lives to the education of Blacks in South Africa was a devastating destruction of their dreams and their perceived vocations. Many simply left in disgust.

Famed South African liberal Dr Edgar Brookes was principal of Adams College near Durban, in the kwaZulu-Natal province. He left this post at the end of 1945 and recounts how his successor, G.C. Grant, had to cope with the stupidities with which the advent of Bantu Education was accompanied: “The Bantu Education Act was passed in 1953 and shortly afterwards a commission of enquiry descended on Adams. The intelligence with which it approached the question may be illustrated by one of the questions put: ‘I see in this brochure that you claim that Adams gives a liberal education. Does this mean an education based on the principles of the Liberal Party?'”

As Brooks further described the take-over of Black schools from the missionaries who had run them: “The process was like a man in jackboots walking all over the garden into which you have put all your love and trampling down your best flowers.”

As devastating as Bantu Education was on the mainly white missionaries who had devoted their lives to the education of young Black people, the effects on the young Black people were of course infinitely worse.

That this could not be otherwise is indicated by the following extract from the manifesto of the Institute for Christian National Education published (in Afrikaans) in 1948:

“Native education should be based on the principles of trusteeship, non-equality and segregation; its aim should be to inculcate the white man’s view of life, especially that of the Boer nation, which is the senior trustee…

“Owing to the cultural infancy of the native, the state, in co-operation with the protestant churches should at present provide Native education. But the native should be fitted to undertake his own education as soon as possible, under control and guidance from the state.”

The government put this idea into practice by a hugely differential spending on education during the apartheid years. In 1972 it was calculated by Frieda Troup (Forbidden Pastures – Education under apartheid, London: International Defence and Aid Fund, 1976) that expenditure on education for the 1969-1970 financial year broke down as R272,70 for every white child in school against R8,62 for every Black child in school: “That is to say that for every R1 the government spent on the education of each African child between the age of 5 and 19, it spent R31,60 for each White child in the same age group.”

The long-term results of this skewed view and application of education came out in the 1996 Census figures (the first true census of all people in South Africa): one in five South African adults had received no formal education at all and only 6% had achieved tertiary level. For 25% of the population, at that time about 40.5 million, the highest level of education achieved was “some” primary school. At the time of the Census fully one third of the population was unemployed, more than 25% earned less than R500 per month. In most economic reviews of South Africa the skills shortage is listed as a major factor inhibiting growth.

Cover of Miriam's Song

Cover of Miriam's Song

Writer Mark Mathabane’s sister Miriam, in the preface to his book Miriam’s Song (New York, Simon & Schuster: 2000) wrote: “By the time I entered Sub-Standard A (actually now called Grade 1), in January 1975, it was common for already overworked teachers in the lower primary classes to teach two session of over one hundred pupils each. It was estimated that half of black children between the ages of six and nineteen were not in school, that only one in fifty teachers had a university education, and that only one in nine teachers had completed matric (high school).”

Frightening as these figures are, they actually don’t begin to tell the human story, the psychological effects of such an evil system as Bantu Education.

South Africa in the second half of the first decade of the third millennium is facing social problems of unprecedented proportions. These include massive crime rates, drug abuse, family violence and violence generally. The integration of schools and other educational institutions is facing great difficulties and the learners themselves are caught up in uncertainty and disaffection.

As Miriam Mathabane asks, if Verwoerd had not taken over black education as he did, “if black children had had the same educational opportunities as white children, would there be less crime, fewer murderers, carjackers and rapists in the New South Africa, and more teachers, lawyers, writers and nurses?”

Of course, these questions cannot be answered, but my belief is that, yes, the social ills that wrack our society might well have been more tractable, and the whites who complain so bitterly about crime and their fears might have had more understanding of their black fellow-citizens, as of course blacks might have had more understanding of their white fellow-citizens.

In the end, the damage done by Bantu Education is incalculable, but its effects are very tangible in the daily lives of millions of South Africans who have been blighted by this dreadful crime perpetrated against them.

A Chapter of Changes: Chapter 23

29 08 2008

Dad’s memoirs suddenly look backwards: having arrived at 1963 we are taken back to 1952!


In this year my brother Chris went as a cadet to the SATS General Botha on which our father had been a cadet in 1924 and 1925. By now the old ship, the former HMS Thames, had been scuttled and the training ship was a “stone frigate” in Gordon’s Bay, a small bay off the larger False Bay, on the South Eastern side of the Cape Peninsular.

The rather fanciful depiction of the arrival of Van Riebeeck at the Cape in 1652, painted by Charles Bell in 1850. The original is housed in the South African Library.

The rather fanciful depiction of the arrival of Van Riebeeck at the Cape in 1652, painted by Charles Bell in 1850. The original is housed in the South African Library.

The year 1952 holds two memories for me: firstly it was the year of the 300th anniversary of the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck at the Cape in April 1652, where he was to set up a small outpost to provide provisions and fresh water for the ships of the Dutch East India Company on their way to and from India and the Far East.

Maurice Boucher, former professor of history at the University of South Africa, wrote of the arrival of the Europenas at the Cape, with considerable understatement, I think: “The arrival of Europeans on what was to be a permanent basis had a profound effect upon indigenous social structures, the political and economic development of the region and upon group relations in an increasingly complex racial situation.” (from An Illustrated History of South Africa, edited by Trewhella Cameron and SB Spies, Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball Publishers, 1986)

The Cadets of the General Botha were going to sail a replica of Van Riebeeck’s ship, the Drommedaris,  into Table Bay and I was desperate to see the festivities that were planned. I was bitterly disappointed when my parents could not afford to let me go to Cape Town to see what was happening.

The house at Dennegeur. The house was designed by by Aunt Lucy's husband Alex Kirstein and built of local stone by Italian prisoners of war during World War II

The house at Dennegeur. The house was designed by my Aunt Lucy's husband Alex Kirstein and built of local stone by Italian prisoners of war during World War II.

The second was that because they were going overseas I had to go to stay with my Aunt Lucy and her family on their farm Dennegeur in the then Western Transvaal (now part of the North West Province) near the town of Klerksdorp. This meant that I had to continue my schooling at the local farm school near Dennegeur and that was a huge shock to me as the school was very different from what I had been used to under the Cape Department of Education.

Buck on Dennegeur

Buck on Dennegeur

I spent six months at Dennegeur and loved a lot of the farm life. There were buck on the farm, lots of birds and other small animals. One of the things that I remember the most was the plaintive call of the crowned plovers which abounded on the farm. It was a sound that came to represent my loneliness for me and still when I hear it it brings back those feelings of being alone and missing my parents so much.

How I got to the farm I don’t recall except that it must have been by car. My mother drove mostly as Dad did not like driving. I guess the trip took two days and we would have stopped over in Bloemfontein and stayed at the old Polly’s Hotel.

Chris came to join me at Dennegeur at the end of the academic year of the General Botha and after a few days together we caught a train to Cape Town where we would meet our parents on their return from the UK.

Things I remember about this train trip is that it was the first time I realised that Chris smoked and secondly that Chris made me wash my face just before we arrived in Cape Town and that I just wiped the obvious parts around my eyes, nose and mouth and the rest of my face and neck was black with coal dust. I also remember seeing for the first time close up the points of the star of Cape Town Castle, and being very impressed with that. The train line still runs very close to them.

We stayed with Queenie and Cherrie over Christmas and then took the long drive home to Blythswood. I don’t remember whether or not Chris came back with us, but I rather think not. He still had another year to do at the General Botha and would most likely have stayed on in Cape Town so as to get back to the ship in time for the start of the next year of his two years there.


For me this year was important as it was my first year at Stellenbosch University where I had enrolled in the forestry course. I found university quite wonderful and I had a ball there, so much so that I did not make it academically. By the end of the year I was in any case disenchanted with the idea of becoming a forrester and so changed course to do a BA in 1964.

I got home to Buntingville in late November 1963 and I well remember my mother coming into my bedroom early one morning and telling me that the US president, John F. Kennedy, had been assassinated the day before. I was shattered as I had thought that JFK was a wonderful person who was going to lead the world to peace. My opinion of JFK has fluctuated over the years but my initial enthusiasm for him is being somewhat vindicated by a book that I have recently come across. It is written by a writer I have long admired, ever since discovering his great book Resistance and Contemplation (Delta, 1972) in about 1980, James W. Douglass. This book, published in 2008, is called JFK and the Unspeakable (Orbis, 2008). It is an amazing book about Kennedy’s “turn toward peace, and the price this exacted.” But that is the subject for another article.

For me Kennedy’s murder was a tragic event and I was very upset by it. I think that the memory of the Cuban Missile Crisis of the year before, when I had been in the Naval Gymnasium at Saldanha Bay, was still very close and clear to me and I remember how intensely I had felt the threat of nuclear war at the time. So the assassination seemed to me to heighten the sense of peril facing the world at the time.

Comments on Chapter 21: some chronological issues

12 08 2008

Some of the chronology in this chapter is a bit mixed up. I did go to school in Bloemfontein because of my asthma but that was in 1959 already, when I was in Standard 9 (Grade 11). So when my father was demoted so summarily I was already at school in Bloemfontein.

The routine was that I went to school by train at the beginning of each term. I caught the train in Queenstown. It usually left around five in the afternoon and arrived in Bloemfontein in the early hours of the following morning.

This was a journey which I usually enjoyed very much as my mother would give me a packet of ‘goodies’ to take with me and also dinner and breakfast meal tickets and a bedding ticket so I was pretty independent and felt quite ‘grown up’ about it all.

I left Blythswood in January 1960 fully expecting to return there at the Easter break, only to get the news toward the end of that term that my parents would be moving to Buntingville, a place I had not until then heard of. I found it all rather unsettling, to say the least and I got on the train in Bloemfontein at the end of term feeling rather insecure. After all, Blythswood had been my home for all of my conscious life really. And now I was not to see it again, certainly not to live there.

The train journey back to Queenstown was pretty much the reverse of the trip up to Bloemfontein – the train left in the late afternoon and got to Queenstown in the early morning. This time though the journey had a bit of an edge to it which I had not before experienced.

This time, instead of my parents collecting me from Queenstown I was to catch the “railway bus” to Mthatha (Umtata). I had often seen these great big reddish busses but never before that I can recall had I actually been a passenger on one. And certainly I had never before had to organize myself onto such a bus on my own.

The trip was something of an experience for me as the bus typically drove through the deep rural areas and passengers got on and off with all manner of gear – chickens, bicycles, huge trunks.

Then we came to a part where it was raining pretty hard and eventually got to a bridge that was submerged and so the bus just had to wait for the waters to subside, which took a few hours. I had my not very good camera with me and took several photos of all of this.

The bus waiting for the water to subside

The bus waiting for the water to subside

My arrival in Mthatha was much later than expected and I finally got to our new home exhausted and strange. I can’t remember too much of the arrival, except that I know I felt very strange after the experience of the bus journey and then getting to an unknown place.

At the end of 1960 I wrote Matric but did not do as well as might have been hoped – I guess the disruption of my previously very settled life had something to do with that. I know that my parents were struggling with their new circumstances as well as the political tensions that were roiling around that part of the then Transkei at the time, which my father doesn’t mention.

In June of that year about 30 people had been shot and killed at Nqusa’s Hill in Pondoland. These men had been attending a peaceful, though technically illegal meeting on the hill, a meeting that had been going on for some time. According to eyewitnesses the hill top had been incessantly “buzzed” by aeroplanes which had prevented the attendees from hearing the speakers. Then a helicopter had landed sten-gun carrying policemen who were reinforced by other police who had arrived in trucks.

The eyewitnesses told reporters that the attendees had put up their hands and shouted “We are not fighting”, but the police had opened fire and not stopped until there was no-one left standing to shoot at.

This shooting became known as the Pondoland Massacre but little was known about it outside of Pondoland as the government had drawn a curtain of silence around the area. However, my parents, being sensitive people, knew what was going on and it disturbed them greatly. Of course these events also affected the students at the school.

The Sharpeville shootings had also occurred that year, in March. So the whole country was in a state of high tension and the Government had declared a “State of emergency” which amounted to martial law. The Transkei was especially tense and whites were becoming panicky. A clandestine organisation known as Poqo was said to be spreading violence against whites and because of the Government’s clamp-down on reporting, rumours flew around at a great rate.

"Jock" Joubert

"Jock" Joubert

The net result of all this for me was that I was enrolled the next year at Umtata High School to re-write my Matric. This was a new experience for me as Umtata High was a co-ed school. In my class was a fellow-student called Roy Joubert with whom I became very firm friends. He was more commonly known as “Jock” and we did a great deal together. It was as a result of our friendship that our respective parents also became firm friends.

It turned out that the Jouberts had also known my aunt Mary, my father’s younger sister, who was married to the former head of St John’s College in Umtata, John Smithen, who had subsequently moved to be the head of Tiger Kloof High School near Vryburg in the then Northern Cape.

So this was 1961, another year of great changes. The year of the referendum of which my father writes in the next chapter of his memoirs, the year of “Decimal Dan, your Rands Cents man” – the decimalisation of South Africa’s currency – the year of South Africa becoming a republic and its departure from the Commonwealth.

Dr. A.P.Moore-Anderson – the Jack the Ripper link!

4 07 2008

What my father fails to mention in Chapter 5 is that the Dr Moore-Anderson (APMA) to whom he refers was the son of Sir Robert Anderson who gained fame (or was it notoriety) as the man in charge of Scotland Yard CID at the time of the “Jack-the-Ripper” murders towards the end of the 19th Century.

I have in my possession a copy of APMA’s biography of his father, The Life of Sir Robert Anderson (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1947), in which the Ripper murders play a relatively small part:

“The “Jack the Ripper” scare, resulting from the Whitechapel murders of the year 1888, synchronised with my father’s appointment as Assistant Commissioner of Metropolitan Police and Chief of the C.I.D. For reasons of health he was ordered two months’ complete rest before entering upon his duties, and after a week at the Yard he left for the Continent. The second of the murders was committed the night before he took office and the third occurred during the night of the day on which he left London. The newspapers soon began to comment on his absence, and when two more victims had fallen to the knife of the murderer-fiend, an urgent appeal from the Home Secretary brought the new Chief back to duty. ” We hold you responsible to find the murderer were the words which greeted him.

“Going back to the time when my father entered upon his new duties, he found that the officers of the C.I.D. had become demoralised by the treatment accorded to Mr. Monro-a strong esprit de corps always existing in the department. They believed too that they were regarded with jealousy in the Force. The feeling of discouragement had affected their work, the Commissioner’s report for 1888 recording that crime had shown a decided tendency to increase. So strong was the feeling about Mr. Monro that the new Chief had some difficulty in persuading Chief Superintendent Williamson not to resign. My father only learned afterwards that he himself had been protected by Sir Charles Warren when the Home Office wanted to call him to account because there was not an immediate change for the better.

“Warren had not only to suffer the nagging ways of the Home Office, but to face considerable public criticism on account of failure to find ” Jack the Ripper.” A cartoon of the period in the Pall Mall Budget shows an East End deputation in the Commissioner’s office. Upon walls and desk and lying on then- floor are regulations and instructions about drill. A police officer stands stiffly at attention. The deputation protests : ” Another murder, Sir Charles, the fourth in . . .” The Commissioner in uniform with sword and medals replies : ” Why bother me over such a trifle ? Still, if something must be done, what do you say, Inspector, to another hour’s battalion drill ? ” The Home Secretary, Mr. Matthews, was also attacked in the Press. Innumerable letters with theories and suggestions were sent to the police and the papers. One theory propounded was that the murderer was a Malay serving in a ship, who committed the crimes during brief shore leave.

“The facts were that the locality in which the crimes occurred was full of narrow streets with small shops over almost every one of which was a foreign name. The victims belonged to a small class of degraded women frequenting the East End at night. However the fact be accounted for, no further murder in the series took place after a warning had been given that the police would not protect them if found on the prowl after midnight. The criminal was a sexual maniac of a virulent kind living in the immediate vicinity. The police reached the conclusion that he and his people were aliens of a certain low type, that the latter knew of the crimes but would not give him up. Two clues which might have led to an arrest were destroyed before the C.I.D. had a chance of seeing them, one a clay pipe, the other some writing with chalk on a wall. Scotland Yard, however, had no doubt that the criminal was eventually found. The only person who ever had a good view of the murderer identified the suspect without hesitation the instant he was confronted with him ; but he refused to give evidence. Sir Robert states as a fact that the man was an alien from Eastern Europe, and believed that he died in an asylum.” (pp 49 & 50)

Considering the enduring fascination these murders have had on people for more than a century I find this most strange.

I vaguely remember being taken to visit Dr Moore-Anderson when I was almost five years old. The copy of the book that I have has an inscription in it:

“Murray & Marjorie McGregor,

with happy memories,

A.P. Moore-Anderson

M.C.C. Moore-Anderson

November 1948”

I imagine that he gave the copy to my parents during the visit I remember so vaguely.