Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Last of the South African Lighthouse Keepers: Hannabus family

M’Bashe Point Lighthouse Transkei

Latitude          32° 14' 27, 1'' S.

Longitude       28° 55' 00, 9'' E.

P-J Hannabus, Lighthouse Keeper (Ret.,) has a fond attachment to the M’Bashe Point Lighthouse for it was here that his Lighthouse career commenced.

The Lighthouse overlooks the forest-clad hills of the river mouth and down onto a beach of rocky outcrops. It is an isolated post, 100 kilometres from Umtata on a gruelling, gravel road and the nearest hospital is at Madwaleni, a rural village approximately 60 kilometres away. A South African Railway bus delivered post and groceries to the trading stores, the Haven Hotel and the Lighthouse.

P-J’s father Lighthouse Keeper, J.F. Hannabus (Babsie) arrived with his wife Eunice, P-J and his sister Nerene, in 1969 and took up appointment at M’Bashe Point. Sadly, Eunice passed away just a few months after their arrival and lies buried in the Umtata cemetery.

P-J brings us this amusing story, of how, as a young man of 17 years old, his Lighthouse career was launched.

“I had just completed my matriculation and my Dad, Babsie, became very ill with bronchitis. I telephoned Corky Bruyns, the Lighthouse Inspector in Cape Town (Green Point) and requested a Relief Keeper be sent out for two weeks. Corky said that by the time they had found a Relief Keeper, sent him by rail to Umtata plus the difficult car journey to M’Bashe, Dad would be better!

Corky said to me, ‘What are you doing?’ I told him that I had not chosen any particular career path at this time. Corky said, ‘so who is running the station at the moment?’ ‘Well sort of me. Pops is telling me what to do from the bed.’ Corky’s reply was firm and decisive. ‘That is settled then and saves a lot of bother. You are now appointed Senior Relief Keeper at M’Bashe! When Pops gets better, you stay on as Trainee!’

I trained under my Dad and when competent, the Service posted me to my first Lighthouse at Danger Point as Relief Keeper.

Danger Point was home to me, as my Dad had been stationed there from 1961 to 1963 and it is here under a clump of trees that my infant brother lies buried in a tiny grave.

The first job I was given as the Relief Keeper was to paint the dome of the tower. With only an antiquated safety belt to rely on, my nerves were quite raw as I took on this perilous task!”

A series by Suzanne-Jo Leff Patterson

Friday, October 30, 2015

Masulah Boatmen introduced by Bell 1861

The Natal Almanac includes among its port entries a group of 'Masulah boatmen'. One might be forgiven for believing 'Masulah' to be, in a Natal context, a contemporary error for 'Zulu', but not so. The terminology is correct.

These boatmen were engaged, from 1861, by the always innovative Captain William Bell, who persuaded the authorities to import special surf boats from Madras. This city had a sandbar problem not unlike Natal's, with all ships being forced to land offshore due to the silting up of the entry channel. The lightweight Masulah boats would transfer the cargo - and passengers - through the surf back to port.

Masulah boatmen bringing boats in to shore at Madras.

It is quite possible that Bell (who is recorded as sailing from Calcutta on at least one voyage) had seen the fearless Madrassi oarsmen in operation in India. The concept proved equally successful in Natal and shown in the annual list of Port Office employees from 1861 in the Almanac are eleven Madulah Boatmen 'at 18 pounds each' (per annum).

When their contracts expired, many of these Indian sailors remained in Natal, bought or built their own boats and went into business as fishermen.

Masulah boat and crew

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Captain Bell's narrow escape 1854

William Bell was an active Port Captain, not spending every hour at Natal writing reports or making lists of passenger arrivals. 

The frequent trips which Bell undertook in all weathers in the Port Boat between the harbour and the vessels at anchor, were hazardous. He narrowly escaped drowning in September 1854, when coming ashore in the early hours from the Princeza. 

The night was very dark and the Port Boat filled with water in the heavy surf, Bell and his crew being immersed chest-deep before abandoning her and slowly groping their way to land without a light. If the incident had taken place a yard or two nearer the deep water channel, all the men would have been lost.

From The Natal Mercury, Supplement 27 September 1854

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Death of a mariner Gadsden 1849

Sailing ship Lalla Rookh
Photo Qld Library


It is our painful duty to record a most distressing accident which happened on Wednesday afternoon last in our harbour, by which the lives of two young men were sacrificed.

 It will be recollected that on that afternoon the wind was at times blowing in heavy squalls, during which the jolly-boat of the barque Lalla Rookh broke away from her fastening. The mate, Mr James Fenton, with Charles Gadsden, the 3rd mate and two hands, got into her pinnace to go after and secure her and had hoisted the mainsail when a squall came on and capsized her and she immediately sunk. Captain Balliston of the Ennerdale who saw the accident from the deck of his vessel, immediately manned his boat, and endeavoured to pick up the immersed crew - but being of a considerable distance from the place of the accident, only succeeded in saving two, Messrs Fenton and Gadsden both meeting a watery grave.

Mr Fenton had only joined the Lalla Rookh at the Cape of Good Hope but his gentlemanly manners and very considerable general talents had already commanded the esteem and respect of the vessel and his numerous passengers. Mr Charles Gadsden, although he had not completed his apprenticeship, had been during the passage advanced to the position of 3rd mate and was a young man well connected and affording much promise of success in his profession. We regret to learn that the bodies were not recovered. The two men who narrowly escaped this sad fate were in the first instance taken on board the Ennerdale where they met with every attention from its kind-hearted commander and are now recovered.

Source: The Daily Southern Cross (Auckland) 5 May 1849 p4

Note: at present it is not certain precisely which Charles Gadsden was involved. There were a number of Gadsdens in Australia at the time.

Note 2: Lalla Rookh is an Oriental romance by Thomas Moore, published in 1817. The title is taken from the name of the heroine of the tale, the daughter of the 17th-century Mughal emperor Aurangzeb

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Romance at the Bluff Lighthouse

The lighthouse lurks, faded, in the background of the left picture.

Photo from D Larsen

Friday, October 23, 2015

Eastern or Ragged Point Lighthouse, Barbados

Ragged Point is located in the parish of St Philip on Barbados and the lighthouse marks the most eastern point on the island.
Built in 1875 (too late for my Barbadian Gadsden ancestors to have known it), the lighthouse is 97 feet tall and is still in operation - one flash in 15 seconds. It is closed to the public, for safety reasons. Its massive structure looks across the beautiful but dangerous and choppy Atlantic Ocean.  Speedy currents make swimming better avoided.
Ragged Point has various coves and bays, and stretches for almost the entire east coast of the island, with breathtaking scenery.

Photo: E Dixon-Smith

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Last of the South African Lighthouse Keepers: Japie Greeff cont.

Japie Greeff
Photo: Keri Harvey –

Cape St Lucia Lighthouse and the Jolly Rubino

On a densely wooded sand dune, the Cape St Lucia Lighthouse rises 113 metres above the sea.  Erected in 1906, it is one of the oldest lighthouses on the Zululand Coast.
Reinforced yet again, is the all-important role of manned Lighthouses and the enormous contribution Keepers have made to the safety of all those at sea. Japie’s recollection involves the loss of the Jolly Rubino whilst stationed at Cape St Lucia Lighthouse.

The Jolly Rubino was a 31,262 tonne deadweight Italian-flagged Ro-Ro vessel, which caught fire off Richards Bay in 2002 and drifted helplessly towards the St Lucia Sanctuary, a proclaimed world heritage site. This caused grave concern to environmental authorities, particularly as her cargo included a range of hazardous chemicals. The Jolly Rubino, en route from Durban to Mombasa, ran aground just northeast of the Cape St Lucia Lighthouse, where Japie was stationed.

“On 11th September 2002, my wife and I were watching the TV, when news came of a ship on fire just off Richards Bay. I said to my wife, ‘Here comes trouble. That ship will wash ashore close to the Lighthouse and sink.’ My wife didn’t believe me and said that my predictions were wrong and the ship would sink before it reached the Lighthouse.

The next morning I was pumping fuel for the generators when my wife called me and said that the Port Captain was on the phone and wanted to talk to me urgently. I rushed to the phone and the Port Captain told me to be on the lookout for this Italian ship and to closely monitor her movements, because she was drifting in the direction of the Lighthouse!

With a huge smile on my face, I turned to my wife and said to her that she owed me an apology, because the ship was drifting to the Lighthouse! I finished pumping fuel and at 10 o’clock I began to monitor the ship’s movements.

During the course of the night and in stormy weather, the Master, Officers and crew of Jolly Rubino, were airlifted off the ship, but unfortunately the ship’s dog was nowhere to be found.

People began visiting the Lighthouse, interested to see what would happen to the ship, which, by this time, was heading for the beach, just north-east of the Lighthouse, where she later ran aground in adverse weather conditions.

The next morning, the salvage tug Wolraad Woltemade arrived and salvage arrangements were being made. Jolly Rubino’s position was being monitored by the Anchor Handler ‘Pentow Service’ and the oil pollution abatement vessel Kuswag I, remained in the vicinity. 'Kuswag VII' the oil pollution patrol aircraft, regularly flew over the scene.

SMIT Salvage was awarded the salvage contract and I became good friends with the team. It was at this time that my son had just finished high school and the salvage company offered him some casual employment. It was thrilling for him as he and the team were airlifted by helicopter from Richards Bay airfield to the Jolly Rubino.

My wife, our two daughters and I, watched his helicopter fly past the Lighthouse and hover above the ship to offload the team. Suddenly, a heavy duty sack or sugar bag came loose and hit the tail rotor of the helicopter and the helicopter fell onto the deck of the Jolly Rubino and burst into flames!

My wife and daughters were in tears and screaming at me to do something. I immediately reached for the phone and contacted the SMIT team, who urgently contacted a standby helicopter and within 25 minutes all the team members were rescued and flown to hospital.  It was a miracle that there were no fatalities that day.

The suddenness and seriousness of that situation made us realise how short life is and how much all of us take it for granted.”

Undoubtedly, due to the co-ordinated and speedy response to the vessel’s crisis by all parties acting cohesively, potential huge environmental damage was avoided.

News Report - 16 September 2002: 

Burnt Bella gets shipshape 
The ship’s dog was rescued from the burning Jolly Rubino on Friday by the Smit Salvage Team and is under veterinary care and doing well.

Bella (Italian for "beautiful"), as she is now known, had badly burnt paws and the Veterinarian treating Bella, said that it was a miracle she had not suffocated from the smoke. Staff had washed oil and diesel from her body.

Bella, whose real name was said to be Chicca, was sent back to her homeland and owners, on the sister ship Jolly Esmeraldo, some several weeks later once she had recovered.

A series by Suzanne-Jo Leff Patterson
October 2015

Monday, October 19, 2015

Have you seen these medals? Talana Museum Burglary

Here's a list of what was stolen. If you know anything about this theft or if you are offered any medals for sale that are included in this list, please scroll to the bottom of this post for contact details for the Talana Museum

1.SMITH, William Craighead. J.P. (2 medals)
• South Africa Service medal – no bar (Lieutenant, Buffalo Border Guard). 04/9447
• QSA with “Talana” bar (Dundee Rifle Association).
2.STEER, Alfred J.W. 04/5392
• QSA bar Talana (Dundee Town Guard).
3.WILLSON, Capt. Charles George. M.L.C., J.P.
• South Africa Service Medal (Sergeant Major, Buffalo Border Guard). 04/17
4. McKENZIE, John. J.P. (3 medals)
• QSA with bars Talana; Defence of Ladysmith; Transvaal; Laing’s Nek; South Africa 1901. 170 Corporal, Natal Carbineers. 04/21
• Natal Rebellion. No bar. Lieutenant and Quartermaster, Natal Carbineers. 04/15
• Long Service Medal J McKenzie 04/19
5. MACPHAIL, Duncan Dugald 04/2385
• Natal Rebellion (no bar). Lance Corporal, Natal Carbineers.
6. BROCKMAN, C. (2 medals)
• QSA with bars Tugela Heights, Relief of Ladysmith, Transvaal, Laing’s Nek. 146 Trooper C. Brockman, Umvoti Mounted Rifles. 04/16970
• Natal Rebellion with 1906 bar. Trooper C. Brockman, Msinga Military Reserves. 04/6590
7.GARDNER, W.N. 1213 Trooper. South African Light Horse. 04/16
• QSA bars Cape Colony; Tugela Heights; Orange Free State; Relief of Ladysmith; Laing’s Nek; Belfast.
8.SAUNDERS, J. 731 Corporal. Imperial Light Infantry. 04/16968
• QSA with bars Tugela Heights; Orange Free State; Relief of Ladysmith; Transvaal; Laing’s Nek.
9.HARMSWORTH. 2402 Trooper Robert William. Natal Police. (3medals)
• QSA with bars Tugela Heights; Relief of Ladysmith; Cape Colony; Orange Free State; Transvaal.
• Africa service Medal 1939-1945 04/13804
• 1939-1945 War Medal 04/13805
10.HAUTON, Conductor A. Natal Transport. 04/6452
• QSA with no bar.
11.STARZAKER. 1655 Corporal W. Scots Guards. 04/20
• KSA.
12.WHARRAM. 2186 Private M. Johannesburg Mounted Rifles.
• QSA with bars Cape Colony; Transvaal; Orange Free State; South Africa 1901 and 1902. 04/16969
13. MAUNDER. 8326 Private F. Royal Army Medical Corps.
• QSA with bars Tugela Heights; Orange Free State; Relief of Ladysmith; Transvaal; Laing’s Nek.. 04/2386
14. MILLER. 3285 Private D.H. Royal Dublin Fusiliers. (2 medals)
• QSA. Private. Bars Tugela Heights; Orange Free State; Relief of Ladysmith; Transvaal; Laing’s Nek. 04/5327
• KSA. Drummer. Bars South Africa 1901 and 1902. 04/16963
15. BUNTING, Benjamin Bartle. (4 medals)
• QSA. Bars Defence of Ladysmith; Transvaal; Laing’s Nek. 64 Trooper, Volunteer Composite Regiment. 04/5326
• KSA. Bars South Africa 1901 and 1902. 64 Sergeant, Natal V.C.R. 04/5325
• Natal Rebellion with bar 1906. Sergeant, Natal Carbineers. 04/5324
• Edward VII Coronation Medal in bronze. Unnamed.
16. 4 medals showing the Coronation of King George V and Queen Mary June 1911. 04/18 1 04/18 2 04/18 3 04/18 4
2 are silver and 2 bronze.
17. London School Board Medal awarded to Herbert Head 1889
18. Union of South Africa Medal 1910 04/23 1 04/23 2 04/23 3
19. Trade tokens presented to Dundee by Dundee Scotland – 18 in total 04/24 numbered 1-24 individually.
20. 3 First World War medals awarded to E V Pulford 04/17564
1914-15 Star, 1914-1919 Brittania medal, 1914-1918 George V Medal
21. Johannesburg City Council 1886-1966 medal 04/28
22. Military Medal issued to RJA McMillan 22. 04/5713
23. Republic Medal 1961 04/5331
24. Iron Cross 1914 04/1355
25. Queen Victoria medal 1890 medal 04/1046
26. 1939-1945 04/13805
27. Great War for civilization 1914-1919 04/9151
28. Union Castle Sports Medal 04/9833
29. WW1 star medal 04/9150
30. Ribbon 04/9152
31. Defence Medal World War ll 04/8172
32. 1939-1945 Medal 04/8173
33. 1939-1945 Star no name on medal 04/8174
34. Africa Service Medal no name on medal 04/8175
35. 1947 Royal Visit medals 04/6595 2 of these
36. 1947 Royal visit medal 04/6592
37. Africa Service Medal 1939-1945 no ribbon or name inscription 04/6453
38. Set of 4 miniature medals from 1914-1918 04/6454
39. Set of 3 medals to T B Wade 1937 Coronation medal 04/6451
40. Africa Service Medal 04/6450
41.Italian Africa Orientale medal - Ethiopia 04/6449
42.Italy Star WW11 Number 613133 V Ridley 04/13875
43. Coronation medal of King George and Queen Mary 04/11450
44. Pro Patria Medal 04/16714
45. Police Faithful Service Medal awarded to Sgt PS Nel 04/15716
46. Police Merit Badge stamped on back of medal P S M Nel 18318 20.03.64 04/ 15717
47. Group of 5 Italian Medals 04/15522
48. Safe driving medal 1947-1949 04/15338
49. 1947 Royal visit to South Africa medal 04/15164
50. Union of SA Commemorative medal 04/19493
51. 1906 badge with 7 small hooks on reverse 04/18105
52. Edward Vll and Queen Alexandra medal 04/18069
53. Brass medal issued by Dundee to commemorate coronation of Edward Vll 04/18058
54. Coronation of Edward and Alexander medal 04/18057 has holes punched in it.
55. Dundee Corporation medal issued for coronation of George V and Queen Mary 04/18059
56. Silver medal to commemorate silver jubilee of Queen Mary and King George 1910-1935 04/18060 2 medals and medal bar
57. Bronze medal for silver jubilee of George V and Queen Mary 04/18061
58. Talana Lodge Masonic Lodge medal presented to R Smith 1903 04/18062
59. Circular black badge “For King and Empire” number on reverse SA11228 04/18055
60. silver Queen Victoria jubilee medal 1837-1897 04/18056
61. Medal for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth ll 04/17713 1
62. Commemorative button for coronation of Elizabeth ll 04/17713 2
63 .Miniature A Defence force medal 1994 with number 138175 stamped on reverse 04/17567
64. General service medal presented to D Greenhough number 149767 stamped on reverse 04/17566
65. Medal to commemorate 1925 Royal visit to SA 04/17562
66. Coronation medal for George V and Queen Elizabeth in 1937 04/17561
Pam McFadden
Talana Museum
Dundee South Africa
facebook: talanamuseum
twitter: @talanamuseum
Open weekdays 8:00-16:30 weekends and public holidays 9:00 - 16:30. Closed 25,26 December.

To see pictures of the medals go to

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Last of the South African Lighthousekeepers: Japie Greeff

 A series by Suzanne-Jo Leff Patterson - 2015, October

Japie Greeff at Cape Columbine Lighthouse
Photo: Keri

In another of his anecdotes, Japie Greeff, who is currently stationed at Cape Columbine Lighthouse, continues to delight us with his interesting recollections of his first involvement with a sea rescue, whilst he was stationed at Cape Point Lighthouse.  
 I was on the morning shift and just about to be relieved, when a radio   broadcast came through from Cape Town Radio of a storm warning, reporting a north-westerly gale gusting to 50 knots with heavy swells up to 8 meters. Fishing vessels were at sea catching crayfish near Cape Hangklip, which is approximately ten miles off Cape Point.  The skippers, on hearing this warning, made ready to head directly for the nearest harbour. 
 Facing large swells and roaring winds whilst returning to a safe harbour, suddenly, without warning, one of the fishing vessels suddenly sprang a leak in the bow.  A hull plank had been battered loose and the vessel started taking water – fast! I radioed the skipper and told him to swing to stern and keep steaming astern towards the Lighthouse, whilst I notified the South African Navy. It was necessary for me to call upon the Navy, as the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) vessel would not have been able to handle these conditions. The Navy immediately deployed a Strike Craft and despite battling heavy swells and high seas, their excellent team work and co-ordination, had the fishing crew rescued and taken back to safety within two hours! 
 Some weeks later, we met with the rescued skipper and his crew for drinks at the Ski Boat Club. He told us they were so grateful for the fast response from all involved in rescuing them from such dangerous seas, but unfortunately, their fishing boat had been lost when it sank just next to the Lighthouse.  
 Whilst under the threat of sinking and struggling to save his boat, the skipper could not believe that the simple maneuver I had instructed him to follow, of turning his ship to stern to avoid the bow taking excessive water, had saved all their lives.    

Friday, October 16, 2015

Talana Museum Burglary

The Talana Museum in Dundee has lost its collection of medals in a well organised and apparently targeted theft.

Drills and angle-grinders were used to break through three steel doors to access the Armoury, where safes are housed. Explosives were still attached to some safes, but not detonated. It seems only the medal collection, which included many historically important items, was stolen.

This appalling loss of irreplaceable military medals is shocking to anyone with a sense of history or any comprehension of what we owe to the men who served and were given these awards. It shows an element among South Africans of overriding greed and a total disregard for historical artefacts. Indeed the latter has become the norm, sadly. 

It is hardly likely that the medals will ever be seen again: they may pop up in overseas collections in due course, exchanged for mere money. Perhaps it is too optimistic to hope that the perpetrators will be found and punished severely.

At least the staff at Talana Museum were not injured and we trust that they will continue to fulfil their valuable contribution to the keeping of historical records and objects, without further disruption.