Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Whaling Days in Durban 1900s

Whaling in Durban ca 1900s. Note the female fashions of the time.
In 1907, two Norwegians (Jacob Egeland and Johan Bryde) started whaling off the coast of Natal, with a factory sited below the Bluff in Durban. It was to become the largest land-based whaling operation in the world. Two steam whale catchers were brought out from Sandjefjord in Norway and whaling began on 3 July 1908 when the first whale, a 40 foot Humpback, was brought in to the port. The company was named the South African Whaling Company.

Objections were soon raised about the site of the whaling station, which was then moved to the sea side of the Bluff near Cave Rock, but the penetrating smell of the operations at the factory remained a problem for residents on the Bluff. The station was moved again, towards the South West, where the winds carried the smell in a different direction. 

Egeland and Bryde's partnership came to an end in 1909. With a cousin, Abraham Larsen, Egeland then formed the Union Whaling and Fishing Company in 1910. By 1912 thirteen whaling companies were registered in Durban. 

Union Whaling Company came into being in July 1920, formed by Larsen and Egeland who had started the Union Whaling and Fishing Company, and was to last to the end of the whaling era, merging with the Premier Whaling Company in 1954 and operating the largest shore whaling station in the world. By 1960 850 people were employed in the Company. Coastal whaling ended in 1975.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Souvenir Saturday: A Visit to the Circus

When I was a child growing up in Durban in the 1950s and 60s, one of the highlights was the annual visit to the circus, accompanied by my Grandmother. Looking back, though she pretended this treat was for my benefit, I think she enjoyed it even more than I did and suspect that my Gran was addicted to circuses.

She had stories galore of circus events and personalities, and especially about PAGEL'S Circus, which I was too young to remember. With the bloodthirsty tendencies typical of children, I particularly liked her tale of Mr Pagel whose lion-training act included putting his head in the lion's mouth. According to my Grandmother, on the last occasion he performed this dangerous trick, things didn't go too well, resulting in the gruesome public death of Mr Pagel. She also told me that Madam Pagel, a volatile lady, had been considered far more unpredictable than any of her husband's wild animals.

But family anecdote, as we all know, is often unreliable, presenting a partial rather than the whole truth. It came as no surprise to me when I later discovered that Mr Pagel, though badly mauled on several occasions during his long career and bearing numerous scars, actually died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 70. I must say I prefer my grandmother's version. She was right about Mrs Pagel, though, and more of this legendary character anon.

For most Natalians born and bred, the circus brings two famous names to mind: BOSWELL and WILKIE. However, numerous other circuses have paid visits to Natal and this form of entertainment goes a long way back in the history of the province. In the days when Natal was still a British Colony, Durban and Pietermaritzburg, as well as other smaller centres, were regularly invaded by circus folk, bringing fun and excitement and the lingering smell of sawdust to inhabitants who knew nothing of the canned delights of radio and television.

The Natal Witness of Tuesday, April 20, 1880, carried an advertisement for BELL'S Circus announcing that its proprietor, Mr Bell, was offering a "Benefit" performance on Wednesday, April 21, and proposing "to devote the proceeds … to the Relief of the Distressed Poor of Ireland". The ad give us an insight into what it was like to move a circus at that date from Pietermaritzburg to Durban - 20 tons of accoutrements by mule or oxen. Bell's Circus had come up to Natal from the Cape by sea, and was evidently about to take ship again from the Point.

It also seems that the "Ladies' Night" concept was not unknown in 1880: at Bell's "Grand Society Soiree" on Thursday, April 22, "Every lady accompanied by a gentleman will be admitted free to first and second class seats." On the Tuesday evening, a "Grand Fashionable Night" was to be held under the distinguished patronage of no less than His Excellency Sir Garnet WOLSELEY, G.C.M.G., K.C.B., and Staff. It seems remarkable that, in the aftermath of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 when mopping-up operations were continuing in Zululand, anyone was thinking about circuses, let alone the Irish Poor. Perhaps Mr Bell himself was Irish. We shall hope he wasn't planning to be the recipient of the proceeds.

It's not certain what act "the Popular Artiste MONS. Edouard " performed at his own benefit on Friday, April 23, but at the Saturday matinee and evening show, audiences were promised an "Oriental Fairy Spectacle" entitled "Cinderella Or the Little Glass Slipper."

Below the list of enticing events offered in the daily paper, a more practical note is struck by: "Wanted: Transport (Mule or Oxen) on or about May 10, to convey Bell's Circus Company from Maritzburg to the Point, Durban, about 20 tons. Apply stating lowest price." One wonders which contractor took on this mammoth task.

Transport was only one of the headaches for circus proprietors. Because of the number and variety of animals - dogs and horses as well as wilder beasts - travelling from one part of the country to another involved licence regulations and many restrictions, as well as checks by government veterinarians to prevent possible spread of disease. Horse-sickness, for example, was rife, and in 1911 Madame FILLIS's Circus experienced some difficulty with the authorities when wanting to bring seven horses from the Transvaal into Natal. In circuses of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the horse dominated the scene. Frank Fillis was the founder of a British circus which toured throughout the western world, and presented sophisticated horse routines.

The Colonial Secretary's Office records show innumerable memos concerning permission for performing dogs to be moved around the country (rabies being a threat). Names which come up are WIRTH Brothers Circus in 1894, Bert WILLISON's Circus in 1895, and FILLIS's in 1903. That this matter was regarded in a very serious light is shown by documents among the Government Veterinary Surgeon's records concerning a police constable who had taken it upon himself to allow dogs from FILLIS's Circus to travel without the proper checks having been conducted or a permit being issued, for which the constable in question was fined and threatened with dismissal from his post. (He was later proved to have been involved in theft of goods from a railway truck so we can assume that was the end of his career in the police force.)

WIRTH's Circus went one better than run-of-the-mill performing dogs, bringing a couple of wild Australian dingos to delight the crowds in 1894. They travelled on the SS Methven Castle, and a licence was granted on the condition that the animals were kept chained up while in Natal. Not ideal circumstances for the dingos, but they were a draw-card for Wirth's.

In 1902 BONAMICI's Imperial Circus toured Natal by rail, with 1109 tons of baggage including animals. Since this was the period immediately following the Anglo-Boer War, there were complaints that the transport of the circus interfered with the normal workings of the railway, especially considering "the large quantity of Military and Repatriation traffic". The General Manager of the Natal Government Railways wrote to the Acting Prime Minister to say that the circus had been conveyed from Ladysmith without any disruption to that station. Starting out in Durban, Bonamici's had travelled to Pietermaritzburg, then to Ladysmith, and on to half a dozen large towns.

Living up to the origins of their owner's name (Good Friends) Bonamici's Circus didn't forget the less fortunate members of the populace during their triumphal progress through Natal. Fifty patients from the Natal Government Asylum were admitted free of charge to one of the matinee performances.

As a public relations exercise, circuses would often announce a special evening with invitations being issued to notable personalities of the day. In 1894, W A SANDERS, the manager of COOK's Great Circus, wrote to the Prime Minister of Natal, Sir John ROBINSON, announcing that they were to celebrate the second week of their second visit to Pietermaritzburg by holding a "Grand Parliamentary Night" under the patronage of the Minister and Members of the Legislative Assembly and the Council. "During our stay in this country we have been visited once by Sir Charles and Lady MITCHELL … and 4 times by President REITZ …we can assure you of a most enjoyable evening and ample arrangements for your comfort and convenience …." A bit of name-dropping never did a circus any harm.

The lure of circus life led one young African, Mhlatikazi, to join Wirth's company while it was in Natal in 1895. His father, of the Mapumulo Magistracy, complained, via his chief, to the Secretary of Native Affairs that his son, then 17 years old, was about to be spirited out of the Colony by the circus and requesting that the authorities take steps to prevent this. In the Times of Natal, May 20 1895, there was a report that Wirth's had left for "up-country" but would be returning to Durban in due course. The boy's father was advised to try and see his son on the circus's return, and to persuade him to come home, but the anxious parent had no means of travelling to Durban. Unfortunately, the official records don't reveal what happened, but it seems likely that Mhlatikazi took his opportunity to see the world.

Other such stories ended unhappily. Pagel's Circus in July 1913 left behind at Richmond, presumably by mistake, one Harry ZWAARTBOY, a native of East London. With his employers gone and being far from home, the boy was destitute, resorted to house-breaking and theft and was finally jailed, though the authorities did make some attempt to restore him to his family.

This gives us a rather different view of the glamour and excitement surrounding circuses in Natal, and it is certainly true that not everyone welcomed their arrival. Any circus was a small travelling town in itself, and presented many practical problems, not the least of which was sanitation. Whatever site was allocated for pitching the tents was bound to cause objections from people living or conducting business in the vicinity. The Norfolk Hotel took exception to Pagel's camping on the vacant lot directly opposite their establishment in Upper Church Street, Pietermaritzburg in August 1928, saying that the site was "within 75 yards of the Hotel and in our opinion will be very harmful to our business, owing to the noise and probably smell of the animals", not to mention the crowds who would doubtless congregate around the tents at all hours of the day and night. Usually, the spot chosen for the circus to camp in Pietermaritzburg was the Market Square, but this site, too, gave rise to petitions from the local inhabitants who felt that the circus "constituted a nuisance."

A letterhead from Pagel's Circus dating from 23 July 1928 and addressed to the Town Clerk
of Pietermaritzburg. We can only speculate what the letter might have contained; perhaps
a response to the Norfolk Hotel's unreasonable complaints. 

Undeterred, Pagel's Circus and Menagerie continued to advertise their regular appearances in Natal, promising "All Star Performers from the Principal Circuses of Europe and America," and Natalians of every race, colour and creed flocked to pay their admittance of 2, 3 or 4 shillings (children to matinees at one and twopence).

Herr William Pagel was one of the greatest showmen of his day, and knew what the public wanted. He was German by birth (born in 1878) and after an early career at sea settled in Australia where he worked in a restaurant as dishwasher and bouncer. Extremely well-built (about 6 foot tall and between 280-300 lbs, with enormous forearms), he soon joined a circus as strongman and eventually made enough capital to buy his own tent, holding 200 people. In February 1905 he sailed for Natal, and began touring South African centres. He developed his own animal training capabilities, particularly with lions, and carried the scars to prove it. Pagel was also famous for his tug o' war acts with four horses or alternatively with two elephants.

He was renowned for carrying no stick or whip when in the ring, relying, as he himself said, on "no more formidable instruments than patience, kindness and love, to gain a high degree of ascendancy over the minds of the most savage of the beasts of prey. Many people imagine that when an animal is taught to perform a feat, it is coerced into doing something foreign to its instincts and nature. This is not so. Animals possess aptitudes just as human beings, and they vary almost as greatly. The trainer observes some peculiar aptitude in an animal and guides and develops it carefully, encouraging him by every imaginable means until he is able to perform what is for that species of animal an unusual feat."

There was scarcely a type of circus animal which Herr Pagel didn't train. In 1910, a list of animals he brought into Natal from Transvaal included 5 horses, 9 ponies, 2 zebras, 1 camel, 4 elephants, 6 tigers, 3 lions, 5 leopards, 3 polar bears and a kangaroo.

Pagel married Mary DINGDALE, a Yorkshirewoman some years older than himself, who kept her eye on the box-office and vied with her husband for colourful and courageous personality. She had a pet black-maned lion which travelled with her wherever she went, ensuring good publicity for the show. Madam Pagel died aged 74 in 1939. William Pagel had retired in 1933 after wounds sustained during his animal act had become infected, and when he died in 1948 at the age of 70, his name had been synonymous with circus in South Africa for decades. 

   This picture, which may have been on a postcard, is believed to be of Madame Pagel communing with a cross lion leopard. (A Liopard??) 

Footnote: Boswell Brothers' Circus, run by Stanley Boswell, was famous in South Africa during the 1950s. When the Boswells sold out to African Consolidated Theatres, the new owners merged it with Wilkie's in the early 1960s to form the Boswell-Wilkie Circus, managed by W H Wilkie. The Boswell family were not connected with this merged operation. Stanley Boswell's son Brian started his own circus, Brian's Circus, in South Africa in 1982.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A bygone era: Stainbank's Dairy

Coedmore Dairy was owned by the Stainbank family.
Henry Stainbank came to Natal in 1855 and settled at
 Coedmore (now Bellair) where he grew coffee.
He was involved in the founding of the Royal Durban Rangers,
a Natal volunteer corps

Monday, November 21, 2016

27th Regiment 1842 and Ensign Prior Memorial

In memory of the men of the 27th Regiment (Inniskilling Fusiliers) who fell in defence of the Fort at Durban in 1842.

This memorial stands outside the Old Fort, Durban.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Souvenir Saturday: Grey Street, Durban ca 1900

Grey Street, Durban ca 1900, taken from Queen St towards the Bay;
Grey St mosque on the right

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Climbing My Family Tree


The climbing of my family tree
Began when I was only three.
My mother took the time to show
Me pictures of those long ago,
And I would gurgle with delight
Then dream of ancestors all night.

"What is she to me and you?'
I'd ask; Mum knew the answers, too.
And then as soon as I could write,
My notebook never far from sight,
I'd copy down the dates and names
Of my new friends within the frames.

No Enid Blyton held for me
Such joys as family history.
Pursuits of childhood, dolls and stuff,
Left me cold: it was enough
To find my forebears, trace each link,
Record them all in pen and ink.

It nearly drove my parents mad -
'Get some fresh air', exclaimed my Dad -
'Can't go out now', I'd loudly yell,
'I've just discovered Auntie Dell
Who was an actress, married thrice,
And did some things which weren't too nice'.

Each twig and twiglet of my tree
I added with unholy glee,
I never minded what I ate
And sat up until very late
Writing letters 'cross the miles
And working on my family files.

'The girl's obsessed', my teachers said,
'Something's gone wrong inside her head!'
But, deaf to all their protestations,
I continued with my revelations;
Past and present merged for me,
I lived among my ancestry.

When it came time for love and marriage,
I gladly pushed the baby carriage,
And sat with children on my knee,
Expounding on the family tree;
No fairy tales sent them to bed,
They learned their ancestry instead.

Speechless with profound delight,
I took to Internet on sight:
A brand new way of seeking cousins -
And I found them by the dozens.
E-mail was an inspiration,
Speeding up investigation.

The Past took over from the Present.
My spouse made comments far from pleasant.
'Oy!', I'd hear his plaintive shout
Finding I was not about:
'Where's yer mother? Gone to bed?'

Now I have a million files;
The family tree stretches for miles;
My Inbox full to overflowing,
My database just keeps on growing.
My ancestors, a happy throng,

Forever part of Life's sweet song.

by Rosemary Dixon-Smith

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Souvenir Saturday: the crinoline era - 1850s

Fashion plate: the crinoline era 
From 1850s skirts became wider and wider and were supported by vast amount of petticoats until finally the crinoline, or hoop, was invented in the late 1850s. 
Skirts had several flounces and sleeves were elaborate and wider in shape, often decorated with flounces, lace or opulent trimming. 
Like new fashion in every era, the crinoline was criticised in the press and in magazines such as Punch, emphasising its disadvantages for the wearer - and for those in proximity!
In the Colony of Natal, where, with regular shipping arrivals at the Port, ladies could count on receiving news of fashion trends in Europe, the crinoline had its detractors. Robert Russell writes severely in the 1850s:

Friday, November 11, 2016

Lest We Forget ... our ancestors lost in war

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor0 of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Remembrance Day 11 November 2016

An Irish Airman Foresees his Death  
W B Yeats 1918

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;   
Those that I fight I do not hate  
Those that I guard I do not love;          
My country is Kiltartan Cross,          
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,         
No likely end could bring them loss      
Or leave them happier than before.       
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,          
Nor public man, nor cheering crowds,    
A lonely impulse of delight        
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;         
I balanced all, brought all to mind,        
The years to come seemed waste of breath,     
A waste of breath the years behind         
In balance with this life, this death.        

Lest we forget ...

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below. 

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, 
We are the dead; short days ago
Take up our quarrel with the foe!
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields. 

The torch; be yours to hold it high! 
To you from failing hands we throw
If ye break faith with us who die
In Flanders fields.
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow  
In Flanders fields.
      John McCrae1872 - 1918

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Ghost of Point King Lighthouse, Albany, Western Australia

Following the Crimean War, British authorities had entered into a contract for a direct Royal Mail service packet from England to Australia, with Albany being the first port of call. Outlying islands and a narrow entrance to the harbour sometimes made navigation difficult. For this service to be successful, lighthouses needed to be constructed so that the lucrative mail-boats could arrive and depart from Princess Royal Harbour in safety. In the hope of bringing more passenger liners and mail ships to the Port of Albany, the Point King Lighthouse was built in 1858.

The British Government agreed to build two lighthouses - one at Point King and the other on Breaksea Island, with building commencing in 1857.  Point King shone its light for the first time on 1st of January 1858, with William Hill appointed as the first Keeper. Point King Lighthouse originally comprised a Keeper’s house which sat 47ft above the high water mark and was integral with the 17ft square, wooden tower fitted with an oil-fired light which was visible from 12 miles and required daily trimming of the lamp’s wick.

Lightkeeper positions unfortunately changed hands quickly and with inexperienced Lightkeepers being appointed, the lighthouse started to fall into disrepair.  Fortunately, this was remedied when Samuel Mitchell was appointed to the position in 1867 and remaining on-station until 1903 when he was replaced by John Gregory Reddin.  Reddin was to become the last resident Lightkeeper when it was decided in July 1911 that the Port Pilot Crew would be charged with the responsibility of trimming the light each night.  

The march of technology led to power being installed in 1913 and with the automation of the light, the wooden structure and equipment were neglected and deteriorated rapidly until the light sadly ceased to work.

During her service, the Point King Lighthouse guided hundreds of vessels into Albany’s harbour from 1858 and ghostly tales were whispered from time-to-time, of a man seen dripping salt water whilst making his way along the lighthouse passageway and climbing the ladder to the tower. Perhaps some long-dead Keeper felt drawn back to make his nightly inspections and trim the wicks?

Today, the lighthouse with the Keeper’s cottage is sadly a ruin which still sits nestled on the rocks below, but it has become a photographer’s haven with its backdrop of the rugged coastline and tales of John Gregory keeping it very much alive.  Stories tell of a ghostly old and bearded Lighthouse Keeper still on duty in a dark coat bearing brass buttons and wearing a black hat, with pipe in hand.  He has been seen to suddenly materialise on vessels as they headed into the harbour!

This story has been reinforced in the late eighties by the yachting family of Jennifer Smith, her husband and children, whilst sailing their yacht from Hamelin Bay to the Port of Albany.

On that occasion, the night was dark as the family approached Albany waters in a rising sea and wind.  They had become confused about the navigation lights and confronted with poor visibility, were unsure where to go.  Suddenly, a figure appeared on the bow of their yacht!

Jennifer described the vivid scene: 

'He wore a large dark coat with brass buttons in two rows down the front of his coat, his collar was pulled up and a flat black hat pulled down on his head. He had a short-cut beard and in his hand, a pipe. He nodded his head and his pipe at me and in that moment the harbour opened up before our eyes.'

Is this the ghost of John Reddin, the Lighthouse Keeper from 1903 to 1911, continuing with his nightly duty of making his customary inspections of the lighthouse?

Perhaps it is John Reddin protecting and guiding seafarers in distress?

We would all like to think that it is!