Saturday, March 24, 2018

Rickshaw and passenger Durban circa 1912-13

This photograph, a snapshot in time, was taken circa 1912-13 in Durban. The date is revealed by family history information as well as details of the costume worn by the people in the photo. The rickshaw, once a familiar mode of transport in Durban, is drawn by an African 'puller' who was in all likelihood not the owner of the vehicle but paying a syndicate rent by the week. Rickshas, also spelled rickshaws, were imported into Natal by Natal Sugar Baron, Sir Marshall Campbell, from Japan in 1892. By 1899, 11 445 men were registered as pullers; 740 rickshaws were in daily use at this stage. 

His passenger is Victor Charles Lymbery, maternal grandfather of Sally Leventis. He was b
19 August 1887 and d 8 February 1952. He married Katheen Luntley on 24 April 1913. Victor was the youngest of six boys. The eldest brother, Harold, married one of Kathleen's sisters, Phyllis. Victor's father was Walter Roe Lymbery, dubbed The Grand Old Man of Nottingham Sport because he founded the Nottingham Forest Cricket Club in 1861, was one of the pioneers of the Nottingham Golf Club as well as being closely involved in the Nottinghamshire Football Association. 

The Lymbery and Luntley families were prominent Nottinghamshire people. Ancestors John Lymbery and his sister Susannah founded a dynasty of Lace Manufacturers circa 1806.

All six sons of Walter Lymbery were sent on 'world tours', Victor's taking place shortly prior to his marriage in 1913. After that he served in France during World War I. His father had agents around the world for their lace business. A young man like Victor, travelling on his own, would probably be put in contact with trusted family friends and business contacts. Victor's father Walter in his younger days spent 80 - 100 days a year travelling the world's markets, promoting Nottingham lace. He then established further businesses in the Nottingham Lace Market. Two of his sons continued the lace business, but not Victor. However, the latter was put in contact with people known to his father through trade links with other countries.

The two children in the photo with their demure minder perhaps belonged to family friends where Victor may have been staying whilst in Durban. The children are wearing outfits trimmed with broderie anglaise, popular for children's garments during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The nanny wears a long skirt with tucks at the hem, also typical of the 1900-1914 era.

Victor is nattily attired in a three-piece suit, with a wing-collared shirt, and his trousers have the turnups and knife-edge crease trendy from 1902. His hair is parted in the middle and owes something of its shine and neatness to a gentleman's pomade.

The rickshaw driver or puller usually wore a two-piece garment known as a 'kitchen boy's suit'. The white paint on his lower legs is said to be in imitation of girls' school socks. In pictures of rickshaws with British soldiers in 1902, the headdress is formed using the smaller female cow horns. Later, about 1914 -18, the male bull horns appear. 

It's not certain where the photo was taken, though it may have been in one of Durban's parks, on the Victoria Embankment or even the beachfront. We might think of the photo as a 'selfie' of its day - a set piece showing certain obvious elements of colonial style.

For more on the history of the rickshaw see Dr. Rowan Gatfield's remarkable presentation at

Acknowledgements to Rowan Gatfield for his help and information on rickshaws, and also to Sally Leventis, descendant of the rickshaw passenger, Victor Charles Lymbery, for sharing this photograph and family details.

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