Andrew Geddes Bain, a Russian portrait

The Van Riebeeck Society recently published “An Entirely Different World – Russian Visitors to the Cape 1797-1870”. The editor, Boris Gorelik, had contacted the Heemkring in January 2014 to help him locate some local landmarks. So, the book has a number of colourful references to Paarl, but here is a wonderful portrait of Andrew Geddes Bain (1797-1864) captured by the Russian novelist Ivan Goncharov (1812-1891). Goncharov was part of a large Russian expedition to the Pacific Ocean. The Russian fleet docked in Simonstown from 22 March 1853 until 24 April 1853, during which time a group of the higher ranking officials visited Stellenbosch, Paarl, Wellington and Worcester. During this trip, they were introduced to Bain, who was then finishing the Bainskloof Pass.

Here is Goncharov’s first impression of the 56-year-old Bain:

Bain is tall, built sturdily and strongly; he walks a great deal, taking long firm strides like an elephant, no matter uphill or downhill. He eats a lot, like a workman, and drinks even more; he has a reddish complexion, and he is balding. From learned conversation, he passes easily to joking, and he sings so loud that we, all together, could not shout him down.

Bain accompanied them along the pass – then open only two days a week to travellers – to Worcester, where Bain proved to be the life and soul of the party.

We dined until midnight. Bain showed himself to be a lively companion; he sang Scottish and English songs in his falsetto for all of Worcester to hear … We sang too, in chorus and solo, to the accompaniment of a piano in the corner of the room.

The following day they returned to Wellington where the Russians were housed in a hotel that by all accounts served very poor food. Before departing for Cape Town the following morning, the Russian party stopped at Bain’s house to say their last good-byes.

Bain presented us to his daughters, four mature Afrikander maidens, born in Africa. His wife was Dutch. He is a widower. Around the girls were many little dogs, a sign of vanishing hopes for love and marriage. Mature maidens, having stopped dreaming, focus their need to love on cats and little dog; the more tender spirits on flowers. The eldest daughter was an old maid. The third one, a tall slender girl, was quite pretty, and the other two were so-so. They tried to offer us coffee and breakfast, but we thanked them pleading need for prompt departure. Mr Bain proposed that we should see his museum of fossils. He suggested that we take a few small reptilian skeletons for the museum of natural history in St Petersburg.

Bain married Maria Elizabeth von Backström in 1818 and they had 11 children. Goncharov does not mention Bain’s daughters by name, but they were probably Jane (34), Wilhelmina (27), Margaret Sophia (21) and Andriëtta (19). His youngest daughter, Victoria Fredrica was 16 years old in 1853.

Stone masons and granite quarries


The Drakenstein Heemkring’s Gribble Collection includes a fairly large number of 19th-century photographs of granite stone masons and quarry owners. This photograph was taken in front of JA Clift (Pty) Ltd in Concordia Street, Suider Paarl. This family business was started by Jim Clift (centre) in 1908 and is today the oldest family owned granite contracting business in South Africa. His son William “Bill” (right) took over the family business. Continue reading

Smallpox epidemics at the Cape

A portrait of Edward Jenner by James Northcote [Wikimedia Commons]

A portrait of Edward Jenner by James Northcote [Wikimedia Commons]

The Cape experienced its first smallpox epidemic in 1713. Fatalities soared between May and July and contemporaries wrote that people died in such numbers that many bodies had to be buried without coffins and in shallow graves that attracted scavenging hyenas, jackals and feral dogs. In the open country bodies decomposed along wagon tracks and foot paths. There was another outbreak in 1748 and in 1755 a homeward bound ship from Ceylon caused an outbreak that killed more than 2,000 settlers and slaves.

Drakenstein during the 1713 epidemic

Curious as to how smallpox may have affected the people living in the Drakenstein area, I looked through a few MOOC documents relating to deaths in 1713. Continue reading

Carl Friedrich Drège, Paarl’s famous apothecary and explorer

Carl Friedrich Drège (1791-1867) was an itinerant apothecary and lived in Paarl between 1828 and 1867. In 1847 he married Sophia Christina Auguste Koch (*Hamburg 1816) in Paarl. Two of their children are buried in the Strooidak Church cemetery: a baby (died 12.04.1848) and Henri Charles (≈ Paarl 3.6.1849, died 13.04.1850. His son Isaac Louis was also baptised in the Strooidak Church on the 10 April 1853. Further research would be required to establish if the undated “CF Drège” buried in the Strooidak Church’s cemetery is a third child, or Carl Friedrich himself.

Carl Friedrich Drège was born in Altona near Hamburg, arrived at the Cape in 1821 and worked in Cape Town as an assistant apothecary Pallas & Pohlmann. The 35 year old Carl Friedrich registered as an independent apothecary in 1826 with a shop at 4 Long Street, on the corner of Long and Grave Streets. Continue reading

HMS Drummond Castle almost claims famous composer’s life

Rocco Catorzia de Villiers (1838-1902). Photograph taken on 19 June 1890. Drakenstein Heemkring, Gribble Collection

Rocco Catorzia de Villiers (1838-1902). Photograph taken on 19 June 1890. Drakenstein Heemkring, Gribble Collection

Tragedies like the recent crash of the Air Malaysia flight over the Ukraine, are often accompanied by extraordinary stories of people who narrowly missed tragedy by some seemly random event. Something similar happened to one of Paarl’s most famous 19th century musician-composers – Rocco de Villiers.

In May 1896 Rocco de Villiers booked a berth on the HMS Drummond Castle to visit London and Germany from where he imported pianos for his shop in Paarl. His travelling party included MS du Toit, Rev Frans du Toit, Jan Moll, Dolf Moll, Frans Retief and Frans Roux – all from Paarl. Continue reading

Business licences, 1885

FJ van Wagtendonk had a shop in Ou Tuin - Paarl District Advertiser, 11 September 1885

FJ van Wagtendonk had a shop in Ou Tuin – Paarl District Advertiser, 11 September 1885

Old newspapers are a valuable source of genealogical information, especially because they often printed long lists of names of people and businesses that had applied for trading licences. The following is an extract from the list that was printed in the Paarl District Advertiser on Wednesday, 11 February 1885.

Apothecary: F Townsend (2), C Teitge, Dr Fismer, Dr van Breda, Dr Hoffman, Dr Botha

Agric. Distiller: JJ le Roux, EG Retief, AC Siebrits, M Louw, EJ Joubert, GD Marais, AP Retief

Auctioneer: DF Marais, JF Pentz, AB de Villiers, JD Cilliers

Baker: JH Boddenryk, L Dornbrack, A Fortuin, J Krige, J Arnold, FH Skead, Mrs Herbert, JF de Villiers, LB Siebrits, H van Heerden, Mrs E Hauptfleisch, B Greef

The list was signed by Ll. Powys Jones, pro Sub-Distributor of Stamps, CC Office, The Paarl on 31 January 1885.

A complete list of all business licences issued in Paarl during 1885 (24 pages) is available on the Drakenstein Heemkring’s website.

Paarl District Advertiser, 11 February 1885


La Mode

The Drakenstein Heemkring has a fascinating collection of taped interviews, and it was while I was listening to the all but forgotten Tape No.42 in the Heemkring’s archives that I discovered that a really famous couturier lived in Paarl in the early 1900s.

Paarl’s “Christian Dior” was of course Braam (Abraham Lochner) de Villiers of La Mode on the corner of Main and Hout Streets.

The tape records a conversation between WA de Klerk and Marguerite de Villiers and her recollections provide a lively peak into Paarl before World War II.

Braam de Villiers was born in the 1870s and was the eldest of six children and the head of the family after their parent’s early death. Braam showed his flair for fashion and design from an early age, and by the turn of the century he travelled regularly to New York, Rome and Paris to view the latest fashions.

Back home, his sisters Kitty and Gerty – then in their late teens – provided ideal models to show off his gowns. Fashion conscious women thought nothing of driving from Cape Town to Paarl for an appointment with Braam de Villiers. In Paarl women were equally enthralled by his gowns and anyone who had aspirations to be noticed and seen, wore his creations. And as everybody went to church on Sundays, the morning service provided a ideal opportunity to show off the latest La Mode creations.

In the interview, his niece Marguerite de Villiers recalls that on Sunday mornings her uncle would dress up his two sisters – beautiful gowns with matching hats – and then set off to church in his limousine driven by Floris the chauffeur. Then, with perfect timing they would wait until everybody was seated before making an entrance.

In those days people had their own pews in church, and Braam’s pew was in the third row from the front, right under the pulpit. Little wonder then that Braam and his sisters’ progress down the aisle would be followed by urgent whispers of “what are the La Modes wearing, what are the La Modes wearing”. After the service the gowns, style of the hat or the choice of material would be discussed in great detail.

When the two girls finished their schooling at La Rochelle, he took them on a Grand Tour of Europe to finish off their education.

Marguerite de Villiers recalls that while they were on this Grand Tour, Braam met his future wife Clara Hussey, an American heiress from Pittsburgh. The couple were married in Pittsburgh in 1911. On the return journey Kitty met another wealthy American businessman, Henry Schwab, and they were married the following year.

In 1913 Braam and Clara bought the farm Klein Constantia and moved to Cape Town.  They restored the farm and threw lavish parties. For the young Marguerite it was a magical period  of candle lit dinners, silver and fashionable people. For the children Braam and Clara organised “goblin parties’ during which Floris had to dress up as a goblin.

Visits to Paarl became less frequent, but were still marked by more parties and an endless stream of visitors.

Braam de Villiers died in 1930. A memorial service was held at Klein Constantia, followed by another service in Paarl. Hundreds crowded the Toringkerk to pay their last respects to one of Paarl’s great personalities.

[The article was written by Marguerite Lombard and appeared in the Paarl Post, 4 July 2008]

Rev JF Curlewis

watermarked-MPG05600 Rev. J.Curlewis 17.08.1894

Fr JF Curlewis of the St Stephen’s Church in Noorde Paarl. The other men have not been identified, but were possibly church elders. The photograph was taken on 17 August 1894 and is part of the Drakenstein Heemkring’s Gribble Collection.

Read more about the St Stephen’s Church here.

Visosse en vakansies by die see

The Strand, False Bay coast. © Gribble Collection, Drakenstein Heemkring

The Strand, False Bay coast. © Gribble Collection, Drakenstein Heemkring

Om in April – na die wyn gepars is en die vrugte-oes af is – see toe te gaan is ‘n baie ou Bolandse tradisie. In die ou dae – nog voor mense motors besit het – was dit ‘n bybelse uittog van kookpotte en kos, klere, beddegoed en seker ook visstokke. Alles op ‘n ossewa of kapkar.

Marlene Goosen vertel dat haar ma  as kind so op Gordonsbaai vakansie gehou het. Al die vakansie-goed is op ‘n wa gelaai wat dan met ‘n koei en ‘n paar hoenders vooruit gestuur is, dan het die familie heel deftig in ‘n kapkar ‘n dag later gevolg.

So in die gesels onhou ek weer van Henri Louw se boek “Pêrel van die Paarl” waar hy ook geskryf het oor hoe hulle as kinders Onrus toe gegaan het vir hulle vakansies. Voorbereiding vir die uittog see toe was net so belangrik. As kinders het hulle voor hulle vertrek loodsinkers gemaak en visstokke in die bamboesbos gesaag, die perde nuwe hoefysters gekry, en in die kombuis is vrugte gedroog.

Hy skryf dat selfs toe die regering sy pa se perde in die Anglo-Boereoorlog opgekommandeer het, het die familie nie van hierdie tradise gewyk nie. Sonder sy pa se spogperde was die ou vakansie-wa oorbodig. Die wa is toe verkoop en in plek daarvan het sy pa vir die gesin ‘n kompartement op die trein van Kaapstad na Caledon bespreek.

So het almal met al hulle bagasie, kos en visvang-gereedskap by Paarlstasie opgeklim vir die treinrit tot op Botrivier. Henri Louw skryf dat die trein teen Sir Lowryspas so stadig gery het dat passasiers kon afgeklim om blomme te pluk, en dan weer in die ry weer op klim.

Op Botrivier het sy pa gereël dat ‘n plaaslike boer vir hulle met ‘n ossewa na Onrus toe neem. Tot die kinders se vermaak is die boer se osse almal na visse vernoem: Geelbek, Roman, Steenbras, Kabeljou, Galjoen, Jokopewer, Rooi- en Witstompneus. In die ry het die boer dan sy osse aangespoor met ‘n uitroep van “Geelbek, Roman en ander visosse! Dit is die harde pad na die sagte belsbosse wat julle gaan lui maak!”

So het hulle dan gery tot op Dawidskraal waar hulle die osse uitgespan het en koffie gedrink het onder melkhoutbome, tot laaggety, sodat hulle verder langs die see tot op Onrus kon ry.

Na ‘n paar weke by die see, het die klomp songebrande “matrose” en “vissermanne” weer die pad terug na Botrivier aangedurf. Die laaste uitspan was altyd by ‘n spruit net voor Botrivier. Daar het die mans geskeer en almal hulle netjies en mooi gemaak vir die treinrit terug Paarl toe.

Vandag ry ons in ‘n uur of wat tot in Hermanus. Laat mens net wonder: die dag wat ons petrol en diesel opraak, sal ons nog ‘n paar visosse kry om in te span en ons see toe vat?

[The article was written by Marguerite Lombard and appeared in the Paarl Post, 21 April 2008]

Pontac Street, Paarl c1920

Van Niekerks of Pontac

Volunteers at the Heemkring are currently working on what will possibly become one of the Heemkring’s single largest collections of personal documents. The documents – personal and business letters, invoices, reports – all belonged to Diederik Johannes van Niekerk, and were rediscovered in the Heemkring’s attic. Most of the documents predate WWII, and the oldest letter was written in 1897. Continue reading