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.

Bainskloof Pass opened 14 September 1853


It was quite by chance that I recently stumbled on a few articles commemorating the opening of Bainskloof Pass. The articles were published in a 1953 supplement of the Paarl Post and included verbatim transcripts of speeches as well as eyewitness accounts of the events. Today, 162 years later, it is easy to forget just how significant the completion of the pass was for residents of the Cape. Continue reading