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

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]

Famous Hungarian violinist visits Paarl

Ede Reményi and Johannes Brahams 1852 (WikiMedia Commons)

Ede Reményi and Johannes Brahams 1852 (WikiMedia Commons)

On Saturday evening 21 April 1888, Ede Reményi, a Hungarian violinist, performed in Paarl. According to the advertisement placed in the Paarl District Advertiser, Mrs OT de Villiers and Misses A and N de Villiers, and Harold E Stidolph, pianist, also performed that evening.

Reményi (1828-1898) was born in Miskoic in Hungary and was banished for taking part in the Hungarian Revolution (1848). In Germany he befriended Johannes Brahams, then only 15 years old. Reményi spent four years touring in America before returning to Europe in 1852. The following year he went on tour with Brahms. In 1854 he performed for Queen Victoria, and after his pardon in 1860, performed for Emperor Franz Joseph. He died in 1898 during a concert in San Francisco.

Paarl District Advertiser, 1 April 1888

Ganzen in de straat


Wilhelm de Villiers was gedagvaard door de Municipaliteit omdat hij de regulaties had overtreden doordien zijn ganzen in de publieke straat hadden gelopen op 26 Maart. Hij pleitte schuldig onder provocatie, dewijl de ganzen zonder zijn verlof hun hok hadden verlaten. Vonnis 2s 6d boete.

Paarl District Advertiser, 2 May 1888

Elba, Main Street

The town property of Elba was in the region of 127 Main Street, Paarl

The town property of Elba was in the region of 127 Main Street, Paarl

Old auction notices provide valuable information on properties. In 1888 Nicolaas Rossouw passed away and his property was put up for auction.  The following advertisement appeared in the Paarl District Advertiser, 5 May 1888:


Zeker gedeelte van ELBA, bevattende twee suffisante Woonhuizen met Pakhuizen annex, geschikt voor enig Handel of Nering, zijnde eens der beste handelstanden in het dorp, de gronden zijn beplant met fraaijen Wijngaard, Vruchtenboord en Tuin.

This 2 morgen property was issued in 1804 to Gertruida Blom (1734-1804), widow of Heinrich Arnoldus Brüggeman (-1792). After her death in 1804 the property was sold to another widow, Hester Elisabeth de Villiers (1759-), widow of Petrus Johannes de Villiers (1757-1804). In 1805 Elba was sold to Hester Rossouw (1755-1834), the unmarried daughter of Daniël Rossouw of La Concorde farm in Suider Paarl.

Abraham Pieter Heroldt (1795-1868) bought the property in 1834.

Abraham Pieter de Villiers owned the property in 1850.

In the 1888 advertisement, J J de Villiers (AP zn) is listed as the secretary for the executor’s testament.

Le Roux, J: Drakenstein se erfgrond – Suider Paarl
Paarl District Advertiser, 5 May 1888