From loose handwritten pages written in my Grandfather’s hand almost 100 years ago
transcribed into a Blog by me his Granddaughter Trish Armstrong née Leffler
and then the pages bound in leather the colour of African soil
I took Bernard’s book to North Beach, Carrickalinga, there was a freezing cold North Easterly wind blowing up whitecaps on the sea. I thought Bernard might like to be transcribed overlooking the sea. I mirrored how cold he was on the train to Grahamstown.
What I didn’t realise until later was that this chapter is a tribute to his parents and in particular his father.
I have found research by Uncle Mike (my Dad’s younger brother) on William Frederick Leffler, his Grandfather. The spelling of Frederick is sometimes seen with an h.
Points to be cleared up
The earliest mention of ‘Blommesteijn’ is in 1313 concerning one Zweder (Sweder or Sueder) who was a knight in service to the Lord of Culemborg, and a son of the van Gorinchem family. Zweder resided in a castle (demolished in the 15th century) at a place called Blommesteijn, on the north bank of the river Lek opposite Culemborg, just south the current town of Schalkwijk. Descended from the ancient Counts of Holland, over the next 500 years this became a prestigious family well connected among the nobility of France, Belgium and Netherlands, including connections to the royal Orange-Nassau family of Netherlands. The current head of House of Blommestein is Baron van Blommestein, who currently resides in Europe.My thanks to Julien de Boutray, Genealogy and Nobility Researcher, for much of the above information
The South African stamvader (progenitor) came from the Delft branch of the family who were leading members of that city and influential in shipping, especially the Dutch East India Company (VOC). After his family settled in Stellenbosch he is reputed to have had an armorial board mounted in the church which showed the 31 noble families of Holland connected to his family through marriage. According to a genealogist in Delft, who researched this for my uncle, “there is no more well-connected family in South Africa”. (See my attempt to reconstruct that wapenbord from archive records –
There is unsubstantiated evidence that he intended to join his older brother, Willem, in the Dutch East Indies. Their American ship, which sailed from Amsterdam, was taken at sea by the Royal Navy and impounded in London docks. How Petrus and his family lived in England is unclear, but in 1811 he is recommended to the Secretary of State for Colonies, the Earl of Liverpool, for emigration to the Cape of Good Hope by Messrs Simpson & Co. This may have been partly the result of a friendship struck up on board the ship between Petrus and American politician and socialite Aaron Burr, who would have been well connected in London high society and may have helped Petrus with introductions to the right people,
They arrived at the Cape in late 1811 and by 1813 Petrus was appointed secretary to Landdrost (Magistrate) van Andringa in Stellenbosch. He appears to have been a somewhat flamboyant character (as suggested by his signature), an energetic but difficult man who was often in contention with others, including the Church Council of the Stellenbosch church over a seat for his wife. He lost everything through bankruptcy in 1841, including an extensive wine farm Weltevreden. But this didn’t seem to deter him at all – he simply opened a stables and B&B at 80 Dorp Street, today a home & décor shop (next door to the well known ‘Oom Samie se Winkel’).
Petrus was married three times and fathered 18 surviving children
•Christina le Sueur (1803 - 1820) •Johanna van der Graaf (1820 - 1843) •Aletta Maria Louw (1846 -1853)
Petrus died in Feb 1853 at the age of 69 and is buried in the family tomb. There is a row of about 8 family tombs located along the front wall of the Dutch Reformed Church in Stellenbosch (see the burial register of the church) belonging to the leading families of Stellenbosch. One of these (in the centre of the picture, with the large black plaque), contains the remains of about 14 of these earliest van Blommesteins.
By the time of his death in 1853 the family was spread all over the Western Cape area – Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Somerset West, Caledon, Paarl, Hermanus, But important changes to the family began to happen from 1836 with the events of the Great Trek, when many Cape families were split over allegiance to the British authorities, as well as the discovery of diamonds and gold in the interior. Many younger members of the van Blommestein family moved northwards and soon found themselves on opposite sides of the conflicts about to beset Southern Africa.
End of 5th Entry: As the two lunched Bertie looking at their spoil remarked “What are you going to do with your flowers, Mick? You haven’t got a girl.”
“If I had I wouldn’t be giving them to her. I want them myself. I like flowers and so do Dad and the Mater. Think I’d bally well give Disas to a girl? Not much!
Old Jack reckons women are a necessary evil. Get keen on them and it’s all up with a chap. They’re like snakes. I know a chap that makes pets of snakes. Well he plays with them and likes them and some are jolly pretty but he has to be jolly careful or they’ll turn on him. Girls are like that or like a kitten – she plays nicely as long as you do, but if you get tired or don’t keep giving her things, she scratches.
Old Muhammad Abdul, he’s old and he has been to Mecca – he’s a Hadji and can handle a boat better than anyone in the world – well if he doesn’t know about girls who does? He’s had ten wives and has scores of children – he told me the Holy Prophet said God only made girls to be playthings when young and to be workers when old.
Old Jack says the same and he has sailed round the Horn and been in the South Sea Islands.
Abdul he says girls are made to give men enjoyment and women to work for men and ease their lives – the Prophet said so and he reckoned women and girls didn’t go to Heaven, they just died, bar the prettiest and they were taken to Heaven to minister to the wants of men. I reckon Muhammad was a darn good man and made a fine religion.
The Christian religion is all ‘You mustn’t do this and you mustn’t do that’. I reckon the parsons have made it all quite different to what Christ wanted. He was always chums with the fishermen and publicans and sinners and if this religion was like the Christian religion today none of the fishing crowd would have followed him.
I like the old Norse religion too – Thor and Odin and their crowd had a good religion. I feel darn sorry for the old jarls and Vikings in the Sagas being driven into the North and killed by the followers of the White Christ (term used by the Vikings because the converts wore white robes). I reckon the Vikings, Moors, and Aztecs were a better crowd than the Portuguese and Spaniards.
All the crowds had civilizations without Christianity and they stuck to their religions. I reckon the Catholics were right to have the Inquisition. If a nation has a religion all the crowd that isn’t true to it ought to be tortured – only its got to be a proper religion where everybody knows what are the rules of it like the Catholics.
Bertie looked at Mick in a worried fashion – “Why on earth do you keep thinking about deep things like religion, Mick? No other fellow of our age does.”
Well, sailors and fishermen and mountain folk do. The Malays are always talking about the Prophet and the Koran, and sailors talk about God; not like Sunday School people, but wondering what God’s like and whether he takes into consideration Jack’s hard life, or whether he’s like a Yankee Skipper with Gabriel and Michael and St Peter (Peter, a Jewish fisherman, was called to be a disciple of Jesus at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry) as mates and boatswain. Most reckon they’ll get a square deal up loft but skippers and mates and bo’suns and shipowners they’ll get chucked into Hell. Well, let’s get moving.”
“Let’s get out on the side of the Window first,” replied Bertie and swinging on their rucksacks they made off down the stream by which they had camped. A hundred yards and they paused – the tiny burn dropped over into a huge cleft of incredible savagery – wild rocks, great precipices dripping water with nowhere a possible route to be seen.
Thousands of feet below lay a wonderful view of the Indian Ocean, its long rollers breaking against the white beach of Muizenberg – All False Bay backed by its mighty mountain ranges lay before them – just under was the famous Constantia Valley with its ancient Dutch Homesteads, its vineyards and orchards and the beautiful suburbs of Cape Town below.
A while they gazed awestruck at the immensity of it all, then turned to once again continue their tramp.