From Boatsheds to Battlefields 51 Thrilling Encounters

One of Mick’s most thrilling encounters with game however was, when accompanied by two half-grown dogs, a cross between red setter and water spaniel, he put up a full-grown reedbuck ram and let it have a charge of birdshot. The buck stumbled and like a flash the two dogs were on him – he threw them off but Mick with a wild yell flung himself on top of the now seriously annoyed buck who with a vicious swing of his horns caught Mick a glancing blow sending him bruised and winded in the river – the dogs half frantic with joy had taken full advantage of Mick’s assault and rushing in secured holds.

The reedbuck now on his feet attempted to plunge forward but the dogs held – with a quick twist the maddened animal knocked one dog away with his horns tearing a long gash in the pups flank – as the reedbuck struck at the other Mick panting and wet once again dived at him only to get a hind hoof fair and square in the chest – down dropped Mick but the wounded dog again fastened on – the other dog let go – the reedbuck dashed forward and the free dog having got his breath again sprang for a hold whilst Mick undauntedly hurled himself for the third time on his quarry.

A desperate wrestling match ended in an exhausted antelope, two dogs and a man lying sobbing for breath the buck watching his enemies they keeping wary eyes on him – once again he made a plunge forward – down he went with three frenzied tacklers on top – again all rested and Mick stealthily drew a hunting knife – at his movement the buck again attempted a dash but this time the long cruel knife bit deeply into his throat – madly he struggled but with the ferocity of a savage Mick sawed and with a gurgling moan the noble beast began to weaken as the streams of blood spurted from severed vein and artery. Another powerful slash of the keen knife and with glazing eyes the buck rolled over conquered.

Hunting either alone, accompanied by a native or with Tom was Mick’s ruling passion though once having tasted the joys of dropping a bird on the wing he became less enamoured of the rifle. Redwing partridge, wild duck and geese were his favourite shooting and during the maize harvest, he was seldom without a gun.

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For a thoroughly enjoyable morning, however, Mick yielded the palm to a big drive – the long line fo guns and beaters advancing through the maize and dense reeds – the barking of a hundred dogs mingling with the shouts of their owners. The cries of Mark Right – Mark Left accompanied by a blaze of rifle and shotgun fires as buck or bird dashed along or whirred over the line kept him in roars of laughter and thrills of tension. Many of the guns would blaze away out of sheer excitement or devilment whether there was a chance of a hit or not.

Mick was receiving a small salary and a percentage of profits. The tobacco and maize yielding well Mick found that for the first time since leaving Grahamstown he was possessed of quite a handsome sum.

On engaging him Godfrey had arranged credit terms in Salisbury so that Mick had been enabled to stock his wardrobe and later buy a bicycle – besides keeping himself supplied with ammunition, tobacco and little luxuries.

After the second crop, eighteen months had passed on the estate and two and a half years since he bade his last farewell to the sea. The crops had not only been heavy but had realised high figures the tobacco realising an average of well over two shillings a pound. Godfrey well satisfied with his year’s results gave Mick a holiday and advised him to go off home for a month or two.

Filled with delight Mick went into Salisbury, cashed a handsome cheque booked his passage to South Africa and went up to the old Commercial Hotel for a drink.

Photo 2 Manica Rd

 

 

 

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 35 Off To The Mines

Far in the distance hung a black pall over the earth Mick seated on the balcony between two railway carriages gazed at it with a sinking heart and turned the half-crown in his trouser’s pocket.

Under the pall lay the wonderful Rand, with Johannesburg, the City of Gold and Michael Osmond, fully determined that never again would the call of the farm stir any chord in his being except disgust, had invested what money he had in a Third Class ticket from Carnarvon to Johannesburg.

The drought had hit Mick’s employer hard nor had Mick proved what he wanted – a young fellow willing and anxious to take over from Kruger with whom he had long been dissatisfied though being his brother-in-law it was not easy to find an excuse to dispense with him.

Mick determined to face anything rather than confess failure decided to try mining and so into the North he went.

Mr. Osmond received a long heartbroken letter telling him that for the fourth time Mick had failed – that he now realised what a sinner and waster he had always been but that he would no longer be a burden or a worry. He had chosen his path and until he emerged successful the family would never see or hear of him.

On the train, the conductor coming round called Mick’s name and on his answering gave him a telegram which in a few curt words directed Mick to call on a Mr. McLeod at the government offices and ended with love from Dad.

Gulping down a rising flow of emotion Mick put the telegram in his pocket and gave himself up to musings on the wonderful comradeship which had always existed between his parents and self.

Mick had two girl chums in Johannesburg – sisters one of whom was married to a mining surveyor. These two girls were of a family of nine who in Mick’s childhood had lived next door to his parents. In after years one of the St Julian boys and Mick had met as fellow students and the acquaintanceship of early days had been renewed.

For years the St Julian family had divided the affections of the boy between his home and theirs. They lived six miles away in the Cape Town Gardens suburb but evening after evening Mick had cheerfully tramped over the Lion’s Hill or round its slopes to visit them.

He had the girl’s address and when at last the train drew into the station of one of Johannesburg’s mining suburbs Mick alighting invested his half-crown in cab fare to the home of his friends.

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As luck had it they were at home and a hearty welcome was accorded the youth by Marie the married girl, Muriel her sister and O’Donovan, Marie’s husband.

Now the St Julian’s were a most Bohemian family. The father a titled descendent of one of the greatest houses of France had come out to Africa in the middle of the nineteenth century and had met and married the daughter of a famous Highland family.

From this union came six beautiful talented girls and three boys. Marguerite the eldest had clandestinely married her music master, Marie eloped with a college student. Aileen after a desperate battle with her parents had married a young Civil Servant. The three unmarried girls had been greatly sought after but by some queer twist of Fate’s strings, every girl of the family received her choice of eligible suitors and eventually married the youth whose present and future prospects were negligible.

The old Cape Town house as Mick remembered it had always swarmed with College students. Many of the girls’ old lovers were already holding important mining, agricultural and legal positions and in coming to Johannesburg Mick had felt that one of the erstwhile mining students would be only too pleased to give him a billet.

The first evening at O’Donovan’s he found a rude awakening was his. O’Donovan himself had no permanent billet and was eking out a bare hand to mouth existence. Their most influential friends were mostly married and their wives had seen to it that the husbands played no further part in the St Julian’s lives. One or two who yet remained bachelors bore grudges over disappointed affections and in short little was to be hoped for from any of them.

Though the O’Donovans themselves had scarcely the wherewithal to buy food and pay the rent and were burdened with Muriel’s presence as well, yet they laughingly told Mick not to worry.

There was no bed to offer him but he could camp down with O’Donovan with what coverings they could scape together. What there was of food he was welcome to his share of and something would surely turn up.

At dawn the next morning Mick set off in quest of employment. From one mine to another he tramped interviewing Mine Managers, Mine Captains, Cyanide Managers, Battery Managers – always to meet the same answer to his queries.

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“Sorry Son, if you were a fitter or a tradesman of any description I could fix you up – try the offices in Jo’burg they might take you on as an underground learner.”

After spending the whole day in visiting a dozen properties Mick returned to the O’Donovans, sorely disappointed, ravenously hungry and weary to the bone.

Next day he tried the town offices – alas no learner accepted who hadn’t matriculated – another round of fruitless visits and then once more back to his friends.

The third day Mick decided that however bad his own plight might be he could not retain any self-respect by remaining with his friends. Knowing that they would scornfully repudiate any idea of his presence adding anything to their expenses or making any difference, he told them that a friend of his fathers had invited him out to his place and hoped to find him a job.

 

 

Van Blommestein History


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Artist’s impression in 1735 of Castle Blommesteijn

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)

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Family tomb in centre with black plate

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.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 7 The Untamed Wildness

As I have been typing the story I have come to realise that Grandad borrowed names and I believe he may have blended first and last names, he calls himself Mick Osborne. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank family, friends, and friends of family and their ancestors who have played a part in Bernard Leffler’s autobiography and his life. 

End of 6th Entry from the original:

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From here there are pages missing in the original and rewrites of the opening chapter in the typed manuscript with scattered page numbering.

A FEW STEPS BACK IN THE TALE

I was born beneath the immense grey walls of that flat-topped Table of the Gods which is set beside the blue waters that cap the old town first begun by Van Riebeeck and his sturdy Hollanders.

From boyhood I grew up amongst tales and traditions of gallant East Indian men, Portuguese, Dutch, and English, of flight and cattle, of Hottentot and wild coast – of the ships and frigates of France, England, and Holland which had cast anchor or run out the gun in our Great Bay.  I grew up a dreamer dwelling in a world of shadows, of ships o’ the line, caravels and mighty cluff (clough) bowed merchantmen.

Myself of an ancient family of Holland on the one side, of an adventurous Scandinavian on the other related by blood and marriage to a score of old Dutch, Irish and Huguenot families I had a great wall of legend and history to climb before I entered the world of those whose people have but newly come to our portion of the Cape.

Old manners, old furniture, old names, grey old world houses and a crumbling vault – a tiny world of bygone days and customs was where I spent my childhood days.

Always in my ears thundered the Atlantic surf breaking on a cruel rocky shore – ever in the eyes was the looming bulk of the Table overshadowing the crouching mass of the Lion Hill with its steep heather and sage-covered sides crowned by the stern crags and cliffs of Lion’s Head.

All boyhood memories are tangled up with mountain wall, brushed hillside, granite shores, the heave of the sea and its breaking fury or wooing loveliness, woodland of sombre pine, glen of silver poplar and green oak – the howl of the mountain wind and the sullen murmur of the Ocean.

I went to school – to a great school half hidden by surrounding oaks and gardens, standing well away from the noise and bustle of the city. A school whose children have writ their names not only on Africa’s scroll of honour but through the world. Politicians, soldiers, priests, scholars, and sportsmen are richly represented and college and school combined it nestled under the rampart of the great grey mountain and looked down on the ship crowded Bay giving its sons ever a vision of far-off  lands, of tempests fought and won, of heights to be surmounted, of ways up, across or over seemingly impossible.

And from my classroom to the great neglect of Caesar, Ovid, Euclid and other ancients my mind everlastingly pondered on the view set before the wide-open windows. Mighty cliff, the silver thread of mountain torrent, huge awful buttresses, jutting pinnacle, dark gloomy gorge and pleasantly wooded glen.

As I look ever and aye the untamed wildness called and longingly and full of craving my soul flung its answer to the rocks and corries, to the woods and glens.

Always the mountain called, but mingled with the sagas wafted from the stern walls so often all but buried in eddying, whirling mist, stung and gashed by cruel maddened howling wind came another song – the salt-tinged spray and limitless horizon in its call – the hymn of the sea and I listened.

Freely have they given their joys, fully have they taken me for their own. In all their moods, their anger and their pleasures have I shared. Much have I given them but more have they lavished on me. greatly have I suffered through them the joys they have given me repay. Nor yet have they finished with me nor yet do I grudge them my service.

My vow of dedication has brought me hunger and thirst, rough fare, coarse living, led me to sickness and hurt, plunged me to depths of fear and horror, raised me to the topmost heights of joy and glory in feeling and winning of a man’s victory through manhood’s powers.

I have lain crushed and torn crying for Death to release me from hurt and I have sung a song of glory in the wonder of the mad gallop over ridge and slope, of the gale-driven craft tearing her way through wave and squall, flinging from her bows the green smashed water and wandering through the wild of mountain and forest and ocean.

It has given me to meet many a gallant man and fair maid and noble mother, some of gentle birth, some of the people all of the stock of the mother from whom sprung Hengist and Horsa, Rollo Hereward, the Crusaders, the Elizabethans, the Cavaliers and Jacobites, the men of Nelson and Wellington and all the countless host of hero and heroine who fill the pages of Britain’s weal and woe.

 

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 6 On Women and Religion

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.

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 4 A life full of adventure

End of 3rd Entry:  Bertie moved away from dangerous ground – “You take the Claremont side Mick and I’ll keep straight on – bet you I get more disas than you do.””Bet you, you won’t,” replied his chum and the boys took to the moor again.

For a mile or two they wandered seeking orchids then came to the head of a dark deep gorge, slowly and cautiously the two boys began to climb down into it. The drop was one of some fifty feet with an almost vertical cliff face, hand and footholds were crumbly, wet and full of slippery moss. Disdaining the help of their ropes however the boys managed the dangerous descent and at last stepped into the bottom of the ravine.

Seating himself on a rock Mick drew a packet of cigarettes from his pocket and offered them to his chum who shook his head. “They’re rotten for a chap’s wind,” he said.

“It’s a queer thing now,” said Mick. “Every darn thing that’s nice isn’t good for one – smokes, girls, beer, everything – not that I can see anything nice about beer or whiskey, but they seem to give some chaps a lot of pleasure. But every time a chap wants to do anything he wants there’s always someone to tell him that he mustn’t do it.”

“Life,” said Bertie, “is a continual battle – the things you want to do are suggested by the Devil, and if you want to become rich and respected you’ve got to kill the old Adam in you and live a clean, godly and sober life.”

“Well I don’t want to be rich and respected” answered Mick, “I want to be a sailor, soldier, cowboy, and miner, knock about the world and have a darn good life. God can’t put every chap that has a happy life full of adventure into Hell, and all people that have made money into Heaven, if he did I’d want to go to Hell myself. Christ and the Apostles were fishermen and Christ didn’t jolly well go live with all the blighters who wore top hats – he went down to the docks and in the pubs with sailors, soldiers, and fisherfolk.”

Bertie grimaced – “Well it doesn’t sound respectable and I’m not going to argue not until we’ve no more rock climbing anyway.”

The gorge into which the boys had climbed deepened sharply from its head. A few yards down, it’s walls rose several hundreds of feet sheer above them, wet, slimy and mossy. In the gorge itself ancient mountain trees, great tree ferns, and brambles flourished amongst the loose waterworn boulders. Growing amongst the moss on the cliff sides were hundreds of blue-grey rock orchids, amongst them scores of buds of the glorious Disa Grandiflora some just beginning to show a tinge of red.

Discarding their rucksacks the lads sought for and cut a long stick at the end of which Bertie fastened a pair of scissors. To the one handle, he made fast a length of thin fishing line and taking a small grappling iron bent his Alpine rope onto it. Carefully the boys began to climb the slippery eastern wall of the gorge. The fluttering blue butterfly flowers were always in the most inaccessible spots, the ledges were narrow and wet, and the holds precarious, but with infinite care, the flower seekers crawled upwards.

Now and again Bertie would find a fairly secure hold and Mickey climbing on his shoulders would bring hand or rod into play to snip off the coveted blue treasures. Sometimes the grappling iron was used, being flung upwards until it caught. Testing its hold one boy would climb, aided by the rope, until he found good holding ground, then making the rope fast around his body take a portion of his chum’s weight as the latter climbed either upward to him or outward to the flowers.

An hour of this and Bertie began to complain of twinges of cramp whereupon the two started to work back into the gorge a hundred feet below. Slowly, carefully, testing every hand and foothold the adventurous couple regained safety and Mick wet, mudstained but gloriously happy lighted another cigarette.

“I didn’t funk much there, did I?” he enquired of his pal.

“No you were fine,” answered the other handsomely. “But that’s only a second class climb – wait until you get on Silverstream Buttress or Stinkwater Needle or Kloof Corner.”

“Rats!” replied Mick “A chap that’s used to ships can climb anywhere. Bet, you don’t come down to the Docks tomorrow and climb up to the top-gallant of a full-rigged ship.”

“Bet you I could, only tomorrow’s Sunday and I’ve got Sunday School.”

“I’ve got to go to the eleven o’clock service in the morning,” said Mickey with a sigh. “I wish I was like Clive and Renè, they don’t have to go to church and it hasn’t done them any harm. I bet God would sooner see me out in a boat enjoying myself than sitting for hours in church hating religion. That’s one good thing about Catholics as long as they go to Early Mass they can spend the day as they like.”

“Well, you’re not a Catholic. Come on Mick we’ve got 30 disas each and three Grandiflora buds – let’s get out.”

Once out of the gorge the boys set off at a fast swinging walk back to the tunnel top from where they continued on eastwards once again spreading out in search of flowers.

 

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