28 December 2008


What was Christmas like for our ancestors in bygone days? For starters, there was no Christmas shopping rush! Before 1859 Christmas celebrations in Cape Town were rather low-key.

The English ship Dragon was in Table Bay on Christmas Day in 1607 and its sailors carved one of the earliest English post office stones. Jan VAN RIEBEECK made no mention of Christmas celebrations in his diaries but he did note that he gave each of his men a tankard of Spanish wine for the New Year. His successor, WAGENAAR, noted that on 25 December 1662, Christmas was properly celebrated by hearing God’s word twice. The week before Christmas in 1705 saw stormy weather and on Christmas Day there was a huge rainstorm.

In 1713, the south-easter blew at hurricane force on Christmas Day, with the English ship Great London anchored in Table Bay, signalling for help. The Castle did not reply and so 19 sailors rowed to the shore to get an anchor and cable. On their way back, they were blown out to sea and never seen again. On Christmas Day in 1769, the first horses sent to India from the Cape left on board the ship Duke of Kingston, bound for Madras. In 1849, a Mr. DONALDSON, owner of the Round House, offered his place for Christmas celebrations with skittles, quoits and pigeon shooting.

The Cape Argus was the first newspaper to wish its readers a Merry Christmas on 24 December 1859. In the same issue, Sefton PARRY, owner of the Cape Town Theatre, announced the first Christmas pantomime in South Africa - The babes in the woods. That year the weather was "blazing, flaring, scorching, nose-blistering, red-hot". The week prior to Christmas Day, the paper carried only two Christmas adverts, one suggesting French flower vases as presents and another offering Westphalia hams for the Christmas meal. A fattened pig cost 30 shillings, a suckling pig cost 9 shillings and a chicken was 1 shilling. A turkey was 4 shillings and 6 pence and 100 oranges could be bought for 7 shillings. Robert GRANGER had a grocery store on Castle Street and had just received a shipment of white rice from Calcutta. He also had Lancashire hams, Irish butter, Havana cigars, whisky, and cheeses from England and Holland.

In December 1864, the main attraction in Cape Town was a ride on the new Wynberg railway. The then world’s largest ship, Great Eastern, was in Table Bay on Christmas Day in 1869 and Cape Town residents were allowed to visit the ship. Christmas 1871 saw diamond diggers from Griqualand spending their holidays in Cape Town. They gave their friends champagne parties and treated everyone that crossed their paths. That year also saw Christmas trees for sale in the shops. A Mr. LONG, shopkeeper, had the following advertisement up: "Oh Pa! Oh Ma! Do go and pay Mr. Long a visit and buy me some toys - they are so fine, so unique, and so instructive. Oh do dear Pa! We will be such good children hereafter". Some things don’t change with the passing of time!

24 December 2008


Newstead Farm, in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, is now producing good old-fashioned soft drinks, under the label Frankies. Ginger Beer, Root Beer, Lemonade, Cola and Cream Soda can be bought at selected outlets country-wide.

The farm was first settled in 1848 by two NAUDE brothers. They lived in a mud hut and felled yellow wood trees in the nearby forests. They later moved to the Transvaal. James Erasmus METHLEY was the next owner, with John LIDGETT. The farm was later divided - 1619ha went to Lidgett (later became the Lidgetton Land and Wattle Company) and 1214ha became Newstead. James built the house on Newstead. He also built Yellowwoods for his son at Shafton, in the Karkloof. James owned seven farms around Natal. Newstead remained in the family for more than 100 years.

James kept diaries, one mentions Winston CHURCHILL being stationed nearby. He played a game of polo against the Karkloof farmers, and afterwards Churchill was invited to dinner with the Reverend. There was also a small fruit orchard on the farm, as well as sheep and cattle. In 1891 the railway line reached the area. His son, Willoughby, expanded the fruit-growing side, specialising in plums - the Methley plum was his development - and exported to Covent Gardens in London.

The next owner of Newstead was Murray ARMSTRONG, a sugar cane farmer. The current owners are Mike and Paula SCHMIDT. Mike grew up in Amanzimtoti and attended school in Durban. He was once a racing car driver and set up a racing school at Kyalami. He met his wife in Britain and the family lived in Wiltshire, before they and their two girls, Emily and Jessica, moved back to South Africa about five years ago.

James Erasmus METHLEY was born on 18 Feb 1826 in Oxford, England, the son of James METHLEY, a Wesleyan minister. James was educated at Woodhouse Grove School. He was apprenticed to a Manchester draper, but his health failed. While at school he was friends with John ARCHBELL and Sam SHAW, both sons of Wesleyan missionaries at the Cape. James wrote to John, who had gone to Pietermaritzburg. John advised him to go to Natal. James arrived in October 1848 for a visit. He returning to England to make preparations to move permanently to Natal. In 1850 he published a book, The new colony of Port Natal, with information for emigrants. Extracts were published in Yorkshire newspapers, which led to many Yorkshire Methodists immigrating to Natal, with the assistance of Byrne's Company and shipowners such as Richard M. HACKETT and John LIDGETT. Before leaving England, James was employed by Lidgett to act as his agent in Natal. Together with a partner, Edwin PARKINSON, he made preparations for the settlers' arrival and helped them settle on the land granted to them when they reached Natal. One hundred and four settlers left for Natal in four ships - the Herald, Nile, Choice and John Bright. They settled at Houtboschrand (later renamed Lidgett's Town). James left England on the Sovereign, sailing from London/Plymouth on 24 Nov 1849 and arriving at Port Natal on 24 Mar 1850.

During his visit in 1848, James arranged for the purchase of 12000 acres of land north of the Umgeni River, relying on the financial assistance of the Wesleyan missionary James ARCHBELL. After his return in 1850 he became a successful farmer, establishing two farms - Shafton named after the Yorkshire village where his family had originated, and Newstead, at Balgowan, where he lived from 1866. James was an early settler in the Karkloof, and became known as "The father of the Karkloof". Shafton burnt down in 1925 and later became the property of SAPPI.

A book, The Journal of an expedition to the Zoola country in the year 1849 by John and Joseph Archbell and James E. Methley", describes a journey from 11 Jan to 05 Mar 1849, to the Zulu Royal kraal.

In 1854 James married Isabella Forster HODGSON at Darlington, England. They had two sons and a daughter. Isabella died in 1917.

During the Zulu War (Jan-July 1879) James fortified the hotel at Curry's Post. In August 1879 he went to England as an agent for the Natal Land and Immigration Board to recruit settlers for the government settlement at Wilgerfontein (Willow Fountain), near Pietermaritzburg. Owing, however, to the superior attractions offered by agents from Australia and New Zealand, he succeeded in recruiting only between 30 to 40 families who arrived in 1880. He died on 04 Feb 1903 in Balgowan.

Willoughby Laidman METHLEY was born in 1868 in Howick, the son of James Erasmus METHLEY. He was educated at Maritzburg College, and later became a farmer in Balgowan. On 08 April 1896 he married Elizabeth Symons ROWE in Harrismith. They had six children, including a daughter born 05 Jan at Newstead. A daughter, Helen Katherine Howard, married Percival Stuart ATKINSON. Her bridesmaid was Joan ACUTT (latter married ALLEN). Willoughby was a Lieutenant in the Natal Carbineers, where he had 11 years of service. Willoughby died in 1952 and Elizabeth in 1964.

Willoughby's brother, Foster Hodgson METHLEY, served with Kitchener's Fighting Scouts during the Anglo-Boer War. He enlisted in Aug 1903 and had been a painter before this. He was born in Pietermaritzburg. On 07 Sept 1880 he married Dora Ann FANNIN, second daughter of the late Thomas W. FANNIN, in Pietermaritzburg. Dora died in Aug 1899, age 39.

14 December 2008


The village of Magaliesberg has a new attraction - its own living museum. The late Pierre Richard Hartley THERON wanted to turn the local community hall into a museum but was not able to do so before he was murdered on his farm on 07 June 2004. In his memory, a non-profit organisation, the Magaliesburg Historical Association, was founded. The last five years have been spent researching the area's history. On display at the new museum is a coca pan bar counter dating from the 1800s when the first gold was discovered in Goudkoppies / Blaauwbank. The village's original telephone exchange board is also on display. The museum also sells local history books and souvenirs. The museum is situated on Charles GOTTHARD's property - Out of Africa/La Provence - in Magaliesburg on the R24 towards Rustenburg. Tel: Nicola at 083 377 2254.


Port Elizabeth's Red Location Museum has won a national award for architectural excellence at the South African Institute for Architects‘ recent awards evening in Midrand. Red Location Museum, in the oldest part of New Brighton, won the World Leadership Award in the Best Architecture and Civil Engineering Category in 2005. In 2006 it received the inaugural Lubetkin Award from the Royal Institute of British Architects. The museum was designed by Noero Wolff Architects in association with John Blair Architects.


Darryl Earl DAVID is an Indian lecturer in Afrikaans at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He comes from a long line of teachers - his paternal grandparents were teachers, his father was a teacher and most of his maternal uncles and aunts were teachers. His love of books led him to want to create a book town in South Africa - something like Hay-on-Wye in the UK. Now, after five years of planning, the dream has become reality and Richmond in the Karoo is on its way to become South Africa's very own book town. David is no stranger to perseverance - his wife was in his Matric class but it took three years before she agreed to a date. Richmond is on the N1, about 600 kilometres from Cape Town, and its old architecture is quite intact. The first Book Town celebration was held last year with the late Patrick MYNHARDT as guest speaker.

Three years ago, the building Huis van Licht en Schaduw housed a micro-lender and the local ANC office. At night, the verandah was was by prostitutes doing a roaring trade with the passing truck drivers. Now the once neglected old building in Loop Street houses masses of books. There are six bookshops in the building - Richmond Books & Prints, The Book Orphanage, BooKarooz, Diesel & Dust, and Springbok Huis, as well as a sport museum and publisher. Richmond now has an annual book festival - Boekbedonnerd. The next Boekbedonnerd Festival is planned for the last weekend in October 2009.

Richmond's new claim to fame involves three characters. Peter BAKER, a Canadian-born vet, spent less than R20 000 for a Karoo house that now houses the Supper Club, a restaurant and reading room full of Africana. Darryl completed a doctorate on international book towns (there are now 26 such towns world-wide). It was Richard BOOTH who came up with the idea for a book town in Hay-on-Wye in 1961, as a way to revive a small town with a failing economy. John DONALDSON, sports journolist and bookdealer, bought Huis van Licht en Schaduw when his garage in Northcliff, Johannesburg, was too full of books. Since then he has bought a couple more Karoo houses. John grew up in Jan Kempdorp.