14 June 2009


Recent heavy rainfall in Cape Town saw part of the 110-year-old Junction Hotel in Junction Road, Salt River collapse. The double-storey building was built in October 1899. A row of annexed houses behind the hotel, known as the Blue Buildings, collapsed. They were on the City's list of buildings to be demolished. The white-painted hotel still stands, although it is shut close and barred. The Blue Buildings were used by staff of the old hotel as accommodation.


A genealogical research trip has unearthed a burial ground for indentured Indian labourers, on land which is part of the new King Shaka International Airport in KwaZulu-Natal. Retired Tongaat teacher Tholsi MUDLY and her uncle, Arumogam (Billy) GOVENDER, made the discovery on Inyaninga Estate while trying to trace the graves of her grandparents and great-grandmother. Today the land is co-owned by Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) and Dube Tradeport, and was bought from sugar company Tongaat-Hulett. It is believed that about 50 indentured labourers are buried there. Tholsi's family graves are marked with iron rods as there were no tombstones. Her great-grandmother came to South Africa in 1898. Tongaat-Hulett was originally based in Tongaat, and was founded in 1892 by Sir Liege HULETT.


Hout Bay's landmark Lichtenstein Castle, high up on Karbonkelberg, is up for sale for a mere R31.5-million. Cape Town businessman Reynier FRITZ, who was well-known in advertising circles, first saw the 12th-century Schloss Lichtenstein in Stuttgart, the land of his ancestors, and decided to one day replicate it in Hout Bay. He was able to start building his dream in 1986 and 12 years later it was completed. He eventually turned it into a guest house before he died there. Sometime after his death, his widow, Christine, sold it to an overseas buyer. The main hall has carved beams, a vaulted wooden ceiling and leaded stained-glass windows. The castle has 12 en-suite bedrooms, a library, banquet hall for 140, and a conference centre for 40. Other luxuries include a swimming pool, a helipad, and a natural waterfall.


A fire has caused extensive damaged to the 109-year-old Colonial Building at 241 Church Street, Pietermaritzburg. The Msunduzi Municipality Fire Brigade were unable to put out the fire because their equipment was below standard. Firemen battled for almost half-an-hour to get three of the four fire engines started before responding to the call - even though the Fire Brigade is only about 500 metres from the Colonial Building. Two fire engines from Umgungundlovu District Municipality were brought in to help. Msunduzi Municipality Fire Brigade took almost two hours to start fighting the fire. The brick building, with its colonnaded frontage, was completed in 1901 and housed departments of the Colonial government. The building is being renovated to house the offices of the Master of the High Court, while the adjoining Magistrate's Court is being renovated for civil, maintenance and domestic violence courts. GVK-Siya Zama Building Contractors has a two-year contract to renovate the building, which has stood empty and vandalised since 1997. It was designed by architect William Henry POWELL who entered a competition for its design in 1894, winning £100 for his design. The foundation stone was laid in 1887. William died in 1900 before the building was completed. Besides housing the Colonial government offices, over the years it has also been home of the Deeds Office, the Surveyor General’s Office, the Natal Museum, and the Small Claims Court. In 1998 the KwaZulu-Natal Heritage Council found that thieves had stolen copper sheeting from the roof, the cast aluminium staircase capping, tons of lead lining from the toilets and all the cast-iron Victorian fire hearths.


The historic Tramways Building in Valley Road, Port Elizabeth is to be refurbished and turned into an entertainment hub. The tender to redevelop the building was awarded to Pambili Developments (Pty) Ltd. The historic landmark is the first state-owned property to be released on a 40-year lease basis for private development in the inner city. The building was erected in the 1800s and over the last few years became a decaying and derelict eyesore. Since the tender was awarded, the project has been hit by various snags and work has not yet started.


Weston Agricultural College near Mooi River, KwaZulu-Natal, recently unveiled a memorial to horses, mules and other animals killed in military service, particularly during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902. The land on which the college stands today, Weston Farm and Weston Common, was the site of the British Army’s Remount Depot from 1899 to 1913. The depot was also used during the Bambatha Rebellion of 1906. Thousands of British Army horses arrived at Weston Remount Depot to be broken in and/or to recover from the weeks-long sea and train journeys that brought them there. The memorial was the idea of the college's farm manager, Warren LOADER, a military history enthusiast, and Jeanine TAIT, the school’s history teacher and museum curator. It is designed in the shape of a horseshoe and mounted by an obelisk-shaped monument created out of old horseshoes found on Weston’s farmlands. The structure is topped off by a bronze statue of a horse made by a Weston old boy, Kim GOODWIN. There is a Wall of Remembrance with plaques commemorating the animals. A box containing some bones of horses buried on Weston Farm was sealed within the Wall of Remembrance.

Port Elizabeth also has a memorial to the horses who died in the Anglo-Boer War, as can be seen in these two photos.

13 June 2009


The Finest Type of English Womanhood, by Rachel Heath, is set in the 1940s. In 1946 Laura Trelling (17) of Sussex, meets Paul Lovell and she sets off for South Africa. Here she meets Gay Gibson, whose heart is set on becoming a star. Gay hailed from Birkenhead, before also heading off to South Africa. The two young women meet up in Johannesburg, where Laura is exposed to Gay's wild life of parties. After Laura's marriage ends and Gay's scandalous behaviour becomes too much, they arrange to return to England. During the sea voyage Gay disappears. The novel is based on the real-life "porthole murder" trial of 1948. The real Gay was described in the court case as "one of the finest types of English womanhood, physically, mentally and morally".

Rachel Heath was born in Bristol in 1968. She studied Drama and English at Hull University, then worked in publishing in London. She lives in Bath with her husband, a screen-writer and their three children. This is her first novel. She lives with her husband, a screen writer, and their three children in Bath. This is her first novel. She knew the story of the Porthole Murder. Her grandparents and mother went to live in Johannesburg after World War II, where her grandfather worked for the SABC and knew the real Gay GIBSON.

James CAMB (31), aka Don Jimmy, was a First Class steward on-board the Union-Castle Line vessel "Durban Castle" which sailed between South Africa and England. He was born in Lancashire on 24 December 1916. His first job was in a shoe factory, like his father. When World War II broke out he joined the Merchant Navy. After the war he joined the Union-Castle Steamship Line as a galley boy. In May 1946 he made his first voyage on the "Durban Castle". He was married to Margaret and they had a daughter. The family lived in Clova Street, Thornliebank, Glasgow.

On 10 October 1947 the "Durban Castle" set to sail at 4 p.m. from Cape Town for the 14-day voyage to Southampton, with 1300 passengers of whom 57 were in First Class, including the auburn-haired actress Gay GIBSON (21). She was born as Eileen Isabella Ronnie GIBSON and had appeared in a number of plays as part of her duties with the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service. Her last film role was as Lorna, a fight manager's girlfriend, in "Golden Boy", a South African production. Her biggest hit was in "The Man With a Load of Mischief" opposite former British boxing champion Eric BOON. Her ticket was allegedly paid for by Charles SCHWENTAFSKY, one of her many admirers. He was born in Austria and had arrived in South Africa via Kenya.

Gay was born in Jamalpur, India, in June 1926, where her father was working as a blacksmith for the East India Railway. In 1943 she joined a tap-dancing group, the Top Hats Gay Dancing Company, in England. She took name Gay as her stage name. After the war, she sailed on the "Carnavon Castle" for South Africa with her mother Ellen (aka Daisy) to join her father who was already living in Durban. After arriving in Durban, Gay joined a theatrical company there before moving to Johannesburg.

On 18 October, off the coast of west Africa, Gay was reported as missing. The ship's captain, Captain Arthur PATEY, ordered the ship to search the waters, believing that she'd fallen overboard. His investigation found that the night watchman had reported that the service bell of Gay's First Class cabin, number 126, had been pushed several times in the early hours of 18 October. He responded and when the door opened slightly, he saw James, who quickly closed the door and said everything was in order. James denied being in her cabin. He drew attention to himself when, for the rest of the voyage, he wore a long sleeve jacket when short sleeve uniforms were commonly worn. He claimed that the scratches on his arms were from a heat rash, after he was examined by the ship's physician, Dr. Anthony GRIFFITHS.

When the ship docked in Southampton, police officers went aboard. James was questioned by Detective Sergeant QUINLAN. He said that Gay had invited him to her cabin that night and he had brought her a drink. He claimed they had sex but that she suddenly stiffened, then went limp and he noticed she was foaming at the mouth. He tried first-aid, and this was when the night watchman knocked on the door. Afterwards, James pushed the body through the porthole. On 29 March 1948, James was tried for murder. People who'd known Gay in South Africa were at the trial. Mike ABEL, an actor who'd worked with her, testified she'd had fainting fits in his presence. Henry GILBERT, an actor-producer, and his wife Dr. Ina SCHOUB, testified that Gay suffered from asthma. James was found guilty of murdering Gay and sentenced to death. An appeal was filed and during that time, the House of Commons was debating capital punishment. It was decided to commute all capital sentences still pending to life terms. After his trial, several women came forward with stories of being attacked by James on previous voyages. Gay's body was never found. Doubts about James' guilt remain to this day.

James was paroled in September 1959 and released from Wakefield Prison. Prior to his release, he was a star prisoner, working as a garage storekeeper in Dewsbury and returning to prison each day. After his release, he changed his surname to CLARKE. He had divorced Margaret and took a job as a waiter in Radcliffe. Soon afterwards he married a barmaid who had a young daughter. In 1967 he was convicted of attacking a 13-year-old girl. He was placed on a two-year period of probation. He went to Scotland where he worked as a head waiter in a restaurant. Shortly afterwards he was charged with sexual misconduct with three school girls. His parole was revoked and in 1971 he returned to prison. He was released in 1978 and went to live in Leeds, taking a job as a waiter at a golf club. He died of a heart attack at the club's bar on 07 July 1979, always having denied murdering Gay.