THE UITENHAGE DIARY
12th December 2001
have just spent two nights and a day in Uitenhage, where both my paternal and
material grandparents lived, where my mother and father met and married, and
where my maternal grandparents are buried.
town was founded in 1804 by JA Uitenhage De Mist, then Commissioner General of
the Batavian Republic, who instructed Captain Alberti to select a site for the
new Eastern Cape district. He chose the present site of Uitenhage on the banks
of the Swartkops River,
the wonderful Old Station Railway Museum, I found a photograph of my maternal
grandfather, Fred Thorpe, seated with two apprentices on the ground to his left
and right. Strangely enough, this is the first photograph I have ever seen of my
maternal grandfather. Even more strange, is that the Bed and Breakfast that I
stayed at in Park Lane, Chimney’s [www.chimneys.co.za] is almost opposite the
Masonic Lodge where this same grandfather was a Past Master. I know very little
about Fred Thorpe, except that he was a citrus and dairy farmer in the Sundays
River Valley. My memory seems to suggest that there was a seven-year drought and
the family were forced into Uitenhage where my grandfather was a Cabinet Maker.
I should image, romantically, that he was involved in building the wooden
interiors of the trains. He certainly seems to be wearing a carpenter’s apron,
so much more humble than the jewelled Masonic apron.
had a very kind and strong face in the photograph, fair hair and a moustache. My
paternal grandfather Daniel De Wet, who was an Advocate in Uitenhage, lived in
Scanlan Street, but the house has been demolished, along with others in the
street, and some old trees and bits of paving is all that remains.
the old Indian shop on the corner, of Cannon Street, where my
grandmother used to send me, armed with a sixpence, to buy Lemon Creams
for tea, is still there, now run by
Harry Lalla, a grey bearded Hindu, son of the original owner. The shop, which is
very small, has shelves from floor
to ceiling, plus two video games, around which was a crowd of boys from six to
sixteen, were playing. There were still the old glass bottles full of sweets,
though some have been replaced with plastic. Harry said he remembered me, and my
Aunts and Uncles who lived around the corner, now all long since deceased.
Old Railway Station Museum (1875), is one of the oldest railways stations of
South Africa, built on Market Street in the year of the opening of the railway
from Port Elizabeth. Two vintage locomotives, a variety of couches, period
furniture and equipment – from the early days of steam. The Residence
upstairs, would have been that of the Station Master, fully equipped with
Bedroom and Sitting Room furniture: Waiting Room, Tea Room, with old
advertisements, biscuit tins, cigarette packets, magnificent Bar, Luggage Room,
replete with old luggage, and the Station Offices.
seemed to be no sign a catalogue of the items in the Museum, and security is
non-existence. I was left to wander around alone. There is a magnificent
collection of artefacts, which would make a very desirable coffee table book,
which I am sure would be purchased by Railway Historians internationally. It is
well worth a visit.
was not a single postcard to be found in Uitenhage, which is a pity as there are
some fine Victorian buildings, and the town is not without is charm with its
lovely climate, 38 km from the coast, and its jacaranda lined streets.
Old Drosty Museum was erected in 1809, as a Landdrost Of Uitenhage. There is
also a marvellous collection of historical items all
jumbled together in old glass cabinets and with insufficient lighting.
1820 costumes, an old Doll Collection, porcelain, uniforms,
some ethnographic material, and documentation relating to the civic and
social functions of the town.
also poked my nose into the Drosty Workshop, in Church Street, where people with
learning disadvantages learn to do woodwork and cooking and so forth. The
standard of the crafts produced was absolutely horrendous. I am sure more can be
done with the ample facilities available.
Uitenhage Tourism Office, Tel: 041.994.1408. Contact Person: Miss B.P.Bantom,
MUSEUMS – 041.992.2063
is also a Flea Market - Art In the Park, Every last Sunday of the month, at
Willow Dam. Contact Mr. Luppnow, 041.992.4361
December 17, 2002
Subject: So what's the Masonic connection?
Dear Samten, My paternal forebears were masons, mostly Celtic, and I was born a Lewis - a person entitled to knock on the temple door and to be permitted entry and membership without payment. I liked the travelogue and your reminiscences - given a few beautiful Gustav Opperman-like stills and you would be 'A' for away, china. Look, Hammond-Tooke has been at me to turn the healer's art into a book – so that's what faces me in the new year.
December 21, 2002.
"A Uitenhage fairytale"
How pleasant your wonders through Uitenhage were to read. My memories are more going with Louis in the milk truck to dairy farms and collecting their milk on a Sunday,in the mid eighties.
From: Andy Grewar
December 18, 2002
Thanks for your very interesting e-mail.
I also have roots in Uitenhage, but I've spent very little time there. My great-great grandfather, David MacKenzie Grewar, the original Grewar in this country ended up there, and must be buried there. He came out to SA in 1816 from Scotland, with Benjamin Moodie's party, and the next time he's heard of was in 1835 when he married Johanna Katherina Frederika Marais in Uitenhage. He was originally an apprentice shipwright, but ended up making wagons. I wonder how many of them were used on the Great Trek.
My great grandfather, Thomas Paterson Jones Grewar, was their youngest (12th!) child. Funny names. He married Johanna Maria Wilhelmina Janse van Vuuren of the farm Kruisrivier, just outside Uitenhage, in 1854, and took over the farm from her father. They grew oranges there, for export to the Empire! My grandfather, Thomas Bertie Grewar, went to St Andrews in Grahamstown, matriculated in 1898. He became a land surveyor and went up the the Transvaal, where he settled to farm in the Waterberg.
It blew my mind when I found out that my earliest British ancestor, Catherine Stretch, born Devenish, from Limerick in Ireland, is buried in Alice, directly on the other side of the river from Fort Hare, near Lovedale, where she died in 1846 at the residence of her son, Charles Lennox Stretch, one of the first whites to live in Alice. His house is still there. His sister Ellen was my grandmother's grandmother! So Catherine Devenish was my great-great-great grandmother. Ellen's husband, John Meares Devenish, (who was their cousin), died at Stretches place a year earlier, and is buried next to Catherine, his aunt and mother-in-law. That makes two direct ancestors of mine there, and it put my long years at Fort Hare into a different perspective!
Anyway, I'm very interested in genealogy. So I'd better go and spend a bit of time in Uitenhage, like you did! Thanks for the suggestion! The farm Kruisrivier is still there, I believe. Duh!! Where could it have moved to?!
Have a blissful day!