The Macks of Isipingo: A personal journey of discovery.

 

The History of the Macks of Isipingo is rather interesting and goes back to the time when Durban was just beginning to prosper round about 1850 when the Byrne Settlers started arriving.

To curtail repetitive entries I am abbreviating Gazley to G, Gazley is the maiden surname of Robert G Mack’s mother, Hannah Gazley and carried as the middle name of most of the boys in the Mack Family. Click on pictures to enlarge!

BES Byrne Emigration Scheme. It would be beneficial to first read the article on the BES scheme I wrote on Facts about Durban to give you an idea of what it was all about. Here is the link:

Commemorating the Arrival of the Byrne Settlers 1849.

When I started researching the Mack history I had come to realise that very little if any of the Mack history was preserved or recorded so I set out at least to document something. I am going to relate what I did unearth and I will come into the picture at the appropriate time. So here goes.

My late mother in law was Vera Black (born Mack), the youngest of 7 children born to Robert Henry (known as Harry) Mack and Charlotte Humphrey. Harry’s father was James G Mack who married Sarah Gordge, and they had 5 children, Harry being the youngest. James’s father was Robert G Mack who married Lucy Sophia Laxen and they had 6 children of which James was the fourth child. I will name all the offspring as some are the topic of this story; William G (b1825 d1912), Louisa (b1827 d1897), Mary (b1828 d?), James G (b1831 d1908), John G (b1834 d1874), Harriett Maria (b1837 d1917)

Robert G Mack (b1791 d1869) and his son, James G (b1831 d1908) emigrated to Natal as part of the BES. They arrived off the Bluff on the Henrietta on the evening of the 4th July 1850 leaving behind in England the rest of their family. On the 3rd July, another BES ship, the Minerva had dropped anchor off the Bluff. On board the ship amongst others were the Watson family. Already waiting in the roadstead, in the process of being unloaded was the Conquering Hero which had arrived on 28th June 1850.

So three sailing ships were lying off the Bluff. Round about midnight a storm arose, the Minerva lost its anchor and was driven onto the rocks on the seaward side of the Bluff where she was wrecked. The crew and passengers of the Henrietta and Conquering Hero gave assistance and all lives were saved bar one crewman. The Minerva passengers lost everything.

In terms of the BES, Robert G and his son were allocated a plot in the non-existent “village” of Byrne and land in the adjacent valley. Likewise the Watsons were allocated a plot and land in the same area today known as the Byrne Valley. Robert G abandoned his allocation in Byrne and he and James returned to Durban to start their new lives there. The Watsons however took up their allocation in the Byrne Valley and settled on the farmland allocated. They called the farm, Newborough Grange.

Dick King as reward for his historic ride to Grahamstown in 1842 was awarded Isipingo, a farm of approx. 6000 acres. He settled, built a house and farmed there. Isipingo had originally been the farm of Henry Francis Fynn, one of Durban’s 1824 founders but never utilised. Fynn left Natal in 1834 to take up a post in the Cape Colony. He abandoned Isipingo and eventually lost his right to it. Robert G had by then become interested in the new crop that was being bandied about namely sugar. He approached Dick King and bought a large strip of land off him. Robert G and James G then joined the group of farmers who started pioneering the sugar industry in Natal.

In October 1854, Robert G Mack’s wife Lucy and daughter Harriet arrived from England on board the ship Rydal. They left behind two married children, William and his wife Mary, and Louisa and her husband William Dennill. Also left behind was son John G and Mary a daughter, both of whom opted to remain in England.

In July 1858, William and Mary with 3 children and Louisa and William with 3 children arrived in Durban aboard the Phantom to join the Macks settled at Isipingo. John must have changed his mind and decided to come to Natal with them as well but Mary again opted to remain in England . What happened to her remains unknown. She never came out to Natal.

On the 25th June 1863, Harriett Mack marries William Watson; son of the Watson’s involved in the 1850 wreck of the Minerva. They are married at the St James Church Isipingo and make Newborough Grange their home. Reverend Walter Baugh conducted the service. I would say the Macks and the Watsons met over the Minerva’s misfortune.

In 1867 William G (the eldest son) and his wife Mary are expecting their 8th child. On the 18th July 1867, Mary goes into labour and as a result of complications, dies in giving birth to a son, Thomas. Mary aged 43 is buried in the Mack family grave at Isipingo. Thomas survives as on the 11th of August he is baptised. William is now a widower with three young children on his hands. The baby, Thomas, a three year old daughter, Mary Ann (b1864) and another four year old daughter, Lucy (b 1863).

Meanwhile William and Harriet Watson’s marriage proves childless. To fill the void in their lives, William G allows Harriet and William to “adopt” his daughter, Mary Ann and she is taken to Newborough Grange where she will grow up with her aunt and uncle.

To modern times. On the 28th July 1968, Robert Henry (Harry) Mack passed away in a Durban nursing home. I appear on the scene shortly thereafter and begin to court the Black’s daughter. In December 1968, I partake in the Black annual family ritual of visiting the Mack family graves at Isipingo. I have my camera with me and I photograph some of the old Mack graves. Because the inscriptions are so worn I write down the wording so that I can relate to the photos when they get developed. One is rather interesting. It states “In loving memory of William Gazley Mack who died at Byrne 1912 in his 87th year.” In 1968 I had no idea where Byrne was, so it meant nothing to me except, logically, he did not die in Isipingo.

In 1971, now newly married, my in laws are on holiday at the Oaks Hotel and invite us to join them for Sunday lunch. We drive there and I meet Doris Bennett who runs the Oaks and she relates to me some of the history of the Byrne Settlers and the Valley. So this was the Byrne Valley and click, I remember the tombstone inscription “who died at Byrne”. I still did not know what the connection was.

In the 1970s/80s, my family had become regular holiday visitors to the Oaks Hotel now being run by Mike and Rosemary Butt ex Hebron Haven. My interest though had now been kindled and I started trying to get information out of my mother in law. There was very little of the back ground history she could add bar that she was told Robert G had attended Dick King’s wedding, the Mack farm having been purchased off King, and that Harry, her father had died in a Durban nursing home just after celebrating his 100th birthday. When Harry died he left one portrait of two mystery men standing together but nothing indicating who they were. Even Vera did not know. There was very little to build on.

Move forward to 1987 and I go to Killie Campbell to get more information about the Macks. I was brought the original St James’s Church Isipingo Baptism / Wedding / Burial Register 1856 – 1868, to look at. It was so frail that I was not allowed to copy it but given permission to page through it. I wrote down all the entries relating to the Macks. It dated back to when the church was opened in 1856. Entries included amongst many others, Harriett’s marriage to William Watson in 1863, the death and burial of Mary Mack 19th July 1867 and the birth of Thomas born 18th July 1867 and his baptism on 11th August 1867. This proved Mary’s death in childbirth and that Thomas survived.

So what was the story of Mary Ann and her father’s gravestone inscription “Died at Byrne 1912”? William G Mack was 87 when he died. He had gone to Newborough Grange ostensibly to visit his sister Harriett and her husband William Watson now advanced in years, as well as to see his daughter Mary Ann now 48 years old. The cause of his death is unknown but it may have been sudden. The Mack family and his daughter must have felt it proper for him to be buried alongside his wife Mary who had died in childbirth 45 years earlier. So his body was transported from Byrne down to Isipingo, no mean feat for those days, and he was laid to rest alongside his beloved Mary.

Harriet, Mary Ann’s adopted mother died at Newborough Grange in 1917, two years after her husband, William Watson. In Harriett’s will she bequeathed £1000 to be used to build a new Anglican Church at Byrne, named St Mary Magdalene. Mary Ann now married as Mary Ann Dennill laid the foundation stone of the new church in 1923. Mary Ann actually married her cousin Robert, son of Louisa and William Dennill. They had no children.

The original church initially a wattle and daub building later corrugated iron, was never consecrated as it was used as a school as well and was not a proper structure. Church rules apparently did not allow a consecrated church to be used for any other purpose. Had it been consecrated it would have been the oldest Anglican Church in Natal but that honour fell to St Mary’s in Richmond KZN dating to 1853. Both churches are still in operation.

There were certain “discoveries” uncovered in researching the Macks. One was that Harry Mack was not 100 when he died but 99. He was born on 9th July 1869 and died on 28th July 1968. Vera grew up knowing her two aunts and an uncle, sisters and brother to Harry. I found another uncle, the first born of James G and Sarah Gordge. He was born in 1860 and died in 1902. He died 13 years before Vera was born and Vera was never told about him. It took a lot of convincing to relate this to her. In those times apparently such matters were never discussed with children.

This interest in the Mack family really started something as I started getting leads and queries from all over regarding the Macks. There were twists and turns along the way, which could be the subject matter for another post. I hope you enjoyed this chapter which will need another to tie up some of the loose ends. Here are some accompanying photos.


St Mary Magdalene Church at Byrne built 1922 from the bequest given by Harriett Maria (Mack) Watson following her death in 1917.

The foundation stone of St Mary Magdalene’s laid by Mary Ann (Mack) Dennill

who was the “adopted” daughter of William and Harriett Watson.


Robert Gazley Mack’s Headstone, Isipingo Graveyard.
Sacred to the Memory of Robert Gazley Mack Sugar Planter
who died at Isipingo 20th June 1860 aged 69 years.
“His end was peace.”

Three Mack Headstones at Isipingo Graveyard.
Left: “Albert H. Dennill died 1871 Aged 1 year and 10 moths.
Infant son of William and Louisa Sophia Dennill.”
Centre: “In Loving memory of William Gazley Mack who died at Byrne 1912 in his 87th year.”
Right: “In affectionate remembrance Mary beloved wife of William G Mack”.

Harriet Maria (nee Mack) Watson Headstone Byrne Graveyard.
“In Loving memory of Harriet Maria Watson. Died 27th April 1917.
Aged 80 years.

For our dear Saviour’s sake
our sins are all forgiven
and Christians only fall asleep
To wake again in Heaven.”

Mary Ann (nee Mack) Dennill Headstone Byrne Graveyard.
“In loving memory of Mary Ann Dennill
born 6th July 1864 died 12th February 1939.

“The toils of the day are ended.”

The graves of Robert Henry and Charlotte Emma Mack at St James’s Graveyard Isipingo.

Watson’s Headstone Byrne Graveyard.
These were the parents of William Watson who arrived in Natal on the ill-fated  Minerva.

William Watson’s Headstone Byrne Graveyard.
William Watson husband of Harriet (nee Mack) Watson.

Robert Henry (Harry) Mack’s Birth Certificate.

I would like to reveal where I got some of my info re the Macks. Apart from the invaluable information I got from the Killie Campbell Library visit in 1987, I was told about a Government Office in De Mazenod Road Greyville that dealt with records pertaining to wills that had passed through the Master of the Supreme Court. I visited the place and was asked what I was doing and what I wanted. They put Mack into the computer record and I was given a long print out of any record they had pertaining to any Macks. Though not comprehensive info it did give the name of the person, date of birth in some cases and date of death and surviving spouse and sometimes children. It did give me a lot of leads. My job was to put these Macks in the correct family tree. So this helped as well. I never went back to that office so have no idea if it is still operating there. I also visited the Archives in Pietermaritzburg which also was helpful. A big break came in early 2000 and the story is quite amazing. A lady from England is out here and visiting the Byrne Valley, staying at the Oaks. Her interest is in the Macks of Newborough Grange as her mother was a Mack. At that time my wife and I had just moved permanently to Byrne. Byrne was not new to us as I had purchased a plot in the Village in 1988 and had started building a retirement cottage. In the Village were two residents, Juliette and Pat who fully supported the Richmond Museum to the extent that on Sundays they would volunteer their time to be on duty at the Museum, two Sundays a month, so that the public could visit it. This particular Sunday, the lady from England decided that her last stop before returning to Durban and back to the UK was to call in at the Museum and have a look around. Luckily the museum was open that Sunday and at the end of her visit she spoke to Pat and handed her an envelope on which she had written her name, email address and added “Interested in any information regarding the Mack family”. Now Pat is indirectly related to my wife and knowing of my interest in the Village of Byrne, hands the envelope to me. I responded which resulted in a flurry of emails, to and fro, exchanging information. It worked out she and my wife were cousins seven times removed! To top this, the lady being in England could access the Official Records Office in London and so valuable information came my way. We found out that Robert G and his son came from Knapton, Norfolk and that his father was John Mack and his mother, Hannah Gazley. We kept in touch over the years and when she again visited SA, made a special trip to meet up with us in Byrne and we reciprocated seeing her and her husband in England. Somehow my name got around and I would get phone calls from unknown people asking about the Mack’s family tree. One I do recall was a South African lady that had emigrated to Australia. Also related to the Macks she contacted me via email and then sent her mother, still resident in Durban to visit me to show her around the Richmond Museum and Byrne Valley. From the outset, my intention was not to concentrate on growing the family tree ad infinitum but rather to record some of the early history that had been neglected and would be lost for ever. I think I achieved more than I envisaged.

So what happened to the Mack Farm? Harry Mack continued planting and harvesting his sugar crop well into his 90s. He lived with his daughter Vera then on the Bluff and would travel to the farm and back every day during planting and cutting seasons. Not bad for a 90 year old; catch a bus on Marine Drive going into town. Get off at Jacobs Station and wait for the Isipingo Rail train. At the Isipingo Station get off and walk to the farm. Back home the same way. He was the last farmer still planting and cutting cane at Isipingo. In 1961 everything changed. The Group Areas Act declared that Isipingo was to be solely for Indian occupation. The farm would have to be sold. Complications set in because in the will of James G Mack the farm had to be passed down to successive generations who could make use and reap the benefits thereof but were not allowed to sell it. This meant the will had to be broken, a complicated legal exercise. The farm was then surveyed, cut up into various plots, infrastructure put in roads etc. and then auctioned off. A very old Durban legal firm, Russell and Marriott which the Macks had used since its inception covered the legal side. Harry never lived to see the finality of the breakup of the farm.

When we last visited the graveyard in 1995, the old St James Church built in 1872 no longer existed. The original St James’s Church, built in 1856 was destroyed by fire. Here is a list of the first benefactors that donated towards building the first St James’s Church.

It was replaced by the second St James’s Church which was opened in 1872 and demolished in 1964. All that remained was the graveyard which was being neglected but as yet still intact. Newspaper cutting 1964 announcing the demolition of the second St Jame’s Church.

The Isipingo cemetery in 1995 showing the Mack Graves. The Cemetery was still intact then but badly overgrown.

Dick King’s grave and monument at Isipingo. 1968 Photo.

Then the rot set in and the area became a haven for vagrants. All the cast iron railings around graves disappeared and graves were desecrated. In later years I came across photos showing the destruction. Graves had been dug up probably with the intention of finding valuables with the bodies.

The gravestone of James Gazley Mack at St James’s Graveyard Isipingo.

The desecrated grave of James Gazley Mack. On the right is the headstone of his wife Sarah Ann (Gordge) Mack.

Today from what I see in photos, the old Isipingo Graveyard is now fenced off. It would seem that Dick King’s tomb and monument were left in situ and the rest of the graves cordoned off behind it. The salvageable gravestones appear to have been moved from the original graveyard and put in the cordoned off area which I suppose is part of the old graveyard. Many gravestones had been smashed and probably stolen to be recycled but the original layout seems to have been lost forever. It is very sad to see that James G Mack’s grave had been vandalised to the extent that it was dug up as well. Very fortunately I received a list drawn up in 1999 of the names of all the people who were buried in the Isipingo graveyard. A valuable record. For those interested there is a movement afoot to photograph all the cemeteries in South Africa. To access the site google eGGSA. Look for Gravestones in South Africa –eGGSA Library and click on it. You will get maps of SA divided into sections. Select the province and scroll through the pages and select the area you want to access. Another interesting site is Hugh Bland’s monumental photographic record. He has travelled around Natal taking numerous photographs. Google kznpr and look around. You will see in his photos some of the wanton destruction that has taken place in some cemeteries. By the way, some years ago I looked into the difference between a graveyard and a cemetery. A graveyard is a burial place within the grounds of a church. A cemetery is an open lot of ground for burial purposes.

The two mystery men photograph.


The only photograph found amongst the papers of Robert Henry (Harry) Mack after his death.

As I mentioned the only photograph that Harry Mack had is the one I show above. It would seem that no one in the family ever ventured to ask Harry who is shown in the photo and the mystery remained. When Vera died, the few Harry Mack papers were passed on to us and this photo came in to our possession. Looking at the photo, we knew it had to be two Macks as there was a resemblance in the facial features. So it remained an unsolved mystery till 2014 when my wife and I happened to go to the Open Day they had at Baynesfield Farm, the home of another Natal Pioneer, Joseph Baynes. At Baynesfield in what was the Dairy Building, a room was devoted to Joseph Baynes, displaying the numerous awards he had received, trophies won, medals, his desk etc. Around the walls are appropriate pictures. I was looking at the pictures and you would not believe, but there was a large picture made up of thumbnail pictures of numerous old men. These were colonists who were still alive in 1900 to celebrate 50 years residence in Natal. Below the pictures, all the photos were named and there at A16 (top right hand corner) was J G Mack. James Gazley Mack had arrived in 1850 as a young man with this father Robert G Mack. Unmistakably the face was identical to Harry’s photo we had, so who was the other person? Looking at the eyes it had to be a Mack son and there were only two other sons of Robert G namely William G (b 1825 d 1912), older than James G and John G (b 1834 d 1874) younger than James. John died at age 40 and the man in the picture was older than that which left it at William G. We have no empirical proof but logically Harry’s photo showed his father and with him his eldest brother, William. This was Harry’s uncle that allowed his young daughter, Mary Anne to be “adopted” by his youngest sister Harriett and who died in Byrne in 1912.

Marriage Certificate of James Gazley Mack of Isipingo and Sarah Ann Gordge of Congella.

Gordge Road in Umbilo is named after the family who lived in that area.

The clue found at Baynesfield Estate showing James Gazley Mack in the top right hand corner.

The accompanying reference on the photograph.

Finally I must acknowledge the use of Hugh Bland’s photos which are marked kznpr.

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10 Responses

  1. Frank Beeton
    | Reply

    Hello, Gerald. I don’t know if I have previously mentioned it, but the Beeton family lived at Isipingo Beach from 1948 to 1958. I attended Isipingo Beach Government School from 1952 until mid-1958 when we relocated to the Bluff. I remember that there was a pupil named Michael Mack at the school, I think he was a year ahead of me. I seem to recall that he lived at Isipingo Rail, and there may have been a connection to a garage or service station at the time. Have you come into contact with him at all? Regards, Frank.

  2. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Frank
    Graham (Billie) and Michael Mack were brothers and cousins of my wife. Graham has passed away but Michael is still alive. They were the sons of Arthur and Mary McCallum (Sissie) Mack. Arthur was my mother in law’s elder brother. Michael’s wife Nest responded to my Mack story and she and Michael live in Toti. Look for her name Nest Mack Lloyd on Durban Down Memory Lane to make contact as I have no contact details.

    • Debbie
      |

      Billy was my dad passed away almost 3 years now . My uncle mike and Aunty nest still live in Toti

    • Gerald Buttigieg
      |

      Hi Debbie
      These are your Mack family. Is your Mom, Denise till alive?

  3. Frank Beeton
    | Reply

    Many thanks, Gerald. I will pass that on to the “Old PingoItes” group in case someone wants to make contact. Kind Regards.

    • Douglas Cox
      |

      I would love to be added to the ‘Old Pingoites’ group if that is possible.

  4. derek austin
    | Reply

    Hi Gerald I worked with Robert Bobby Mack at Umlazi Technical College from 1985. Bobby lived in Toti and must be related some how to the Mack family.

  5. Douglas Cox
    | Reply

    I was devastated to see the desecration of the graves as the driveway to our house ran adjacent to the cemetery. My father worked for Tongaat Sugar and we moved to Isipingo in 1945 or ’46 when I was 2 or 3 years old. We lived there until 1952. In around 1950 I think it was troops moved into the area – they bivouaced in the cemetery for a short while and when they left my father walked down to see if any damage had been done and was pleasantly surprised to see that in actual fact they’d left it in a better/cleaner state than before. I can recall the remnants of the old sugar mill adjacent to the old main road. Ronald Platt and I one day climbed up to the top of the chimney stack using the internal rungs and when my father found out had it demolished. I attended the local government school in 1950 – 1952 thereafter moving to Cowan House in Pietermaritzburg.

  6. Frank Beeton
    | Reply

    Hello Douglas, “Old PingoItes” is a Facebook Group and you can apply to join on the page – the administrator is Lynn McMaster. As an ex Isipingo resident there should not be any obstacle to your joining. Grave desecration is a huge problem in most cemeteries, even big ones like Stellawood.

  7. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Frank
    Thanks for informing Douglas as I am not familiar with “old Pingoites”. Yes unfortunately grave desecration is nationwide hence the drive to photograph what is remaining whilst it is still there. The group photographing cemeteries is associated with the site, eggSA. Google this and navigate your way to the various cemeteries in the various provinces.

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