Facts About Durban Diary - Page # 12

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28 May 2004

I've added a picture and some extra details to the page about the Bunny Chow, Durban's sole contribution to International Cuisine.

Click to view the 'Bunny' page

I have also discovered an error on the Natal Locomotive page where a picture I said was of the locomotive, turned out not to be. It is, instead, of a locomotive called Perseverance which was also used in Durban. See here for some details on Perseverance and here for some other details I picked-up on the Natal Locomotive.

Click image to view the Natal page

30 May 2004

In the last couple of weeks I have heard from number of people from around the world who have found this site and who had something of interest to share. The first of these was was Derek John Butler-Briggs, now resident in the UK, who lived in Durban and attended Addington Primary School during WWII. He and his mother had been in Cairo when it came under threat from the Germans, and they were evacuated to Durban. On 25 April 2004, he wrote:

I was delighted to find your site on the web. I could not believe that you were giving details of the Ovington Court shipwreck. I was a pupil at Addington school and could see the wreck from the upstairs corridor window. I was a Pongo (the name given by Afrikaner kids to us English kids who were evacuated from Egypt to Durban as a safe haven in case the Nazis had reached Cairo). I was also hooked on surfing and despite [its] being dangerous, I was amongst one of the first to swim out to the wreck along with local lads Brian and Raymond Biljoen and Jimmy Naude (other names elude me--I hate old age!) I was 11 coming up 12 at the time.

I was also on the beach the day of a severe storm with huge swells that stove in the seaward side of the ship, then lifted the rear deck over and caused the bridge to disintegrate-an awesome sight and sound as the ship was torn apart. I lived at The Sea Breeze Hotel in Gillespie Street until I had to return (very reluctantly) to the UK in November 1944. DJ Butler-Briggs

And on 5 May 2004, he wrote

Thank you for your reply to my recent email to you re the wreck of the Ovington Court. I regret that I am unable to send you any photographs of my time in Durban as my Mum did not have a camera, so I really just have to go on my memories. I have read the article by Leon Nicholson and thoroughly enjoyed it - I cannot recall knowing him, but his story is factual as I remember those years.

Thank you for phoning Brian Biljoen it was very good of you to ask if he remembered me - I was disappointed that he didn't - we were in the same class at Addington - had the same exercise in the metalwork class (making a steel try-square) and were in the fire-fighting team (as described by Leon) and did some demonstrations of our skills to several groups of visitors from firms/offices in the town. He and his brother Raymond were the guys I tried to emulate at surfing at which I became quite good. Another lad I remember from Addington was red haired and had the nickname of Kipper--one morning when entering the schoolgrounds he grabbed me and said that I was to stop calling him Kipper or he would bash me up. I was taken aback and without thinking (silly boy) I said 'OK Kipper' - it took quite a while before my nose stopped bleeding! DJ Butler-Briggs

3 June 2004

I took a look at the statistics generated by this website and it seem that it is averaging over 800 separate visits a month, with April 2004 being the high point, so far, with 1052 and May, down a trifle, at 884. Facts About Durban is on track to becoming the most complete, and interesting, Internet-based source of information on Durban.

I've had a query from reader Annette van Maurik who wonders if anyone has any information on a dog who used live in Port Elizabeth but who would climb on a train every so often to visit Durban. She wrote:

My great grandfather was Ernest Ebert (1858-1928). He spent his early working life in South Africa living in Port Elizabeth. In 1899 he was one of Cecil Rhodes candidates in the elections in Port Elizabeth. My father used to tell a story about a dog his grandfather had which loved to roam freely. The dog became a familiar sight on the railways and would travel on the trains running up from Port Elizabeth to Durban. He would visit the town and then make the return trip to Port Elizabeth. When he arrived in Durban he was always given a welcome at the British naval base. My father always referred to the dog as "Railway Jack". AJ van Maurik.

Anyone who can cast some light onto the subject of Railway Jack is welcome to contact me by e-mail or at the address on the Contact page.

3 June 2004

On the previous diary page I mentioned that Durban was declared a borough 150 years ago and regretted that the present establishment has not, so far, seen fit to celebrate the fact. I said that the city's own Metro Police is also 150 years old but that a spokesman had said that the force was not going to celebrate its anniversary on account of its wanting to dissociate itself from its colonial past. I thought that things would rest there but there has since been a development which caused a few ironic grins around town.

On 22 May, and here I aplogise for being tardy, a parade was held through the center of Durban to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Durban Light Infantry and the Natal Mounted Rifles, which are two of the most senior volunteer regiments in the South African Army. The two regiments marched past the City Hall where Mayor Obed Mlaba took the salute and later said some kind things about them. Also on parade were a number of military vehicles and a mounted detachment from the Metro Police.

The picture on the left is of the Colour Parties from the Durban Light Infantry, on the left of the picture, and the Natal Mounted Rifles leading the parade. In the centre is a smart mounted detachment from the Metro Police and, on the right, a wallpaper-sized composite (1024x768px) I made of pictures I took at the parade. Click on the pictures to view enlargements.

I'm not sure what brought the city hierarchy and the Metro Police out to celebrate the anniversary of the two regiments while they are so steadfast in ignoring their own. I think that they probably felt compelled to participate when they realised the importance attached to the event by both the SADF and, even, by the British Army, who sent a number of observers.

Whatever the reasons, however, I'm pleased that the parade happened and that it received official recognition. I'm just sad that the city's anniversary is still unrecognised. I'm as alive as anyone to the evils of the colonial era but not everything the white settlers did was bad, and they did play a big role in the building of the city that we have today. Past evils should certainly not be forgotten but it doesn't seem right that the good should be ignored.

8 June 2004

Another person who found this website on the Internet and has since been in touch is Dennis Warren, who is a resident of California in the USA. He had noticed a passing reference on Diary Page # 9 to American stunt motorcyclist Putt Mossman. It turns out that Putt was his father and Dennis sent me a packet of information on him including a copy of an article which appeared in Motorcyclist Magazine in October 1972.

The article does mention the incident, on 31 May 1942, during Putt's visit to Durban, when he dived into the sea off the top of the mast of the Ovington Court. The ship had run aground aground off Addington Hospital and Putt apparently dived headfirst from 100 feet up and the concussion on hitting the water flattened the helmet on his head and caused him to black out. He was hauled aboard the wreck by lifesavers but not before getting "badly chewed up by barnacles". He seemed to be absolutely fearless and performed all sorts of crazy stunts. He never practiced his stunts in private because he thought that, if he was going to have an accident, he might as well have paying customers watching.

Another incident, which may have taken place in Durban, was when he drove his Indian mototcycle at full speed into the Indian Ocean and was nearly sucked out to sea by the rip tide. He staged shows in 45 countries during two world tours and was also an excellent boxer and a champion horseshoe pitcher. In 1939 he drove through Africa on a motorcycle with his friend Ewald Schnitzer who had a German accent; "when the South Africans got a load of that accent they promptly threw him into a concentration camp".

10 June 2004

A year ago, today, I put up the first entry in this diary. In the twelve pages since then I've then I've recorded my search for more Facts About Durban which, to me at least, has been an absolutely fascinating journey. I uncovered enough interesting stuff, in the first six months after the publication of the book, to be able to produce another edition of Facts.

I hope that you've enjoyed this 'factual' journey as much as I have and now, if you don't mind, I'll award myself a birthday cake and retire back to my sickbed.

24 June 2004

Since the last entry in the diary I've been battling with flu and catching with up with work I've missed. I even missed the anniversary, on 20 June, when the first printed copies of Facts were delivered to Adams Book Shop. It's been a great year with 2400 copies of the book having been distributed already and 200 more on order from the printers.

In the second edition, as in the first, I included a couple of stories that I was unable to confirm in the hope that readers could help with information. I also appealed for information about Mr Hollis who, together with William Cornelius, built Durban's City Hall.

Not long after the new editions of Facts hit the streets, I got a postcard from Richard Hollis who is the grandson of Jack George Hollis. Richard doesn't know too much about his grandfather but it seems he was born in Scotland and arrived in Durban in the late 19th century from Australia. He and Cornelius were awarded the contract to build the City Hall and work began in 1905. At much the same time Hollis built a home for his family [which still exists] at 174 Florida Road. He was very keen on horseracing and was the founder of Clairwood Racecourse in 1921.

Jack Hollis outside his home in Florida Road, right. Picture courtesy Richard Hollis.



The house that Jack built. Picture taken on 27.6.2004.
Jack Hollis is the solid-looking citizen at the front of the picture. He is pictured at the 'Durban Races' sometime in the 1930s. We know the picture was taken on 4 July and may, therefore, have been while he was attending the July Handicap at Greyville Racecourse. The pic may also have been taken at Clairwood Racecourse, which he founded. Picture courtesy Richard Hollis.

I questioned Richard Hollis about the truth behind the story that Jack Hollis had used his son George Joseph Hollis as the model for the cherubs on the City Hall. George later became mayor of Durban and, if the story is true, he would have been the first mayor anywhere to take office in a city hall adorned with nude representations of himself. Richard told me that he believes his father, George Hollis, and his uncle Jack Alexander Hollis, were the models for the cherubs.

26 June 2004

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the day when the first large ship was able to sail into Durban Bay. The event was commemorated by the Natal Mercury which yesterday published the special supplement, left. (25 June 2004).

The vessel was the Armadale Castle and she docked at E Shed on 26 June 1904. She was the new flagship of the Union Castle Line and was 174 meters long and weighed 12976 tons. She was piloted into the harbour by Pilot Jones and escorted by the harbour tugs Harry Escombe and St John and a private tug,the Titan, which was owned by the African Shipping Company.

The the docking caused considerable interest with 20000 people visiting the harbour to see the vessel over the next few days. Her master, Captain JC Robinson, even gave a party for schoolchildren in the town.

The painting used by the Mercury on the front of the supplement was painted in 1994 by Durban artist Benjamin Barnett.

Before 1904 , the entrance to the bay had been blocked by a sandbar which had severely limited the size of ship which could enter it. The sandbar had been a danger and hindrance to shipping ever since vessels first started calling here. Sporadic efforts were made from the early 1850s to beat the sandbar. At that time, Scottish Engineer John Milne proposed a solution very similar to that which eventually worked fifty years later.

As chairman of Durban's Harbour Board in 1887, Harry Escombe probably played the major role in initiating efforts to defeat the sandbar. Harbour Engineers Edward Innes, and later Cathcart Methven, oversaw the dredging of the harbour mouth and the building of piers on either side of it.

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