Alabama Confederate Raider

The Confederate raider the Alabama was built by Lairds of Birkenhead during the American Civil War. She was designed to prey on the mercantile shipping of the Northern states. The Northern government attempted to have her impounded under the neutrality laws, but she escaped to the Azores, where she was armed on 29 August 1862. Her captain, Raphael Semmes, and her officers were Southerners, her crew British. By 28 July 1863, when she arrived at Saldanha Bay, she had accounted for SS enemy ships, and on 5 August she captured the Northern bark Sea Bride outside Table Bay. The Alabama was unsuccessfully pursued to the Cape of Good Hope by the U.S.S. Vanderbilt. In the following March the Alabama returned to the Cape, and this was probably the occasion when the Malays composed the well-known 'ghommaliedjie' (folk-song) Daar kom die Alabama. From Cape Town she went direct to Cherbourg in France, where she was sunk outside the harbour by the U.S.S. Kearsarge [...]

Bowesdorp Ghost Town

The old church Bowesdorp is a Ghost town on the national road from Cape Town to Springbok, in the magisterial district and division of Namaqualand, aprox 504 kilometres north-west of Cape Town and 591 kilometres south of Springbok. In 1850 the Dutch Reformed parish of Namaqualand was separated from the mother parish of Clanwilliam, a place for a church was required. A site was chosen on the farm Wilgenhoutskloof and the church, the first in Namaqualand, was completed in 1864. Plots were surveyed and sold and the village that sprang up round the church was at first named Bowesville after Henry Bowe, a Namaqualand doctor. The village did not develop much until 1897, when Moses Schuur opened a shop and built a hotel next to it. Then came the post office, the police station and the prison, and it seemed as if Bowesdorp was on the road to prosperity. However, the growing importance of Springbok, which had been established in 1863, [...]

Rehoboth Basters

The main surviving group of Basters  are those inhabiting the 'Rehoboth Gebiet', a territory of 5,000 sq. m., some 50 m. south of Windhoek in South-West Africa. The size of the population living in the 'Gebiet' at any one time is difficult to estimate. According to the 1960 census the Basters numbered 8,960, a figure which remains more or less stationary. In addition there were about 40 Whites, well over 2,000 Nama and Damara, and a good many recent Coloured immigrants from other parts of South-West Africa and from the Republic, as well as other non-Whites to the number of about 5, 000. The majority are thus the descendants of early Basters, the pioneers of the territory during the latter half of the 19th century, and they insist on being called Rehoboth Basters, a term which they reserve strictly to themselves. The Administration of South West Africa has decided that the Whites in the 'Gebiet' must sell their land to the Administration [...]

Secret Society in the Parliament Precinct

It's 235 years old, but very few know about the De Goedehoop Masonic lodge. Governments rise and fall, but one thing remains constant in the precincts of Parliament in Cape Town: 235-year-old Masonic lodge. Few know that an old and venerable temple of the ancient and mysterious brotherhood of Freemasons exists in the parliamentary complex. But De Goedehoop Temple was built long before Parliament.

Was your Ancestor a Beauty Queen?

Was your Ancestor a Beauty Queen? As we celebrate the Miss World Contest we congratulate Candice Abrahams a South African who has been crowned Miss World at the 27th Miss World Pageant held on 12th March 2016 at Dongguan, in China, we also look back at the winners of the Miss South Africa and the South African winners of the Miss Universe contest as well. Many beauty contests have been held in South Africa since 1910. The most important being those in which the winners are entered in overseas contests.

Pagel’s Circus

Friedrich Wilhlem August Pagel was born in Plathe, Pomerania, Germany on 5 February 1878 Friedrich, the 'strong man' and circus proprietor, was the 2nd of eight children born to Antonia Fraudnich and August Pagel, a huge strong man. Friedrich inherited his father's great size and strength which he enhanced by working at a smithy in his home town. He qualified as a blacksmith when he was seventeen, but became a ship's stoker and travelled widely and adventurously, finally deserting his ship at Sydney, Australia,

Basters of Little Namaqualand

The Basters of Little Namaqualand lived in the five Coloured reserves - Concordia, Komaggas, Leliefontein (Lily Fountain), Steinkopf and the Richtersveld - in the magisterial district of Namaqualand, Cape Province, provide nowadays a field in which the Baster way of life in its various modified forms can be observed. These reserves originated as mission 'areas' of the London Missionary Society during the first half of the 19th century and received formal recognition by the Government of the Cape Colony in the shape of 'tickets of occupation' shortly afterwards. (Leliefontein was taken over by the Methodists at an early stage, and the others by the Rhenish Missionary Society later on.) Most of the territory in which these reserves are situated was claimed by Kupido Witbooi, chief of the Hobesen tribe, but during the first two decades of the 19th century his domain was 'invaded' by families of Basters who brought with them guns and a new way of life. Missionaries also arrived at [...]

Pirates on the High Sea

The Union Castle liners plough the sea between Cape and Southampton week after week, year after year, with never a thought of danger other than from storm or fog. On almost every tide the ships of Great Britain may float in security, and it is many a long year since passengers had cause to fear the cruelty or the rapacity of pirates. Yet there are still those living at the Cape today - though they are getting on in years and have passed Psalmist's allotted span - who can remember the terrible story of the “Morning Star” and her awful fate.

French Surgeons at the Cape of Good Hope

It is a pity that so little is known about the medical men and profession at the Cape during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and on that account any information gathered from the official records of the country should prove of interest. We have no record to show that any of the Cape surgeons or physicians studied under any of the noted professors of Holland or France, but it does seem natural to suppose that they studied and read the publications of some of the celebrated medical authorities of their day. We know that those who practised here were examined in Holland, and others who had served their term of apprenticeship at the Cape were examined by two of the Chief Government Surgeons and certified as being competent to practice. After the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 thousands of Frenchmen, rather than abjure their faith, and to escape religious persecutions, sought an asylum in different parts of Europe. Many [...]

Hidden Treasures in South Africa

Many romantic tales are current of treasures lost and found in Southern Africa during the past five centuries. Some are based on fact and others on less reliable information. It is certain that notorious 16th- and 17th-century pirates careened their ships on islands off the coasts of East Africa and Madagascar, and stories about pirate hoards hidden by these desperadoes still circulate. Many ships carrying valuable cargoes, including treasure, have been wrecked off the coast of Southern and East Africa. Records reveal that from the middle of the 16th to the middle of the 17th century the Portuguese alone lost about 130 ships on the route to India, most of them on the treacherous African coast. High losses were also sustained by other maritime nations.

Die Boerevrou Magazine

In 1918, Die Boerevrou, the first Afrikaans magazine for women, appeared in Pretoria. This illustrated monthly magazine for women was the first published magazine in Afrikaans. Die Boerevrouw (its title until June 1920) was the first women's magazine in Afrikaans and appeared in Pretoria from March 1919 under the editorship of the owner, Mrs. Mabel Malherbe (nee Rex), whose assistant editor from an early date was Mrs. M. E. Rothmann (M.E.R.), who published her first short stories in it.

Ancestors in Kilts

It is interesting to find that the first Scotsman in South Africa William Robbertson (sic) of Dundee former surgeon was stationed at the Castle around 1660 shortly after the arrival of Jan Van Riebeeck and that the Scots presence was found in local taverns as well as which often doubled up as brothels, of which one was called the Schotsche Tempel.

Secret Society in the Parliament Precinct

It's 250 years old, but very few know about the De Goedehoop Masonic lodge. Governments rise and fall, but one thing remains constant in the precincts of Parliament in Cape Town: 235-year-old Masonic lodge. Few know that an old and venerable temple of the ancient and mysterious brotherhood of Freemasons exists in the parliamentary complex. But De Goedehoop Temple was built long before Parliament.

Cab Proprietors

The coach evidently reached South Africa at an early stage, because Simon van der Stel travelled in one when he led an expedition to Namaqualand in 1685 in search of copper. The Dutch coach of his time was a heavy four-wheeled vehicle with a leather-covered and brass-studded body. The undercarriage was like that of the wagon, with four upright posts from which the body was suspended on leather straps. A coachman's seat was fitted above the front wheels and a team of up to six horses drew the vehicle, the leaders being controlled by a postilion who rode one of them.

History of Cycling in South Africa

Bicycle races were held in South Africa some years before Dunlop invented the pneumatic tyre (patented 1888). The first cycling club in Southern Africa the Port Elizabeth Bicycle Club was founded in Oct. 1881, while the South African Amateur Cycling Union was founded in 1892 in Johannesburg. On 9 Sept. 11893 the first South African championships were decided in Johannesburg, and in the same year the first world championships. Cycling prospered particularly on the Witwatersrand. Men like L. S. Meintjes, J. D. Celliers, L. C. Papenfus, C. H. Kincaid, F. G. Connock, H. Newby-Fraser, C. E. Brink and J. M. Griebenow were the pioneers of a sound cycling tradition. Lourens Meintjes, who used the first racing bicycle fitted with pneumatic tyres in Johannesburg, achieved high honours in 1893 in Europe and the U.S.A. Between 12 Aug. and 11 Sept. at Chicago and Springfield, Mass., respectively, he won five world titles and established sixteen world records over distances from 3 to So miles (4.8 [...]

Hidden Family Heirlooms

Heirlooms in your family's possession are items or artefacts that are sometimes never spoken about or even viewed, but either hidden from prying eyes or discreetly placed in the home so as not to be seen as too conspicuous to non-family members. These items can sometimes be found listed in wills or they are simply passed down through the generations with admiration and a huge amount of trust ensuring that they do not end up on an auction or in the hands of the wrong person.

The King and I

King Sweyn II of Denmark A number of years ago I was lucky enough to be given a free DNA test. When I had my Mitochondrial DNA test done I discovered that I descended from Haplogroup H and my DNA sequence is 16093 T, 16126, 16304, 16362 and 16270. The DNA sequence which I have I also share with my sisters and their daughters, my mother, her mother and her mother’s sisters as well as any direct female ancestors. Originally I was told that my closest famous relative within my Haplogroup was Marie Antoinette but know I have discovered it is in fact King Sweyn II of Denmark and Tsar Nicolas Romanov are even closer. Other famous people who also share the same haplogroup. Luke the Evangelist A body attributed to Luke the Evangelist that resides in Padua, Italy, underwent a mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) test: 1,850 years ago mitochondrial DNA sequence 6235G, 16291T Haplogroup H King Sweyn II of Denmark [...]

Were your Ancestors in the Circus?

From the evidence of early Dutch and Cape paintings, it may be assumed that the first White inhabitants of the Cape were diverted by performing dogs and various animals trained to do tricks, notably monkeys (which were common household pets) and baboons. The garrisons at the Castle possibly spent part of their leisure in training such animals, and performing bears and various animals from the Orient may have been seen when in transit to Europe. In the country districts feats and tricks of horsemanship were highly esteemed, and were probably demonstrated at kermis (fair) and other occasions where the farmers gathered. Organised exhibition of performing persons and animals cannot be traced before 1810, when an application was made for leave to stage a circus in Cape Town. Except for occasional theatrical performances and amateur diversions in the town, organised entertainment was rare, and the circus was one of the first forms to develop. One of the earliest was W. H. Bell's circus, [...]

Was your Ancestor a Murderer?

From the beginning of time, there have been murderers and psychopaths - if we delved deeply enough into our family we may find that somewhere along the way one of our ancestors either killed someone for revenge, love or by mistake. We now take a look at some famous and not so famous South African murderers - perhaps you are related to one of them? DAISY LOUISA DE MELKER was born on 1st July 1886 at Seven Fountains, near Grahamstown. She was the daughter of William Stringfellow Hancorn Smith from Grahamstown and Fanny Augusta Mathilda Bird from Ascension Island. At the age of ten she went to live with her father, who had settled in Bulawayo, and was educated there and at the Good Hope Seminary in Cape Town. She completed a nursing course at the Berea Nursing Home, Durban. On 3rd March 1909 she married William Alfred Cowle, aged 35, a municipal plumber of Johannesburg. There were five children borne from [...]

Captain John MacAlister’s Tribute

There were no flowers on the grave. As I stood there, on that clean summer morning with the sunshine making bright patterns on the stones, and making them shine like diamonds, I remembered my Father. My mother's death had been more recent, and the ache was still there except perhaps sadness for myself, for what should have been. He was an intelligent man. He was clean-shaven and clean living. He smoked a pipe, and had the sort of trustworthy air about him that most pipe smokers seem to have. The sort of man about whom only good things can be said, and he had those bright crystal blue eyes, so typical of many who “go down to the sea in ships and do business in great water”. The eyes of a man whose daily work was done with and for God, and because of the vastness of the waters' is constantly working with nature and the elements and therefore believes. We had [...]

A tragic family accident

Today 11th June 1890 was a very sad day as the residents of Woodstock and Salt River heard of the tragic passing of a father and daughter killed at Salt River Station. Frederick, Smith, his wife Alice, son Frederick and daughter Katie were taking a short cut along the main line to Cape Town. They were going in the direction of Woodstock. Frederick turned round to speak to Katie as she gleefully bobbed up and down balancing along the railway tracks, whilst Alice was holding her son's hand. Katie then walked over to the next set of rails when her father heard the steam whistle of the train. By now she had already slipped and the engine was almost upon her. The train driver shut off the steam and applied his brakes. Katie slipped back wards toward the moving engine, then it struck her. Frederick rushed to save her and his head was within inches of hers when the train struck him [...]