Tales from the mist

2012-06-11 00:00

CHRIS and Margaret Lake have followed up The Story of Hilton (co-authored with Jenny Hoepfl) with The Story of Sweetwaters and Winterskloof. “Winterskloof and Sweetwaters are places of captivating interest and beauty for us both,” says Chris. “They have a very special place in our hearts as our family have lived there for 30 years.”

Their new book is the result of many years of research that was first prompted by an old map. “In the late seventies, my late father showed us an old property map which had been researched by Nicolas Holman, the first Winterskloof voluntary health committee officer,” says Chris. “As a submarine officer in the British Royal Navy he had been twice torpedoed during World War 2 and on the last occasion washed up on a Mediterranean beach. Rescued and suffering from shell shock, he came to Natal to recuperate. He then moved to Winterskloof where he was originally offered work at the well-known Milnerdale Nursery.”

Holman drew up a map detailing the properties of a number of early settlers in the area, including Joseph Byrne, John Lake Crompton, Samuel Green and James William Winter. The latter came to Natal in 1849 and was descended from the Winters of Huddington Court in Worcestershire, two of whom were executed for their part in the Guy Fawkes plot of 1606. “On arrival in Natal, James was described as a ‘retired ship’s captain’ and ‘the first veterinary surgeon in the colony’,” says Chris.

Winter bought 109 hectares of the farm St Michael’s Mount in 1861 and gave his name to the area.

“Once we had the map we went to the deeds office and spent many hours there,” says Margaret. “We followed up on the families at the Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository. It was so easy to get sidetracked there. You come across fascinating bits of information, although not always on the people you are looking for.”

However, research was not without its hiccups, a major one being that many records had been destroyed in the city hall fire in 1898

The Lakes also interviewed local residents to obtain information. “Several local personalities in their 80s were helpful enough to give us first-hand accounts of their lifestyles in the early 1900s,” says Margaret. “One of these was the late Mildred Bryan who for many years celebrated Guy Fawkes evenings. This was after she discovered that Winter had been a distant relative of hers.”

There is also the story of Samuel Green, one of the founders of Sweetwaters, who first looked for gold in the Transvaal but settled in Sweetwaters for his health and tunnelled all over his farm looking for iron ore. “The story of his spinster daughters and their friendship with the Colenso sisters is a fascinating one,” says Margaret.

Another fascinating story is that of the arranged marriage between Salome Welwayo and the farmer Alfred Tyler in 1882. “We came across the account in The Natal Witness and this gave impetus to Chris’s first historical novel Across the Barrier.”

Salome had been adopted by the missionary Catherine Barter and sent to England to be educated. According to The Witness report (reprinted in the book): “She turned out an apt pupil, is an excellent pianist and now speaks two or three European tongues.” The couple were married at St Saviour’s Cathedral in Pietermaritzburg.

The Story of Sweetwaters and Winterskloof features histories of many local families and individuals, including the Pinnells, the Craibs and the Boyleys. There are also short histories of some of the buildings and institutions found in the area, such as the Mount Michael Sports Club, the St Cross Holiday Home and the Union Bible Institute. “Many African church leaders graduated from The Union Bible Institute at Sweetwaters, which was established in 1939,” says Chris.

The book is copiously illustrated with maps and photographs, many of which were provided by local families as well as being sourced via the Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository, the Anglican cathedral archives and MacRorie House Museum.

“Altogether it was a fun project and we are indebted to Desiree and Arthur Hickinbotham who encouraged us to produce this historical booklet in colour and also make it available as an e-book,” says Chris.

“We didn’t want these memories to be lost,” adds Margaret.

• The Story of Sweetwaters and Winterskloof can be obtained either in hard copy form or as a CD on request at Oodles Cake Shop at the Quarry Centre or Cartridge Smart at the Jacaranda Centre in Hilton.

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