Drummond memories

2016-06-28 06:00

A YOUNG woman who built a business empire, an adventurous fellow- German who tried to get his motorcycle to fly, and a half-scale replica of the first locomotive to run in South Africa. These all make up the rich heritage of the Drummond area.

Exactly halfway between Durban and Pietermaritzburg on the old 1000 Hills Road lies the sleepy little village of Drummond.

The valley that sprawls to the east of the hamlet has been noted in various historical documents, mainly for its beauty, but also for the fact that it was, 180 years ago, home to Chief Mndava and his voracious tribe of cannibals.

When Elise Kingham arrived at Drummond with her husband, Captain Percy James Kingham, in 1902, she was just 22 and the cannibals were no more. The striking young German woman came to South Africa to join her sweetheart, a lawyer from her homeland. Julius Schultz met her in Durban, but soon departed for the goldfields, leaving Elise to scratch out a living in the appropriately named Grubbs Hotel. There she met her handsome British army officer, and married him on the rebound.

Percy Kingham left the army, and the young newlyweds bought the Traffic Hotel at Drummond, on the site of the present-day 1000 Hills Hotel. Their marriage was a bleak and barren affair, and Elise poured all her energy into work. She and her husband established a trading store alongside the hotel, landed a contract to grow wattle at Inchanga, and helped a rich businessman built a timber factory in the village. Percy also built a reservoir and pipeline that supplied water to the hotel and brought in an additional income from local residents, while Elise lived a life of drudgery keeping everything on track.

But as time went by Elise’s strong personality and hard-working nature shone through. After her husband sold the hotel in 1911, they bought three piglets and a cow, and she began farming livestock. She learned to cure hams and bacon, and sold these, with cream cheese, in Durban. As the new road and railway line brought labourers into the area she saw an opportunity to supply them with meat, so she opened a butchery opposite the sawmill run by her husband.

By 1926, the Kinghams owned thousands of acres of land, stretching from Drummond down to Peacevale alongside the present N3, and when Percy died in the late 1930s, she took over his sawmill, in addition to all her other business interests. She later sold off the land and retired to Durban, where she died at 86, in 1967.

“It’s a pity I didn’t write down everything my mother, Vera, told me before she died last year,” says Veronica “Cica” Damm. “Mrs Kingham was a very, very hard German woman. She’d get up at 3am to milk the cows and open the butchery, and then work all day. She was a hard taskmaster - my father, Siegfried Wortmann, worked for her as a youngster in the 1930s, managing her wattle plantations.”

“When he married my mother, just before the war, he wanted to buy a piece of land from Mrs Kingham, but she wouldn’t sell - she didn’t want to lose him as a farm manager. He got an Indian to front for him, and bought 1 000 acres from her, but when she found out she refused to speak to him again until just before he died in 1957. Then she came to see him and asked for forgiveness.” Cica and her family now live on scattered smallholdings just below Drummond, on the land bought by her father and given the name “Peacevale” by him.

Siegfried was himself an adventurous soul. Sometime in the 1930s he decided to see if he could get airborne on his Ariel motorcycle, by strapping a massive wing to his back. “My mom told me he left the ground, but I don’t think the bike went with him,” Cica remembers. “All I know is that he crashed!”

The Wortmann children enjoyed a marvellous childhood in the 1940s. “We went to a German boarding school at Wartburg,” remembers Cica. “My dad would fetch us in his bakkie, and we’d travel along a dreadful dirt road. The vehicle wanted to fall apart, it was so bad. We’d arrive with our eyes full of dust, but we loved it.”

Drummond village hasn’t changed much in the past half century. The old Halfway Supply Store - exactly midway between Durban and Pietermaritzburg - is now owned by Sue Cameron and her husband, Ashley. They bought their house and the adjoining store, as well as the Station Master’s house next door, in 1999. In front of the store, that now serves as a self-catering weekend getaway, stands a half-scale model of the earliest steam train in South Africa - the original first ran between Durban Point and the city centre in June 1860.

Temple Mervyn Humphries built the replica in 1966, and for years it was used to give children joyrides at Blue Lagoon in Durban, powered by a VW Beetle engine. Humphries, a previous owner of the Cameron’s home, Ravenscroft, wrote a history of Drummond, entitled “Drummond -the beautiful valley”, that was sadly published only after his death.

At the far end of the road stands Elise Kingham’s butchery, beside the old Mill Cottage, once home to her driver and his family. Originally built in the first decade of the 20th Century, the cottage is now owned by retired social anthropologist Kathleen Mack, who inherited it from the well-known artist Clara Hamilton. “I came here as a tenant in 1972 and wanted to buy the house some years later. Mrs Hamilton, who painted under her maiden name, Clara Ritter, said that her star sign was Cancer, and Cancerians didn’t part with possessions easily, but one day she arrived here and told me she’d left me the cottage in her will.”

- Gavin Foster (supplied)

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