Woman awed by stone mason ancestor’s PMB house

2017-07-12 13:48
The great, great-granddaughter of Jesse Smith, Diana du Toit, in front of the house Smith built when he first moved to South Africa from England in 1858. Du Toit holds up photos of Smith and a Witness article on Smith published in 1927

The great, great-granddaughter of Jesse Smith, Diana du Toit, in front of the house Smith built when he first moved to South Africa from England in 1858. Du Toit holds up photos of Smith and a Witness article on Smith published in 1927 (Ian Carbutt)

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A Hillcrest woman has reconnected with her roots after visiting the house built by her great, great-grandfather in Ferncliffe Reserve in the 1800s.

Born and raised in Johannesburg, Diana du Toit (65) always knew that her great, great-grandfather, Jesse Smith, had come from England and started a life in Pietermaritzburg with his wife and son.

When Du Toit and her husband retired, they moved to Hillcrest and she began researching Smith and the family history.

Standing in front of the stone house that Smith built in 1858, Du Toit said it was a “very emotional experience”.

With the original stones from 1858 still in place and the house, although abandoned, in almost perfect condition, Du Toit wandered through her great, great-grandfather’s home in a state of awe.

“[Smith] was born in 1825 in Tunbridge Wells, England,” she said.

“He came to South Africa with the Byrne settlers with his wife, Agnus Fry, and their daughter Julia.

“The ship they travelled on was the Lady Bruce. When they arrived he tried to make a life in Durban, but found there was not much going on, so he went by wagon to Pietermaritzburg, which was a three-day trip.”

Du Toit said Smith was a stone mason and was trained in England. He was commissioned to supervise the city’s Victoria Monument as well as a few other buildings in and around Pietermaritzburg. He and his family lived in a “humble” home on the corner of Loop Street and Commercial Road before he went to Ferncliffe Reserve with the idea of establishing a farm. By then, they had two other sons, William (Du Toit’s great-grandfather) and Fredrick, and another daughter, Lilian.

When Smith discovered the stones in Ferncliffe “for a mason, it was like he had struck gold”.

“It is very emotional being here and really wonderful seeing it all,” she said.

“It really is something.”

She said she had last visited the site in 2002, however, it was a brief visit and the house was locked up.

During her visit on Tuesday, Du Toit was able to explore the rooms and was taken aback upon seeing the original stone fireplace still completely intact.

She said the house was sold by one of Smith’s sons in the early 1900s to a family called the Masons and on the side of the house, engraved in concrete are the letters T.S.M. 1918.

Du Toit has created an entire manuscript dedicated to Smith and her family history and is planning on printing 100 copies to give to relatives around the world.

She said there were only three original Smiths left in their family; one is a farmer in Mooi River, another lives in Canada and another is a retired ship captain who lives in La Lucia.

She said she would like to make contact with the Masons and find out who owns the house currently.


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