Who are the men in black?

2015-02-02 00:00

A ZIMBALI resident’s curiosity about an old black-and-white photograph he discovered has set him on a trail to find out who the tuxedoed men depicted are.

Andrew Aitken (62) was busy sorting through his late mother’s possessions when he found the photo.

Now he is trying to find out the identities of the men on the photo, where it was taken and also what the occasion was.

The picture depicts what appears to be an event with tuxedoed middle-aged squires sitting around a table. On the back of the photo is handwritten: “Henry Murray, Box 28, Maritzburg”.

The only man whom Aitken does recognise from the picture is Major Charles William Biggs, his mother’s late uncle, who is situated at the head of the table. According to Aitken, Major Biggs was the managing director of The Natal Tanning Extract (NTE) Co Pty Ltd and lived in Pietermaritzburg. He served England in World War 1 and was awarded the military cross for his bravery. Later, he moved to Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) to pursue the wattle industry, only to be head-hunted by NTE. Biggs died in 1963 at the age of 74.

Msunduzi councillor Bill Lambert, born and bred in Pietermaritzburg, with a wealth of knowledge about the city, shared some light after looking at the photo.

“This is definitely the Victoria Club. We were young back then. I can assume by the dress code and the smoking of cigars that it appears to be a banquet or corporate function of sorts. So far, I can say that Henry Murray was a renowned photographer in Pietermaritzburg back then. He took pictures for functions and most schools. He took photos for everybody, even for The Natal Witness,” said Lambert.

Aitken, a director of a number of farming companies in Melmoth and surrounding KZN areas, explained what made him want to seek information about the picture. “I just wanted to find out of interest, as, by the looks of it, there’s some distinguished people. Because it appears to be an NTE function, this would make the people in the picture having a significant role in the development of the timber industry, which is a very large contributor to the KZN economy,” said Aitken.

NTE would later be acquired by Mondi paper company, he said.

• Any readers who may have any recollection and information about the people in the photograph can contact The Witness at 033 355 1221 or e-mail newsed@witness.co.za or send an e-mail to Aitken at aca@iafrica.com

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