Posts Tagged With: whale coast

Robey Leibbrandt, the “spy” lived in Hermanus after his release (1948)

Sixty-five years ago, a famous Afrikaner sportsman turned Nazi after attending the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.  Heavyweight boxer, Robey Leibbrandt, met and became mesmerized by Adolf Hitler, and the triumphant rise of Hitler’s National Socialists completely took in the young Afrikaner.   Hitler’s aides began to seduce Leibbrandt into acting on their behalf in South Africa.

Strangely enough, both central figures in  the ensuing dramatic events that almost changed the course of South African history, lived in Hermanus for brief periods.  General Jan Smuts, famous statesman and war-time prime minister of South Africa  loved to spend short resting holidays in the village, and the man who almost assassinated him, Robey Leibbrandt, lived here for a short time after his release from prison in 1948.

Leibbrandt was extensively trained in sabotage and espionage, and also underwent rigorous training as a Stormtrooper in Germany.  After the outbreak of war, he was appointed to spearhead Operation Weissdorn – the overthrow of Jan Smut’s coalition government and the establishment of a National Socialist republic in South Africa.  He was secretly landed from a French yacht on the West Coast from where he made his way inland to begin his task.

Leibbrandt tried to assume control of the Ossewa Brandwag and planned the assassination of General Smuts.  When the authorities learned of his plans, top-policeman Jan Taillard was appointed to flush out Leibbrandt.  He was trapped in a daring action and received the death sentence at the ensuing court hearing.  But Robey Leibbrandt did not die on the gallows.  Two days before Christmas he was informed that the Smuts Government had commuted his sentence to life imprisonment.  “How can I hang the son of such a courageous Boer warrior?”  Smuts had asked.    In gaol he often resisted authority. Once he had to be removed from his cell by being incapacitated by tear gas.  When Dr Malan’s party won the 1948 election, Leibbrandt was released.

He lived in Hermanus not long after his release, staying in Magnolia street – several residents knew him in those years.  He helped Kaiser de Kock with boxing lessons.  Boetie de Villiers told me how Robey liked to visit them and enjoyed his mother’s fresh home baked bread.  Douglas McFarlane of Fynbos Park knew Leibbrandt well socially and while they trained as policemen in Pretoria.  He remembers that Robey was a health fanatic and used to sleep on the floor.

Not much was heard of the Rebel leader afterwards.  He tried his hand at business ventures in various small towns, failing to gain significant support for an Anti-Communist Front.  He died in obscurity at Ladybrand of a heart attack in 1966.

Story and copyright: S.J. du Toit

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The Swallow Legend


Hermanus history has produced a few legendary characters.  Swallow is one of them.  Magdalena (Swallow) Neethling (1877-1953) was born on the farm Neethlingshof near Riviersonderend, one of eleven children.

Swallow arrived in Hermanus as a young teacher in the early1890s.  Until 1912 she spent her days in the old Dutch Reformed school and lived at the Sanatorium.  Walking between her “home” and the school, she started dreaming of the patch of wasteland where she eventually created the park that bears her name. From 1912 she taught in the new school until her retirement.

Swallow’s strong, positive influence  not only touched her many pupils across the decades, but enriched the lives of her large family and  friends.

Swallow earned the nickname before coming to Hermanus. She was a petite woman, always darting like a bird.  Her previous post was at a Caledon farm school.  At Hermanus Primary, which later became Hermanus Secondary School, Swallow was the Standard Six teacher.  She was excellent at all her work and maintained strict discipline.  Her pupils loved her, but were scared stiff of her in class.  She regularly played the harmonium at functions.  Among others she also served as justice of the peace.

When the council gave Swallow the green light for the park, she worked there almost non-stop in her free time.   Frikkie van Eeden, living at the Ocean View, helped with the layout.  He built the sunken and raised rockeries, the two fountains and the jarra wood picket fence.  Her Cape Town friends donated the benches. Swallow was determined to give something back to the village where she spent many happy years of her life.   Swallow Park was the pride and joy of all Hermanus peoples for many years.

Unfortunately Swallow paid heavily for gardening in the park.  Long before retirement, she was stricken with osteoarthritis, which left her with crooked hands and restricted walking.  In her last teaching years, she often rested on a special couch in her classroom.  In 1930 she finally retired and spent the rest of her life as an invalid.  This did not prevent her from corresponding regularly with family and friends.  She was an exceptional writer. Although she could later just manage to hold a pen between two fingers, her handwriting was still beautiful.  Reading her letters of fifty years ago, is a revelation.  She was bright and encouraging. Her special philosophies radiate from those lines. Her final years were spent with  her sisters in and around Napier.

Swallow flew home on 7 August 1953 and is buried at Neethlingshof where she was born.

It is a shame today to look at the sorry state of Swallow Park.  Are we failing to protect our heritage in the heart of town?   Do we need another Swallow to save it?

Information: S.J. du Toit                 Photo: Old Harbour Museum

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Marine Hotel – The Grand Old Lady

The Marine Hotel

In 1902 Beyers and McFarlane, who were brothers-in-law, bought land from Willem HT Hoffman and built the Marine Hotel.  It was a much grander affair than their first hotel, the Victoria, although they still had no electricity or running water in the rooms.   Many visitors came from Cape Town, overcoming the hardship of a three day ox-wagon ride.  In 1915  the partnership between these  two men ended and Valentine Beyers kept the Marine while McFarlane took the Victoria.

Soon after this new arrangement Pieter John Luyt,  son-in-law of Valentine Beyers came to manage the hotel and when Beyers died, John became owner of the hotel, which he extended, enlarging the kitchen and added more rooms and bathrooms.

During the 1920s the Marine with its ballroom became extremely popular and many wealthy and famous people stayed there for  holidays. Among them was Sir William Hoy who stayed at the hotel annually for many years.    Princess Alice  visited in 1923.

After John Luyt’s untimely death in 1940, the hotel was still run by the Luyt family.  Joey Luyt  and her daughters, with the help of Miss Hodgkin kept the Luyt tradition going and the Marine fame as high as before.  When the hotel was eventually sold in 1947 to Continental Hotels with Mr Colbeck as manager, the Luyt era of more than three decades, ended.

In 1968 the hotel became known as Hinder’s Marine, when Mr Hinder of the Arthur Seat Hotel in Sea Point owned it.  He developed the San Marino  on the adjacent plot.  It had extra bedrooms, a ballroom and  casino.   The manager at the time was Hans Mäjlman.

David Rawdon bought the Marine in the early 1980’s.  He closed the hotel for four years while renovations were carried out.  It was only in 1985 that the hotel was opened once more and over the following thirteen years the old hotel regained its former fame and glory.

Shortly before the end of the nineties, David sold to Liz McGrath of the renowned Cellars-Hohenort and The Plettenberg.  More  restoration followed and it opened with style and elegance as a five-star hotel.

The grand old lady are preparing for her first centenary celebrations with dignity  as a world class hotel.

Information and copyright:  S.J. du Toit                  Photos: Old Harbour Museum and Marine Hotel

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Brave rescue in the old harbour – 1932


One of the bravest rescues in Hermanus took place in 1932 near the old harbour in shark-infested waters. A fourteen year old boy, named Roos was washed off the rocks on the outer side of the protecting wall. A rough see was running. The strong current immediately took him out to sea.

On the cliff top above the harbour, the two friends and long-time boxing rivals, Douglas McFarlane (19) and Kaiser de Kock were watching the fishermen battling to negotiate the entrance to the harbour under extremely hazardous conditions. They also noticed two great white sharks cruising towards the entrance to the harbour, no doubt after blood from the fish-cleaning tables running into the sea at the breakwater.

Walking down the steep path of the harbour, a frantic policeman came running towards them explaining about the boy in the sea, and begged Douglas, known as a strong swimmer, to help. The policeman himself could not swim. Douglas ran to the breakwater, kicked off his sneakers and judging the swell, dived into the sea. As he launched himself, he heard Kaiser’s voice:  “Oppas vir die haaie, (mind the sharks) Doug”!

Crowds gathered as Douglas reached the boy out at sea, with powerful strokes.  On reaching him Douglas told Roos to relax as he would hold him up. Fortunately the boy kept his cool and Douglas was able to keep them both afloat. Owing to the heavy swells, it was impossible to swim back. A boat put out and saved them both in the nick of time. Both were fatigued having received severe buffeting from the waves.

The presence of sharks kept niggling Douglas and as his hands closed on the gunnel of the rescue boat, with one last supreme effort he heaved himself into the boat and safety. Those on the cliff top, watching the rescue drama held their breath anxiously as the two boys were brought to safety. Everyone agreed it was the bravest deed they ever witnessed. Douglas had only recently left school. He was awarded the Royal Humane Society bronze medal for having saved a life from drowning.

At 91 Douglas McFarlane currently lives in Fynbos Park Retirement Village with his wife Lettie. They’ve been married 68 years and have three children. Douglas is the only surviving child of Wattie and Aletta McFarlane’s ten children.

Information: S.J. du Toit,  Jeanette du Toit, Cape Odessey     Photo: Old Harbour Museum

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Who built and repaired boats in those early years?

Hermanus Fishing boatsWho built and repaired boats in those early years in Hermanus?  You may also ask this question.  John Louis built the harbour house (today the Burgundy Restaurant) and set up boat-building business in the latter part of 1870’s.  John came from Sweden and jumped ship, from a  “Windjammer” where he was employed as shipswright.  He soon became part of the small fishing community and met up with young widow Martha Wessels.  Unfortunately they could not marry as her husband who deserted her years before could not be confirmed dead.

John became known as Sweed Wessels.  He built a second house where Martha and her three daughters lived.  They were happy and her children accepted him as father and the grandchildren called him Oupa.  Coena Haman of Cafe Royal was one of Louis’s grandchildren.

In 1902 a friend, Mr Overbeek presented Sweed with a small cypress tree and the six year old Coenie helped to plant the tree.  It was the same cypress tree that gave the name to the Cypress Tree Tea Garden and when Ethel Rubery bought the cottage in 1928 and turned it into a restaurant.

John was also a keen fishermen and owned two boats – Morning Star and Mabel.  He served in the town council but died at an early age of fifty three.  According to Coena Haman, his son Hennie Wessels carried on building and  mending boats at harbour house but later moved to Westdene.  Martha  moved in with her daughter, married to Lewies Poppies Swart, in the house where the library stands.

The monument left by Sweed Wessels is now the Burgundy, formerly known as The Cypress Tree Tea Garden, and is also a National Monument.

Story and information:  S.J. du Toit                   Photos:  Jeanette du Toit and the Old Harbour Museum

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Women clean fish

The pioneers of Hermanuspietersfontein were experienced fishermen who understood and respected the sea.  Six days of the week they laboured from early dawn and when they returned from the sea with boats laden with fish, their wives and children were waiting to do the cleaning and curing.

The fishing culture comprises much of interest.  The Afrikaans word “ses-riem” is a boat with six rowers.  The afrikaans word “riem”  is an oar.

On the side of a boat one finds  little iron triangles for the oars to rest on.  When letting a boat in and out of water, they had a ritual with a rhythmic in afrikaans “eena-tweena nou, eena-tweena nou, hy loop … eena-tweena nou” translated = one – two, one – two there he go.

They dried fish on bokkomstands (scaffolds)  in the fishbay and in their backyards.  In most cases the children also became fishermen.  It was a true fishermen’s village.

Information:  S.J. du Toit           Photo: Old Harbour Museum

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Fisherman from the old days in Hermanus – Henry Minnaar

Fisherman from the old days in Hermanus – Henry Minnaar

Henry Minnaar was born in Hermanus in1906.  Like his grandfather and father, he became a fisherman at a young age and experienced all the joys and hardships of those years.  There were no boat engines or echofinders and when there was no wind, they had to row 20 km to the fishing waters and 20 km back.  Dangers abounded.  Whales chased them at times.  They had to use their own acumen to know where to find fish.  According to Henry there was a Agreen@ smell in the water when sardines ran.  It was fantastic to see a school of sardines around the boat, big fish swimming with sardines in their mouths.  But that was the era of fish in abundance in the bay.

Boats weighed between one and one and a half tons and had to be manhandled.  Sixteen men had to carry a boat up the hard.  Henry was reputed to have said that a fisherman’s life was slavery and that the hard work cost many their lives.  Henry stuck to fishing for fourteen years, but then found work in the local telephone exchange.  He still went to sea in his time free and at times he only slept two hours a night.

In his career Henry was skipper on three boats.  One  belonged to Peter McFarlane, Voorspoed, which he bought from a Malay in the Strand.  The Malay warned him not to take the boat to sea on a Friday, the Malay’s holy day.  The two other boats were Britannia of Oom Lewies (Poppies) Swart and Princess May of Koos Groenewald.

Henry married Helma Nolte from Wellington.  Their three children are Melvyn, a well-known journalist, Andre working in Hermanus and Karen-Ann.  They lived in Marine Drive, near the Ocean View, for many years.  When Henry died in 1980, aged 72, one of the colourful characters was lost to the Hermanus fishing community.   Helma still lives in Fynbos Park Retirement Village.

Blogger: Jeanette du Toit      Information S.J. du Toit      Photo: Old Harbour Museum

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Southern Right Whale behaviour patterns: Logging


Southern Right – Logging

This is when the whale is merely lying in the water, with its tail hanging down. Part of the head and back are exposed.

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Southern Right Whale behaviour patterns – Lob tailing

Lob tailingSouthern Right Whale – Lob tailing

This is an activity in which the animal sticks its tail out of the water, swings it around and then slaps it onto the water’s surface causing a shower of spray. This produces a loud sound which is believed to be a means of communication between whales or a warning of rival whales, sharks, annoyance or mild threat. This may be done repeatedly over long periods.

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Hermanus Old Harbour Open Air Museum

old fishing boats

Hermanus Old Harbour Museum

The Old Harbour Open-Air Museum is a provincial heritage site. It is unique in that apparently it is one of only two fishing harbours in the world that has been conserved in tact. Remnants of the vibrant fishing industry are seen everywhere. It is the axis around which the fishing village of Hermanus developed.

The stone and concrete harbour consist of a sea wall, a breakwater, a few historic fishing boats along concrete slopes, the turn stone, gutting tables, brine tanks, “bokkom” stands and reconstructed fishing shacks.

Information and photo:  Old Harbour Museum

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