Gilbert Curtis Billson was born on 22 April 1884, the youngest of 7 children born to George Curtis Billson & Alice Mary (nee Quick), the previous 3 siblings all having died in infancy.
Main picture: Gilbert Curtis Billson
Main picture: Gilbert Curtis Billson
This blog chronicles the glory days and ultimate swansong of the Beetle that my brother, Dean, had originally acquired in 1973.
Main picture: The VW Beetle before being modified
Herbie arrived uninvited at our house one night in 1973 when Dean rocked up with a buggered 1961 1200cc VW Beetle. We didn’t actually name it Herbie but that name had been made famous by the 1968 movie, The Love Bug, and so I shall refer to it thus from time to time. The family all trundled out into the dark to watch proud Dean show off his new little baby. Dad was aghast as, with his superior experience, he knew that it was a piece of junk and washed his hands of it. Dean’s friend, Michael Baker, owned one and it was he who had convinced Dean to buy it for R90. I was in Standard 9 and this was a lovely, real life challenge for me. I had done my apprenticeship on Mom’s sewing machine and Dad’s lawnmower. Now for the big time.
Main picture: 1960-1969 Volkswagen Beetle – Not my vehicle as only one photo exists of it
Perhaps it is one’s cavalier attitude to law enforcement during one’s youth, but generally the most severe traffic fines that one receives is during that period of one’s life. In my case, I was extremely lucky and in Blaine’s case, well, not so lucky.
Main picture: Blaine with the same Beetle many years after this incident or the tale of the Beetle that wouldn’t die
Mom hated Schoenies, or Schoenmakerskop, to give it its full name. Maybe that’s a bit strong, but she was bored, bored, bored with the place. Dad was seldom adventurous and since he grew up there in the early 1900s, he kept returning to it like a homesick baby desperately trying to return to the womb. Saturday afternoon, summer and winter, would invariably find us there. Maybe Mom had a spirit of adventure after all. I, however and I think my siblings, loved the place. We kids knew that place like our own backyard as we explored every little bit of it – multiple times.
Main picture: Main gully at Schoenies showing the two islands at mid tide and how the obliquely running rocks form a natural breakwater
Main picture: The Willows today with its revamped bungaloes
At best the Irish Settlers in Clanwilliam eked out a precarious existence. The Settlement could not have been called a resounding success both for the Settlers generally and the McCleland household in particular. After a number of unseemly fracases, Francis was granted a transfer to the newly created hamlet named Port Elizabeth which was supposed to have been their original disembarkation point.
It was here that Francis and Elizabeth would spend the rest of their lives. This episode, the final one, is the chronicle of that life.
Main picture: Castle Hill in 1851 painted by engineer Henry Fancourt White of White’s Road fame. Number 7 Castle Hill is the commodious double storey house on the right on top of the hill
George McCall Theal was the most prolific and influential South African historian, archivist and genealogist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In his epic compendium Records of the Cape Colony, he records all the correspondence by and to the Colonial Office in Cape Town for the period 1793 to 1827. As the last seven years coincide with the arrival of the original batch of Settlers, this series of 35 books contains a rich vein of data to be mined.
Before even landing in Saldanha Bay, Francis McCleland had already made a name for himself as a heavy drinker and troublesome priest. As well, William Parker – the Party Leader – and Francis McCleland were a volatile mix, ever on the brink of ignition.
For these reasons, the McCleland name is often fairly and sometimes unfairly denigrated in these pages. For ease of reference, I have extracted all references to the irascible Irish clergyman however oblique.
Main picture: George McCall Theal
This, the fifth episode in the life of the Reverend Francis McCleland, deals with his arrival in Cape Town in early May 1820 and their disappointment at being redirected to settle in Clanwilliam instead of the Eastern Border.
Not to put too fine a point on it but the five years spent at Clanwilliam were character forming with the man in the cassock not always cutting a fine figure. Casting a long shadow over this Party was the leader himself. Self-serving, megalomaniac and irascible, William Parker was to add to their woes.
Beset by troubles from every quarter, acrimony and dissension descended on this disparate party.
Main picture: A Settler House in Clanwilliam
Main picture: Francis William Henry McCleland