Joining a few dots

My little internet gem brought together and made sense of a number of things.

I knew that my great grandfather had brothers and sisters because I’d found records of them in the British Censuses of 1881 and 1891.  There were at least six siblings: Israel (my great grandfather), Mira Liba, Harris, Pearl, Samuel and Joseph.

It puzzled me that my own grandfather should have borne the same name as a living relative: his uncle Harris.  In Ashkenazy Europe, the custom was to name a new born after a family member who had recently died, often a grandparent.  In my own case, I was named after my paternal grandmother who died seven years prior to my birth.    As explained by my parents, the rationale behind this is that by naming a child after a dead relative, the child is likely to take on the characteristics or soul of that person.   From what little I know of my grandmother, it appeared that her talents lay in the arts – music, needlework, etc.  She was a good home maker, but had no head for business, something which I like to think I do have.  Irrespective of whether I’ve inherited any of her characteristics, for most of my early childhood I privately cursed her for having exited this world in such an untimely fashion because I would have far preferred to have been called Peter. (For the first half dozen years of my life, I had desperately wanted to be a boy.)

The riddle of uncle Harris was solved by Avrom who noted that, around 1884, this Harris had anglicised his name from the original Hossel.  As this was eight years after my grandfather’s birth, any blame for naming a child after a living relative was easily absolved.

The Saltman siblings and their descendants divided equally between England and South Africa.  In South Africa, there was, of course, my own line.  There was also the line of my father’s second cousin, Harry Bloch, son of Mira Liba and a shortish man whom we fondly referred to as “South Easter” for his booming voice.  The South Easter – also known as the Cape Doctor – is the strong dry wind that blows over the Cape Peninsula in spring and summer.  Anyone who grew up in Cape Town and experienced this wind would remember it with a fair degree of irritation.

Then there was Joseph, the youngest and possibly most colourful sibling, who was rumoured to have made a fortune in gold and diamond mining (not necessarily all of it legally) and whose hotel in Fordsburg, a suburb of Johannesburg, proudly boasted the name “Saltman’s Hotel”.   Apparently this would have been little more than a pub with a room or two that would not have rated a mention on Trip Advisor. Yet it is alleged that Winston Churchill stayed at Saltman’s Hotel in 1899.

Churchill was in South Africa covering the Anglo-Boer War for the London Morning Post at this time.  Between the time that he arrived in South Africa on 1 November 1899 and the time that he was captured on 15 November 1899, it would seem that he was either in the Cape Province or in Natal.  Following his capture, Churchill spent time in prison in Pretoria, managed to escape after a short period and made his way to Lourenco Marques in Mozambique.  He returned to the British lines in Natal at the end of December of that year.  [Source: Kinsey, HW ‘Churchill and Ladysmith’ Military History Journal vol. 7, no. 3, June 1987]

I am skeptical that Churchill’s travels would have taken him via Saltman’s Hotel in Fordsburg, deep in enemy territory of the then South African Republic.  But something is compelling me to delve further…if only to confirm that this event never happened.

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3 thoughts on “Joining a few dots

  1. Pingback: The riddle of the missing street | In search of Harris

  2. Your writing is exciting! I am fascinated with your search for your grandfather and as I started at the beginning have the feeling as if I have a whole book in front of me and I can’t wait to read on (^_^)
    My father started to search for my great-grandparents and we spent many a day in archives and libraries searching for some little hints. Unfortunately our search hasn’t brought us very far till now, but we’ll keep looking.

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