Destination Cape Town

My last post on Tuesday left a large group of Union Castle mail ship passengers playing deck games on their way to South Africa in 1913. So today I thought I would deliver them to their destination and visit a couple of sights in Cape Town.

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After the ship’s band played the last waltz there would have been lots of goodbyes

Vintage postcard of a man and woman on a  ship's deck in the moonlight.

Some were harder to bear than others.

Vintage postcard of a group of ship's passengers with binoculars.

In the morning there would have been great excitement as their next port appeared on the horizon. The lady in the centre of this image, peering through binoculars with hand on hip, looks like a fashionista of her day. It’s a pity we can’t see that outfit in colour.

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This card from the Cape Town branch of J. Valentine and Sons shows the Grand Hotel on the corner of Strand and Adderley streets. Built in 1885, it probably catered to many Union Castle passengers before it was demolished in the 1950s.

Vintage postcard of Cape Town Grand Parade and City Hall (opened 1905).

Cape Town City Hall was completed in 1905, to house a growing city administration and has, in its turn, been outgrown in more recent years. This landmark building was built facing the sea with the Grand Parade in front where regular markets were held.

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Cape Town’s Houses of Parliament, built in the same year as the Grand Hotel, became the legislative centre for the new Union of South Africa in 1910. The administrative capital is Pretoria.

Table Mountain dominates the view in the last two cards. Locals might possibly get used to this sight eventually, but to a visitor, it never fails to take your breath away no matter how many times you return.

 

The games people played

Modern cruise ships provide every kind of entertainment to keep their passengers from boredom at sea. Shops, movies, nightclubs, casinos and live theatre shows; luxuries that less demanding travellers in simpler times couldn’t have imagined. But some of the old favourites have been dropped in the name of progress.

What about ‘Slinging the Monkey’, ‘Chalking the Pig’s Eye’, ‘The Turtle Pull’, and Cock Fighting? These were all part of the fun on your journey from England to South Africa on a Union Castle liner in the early years of the 20th century.

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This Union Castle mail ship leaving Cape Town isn’t named on the postcard but is probably the RMS Kinfauns Castle (1899 – 1927).

You’ll be relieved to learn that no animals were harmed during these activities. In fact, no animals were involved. They relied on volunteers from the audience.

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 Slinging the Monkey. The rope is standard issue (non-elastic) so this isn’t an early form of horizontal bungee. A tall man with long arms would be a safe bet to win.

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Chalking the Pig’s Eye. A variation on the old Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey game you might remember from childhood birthday parties. Obviously these people had no sense of direction.

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 The Turtle Pull looks like it could have been invented by a rugby coach. Was it a consolation event for men who weren’t picked for the Tug-o’-War team?

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Cock Fighting. Yes, I know – you have to see it to believe it.

These illustrations were taken from an extensive list of postcards published by the Union Castle company. I have 33 of them and wouldn’t be surprised to find there are more. They were issued in booklet sets and can be dated fairly accurately to 1913, give or take six months.

A bad week at the office

Postcard of RMS Edinburgh Castle arriving at Capetown.

RMS Edinburgh Castle. Photo: Arthur English Colour Prints (PTY) Ltd.

The R.M.S. Edinburgh Castle (1948 – 1976) was one in a long list of Union-Castle liners that serviced the mail run from England to South Africa for three quarters of the 20th century. We can tell by the angle of the sun in this image, and the choice of berth, that she has just arrived at Cape Town “down coast” from Durban, East London and Port Elizabeth. The doors in her side are already open to receive the gangway and two tugs, unseen on her port side, are pushing her towards the dock. Along with other ‘Castles’ she ran to a regular timetable. Like a bus service. Most of the time.

The message on the back of this card, posted in 1970, reveals that life in a shipping company didn’t always run to plan. Some of the people mentioned here are possibly still alive so I’ll use their initials only.

Dear A.,
We leave Capetown at 4p.m. today. Much delayed arrival yesterday after floods and engine trouble in East London. Its been quite a week for our agents what with a fire on Clan Macinnes, all the mailboats late and someone overboard on the Vaal. Spent the evening with R. H. yesterday. Due to our late arrival N. and I have missed each other but hope to have a quick word with him before we sail. Please excuse writing. I’m standing in Heerengracht [Street, Cape Town] with this balanced on my hand. Regards, R.

Poor ‘R’ was so stressed he didn’t know what month it was. He dated the card 2/7/70 (2nd July) but it should have been 2/9/70 (2nd September). The events he mentions didn’t happen until the last week in August. The Clan Macinnes had a fire in a cargo of charcoal off the S.W. African coast but managed to reach Walvis Bay safely. The now legendary case of ‘man overboard’ happened on 26th August when a male passenger fell from the S.A. Vaal and, against all odds, was rescued 11½ hours later after he was reported missing and the captain retraced the ship’s course.