Memories of Mr Warner

by his daughter, Helen Macfady 14 August 1968

I was asked to give some facts about my father and memories of our early days at Umbogintwini and here they are.  The memories of very small children I am afraid.

First I think I should tell about my father Thomas Arthur Warner – for the rest of the account I will call him TAW.  Born in Australia in 1876, died in South Africa in 1955.  His father was Canon T D Warner, a canon of Brisbane Cathedral and his mother Eugenie (nee McDowell).  He was educated at the Toowoomba Grammar School and afterwards qualified as a surveyor at Sydney University.  Archie McDowell, his uncle, was Surveyor General of Queensland and took TAW with a team of surveyors who surveyed the east coast of Queensland.  This entailed months of camping out in the “Blue”.  At university level he played rugby for Queensland.

In 1902 he left Australia for a holiday in South Africa.  He found South Africa interesting, full of opportunities and possibilities and decided to prolong his stay.  This was the boom time after the Boer War – it was followed by the 1905 slump.

TAW decided to work in Durban and joined J H E Wall who was one of the leading surveyors of that time.  He later met and married (1905) J H E Wall’s sister who, with her mother, had come out to South Africa to live with her brother.

In 1907 TAW bought land at what is now called Warner Beach and planted sugar cane  and built a house.  He led a deputation asking for a siding in that area and when the request was granted, the siding was called Warner’s Beach, after him.

In 1909 he met Mr Udal.  Mr Udal had been sent out by Kynochs of Arklow to find a suitable site to establish a dynamite factory.  He asked TAW to survey and lay out the factory site and village.  This TAW did first while still living at Warner’s Beach and then (1910) moved to Umbogintwini itself where the company had built him a house.

In our time at Umbogintwini there were two explosions.  When the first one happened we were living in Durban (1910?)  We, the Warners, had exchanged houses with the Udals so they were at Umbogintwini in our house, when it happened.  The Udals house was in Durban high on Ridge Road.  It is hard to recapture the reactions of so long ago.  Nell remembers the frightening sound of the explosion, she remembers too how TAW had to rush to catch a train at night to get to the factory to assist in and to organise rescue operations.  He told how they had had to approach the huts very cautiously, to see about removing the dead bodies, and how they had to calm the terrified natives, all the while fearing that some careless or rough movements might set off another blast.  There are probably company minutes that give all the details of these explosions.  We remember the sense of danger and the careful precautions taken by everyone always.  There were grass sand banks round each little hut.

There was a second explosion in 1912 when Nell was at school in the village school.  She remembers the appalling reverberations of the explosion and the terrified screams of a girl who knew that her father was working on that shift in the factory.  She remembers how all the children were sent home and that women were hurrying, looking frightened and anxious to the gates of the factory for news of their men.  (She also remembers that Mr Bates, the school master, was tilting back his chair and that he fell over backwards).

There were four children in our family, Nell, Helen and the twins, Sybil and Archie.  Archie died of diphtheria in 1912.  In 1913 we, all the family, went to England on six months’ leave.  We stayed with our grandparents at Shephall Rectory in Hertfordshire.  My grandfather had now returned to England from Australia on retirement.  We returned to South Africa just before the outbreak of war.

4 August 1914: men from Kynochs were not released for military service, a volunteer corps was formed.  According to a photo we have TAW looked smart and keen drilling with this company.

I think much hard work was done at the factory in the next four war years.

What we remember: the fumes from the factory were pungent, Nell’s tendency to asthma was aggravated and it became impossible for her to live at the coast.  This meant that at a very early age she, aged 8, then a year or two later Sybil and I, were sent to boarding school at Uplands and then St Annes.  Also, to avoid the coast, we spent our holidays up-country in the Dargle, Nottingham Road area.  So our memories of Umbogintwini belong to a very early age.  After we went to boarding school I do not remember going back.

House: our house was up a rise a little way out of the village.  We had an acre of ground and my mother, a natural gardener, at once set about making a garden.  The soil was red and sandy and poor.  She planted grass and Umkluhle trees, kaffir boom and syringas, also I remember lots of flowering shrubs which flourished – Barberton Bohenia, Plumbago, Lassiandra, Pride of India, Bougainvillea, the deep purple original one and a mauvy pink one.  A potato creeper protected a corner of the verandah from the sun.  There was a fernery with fuchsias.  The orchard was simple – a patch of pineapples, guavas, lemons and bananas.  At Christmas time we decorated the house with wild asparagus which grew wild.

The bush was all about us.  There were far away high trees above the bush where the monkeys used to swing and play.

There were Akaffir paths through the bush, single track paths, tramped out by Africans making their way to their kraals – a single tracks and perforce one walked single file.  We considered these walks “daring”, a little apprehensive of meeting monkeys – no doubt we caught the caution from those in charge of us who were on the look out for snakes.  I never remember fearing Africans.

Another walk was towards the sea, a wider track, along this way there were cleared patches, old mealie fields, which were burnt in spring and after rain we found wild flowers.  It seemed in those days a profusion.  I can remember the excitement of finding wild violets, daisies and gloriosa and everlastings and lilies all about us and the new grass coming away from the old clumps that had been burnt.

The sea itself was more difficult to reach.  We walked a long way along the sandy path through the bush to the top of the “cliff”, a steep drop down to the shore.  Down this a path had been made.  A soft sandy path that zig-zagged down the steep drop to the beach.

We loved the beach – rocks, pools, sand, picnics – bliss, until one had to climb back up that interminable hill – or so it seemed to us then.

The roads in the village and in the factory grounds were deep purple or red, lovely colours.  The pyrites they were made from came from the factory.

There was a road which had been cut out along the red hill leading up to Umbogintwini from Isipingo.  Hazardous in wet weather for there was a steep fall down one side and a high bank on the other, leaving not much room for manouevre on a rainy, slippery day.

At this time many of the indentured Indians were becoming independent.  House servants, gardeners, dhotis and cooks were often Indians.  The market gardeners were Indians too and used to carry round their vegetables in wire baskets attached to the two ends of a bamboo balanced on a shoulder.

The African women at that time left the location to work – the men, by and large, worked for six months and spent six months in the location.

The first car was, I think, an Overland.  After brief instructions Mr Udal and TAW decided to try it out by driving to Maritzburg.  This road was far removed from the double highway of today.  The Inchanga hill was a trial for any car and at one fork in the road TAW told us, they had to get out and examine the tracks to be sure of taking the “main” road.  They lunched and relaxed in Maritzburg and drank a very good “Beaunne”.  TAW never forgot this and tackled the journey back in the afternoon.  In the course of this adventurous trip they both learnt to drive the car with confidence.

There were lots of Irish names at Umbogintwini:  Roches, Lazenbys, O’Connors, and so on.

The Udals had brought out with them an Irish nurse for their children, Susan, who could dance an Irish jig and sing an Irish song with eclat.  Long, long afterwards she looked after my children and Susan Underwood could still sing and dance a jig and her pretty Irish brogue was still there.  She died in Nazareth House last year (1967) at the age of ninety – she claimed ninety anyway.

There were also lots of Irish terrier dogs with fighting Irish temperaments – we had one, Sandy.  The furious clashing sound of a dogfight still associates itself in my mind with Irish terriers and Umbogintwini.

TAW was among the enthusiasts who planned the golf course.  It ran along our boundary were the ‘monkey nut’ field had been.

In 1918 – 1919 TAW rejoined J H E Wall in a surveyor partnership and bought a sugar estate at Chakas Kraal on which he had been a manager.  It became obvious that Waldene needed an injection of TAW’s energy and enterprise and the family was moved to Chakas Kraal in 1920.  TAW worked tremendously hard establishing the farm.  He became Chairman of the Natal Planters Union and was one of the moving spirits in establishing the Sugar Experimental Station.

In 1925 he became a member, and very much interested in, the Natal Land Board.  Later he became Chairman of the Natal Land Board.  In this capacity he was appointed a member of the Central Land Board and in this position travelled widely and became most knowledgeable about many schemes for the use of South African land and rivers.

He was the Government Representative on the Board of the Umfolozi Co-operative Sugar Planters from its inception until he retired in 1955.

In 1934 he went to Mauritius interested in the growing and production of sugar on the island.

In 1946 he went on long leave to Australia and New Zealand and on this trip he investigated sugar growing and milling in Australia and wrote a report for the Sugar Association.

In 1946 he retired from the Central Land Board and built a home near the sea at Compensation Beach and lived there in his retirement, attending meetings of the Umfolozi Co-op until 1955.

In 1955 he died following an operation for a duodenal ulcer.