The story of a local family (taken from ‘The Witness’.

2009-06-04 00:00

Stephen Coan

PIETERMARITZBURG resident Leonard Grantham and his cousin Audrey Klaas, who lives in Britain, have together unearthed their family history and its a heady tale of pioneering, romance and scandal. Their great-grandfather was James Grantham, who surveyed Durban harbour in 1858, created one of the first maps of Natal, named Champagne Castle in the Drakensberg and also found the time to be a central figure in a celebrated Pietermaritzburg scandal.

Leonard began his research in 1993. “I just wanted to know who my great-grandfather was,” he says. “So I went to the Pietermaritzburg archives and there it all was.”

Leonard later met Shelagh Spencer, historian of the Natal British settlers, who was able to confirm much of what he had found and provide further information.

The 29-year-old Royal Engineer Lieutenant James Grantham arrived in Natal in October 1856. Prior to this posting he had been responsible for laying out Aldershot military camp in Britain and seen service in the East Indies where he had married his wife, Ellen. When he disembarked at Durban it was with her and their three children, Frances, Elizabeth and Henry, all aged under four.

One of Grantham’s first jobs in Natal was to survey Durban harbour with a view to improvements. This occupied most of 1857 and 1858 found the now Captain Grantham based at Pietermaritzburg’s Fort Napier. On April 14 of that year, Grantham sent his wife and three children back to Britain aboard the steamer Madagascar. “Thirteen days later a major scandal erupted in Pietermaritzburg,” writes Shelagh Spencer in British Settlers in Natal (Volume 7). On April 27, Emma Parish, a married woman and sister-in-law to Peter Davis, co-owner of The Natal Witness, took up residence in Grantham’s quarters at Fort Napier.

When her husband, Samuel, a plasterer, with some of his brothers-in-law went to fetch her, Grantham refused them entry and ordered his men “to turn them off the Camp hill”. Appeals to the resident magistrate and Colonel Henry Cooper of the 45th Regiment, the officer commanding, proved equally fruitless.

The next morning Emma’s sisters besieged Fort Napier in a bid to persuade their sibling to sever “the disreputable connection”, but Grantham refused them access.

On May 9, Samuel Parish sold up and left Natal. The following day Emma’s brothers and brothers-in-law wrote to the Lieutenant-Governor John Scott detailing the incident, noting that the camp, “designed for the protection of the inhabitants of Natal, had, in this case, been converted into a stronghold to favour the vile conduct of one of Her Majesty’s Officers sent to Natal for the preservation of the peace and happiness of her people”.

They had heard that Captain Grantham and Emma were in the habit of riding about the city at night, and they feared that this was the prelude to their doing so in the daytime, so that they and their families would have their relation’s dishonour upon them wherever they went.

The letter also made reference to “the known character of Captain Grantham” and feared the “dreaded consummation of what had occurred, shuddering at the thought of the consequences”. In reply, the Lieutenant-Governor said he deeply regretted the occurrence “calculated to lower public morality”, but unfortunately did not have the power to interfere.

The extra-marital relationship, which would produce four children, does not appear to have affected Grantham’s professional status. The same year, Grantham was employed by the British War Office to do a survey of Natal’s borders and the Drakensberg passes. He also remained a popular officer — on leaving Natal for a brief posting to Grahamstown his corps held a ball in his honour and the Natal Courier referred to him as “favourably known in the colony”.

It was during the course of Grantham’s survey of the Berg passes in 1861 that he named Champagne Castle. There are two versions of how this came about, both detailed by R. O. Pearse in Barrier of Spears. During the survey, Grantham made David Gray’s farm, Cathkin, his base, and they set off together to climb the un-named peak taking a bottle of champagne in a haversack to celebrate the climb. “The day was hot, they took turns to carry the sack,” writes Pearse. “But when they got to the top they found the bottle half empty. Neither would admit to having taking a quick pull from the bottle on the way up, so, to settle the argument, they decided to blame it on the mountain and call it Champagne Castle.

However, Charles Gray, David’s grandson, was told by his father that this version is untrue. “Grantham did not climb the peak with David Gray, Grantham climbed it with his batman. During the climb, the young man slipped and fell, and in doing so broke the bottle of champagne which he was carrying in the haversack.

Grantham told Gray of the incident and that he intended naming the peak Champagne Castle as his servant had already christened the peak by breaking the bottle over it. A disappointed Gray said: “I hoped you were going to call it after my farm.” Grantham decided on a compromise: “Its name shall be Cathkin Peak or Champagne Castle.” Pearse thought this story the accurate one.

Grantham’s obituary in the Times of Natal said he loved working in the Berg and described him as a very active man, 1,8metres tall with a “magnificent physique”. He was also referred to as “a remarkable pedestrian, preferring to walk rather than ride”.

Grantham’s later career saw him design Fort Buckingham in Natal, as well as working in Canada, Mauritius and Australia. He retired from the army in 1873 with the rank of major and decided to settle in Natal, buying a farm in the Rietvlei area. In 1874, shortly after he and his family returned to Natal, Emma died.

Grantham continued to work in Natal where he appears to have had a rather stormy relationship with the authorities. He went to Australia again and while working on a harbour survey heard the news of the battle of Majuba fought on February 27, 1881. He immediately left for Natal to volunteer only to find on arrival that the first Anglo-Boer War was over. Grantham continued doing surveying work until his death in Pietermaritzburg in July 1896.

Grantham had three sons and a daughter with Emma: James, Walter, Edward and Alice. The third son, Edward, Leonard Grantham’s grandfather, was born in Pietermaritzburg in 1861 and later became a lieutenant in the First Battalion of the Natal Native Corps during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. Thereafter, he farmed at the family farm. Although he never married, by the time of his death in 1912, Edward had fathered 18 children. According to Spencer, “the names of four of the mothers are known: Nosponso kaN’Dowando (two daughters), Nozando kaN’Dowando (otherwise known as Vinah; six sons, three daughters), Notsholo kaLambete (one son, four daughters) and Albertina Zuma (one son, one daughter).

“Vinah was my grandmother,” says Leonard. “Her son, Robert Owen, who was born in 1909, was my father.”

Leonard has since sourced portraits and photographs of his ancestors, while his cousin Audrey Klaas is busy tracing the English Granthams. Together they are hoping to petition authorities for a posthumous knighthood for James Grantham in recognition of his pioneering work that literally helped put KwaZulu-Natal on the map.

The story of the Granthams, their lives and loves, is one that runs its course through a time and place fractured by concerns of colour and race. Was it a family secret, something never to be mentioned? “It was no secret,” says Leonard matter-of-factly, “my father told us.”

Do you have any stories of unusual family history? We’d like to hear them. Please send them to or phone 033 355 1125.

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