A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE THESEN  FAMILY AND ITS ASSOCIATION WITH  KNYSNA AND THE SURROUNDING DISTRICT

 

 

The surname Thesen will be familiar to many older readers through an association with S.S.Agnar, a passenger and cargo-carrying steamship which belonged to the Thesen steamship Company and which plied between Knysna and Cape Town before the advent of the railway line.

 

Other readers may be more familiar with the name through the romantic history of the 117-ton two-masted schooner Albatros owned by the Thesen  family and which brought them to South Africa from Norway in 1869, while some may remember the yacht Albatros II, the Thesen family centenary entry and winner of the first Cape to Rio Race in 1971.

 

For many generations before coming to South Africa, the family had owned a farm originally called “Thesvin” in the district of Upper Romrike in Norway. The name of the property eventually became the name of the owners and the first modern spelling of the surname “Thesen” dates from 1499.

 

Church records of parish farms, many of which were eventually sold to private owners are fairly elaborate and “Thesen” is no exception. The farm was situated on the western side of the River Vormen and was considered to be one of the best agricultural farms in the district comprising 104 acres of cultivated land, 106 of grazing, as well as 140 of forest, giving a total of three hundred and fifty acres in all.

 

In the year 1657 the basis for taxation for the farm by the Church was:

six horses, thirty-two head of cattle, eighteen sheep and four pigs. In 1665 the tithe required was: thirty-two and a half barrels of mixed grain, and sixty-two and a half barrels of oats.

 

In about 1657 private ownership of the farm began together with an association with the military in that it was providing horses for the cavalry section of the armed forces. Records for that year also show that the  agricultural ground was planted with half a barrel of wheat, four barrels of barley, one barrel of peas, a quarter of a barrel of flax, one barrel of rye, thirty barrels of oats and twelve of potatoes.

 

Like other farms in this area “Thesvin” is very old and may well have been cleared at about the time of the birth of Christ. There are two grave mounds on the farm both situated on the outskirts of the home fields, one is about twelve metres in diameter and two metres high and the second, slightly smaller, about ten metres in diameter and one and a half metres high. An axe-head of stone with a hole for its wooden handle was found near these grave sites.

 

In 1795 a large land-slide is recorded which took a part of the property with it into the Vormen River. This slide caused a blockage so that the river rose to eight metres above its normal height. Below the blockage the river was dry for one hundred and eleven days and it took four months before the  slide was cleared. Work was carried on night and day by the local people affected with help from the military forces.

 

According to official records a merchant-shipping firm styled

“A.L. Thesen and Co.” commenced trading in Stavanger in Norway in 1845. By 1857 A.L. Thesen and Co., owned by the brothers Arnt Leonard and Fredrik Wilhelm, operated ten ships ranging in size from barques to galleons including the schooner Albatros and traded in grain, timber and general merchandise throughout the Baltic region.

 

The firm’s expansion was rapid because of world conditions generally at that time and shipping was particularly favoured due to the repeal of the English Navigation Act after the Crimean War. The fishing industry around the Baltic and the North Sea had also been a rapidly expanding business but following on these times of prosperity, the year 1864 brought with it a serious recession and in 1868 the town of Stavanger was faced with a slump which resulted in the collapse of eleven large firms. Amongst these was the well-established and important firm of A.L. Thesen and Co.

 

Apart from the general recession of 1868 the particular reason for the difficulties of the firm arose from the fact that the partners had made heavy financial commitments in grain from the North Sea for which there was now no market. In an endeavour to assist local creditors, the Company struggled on but ships were laid up and idle and at last, carpenters, clerks, shipwrights, seamen and general labourers were reluctantly laid off and the firm went into liquidation.

 

This final disaster came as a severe blow to the Thesen brothers whose firm had been an institution in the small town and who had always played an important role in the commercial and social life of the region and in 1869, Arnt Leonard decided to take his wife and family of nine children to pastures new in distant New Zealand some 12,000 miles away. To this end, Albatros was bought from the insolvent estate by the family with private savings including those of Arnt Leonard’s wife Ane Katrine Margrete, and another brother, Mathias Theodore, and plans were set in motion to emigrate.

 

Another personal tragedy for Arnt Leonard had been the death from Rheumatic Fever of his eldest daughter, Hildur. She had died on

21st March 1866, at the age of seventeen.

 

It seems that Arnt Leonard, having had close contact with various merchant shipping and business houses in England and Scotland and having English as a second language, was keen to settle in one of the colonies of the British Empire, as lands of opportunity: on his journey he carried with him a certificate which reads as follows:

 

“British Vice Consulate,

          Stavanger, 10th June, 1869

“The bearer of these presents is Mr. A. L. Thesen who intends with his family to leave this country in order to settle somewhere else.  Mr. Thesen has been the holder of the highly respectable firm A.L. Thesen and Company which was obliged to suspend business on account of the  unfortunate crisis that took place in Norway this year and which put so many esteemed and wealthy firms out of position.”

 

“As to Mr. Thesen’s conduct he has always been known as an able and highly respected gentleman who has been trusted with many confidential charges and was until his departure one of our Municipal Councillors.”

 

“For honourable and honest mode of living he deserves the best         recommendation, and one may without disappointment trust him in any capacity where confidence is required. The citizens of this town will always feel exceedingly happy to learn of Mr. Thesen   being even as respected and honoured abroad as he was here and sincerely wish he may succeed.”

 

         “Witness my hand and seal of Office”

 

Wilh. S. Hansen”

 

         “Office Seal of British Consul for Stavanger affixed”

 

At this point, prior to their departure for New Zealand, Arnt Leonard’s brother and original partner, Fredrik Wilhelm, leaves the scene to remain on in Norway. (Niels Peter Thesen, another brother, born in 1810, had died in 1845, the year in which the firm was founded). Fredrik Wilhelm’s place is now taken by a fourth brother, Mathias Theodore, who was in possession of a Master Mariner’s certificate and who was to become Captain and part owner of the Albatros, a ship he knew well and greatly praised for her seaworthiness.

 

Albatros was a ship with an interesting history. Built in Baltimore U.S.A. of Burma teak, she had been bought by the Thesen brothers Arnt and Fredrik, on the recommendation of Mathias Theodore who had surveyed her in San Francisco in 1850. Mathias had arrived as second officer of a barque from which the three passengers she had carried as well as the crew, had departed for the newly discovered Californian gold fields and accordingly his contract was at an end. Mathias negotiated a price with the agent of Albatros ashore and arranged for the necessary payment of approximately ten thousand kroner (plus/minus six hundred pounds sterling).

 

With most able-bodied men in the town having joined the gold rush of ‘49, and having obtained a cargo with the assistance of his brothers in Norway, Mathias crewed her with some difficulty and sailed her to China from whence, after a period in the Eastern seas, he took her to Norway to become part of the Thesen fleet engaged in the Baltic trade.

 

Captain M.T. Thesen, although never a partner in the firm of A.L. Thesen   and Company had as has been mentioned, captained the Albatros for some years, so it was doubly fortunate that he was now, as part owner and Master, prepared to emigrate with his brother and sail her to her proposed destination. With him was his son Hans who was twenty-six years old and also in possession of a Master Mariner’s ticket. Arnt Leonard was accompanied by his wife, seven sons and two daughters so that together with the crew, the ship carried twenty-one souls in all, including five women. As can be imagined, a heavy responsibility rested on the shoulders of Arnt Leonard the instigator of the journey and head of a large family.

 

On 20th July 1869 the schooner left Stavanger for Tonsberg where she loaded a cargo of thirty-six thousand pieces of sawn building timber, which was destined to be traded on behalf of a Tonsberg merchant, upon reaching her destination. This cargo comprised thirty-six international standards of Baltic Deal which in today’s measurements represented 168 cubic metres. According to a written record the timber consisted of rough-sawn one-inch boards, eight inches in width and from ten feet upwards in length.

 

(In order to estimate the then value of this cargo, it may be of interest to note that local yellowwood - the only softwood building timber available - was selling at approximately 3/6d a cubic foot. So this quantity of 5940 cubic feet of Baltic Deal would have been worth some one thousand and forty pounds sterling. This may be compared with the price of a large brick-built, double-storey house in Knysna which was later to cost the family six hundred pounds sterling).

 

She also carried with her some of the more personal and valuable possessions of the family including household silverware, copper and brassware and several original oil paintings all obviously from their home in Stavanger. Of interest as well, is an embossed Cavalry sword engraved with the words:

 

Arent Leonard Thesen in Stavanger 1850”                                                              

 

On the reverse side is the maker’s name

 

lsaac Wester in Solingen

 

The history of this ornate and well preserved sword bequeathed to Hjalmar Harison (Harry) Thesen - raises some interesting questions concerning its origin and apparent importance as there is no record of Arnt Leonard ever having been connected with the military in 1850. However, his father, Ole Arnt Nilsen Thesen (born 1780), was a Captain with the  Sondenfjeldske Brigade and his grandfather, Ole Gudmundsen Thesen  (born 1713), was a Lieutenant in the Nes Cavalry Company until 1765 when he was honourably discharged and retired to the Thesen property with a pension. One step further,  Arnt Leonard’s great-grandfather,  Gudmund Thesen (born 1684), also had a cavalry background.

 

On the 14th August  Albatros set sail again for Plymouth in England in order to embark Ragnvald Thesen, (Arnt Leonard’s and Anne Katrine Margrete’s nineteen year old son), who, - it was hoped - having returning from a trip to India - waited there to join his family. The ship which brought young Ragnvald Thesen to Plymouth was the Nordens Dronning, the largest sailing vessel in Norway. This ship was captained by a Thesen family relative and Ragnvald had presumably signed on as a trainee sailor.

 

It was the end of August when Albatros finally left Plymouth for Cape Town, where she arrived on the 16th November, 1869.

 

Unfortunately the ship’s logbook of the journey has been lost - probably in the fire which destroyed the original Thesen office block in Knysna - and there are no living memories of the voyage. However Marie Tose (Thesen ) (now aged eighty-five) remembered her father, Charles Wilhelm Thesen , telling her of his mother’s reluctance to continue the voyage from Plymouth into the unknown; the circumstances surrounding this scene must have been moving enough for a thirteen year old boy to remember for the rest of his life.

 

Albatros remained in Cape Town only long enough to take on board much needed fresh produce and water and within a week she was again under full sail and bound directly for New Zealand.

 

It is difficult from a modern perspective to imagine the discomforts and dangers of an unbroken voyage of seventy-eight days in a small ship, under the conditions which pertained at sea over a century and a quarter ago.

 

For Arnt Leonard and his wife Ane Katrine Margrete, there must have been very mixed and powerful emotions. There was the responsibility and worry over the health and welfare of their large family aged from twenty-two (Hjalmar) to eight (Sigurd) amongst the boys, and fifteen and eleven respectively for the two girls Blanca and Alfhild.  Arnt Leonard was fifty-three and Ane Katrine Margrete fifty-one. There was also the inevitable sadness of parting for ever from friends and relations as well as concern over the new unguessed-at life, which lay ahead.

 

The family had planned their departure and provisioned the ship as only men and women of vision could have done. The storms of the North Sea were behind them and they sailed now through the tropics and into the early Cape summer to pick up the last of the south westerly trade winds, which they hoped would sweep them on eastwards from the Cape to their final destination.

 

But the human spirit is resilient and for the children too, all was not doom and disaster of either grim foreboding, weather, privation or homesickness. There was in all probability, great excitement to be found in each succeeding day on the ship itself and the warm, blue, unfamiliar ocean through which they sailed. Flying fish and a following of sea birds to be fed; whales, dolphins and the changing moods of the ocean. Games of tag are not restricted to land, nor are practical jokes and the adventurous antics of adolescent boys.

 

Landfall in Cape Town meant only that half the journey had been completed and the town itself, only a place in which fresh water and provisions were to be obtained.

 

This report appeared in a Cape Town newspaper of the  day:

 

“Arrivals 16 November 1869

 

The  following vessel arrived in Table Bay on Tuesday:

Albatros  from Norway bound for New Zealand with a cargo of thirty-six standards containing 36,000 pieces of planks and wood; and as passengers Mr. and Mrs. Thesen and eleven *children and two servants. The vessel has put into Table Bay for supplies,”

 

(Note: *children included nine family members and two belonging to members of the crew.)

 

On the 24th November began the second leg of her twelve thousand mile journey to New Zealand with Lion’s Head falling away to the west behind them. But fate now took a hand in the destiny of the family. In the region of Cape Agulhas the ship ran into very stormy weather and violent winds tore at her sails and rigging. Waves rolled and battered the vessel and partly disabled as she now was, it is to the everlasting credit of the Captain and crew that they were able to turn the ship and get her safely back to the shelter of Table Bay. It had been less than a week since Albatros left Cape Town harbour but she was so badly damaged that extensive repairs were required and it became necessary to abort the final leg of their journey.

 

To finance the heavy costs of repair and with the co-operation of the owners of the cargo, the timber was sold in Cape Town, while the family moved to lodgings ashore to await the next departure date.

 

During this time the Norwegian Consul and his wife in Cape Town came to the rescue of the temporarily stranded family and helped them in the social and domestic sense.  They were instrumental as well in putting these ship owners in touch with Cape Town merchants who required cargoes to be moved to the small port of Knysna some five hundred kilometres down the south east coast.

 

Over the next three months the Albatros under the command of Hans Thesen, the twenty-six year old son of Mathias Theodore, made numerous trips to Knysna and other ports and it was partly because of Hans’s favourable reports of Knysna and the area, that the senior members of the family joined the ship on one of its voyages to Knysna to make a first-hand inspection of the possibilities there. As a result of this appraisal, it was decided to reconsider the original New Zealand plan, and to settle in Knysna in the Cape Colony instead. We find therefore that at the end of March 1870 all preparations had been made for the family to re-embark for Knysna where they arrived on the 8th April 1870.

 

In this year too, the new firm of Thesen and Company was established and launched with the trustworthy Albatros acting as its foundation but the partnership between Arnt Leonard and Mathias Theodore did not last long after this early beginning. Perhaps Arnt’s priorities with his large family were different from those of Mathias with only one, grown up son; and perhaps there were temperamental differences between the two brothers as well, but after a division of their combined assets, Mathias left to take up farming and trading on his farm Wittedrift near Plettenberg Bay.

 

Albatros operating out of Knysna did valuable work as a cargo carrier until 1874 when she was wrecked near Ratel River, Cape Agulhas, during the night of 24th March. This was a tragedy to the whole family as a letter of the time records:

 

            “Our beloved Albatros has gone.”

 

Some years after the wreck of the Albatros various flotsam relics were discovered by a member of the family in a cottage in the Bredasdorp district and these, most importantly, her nameplate are to be seen in the Knysna Maritime Museum.

 

Here follows an interesting first-hand record of the wrecking of the Albatros. It was written by Mrs. M.J. Willis of Knysna in 1934: (she was ten years old at the time of the disaster.)

 

“The schooner Albatros commanded by Captain Knud Thomasen left the Knysna Heads on 21 March 1874 for Cape Town on what proved to be her last voyage. In those days the small sailing vessels trading to Knysna often had to lay at anchor at the Heads for several days waiting for favourable weather to cross the bar. The ship would be either kedged across or have to wait for an early morning land breeze and on this occasion, several days were spent waiting, before a favourable breeze in the early morning enabled the ship to proceed to sea on what was to prove her last voyage”

 

“Besides the crew, there were on board as passengers, the Captain’s wife and child, a boy of about ten years and the same age as myself, and my Mother, Mrs. Brant, my younger sister and myself. To wile away the tedium of waiting for the ship to cross, old John Benn who was then the pilot, and his son, the present John Benn, several times brought us up to Knysna in his boat to visit my grandparents Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Page, fetching us again in the evenings to sleep on board. On the last night spent at the Heads these two slept onboard. The next morning they told the Captain that they had noticed the rats run along the ships bulwarks during the night and jump into the river. It was to them an ominous sign and as events were to prove bore out the sailors’ superstition that a ship deserted by rats was doomed.”

 

“After clearing the Heads, the Albatros proceeded on her voyage. I do not remember how many days we were at sea but at 2 o’clock one morning we were awakened by a grating noise which sounded to us like a chain running out and our first thoughts were that we had arrived in Table Bay and the anchor had been let go. We could see that my Mother was in distress and asking her what was wrong she told us the ship had struck a rock. The grating noise ceased proving that it was a sunken wreck the ship had struck because she slid off again and began to settle. The ship’s position was off Cape L’Aghullas, close in shore and the Captain told my Mother that they on board did not see the light.”

 

“Immediately the ship struck confusion seemed to prevail on board, the Captain seemed to have lost his head and the ship began to fill with water.”

 

“Mother hurriedly put on some clothes on we children and some on herself and the last thing before leaving ran down to the cabin to fetch the money she had with her. Two boats were launched - a lifeboat and a dinghy - and brandy and food put aboard.”

 

“The mate, a man named Maynard, and Timothy Melville, the cook, went in the dinghy, whilst all the rest, ourselves included, went in the lifeboat. The boats pulled off a good distance and by this time it was daylight when we saw the poor old ship lurch over on her side. It was said that being loaded with wood she did not sink but washed ashore on L’Aghullas beach. My father, Thos. Brant, heard the news of the shipwreck before he knew what had happened to us. Our boat made for Dyers Island some way off the mainland. It was a long pull and we only reached it about dusk of that day.”

 

“The sea was rough and almost the  whole of the way the boat was rowed through kelp. It was not a nice journey. We did not catch sight of the dinghy until nearing the island which it reached before we did. The landing on the island was safely accomplished and when ashore we found there were two fishermen there. We heard that the island was inhabited by four fishermen but the other two were away on another island collecting guano. We had to remain on Dyers Island that night, the following day and the next night the remaining two fishermen returned. The next morning the four men took us all over to the mainland where we climbed over the big sand dunes to get to a farm house where the Captain got us a wagon that took us to Caledon which place we reached on a Sunday morning as the Church bells were ringing. We were taken to an hotel, next door to which was a shop where my mother bought us all some clothes.”

 

“The next day we got a conveyance which took us to the nearest railway station from where we were able to get to our home in Cape Town.”

 

“During our enforced stay on Dyers Island we lived on rabbits, penguin eggs and chaff bread.”

 

Albatros had been carrying a cargo of sawn timber and manufactured wagon components and while this cargo was well insured, the ship herself was not.

 

Perhaps it was this last disaster which hastened Arnt Leonard’s end, for he died in the following year (1875) at the age of fifty-nine. He had taken on a great challenge in resettling his family and he had grieved as well over the  death of his seventeen-year-old daughter and the loss of his and his

brother’s firm in Norway.

 

Upon the death of his father, Charles Thesen, who had been studying business procedures while working for a firm of hardware importers in Port Elizabeth, was recalled to join his brothers, Hjalmar (28), Rolf and Ragnvald (25) and Niels Peter (22), in the firm's Knysna Head Office. It appears from all accounts that the nineteen year old Charles took over the day to day affairs of the Company while his brothers, and Hjalmar in particular, moved between Knysna and Cape Town overseeing the important cargo handling business there.

 

As time went by, Charles was to reveal an exceptional talent for leadership and business, which resulted eventually in his being acknowledged as the head of the firm. From letters in the old letter press books of the 1890's and early 1900's (now in the  Cape Archives) it is clear that the firm and

C.W. Thesen in particular, had wide ranging interests and explored every and any avenue in the hope that one or the other might prove to be of benefit to the area or of profit to the firm.

 

These included attempts to get a newspaper established in Knysna (there was one in George), encouraging a tailor to set up shop in Knysna (to make C.W. Thesen’s suits!), agricultural experiments, tree growing, hay making, farming, lignite mining, gold prospecting at Millwood, insurance and a constant badgering of authorities for better school equipment, roads, a railway and communications in general. C.W. Thesen even tried to persuade the management of the dynamite factory to come to Knysna instead of Somerset West.

 

From at least one of these, an interesting scientific record has emerged and which has only recently come to light and been placed in the appropriate scientific hands. This is a Whale Census which was carried out by the Pilot (Benn) from the top of the Eastern Head at the request of Thesens with the future of a possible whaling industry in view.

 

On the strength of this record a paper was published in the South African Journal of Marine Science entitled:

 

“Whale observations from the Knysna Heads”

by Doctors P.B. Best and G.J.B. Ross.”

 

This record of whale migrations - numbers and species and whether going east or west - has aroused considerable interest and will prove a valuable tool in terms of whale conservation.

 

However, Hjalmar Thesen carried considerable responsibility, particularly for the shipping side of the business as the following letter will show. (This letter, to Pile and Company of London in 1895, reveals the rather endearing trust and adventurousness of a fairly large transaction in those times):

 

“There is a probability of our requiring a small steamer,” and reference was made to a drawing in their catalogues, "she would require to carry 400 tons deadweight on 11 feet draught. Hatches of 17 feet 6 inches preferred. They must be able to take logs up to 45 feet long through one of the hatches, with very powerful winches to lift the heavy logs, one at least to handle seven tons. A double derrick, with all the latest appliances for quick despatch of cargo, is needed and must be able to put logs and wood on deck. The ship must be very strongly built, for rough coast work, to go alongside wharves and to work 100 ton lighters in open roadstead. ”

 

An enquiry is then made as to whether the after hold could be made into cabins for engineers and mates, so as to allow space amidships for six to twelve passengers and for the Captain. He goes on:

 

“Where is the galley? Could there be a chart room on top of the cabin? Two masts would be preferred, with gaffs for sailing when the wind is favourable, also appliances aft for towing. Engines and boilers must be of the very best, with all the latest improvements and with spare gear. Speed to be about 9 knots on a very small consumption of coal and to condense water for all purposes. Altogether she must be a useful and modern cargo boat, specially designed for economical working with quick despatch and taking water ballast.”

 

Although such fittings were still novelties in large ocean liners, Thesen and Company included a significant enquiry:

 

“What is the  extra cost if lighted by electricity.?”

 

By the year 1898 the brothers had appointed an agent in Norway (one Captain Pedersen) and on the 30th November Hjalmar wrote to him:

 

“Mother was 80 years old a couple of weeks ago, when the Agnar, the Norwegian ship Thela, and our firm all had their flags flying. I can see mother is not so strong, and she gets fainting fits every now and then.”

 

She died at the age of eighty-two in 1900 having led a happy if circumscribed life. She had grown increasingly deaf, yet all the while cherished by her family.

 

Pedersen it seems, would have been personally appointed by Hjalmar during the acquisition of the steamer Agnar for he says of this ship:

 

She still works well and we try to keep her in good order... will you please get me the price of a water-heating stove, well packed like the  one in your bathroom.”

 

Albatros work was continued by her sister ship, the 100 ton schooner Ambulant and then by the 427 ton and first steel vessel, which was the Agnar. Encouraged by the success of the Agnar, Thesens acquired the considerably larger Ingerid of 708 tons in 1899. Ingerid was followed by the Clara and in 1913 the Thesen Line was expanded by the acquisition of the 540 ton Karatara.

 

On 1st December 1913, Hjalmar Thesen writes to the insurance brokers, Price Forbes and Company of Cape Town:

           

“We have contracted for building in Europe a new steamer to Lloyds’ highest specifications, to be delivered about the middle of 1914. She will be of 1000 tons deadweight, costing from 16,000 pounds to 17,000 pounds, and we would like to have her insured to cover cost price.”

 

The name first suggested - typical of the Tzitzikama country - was the Homtini but in the end she was christened Outeniqua. Her actual tonnage was 1019 and she was the largest vessel of the fleet.

 

In 1914, a few weeks after the outbreak of World War I, the government under General Louis Botha commandeered both the Ingerid and the Karatara for use as allied troop transports into German South West Africa. One letter from Thesens reads:

 

“Transports are getting nearly 6000 pounds per month, yet going  with half cargoes. If this is so, we are getting too little for our ships and ought to ask 50 pounds per day for Outeniqua.

 

Regular and reliable operations were further stimulated by World War One and in 1916 a special subsidiary “The Thesen’s Steamship Company Limited” was established with a capital of one hundred thousand pounds. The pride of the Thesen fleet was the big coaster Outeniqua. In 1921 when the well-known “Houston Line” of Liverpool, England, made an offer for the entire fleet, the owners were glad to accept. With the end of the Great War there was a large demand for shipping tonnage and while it is not known what Houstons paid for the fleet, it was said always of C.W. Thesen by his admirers after this sale, that he could not only “see the  other side of the  hill” but always “sold at twelve o’clock.”!

 

Houstons, aware of the value of the goodwill which had been generated by the Thesen’s fifty years of activity on the South African coast, retained the name “Thesen’s Steamship Company Limited” and its white star on a red field insignia.

 

In 1925 as though loath to lose all contact with the  sea - C.W. Thesen  bought the elegant 1481 ton steam yacht, Sherard 0sborne and this ship was a popular attraction lying at anchor in the  Knysna lagoon just off the  Brenton shore. She was one of C.W. Thesen’s few personal indulgences and he had hoped to take his family on a long pleasure cruise to the northern hemisphere. The trip never eventuated, because - it was said - most of his sons and daughters were at that time in the process of making marriage or engagement plans and were not to be tempted away. Her brightly lit teak decks with mahogany and brass surrounds made a fine dance floor for the family and their friends.

 

Heavily modified, Sherard Osborne ended her career as a floating fish meal factory off the South African west coast. This venture, the first of its kind and poised for brilliant success at the very beginning of the great cold water, purse-seining boom, was never profitable due to bad management which resulted in a series of accidents.

 

The whole project it was said was a vision ahead of its time and instead of leading the extensive pelagic fishing industry which followed, the experiment ended in failure.

 

Also into the realms of history go the three masted schooner Lars Rundsdahl of the “Sandwich Island Bird Guano” enterprise, as well as other pioneering exploits such as the Paarl Roller Flour Mills”, the “Amalgamated Motors” and Muizenburg Marine Estates”.

 

As much of the story of the firm of Thesen and Company with its subsidiary manufacturing branches, sawmilling, pine plantation and forestry interests, is well known and recorded, it is only worth noting that at this time of writing (one hundred and twenty eight years later) the Company still exists under the same name, on its historic Thesen Island although ownership has now passed out of the hands of the family.

 

At the time of the sale of Thesen shares - all family held – to Barlow Rand in 1974, the Company owned five thousand hectares of Radiata Pine which was then the largest block of this species in the country. Thesens had been the pioneers in establishing this Californian softwood in South Africa. It also owned eight hundred hectares of Karri Gum (Eucalyptus) plantations as well as three hundred hectares of indigenous forest. The decision to sell had been taken by all the members of the family at a general meeting.

 

With Thesen Island (officially called Paarden Island) now in the news as a potential real estate development area, it may be worth quoting a letter written by C.W. Thesen in 1883 to the office of the  Castle Line in Cape Town:

 

“The  new wharf is nearly finished and through the courtesy of Sid Bramley, superintendent of Public Works here, we have lately been allowed to make use of the jetty and tramway and have found it to be a great improvement on the old way of handling shipping.”

 

In the early 192O’s, C.W. Thesen was joined first by his sons Leonard, Harald and Hjalmar (Harry) and later by Eric and Rolf. With the exception of Leonard, these boys were all educated at St. Andrew’s College and travelled to school in a horse drawn carriage over the Prince Alfred’s pass to Avontuur, where they caught the narrow-gauge train to Grahamstown.

C.W. Thesen’s driver then returned with the carriage to Knysna.

 

In 1924 Thesen and Company’s Brackenhill sawmill and wagon component manufacturing works were moved to Paarden Island in the Knysna lagoon as it made better sense to have this mill close to the shipping wharf and to bring logs into Knysna by means of the narrow-gauge “South Western Railway Company”. The firm had bought this island from the estate of one of the descendants of George Rex in 1916, having already had access to the government wharf there in terms of an annual lease.

 

The government wharf and causeway to it - over the Ashmead channel - were completed in 1883 and before that time, sailing vessels tied up and landed cargoes and passengers where the yacht club now stands.  Albatros would have made use of this jetty.

 

Contrary to popular belief neither the Ashmead channel nor the Green Hole creek were used as alternative routes to the jetty before the causeway was built. While the entire length of the navigable lagoon was sounded for depth and accurately charted, depths for the Ashmead channel ended from either entrance at five feet and were not considered worth recording in the shallow centre. No soundings were recorded beyond the entrance to the Green Hole bay.

 

The twenty-two mile long “South Western Railway” from Deepwalls to Knysna was begun in 1904 and completed in 1907. The little train was known affectionately by the locals as the The Coffee Pot”. C.W. Thesen was its Chairman for a period of thirty-five years. (The first official record of the assets of this Company - disbanded in 1947 - was: one horse, one saddle, one bridle, value twenty-five pounds!)

 

During World War Two the British Admiralty negotiated with Thesens for the assembly and manufacture of a variety of wooden life boats and other craft including the famous, small wooden Fairmile warships. To this end and as part of its war effort, the firm closed down its widely known Stinkwood furniture manufacturing department and released the skilled artisans employed there for this boatbuilding work. The operation ceased with the end of hostilities but the  after-effects of the yard with its craftsmen remained, resulting in the  continued building by Thesens of large wooden fishing craft, yachts and motor launches. Apart from the petrol-driven, depth-charge carrying Fairmiles which fought on the Burmese coast against the  Japanese, the well-known yachts Voortrekker and  Albatros II both came from this yard.

 

Most of these expert woodworkers were the product of a Government Trade School, a project established in 1921 in order to teach woodwork to the sons of families who had previously depended on the indigenous forest for a livelihood. The names and furniture manufacturing skills of these men are still much in evidence to this day.

 

Although the majority of the children who took part in the Albatros adventure of 1869 died without heirs, there is now a fifth generation with the surname Thesen in South Africa.

 

Starting with the eldest, there was Hans, [he married Alida Berg and had nine children] who together with his cousin Niels Peter [he married Helena Maria Fischer and had five children] were responsible for the eminent Cape Town branch of the clan and whose sons managed the business and shipping interests of the Thesen’s office there.

 

Hjalmar, long thought to be a firm bachelor married late in life, soon after his mother died. His wife was Katrine Holst, a girl whom he had presumably met in Norway on one of his frequent business trips there. They lived in Knysna and had one daughter Christine Wilhelmina, fondly known as Poppy. Poppy was a tall, blue-eyed attractive woman - sadly an invalid for many years - and died unmarried at the age of thirty-eight.

 

Rolf married Amy Georgina Duthie, daughter of Captain Thomas Henry Duthie of Belvidere and they had one daughter, Amy Irene. Irene married Claude Kirkman but died without children. Rolf died in 1883 and he and his wife are buried in the Belvidere Churchyard. Irene will also be remembered for her gentle and gracious nature. Two of the beneficiaries in her Will were James (Jim) Duthie, grandson of Captain Thomas Henry Duthie and Hjalmar Peter Thesen, great-nephew of Rolf Thesen, who inherited a mahogany bedstead.

 

Of the girls, only Blanca, the great beauty, married. Her husband was Francis William Reitz, Chief Justice and later to become President of the Orange Free State. (One of her children was Denys Reitz the author).

 

Sigurd, the youngest of the members had four children by Catherine Nixon and all of these families still flourish.

 

Most prolific of the clan however was Charles Wilhelm Thesen, the thirteen year old family member who had ten children by his first wife and three by his second. He had in all, twenty-seven grandchildren.

 

As well as the numerous first cousins from the progeny of C.W. Thesen’s six sons (three of whom had no children) there are those from the  families of his five daughters. These daughters are:

 

 Louise Thesen, who married Hugh Ryan

            Ella Thesen, who married Robert Thornely Jones

            Kate Thesen, who married Chauncey Reid

            Hildur Thesen, who married Ted Stent

            Marie Thesen, who married Colin Tose.

 

Of the three sons who married and had families, the wives were Edna Gladys Reid who married Harry, Helen Katherine Mallett who married Eric, and Mary Fleming Bennie who married Rolf. All of these families have strong Knysna connections. The annual Christmas tea-party still held on Thesen Hill, Knysna, attracts on most occasions up to forty first, second and third cousins.

 

Charles’s sixth and youngest son was Adolf Frithjof Thesen, born in 1902 to his second wife, Hannah. He was an attractive personality from all accounts, blue-eyed, fair-haired and intelligent and fortunate in having, not only loving parents, but a large family of older and younger brothers and sisters as well. High spirited and considered out of step with the high principles of those times, he settled in the Argentine as a young man and died there at the age of fifty-three.

 

C.W. Thesen’s first wife and the mother of his ten children,

Eliza Bessie Georgiana Harison, was a member of an old English family who had lived at Sutton Place, Seaford, Sussex, for many generations. Her father, Captain Christopher Harison, had fought in the Cape Border Wars of 1850-1853 (Queen Victoria’s 73rd Black Watch Regiment) as a regular officer and having been favourably impressed by South Africa, he returned to England to resign his commission in order to settle in the Cape Colony.

 

Having tried his hand at farming, he eventually joined the - then fledgling - forestry department and rose to become the first Chief Conservator of Forests for the southern region in 1874. Based in Knysna for the last years of his life, it was not surprising that C.W. Thesen, , with mutual timber interests, was to meet and eventually marry one of his two daughters.

 

Captain Christopher Harison’s fourteen years of dedicated service to this region left an enduring mark on systematic forest management. He was the,  first to apply a scientific approach to the  problem of conservation, regeneration and controlled felling and was the first official to endeavour to bring some measure of protection to the elephants and buffalo, which even then were under threat in the Tsitsikamma forests. Apart from his military rank it is possible that he had had some estate and forest management training as a result of his family’s land holding interests. His daughter, Bessie Thesen, writing to her sister Katie in England in 1896 remarks as follows:

 

“Your letter came this morning with the tidings of poor Aunt Louisa’s death - dear old lady, I always felt more warm towards those two than any of the others and am always sorry that you did not see them. I suppose Sutton will also have passed out of Harison hands before you ever see it as it seems inevitable at present they say.”

 

“I don’t think Papa will be much distressed as he can scarcely take in such things nowadays much.”

 

As a reference to the life of those times and the upbringing of Bessie Thesen’s children, extracts from her letters to her sister are an interesting reflection on this first generation of English-speaking South Africans. The following refers to the Boer War, then in progress: the first of the three wars which were to have their inevitable effect on the history of the family.

 

“Knysna, March 2nd, 1901

         “My dearest Katie,

“I have been hoping to give you a long letter but don’t know now if I shall manage it tonight.”

 

“ It is strange to see that all our latest war news reaches you at the  same time (and possibly much more reliable news) as it does here in our district. We are again in comparative quiet, the  commandos have split up and scattered northwards mostly – I am hoping great things of the next few weeks.”

 

 “General Louis Botha, one of the  most sensible and one of the best of the Boer generals is being interviewed as you know and one cannot but hope that the wail of his country may soften his heart and those of his misguided advisers. For it is an undoubted fact that most of the better class Boers are ready to give in now. Poor Reitz - his mind has long been cranky on the subject so one cannot say with any confidence what he will advise.”

 

It will be remembered that Reitz had been her brother -in-law (Blanca died in 1887), which probably accounts for her wry puzzlement concerning his

hitherto unrevealed loyalties!  (He was at the time the South African Republic’s State Secretary).

 

During the Boer War, the army depended greatly upon the goodwill of Thesen and Company who offered special rates for freight on the Agnar. Agnar also transported prisoners of war and labour recruits and on one of her voyages, she was to carry no less than 187 mule drivers at very little cost.

 

Agnar was due for a major re-fit in Norway and it was decided that Leonard, Charles’s and Bessie’s eldest son, would go with the ship and then on to England to stay with his aunt Katie’s family.

 

            “Knysna, May 4th, 1901:

            “My dearest sister,

“… Since the boys came back from Keurbooms River at the beginning of April I have been more or less busy getting my big son ready for his trip. You see the outward voyage will take over 40 days, no short journey! I have to provide him with clothes sufficient for that length of time without washing. Of course many things he must necessarily get on landing and I shall trust to you to tell of any obvious want in his wardrobe. You know Colonial boys are not brought up on the same lines quite as English ones, and he may not need in Norway quite the same as he will in England. He is particular enough about his clothes but dreadfully careless in wearing them, and being tall is obliged to have tailor suits always. I hope he will fatten a little and get over his great trouble, a weak digestion, which boy-like he will not treat respectfully and consequently suffers for. I have an idea he will pull well with your Theodore, though I could wish he was older instead of younger that the lads might do a little sightseeing together…”

 

The outward journey in fact lasted forty-eight days, the last three under sail while the Agnar’s engineers made running repairs to her boilers. But she returned triumphantly refurbished and re-fitting with electric light to add to her lustre.

 

Sadly, two months after her last letter was written, Bessie died of complications as a result of her final pregnancy. She was only thirty-eight years old.

 

The letters from which these extracts are quoted are given in full in Part II of the Thesen history which follows, together with the many written to Bessie by various members of her family.

 

Her husband, Charles, was now faced not only with the great loss of his wife but with the problem of attending to the needs of his large family. In 1902 however he married Lucia Johanna Christine Thesen who was the daughter of his first cousin Hans Thesen and it is to her eternal credit that she lovingly took on the responsibility of her step-children as well as bringing up three children of her own. Rolf Thesen, one of Bessie’s and Charles’s sons, makes these comments and I quote them as pertinent to what has already been said:

 

“I would like to note a few more personal aspects around some of those who did not come so firmly into the limelight but who nevertheless played an important part in the life of the family. My own mother: small of stature but lion-hearted. Dad did give her the credit of being his mainstay on many occasions.”

 

“As she (Bessie) died when I was four I did not have the  privilege of experiencing her qualities of love and caring.  I have read and indeed have copies of some letters she wrote to her only sister in England. Amongst a number of social engagements she took an active part in the True Templar movement (Temperance) and wrote rather amusingly to her sister of an occasion when she marched with others, chiefly coloured, in a parade of adherents in George. She was amused at the thought as to what some Knysna friends would think of her! Her great concern for our Reitz relations and others involved in the Boer War was significant.”

 

“My stepmother, Hannah, was a lifelong friend and great admirer of my mother Bessie and took on the responsibility for her large family, some grown-up and possibly difficult. However, as the only mother I really knew I do offer grateful thanks for all she did for us.”

 

Both of Charles’s marriages were consecrated in the old St. George’s Church in Knysna. The heavy wooden lych-gate on the Main Street at the entrance to the Church grounds was erected by him in Bessie’s memory.

 

Of Charles’s and Bessie’s grandchildren, there are twelve first cousins still alive, while of those of his second wife, Lucia Johanna Christine, there are four, as well as many second and second cousins once removed from the  progeny of Niels Peter, Blanca, Sigurd and Hans.

 

Family members took part in the two World Wars, from Flanders and the Somme to North Africa and Burma. The  four sons of Charles and Bessie, (Harald, Harry, Eric and Rolf), who fought in the First World War, survived, with Harald winning the  M.C. and Harry gaining his Wings in the Royal Flying Corps (the forerunner of the  R.A.F). Their half-sister Marie saw service as a nursing sister in the north African desert during the Second World War. All Charles’s and Bessie's grandsons and grand-daughters, old enough to join up, were also volunteers in the allied forces. Most of the family are resident in South Africa but there are members of the South African branch living at the present time all over the world.

 

The Thesens have played a very significant part in the economic growth of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay and it is somehow appropriate that the remains of the two original shipowners are buried here: Mathias Theodore at Plettenberg Bay and Arnt Leonard at Brackenhill, one of the original Thesen estates between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay.

 

At the time of his death in 1940, C.W. Thesen owned large tracts of forest and farming land as well as properties in Plettenberg Bay and Knysna. Among today's landmarks with which the family has been connected are the village of Sedgefield and the adjoining farms of Uxmere and Ruigtevlei. The  picturesque Charlesford at the foot of Phantom Pass and Klein River, north of Plettenberg Bay, the Goukamma Nature Reserve whose original eight hundred hectares was made available at gift value in the interests of conservation. The original house upon which the Plettenberg Hotel at Plettenberg Bay now stands was built as a holiday home for the family of C.W. Thesen. There are also large plantations of trees some well over eighty years old which bear testimony to the far-sighted inventiveness and determination of the sons of the original immigrant, Arnt Leonard Thesen.

 

It is not generally known that the oyster farming industry in the Knysna lagoon came into being as a result of Harry Thesen’s individual vision and endeavour. He was also a pioneer of commercial honey production in the area.

 

In 1924 when Plettenberg Bay was only a small seaside village and the Robberg peninsula in danger of becoming a no-man's land grazed by goats, a thatched, stone rondavel was built there by C.W. Thesen’s sons, Leonard, Harald, Harry, Rolf and Eric. It was known as “The Pimple” - for that was how it looked when viewed from the centre of Plettenberg Bay - a small spot breaking the skyline on the promontory.

 

The piece of land upon which this stone hut stood was leased from the Divisional Council (initially at the  nominal amount of one shilling per annum) usually renewable in ten-year periods. The site has an unbroken view over the whole sweep of Plettenberg Bay and the Outeniqua mountains - dominated by Peak Formosa - and is shared only with dassies and mongooses.

 

In the late 1800’s C.W. Thesen would re-locate his entire family from his house in Knysna for the Christmas holidays to the base of the Robberg peninsula. They travelled by means of cart, and ox-wagon with all the paraphernalia of tents, cooking utensils and pots and pans, and not forgetting the essential bamboo fishing rods. Those were the days of Cuttyhunk flax, or Irish linen, braided green fishing line, copper wire and home-made sinkers.

 

The camp-site was under the milkwood trees on the Van Rooyen’s farm and it is probable that these camps were the inspiration for C.W. Thesen’s sons to locate a hut site on Robberg itself and to build the rondavel there many years later. In the 1930’s merely getting to the hut by car was in itself an adventure with the Piesang River ford often a navigational obstacle, particularly after heavy rain.

 

In 1984, sixty years after it was built, the land upon which it stood was expropriated by the Provincial Administration. The hut still stands but it is now used by the Provincial authorities as a water-storage, tool shed and sleeping area for Nature Conservation staff.

 

However, this cottage in all its simplicity had played a very significant role in the lives of three generations of the Thesen family and had served to bond relationships which remain unbroken to this day.

 

With this story now told, C.W. Thesen’s handwritten memories, recorded shortly before his death in 1940, will make an eloquent and compelling epilogue especially as they include details of the actual voyage of the Albatros and I intend to give them in full.

 

His last scrawled, pencilled notes read:

 

“My father A.L. Thesen  was the  principal, as a Town Councillor and Mayor, to inaugurate the supply of water for the town of Stavanger and was much complimented for this undertaking about the year 1867/1868.”

 

“During the winter months in my young days the Bay (Stavanger) would fill up with sailing vessels large and small to be laid up for the winter overhauled and repaired and when required to be re-classed in the Norwegian Veritas."

 

“It was with great pride that the inhabitants watched the large vessels come sailing into the Fjord. I remember well such vessels as Nordens Dronning and Sir Robert Peel at different times arriving and being moored and surrounded by boats coming to wish Captain and crew welcome, by the shipowners down to the lowest and youngest, myself included. (Sir Robert Peel was one of my father’s ships about five hundred tons register bought from Sweden nearly new.)”

 

After three months or thereabouts, the larger vessels set sail for some English port to load, generally for some distant land sometimes at very remunerative rates of freight, and at other times over non-profitable periods.  In shipping, there seem periods of great prosperity and then periods of depression, but on the whole, Norway has been very successful in its shipping enterprises.”

 

“The arrival of the English Mail was a great day, for the shipowners received their Captain’s draft on London for their ship’s earnings. This was long before the days of cables, wireless, telephones and electricity in every conceivable direction, and now Air mails.”

 

“I remember cases about 2 feet high by 4 feet across and 6 feet long, with soft yellow sugar arriving per lighter at our warehouse from West Indies, and not as now in bags, each case must have weighed  6 or 800 lbs.  The cases were strapped at the ends with raw hide, about one and a half inches wide with the colour of the animal’s hair attached. The raw sugar was as it came from the sugar mills in the West Indies, yellow in colour as it was turned out from the centrifugal pumps and not as today, nearly white from the improved machinery, and to satisfy the requirements of some of the trades such as native, the sugar has to be re-coloured to the appearance as supplied nearly 100 years ago.  I would take great delight in eating a lump of yellow sugar as it came from the pump.”

 

“Grapes at that period were imported in earthenware jars, each being packed separately in cork dust, not touching one another. The grapes came from Portugal and Spain.”

 

            “I do not think tomatoes were known in those days.”

 

“Of my father’s ships the schooner Iris had been bought by my father after she was wrecked at Kalhamerenand and then floated and repaired.”

 

“Another ship the Byfoged Christensen was lost with all hands a few years later in the West Indian ocean.”

 

Donau was wrecked in the Black Sea, bound for Danube with a cargo of coal.”

           

The  brig Trafik was exchanged for a warehouse at Haugesund.”

 

“I often went with my father on his visits of inspection such as   when the Iris was wrecked and re-floated and when the  warehouse at Haugesund was exchanged for his ship the Trafik.”

 

  “A great sorrow befell my father and mother when on the

21st March, 1866, their eldest daughter Hildur died 17 years old. She died from rheumatic fever. My father was exceedingly cut up about it and never seemed to recover from the loss. He took me by the hand and he and I went to the funeral and laid her to rest.”

 

(At this point there is a gap in the handwritten and typed pages but we have already heard of the events leading up to the decision to emigrate to New Zealand. C.W. Thesen writes that while the Albatros was loading at Tonsberg the family went to stay with some distant relation who lived a few miles away in the country, with the name of the Rev. Jonsberg. He also records and counts from memory all those who set sail on the Albatros after she left Tonsberg.)

 


“The Norwegian Schooner Albatros, after having loaded a cargo of unplaned inch boards, left Tonsberg, 15th August. 1869, bound for New Zealand. She was:

 

                        1.         Owned by Mr. A.L. Thesen, who was a passenger.

                        2.         His brother Captain M.T. Thesen, who was in command of the expedition.  

                        3.         His son, Capt. Hans Adolf Baars Thesen, who was the Captain of the Albatros.

                        4.         Knud Thomasen, 1st officer.

                        5.         His brother, Thomas Thomasen, Boatswain.

                        6.         Ole Larsen, Ship’s Carpenter.

                        7.         Rolf Thesen, Sailor, (A.L. Thesen’s son.)

                        8.         Ragnvald Thesen, Sailor, (who joined vessel at Plymouth and was A.L. Thesen’s son).

                        9.         Johannes Franszen, Cook.

                        10.       Niels Peter Thesen, as Boy, to complete the required number. (He was on the ship’s articles dated 12th July, 1869, to make up required crew.)

      

                        And as passengers:

                       

11.              Mrs AL Thesen and

 

her children

                        12.       Hjalmar Thesen

                        13.       Blanca Thesen

                        14.       Charles Wilhelm Thesen

                        15.       Alfhild Leonora Thesen

                        16.       Theodor Fredrik Thesen

                        17.       Sigurd Thesen

      

                         Mothers and Children

 

                        18 & 19         Mr Knud Thomasen’s wife and 1 child.

                        20 & 21         Ole Larsen’s wife and 1 child.”

 

Here he gives and interesting account of the provisions with which the ship was loaded for her long voyage. There were live pigs and fowls, barrels of salted pork, fish and beef and preserved beef. Milk was condensed in bottles and he mentions that this looked like grains of white rice and dissolved easily when put into hot water. He also mentions tinned goods, mostly tinned fresh beef in fourteen pound tins as well as dried potatoes in twenty-eight pound cans and he remarks that the potatoes looked like small, dried mealies. He mentions that he spent a good deal of his time in the galley. His memoirs read on:

 

“We arrived at Plymouth within a week to pick up our brother Ragnvald Thesen who was due to join us. After waiting at Plymouth for nearly fourteen days we were considering leaving without him but fortunately his vessel arrived the next day at Falmouth. He came that evening to Plymouth and boarded the Albatros. We were due to set sail for New Zealand on the  following morning.”

 

As has been mentioned, Ragnvald arrived in the 1154 ton Nordens Dronning. She was carrying a cargo of rice from Akyab (Burma).

 

“At Plymouth we had been supplied with fresh provisions and huge loaves of white bread daily from the shore."

 

We  lost sight of land during the day with fine weather and fair wind. After losing sight of the English shore and white cliffs, we did not sight any land for many weeks. Under the Equator we had a good deal of calm intermittent with heavy showers of rain. On such occasions sails were spread horizontally and rain water collected for use on board."

 

“At one time from calculations taken by Capt. M.T. Thesen and his son Hans, we could be nearing the Brazilian Coast, and on the second morning the young sailor Thomasen was sent up to the highest point in the rigging, that is on the fore-top-mast, when he reported that he could see land in the far-off distance, and the ship’s chronometer and compasses shown to be correct. The orders were then given to set about or turn in an easterly direction, and set a course for Table Bay thousands of miles away. We kept that course for about a month with fine weather, until a week before seeing Table Mountain, we had a fairly strong gale, fair wind, all sails set, doing from 8 to 10 knots per hour with a heavy sea from astern coming on to us faster than we sailed, and at times seemed as if the sea would swallow us up or swamp us. This continued for some days and we made good progress".

 

“One early sunny morning Mother and I were seated on a wooden bench, acting as a hencoop underneath, with our back towards the cabin and looking at the huge swells coming on behind and overtaking us, and looking as though the sea would swallow us up, but how impressive it was to see the stern of the  ship lifting herself beautifully over the crest of the sea and pushing the ship on faster than before, when the ship slid back into the  trough of the sea which repeated itself all day. My Uncle, the Captain, was standing close by looking forward how she behaved drinking his black coffee, when he gave some urgent orders which, when not carried out smartly enough to his liking, threw his coffee cup violently on the deck, and my Mother who was deaf exclaimed what a strong cup that was which did not break. The cup was a very strong heavy sea cup used at sea in those days."

 

“On one occasion I was with the cook, Franzsen, in the galley. He was kneading dough in a large tin dish for baking bread, when the ship took a heavy lurch and I fell into the dough, getting comfortably seated in the dough. The cook hauled me out of it and landed me on my feet with the tail of my trousers holding over all one inch of dough like a pancake. He took a knife and scraped the dough back into the dish and continued to knead the dough, and baked his bread later in the day, and the family no doubt, partook of the bread for their next day’s meal.”

 

 “A good deal of my time was spent in the galley, and I don’t know if I could say that I assisted the cook, but it may be that he would prefer it if I was not there, but in any case he was very good to me.”

 

Bearing in mind that Charles was thirteen years old it can easily be imagined that he would be welcomed neither amongst the very young children nor with the crew in their dangerous tasks. The galley therefore would have been good neutral territory and the cook, Johannes Franzsen, a friendly man glad of the company. This Franzsen was the one who painted the delicate water colours of the Albatros at various stages of her voyage and which are to be seen in the Knysna Maritime Museum.

 

“Still with favourable wind for some days. Early on a sunny morning it was a marvellous and impressive sight never forgotten by me, on the 78th day after losing sight of England, seeing Table Mountain appearing growing out of the sea hour by hour, growing higher and higher until about noon we could see Robben Island.”

           

“On rounding Robben Island we got the Table Mountain south easter very strong and I became frightened expecting the Albatros to capsize, however we came to safe anchorage very near the Adderley Street wharf built of wood and the Consul’s representative came on board, Mr. Sjogren.  Mr. C.G. Akerberg was then the Swedish Norwegian Consul at Cape Town.”

 

He mentions that they had only intended to stay in Cape Town long enough to take on fresh provisions and water and that they were again under sail for New Zealand within a few days. He says that:

 

“At Cape Agulhas we got in for very bad weather and returned in the same week partly disabled when it was decided not to take the vessel any further. The cargo was sold to a Mr. Wicht and the proceeds remitted to the shippers at Tonsberg in Norway. The German/Franco War had broken out and ships were very scarce. This resulted in various Cape Town merchants approaching my Father and Uncle to offer the vessel for chartering to take cargoes of stores to Knysna as the inhabitants of the town were short of food and Knysna had not roads or other means to help the inhabitants other than sending stores by sea.”

 

It was accordingly arranged that the Albatros would load a cargo for Knysna. The family landed and hired a house at the top of Kloof Street lying in front of one Jan Hofmeyer’s house.”

 

“The Albatros sailed for Knysna commanded by Hans who was the first Thesen to cross the Knysna Bar. Thereafter she did further trips to Cape Town and back as well as to Port Elizabeth. When Captain (Hans Thesen) returned to Cape Town he recommended to the seniors and their families to go to Knysna as probably a good opening and the country reminded him of Norway, with its forest and rivers and this is how the family settled in South Africa in place of New Zealand. We arrived at Knysna on 6th April, 1870

 

 

 

***