Chapter 7 – Robert Clark

Robert Clark was born in the small village of Osmotherley, on the borders of the North Yorkshire Moors, on May 31, 1859. He was the second youngest child of William and Jane Clark, and the last of the children to be born before the family left Yorkshire for Natal. Robert was, therefore, not yet two years old when his parents made their first attempt to emigrate to Natal. As a result, Robert was too young to recall the sinking of the “Onward”, and he was probably also too young to recall the family’s eventual arrival in Natal when he was almost four years old.

Robert spent his boyhood and adolescence in his parents’ home, on the corner of Brand and Clark Roads. On his 24th birthday he married Amelia White, who was born in Staffordshire on 16 January 1860. After their marriage Robert and Amelia first lived on the south-western corner of Garners Lane and Clark Road, on the Brand Road side of Garners Lane.

From Victor Clark’s accounts of his mother, it seems that Amelia was an astute woman, and apparently an enthusiastic politician. She was a great supporter of the cause of federalism, at a time when “politics in Natal in the late ‘Twenties and early ‘Thirties were devoted to the desirability or otherwise of Home Rule, Federalism and the abandonment of the provincial council system.” 1 Myrtle Deetlifs, grand-daughter of Robert’s brother George, recounts that Amelia was “the sweetest thing out.” She used to call Myrtle to brush her hair, which Amelia kept very long.

While living in York Avenue, Robert purchased a 2-1/2 acre piece of ground adjoining his brother William’s property at 200 Manning Road. Robert did not build on the property, however: before he was able to do so he was told by his doctors that he was suffering from “galloping consumption”, and had less than three years to live. Robert then sold the property, and decided to use the proceeds to set up Amelia in a business, to provide the family with an income after his imminently expected death. This he did by building, in 1903, a grocery shop on the north-west corner of Clark Road and Brand Road (97 Clark Road). Above and around the shop Robert built the family home. He housed all of the male children in one large room upstairs. The building still stands, and is currently used as the offices of D. Smillie & Co.2

Robert was a builder by trade, and conducted a building contracting business in partnership with a man named Gibb. His son Alfred, after being apprenticed to his father, subsequently went into the business. From all accounts Robert was a man with a friendly disposition, who was fond of walking, and who had the habit of whistling whenever he walked. His children, Minnie and Vic, say that Robert never made use of a tram or bus and rarely a motor vehicle – so that on his weekly trips to town he normally walked rather than making use of any form of transport. Legend in his branch of the family has it that Robert had a keen eye for the opposite sex, and that he indulged in the still popular pastime of “birdwatching” on the streets of Durban. It is said that Amelia would give him a half-crown3 to go to town on a Saturday morning, with which he would take himself off to the Central Hotel in West Street.4Apparently, on one occasion Bella Clark, Robert’s daughter-in-law (wife of Alfred), was quite unconsciously the subject of his roving eye when he was on his way home from the Central one day! On another occasion, after presumably getting more than his half crown’s worth of libations, Robert was put on a ricksha and despatched to the Kings Rest Police Station5 – there to be collectedby his hopefully forgiving family!

Around 1886 Robert and his youngest brother Jack (John Thomas) decided to head off for the goldfields of the Transvaal – presumably intent on finding a short cut to good fortune.6 To the lasting regret of his descendants, Robert did not achieve this objective, but he certainly appeared to have had an interesting journey. Jack, who vas apparently quite a keen hunter, went hunting at Ladysmith while en route to Barberton, and during that excursion lost all of his money. Robert had to finance him thereafter. Little is known of Robert’s activities while he and Jack were in the Transvaal, or of what Amelia thought of this escapade. However, Vic says that while in the Transvaal Robert apparently lived in a house with eight bachelors. He and Jack returned via Zululand.

Robert’s sons distinguished themselves in sport, particularly in soccer and cricket. Photographs of the Stella Football Club for the period 1906 – 1922 show a number of Clarks in club teams of over those years. They include Robert’s sons Edgar, Clifford, Alfred and Cyril. Also included are Frank and Peter (sons of George), and Herbert (son of William). In addition, Minnie’s husband, Robert Douglas, and Emily Maud Clark’s husband, Frank Smith, also appear. The cricket teams of that era show a similar array of Clarks.7

Robert’s eldest child, Clifford, worked for the South African Railways. He took early retirement during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. For a number of years thereafter he ran a tearoom on Florida Road. When this business failed, Clifford joined the Durban Corporation, and was for many years in charge of the Water Works Office at Nagle Dam. He had no children from either of his marriages, the first of which was to a Miss Farmer, and the second to a Mrs. Woodsworth. The latter was a divorcee who had children by a previous marriage.

The second son, Alfred Robert (“Alf’), was an accomplished footballer and cricketer, and he represented Natal in the former sport. Vic says that Alf was unlucky not to have been selected for South Africa. He was a less successful businessman, and his building contracting business, which he carried on from the 1920’s, in partnership with a man named Horner, eventually failed. Alf married Isabella Jane Westwood (“Bella”), in January 1914. They lived in the old Westwood home at 83 Bath Road – on the corner of Gascoigne Lane.8 Bella’s mother was a Miss Craig, before her marriage, and it is from her family name that male children in the Alfred Clark branch of the family have derived their second name. Alf and Bella had two children, Lester Craig (born October 6, 1914) and George Craig (born March 9, 1916). Lester married May Dreyer on February 6, 1941. After war service in the Engineer Corps., Lester had a distinguished career in the Durban City Treasurer’s Department. He was Deputy City Treasurer when he retired in 1974 to care for his ailing wife. After May’s death Lester returned to the department in a temporary capacity. He later married Helen Francks. George married Kathleen Daphne Evens. After serving in the First Field Company of the South African Engineer Corps. in World War Two, he moved to Pietermaritzburg and then Dundee. George was a building contractor in Dundee, where he was heavily involved in local service organisations – including the Rotary Club (as President), the War Memorial Hall Committee9 (as Chairman), and many others. Daphne was also heavily involved in service organisations in Dundee, but her primary interest in the 50’s and 60’s was in fighting, as United Party Chairman, the National Party incursion into Northern Natal. In 1970 George and Daphne moved back to Pietermaritzburg and subsequently retired to Durban. They have rendered sterling assistance in the writing of this book, and gathering information for inclusion therein – especially since the writer left Durban for California in 1986. They also have the distinction of having visited Osmotherley, the Clark “homeland” and Robert Clark birthplace, on three occasions – more than any other Clark!

Robert and Amelia’s third son, Cecil White, apparently died as a result of complications resulting from getting a chill at a time when he was suffering from enteric fever. Alf suffered from the same fever, at the same time, but was fortunate to survive.

Early photograph of Amelia and Robert Clark
Early photograph of Amelia and Robert Clark
Later photograph of Robert and Amelia Clark
Later photograph of Robert and Amelia Clark

The fourth child, Edgar, was also capped for Natal in soccer, in 1909 and 1911. He was an exponent of the “googly” in cricket. Edgar worked for the Natal Government Railways, and then the South African Railways. He moved to the Transvaal in the 1930’s, and bought a house in Rosebank. Edgar married Nessie Cahoon. They had a daughter, Peggy. Edgar subsequently married Dollar Broad, an accomplished Scottish dancer, in 1927. Edgar died in Pretoria in August 1942, while stationed in that city. His widow moved back to the Rosebank house in 1946, after staying with her parents in Parktown for the duration of the war. The house was sold in 1970 to make way for the Rosebank Mall. Two sons were born of Edgar’s marriage to Dollar – Ashley (born May 23, 1936) and Mervyn (born March 19, 1938). Ashley, a school teacher, worked for the Colonial Service in Northern and Southern Rhodesia, and later moved to Natal. He married, respectively, Ella-Maud Isabel van Zyl (in 1962) and Anna-Maria van der Westhuizen (in 1984). Ashley was Headmaster of the Scottburgh Primary School for twelve years, a Scottburgh Town Councillor, and the unsuccessful Conservative Party candidate for the Durban Point parliamentary constituency in the 1989 general election. Mervyn worked for a time as a geological assistant in Tanganyika, then qualified as a school teacher. He remained in Johannesburg, and married Coralie Weavind. Mervyn was teaching at the Westridge High School in Roodepoort when he died suddenly of a heart attack in 1983, while on holiday in Scottburgh.

The only daughter of the family, Amelia (“Minnie”), married Robert Douglas. Of that marriage a son, William (“Bill”) Kennedy Douglas, was born. Minnie was called “Joe” by her father, apparently because he would not accept her female status! Until her death she was still called Joe by her brother Vic! Minnie was an accomplished pianist and music teacher, and a most charming and warm hearted person. For a number of years prior to her death in 1984 Minnie lived in Hillcrest with her brother, Vic, and the two of them were an invaluable source of knowledge and information for this booklet. Minnie’s son, Bill Douglas, married Nola Mingay on March 31,1944. In September 1967 he married Eunice Noel. Bill was a distinguished sportsman and educator, and was on the staff of the Durban High School for many years – leaving only to take promotion. He was the organizer of the Natal School’s Offord Cricket Week for a time, and was headmaster of Queensborough High School at the time of his death.

Robert’s second youngest son was Victor, who married Olive Willis. Vic and Olive did not have any children. Vic served in the South African forces in France in World War 1. He too worked for the Railways, starting as a clerk. Through his work Vic became involved in the development and administration of Entabeni Hospital, which had been established by the S.A. Railways and Harbours Sick Fund (Natal System) in 1930.10 He became a Director of the hospital in 1948, Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors in December 1965, and Chairman in July 1970.15 Vic was still Chairman of the Board of Directors at the time of his death in July 1986. After Olive’s death, in 1972, Vic continued to live in Hillcrest, and in the late 1970’s his sister “Minnie” (Amelia) came to live with him. Vic was a devout Christian, and until his death a loyal member of the Hillcrest Baptist Church. He also became a principal source of information for this booklet. I will long remember the fascinating, anecdote filled, walk which I took with him one afternoon around the old “Clark Colony” – up Clark Road, along Bulwer Road to York Avenue, down York Avenue, and back into Clark Road to return to Brand Road.

The youngest of Robert and Amelia’s children was Cyril, who married Gladys Baker. Cyril also served with the South African Forces in France during World War 1. He met Gladys – a Londoner – during the two year period that he was recuperating from war wounds in a Richmond (England) hospital. Of that marriage a daughter, Doreen, was born on September 21, 1926. Cyril initially started working for the Durban Corporation, then joined his brother Alf in his building business. When that business failed, Cyril joined the South African Railways. He and Gladys were pillars of the Kloof Methodist Church. He was also one of the principal sources of information for this booklet: his knowledge of how the various branches of the family fitted together was truly amazing. This is hardly surprising, considering that his prodigious memory enabled him to recite the complete list of Kings and Queens of England! Cyril died in 1980, and Gladys in 1988. Doreen Clark married Colin Campbell (“Nobbie”) Clarke (no relation) on December 16, 1954. A schoolteacher, she served in many schools in the greater Durban area, eventually becoming Principal at Glenardle Junior Primary School.

1 Terry Wilks, The Biography of Douglas Mitchell. at p.18 (King & Wilks, Durban 1980)
2 The building is featured on page 30 of Rewarding Conservation, published in 1992 by the Conservation Awards Committee of the Durban City Council. The publication incorrectly states that the building "was built for Mr. Clark, after whom the road was named".
3 Two shillings and sixpence, for the benefit of the post decimalization generation, i.e. twenty five cents in current money. Obviously the purchasing power of money was a lot different then!
4 Demolished in the 1970's, and replaced by the Sanlam Building.
5 On the corner of Manning and Bath/MacDonald Roads - now a residential hotel.
6 As with most anecdotes about Robert - except those relating to the Central Hotel (Vic was a devout Baptist and a tee-totaller) - the source of this one is his son Victor.
7 Some of these photographs are available in the Local History Museum in Durban, and at the Stella Sports Club.
8 Now incorporated into the grounds of the Bulwer Park Primary School.
9 This committee built, and thereafter managed, the Memorial Hall in Beaconsfield Street, Dundee.
10 Marilyn Poole, The Place On The Hill: A History Of Entabeni Hospital 1930 - 1980 at p.13 (Home Journal Press 1980).
11 Id., at pp. 73 - 75.