Feb 09- South Africa

Katy Beinart

In February I visited South Africa to try and track down more information about our familys journey and arrival there. Talking to my Great-Uncle Magnus was fascinating. While it was hard to distinguish between myth and reality (eg. His father's family had descended from a spy for the Russian czar) I loved hearing his stories, particularly of his grandfather Leopold Pearlman, who had come to South Africa in 1902 with a British regiment to supply them with suits and later set up a tailors shop.. His wife Anne was rather fierce and smoked 50 cigarettes a day, in a holder, and collected cigarette cards.

In Cape Town I found a huge amount of information at the Jewish Museum and found records of Beinarts who had stayed at the Poor Jews Temporary Shelter in Whitechapel, London, en route to South Africa. I also found a Russian brochure, advertising the delights of South Africa to potential emigrants, and giving advice on what to take:

“It is recommended not to take too many things..

Women- two pairs of shoes, one warm dress, one paper dress, light wide brimmed cap or thick felt cap, one little cap, one pair of shoes, coat, 6 changes of cloths, sewing accessories, towels and linen sack”

I did feel I'd overpacked a bit.

Talking to Gail, another Beinart, I found out that my great-grandfather Woolf had had salt pans out near the Great Berg River, where he would collect salt to sell in his general store in Malmesbury (near Cape Town). I began to get interested in salt, and wanted to visit, but running out of time I compromised with a visit to the Department of Land Affairs. This is a fascinating place with hundreds of maps and aerial photographs of the country, and I got taken down into the bowels of the building where cavernous corridors of plan chests threaten to topple at any minute. There I found aerial photos of the salt pans, and also 19th century maps of Cape Town docks where my family would have arrived, now filled in and gentrified into a top tourist destination.

While in Cape Town I met Kathryn Smith, an artist who lectures at Stellenbosch University, and she invited me to give a talk at Stellenbosch to the undergrad art students. Visiting the campus was like yet another country, and Kathryn gave me an insight into the Cape Town art scene in all its contradictory wonder. I also went to a VANSA event where more Cape Town artists gathered to share their work, Pecha Kucha style, with short presentations. There seemed to be a huge amount going on, from live art festival Infecting The City to a discussion between David Goldblatt and Jo Ratcliffe about image space/reality in photography. A quick visit to Greatmore Studios in the Woodstock area of town got me excited about the possibility of spending longer in Cape Town through their residency programme.


30th January 2009- We visit Hull

We took great-grandmother Edith's postcard collection, and arrived in Hull on a very cold and bitter day. We began by finding the views in Edith's postcards, and on the whole decided that 21st century street furniture left something to be desired. Many of the grand views of Hull from the early 1900s were now gone, instead a conflagration of Primark, giant TV screens and the ubiquitous signage ruled the day. However, the original dock offices hosted a Maritime Museum where we discovered to our excitement a map of “Shipping Routes before 1914”.

We explored Hull further and located Edith's house at 25 Tynemouth St, still extant, but the nearby site of her father Leopold's tailors shop is now a giant DFS store, while the Synagogue on Osborne Street has undergone a transformation into the “Heaven and Hell” club.

We then met historian Dr Nick Evans, who is a specialist on Jewish immigration to Britain between 1880 and 1914. He took us to the Victoria Dock where our great-grandparents Woolf and Gittel Beinart would have arrived from the port of Libau, Latvia after journeying from Rokiskis, Lithuania by cart and train. He described how they would have brought pickled herrings, boiled eggs and other familiar foods on their journey, and would have arrived at the dock cold, tired and disorientated, to be offloaded and put onto horse-drawn carts bound for the station. At the station, the emigrants waiting room (now a pub) would have been the place to get a hot meal and a wash before the onward train trip to London, Southampton and then a ship to South Africa.

We walked and talked, feeling so close and yet so distant from our ancestors, back to the Humber Dock where more affluent passengers from St Petersburg would have arrived, amongst them our great-great-great-grandfather Nicholas Filaratoff, and his daughter Ann. Dr Evans then left us to find our way to the station, and experience for ourselves somewhat of the sense of disorientation and confusion. This was aptly recreated by modern British town planning, and as we hurdled the ring road and dodged the multi-story car parks, I could only imagine the busy industrial dockyards that greeted my ancestors.

Finally we arrived at the station and found the platform specially reserved for emigrants. A plaque commemorates the 2.2 million people who passed through the platform, over 1000 a day onwards to new worlds.