Directional South Africa

On March 16, 2017 · 4 Comments

A few months ago, Twelve Mile Circle featured Directional West Virginia. It focused on the situation of a state with a direction in its name, as well as various places within the state that also featured directions. Why should some random corner of the United States have all of the fun? Entire countries featured directional prefixes. I could play the same game on a national level. That thought struck me when I noticed a visitor landing on 12MC from the city of East London in South Africa.

East London


East London, Undated
City Hall of East London, South Africa. Photo by Nathan Hughes Hamilton on Flickr (cc)

East London hugged the South African coastline on the southeastern side of the nation (map). A respectable number of people lived there too, about a quarter million in the city proper and nearing eight hundred thousand in its larger metropolitan area. It also occupied a strategic spot, the site of the only river port in South Africa. Because of that, Governor, Sir Harry Smith annexed this area at the mouth of the Buffalo River on behalf of the Cape Colony in 1848. He called it East London.

I wondered about the name. The London part seemed obvious. Why East, though? Using Great Circle distances and simple mathematics, it seemed that East London fell nearly 5 times farther south of its namesake than east of it. Logically, shouldn’t it be South London? Maybe Governor Smith named it for the East London section of London, or perhaps its smaller subset, the East End of London. I don’t know.

Nonetheless, a lot of people lived in East London, South Africa, a name referencing two distinct directions.


Cape Tripoint



A large area abutting the Cape of Good Hope traded hands between Dutch and British interests several times between the late Seventeenth and early Nineteenth Centuries, before Britain established stable control. It became a self-governing part of the British Empire and then became a large section of South Africa as it formed. The Cape Colony changed its name to Cape Province upon South African independence. Then in 1994, after the end of Apartheid, it split into three provinces. Each part featured a different directional prefix: Eastern Cape, Western Cape, and Northern Cape.

I couldn’t figure out the basis of the split. The borders didn’t seem to follow geographic features like rivers or ridges. Nonetheless they also seemed jagged. While I found numerous sources that explained that the split happened in 1994, none of them discussed why officials drew the lines as they came to pass. I assumed it must have been based on cultural divisions.

Even so, and while I hated not being able to solve the riddle, the split created a wonderful tripoint. Visitors to that spot could stand on three different directional provinces at the same time, the exact place where Eastern, Western and Northern points all came together. I would love to know if people in South Africa visited the tripoint and appreciated it. The Intertubes didn’t solve the mystery. Two clusters of stone appeared as I drilled down on the satellite image. One seemed to be too large, very likely a natural feature. The other, well, it might have been a rock or it might have been a boundary marker. Google Map’s boundary lines are often off by a few metres so it’s possible.

It certainly deserved a marker!


East to West



Lord Charles Somerset ruled as Cape Colony governor for several years, from 1814 to 1826. Naturally, his fingerprints appeared upon various features of the colonial landscape due to his influential position. For instance, a settlement grew near Cape Town beginning in 1822 and it became Somerset. A few years later, Lord Somerset founded a town farther to the east that he decided to name for himself. That might have caused some confusion so the original Somerset became Somerset West (map) and the new town became Somerset East (map). I’m not sure how much of a problem it really would have caused, actually. Quite a long distance separated them. Still, they both fell within the Cape Colony so I guess it made good sense to differentiate them.

After the 1994 split of Cape Province, Somerset West became part of Western Cape and Somerset East became part of Eastern Cape. They could both become Somerset without a prefix now if someone cared enough to change the names.


A Place with Every Direction


Sea of Gold
Sea of Gold: Match 24 – 2010 FIFA World Cup
Photo by Drew Douglas on Flickr (cc)

The name Rustenburg came from Afrikaans/Dutch, meaning the Town of Rest. It became one of the Boer’s earliest northern settlements. The town didn’t stay restful for long, however. Lands near Rustenburg became battlefields in 1899 during the Second Boer War. In more recent history, Rustenburg served as one of the host cities during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Several matches took place at Royal Bafokeng Stadium.

Why did any of that matter? Only because I discovered what might be the most directional place in the entire country. Someone could live on East Street (map) in Rustenburg Oos-Einde (East End), in the North West Province of South Africa. That made it East-East-North-West-South, for those of you keeping score at home.

Ladysmith

On December 29, 2016 · Comments Off on Ladysmith

A few weeks ago I wrote about Triangle, a name on a road sign that I pondered as I sat stuck in traffic on a drive back from Richmond, Virginia. I also noticed another exit on this fateful trip as I slogged through miles of gridlock. The sign said Ladysmith and my mind began to wander. I figured it didn’t refer literally to a Smith by its occupation, i.e., a skilled metal worker. However, who was this lady Smith and why did she deserve a place name?

Virginia, USA


Ladysmith Barn (0013) 3EV+TA
Barn in Ladysmith, VA. Photo by Jason OX4 on Flickr (cc)

I passed Ladysmith about halfway between Richmond and Fredericksburg. The community sat just west of Interstate 95, at the intersection of Ladysmith Road and Jefferson Davis Highway (map). I didn’t bother to stop. My trip had been delayed long enough already.

The answer had to await until I got home. It required more searching than I expected although I finally found something in the Fredericksburg Star, "From Ladysmith to Ladysmith." The article recounted how Ladysmith in Virginia reached out to Ladysmith in Wisconsin in the aftermath of a tornado a few years ago. It also discussed the unusual name.

…Clara Smith, the daughter of Sally Collins Smith and Civil War Capt. C.T. Smith, named the community. Her father donated land for one of the Caroline’s first public schools in the hope that the town would grow up around it. Clara Smith most likely named the town after her mother, although the daughter is the more celebrated of the two ladies Smith in Caroline.

That solved the mystery. It also opened a new door to a different Ladysmith in Wisconsin.


Wisconsin, USA


Downtown Ladysmith, Wisconsin
Downtown Ladysmith, Wisconsin. Photo by Jimmy Emerson, DVM on Flickr (cc)

The details actually came easier in Wisconsin. Ladysmith became the seat of government for Rusk County so historians wrote about it. The whole thing involved someone trying to curry favor for a business transaction. The town began in 1885 at the intersection of two railway lines on the Flambeau River. The owner of a local logging company, Robert Corbett named the town after himself. It became Corbett. Then it became Warner because of a railroad station located there.

James Gates, a local land speculator, wanted to make a tidy profit. He knew that Charles Robinson Smith of Menasha Wooden Ware considered opening a manufacturing plant in Warner. If that happened then people would move to the area and buy Gate’s land. Gates probably wanted to hasten that along so he suggested a new name for the town, Ladysmith (map). This honored Charles Smith’s recent bride, Isabel Bacon Rogers Smith.

This lady Smith was an interesting character. Her first marriage ended in divorce and she secretly married Charles Smith before announcing it publicly. She seemed to be quite the socialite, living in high society and frequenting the theater. Smith died a few years later, leaving Isabel with a fortune so she moved into a fancy Park Avenue apartment in New York City. There she met and married Orrin Johnson, a Broadway star and silent movie actor. Eventually she returned to Wisconsin along with her third husband after his acting career faded.


KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa



Interestingly, an alternate theory emerged independently in Virginia and Wisconsin. A few sites I consulted listed the town of Ladysmith in South Africa as the source of their names (map). It was much in the news at the turn of the last century. British forces broke a Boer siege of Ladysmith in 1900. This explanation didn’t seem as compelling as the actual ladies Smith that lived in Virginia and Wisconsin so I doubted it. However, I followed the trail to KwaZulu-Natal anyway.

The lady Smith in question went by a rather elaborate name, Juana María de los Dolores de León Smith. She grew up as Spanish nobility, later orphaned as a result of the Peninsula War. The British army sacked her home town during the Siege of Badajoz and one of the British officers helped protect her. Then he married her. The officer rose in ranks over the years, becoming a Brigadier-General and a knight, Sir Harry Smith. Later he became the Governor of the Cape Colony in South Africa. Lady Smith followed along faithfully on his military adventures and the town name honored her devotion.

This Ladysmith might be remembered in modern times less for the Second Boer War than for the musical group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. They formed in 1960 and received worldwide acclaim when singer Paul Simon partnered with them in the 1980’s. The name came from:

…the hometown of Shabalala’s family, Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal; the black ox, considered to be the strongest farm animal; and mambazo, which means "axe" in the Zulu language, and is symbolic of the choir’s ability to "chop down" the competition.

Lady Smith might have been surprised to see the relevancy of her name a century later.


British Columbia, Canada


Ladysmith, BC
Ladysmith, BC. Photo by Ayrcan on Flickr (cc)

It didn’t stop there, however. Ladysmith on Vancouver Island, British Columbia actually did name itself after the siege and battle in South Africa.

Ladysmith was an "instant town", founded by coal baron James Dunsmuir. Oyster Harbour, as the area was previously called, became the shipping port for Dunsmuir’s coal mine at Extension, about 12 km to the north. The townsite was planned in 1899 as a tidy grid pattern facing the bay. Streets were named after British Officers of the Boer War, victorious in recapturing the town of Ladysmith, South Africa, in the year 1900.

The streets retain those names today: Symons; French; Buller; Baden Powell; Methuen, and so on (map).

By George

On April 27, 2016 · 2 Comments

What were the odds of seeing Twelve Mile Circle visitors from George, South Africa and George, Washington, USA on the same day? I found the coincidence fascinating. The city of George in Washington was, of course, named for George Washington. That other George in South Africa’s Western Cape Province, I suspected, must have been named for one of the several King Georges who ruled Great Britain. Which one though? There were six such kings over a span of more than two centuries. That led me to wonder if I could find a geographic place named for each one of them. I uncovered more than I expected so I had to split the topic into two articles. This post will cover George I, II and III. The next one will discuss George IV, V and VI.

George I (reigned 1714-1727)


King George County Court House
King George County Court House by Jimmy Emerson, DVM on Flickr (cc)

George didn’t become King until he was well into his 50’s upon the death of Queen Anne. He’d been born in Hanover and spent his time as Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg growing up. There were numerous members of the extended royal family more closely related to Anne that George, however they were all Catholic so they didn’t qualify to succeed her. Being of Protestant faith, the throne came to George, the first king of the House of Hanover. His age pretty much guaranteed that he wouldn’t reign long and it limited the opportunity for places to be named in his honor.

A section of Richmond County in Virginia (referenced in Not the City) became King George County (map) in 1720. The county website confirmed that it was named for George I. That would make sense because its founding happened right in the middle of his reign.

Not much happened in King George County although a future President of the United States, James Madison was born there in 1751. That was impressive although I discovered another person born in the county that interested me even more, a man with the unusual nickname William "Extra Billy" Smith. He had quite a distinguished career, serving in the United States Congress, the Confederate State Congress, the Governor of Virginia both for the United States and for the Confederacy, and as a Major General in the Confederate Army. He tried his luck in California during the Gold Rush and he operated a postal service that ran from Virginia to Georgia. The postal operation earned him his unusual nickname. It seemed that he created a bunch of unnecessary side routes to collect additional fees. Friends and foes alike began to call him "Extra Billy" after authorities discovered his scheme, a name that followed him for life.

I noticed that there’s an Extra Billy’s Smokehouse and Brewery in Midlothian, Virginia. I’ll have to put that on my list of places to visit.


George II (reigned 1727-1760)


Welcome to Georgia
Welcome to Georgia by Paul Hamilton on Flickr (cc)

Next came George II, son of George I, who ruled for a much longer period. A longer reign equaled more opportunities for places named for him, and that’s exactly what I found. The state of Georgia (map) in the United States may have been the most significant. James Oglethorpe founded the Georgia colony in 1733 under a royal charter issued by George II, and it was always a good idea to flatter one’s patron. A beautiful lake in the Adirondacks of New York, sometimes called the Queen of American Lakes, also took his name: Lake George (map). The lake got its name during the era of the French and Indian War when Sir William Johnson occupied the territory and won the Battle of Lake George. The Georgetown neighborhood (map) of Washington, DC, however, may or may may not have been named for George II. It’s founding certainly dated to his reign. Nonetheless the founders and primary land owners were George Beall and George Gordon so those could have inspired the named too.

George II also had a war named for him: King George’s War, (1744–48), the North American campaign of the War of the Austrian Succession.


George III (reigned 1760-1820)


Suite Balcony at Hyatt Regency Oubaii - George, South Africa
Hyatt Regency Oubaii – George, South Africa by TravelingOtter on Flickr (cc)

George II’s son Frederick died before him so the succession went to his grandson, George III who was only 22 years old. George III also lived a very long time. He reigned for nearly sixty years so his name got affixed to lots of places although few of them existed in the United States. He was viewed as an oppressor when the nation fought for its independence so his name may have been expunged. I couldn’t find a single instance although I’m sure some must have survived somewhere.

Elsewhere, however, his named flourished in places across the British Empire. George, the South African city referenced previously was a shining example. George became quite a lovely tourist destination in the Garden Route, wedged between the Outeniqua Mountains and the Indian Ocean. More unlikely was George Town (map), the capital city of the state of Penang in Malaysia. The naming traced to Captain Francis Light who founded a settlement there in 1786 on behalf of the British East India Company.

Other places named for George III included: George Town, Tasmania, Australia; South Georgia Island; Prince George, British Columbia, Canada; Georgetown, Guyana, and undoubtedly many other places too numerous to mention.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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