Introduction to Bacon & the Art of Living
The quest to understand how great bacon is made takes me around the world and through epic adventures. I tell the story by changing the setting from the 2000s to the late 1800s when much of the technology behind bacon curing was unraveled. I weave into the mix beautiful stories of Cape Town and use mostly my family as the other characters besides me and Oscar and Uncle Jeppe from Denmark, a good friend and someone to whom I owe much gratitude! A man who knows bacon! Most other characters have a real basis in history and I describe actual events and personal experiences set in a different historical context.
The cast I use to mould the story into is letters I wrote home during my travels.
The Union Letters
Sea Point, Cape Town,
The quest to understand Bacon and the Art of Living has by 1959 consumed 66 years of my time on earth. I have lived through three major wars. The second Anglo Boer War which was fought between 11 October 1899 and 31 May 1902 and the First and the Second World War which occurred respectively between 28 July 1914 – 11 November 1918 and 1 September 1939 – 2 September 1945.
When the sun sets over the Atlantic, Minette and I sit in our Seapoint apartment, watching it cast its deep orange cloak over our world. We play chess or cards on the balcony which has been turned into a sunroom when we enclosed it with glass a few years ago. We slowly sip on Gyn and remiss about the old days. In the morning we walk along the sea point promenade to stay active. We have not been up on Table Mountain for some years now. At night we stay home and enjoy each other’s company.
Tristan and Lauren
Tristan and Lauren have each gone their own way. Tristan followed his own passion when he joined a travel firm based in Australia. Lauren studies BSc Chemistry, majoring in Biochemistry. Tristan completed BA Accounting which he did part-time. They both outgrew the difficulties associated with one childhood and have their own amazing families to take care of.
Oscar and I grew Woodys into the largest supplier to retail in South Africa of own branded products for outlets like Pick ‘n Pay and Checkers producing 15 tonnes of the best bacon on earth every day. We both decided its time to bid our baby farewell when Oom Koos and Duncan took the company over during the depression years and we both decided to follow other meat-related ambitions.
Letters from the Union – Therapy for an Old Man
The kids kept asking me for years to write down my memories from 1893 to 1959 and compile this, together with the letters I wrote them, Dawie Hyman, David de Villiers Graaff, and Oscar when I was abroad, learning the art of producing the best bacon on earth. After many years of dragging my feet, I finally decided to take them up on the request. The idea came to me when Tristan and Lauren were both living in Europe and North America respectively. I find it difficult to make small talk on the telephone. In order to give structure to my letters to them, I decided to pick up where I left off in 1893 when I wrote them my last letter about bacon from New Zealand. They were both pleased with the suggestion since it gives us regular contact and I fulfill their request for completing my work on bacon.
Imperial Cold Storage & Supply Co.
David de Villiers Graaff ultimately changed the name of Combrinck & Co. to the Imperial Cold Storage and Supply Co. He made his fortune at least three times. The one time was when the city wanted to expand the railway station at the bottom of Adderly Street and needed to relocated Combrink & Co.. The location where they wanted to move the butchery business to as well as the money in compensation were both in dispute. After a process of arbitration, an astronomical amount of £55 000 was awarded to them on 2 March 1895. David approached the high court to endorse the outcome of the arbitration process. The matter was heard on 9 March 1895 by the chief justice John Henry de Villiers and Justice Thomas Upington who found for Combrink & Co. and the £55 000 was endorsed and made an order of the court. This provided the initial financial basis for the development of their consumer goods empire.
The second instance was the outbreak of rinderpest, a dreaded disease afflicting cattle that annihilated an estimated 2,500,000 cattle and untold numbers of game animals in the region. Its spread into South Africa started around 1895. David’s answer was to import frozen meat from Australia and to distribute it to cold storage facilities to be erected throughout the region. In order to finance this elaborate scheme, early on in 1897, David and his one brother, Jacobus Graaff started thinking of floating a limited liabilities company. On 4 May 1899, the South African Supply & Cold Storage Co. Ltd. was registered with the nominal capital of £450 000.
It allowed David to erect cold storage facilities across Southern Africa and the chance to import vast quantities of meat into the Colony and later into the Union of South Africa. During the Anglo Boer War, the Imperial Cold Storage and Supply Company won the tender to supply the British forces with meat. With the refrigerated railway cars that David saw in Chicago when he visited Philip Armour’s packing plant, he was the only firm that had the capacity to take on such an enterprise. Apart from this, the company became one of the largest meat processing companies in the world. Our friend eventually sold his shares and the name of the company was changed to ICS during the Great Depression.
The company was in financial trouble by 1934 due to hardship that probably goes back to 1925. Anglo-American corporation became its biggest shareholder with the total share capital of the company increased to GB£2.2 million (equivalent to £436,000,000 in 2010). The company worked closer and closer with Tiger Oats which was, back then, also a subsidiary of Anglo-American corporation. (1)
Dawie Hyman returned to America where he transitioned from working for the Community Chess in Los Angeles and the Twin Cities of St Paul and Minneapolis to establish his own company supplying solutions in the manipulation of data. After Minette and my visit to New Zealand, we never made it to America as our partners in Cape Town needed our urgent participation in setting up the bacon company and its processing plant. We did eventually make it to Los Angeles many years later, but the objective of the visit was related to further training in areas outside the narrow scope of bacon which consumed me for so many years.
My mom and dad both passed away. My dad passed away after a motor accident on the way home form a vacation in Natal and my mom, after a long sickbed where she struggled with dementia. My brother, Elmar, became a lawyer and later turned his attention to real estate and the retirement industry. Juanita kept working as an optometrist, raising Pieter Willem and Handre, their beautiful two boys. Andre, our older brother left the forestry business and entered the personal protection industry. Fanie and Luani, Minette’s brother-in-law and her twin sister, continue to live in Cape Town and their two kids, Liam and Luan went on to have successful careers in their own right.
Union of South Africa
South Africa became a Union in 1910 and there is talk right now that it will sever its ties with Brittain and form a fully independent Republic. I have my own mixed feelings about it and see the attitude of many white people as desiring nothing more than to have the independence in order to secure a continuation of slavery just in another disguise. I remember how this happened with the institution of a system of indenture after slavery was abolished and the Transvaal Republic looked for ways to continue the diabolical practice. There were reports of slave markets, now in a new form, but effectively the same thing continues to exist in Southern Africa right up to the end of the 1800s. The English waged the First Anglo Boer war based on an assertion that this system was nothing less than slavery by another name.
I insert the opening paragraph of Louis Botha’s speech when we became a Union. It shows the deeply imbedded racist undertones that existed even in the thinking of people even of the stature of General Louis Botha.
While the Black people got a raw deal, the Union gave unprecedented power to former foes of the British Empire, the Boers.
The achievement of the Boer nation was remarkable and this fact should never be underestimated. Here are two more extracts from the newspaper article quoted above, from the Manchester Guardian. It deals with the fact that a Union was a better option than a Federation and how this gave greater autonomy to the former Boer republics. It highlights another remarkable fact of the Union of South Africa in the following clipping from the paper.
This unification of the Afrikaner and English South Africa became a focal point for both Botha and Smuts. The respect from the British that became the basis of their new approach to the Boer nation was built upon respect gained in the Anglo Boer war. In December 1889, in a piece I wrote from Johannesburg entitled, Seeds of War, I recount my meeting of a Boer called Daniel Jacobs. One night at a dry riverbed outside Kimberly, he asked me if we could camp together for the night. He was traveling alone and our transport party provided him with the security in numbers for the night which lone travelers lack. He was on his way to Johannesburg on government business. I kept contact with Daniel and after the Boer War, he shared the following fascinating account with me which illustrates my point.
He told me the story of one Gustav Baumann who was born on 21 November 1858 in Bloemfontein. His dad immigrated from Germany and was one of the first residents of Bloemfontein. Gustav was a land surveyor in the Free State and later became Chief Surveyor General. His daughter published a book on her father’s memories after his passing, The Lost Republic: The Biography of a Land Surveyor by Gustav Baumann and Elfrieda Bright. He was a very compassionate person.
He matriculated from Grey College and even though his mother tong was Afrikaans, he learned English while in school. During the War with England, he fought on the side of the Boers and was captured when Bloemfontain fell in English hands. Pres. Steyn, the president of the Boer Republic of the Free State instructed him to stay behind and to hand the Free State land title deeds to the English forces.
After the war, he met the Boer warrior and folk hero, General de Wet. He told Daniel, (2) “Meeting old General de Wet after the war, I asked him why, after Bloemfontein and Pretoria had been captured and we knew we could never win the war, he still went on fighting: ‘Mr. Baumann,’ he said, ‘we kept on because we had to knock respect for our people into the British!’ This is exactly the point I am making about the basis for the English treatment of the Boer nations following the war. It was predicated on respect. His daughter later wrote about her father (2), “Gustav Baumann, who was an old friend of de Wet’s, and who had the greatest admiration for the old warrior…”
He also made another point of something that my Greta Grandfather, JW Kok referred to which I wrote about in October 1960 where I celebrate The Castlemain Bacon Company from Australia as a producer of some of the finest bacon on earth. Here, he makes mention of the fact that some of the Boers who were captured early on in the war were accused of “ill-discipline.” JW Kok was one of those early captured Boers.
Gustav Baumann recounts the following about the ill-discipline of the Boers early on in the campaign. “The lack of discipline, especially in the early stages of the war, was appalling. My brother Herbert was a veld-kornet with the forces investing Kimberley. He was visited by a veld-kornet of the Transvaal Forces. While they were drinking coffee together, a messenger arrived from the Hoft-Commandant (Highest Commandant) for the Transvaler: Commandant Cronje wants to see you at once.” “And who the devil is Cronje to order me about?’ he demanded. ‘Tell him I’ll come when I am ready.’ He finished his coffee and left at his leisure.” He later writes that “…after three years of fighting the men still in the field had learned the art of war.”
Irrespective of the achievements of the Boer, the separation of races and the exploitation of black people and their exclusion from decisionmaking and government never stopped in South Africa but things went from bad to worse when the National Party came to power in 1924 for a short time and again in 1948 which lasted to 1994. It was in 1948 when a new word was coined to describe the policies of the new government – “apartheid”. I can see no positive outcome to the scheme and fail to understand how the white population can continue to think that a future is possible that is built upon the exploitation of our fellow human beings and excluding them from determining their own future. On the other hand, the Boers got a deal, pretty close to what they were fighting for over many years. South Africa remains a deeply divided land with great opportunities as was proven by David de Villiers Graaff, despite tremendous personal challenges and the diabolical system instituted by the National Government which kept the black man in bondage.
Meat Curing Focus
My focus remained steadfastly on understanding the chemistry of meat curing to aim Woodys in the right direction. In recent years I became intensely interested in the development of meat curing and preservation in Africa during pre-colonial times. This is a project on its own to reduce to writing at a future time. When I am done with my work on bacon and the good Lord grants me health and a few more years, I will take this project up for there are amazing tales related to it that have never been told!
Bacon & the Art of Living
The letters that follow tell the rest of the story of Bacon & the Art of Living!
(c) eben van tonder
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(1) In March 1982 Barlow bought a large interest in Tiger Oats and the controlling share in Imperial Cold Storage. In October 1998 Tiger Brands (Tiger Oats Limited) bought out Imperial Cold Storage. It swallowed up ICS in its own portfolio of brands and subsidiaries.
(2) The quotes and references all came from The Lost Republic The Biography of a Land Surveyor by Gustav Baumann and Elfrieda Bright which was brought to my attention and quoted by Daniel Jacobs.
Brooke Simons, Phillida (2000). Ice Cold in Africa: The History of Imperial Cold Storage & Supply Company Limited. Cape Town: Fernwood Press.