Harry Ernest Victor Pickstone is not a well-known name in Hermanus in the 21st century. In nearly 800 pages of SJ du Toit's three books of "Hermanus Stories", H E V Pickstone is recorded once in an index, and his granddaughter, Wendy, has a story of two pages. Yet, H E V played a role in our town's history. In 1909, he bought the old MacFarlane home in Kwaaiwater, known as The Homestead. Then, in 1911 he bought four plots in the Mossel River Seaside Township, though he appears not to have developed these. In 1913, Harry bought two more plots in Hermanus, this time near Grotto Beach, where, in 1917 the house La Gratitude was built. The Pickstone family holidayed there for several years. The house was designed by the architectural firm Baker (later Sir Herbert Baker), Kendal and Morris from Cape Town. The renovated house is still owned by the Pickstones and operates as an upmarket holiday rental home, under its original name. Pickstone named it to record either his appreciation for the sacrifices made by South Africans in WWI or to record his feelings about his own fortunes in the country. In 1917, Harry donated The Homestead to the Nurses War Memorial Fund for conversion to a holiday home for nurses, in recognition of the service they had given in World War I. The house still exists and now belongs to Josephine Frater. It was generally known for years in Hermanus as The Nurses Home but has now reverted to the name given it by Duncan MacFarlane, The Homestead. H E V Pickstone lived a life full of incident. He was born in Prestwich, County of Lancashire in England in 1865. The name 'Pickstone' probably has Anglo-Saxon roots, deriving from a place name. Harry's chosen career in deciduous fruit farming in the Cape may be foreshadowed in his surname, as a large variety of deciduous fruits are known as 'stone fruit', and, as far as business opportunities are concerned, HEV certainly knew how 'to pick 'em'. At the age of 19, Pickstone had joined the 1884 expedition of Sir Charles Warren to Bechuanaland (now Botswana). Warren was sent as His Majesty's Special Commissioner to command a military expedition to Bechuanaland, to assert British sovereignty in the face of encroachments from Germany and the Transvaal, and to suppress the Boer states of Stellaland and Goshen. The expedition achieved its aims without bloodshed. In 1888, Pickstone travelled to California to find gold but ended up as a hotel waiter and an employee on fruit farms, where he became knowledgeable about modern methods of fruit cultivation. After four years he moved to the Cape, arriving in March 1892 'with nothing but his luggage and thirty shillings', as one account has it. However, he did have something precious: a letter of introduction to one C D Rudd. By 1892, Charles Dunell Rudd (1844-1916) was already a very wealthy man. As early as 1872, Rudd and Cecil Rhodes had become friends and partners, working diamond claims in Kimberley, dealing in diamonds, and importing pumping and ice-making machinery. By 1880 they had formed the De Beers Mining Company. Rudd was one of the 'founding directors' of de Beers and also owned significant interests in the leading machinery supplier for the mining businesses. Coincidently, another founding director of de Beers was Sir Frederic Samuel Philipson-Stowe. He owned the house Roman Rock in Hermanus for a few years in the early 20th century, before retiring to England. By 1887, Rudd's interests had shifted to gold, the previous year discovered at the Witwatersrand. With Rhodes and Rudd as directors and his brother Thomas as chairman, they registered Gold Fields of South Africa Ltd in1887. The company was structured to favour the financial interests of Rudd and Rhodes. Pickstone became closely involved with Rhodes. As Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, Rhodes was deeply concerned about the phylloxera infestation destroying the grape/wine farmers in the Colony. He and Pickstone persuaded many farmers to switch to deciduous fruit. To achieve this, Rhodes personally bought 29 farms, and he, Pickstone and other partners set up a nursery for fruit trees in Wellington and other places, under the Pioneer Fruit Growing Company. In the course of the next few years, Pickstone bought the farms of Delta, Groot Drakenstein Meerlust and Lekkerwijn. The family lived at Lekkerwijn. In 1898, Pickstone was appointed Founding General Manager of Rhodes Fruit Farms, a venture based on the farms bought by Rhodes earlier. The prospects for fruit entered an entirely new phase when in 1892, Percy Molteno successfully exported refrigerated peaches to London for the first time. The fruit industry boomed, and H E V Pickstone became wealthy. By 1923 a million cases of fruit had been exported by the Cape fruit industry. In 1907, Harry married Louisa May, and in 1908 they had their only child, Michael Xavier. Thirty years later, Michael Xavier and his American wife Joan McGeoghegan had two daughters, Margaret and Wendy. Michael managed some of the Pickstone farms. The family spent every holiday in Hermanus. Wendy Pickstone still owns Lekkerwijn and La Gratitude. Tragedy struck in 1939. Michael Xavier was killed in an accident witnessed by his father. Joan took the two children to the USA. As one account states: "Heartbroken and losing interest, HEV Pickstone died." He was seventy-four. There is a strange parallel here with P J Luyt, owner of the Marine Hotel. His only son, Henry died in 1938 from complications arising from pneumonia. P J was also grief-stricken, gave up most of his business and community interests and died from cancer in January 1940. This story is told in my book For Keeps- Articles about Hermanus-worth keeping (2019). More details about The Homestead and La Gratitude can be found in my book "For Keeps: Articles on Hermanus History – worth keeping" (2019). The book is available The Book Cottage in Hermanus. Moving details about the deaths of Henry Luyt and P John Luyt can be found in the book "In Those Days: Joey van Rhyn Luyt at the Marine Hotel, Hermanus", edited by Robin Lee (2014), for the moment out of print. The Hermanus Library has copies.
H E V Pickstone. This image from The Star newspaper is the only one I can find on the Internet
Present-day image of La Gratitude, in Voelklip, just above Grotto Beach
The Homestead, probably towards the middle of the 20th century
The Homestead in the 1920s
The Pickstone family on holiday in Hermanus
The extended Pickstone family. The location is unknown, but probably in Hermanus