In fond memory of Hymie Alper (+ 12/11/1993), Val MacKeown (+ 09/2014) and Rudi Van Dijk ( +12/2018)
On a busy corner of Johannesburg, right next to the Smit Street on-ramp of the M1 North highway, we may find the only memorial to the Titanic in South Africa. Although not a memorial to the Titanic as such, but one wherein one of the many who lost their lives is remembered.
Close to the main gate in the general (non conformist) section of Braamfontein Cemetery, where headstones reflect the early inhabitants of what was then a busy mining town we find the final resting place of Mary Griffin (nee Webber). Mary Webber, originally from Cornwall, married James Griffin on 5 November 1863, she came to South Africa in 1881, her husband having been killed by runaway horses in 1874 in Cornwall. On 17 June 1897, Mary Griffin passed away.
She is buried in the Non-Conformist plot, grave number 6746. Mary also had a brother, James and two sisters Hannah and Elizabeth. James took a fateful step on 10 April 1912 when he boarded the ill fated Titanic on his way to America. Travelling third class he was lost when the ship went down.
In 1914 the private rite to the grave of Mary Griffin were purchased by Mr John Griffin of Kenwyn Cottage (named after Kenwyn, the suburb of Truro where he lived) in Port Elizabeth and a headstone was erected to commemorate the lives and deaths of this brother and sister. John Griffin passed away in 1920. His only living descendants are 5 granddaughters who have scattered throughout the world.
The inscription reads:
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
OF KEA, CORNWALL WHO DIED AT
JOHANNESBURG 17TH JUNE 1897
AGED 66 YEARS.
BROTHER OF THE ABOVE WHO
WAS DROWNED ON THE
APRIL 15TH 1912.
AGED 62 YEARS.
SAFE IN THE ARMS OF JESUS.
The probate report reveals little: Webber, James, of San Francisco, California, USA. Administration, London 2nd January 1913 to Harriet Julian, wife of Edmund Julian. Effects in England: £350.
Attempts at the time to trace the Griffin family in South Africa met with a dead end, although it was thought that they settled in Natal somewhere. However, a surprise email added some closure to this riddle. Apparently the family remained in the Eastern Cape until 2003 when the remaining members emigrated to New Zealand.
There are many strange things about this lonely grave, for starters this memorial exists in a town very remote from the North Atlantic and the great disaster that happened there. The scattering of the family, an email from New Zealand, a connection to Cornwall, Port Elizabeth, Southampton, America, and Johannesburg. There are however, a number of South African connections to the Titanic and for all we know there may be a similar grave somewhere in the country that is yet undiscovered.
© DRW 2001-2021. Recreated 25/10/2014. With thanks to Brian Ticehurst and Diane Austin. Moved to Musings 21/02/2021