Engineering History

If I was to ask that question, 9 times out of 10, the respondent would not know and would take a stab and say perhaps a railway station in London. If it was the last question on “Who wants to be a Millionaire” to win £1 000 000 (that’s Pounds not Rands) would you phone a friend, ask the audience or take a 50:50? (supposing in the unlikely event those options were still available to you).

There are not many South Africans who have been honoured by having a statue of themselves erected in London. Only two come readily to mind and they are Jan Smuts and Nelson Mandela, whose statues stand proudly in Parliament Square, Westminster. However, there is a lesser known South African who has a statue which stands outside Bank Station; he is James Henry Greathead (1844-1896), the grandson of an 1820 Settler of the same name. So why is it that a boy from Grahamstown should be so honoured and what was his achievement?

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), London, has a monthly magazine entitled the “E & T” magazine, which has a regular column, written by Justin Pollard called the “Eccentric Engineer”. It is factual, informative and above all witty. Pollard is not an engineer but a historian with an inkling for science and technology. In his column he brings  personalities that were little known or have been forgotten, along with their inventions back to life.

The Vaal river, a formidable obstacle at times, had to be crossed by the early settlers to open the way to the North. One of the crossing points in the days just after the Voortrekkers arrived was Viljoen's Drift. Josua Jacobus Viljoen had occupied the farm, Oshel, to the south of the river opposite what is now Vereeniging. The name Oshel (translated ox hell) came from the sandy ground which made life difficult for the oxen pulling a wagon.

Field Marshal Bernhard Law Montgomery, nicknamed “Monty” by his men, commanded the Allies 21st Army Group in Northwest Europe, during the last months of the Second World War. On the 4th May 1945 at Luneburg Heath he accepted the unconditional surrender of the German forces in that theatre of the War. Victory in Europe (VE day) would come four days later on the 8th of May 1945.

Subscribe to Engineering History