Robben Island

memories & links






Sadly I only recently thought of the idea of including the emails and pictures I have received over the years; there are many others I have lost in the various moves and computer crashes!

Please feel free to share your memories and photos with everyone.

Michael Klerck


NB: For those of you looking for family, you can scroll down to see people you might know. Alternatively do a search here (Ctrl F) and type in the name of the person you are looking for.



Here below, some emails & pictures sent to me over the years; if you are looking for someone, or can help in identifying a person please read these below and scan for names...:




Good day

I need to find out more information about my great grandfather who was born on Robben Island while his father was a male nurse helping the lepers. The story goes that my great great grandmother had given birth to my great grandfather (Daniel Otto) and then when he was 6 weeks old they left on a litre boat to go across to Cape Town. Apparently my great great grandmother passed away after giving birth and the children were put into an orphanage. How will I go about finding more about them living on the island, etc.

Kind regards,
Bridgette Campbell
082 3385611

January 2023



I'm looking for the daughter of a light house keeper whose name was Mcclene (or similar) who was the light house keeper at Robin Island about 50 years ago.  Where can I search for more details on this family?
Many thanks


Marion Heilbuth

November 2021



saw your name in connection with robben island . I'm looking for my great grandfather's gravestone on robben island . He was a chief warden there. Do you perhaps have a pic of his gravestone? 

Regards Venita

April 2021


Hello Michael Klerck,

I found your site while I was researching the provenance of one of my antique photos.
The children’s names are on the back, with the date. Perhaps they are Dr. William Henry Ross’ children. He was the doctor on Robben Island.  I’ve attached three images. 

March 2021



Good day Michael
I came across your blog about Robben Island and wondered if you have any information about the Murray family that lived there. Robert Murray was the lighthouse keeper. This is my daughter's great grandfather and we would love to find out more information about him.
He was also the lighthouse keeper that was "murdered" by another keeper, I am not sure on which island this was; would appreciate any information you have. 
Thank you 
Charlotte Gerber-Retief   (Feb 2021)


Good day Michael -
My daughter Zoe and I are compiling a family tree, but are stuck when we get to my grandmother Mary Rutherford, who was a nurse at the Robben Island leprosy hospital there in 1930. All we know is that she got pregnant while there; the father's name was Harry Barnard; and that my grandmother subsequently had her daughter out of wedlock.
Can you help us find any more details about Mary Rutherford and Harry Barnard?
With thanks,


Alex Stone
Zoe Stone

july 2020


what an awesome surprise to find your site. My first memory of a lighthouse is st Lucia, bush and spiders.
Second, Diaz Point in the old South West Africa, desert and jackals.  The best was Robben Island.  We came from Diaz Point in 1959, my father was John William Brink "Jack".  Up to that point we had never seen a cow or sheep or any bird other than a sea gull. What a shock to discover that there were other animals besides seals and jackals.  I started School there, I saw a post from Norman Vlotman, Hi Norm.

There was a huge tortoise that we used to ride on, and walking to school, past the cemetery every day was such a scary experience, we were told that we were never to play there because it was haunted.

My father would periodically tell my mom to 'Pack" we were leaving......Suitcases and all we would go off to Cape Town on the Issie or Diaz or Wolraad Woltemade, get to the harbour and immediately go to the small restaurant and relieve ourselves of the suitcases.  Years later we found out that our dad was smuggling crayfish.
The stinging nettles grew so tall too, my brother and I used to pull them out and chase each other with them. the children used to congregate at the park while our parents visited. I recall the Petzers, Zeelies, Murray, Strydom,
Dawid Naude  John Steyn and more. Some families were in the navy others in the prison Department. My mom was the post mistress there.Oh what a marathon journey down memory lane. In later years my husband David Colin Pike became a keeper as well and we returned to Robben Island in the seventies, but it was obviously not the same.

Then there were Ronnie Smith, van Papendorf, Peach and Dereck Auret came into the picture somewhere, we visited the Aurets when they lived in the waterfront many years ago.

If anyone remembers me, Judith Brink, my mail is I would love to hear from you.
Kind Regards

may 2020

Dear Michael

Your coverage of Robben Island has drawn a lot of attention.  I attach herewith a picture of my Grandfather (on my fathers'
side),  John Barata who was the barber on the Island.  Not sure how many years as I am assuming this picture was taken in 1946  -  the year of my birth,  as my parents and older sister are not in the picture.   My parents would not have taken the famous boat trip on the ISSIE with a new baby.   My Grandfather suffered a stroke on the Island and had to move back to the mainland where he had opened his first barber shop and had an assistant to run it for him whilst he and my Gran, Lucia, lived on the Island. Pappa Barata came to SWA from Lisbon as an engineer ? via boat.  Not sure where he met his wife, Lucia Holtzhausen in SWA or SA.  They had six children all born on the mainland.  Amanda,  Marie,  Gloria, Cecil (my dad), Johnny and Lucia.

Also,  on my mothers' side (Margaret Hynes) her parents James and Helen Hynes lived in the apartments in Portswood Road, Green Point.   James Hynes was a Customs Officer in CT  Harbour.  My mother, Margaret was the elder sister of Edward (Ted) Hynes,  Ethel Joy Hynes and Brian Hynes.  There was an enquiry about other people leaving the Island and living in Portswood Road.  Their surnames were Boyce and Hayward.  I would dearly love to know if you have a list of the Barbers who worked on the Island and any other information.
Thanking you in anticipation
I remain
Yours sincerely

Cheryl Gail Manson    (nee' Barata)
4, Glendale Gardens Clarendon 3201
Kwa Zulu Natal   Tel:   033-342-3059

Pappa Barata is standing in the doorway of Shop T69 and Gran is just 
in front of him.
I know all of the others pictured and can fw names should there be an 


Hello Michael

I have been reading some of the emails you posted up and there are some people who may have recollections or (I can hope ... pictures) of my grandfather, Reginald William Gardiner, who was Senior lighthouse Keeper on the Island from 1951 to 1954. My mother visited there and told me about the basket to get in and off the boats to the island when she was a young lady pregnant with one of my brothers. 
I would love to make contact with some of those who posted but not all the email addresses are visible in your postings.
Thank you
Kind regards 

Esther Gilman: young nurse in leper colony. Looking for pics and info...

Hello Michael

I just came across your website regarding Robben Island.

My grandmother Esther Gilman was a young nurse on the island, responding to an advertisement in the newspaper looking for nurses. She grew up as a Jewish orphan in Piketberg and after much abuse as a foster child she desperately wanted to find work. She was, as I have been told, underage to be a nurse and had no idea that when she was recruited she would end up working on Robben Island at a leper colony and lunatic asylum especially as a ‘17?’ year old. She apparently stayed there for 5 years and helped to close it down then moved back to Cape Town. My 92 year old aunt Phina Hoberman who lives in Cape Town knows more details and has been in touch with Faan Pistor and her nephew Gerald Hoberman. I did try to find an article’ An orphans tale’ but it came up with nothing.

I was wondering if you have anymore information or photos. I live in Los Angeles so this is harder to find from afar.

Regards Lianne Barnes
January 2020


Lighthouse Keeper: Neilson - can anyone identify?

Found this old family photo, and would like to know if anyone can help Identify the gentleman in the photo. Apparently its family on my Mother's side of the family, and apparently he was Lighthouse keeper on Robben Island in the 1950's (1952-1955) before the Island closed down. I self can't find any history on the web, about all the lighthouse and its keepers. The photo was taken on my parents honeymoon in 1954. The lady in the middle is her grandmother (Neilson), we think the the gentleman might either be her husband or son or a cousin.

Thx  Andre Roux  October 2019  []

Good day Michael,
I am currently doing some research into my husband's ancestry. I have information that his grandfather was a caretaker on Robben Island. He got married on the island in 1864. Do you perhaps know where the marriage record would be found and also any records of caretakers on the island in the mid to late 1800's. Any information will be much appreciated.

Many thanks,
Marilyn Bryant (  July 2019

Hi Michael.  Found your site and thought I would reach out to see if you or anyone you know has any additional information for me.    My Great-great Grandfather, Hugh Roach was the “Lunatic Keeper” on the island in the mid to late 1850’s .  His wife, Mary Ann was the Matron which it seems was the norm for a married couple to take those two positions.  I know from a page torn out of a family bible that three of their children were born on Robben Island between 1856 and 1860 - see the attached image.  Of the three, only Willam Michael survived. Eventually, they had 8 children with only 3 surviving - William, Hugh Tinkler and my great grandfather, John James - see the second image with the deaths.  I wonder whether Hugh, who died on Robben Island, was buried there?  Are there any records of the Lunatic Keepers or matrons from that time?  The attached image of William Michael’s baptism shows Hugh’s occupations as Lunatic Keeper.  If you or anyone else has any more info on any of this, I would love to see what you have.   


Gavin (May 2019)


Hi Michael & Joe,

I thought you might both like to see a photo of one of our prized possessions: the Robben Island lightkeeper’s bible, owned by my husband’s grandfather, James Edward Powell JEFFREY. He was stationed there as lightkeeper just before the war. The Bible indicates that he was also the church warden from 1934-1939.
My husband is the son of Shirley Nevin nee Auret, daughter of Phyllis Jeffrey, daughter of JEPJeffrey and Frederick Auret, also a lightkeeper. Other direct descendants are Michael Auret and Jenny Fleurot (née Auret), currently living in Australia. They really are ‘The Lighthouse Family!’
We have an old battered suitcase of family photos. I’ll have a look through it and see if we have anything to add to your files, either Robben Island or lighthouses in general. 
Kind regards,
Lorraine Nevin  []
Cape Town 

January 2019


Hi there.  Do you know who the names of Commissioners were between 1900 and 1930.  I believe Millicent was born on Robben Island in 1909 or was certainly a child on the island.  We do not have surname.   Millicent dies in 2008 and spoke about living in the Governors House.   Any info greatly appreciated.  She might be in the 1913 photo shown on your website.  

Rob []

April, 2018

Good Day,

I have come across your website and am wondering if you have come across a mention of my grandmothers name at any stage. Here is the story I have been told which I am trying to verify as part of genealogy research.

My gran was Eileen Grace Phillips daughter of William Phillips and Ellen Jane Bourne. William and Ellen divorced at some stage however he seemed to be absent for the most part and story has it he was a soldier who sent a letter home from the war and married another women.  All in all it sounds like the family was dirt poor and at one stage the kids where farmed out. My gran went to Robben Island to help a family/or was taken in by a family.

Is there any way to trace when my gran would have been there and what she did etc. she would have been born in 1908 as she is listed as 30 in 1938 when she got married. I am not sure of her age when she was sent to Robben Island but it would have been between these dates.
If you have any ideas as to where I can look would be great as I am clueless.
Catherine Murray []

29 December 2017


Hi Michael 

My name is Robyn Jane Higgo and my great grandfather was the lighthouse keeper on Robben Island trying to find more info and photos of you have perhaps. I was born 1993 am 24  years. 
Kind regards Robyn  18/09/2017



Hi Michael
I have just found your wonderful website whilst researching my Irish ancestors who settled in South Africa.
My great Aunt Catherine (Kate) Barber married a John Barber - who may have been a plumber on Robben Island.
They had a son John born in 1908 who I believe died in the Asylum in 1920 and was buried on Robben Island.
Kate herself I know is buried in Maitland. Apart from that, I know nothing.
It would be great to hear from anyone who might remember any Barbers from Cape Town or Robben Island.
Kind regards

David Herbert

Hi Michael,

What a fantastic website!

I am engaged in some research for a friend whose Grandfather C. Hicks was a lighthouse keeper on Robben Island, around 1920. I have searched through Southern Lights – Lighthouses of Southern Africa, by Harold Williams and his name does not appear. I have also looked through every lighthouse in Southern Lights and cannot find him at all. I was wondering if you had a list of all the Lighthouse Keepers that worked on Robben Island and was hoping you may be able to assist me.

 Many thanks and best regards,

 Sue Patterson  Email


Hi Michael,

I have just come across your website and hope that you can help - I am reaching out to find out the details of the current Lighthouse keeper of Robbin Island and to organise a private visit if possible?.

The reason for my interest  is that my late grandfather, William ‘Alexander’ Hayward better known as Alex was the lighthouse keeper on Robben Island up until around the time of 1957-58.

My father, James Hayward was born on the 24th of November 1954 on Robben Island.

We currently live in New Zealand and I have organised a surprise trip for my Dad to visit cape town and Robbed Island for his birthday this year.

So like said, I hope you might be able to point me the best direction of Who would be the best contact to reach out to, to arrange?

My best regards,

Sam Hayward Phone: +61410832077 ::

Hello Michael
I have just stumbled across your Robben Island web page and have taken up your invitation to write of my own experience - albeit fleeting.
As I remember things:
In 1958 at the age of 10, I was a cub (scout) at 2nd Rondebosch Boy Scout troop.
Our troop arranged a camping trip for the juniors (cubs) and our destination was an island! Not any old island (or a tropical one) but Robben Island. I was fortunate to be part of the pack of boys who stayed on the island that year.
My lasting (and probably strongest) memory was of the trip to the island on the faithful old ferry the "Issie".
The sea was lumpy on the outward journey and I puked my lungs out the whole way!
Whilst on the island I remember trying to catch fish in the harbour and being shown around the old WW ll batteries, canons/guns and underground bastions - their polished brass handles and attachments gleamed with pride from regular maintenance and polishing (sadly I believe any bit of brass or metal deemed stealing has long since been stolen and sold to scrap merchants on the mainland).
It is a tragedy that the wholesale stripping of anything of value on the island has been allowed to take place - seemingly by the islands' very custodians (those whose responsibility it is to curate our National Treasure).
In the '60's I lived in Rondebosch and personally knew Dr Hey who lived off Weltevreden Ave., - close to where I lived. What a (lone) visionary he was. His vision of a island not only rich in heritage, but in fauna and flora was one of richness and diversity - how sad that visitors see only a fraction of the island - seeing only a barren and devastated landscape and being limited to what the official (narrow) minds deem necessary.
What a disappointment it must be for foreign visitors. And what a heartbreaking sight for you and your family who once enjoyed the pleasure of such a special place. When I was in my later school years (1965) I was the proud owner of a Suzuki 80 moped which I rode to school (RBHS). In my matric year an accident put me in Groote Schuur and my trusty, but buckled steed out to pasture.  After repairing it I advertised it for sale.  The purchaser was none other than the lighthouse keeper on Robben Island. Perhaps you my remember who this person was in 1965 / 66?
In the '90's I owned a beach house in Llandudno which I decorated in a style which mirrored its environment.
Being an avid collector of all things nautical & maritime, the house will filled with treasures like a vintage brass binnacle mounted on a teak base, various ships lanterns, a brass telescope on tripod, brass propellers, model sailing boats and a very special teak and brass steering wheel mounted on a brass column.
When I acquired it I was told by the seller that it was removed from the Issie when she was scrapped (around the time that the Susan Kruger was introduced).

I still have this handsome piece of nautical history (if it is indeed a relic from the Issie's past).

Would you be in a position to verify whether this is indeed the Issie's steering wheel if I sent you a photograph of it?
Obviously I would be delighted if you were able to confirm this as being true - a missing piece of Robben Island's rich past.
Thanks for taking the time and trouble to record your memories and for making them available to anyone who is interested in this icon of an island
Kind regards
Mel  []
PS: I remember owning and riding a red Triang pedal bike (trike) exactly like the one in your home movie (was it your birthday present?). Thanks for the memory jog!







Hello, I stumbled upon your site when searching for information regarding my great grandfather Dr William Henry Ross - and I found a relative I didn't know about! 
"I am coming to visit Cape Town soon from Australia, specifically to trace my mother's family ancestry (Ross), which has close links to Robben island. My great grandfather, Dr William Henry Ross was the medical superintendent on the island when it was a leper colony in the late 19th century and he lived there with his family for many years. My grandfather, Wiiliam John Ross WJR, was the postmaster and for a while the editor of the Robben Island newspaper. I believe that my great grandmother, Louisa Grace Ross died on the island and is buried there." Berenice Norris Australia [Jan 2017]"

I believe that William Henry Ross remarried after the death of Louisa Grace Blackburn in 1885 - to my great-grandmother Ethel Lempriere Nightingale in April 1887. I am attempting to piece together my family history and would love to hear of any information about William Henry, Ethel or any of their children. From Ethel's will it seems they had several children together. My grandfather was Jack Hamilton Ross, who was a cinematographer.

Wendy Ross (also in Australia) []

March 2017 - see Berenice posting below...


Dear Michael,
                      My daughter and I visited Robben Island last year when we were in Cape Town.  Although I went to school in Cape Town, this was my first visit to the island and I had no idea there had been a leper hospital there.
Most of the tour focused on Nelson Mandella's time on the island but very little else was covered. A brief mention of the navy's occupation but no mention of the army.
My father, Major Patrick Joseph Lynch, was Commanding Officer, South African Engineers based on the island at the end of the war. Although there is evidence of construction by the Engineers, they don't get a mention anywhere.
Do you, or any of your readers, have any information of the Engineer's presence there at the end of the war?
I would appreciate whatever snippets are out there.
Peter Lynch       Perth, Western Australia  []

March 2017

Dear Mr Klerck 

I was in the process of trying to find details of the service of my great great grandfather as lightkeeper at Robben Island when I stumbled upon your site.   Perhaps you may be able to guide me.

 I have some ancestry associated with Robben Island.  There may even be more that I am not aware of!

 1          My great great-grand grandfather DAVID ALLEN was the first lightkeeper of the Robben Island lighthouse from 1/1/1864.  (Some sources say that the lighthouse was commissioned on 1/1/1865.)

The record in “Southern Lights” by Harold Williams is incomplete: it does not state when David Allen completed his service there.  David Allen moved to Mossel Bay where he died 17/09/1895.

 David Allen’s daughter MARGARET ANNE married JOHN FOSTER who became the Senior Lightkeeper at Cape St Blaize, Mossel Bay on 21/10 /1881  (“Southern Lights”)

John Foster was born in Calcutta in 1853 but it is not known when he came to South Africa.  The story was that he had jumped ship at Port Nolloth.

Based on the year of birth (September 1875) of their first child, Alice Jane (my grandmother), one can calculate that they must have married about 1874/1875  when John would have been about 21 or 22 years old. 

Margaret died in Mossel Bay in 1895 at the age of 43.  In 1874 she would also have been about 21 years old.

It is surmised that Margaret would have been about 8 or 9 years old when her father became the light keeper.

 It is possible that John Foster landed up on Robben Island where he would have met Margaret.  Perhaps they were married on the Island.

As John Foster was appointed Senior Lightkeeper at Mossel Bay in 1881 it is possible that he may have gained experience as an assistant lightkeeper elsewhere, perhaps on Robben Island under the tutelage of his father-in-law David Allen.  His name does not appear in the list of lightkeepers in “Southern Lights”

 David Allen’s wife was ALICE.  She died on the Island 10/05/1872 at the age of 38.



Grave of Alice Allen taken January 2013 in the cemetery on Robben Island

The inscription reads 

My questions are:

(1)     When did David Allen cease to be lightkeeper at Robben Island?

(2)    Was John Foster  ever employed at the lighthouse in any capacity?

(3)    Did John Foster marry Margaret Allen on the Island?

(4)    Was their first child Alice Jane born on the Island?

(5)    Would there be any photographs of any of these people available anywhere?

(6)    Would there be any records of births, marriages etc at any of the churches on the Island?   If not, where would they be kept?


Could you possibly help with answers to any of these questions?

 2          WILLIAM DAVID FOSTER, the son of John and Margaret Foster, was born in Mossel Bay.   After the Boer War he met CATHERINA (Katie) VISSER  (possibly on Robben Island).  What he would have been doing on the Island is not known.         

Katie Visser was the daughter of Cornelis Johannes Visser whose farm near Heilbron, OFS, was taken and destroyed by the British in 1901.   Katie was placed in a concentration camp in Pietermaritzburg.  After the war she moved to the Cape with her father and brother Christoffel to live near Kleinmond.  In about 1905 when she was 16 years old  Katie became a nurse at the Women’s Asylum on Robben Island.



Nursing Staff, Women’s Asylum 1907.  Katie is seated in front far left.

 Willie Foster and Katie married in Wynberg 21/05/1912 at the DRC.   In 1918 they moved to Robben Island with their first three children, Margaret (Maggie), Cyril John and Jacobus (Jackie).  Willie was a joiner and cabinet maker but later became a dresser at the leper colony.  A fourth child, Glenda, was born on the Island in 1922.  Jackie died as a result of an accident in 1926 when he was 9 years old and is buried on the Island.  Subsequently family members have not been able to locate the grave. 

Katie’s brother Christoffel had followed her to the Island when she became a nurse.  

Christoffels first two sons also died on the Island and are buried there. (cause unknown).  The  graves have not been located.

 After Christoffel married, Cornelis Johannes Visser, the father of Katie and Christoffel also moved to the Island where he died and was buried.  The grave has not been located.



Robben Island transport!  Circa 1922/1923.  Willie Foster, son of John and Margaret Foster and grandson of David Allen first lightkeeper.  Katie is on the cart with the 4 children, Maggie, Glenda, Jackie and Cyril.    The family left the Island in 1929 after Willie Foster was caught with a half jack of brandy when he returned from a visit to the mainland!  A fifth child, Irene was later born in Kuilsrivier.

 I visited the Island some years ago but it was a conducted tour in a minibus and we were not allowed to get out except at the designated tourist spots, so I was not able to visit the cemetery or the lighthouse or the churches etc.

Here is another photo, taken in 1925, of the school children of Std 3 and 4.  The girl on the right is Margaret (Maggie) Foster, daughter of Willie and Katie Foster and great grand daughter of David Allen the first lighthouse keeper.  Maggie died in 1965 at the age of 52.The photo is in the possession of Irene Enid Islip (nee Foster) who is the younger sister of Maggie.  She lives in Parow and is now 87 years old.



Grateful for you assistance if you can help in any way with my questions.

 Regards  Arnold Clarke   (Great grandson of Margaret Anne Foster (Nee Allen) and John Foster)

 37 Snowdrop Avenue  Jeffreys Bay  Eastern Cape  6330 


January 2017


Dear Mr Klerck

I found your web site very interesting. I have been research my family tree over the past 10 years and found out that my great grandfather Richard John Sellers died on Robben Island. Is there any way I can find out what he was there for and what he died from??

Below is an extract of his birth and death.

 Sellers, Richard John

Last Name: Sellers
First Name: Richard John
Date of Birth: 1827
Place of Birth: St. Giles in the Fields, London, England
Parents – Father: Richard Sellers
Parents – Mother: Anne
Name of Spouse: Jane Ellen Herd
Marriage Date:
Marriage Place:
Wesleyan Chapel King Williams Town
Date of Death: 16 Apr 1870 age 43y 8d
Place of Death: Robben Island.

 Would appreciate any help.

Thank you


Errol Davison ND Civil Engineering     
Senior Civil Technician, Aurecon
T +27 11 3050394 F +27 11 8075842   []

Oct 2016

Michael Klerck, thanks for sharing, I have saved this link so that I can read and absorbe at my leasure. My grandparents lived and worked on the island early 1900 before my grandfather was in the Boer war.

Pat Gloyne Chesney [Oct 2016]


Looking up woltemade ferry and your site popped up. Interesting. Wedding photo suggests your father was in the Marines. Coastal Artillery perhaps?

Christopher Nash  []

[Sept 2016]


Dear Mr Klerck, 

I hope this email finds you well. I just came across your website and I'm very much hoping you might be able to help me. 

My name is Maddy Bazil and I am a freelance photographer with a particular interest in photojournalism through a sociopolitical lens. I am interested in shooting a photographic project regarding the lives of the dwindling population living on Robben Island today, documenting the relationships amongst former wardens, guards and former prisoners as they coexist in the mundanity of everyday life in a place with a nuanced history. My goal would be to engage in a correspondence with a handful of residents in order to get to know them and ultimately photograph them as they go about their lives engaged in the constant intersection between past and present, the giving and accepting of forgiveness, reckoning with history yet continuing onward. 
However I am finding it admittedly hard to get my hands on any contact information for residents of the island. Since you are quite adept at connecting people and have close ties to the island, I am wondering if you perhaps know of any contact details for the Robben Island Village Association or for any residents of who might be amenable to speaking with me, or even just a heads-up as to any other channels of communication I might try to get in contact with residents. 

I think this is such an important story to be told, one which is already under-reported due to the age and geographical isolation and desire for privacy of many of the small population -- and as more years go by and people grow older and/or continue to move away from the island, this story will become impossible so it is in the essence of time to document this remarkable and complicated slice of the South African narrative before it slips away. 
Needless to say, any help or leads would be much appreciated!

Kind regards
Maddy Bazil
august 2016

Hello All

Lovely articles, because the Navy was involved and your parents got married on the Island gave it more colour.

Martin Venter 
Chief Gunner 
The Cannon Association of SA 
Cell : 0835987665 
Fax: 0865098474 
E-mail : 
Website :


I am the author of “Wingfield” the story of early aviation in the Cape until 1955 and of “The Muzzle Loading Cannons of SA”.  I believe that the 6” guns that went to Walvis were originally mounted at Lion Battery against Signal Hill where they were rendered redundant in 1942 by the 9” guns which covered Table Bay and surrounds.  I knew where they went, but I had no idea about the date and I had never seen a picture of them.
Thanks for the interesting pieces of information.
Gerry de Vries : Researcher to The Cannon Association of SA

June 2016 []

Good evening Michael,

 I trust this email finds you in good health. I recently came across your website highlighting Robben island. We recently discovered that my wife’s biological father whom she has never met worked on the island in the early 1980’s. Would you know of a police ledger detailing members of the police force who worked on the island, or stayed on the island between 1975 and 1985. Co-incidentally his surname is Burger. That is unfortunately all information we have at the moment.

Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.

 Kind Regards  Andre M. Prins, Managing Director [Pindex]  []

June 2016



I am looking for information about my grandfather that worked on Robben Island – he was Alfred Henry Prosser, a Police Sargent – 1940 – 1950.  If you can help with any information about him, I will appreciate it!

Esther de Beer Administrative Assistant      018 299 5390,  018 297 5130

 April, 2016

I came across an article, that showed your email address and that you also lived on Robben island.
My father (Ken Turner), who sadly, passed away 1988, worked on Robben Island (lighthouse) and was with the SAR + H.  I think it was for about 4 (?) years.
We lived in the house adjacent to the lighthouse, I remember it being a big house with a big stoep and lots of trees.
My mom, 2 siblings and I,  spent a lot of time with him, when we did go over, especially during the school holidays.
I was about 6 years old. It must have been around 1952.
I  remember the Issie.
There was a row of houses, and in one of them lived the Stimpson family.
It was a lovely, carefree time, and I remember it with very fond and warm memories.
There were a lot if children, (probably, all connected to the lighthouse), the same age and we were always playing together on the white streets.
Truly,  a time in my life, that always stands out and I love chatting (of what I do remember), about that wonderful time.
I do not have your first name, so please forgive me.
Kind regards,
Daphne  August 2015


Could you please put me in contact with Leslie Johnston from George.

He is my wife  Annamarie Pearson(Johnston) cousin I believe as my wife’s father was Charles and that would be Gilberts brother.

We are trying to track their grandfather

Any assistance would be greatly appreciated

Regards Ed Pearson  []

[June 2015] sadly I cannot find Leslie Johnson's email address or the email she sent me, which is at the bottom of this page, so must be long ago. Can anyone help Ed?

Hi Michael

Do you perhaps have a list of the Robben Island Lighthouse keepers ? I have an old clock from Robben Island which I am trying to sell and it would really help me if I could verify if Mr J Roth was a lightkeeper in 1947.

The link for my clock is below , you can just click on there:

Many Thanks in advance !!

Kind Regards

Andrew Dundee  []

Hi Michael,

I have just seen your website.  My father was drafted from the battery
at Humewood in Port Elizabeth to Robben Island about 1955 (I think!). 
We accompanied him and lived there for four years before he was drafted
to Simon's Town. 

I went to school on the island,  my teacher was a Miss Rens.  Other people on the island were the Yorks, Petzer, Jordaan, Snook, Woolf, Edwards, Sanders and many others that I can't recall now.

As children we were all approximately the same age so grew up as friends and in the main still are today.  I remember the island with fondnest.  It was a child's paradise. 

My father was in the marines and when they disbanded he transferred to the navy where he served until his retirement.
I have copies of photos of the installation of the 6inch guns on the island. 

In the photos are my father and a very young Magnus Malan!
Kind regards

Melville Wainwright  []

In response to new page: Walvis Bay Battery - 1962 (see link on Home page; the pics are a surprise for some)

Dear Mike,

Many thanks for the pictures. Certainly brought back memories. The trawler (See Walvis Bay Battery Link:  ) is definitely Russian. Just look at her aerial arrays. I remember those lengthy patrols up and down the Skeleton Coast onboard SAS GOOD HOPE. The trawlers were much faster than Good Hope, so we had a lot of fun!!  We used to tape their Morse code signals on a tape recorder and then play them back slowly. The Russian used what the sparkers called “side keys”, which were much faster than our old up and down Morse keys. Oh those were the days! If I recall in later years they mounted a gun on a railway carriage so that they could move it up and down the coast near Walvis Bay.

RegardsIvan.  Cell:    083 451 2445  Email:


Hi Michael, 

Good to see the Robben Island webpage is alive and well. I came across a request from Veronica Yorke.  I was in class with her on the Island.  Do you have her contact details, please. I recall a story my dad related regarding the coastal artillery battery at Walvis bay.  I seem to recollect that he said he was involved with the production of the range tables at some time. I seem to remember that he spoke of an officer by the name of “Wolf du Preez”? who was also involved. I should have paid more attention to the detail of the stories then, but we were young and our attentions were on other mundane things. Keep well and keep up the good work.


KG Woolf  Manager Quality and HR Alkantpan a Division of Armscor SOC Ltd []

Hello Michael  

I do not know if you still have a web site, so I am hoping I have the correct person.  I am trying to find any information of the above person – Maria Elizabeth Edwards (born Keyter) , died in the home of her son in law Richard Smith, husband of Susan Smith (born Edwards) on Robben Island 23rd may 1985.  

If by any small chance you could advise, or assist,  as to where I might find any more information, besides the National Archives , I would be most grateful. 

Kind regards


Judith Buxton  Tel: 021 671 8754  []

Hi Michael

I picked up a link to your website on Facebook and really enjoyed the site. The Facebook post was discussing parties held on the island so I thought that I should let you know that the hall in which they were probably held was named after my grandfather
John Craig. He was the Director of Coastal Fortifications and Defences during WW2 being a Brigadier and decided that the soldiers stationed at the gun battery on the island needed a recreational hall thus commissioned it. The Defence force thus decided to name it after him.

There was also a plaque in the harbour with his name of it as he was involved in the upgrading of the harbour.

He designed the Foreshore reclamation scheme and hence the street on the Foreshore Jack Craig street was named after him, Jack being his nickname. He was also Harbour Engineer of East London and there was a dredger named after him there until not long ago.

He passed away in 1962 so I never  knew him as I was only 1 year old at the time but by all accounts was a very highly regarded Civil Engineer and features in several books.

Hope you find this an interesting bit of history.
Kind Regards

John Craig   []


Hi Michael,

I found your website today 23 Sept 2013.  I ask that you would please link me to Leslie Johnston who forwarded you a short article about his attachment to Robben Island.
My grandfather from my mothers side John William Barber was the plumber on the island. His Grandmother Mary Ann Johnston (nee Page) later Barber married my grandfather when my grandmother died. He died in the mid 1950s
It will be good to learn something more of him. 
Kind regards
John Hairbottle
Cell 083 285 5468   []



Dear Michael

I remember e-mailing you a few years ago regarding my mother Joan Catherine Grace. She was born on Robben Island on the 7/8/1919 and had a brother Charles who together with a sister Iris were placed in an orphanage when she was 5 years old.

My grandmother was a nurse and grandfather a prison warden. I would like to contact any family of Iris as they lost touch many years ago and I have no information on my background.

My mom died 2 years ago at the grand old age of 92.

Thank you
Sherril Bauer  []



Good Day,

In the process of assembling my family tree, I was sent the attached photographs by one of my cousins.  
Our grandmother, Elizabeth Hamilton Schafer (nee Feinauer) was born on Robben Island and married John Henry Boyce, who was the Police Seargent in the village (group photo, back right). They had twelve children - all born on the island.
It looks as if the Island Group photo is of all the people in service of some sort on the island, the other, obviously is of all the children in the school at that time.  Dated 1913.
It would be interesting if anyone could identify some of the others in the photos.  
Any information on my family would also be most welcome.    
Veronica Badenhorst (nee Boyce)




Dear Michael

I recently came across your website and have some wonderful memories of Robben Island. I lived on the Island from the early 1980's until 1994. I went to school there and also met my husband Charl there who were also born on the island in 1971 but moved away only to return some years later. We got married on the Island in 1993 and our son was born and christened there. A few years later we christened our daughter there as well even though we moved away from the island in the mean time.

My parents Jan and Annemarie Moolman both stayed on at the museum after the prison closed. My dad started his career there when he was 18 years old in 1963 and decided it was time to retire after 49 years in December last year.

To start writing down all the wonderful memories my family and I have of Robben Island will take us years!! Its very sad however to see how the island has been neglected! Some of the buildings and surroundings are in a terrible state! Most saddest of all is the fact that the school is not in operation anymore!

I look forward to reading some more stories on your website from other old "Islanders"

Tania Fouche  []


Firstly, let me say “Thank You!” for the wonderful book on Robben Island.  The stories told by all the wonderful readers that have given feedback are absolutely amazing, as is all the photos that you have made available. My name is Anthony Thomas and I served as Harbor Master “amongst various other positions that I held while working for the island for 8 and a half years.

I too must admit that I am looking for information on my father “Melville Thomas” who served in the South African Naval during the navy’s occupation of the island, I did a very extensive search on and around the island while I was there, but found nothing! My father was married to Kapathula Thomas and were are two brothers born to Melville and Kapathula, I am Anthony Thomas and my elder brother is Mario Thomas, if anybody has any information, please contact me at Thank You!  

The island hides many treasures that many people and not aware of, as it is considered as ‘Non Relevant”  as it does not tie into the political error of the island, however, there is a 18 hole golf course, a leper graveyard, an Irish grave and many other unmarked graves that are grown over by tress, grass etc.

 There is also a cross to mark the soldier who drowned to the south west of the island, if I recall correctly he was a sgt, a stone to mark the position where the nun walked into the ocean never to be seen again ‘ this act was prompted out of her love for a leper she cared for’, km and km of underground tunnels build by the military, radar room, bunkers, sick bays, store rooms, ammo storage areas and much, much more, the still hunted Irish houses, the Governors house and ministers house while are still off limits due to the supernatural as well as some of the prison blocks. 

Along the coast to the south west lies remains of prehistoric sea mammals that still wash up onto the beach today during a storm from the south west, this I know as I held some of these fossils in my hands.

Anyway if there is anything I can put forth to you and your readers to assist, please let me know.

Kindest Regards To all 

Anthony Thomas   []


Hi Michael

I found your website today 23 Sept 2013.  I ask that you would please link me to Leslie Johnston who forwarded you a short article about his attachment to Robben Island.

My grandfather from my mothers side John William Barber was the plumber on the island. His Grandmother Mary Ann Johnston (nee Page) later Barber married my grandfather when my grandmother died. He died in the mid 1950s. It will be good to learn something more of him.

Kind regards 
John Hairbottle 
Cell 083 285 5468

Sept 2013

Hi Michael 

Stumbled onto your site wow what a good site you put up.

Well a little about myself we lived on robben island for 8 years from 1983 to 1992 my dad was the lighthouse keeper on the island in that time and went to the school on the island till st. 4 and was then shipped off to boarding school on the main land only came home over weekends. My time growing up on the island was very special was the safest environment one could have lived in house never go locked when people went out to the café or the visit friend next door or in town. The hole island was my back yard to play and explore the big guns was not off limits nor was the tunnels underneath them took many of my friends down there it was so dark in those tunnels that you could not see your hand in front of your eyes J. Everybody was friends with everybody like it normally goes in a small community and everybody new everybody business J  There was one shipwreck when we arrived on the island and a few years after that a big tanker called the di young family ran aground on the reef near the island that was a very big day on the island J 

Most of the people on the island was working for the correctional service my dad was the only one that was working for portnet/transnet.  There was many game on the island like ostrich, springbok, eland, waterbuck and duiker.  

Those 8 years was the best of my life the only thing one now years of the island it all about the prisoners never about the people that  stayed there and there life stories. Well thanks for a great site will see if I can get hold of some pics of the island and send them thru to you. 

Shaun Swan Database Administrator MWEB Phone: +27 21 596 8368

Dec 2012

Dear Michael

I remember e-mailing you a few years ago regarding my mother Joan Catherine Grace. She was born on Robben Island on the 7/8/1919 and had a brother Charles who together with a sister Iris were placed in an orphanage when she was 5 years old.

My grandmother was a nurse and grandfather a prison warden.I would like to contact any family of Iris as they lost touch many years ago and I have no information on my background.

My mom died 2 years ago at the grand old age of 92.

Thank you
Sherril Bauer. []

Aug 2013

I envy you having spent many years on Robben Island. After reading Madiba’s Long Walk to Freedom, I eagerly look forward to visiting South Africa and particularly Robben Island.

Bharat Shah

Feb 2013

Here is a wonderful collection of pictures from John Hennessey:

John Hennessey writes eloquently about his great-aunt and uncle Dr Herbert and Lisle Budd - billy their son grew up on the island in the twenties - see some great pics of that period including the hospital staff, and Robben Island Staff also.


See John's Album here ...

What a wonderful site you have put together on the Island.
I wonder if you could help me.  I'm trying to get some details of my 
relations who lived on the island in the 1920s.  The head of the 
family was Dr Herbert Budd - he was a doctor serving in the Mental 
Health Service, and lived on the Island with his wife, my great aunt, 
Lisle Louise.
They had a son, Billy, shortly after they arrived on the Island in 
1920.  They lived there until Herbert died whilst in Umtata on holiday.
Billy came back to England with his widowed mother in 1928, and sadly 
died in WW2 as a bomber pilot.  There is a monument in the Anglican 
Church on the Island where he is listed as having died in the War, 
born on the Island.
Sorry for all this background!
I'd really like to get a fix on where they would have lived whilst on 
the Island.  As you lived there, I wondered if you could advise, or 
point me in the right direction as to how I might find out?  I 
understand the Museum on the Island is devoted to the prison years so 
really can't help me.  I'm getting the NAAIRS records from the Cape 
Archive, but I'm after some local knowledge - hence my thrill at 
finding your site!
Anything you could advise, so gratefully received.
Thank you!

John  []

Hello there, my mother stayed on Robben Island when it was still a navy/army base. Wonder if you knew her, Mari Loubsher. Unfortunately she does not have any clear photos. She also mentioned the free wonderful place it was back then, especially for a child . Oh yes and the stormy sea to Cape Town.

Regards Maria Bekker  []


my uncle is searching his mother clara elvina field, the lady margaret rayner nee dent cambridgeshire uk post some history including clara,

i dont suspose you have her email address or address or telephone number, so we can contact her as my uncle would like to talk to her. if you dont want to give her information out, could you send her this information please
peter french (mother clara elvina field)
telephone number 01424 870375
he has no email i am his wife's niece and can be contacted through email
thank you

(Dawn Sutton)  Oct 2012 


 Hi Michael

What a lovely surprise to find your site on the web.

My grandfather, William Walter Allen Colson, married by grandmother,
Jane Edith Emma Johnson, on Robben Island on 30 December 1907.

At the time it appeared that he was affiliated to the army, alternately
the police services, as he later applied for a transfer to the
constabulary in Cape Town due to the ill health of one of his children.

Their daughter, Olive Muriel Colson, was born on the island on 16
February 1910 and my father, Wilfred Leonard Colson, was born there on
22 June 1912.

I visited the island hoping to possibly find the house that they lived
in, and the church where my grandparents were married, but sadly the
tour was very restricted and the tour guide wasn't able to offer any
information other than the general information about the incarceration
of Mr Mandela.

Is there any chance that you might hold photographs of the houses
occupied by the island inhabitants at that time? I have heard that
there were originally five churches on the island serving various
denominations, but my family were always part of the congregation of the
Anglican Church and wondered if the photograph on your site might have
been where their marriage took place.

Another question is whether you hold a list of the islands inhabitants
at that time.

I am studying the genealogy of my paternal and maternal family lines but
have reached an enormous brick wall as concerns the Colsons.

I would really love to hear from you and thank you for the interesting
data you have posted to date.

Best regards

Joan Colson  [Oct 2012]  []

Hi Mr Klerck,

My name is Gary and I am photographing all places of interest, national monuments and heritage sites in Cape Town for a coffee table-style book that I’d like to publish. This project has gone on for several years and I have only Robben Island left to photograph. I tried for over a year to obtain permission and eventually received authorisation last week but the Robben Island authorities want to charge me R5500 to do this and I cannot walk the island, I am to be escorted! I cannot afford to pay this sort of fee and am writing to you to find out if you know of a resident that could possibly assist me in this regard. The resident would need to take photographs of several places of interest (I have a page full) and I will pay them to do this for me. Are you able to put me in touch with a resident?

Many thanks,

Gary Mostert 072 341 3018 June 2012  

Dear Michael

My brother, Derek , sent me your “Robben Island – memories and links” which makes fascinating reading.

I am sure that you are aware that there is a rich history since early 20th Century of folk swimming to and from Robben Island.

My first swim crossing was in 1981 and I achieved my 64th swim crossing in March 2012. Approximately 300 individual swimmers have made the crossing – some many times , some once only.

There is a book being published later this year on all my crossings.

Kind regards

Theodore Yach

Hi Michael,

Thank you for this wonderful awakening of memories.

My father-in-law grew up on Robben Island, his father drowned and still there has been no burial or closure. His cross still on the coastline – GJ Beeselaar 1955.

I have printed all the letters that has been posted and gave it to him to read. It would be nice for him to hear from some of the people, if they recall him and his brothers.

They were 5 brothers; Tom, Louis, Fred, Harold and Dennis Beeselaar. Louis, my father-in-law was 9, and the youngest Dennis was a few months old when their father drowned and they were asked to leave the island.

This has brought up sad and happy memories.


Aletta []

Hi Michael,
I really enjoyed reading your article on Robben Island - My Grandfather's family were residents on the island when he was a boy and teenager. He was born in 1907 so I guess it would have been about 1917-1923 or thereabouts.
His father was the local baker and confectioner and owned a little store there which had a flat roof and a bay window for displaying goods. Other than that I don't know much, but as a keen family historian would love to make touch with other people's who's exerience on the island was far different to Mr Mandella's.
I understand that they were forced to move to the Cape when the island was turned into a military base - I guess this is probably about the time your parents lived there - so I don't expect that they would have known the Commerfords, but it would be interesting to know whether you have any memories of their shop and what the island was like at this time. My Greatgrandmother told the family that they used to get the most terrifying storms on the island - and my grandfather and his brothers used to like diving off the pier.
I would love to hear more, if you have the time.
Kind regards
Carol Davis
Perth Western Australia  []

Hello Michael,
Coincidentally, my name is also Michael..... I have just read your interesting article on Robben Island on the Internet, and I can truly say that I envy you with your peaceful upbringing away from the hustle and bustle of populated 'life' with its attendant traffic.   I was brought up in Northern Rhodesia from 1939 to 1945, having been evacuated there at the age of 5 years, at the outbreak of World War II.  The village where I lived was N'kana, which has now been overwhelmed by Kitwe, which was at that time a burgeoning township still at foundation level.  N'kana had 3 'streets' and 11 'avenues' in 1939, so you can guess how small it was.  It was entirely surrounded by bush.  The nearest village was N'dola - 40 miles away.  I loved it there.  Cars were very few and far between, and crime was quite unheard of.
However, what I would dearly like to have is an accurate map showing the outline of Robben Island with a few dimensions, and showing the north point too.  If any historic buildings could also be indicated, that would be a bonus for me.  I have searched the Internet for a map and a historical background, but there appears to be far more propagandist interest in the old apartheid era than the real history of Robben Island dating from Dias's time.  If you could put me on the right track concerning the real history of Robben Island, I would be most grateful, and a map will be the cherry on the cake for me.
I hope this will not be too much trouble for you.
Thank you,
Kindest regards,
and a Merry Christmas and Prosperous New Year to you.
Michael Elson  []

Thank YOU for sharing your memories with us.Your writing is fresh and informative and one can feel and smell the emotions that go with your memories. One teeny question …… Are there any shipwrecks on the perimeter of the island or in the little harbour? Was Faure’s Jetty in use during your time on the island? Many thanks once again. 

Regards  Gwen Lustgarten  June 2005  []

Morning Michael,

Read your article with great delight, as I remember going to Sunday
School at the church and the Christmas parties we used to go to in the
hall.  In fact went back there after 30 years to a friend's wedding and
nothing much had changed except in the hall itself where they had
installed "flush" toilets in the ladies as well as tiling (should imagine the gents had
been done as well).  It was great walking round their again and
showing my children what it was like to grow up there.

Kind regards

Yvonne Pringle 
Group Personnel Officer
Novagroup (Pty) Ltd

Well – at least I know more who were born on the island than you do – we have literally a whole tribe right here in Mowbray – members of the Haupt family – one of them told me this morning that 6 (or was it 7) of her peers was born on the island – (only Catholics can have such big families).  It seems that their father took over from my grandfather as superintendent of the leper “colony”.  Also, I know there is a man (whose name escapes me right now) in Newlands – who used to work with the SABC – who was also born there.

 Cheers = Reg

(Bishop Reggie. Cawcutt)

What a lovely website! - I really enjoyed reading about your life - very interesting.
You write very well.


Candice Hutton
Bergstan South Africa (Pty) Ltd

Dear Michael Klerck
I am Laura Dorrington, a student at St Teresa’s Mercy School in Rosebank Johannesburg. For our History Matric portfolio one of the requirements is to have a historical investigation. The topic I have chosen to explore is to compare Robben Island Prison and Alcatraz Prison. While I was doing research I found your website and it was very interesting to read about your life story on the Island and I learnt so many new things about the History of the Island. Our teachers encourage us to use primary sources if in anyway you could assist me with research on Robben Island I greatly appreciate it. Thank you so much for your time.
Laura Dorrington

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your memories of Robben Island.  So nice to be able to see it from another perspective!  I am taking a complete chance here, in the hope that you can help me.  I am trying to help an old man in East London, Siyetha Ngona Simon, who was imprisoned with his brother, Jimmy Simon, on Robben Island.  Jimmy died there in 1960 and Siyetha was released in 1966.  He is looking for closure on this and wants to find out where his brother was buried and any other information he can.  Do you have any idea who I can contact?
I would really appreciate any help in this regard.
Many thanks,
Sandra-Lee Hensberg 


I have an ancestor by the name of Amelia Fraser who left 
Aberdeenshire, Scotland at the beginning of the 20th century to 
become Matron on Robben Island so,
knowing very little about her or the island, your article made very 
interesting reading. Thank you.

Best Wishes

Gillian Crossan

Dear Michael,

I recently came across your article on your childhood memories of Robben Island.

I also grew up on the island between 1950 and 1959. 

A bell is ringing deep in the mists of far ago – I’m sure we knew each other during that time. 

My father served with the forces, involved with the maintenance of the coastal artillery guns and moved to the Marines and then into the SA Navy as instructor.  He was also the Fleet photographer at some time – hence the photographs attached. 

I really enjoyed your article – it brought back such vivid memories. 

Thanking you, 

Keith (George from those days)

 KG Woolf

Manager: Instrumentation, Quality and HR Alkantpan, a Division of Armscor Business (PTY) Ltd



I have just read your article and would like to know if you can recall a Jean Small whose Father was the lighthouse keeper there, some time in the 1900’s before it became the famous prison for politicians & after it was a leper colony?

 Brenda van Deventer

Hi there,
Thank you for a lovely website - found while trying to get some information on the Army base before, during and after the war.
I have just found my father's letters to my mother during the war when she died last year.
My father was Capt. Chris Lessing - he died tragically just after I was born, on Robben Island "while cleaning his gun" in September 1946.
I am trying to fill in the gaps and plan to visit Robben Island soon - I have been told that one cannot walk around anywhere but the designated tour around the prison. Is this so? 
Your lovely photographs help to imagine my parents living there just after the war. 
If you have any suggestions, I would love to hear from you.
With best wishes,
Lan Reid


I just came across your article about Robben Island. I also lived on the island. I was very young and can’t remember much. My dad worked for the prison service and back in 1967 was transferred to the island for a year. We used to live in the second last house before the veld. The deer used to come and beg for food at the back door!

Why I write to you is if you know more about the issie. My dad gave me the port light as memories before he passed away and I can’t find much about the ferry’s history.

 Wilhelm Griesel  [Jan 2010]


Good morning Sir,


I stumbled across your article, Robben Island - Childhood Memories a personal reflection, I found the article most interesting. I wonder if you could possibly assist me with some information. I have now come to a point where I am totally stuck.


I am researching my Fathers past. Unfortunately I was a bit of a “laat lammetjie” and did not really take notice of the past as many children do. We used to have many discussion about WW2; he had always led us to believe he was a pilot and had fought in Egypt and Italy. He did not talk much about his family or his past, but then being a kid I did not worry about it then. I have two girls of my own and realized that if I do not get down and write down all my memories they would land up like me, not really knowing my Father. He was a shift worker and the only memorable time we had was when we went fishing together. He unfortunately passed away in 1990.


With my research I had found that he had actually been an Anti Aircraft Gunner and was captured in 1941. He was a prisoner for the rest of the war. When I started working through his military record I found that my mother was his second wife. He had never mentioned this to anybody that he had been married. I can not find any reason why he had not told anybody, as just about everybody that was linked to my father, those that I know, has passed on.


Now to where you could assist. According to the military records three children was born on Robben Island as he had been transferred to the Cape after he married his first wife. I am aware that you where very young around that time but you are the only person that I know was on the Island around the same time as they where. Please look at the following info:


Wife – Elizabeth Jacoba Kruger (Married in Potchefstroom 14 Sep 1946)

Son – Pieter Johannes Christiaan Krueger (Born Potchefstroom 2 July 1947)

Son – Nicholaas Jurie Kruger (Born Robben Island 18 March 1949)

Son – Paul Johannes Stephanus Kruger (Born Robben Island 27 November 1950)

Daughter – Elizabeth Jacoba Kruger (Born Robben Island 26 August 1952)


The address that I have where they lived was – T41 Sheareea Ave, Robben Island.


I was always left to believe I am the last of my Fathers descendants. I believed the blood line will stop with me as I only have daughters. I really would like to trace my brothers and sister. I don’t know if they would want to see me, but it is worth a try. I have no intensions in disrupting people’s lives, all I want is understanding on why.


Is there any way that you could assist or put me in contact with somebody that can.


I appreciate your time and effort.




Peter Kruger.


I read with interest your article on your childhood recollections of life on the Island. I am one of a fifth generation of Islanders with many of my descendents buried there . There should be many interesting ,untold stories of characters and life which could perpetuate the non- political history of the Island.
I went over to the Island with my father a couple of weeks ago and the place looks like a bomb has hit it , such a tragedy.
Perhaps , it is time that the pre-war inhabitants` memories were put on paper. My father who is 86 is attempting to compile his recollections but given his age I have reservations as to accuracy of his memory .
I would appreciate you comments!
Kind regards ,
Clive Luden
PS : I have a twin brother ( Graham ) and we were born in 1954 which makes us roughly the same age. It is possible our paths might have crossed as youngsters !

My Granduncle lived on Robben Island, I think he was born in Cape Town, his father ? Hurley married to ? O'Sullivan was the lighthouse keeper.  Denis became Archbishop of Durban, he died only a few years ago. Would you have any info on his father and mother, I know he had a sister in a nursing home in Durban.
Kind regards
Brendan O'Donoghue


I visited Robben Island last year in November. I must admit that I have never felt different as when I was on the Robben Island. Bathusi Mmatli

Hello Michael

My name is Norman Vlotman and I was 3 months old when my parent moved to
Robben Island in 1944.
My dad was an electrician with the PWD and set up most of the electricity on
the Island. Our address
on the island was 19 Lighthouse Road.
There are things that you have not mentioned in your article on Robben

For instance the Fog Horn near Ann Shelley's beach  and the air strip which
was also in that vicinity.

Please let me know if you recall these sites.  It appears you were on the island before me as I do not recall your name.  I
left the island in 1966.

I have been living in East London for the past 24 years and have never returned to Robben Island
since I left.  I would much rather remember it as it was.


Norman  march 2009


Dear Michael,

I'm writing an article about the current sad state of Robben Island for my column on the website and happened to find your article on google and write to ask if I can include a hyperlink to your story at the end of my article.
I loved your story, especially the references to the time during the war when it was a Military and Naval base. Many years ago when I lived in Chelsea Wynberg, I had a friend, a talented Jewish woman,who had bought and renovated a small house in Muizenberg from where she taught painting and during our lessons she told me that during the war she had been a gunner on Robben Island. Although sadly, I can no longer recall her name, I do remember that she was an extremely talented artist and at one time had been employed by the Kenyan Department of Education in Nairobi to illustrate text books for their junior schools and was awarded a MBE for her efforts.
After her retirement she bought the house in Muizenberg , but later I heard that she suffered from Altzheimers, so I presume that after a few years she would no longer have been able to continue living on her own. I have no idea what eventually happened to her. I wonder if your mother - if she is still alive - would recall this charming woman?
Interested in your caption to the picture of 'Bambi' and wonder how you managed to enhance and improve your slides, as converting older format images to digital is not something for the amateur to attempt and I would be very interested to learn how this is done.
Looking forward to hearing from you in due course,
All the best, 

Hello Michael,
Thanks so much for producing a serious attack of "heimwee".
I was raised on the island, arriving there in 1950 and leaving in 1959. So, even though we are a few years apart in age, we must have known each other in some way. My father was navy- in fact he was the cook at the base and when you talked of visiting the farm, the cows and the mole snake- I could almost smell what you were talking about.
We were the Yorke family. Father was Hugh- he was a CPO, mother was Laura, I am Veronica, (now living in Oregon in USA; two sisters, Margaret (who lives in Fish Hoek) and Tess who lives in Denmark.
My sister Tess visited the island in February this year and she talked about how desolate it was and how she wanted to cry by the sadness and change for the worse.
Do you have contact with other people who lived on the island and went to primary school there? What about photos?
Thanks for writing the article and posting it. 
Best wishes
Veronica Spalding

---see below---

Its Veronica again,
I was suddenly visited by a memory (is this a sign of getting old). When Sputnik was launched and the old island population standing on the rugby field to watch it go over head.
Also swimming on the beach near the harbor and trying to catch the sand sharks.
Best wishes

Hi Michael,

My name is Robert Edwards, I in fact was born on the Island (Sep 1949) as were two of my brothers, John (Jun 1948)  and Alvan (Aug 1952) We were born in the house in which we lived at that time. I think it was called L37, probably it's allocated number.


My father was also stationed there, firstly as a Marine then later transfering to the Navy where he later became Chief of the Navy. People still act very suprised when I mention that I was born on the Island.


I came across you story while trying to find some indication of who has in fact been born on the Island as my father has always said that my brother, John, and I were the first children born there after WW 2 and probably long before that as well.  My memories of life there are very similar to yours. I in fact have one up on you. I was the first person to be knocked down by a donkey cart. This was the milk delivery cart. I was rushed over to the Mil hospital in Wynberg by Crash Boat "St Barbara".


Did you ever go to the main land for a shopping trip to the OK, first a ride on a double dekker bus from harbour to the OK then the ride up the wooden escalator to the cafe for a pie and gravy.


What a way to grow up

Christo Theart, whose father was a prison warden, and who was in fact born on the island, shares his recollections on his own personal page - go there now and read his story ...



Sept 2010

Dear Mr Klerck

Looking at photos of Robben Island I came across your website and read the very interesting story of your childhood.  The reason I am writing to you is that my father was also born on Robben Island in 1901.
His father was William Walter Dent and he and his wife came out from the UK to run the general store on the Island but I am not sure in which year they arrived or indeed even if I have their names correct.  I think her name was Millie but like a lot of people I didn't begin to take much interest in my ancestors until recently.   My father did not remember much about my grandfather as he died in 1905 on the island of a burst appendix when my father was four years old.  My father, whose name was Robert George Dent,  had an elder brother, Frederick Dent, and there was another brother born between them who was stillborn and is buried on the island with their father.  My grandmother who I believe married or lived with an Afrikaner whose surname was Field, after my grandfather's death, and gave birth to my father's half sister Clara Field, returned with my father and Clara to the UK when my father was 12, the Afrikaner, an habitual drunkard, having disappeared into the Bush at some point and never again appearing.  She never knew whether he was dead or just didn't want to return  My uncle Frederick, around seven years older than my father, returned to the UK at the beginning of the first World War and served in the Army being badly wounded at the Battle of the Somme after which he was invalided out of the Army.  My Father joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1917 having lied about his age, and then served in the ground crew of the Royal Air Force in World War II.  My uncle returned to the Island for a visit in the 1950s, but on his return told my father not to go back as his memories of the Island would be totally destroyed as his had been.  He had obtained permission to visit the Island, not normally then granted to anyone other than officials, as his father and brother were both buried there. 
I heard many stories of my father's and uncle's wonderful life on the Island when they were young, and their trips to the mainland to purchase cucumbers and other supplies for the store.  They were always in trouble on their return as they ate most of the cucumbers before they ever reached his mother running the store, and my father, who was terrified of the sea, huddled in the bottom of the boat chomping on the cucumbers to take his mind off the journey.  He loved the beach though and was nicknamed the sandrat by people on the Island.
I am not now sure of the date of my uncle's death, sometime in the 1970s, and his only child, a daughter Muriel, died around 2005.  My father's mother died in 1940 when I was 2, and my father in 1975.  I have no idea of my grandmother's maiden name but I would love to be able to research into my grandmother or grandfather's ancestors.  If anyone has any knowledge of any family surnames or connections I should love to hear from them.  I know that my father had some very elderly aunts who lived in Cape Town and some of whom were still alive in the 1950s but that is all I do know.
I don't know whether any of this information is of interest to you, but I thank you for the very interesting and informative details of your own childhood on the Island. 
With very kind regards,
Margaret Rayner, (nee Dent) Cambridgeshire, UK.

Hi Michael

My mother was born on Robben island on 07/08/1919 Joan Catherine Grace. She is now 91 years old and has a clear mind. She used to take the ferry to school in Mowbray and her mother was a nurse on the island.

 Sherril Gail Bauer  ::  Sept 2010

Hi Michael


I enjoyed reading your website. I too have memories of the island, but from a different perspective. In 1954 I was dating a girl called Rosemary Hayward whose father George was lighthouse keeper at the time. Rosemary and I used to go across on the Issie on a Saturday to visit him. Inevitably we brought back penguin eggs for distribution to his friends in Cape Town. The family stayed at Portswood Flats, Portswood Road, Green Point, which belonged to Railways and Harbours.
George had at his disposal an army Bedford truck which at times was used to go to the other side of the island to switch on the foghorn. Rosemary and I spent many hours roaming the island.
From 1959 to 1962 I was a crayfish diver operating out of 3 Anchor Bay where most of the divers had boatsheds under the promenade. We would leave in little 12 foot boats for Robben Island and the trip would take about an hour. On arrival there we would dive for most of the day. We used ordinary hosepipes as airlines and these were provided with air by lawnmower engines. How we all survived this primitive way of doing things I don,t know.
We often landed on the island while waiting for other divers to come up, and I collected many a fine piece of driftwood. Diving on the wreck at Whale Rock was a bit spooky and the crayfish were reddish in colour from the rust of the boat. These were not readily accepted by the exporters of tails. To think we received  R15.00 a hundred for the crayfish after risking our lives. The last year we dived was the year the Government banned all forms of crayfish diving and we were not allowed within a mile of the island.
Just before the end of diving, three of us got caught in a raging South Easter and had no option but to run into the island harbour. We were chased out by soldiers in a threatening manner and had to run before the wind to Melkbosch strand.
I am 75 years old now but remember all these things vividly.
Best regards


Bob van Renen    

G'Day to you,
                  My name is Leslie Johnston resident in George. I am a decendant of the Island. My Grandfarther Leslie Johnston who was a Scottish stone mason was employed on the Island at the turn of the century. My Grandmother Mary Ann Johnston (nee Page) later Barber was a nurse in the mental asylum for woman. Both Grand parents met on the Island and produced five children namely Charles Leslie, Alexander, Gibert (My Dad) Lorraine and Hubert. All grew up and were schooled on the Island and lived in" Ïrish Town"up until about the evacuation of lepers and all staff except the lighthouse keeper.
                 I have reseached over many years my families history and have quite an accumulation of material other than my family, which I am sure will be of interest to someone.
               I refer to the mail from a Mr Luden. Harry Luden the carpenter on the Island, was a great family friend of the Johnstons and the Barbers (my step grand farther who was the plumber on the Island).
 If there is anyone out there interested in that part of the Islands history, I am more than willing to share.
               You have a great website, keep the good work up,
                                                          Leslie Johnston.

Dear Michael, 

I hope that this mail finds you well. I was sent the link to your lovely account of Childhood Memories of Robben Island by Richard W iteing. My family and I have recently returned from a visit to Cape Town. Whilst there, we were fortunate enough to be Heritage Guests to the Island, under Richard’s guidance. We took in the tour of the prison, as well as the bus tour to a few main areas of the Island, such as the churches, etc. It was a lovely experience and we thoroughly enjoyed our day.  

Part of the reason we were there was for me to try and trace my father’s family. My father, Ronald Clive Gower was the only son of Ronald Arthur Gower, who was born on the Island on 29th July 1890. He was christened in the Anglican Church there on 15th October 1890. His father, Percy Gower had worked on the Island from 1890 to 1895, as Chief Clerk and Accountant. This is according to a handwritten letter of Percy’s dated 24th January 1904.

In addition, my father (Clive) originally thought that my great-grandmother, Jessie Julia (Percy’s wife) had died on the Island in 1895, so part of my quest was to visit the old graveyard there, but unfortunately we could not find her. I have now found out through some cousins who have traced me via the Robben Island International Historical Society, that this was not the case and that she is perhaps buried at St. George’s Church in Cape Town. Oh dear! Anyway, it was not a wasted trip at all and I just wanted to let you know how at home we felt on the Island when we went there, and I got a real pang knowing that my family had been there 120 years ago. It was wonderful! 

Your writings were truly inspiring and I only wish that my family history had been so beautifully recorded! Through my cousins, it is slowly starting to come together, but I think it will take some time! 

Keep up the wonderful work and I wish you a good day, 

Kind regards, 

Bronwyn Hill (nee Gower)


Hi Daar
Ons het as ek reg is so by 1990 /1991 gebly op Robben eiland. My ma se naam was Hendriette Gerber (Hetta). My oupa (Gideon Rossouw) het nog vir Mandela op gepas as ek reg kan onthou.
Ek sal enige iets gee om weer na die eiland te gaan maar het gehoor ons moet eerder die eiland onthou soos wat hy was. Het die eiland so baie verander dat mens jou eie memories wil hou. En die huise waarin ons gebly het...bly daar nog mense of waarvoor gebruik hul die huise?


Hello Michael
I am an indirect descendant of Robben Island.  My Great Grandfather and mother both worked as nurses in the mental asylum ~ I found a lovely article in where he was “commended” for being brave in the face of a “dangerous” inmate ~ in fact it looks like he was hurt in the “attack”.  It appears that Susan Nutt (ironic surname for working in an asylum, don’t you think???) was matron in one of the “sections”.  I have never been to Robben Island but I am getting more and more intrigued as I get deeper and deeper into my family search.  I wondered whether the Chapel records are accessible or whether they have been archived in Cape Town?? Your photos are stunning and I will go and dig for the one that I know was taken on the Island.  I keep hoping against hopes that I might recognise them in a photo but unfortunately have no reference other than what my Grandparents look like.
Many thanks
Kind regards
Patricia Blacklaws


Good Day Sir 

I am doing an enquiry in behalf of a friend of mine ,he was born and raised on the Robin Island and is longing to get in touch with some people whom he grew up with. His name is  John Andrew Dell and was born on the island on the 23de of April 1953. His father was a prison warden  by the name of Johannes Hedrickus Dell and his mother’s name was  Saidie Dell. They use to live at the Whitehouse situated in lighthouse road. 

Please be so kind and assist us with ways or means to get in touch with some of the people . You can also get hold of him on 071 966 5464

Thanks a stax 

Kind Regards

Arthur MacAllister  march 2011

Hi Michael,
Here is a pic of us leaving Robben Island. Recognize the background?

Your web page gave me a chuckle.  My brother, who was born on the island, also used to go with our nanny, Minnie April, and chat with the convicts, as they were then called.
If anyone asked my brother what he wanted to be when he grew up, he always responded with "a convict".....reason why.....they used to give him all the marbles they found and he thought they were pretty cool guys.  Our nanny was from the same tribe yours was from.  I did have a picture and can't locate it right now, it's driving me crazy.
Hope you don't mind my sending you these pictures.  You are the only person I can think of who may get a kick out of them. 
My brother, rest his soul, is no longer with us.  He may also be the one who took my picture of Minnie, but I'll keep looking.
That's all for now,
Carole (nee Langley)


Here is an old picture.  Next time you see your Mom please show her this.  She just may know some of the ladies. 
The one in the striped dress is my Mom and Thelma is on her left. I have my friend Beverly in a wrestling hold around the neck.  This picture is about 50 years old.





I went onto your site as I am trying to find information on my husbands great grandfather. We recently were given a cane presented to the great grandfather and on a small gold plate it reads as follows.

Presented to Dr. E Henry F.R.C.S by Male & Female Leper Staff - Robben Island - as a Token of Esteem 15.11.16

We know that he was a doctor who came to Africa from the UK - it would be wonderful to find more information on him.

Any idea's

Kind regards,

I was interested to read my nephew John Hennessey's message concerning the Budd family who once lived on Robben Island.
Our late uncle was in fact living on the Island because he was working and researching a cure for leprosy. He had left his father's practice in Bournmouth to live in Roache Cornwall where he joined a Doctors practice. Whilst there he became friendly with a Doctor who was interested in working with and finding a cure for Leprosy.
My late uncle finally decided that this was something that he wished to pursue and gave up practising in England and moved with my late Auntie to Robben Island.
It was whilst following up cases up in the bush that he contracted Pneumonia and died. Sadly my auntie and cousin Billy had to return to England. It was her one wish to return to the Island one day unfortunately this never happened due to losing Billy when only 21 years old.
I hope that this information will be of use to you
Mary Newman

Dear Michael

Let me introduce myself:

I am the spokesperson for a group of stakeholders that are trying to stop the Western Cape Education Department from closing the wonderful Robben Island Primary School at the end of this year December 2011. We are in desperate need of history/photos of the school and people who attended this historic school in the past. Your assistance would be greatly appreciated.

The main reason for closure is the low number of students currently attending this school. (14)

After carefully looking into this matter it is of our opinion that the school has not been given a fair chance to market the school and look at a possible sustainable business plan which would assist in marketing the island going forward. I am more than willing to forward further documentation to yourself for perusal.

We the “Robben Island Primary School Friends” will be starting a face book page and would love to have as many motivational letters and interested parties to stop this closure as possible to be posted.

Robben Island UNESCO Heritage site belongs to the children and people of South Africa and the school which is already 165 years old should NOT be closed before having a fair chance to increase numbers or pupils.

We have already secured part financial funding (SAP International) and have numerous environmental organizations like (Jane Goodall International Institute) as well as heritage groups (Khoisan People) behind us on this matter . We are requesting your assistance as a past pupil with possible contacts of more past pupils to assist us as a matter of urgency.

Thanking you and kind regards


Green Wall of Africa S.E.E. Network Projects- Rights for Rhinos- Robben Island Primary School- Environmental Student with Merit

“Helping save our planet - brick by brick - for the children of Africa”


The time when you need to do something is when no one else is willing to do it, when people are saying...IT CAN'T BE DONE!! (Mary Berry)

078 643 6430 (Off)  086 510 4969 (fax)


What a lovely website! - I really enjoyed reading about your life - very interesting.
You write very well.


Candice Hutton
Bergstan South Africa (Pty) Ltd
Tel:  27 (0)21 421-2430

Hi Micheal,

I really enjoyed reading your article on Robben Island - My Grandfather's family were residents on the island when he was a boy and teenager. He was born in 1907 so I guess it would have been about 1917-1923 or thereabouts.
His father was the local baker and confectioner and owned a little store there which had a flat roof and a bay window for displaying goods. Other than that I don't know much, but as a keen family historian would love to make touch with other people's who's exerience on the island was far different to Mr Mandella's.
I understand that they were forced to move to the Cape when the island was turned into a military base - I guess this is probably about the time your parents lived there - so I don't expect that they would have known the Commerfords, but it would be interesting to know whether you have any memories of their shop and what the island was like at this time. My Great-grandmother told the family that they used to get the most terrifying storms on the island - and my grandfather and his brothers used to like diving off the pier.
I would love to hear more, if you have the time.
Kind regards
Carol Davis
Perth Western Australia  Dec 2004


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