Herbert Hayward Budd (‘The Doc’) married my great Aunt Lil in 1915. He was a third generation medical man and following service as a Temporary Surgeon in the Navy during the First War, he emigrated to South Africa with Lil, who was by then pregnant with their only child, a son.
Arriving in early 1919, they settled on the now famous Robben Island which at that time served as a medical facility for the mentally ill and was also a leper colony. The Doc became interested in finding a cure for Leprosy and by 1924 was the Medical Superintendent on the Island and ran the colony there (the mentally ill having been transferred to the mainland in the early 20s).
The Doc, Lil and their son Billy lived a quiet but relatively comfortable life on the Island – there were some 2,000 inhabitants at the time. The small cutter Pieter Faure made a daily trip, weather permitting, from Cape Town to the Island to deliver provisions – although a flock of sheep were kept on the island in case of prolonged bad weather and a fresh source of food was needed.
Tragedy struck in April 1927 when The Doc was some 700 miles away in Mthatha, visiting a leper colony there. He caught pneumonia and died suddenly and is buried there. (See my post: Finding Herbert Hayward Budd’s grave in Mthatha). Lil and Billy never got to visit their father’s grave, and returned to England in 1928.
My interest in their story was rekindled when I booked a family holiday to South Africa, including a trip to Cape Town in 2009. I contacted Lil’s niece (Lil having died in 1989) and she lent me a dusty photo album packed with pictures of the Budd’s early life together. I was quickly able to piece together their story and became fascinated by it. Making a trip to Cape Town seemed like too good an opportunity to miss so I got in touch with one of the Academic staff on Robben Island, the fabulous Richard Whiteing, and asked if he knew anything of the Budds. I sent over some pictures and we agreed to meet when we got to Cape Town.
As we got off the packed tourist boat, Richard was waiting for us when we stepped onto Robben Island. Rather than follow the crowds into the Prison for the tour of Mandela’s jail, we got into a minibus and headed for the other end of the Island. We got out onto a dusty road and began walking across an overgrown patch of land which Richard explained used to be the cricket pitch in the late 19th and early 20th century. It was pocked with rabbit burrows and overgrown but with some imagination, you could just about picture it. He started to talk about a particular photograph I had sent him, showing the Budds on the verandah of their house on the Island. He explained that the trellis-work in the photograph was very particular and belonged to only one house – that of the Medical Superintendent. Pausing for dramatic effect as we continued to work our way across the overgrown cricket pitch, he pointed to a large building overlooking the pitch and announced that ‘that’s where the Budd’s lived’. I could scarcely believe what he was saying. Having known almost nothing about the Budds a few months earlier, we were to find their house and walk through the rooms they lived in on Robben Island in the 1920s.
A worker was waiting for us at the locked door to the grand Superintendent’s house (its last use had been as a bar and social club for the prison warders when Mandela and the other Apartheid prisoners were still on the Island). He opened up and we were able to wander through the disused, damp and decaying house. With reference to an old plan, we could identify the bedrooms and I imagined the young Billy growing up there.
We then moved on to the Garrison Church where we were able to find a small monument, raised in 1957, commemorating all the Islanders who had fallen in the Second World War (Billy died at the controls of a Hambden bomber over Wilhelmshaven in October 1941).
Richard was able to bring to life what it must have been like to live on the Island in the 1920s. It was an amazing experience to walk around the deserted buildings and hear him speak about the Island and its history. And to find the Budd’s house that day is an experience I will not forget.