Monday, 08 November 2010


Mermaid Cottage
Wicht Family Home from 1850 to 1952

Mermaid Cottage
In 1850 Mermaid Cottage was bought, as a summer residence, by Mr Johan Frederik Wicht (see note i) (1923-1907) who according to the Cape Town Almanac was a `Capitalist'. This, no doubt, sounded forbidding to some ears, but Mr Wicht, it seems, was a benign capitalist. For a contemporary advertisement of the sale of some Wicht property advised the public that Mr Wicht and his brothers were `landlords of the old type, who could never fall into the modern system of high rents'. Mermaid Cottage, from being a mere summer retreat, in time became the permanent home of the J. F. Wichts. The Sea Point property covered almost the entire area of the seaward `bulge' with no Beach Road, then, to truncate it The house was enlarged and a second storey was added, so that the place now dwarfed little Triton Cottage, adjacent.

JF Wicht
J. F. Wicht died in 1907. His house was left to his four grandchildren (ii below), with the proviso, however, that his only surviving daughter, Miss Johanna, should enjoy the use of it during her lifetime. Some time previously Mermaid Cottage had been renamed Rapallo. As children we were always rather saddened by the tale of an unhappy love affair said to have taken place at the former Mermaid Cottage. The gentleman of Miss Johanna's choice could not be approved by her stern parent: the suitor was forbidden to call again ... But why, we persisted, was the name of the house then changed? `You remember the story of the Forsaken Merman,' was the reply, `well, in a different sort of way, there can also be forsaken Mermaids ... '

Johanna in Europe
Suddenly, in 1912, Miss Johanna startled everyone. Life as lived in suburban Sea Point had, for her, become intolerable. `Comfortably off', and free to wander where she chose, she packed up and went to Europe. What was more, though, her car, chauffeur and aide went with her. This was 1912, when few people in Sea Point possessed a motor-car. Rapallo was left in the capable charge of a relation who should act as caretaker until such time as the lady might come back. But Miss Wicht, it seemed, had no great desire to return. She wandered over Europe in her Rolls Royce-and never saw South Africa again. In any case she was soon caught by the First World War, and found Switzerland a pleasant place of refuge. In that country, too, she found refuge while the Second War was being fought, and there she died, some thirty years after abandoning Rapallo. Thirty-four years had then passed since the death of J. F. Wicht, and his grandchildren, the heirs to Rapallo, had now no occasion to use the house. It was now 1941, and the war at sea had come close to South Africa. Rapallo, accordingly, was handed over by the heirs, on loan, to the Red Cross Society of South Africa. The place was turned into a sick­bay for men of the Royal Navy, many of whom, thus, found themselves made welcome in one of Sea Point's oldest homes. After the war the place, in 1952, was sold. Every square foot of ground was then built over and the vast block of Rapallo Flats was erected on the site. Rapallo remained in the possession of one family - the Wichts - for just over a century.

Grandchildren at Rapallo
(i) His wife was Geertruida Aletta Hofmeyr, one of three known Wicht-Hofmeyr marriages.

(ii) The four grand children were
Johan Hendrik (Fritz) Wicht married Dolly Hastings
Louise Ditton (Lulu) Wicht married Thomas Yates-Benyon
John Ditton (Jack) Wicht married Esme Green
Hans Heinrick (Heino) Wicht married Suzie Hudson

Note: If any of the family have painting or pictures of Johan Frederik and offspring, please do email or post it to me at 

No comments: