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The Eriksens Family

   

The first ‘Eriksen’ to come to modern-day South Africa was Pastor Sven Eriksen, who established a Lutheran mission at “Quambonambi”, later known  as KwaMbonambi- uThungulu in the KwaZulu-Natal Province, north of the Tugela River in 1884. With his wife, he raised three children, the youngest being Ernst who was born on a return visit to Norway on 6 April 1893. Ernst was christened at a “special” ceremony in the Stavanger Cathedral. The Stavanger Room at Norscot Manor is hereafter named and served as Ernst’s personal bedroom. The Eriksens subsequently returned to Quambonambi where they remained for a further 6 years.

When Ernst was seven years old, “the time came for him to go to School” and he was sent to the now defunct Berea Academy in Durban with command of only the Norwegian and isiZulu languages. Sven Eriksen and his family had until this time been the “only Europeans north of the Tugela River during the 1880’s and 1890’s” and getting to school was often quite problematic for Ernst, especially when the Tugela River was in flood. This was on occasion solved by “outspanning” the oxen and crossing the water, which is described as “quite a frightening experience for a young boy” on the backs of local aids.

However, Ernst was a good pupil at the Berea Academy, matriculating as the age of 15 years old in 1908. He won a “gold medal” for Mathematics, and the family continued to be in possession of a letter from his Headmaster, James Forbes, describing him as “bright and intelligent with an ambition to excel” to which he no doubt later did.

Young Ernst went into the sugar business, quite by accident. He was taken to Durban by his father with the intention to be “apprenticed to a shipbuilder” but Sven Eriksen was so “excited” about his son getting a job, that he took him to an incorrect office; instead of becoming a shipping clerk he became a sugar merchant. Ernst stayed in the sugar industry and at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, together with his brother Thoralf, worked within the sugar business of two German nationals, who fearing internment at the outbreak of war left for Mauritius. Ernst and Thoralf managed to take over the business on borrowed capital and thus became the, “well-known in sugar circles…”, Eriksen Brothers Sugar Co.

 

WW1 & Ethel

With the advent of war, Ernst left his brother to run the business and joined the Second South African Horse Regiment as a trooper and served in the East African Campaign under Gen. Jan Smuts and Gen. Louis Botha. He progressed well and was “mentioned in dispatches” and was “commissioned in the field”. Later in the war, he was among a contingent sent over to England to join the Forces in France, but upon arrival in England it was discovered that he was in fact Norwegian and therefore deemed an ‘alien’ as he had never been naturalised.

The authorities would not let him go to France, given his status, and the matter was debated in the House of Lords as he was put on leave, which he spent playing golf in Scotland. The Eriksen matter was consequently a ‘test’ case, and that men of differing nationalities were eventually able to command troops in the British Forces is owed to Ernst Eriksen, which fully materialised in the Second World War with the participation of significant French, Polish and Norwegian free nationals. However, for Ernst, Armistice arrived before and he never stepped foot in France.

The “golf leave” in Scotland turned out to be very important for Ernst; for it was there that he met his future wife. Ethel Mary Turner was the daughter of the manager of the Alisa Shipbuilding Yard at Troon, Ayrshire on the west coast of Scotland. It is for this fact that the Troon Room at Norscot Manor gets its name, serving as Ethel’s bedroom.

Ernst and Ethel met at the Royal Troon Golf Course and subsequently became engaged. Ethel had grown up in Ayrshire and had attended the Ayr Academy. She was “an artistic girl” and had distinguished herself by winning a scholarship to the London School of Art, an achievement she was unable to realise due to the outbreak of WWI. However, her knowledge and artistic appreciation, from the early beginning, stood her in good stead when she was able to collect furniture and pieces of art for her family home.

After a trip back to South Africa in 1918 to attend to his business affairs and progression, Ernst returned to Troon where he and Ethel married on 30 December 1919. The newlywed couple made sail for Durban in early 1920 by Union Castle boat, where they settled and Ernst worked for some years as his own merchant.

The Eriksens continued to live in Durban, where their son Ernst Ronald Eriksen was born a year later in 1921. The family relocated to Kloof in 1926 occupying what is known as the “first” Norscot house where their daughter, Joyce Turner Eriksen, was born in 1927.

 

The motor business

During the 1920’s, motor cars had grown in popularity and had become of a particular great interest to Ernst who readily took up the opportunity to become Managing Director of a new motor firm called Eriksen & Clothier with premises at 22 Eloff Street in Johannesburg, where the family relocated to. Eriksen & Clothier became an “authorised Ford Dealer” on 1 August 1933 and when Ernst acquired sole proprietorship in 1935, changed its name to Eriksen Motors, colloquially known as “Eriksen Ford”.

The business grew and by 1946, Eriksen Motors was a Publicly Listed company on the JSE. Ernst continued as Chairman and Managing Director, kept up his golf, having served as Captain of the Royal Durban Golf Club as well as President of the Natal Golf Union and Vice-President of the South African Golf Union, was an enthusiastic bowler and inaugurated the Motor Industries Federation’s Annual Charity Day to raise funds for the Randjeslaagte Old Age Home shortly after WWII.

Ernst also presented a Shield for Annual Competition between rinks from clubs affiliated to Griqualand West Bowling Association and remains a highlight of the Kimberley Bowling Calendar. Although Ernst was not a technical man, he had great business ability, able to build and maintain an extremely successful business. Thanks to this acumen and financial success, Ernst could build a home to the very finest standards, using the best quality materials as well as craftsmen. Eriksen Ford grew for twenty-five years under his able supervision and its development is “one of the great success stories of Johannesburg business in the period post WWII.

 

The first Jo’burg home

The first house the Eriksen family lived in Johannesburg had been the former stables of what is now the Hope Home on Palling Hurst Road, Westcliff a stone house, designed by Sir Herbert Baker.

 

The Stables, 34 Pallinghurst Road, Westcliff

 

Whilst there, the Eriksens looked around for somewhere to build a more permanent home.  It was while driving out north towards the Magaliesberg Mountains, that they came across a watermelon farm belonging to Chris van der Walt and his brother. (See ‘Out Buildings and Structures’) Thus it was here that plans evolved for the building of the second Norscot.

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