Elsje Maria Mostert (1865-1941)

By Karine Daly

My grandparents moved house so often that it’s quite hard keeping tabs on where they were when they had a cook named Ten-Ten. His name was mentioned often in the narrative surrounding my grandmother. It was part of the culture of the time for employees, who must have been very loyal, to move with their employers when they moved from farm to farm, and this was the case with Ten-Ten and my grandparents.

There was a surprising amount of visiting between family members and distance did not seem much of a deterrent to travelling. My mother told the story of being on just such a visit to my paternal Grandmother, Ellie. Uncle Charles, my father’s brother arrived unexpectedly for a visit. Now, Uncle Charles was, like my father, a tall man. Not as thin as my father but not particularly overweight either, which is surprising as he had the reputation in the family for having a prodigious appetite. So, understandably there was a bit of consternation when he arrived after supper had been eaten and everything had been cleared away. My grandmother however rose magnificently to the occasion. Charles, declared my grandmother, needed urgent feeding. She then called to the cook from the lounge where they were all sitting. “Ten-Ten maak gou vir Charles ’n omeletjie…… vat so ’n dosyn of wat eiers “.1

This cavalier attitude to quantities also extended to her own recipes. When asked by my mother for the recipe for a cake she had baked my mother recalled that she said “Ag, my kind, vat so n paar diep borde meel, ’n dosyn of wat eiers, ’n paar handjies rosyne en ‘n koppie of twee suiker.”2

My sister and I, like all girls brought up on a farm at that time, spent many a day in the family home kitchen helping my mother baking, preserving and preparing food for the family. Any query about the finer nuances in a particular recipe was inevitably followed by these instructions carried forward over many years from a woman who had died before we could get to know her but whose inventive approach to food fostered much laughter, and more importantly an adventurous spirit for experimentation when preparing food.

Our father was tall and when I started growing to above average height, 5 ft 10 ins (1.78m) he assured me that it was perfectly normal in his family as his mother was about the same height – which must have been rather surprising in that day and age. Her surname was Mostert, which is of Dutch descent and we now know that the Dutch people are tall so my height is probably not unusual.

Rosie Stander who was the daughter of my grandmother’s neighbour in Machadodorp (eNtokozweni in Mpumalanga) said that Aunt Ellie, as she was known by all the young people, was tall and fair with blonde hair, which she wore in a bun on top of her head. Rosie also said that she was known in the district as a “siener” directly translated as a seer, or more loosely a psychic or simply a person who has a highly developed intuition. Either way, as a homeopath, she was was sent for when someone was ill. The kids were sent out onto the road to keep a lookout for her as she walked down the road swinging her bag with all her “botteltjies en pillietjies” (small bottles and pills). I became interested in esotericism quite early on in my life and my father did not find this at all strange as he said that his mother also practiced alternative healing.

Incidentally, my grandfather Jean, who was a lawyer, acquired the farm from Rosie’s father who had used it as security. After he and Ellie died by father purchased it from the estate and, with encouragement from my mother, later sold it back to Rosie and her husband Chris in what we understood to be generous terms.

Ellie was born in Paarl according to her death certificate but, unfortunately, not much is known about her personal life and her childhood, about where she trained or even who her parents were. The list of her belongings in the claim she lodged for reparation after her house was invaded during the Anglo-Boer War gives us a glimpse of the woman she was.3 She was proud of her fine possessions, including the chatelaine that we later inherited.

The chatelaine was hung from the belt of Victorian ladies. It carried the little tools or keys that were needed to run a household and it showed who was in charge.

With her chatelaine there was a beautiful brooch carrying a daguerreotype which indicates it was made on or before 1850.

The daguerreotype image has been professionally restored to give us what might be the only image we have of Ellie’s immediate family. This may have been her father.



Family memories are that Ellie was either cousin or second cousin to Oubaas Mostert, the fabulously wealthy Mealie (corn) Baron from Balfour, but this has not been verified. In all her documents that we have managed to unearth she is very cagey about her ancestors or even who her parents were. However, my father told me that he had visited the Mosterts in Balfour with his mother and he told me about the beautiful Herbert Baker house, which is still standing and is well worth a visit. Coincidentally, the adjoining farm, also owned by Mostert, is the farm where my Hugo mother spent a good deal of her childhood. As a young girl I was fascinated by the thought that my 25-year-old father could have met his future bride when she was all of five years old.

Ellie died in 1941 and the fact that my father couldn’t attend his mother’s  funeral caused huge eruptions in our family. She died during fuel rations and my father said he could not get enough coupons to make the 300km trip. Fortunately my mother was a peacemaker and over the years tensions relaxed and I got to know my much older Ackhurst cousins – the three children of our father’s younger sister and my namesake,  Catharine (Aunt Reina), a lot better. I remember Reina was a classy woman with a a deep voice who smoked a cigarette in a long holder. Getting to know these cousins was just as well, as my father’s brother Charles and his wife Marion didn’t have any children so cousins from the Daly side of the family were a bit thin on the ground.

As mentioned before there is very little information and as yet no photos of Aunt Ellie, our grandmother, but I hope that future generations may uncover more about her. She lived through tumultuous times and survived 2 wars and probably also had first-hand experience of the split in allegiance between Brit and Boer so characteristic if civil war.

As was the norm at the time, she was not adverse to sending her three young children ridiculously far away to be educated. It seems families helped out and banded together when decisions regarding the education of their children were to be made. My father, for example, was sent to her Retief family in Wellington to be educated at the Dutch Reformed Church School. Uncle Charles was “given” to his childless Uncle Ramsay and Aunt Millie to be educated at Maritz Brothers in Johannesburg (in later years Aunt Marion, Uncle Charles’ wife recalled that he was traumatized by this abandonment and he struggled with it for years). Aunt Reina, was sent with her slightly older second cousin Alice Humphrey whom we called Aunt Alice to the Convent of the little Flower in Tongaat on the north coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal, which frankly boggles the mind. I think the only thing that was good about that was that the nuns taught Aunt Alice to embroider beautifully. Talk about diversity!

Ellie was by all accounts a formidable woman. I think she deserves to be remembered as such. Many of these stories are as I remember them being told to me. Hopefully many more of the Daly women will also one day be remembered as strong and individual. There should be no simpering misses in our family!


1. An omelette using a dozen or so eggs.

2. Recipe giving vague but very generous amounts of ingredients.