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Monday 29 June 2015

Thousands of Miles by Taxi, a Trip by Thomas Hattle, who emigrated from Berwick to South Africa in 1901

From Alan Hattle:

Thomas Hattle
My paternal grandfather, Thomas Hattle, was one of ten children of John Hattle and Isabella Elspeth Burgon(e), and apparently the only one to emigrate.

A brother, James Burgon Hattle died in 1915 in an accident aboard the HMS Macedonia while in the Falklands on service during World War I, and is buried in the cemetery at Port Stanley.

Thomas had six children (all born in South Africa) and 19 grandchildren, most of whom stayed in southern Africa, although some descendants have since emigrated to New Zealand and Australia, and one has spent many years teaching in China. He was born on 19 February 1876 in Berwick, worked in the Telegraph Department of the North British Railway Company from 1890 until 1901 when he secured a job in the post and telegraph offices of the Cape of Good Hope, based in Port Elizabeth.

Thomas Hattle must have been an interesting and determined gentleman (unfortunately he died when I was a small child so I never really got to know him).  He made a taxi trip covering some 4,714 miles, which appears to have been (at that time at least) a world record.

Berwick Advertiser, 24 August 1939
Newcastle Weekly Chronicle 2 September 1939
An article in the Port Elizabeth Advertiser, 18 March 1947 said:
"Thousands of Miles by Taxi
P.E. Man Recalls an Adventure

A recent report emanating from Cape Town to the effect that a Mr. R. Oliver, a businessman from India on holiday in the Union, had employed a taxi to carry him from Cape Town to Mombasa – a distance of nearly 6,000 miles – has prompted a Port Elizabeth man, Mr. Thomas Hattle, to relate his story concerning what he regards as the longest taxi trip ever undertaken by a South African.

In fact, two overseas newspapers, the Berwick Advertiser and the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle, published accounts of Mr. Hattle’s long taxi ride of just under 5,000 miles driven all the way by a Port Elizabeth taxi-driver, Mr. S. Blom. The feat took place in 1937 and both overseas papers printed the story in 1939 when Mr. J. H. Curle, noted English traveller and author, set out on a 2,500-mile taxi trip which the American Press claimed as a world record.

Mr. Hattle’s trip of 4,714 miles occupied a full month and embraced travelling over some of the country’s worst roads and frequently over mere footpaths, over steep passes and through swirling rivers. His task was concerned with telephone development study in the vast Transkeian territories as far north as Port St Johns.

An interesting feature of this trip was the meeting of Mr Hattle and Chief David Dalindyelo of Moekezweni. The Chief acted as interpreter to His Majesty the King when the Royal Family visited Umtata a week or two ago, and in 1937 he took great pride in signing his autograph in Mr. Hattle’s notebook, which is still in the latter’s possession.

Since Mr R Oliver is not expected to reach Mombasa until April 1, it is possible that the achievement of Mr Hattle and his driver, Mr Blom, in covering 4,714 miles in a single taxi trip in the same car, stands at the moment as a record for this country and possibly a world record."

He must have indeed been a very fit man, as I recall seeing a report in which it was noted that he never took a sick day off in his long career. Of interest is the attached note confirming that 10 years before his retirement (1936, at age 60), he had accumulated 644 days of leave credit. Sadly he was only paid out for 180 days!
644 days of leave credit
During my grandfather's boat trip to South Africa in 1901, and his first months in South Africa, he wrote a long detailed account of his adventures and impressions (including an account of his train journey from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth), and this journal was published sometime in late 1901 / possibly early 1902 in several long instalments in the Berwick Advertiser (possibly headed 'Diary of a Berwick Man').

Thomas Hattle's son, John Burgon Hattle (my father) was a meteorologist, and had the distinction, as a wartime Major in the South African army, of opening the meteorological station on the remote South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha, and operating it for many months during the World War II years. As a child, before the destructive Tristan volcano, I remember him frequently receiving letters from the many friends he made among the island community.

I would be thrilled to hear from locals in Berwick who have links to my family.

If you would like to contact Alan, please comment below with your email address (the email address won't be published).

1 comment:

  1. Message for Alan:
    Hi Alan, I'm fascinated by the stories of your grandfather. I believe we are (very) distantly related. My great grandfather is Peter Hattle and we think he is one of your grandfathers brothers. We could be wrong but there is no doubt about the family and Berwick connection. Feel free to email me ( My grandad did a lot of work on the family tree and we can work out where in this very large Hattle tree we both sit!

    Looking forward to hearing from you Alan,
    Kindest Regards,


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