WHY 'ALIWAL' ?
In January 1846, Sir Harry Smith defeated the Sikhs at the battle of Aliwal in the Punjab (India). A year later, Smith arrived in South Africa as governor of Cape Colony. Two years after that, in 1849, a new town was established on the left bank of the Orange River. It was called 'Aliwal North'. Henry Bergmann, the hero of Adam Yamey's novel, ALIWAL, helped to establish the town and eventually become one of the town's most prosperous inhabitants.
Henry (born 'Heinrich') Bergmann (1830-1866) was born of Jewish parents in Dittenheim, a small village south of Nuremberg. He was the first of Adam Yamey's family to set foot in southern Africa.
WHY SOUTHERN AFRICA?
Henry was invited to southern Africa by Jonas Bergtheil (1815-1902), who was also from Dittenheim. He accepted the invitation and sailed from London to Cape Town, where he was hoping to meet Bergtheil. However, by the time Henry arrived in Cape Town, Bergtheil had left for distant Natal. Henry was alone and friendless in the Cape Colony.
HOW DID HENRY WIND UP ALIWAL NORTH?
Soon after his arrival in Cape Town, Henry joined the large trading company owned by the Mosenthal brothers. Very soon after joining this company, Henry went to their branch office in Graaff Reinet, where he worked with Phoebus Caro, a Jewish immigrant from Poznan. Henry must have excelled at his work because almost immediately he was sent to Aliwal North where the Mosenthals were opening another branch of their trading business. Henry was put in charge of this.
A WIFE FROM FRANKFURT?
Henry was so successful that in 1860 he returned to Europe to seek a bride. The lady he married, Jenny Charlotte Schuster, was the daughter of a Jewish banker in Frankfurt's Judengasse. The Schusters were regarded as being members of the Jewish 'High Aristocracy'. Henry was clearly regarded by Jenny's family as being a suitable bridegroom for their daughter. The newlyweds returned to Aliwal North shortly after Queen Victoria's son Prince Alfred had visited the town.
DID HENRY AND JENNY HAVE A FAMILY?
WHAT HAPPENED IN 1866 in ALIWAL NORTH?
We do not know, but this was the year that Henry Bergmann took his own life.
WHY DID HENRY SHOOT HIMSELF?
Nobody knows for sure, but there was some problem with money. Some accused Henry of embezzlement, but this is where his history becomes obscure.
Adam Yamey has provided a fictional account of the events leading to his suicide in his novel " ALIWAL "
WHAT BECAME OF HENRY'S WIDOW ?
Jenny Bergmann returned to her birthplace Frankfurt, where she lived the rest of her life. Her grave is in the city's Rat-Beil Strasse cemetery.
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