The name Frieslaar crops up throughout the history of Simon’s Town and its Dockyards. The first member of the family to arrive at the Cape is believed to have been Albert, who came out to work for the Dutch East India Company in about 1790. Albert had a son named Gerrit, who married Caroline Wolff in the Anglican Church in Simon’s Town on 23 January 1832. They had five boys and two girls. Gerrit’s son John had a son, also named John, who joined the Dockyard in 1917 as a clerk and retired fifty years later as a Senior Switchboard Attendant in the Power Station, where he worked with Arthur Wade He was presented with a medal for 40 years loyal service at the Dockyard hand-over ceremony on 2 April 1957.
John Frieslaar and his family lived in the Mount Pleasant area of Simon’s Town. The house they owned was expropriated and demolished to make way for the Arsenal Road flats, built to accommodate “Coloured” families. He then rented a house in Breda Street, Mount Pleasant, but was unable too purchase it because the area had been zoned for occupation by “Coloured” people.
Towards the end of 1953, John’s son Henry, aged sixteen, applied to the Dockyard to be indentured as an apprentice and wrote the Dockyard Apprenticeship Examination. He was placed twelfth among the 150 or so who took the examination, for which thirteen apprenticeships were awarded. Among the thirteen successful candidates who were to serve the Dockyard for many years were John Hulse, the late Joseph and Ronald Dubber and John Bremner. When Henry appeared before the Selection Board only two trades were available, those of blacksmith and bricklayer. He chose to be a blacksmith and began his five-year apprenticeship on 1 February 1954.
According to the contract signed by his father, his apprenticeship was to proceed as follows :-
First Year: Instruction on making of tools, use of tools, assisting with small forging, hardening and tempering of tools.
Second Year: Working on fires — independently making small fittings, cleats, shackles etc.
Third year: Maintenance and repairs to galleys and funnels — six months and welding — six months.
Fourth Year: Chain cable, blocks, anchors and Test House work.
Fifth Year: Drawing Office — 3 months. Work on heavy forging and bending slabs on ships’ side, framing etc.
During his apprenticeship Henry Frank Frieslaar was guided by artisans Roly Eddles and Claude Randall in the blacksmiths’ shop and by Cliff Eccles during his time aboard the Mooring Lighter, laying and maintaining moorings for laid up destroyers and frigates out in Simon’s Bay. During the later part of his apprenticeship, Henry began to feel that he would like to help people who needed encouragement and support and felt a call to be a priest in the Anglican Church. He therefore resigned from the Dockyard on conclusion of his five-year apprenticeship on 31 January 1959.
After training for the ministry at St Paul’s Theological College in Grahamstown, he served the Anglican Church in many parts of South Africa for over 40 years and in September 1999 was appointed as rector of St Francis Church Simon’s Town, the church where he had felt the call to be a priest so many years before. In 2003 he retired from the full-time ministry and on twelfth of May 2009 he met up with one of his mentors, Claude Randall, for the first time in many years. Although they both lived in Simon’s Town their paths had not crossed because Claude worshipped at the Methodist Church, where he played the organ for more than sixty years. The two former Dockyard Blacksmiths met at West Dockyard gates, one section of which dated from1863 and the other, made by Claude Randall in between more urgent jobs, in 1966.
To mark the occasion Reverend Frieslaar wore his leather apron and brandished a hammer and steel square which had lain dormant since he left the blacksmiths’ trade half a century before.