by roy norman
Michiel Hiddingh was one of the most unusual characters of Cape Town. He was the nephew of Dr Jonas Michiel Hiddingh who brought Michiel to the Cape in 1867, as he wanted an heir. Michiel was only seven years old when he arrived to live with his uncle and aunt in Newlands House.
One can only imagine the emotions he must have experienced during the long sea voyage to Cape Town. Regrettably Dr and Mrs Hiddingh made his life a misery and warped his personality. He attended various schools, including Bishops, and his uncle instructed the school principals to be stern with him. When he turned 21 and after having qualified as an agricultural chemist he asked if could live in “the Red House” which they agreed to.
On a visit to England he met a girl he wished to marry but his uncle refused his consent, which further affected his personality. Michiel later remarked however that he had a “lucky escape”. Dr Hiddingh died in 1888 and Michiel who was then 28 inherited some valuable property and a substantial income. Hiddingh had been laid out by Willem Adriaan van der Stel in 1700 and the original Newlands House was built by Governor Ryk van Tulbagh who entertained Abbe’ de la Caille (one of the streets in Hiddingh is named in his honour) and other well known personalities such as Bougainville. There is also a street in Hiddingh bearing his name. Las Cases former secretary to Napoleon wrote of Newlands House “when left to ourselves in this delightful place we felt we had been suddenly removed from prison to Paradise”. Newlands House was rebuilt in 1828 and when Dr Hiddingh purchased it was situated on 29 morgen. Young Michiel could have lived there after his aunt died but because of the unpleasant memories it held for him preferred the Red House (still here at the top of Hiddingh Avenue) and let Newlands House. The brewery and public house were let to Anders Ohlsson.
Michiel’s peculiarities included never having fires in the Red House, refusing to have electricity using paraffin lamps instead, no telephones were installed and he had the bath removed having a hip bath brought into his bedroom each morning. He had few friends being argumentative and suspicious but despite this became Mayor of Claremont in 1894. Although valuable paintings hung on the walls Michiel would hang and frame newspaper articles particularly those, which were critical of doctors-no doubt because of dislike for his uncle.
His wine cellar was vast as he ordered scores of cases of whisky and wine at a time and never bought less than sixty thousand expensive cigars at a time. All entertaining was done in the dining room (the lounge was never used) and at times each guest would find a whole chicken or even turkey on his or her plate, which Michiel expected him or her to eat. When he wanted his servants he summoned them with a police whistle. He kept twenty cats that were fed in the dining room. In Claremont the shopkeepers knew him as “old Mike” and he often bought the entire stock of a food store and then gave it away to the poor.
He died on 11 September 1927 at the age of 67 in his revolving chair, having refused to die in his bed when he knew his end was near.
Sources: various publications, including a book written by Michiel’s cousin