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Paton's Pietermaritzburg PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 11 November 2010 16:09

Alan Paton is most famous as the author of the world-renowned novel, Cry, the beloved country. He also wrote two other novels, poetry, short stories, biographies, autobiographies and political articles. He was torn between being an author and a politician. He was a founder member of the Liberal Party of South Africa (LPSA) in 1953, its National Chairman from 1956 to 1958, and its National President from 1958 to 1968. He is also famous as a humanitarian, educationalist, a reformer of the juvenile justice system (from his time as Principal of the Diepkloof Reformatory, 1953-1948) and as a fierce opponent of apartheid. He was born and educated in Pietermaritzburg, and he retained ties with it throughout his life, calling it "the lovely city" in his autobiography.

1. 19 Pine Street (1903-1914)

This was Alan Paton's childhood home. According to his birth certificate, he was actually born in the home of their neighbour, Mrs Ridley, in 9 Greyling Street, on 11 January 1903. Alan Paton writes about his home life in his autobiography, Towards the mountain and Peter Alexander writes about how his early upbringing influenced his character in Alan Paton: a biography. His father James, had emigrated from Glasgow, Scotland and worked as a court reporter. Although he wrote poetry and loved nature, he was a strict, domineering father. Paton's mother was Eunice James, a gentle person, who had been a schoolteacher and was born in Pietermaritzburg. He was the oldest of four children, having a younger brother, Atholl, and two younger sisters, Eunice (known as Dorrie) and Ailsa. His grandmother, Elizabeth Paton also lived with them. Consequently, there was no bedroom for the two boys, and they had to share the enclosed verandah at the back. (There is a bronze plaque on the front verandah of this house.)



2. The Christadelphian Ecclesia, Boom Street

When James married Eunice, this was frowned upon by his Christadelphian community or ecclesia, as she was a Methodist. He fell out with the Christadelphians, and even when his wife and children joined the community, he no longer worshipped there. On Sunday mornings, Eunice and the children would walk to the Christadelphian Ecclesia. When they came back from the service, they had lunch, and then the children preached a sermon to their father. Alan prepared his sermons carefully, and it was from this early exposure to the authorized version of the Bible that his later writing and speeches took a Biblical tone, and from which he learned a strict morality. After the sermons, the family had Sunday afternoon tea, followed by a long walk in the surrounding countryside. In reaction to his father he came to hate authoritarianism but retained a love of nature and poetry.

In 1931, Alan Paton made the final break from the Christadelphians when he became confirmed as an Anglican.

3. Russell High School (formerly Berg Street Girls' School)

(cnr Chapel and Berg Sts./ Peter Kerchhoff & Hoosen Haffejee Sts.)

At the age of six, in 1909, Alan was sent to the Berg Street Girls' School, which was attended by both boys and girls for the first three years. Alan's mother had already taught him the basics by that time, thus he was far beyond all his classmates, and stayed in Sub A for only two weeks. He was then sent to Sub B for another few weeks, after which he was promoted to Standard 1, where he nevertheless came top of the class in spite of being much younger than his classmates. He was from then on always smaller and younger than everyone else in his class, and so was bullied in the playground.

It was here that the incident happened which is described in "The Gift" in Knocking on the doorand in Towards the mountain. His mother sent the young black servant to the school carrying hot cocoa and scones for Alan. He was so embarrassed in front of the bigger boys, who teased him, that he denied that he knew this boy, or that the food had been sent by his mother. This incident played on his mind until he wrote it down forty years later.

4. 16 Echo Road (formerly 551 Bulwer Street) (1914-1924)

In 1914 the Patons moved to a larger house on the other side of town, bought by James Paton for ?850. It had a large garden containing many trees including an orchard of fruit trees. In those days, the house was open to the countryside. From this house the Paton boys cycled to Maritzburg College, going through Alexandra Park. The house has now lost its trees, having become Jika Joe's taxi and bus depot. However, the original house is still there, in fairly good condition, seen from the street, but one may not go in.

5. The Tatham Art Gallery (formerly the Supreme Court and Post Office) (opp.City Hall, cnr Commercial /Chief Albert Luthuli & Church Sts.)

There is a coffee shop here which is a good place for a tea/coffee break, but parking may be a problem in the centre of town!

Built in 1875, this building has been beautifully restored as the Art Gallery. It was here that James Paton, Alan's father, worked as a shorthand writer in the Supreme Court. Many years later, two paintings which in 1952 had been bought for the Jan Hofmeyr Memorial Trust with ?100 (R200) donated by Alan Paton, were realized to have become very valuable, worth almost R40,000, and were bought by the Tatham Gallery in 1988. The paintings were a landscape by Pierneef and a still life by Preller.

From the front steps of the Gallery, looking down Longmarket St/ Langalibalele St., one can see the former Lambert Wilson Project Library of the former Natal Society Library. This was where the headquarters of the Liberal Party of South Africa (LPSA) were housed, the offices being on the first floor. The LPSA was the only multi-racial political party in the country at the time. Alan Paton was involved in the Party as a member, Chairman and President from its inception in 1953 until it was forced to close by the Nationalist Government in 1968. Being given the choice of becoming a whites only party or disbanding, it chose to disband.

6. 10 Myhill Rd (formerly 10 Gough/Howick Rd) (1930-35)

Alan Paton's first teaching post was at Ixopo High School, where he was boarding master in the hostel from 1925-1928. While he lived in Ixopo, he met his wife-to-be, Dorrie (Doris Olive Lusted, nee Francis) who was widowed in 1925. They were married in 1928, and moved to Pietermaritzburg, where Paton took up his post at Maritzburg College. They bought this house in 1930. It is still owned by the family to whom the Patons sold it when they moved to Diepkloof Reformatory, the Kimminces, and it still has a peaceful and spacious garden. While living here, Dorrie gave birth to her first son, David Francis Paton in 1930. In 1934 Paton contracted typhoid fever (enteric fever), and almost died. He was ill for 75 days, and was hospitalized at St Anne's, where he became extremely thin from the starvation diet which was the treatment given at that time. After recovering from this illness, he applied for and was given the post of Principal of the Diepkloof Reformatory in Johannesburg, which experience was to change his life.

His other homes are as follows:


  • Diepkloof Reformatory – staff house (July 1935 - June 1948)
  • Anerley – rented a cottage, then a house (August 1948 – April 1953)
  • Botha's Hill TB Settlement – staff house (May – Dec 1953)
  • 23 Lynton Rd, Kloof (April 1954 – 1968)
  • 14 Botha's Hill Rd, Botha's Hill – named "Lintrose" (1968 – 1988)


7. Maritzburg College (College Road) (1914-18; 1928-35)

(A visit to the College grounds and old buildings can be arranged with the College Marketing Officer (033) 3429376.)

In 1914 the Patons moved house and Alan Paton won a Natal Provincial Bursary to Maritzburg College. He was only eleven years old when he started there, and he stayed there through the war years, matriculating with distinction in 1918. He returned to Maritzburg College as a teacher from 1928-1935. He took great pride in his old school, and came back at times over the years to present prizes and make the end-of-year speech. In December 1963, Maritzburg College's centenary year, he wrote a poem in wet cement on the old gym wall, where it can still be seen. In 2004, Maritzburg College honoured their most famous pupil by naming their large new hall the "Alan Paton Memorial Hall". (This hall can be seen from the Alexandra Park side of College.)

In Towards the mountain we can read anecdotes about Paton's years as a College pupil, including Mr "Fluff" Abbit's fire-drill on his return from a bout of drinking at the Victoria Club, to which he had travelled in a ricksha.

8. Alan Paton Centre, University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN)

(King Edward Ave. entrance to UKZN, formerly University of Natal, formerly Natal University College)

After Matriculating at Maritzburg College, Alan Paton went on to become a student at the age of 16, at Natal University College, from 1919 – 1924. He was awarded a Natal Education Department bursary in 1919, and enrolled for a Science degree, in order to become a science and mathematics teacher, in spite of his talent as a writer. He enjoyed his years at university, made some good friends and became enlightened about other forms of Christianity and the wider world. He read and wrote poetry as a hobby, played sport and joined the Dramatic and Debating Societies, the SCA and the SRC, of which he was president in 1923 and 1924. He received a B.Sc. with distinction and a Higher Diploma in Education. He is holding a dog in a group student portrait taken outside the only NUC building at that time, the Old Main Building with the clock tower.


paton map


Paton was to remain committed to and involved in his old university for the rest of his days, as President of Convocation and as Honorary President of NUSAS.

Alan Paton died in his home in Botha's Hill at the age of 85, on 12 April 1988. His first wife, Dorrie, had died on 23 October 1967. In February 1968 Anne Hopkins started working for him as his secretary. Alan and Anne got on well, and were married on 30 January 1969.

When Paton died, Anne donated the contents of his study to the Archives of the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg. The Archivist, Joicelyn Leslie-Smith, accepted them enthusiastically, and it was from this donation and the support of the University Principal, Prof Colin Webb, that the Alan Paton Centre developed. Anne Paton donated the entire contents of his study to the University, including his books, journals, furniture and awards. Then followed his papers: manuscripts, letters, speeches and photographs. A replica of Paton's study in Botha's Hill has been created, arranged in the same way as it was then. This forms the nucleus of the Alan Paton Centre.

Many additional archival donations have been received since the Centre opened in 1989, including the archives of the Liberal Party, which were unearthed from their hiding places by Paton's great friend and Liberal Party colleague, Peter Brown. Other donations from organizations which opposed apartheid, such as the Black Sash and Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness (PACSA), now form the Struggle Archives.

For further information on Alan Paton's life, see the following:


  • Alexander, Peter F. 1994. Alan Paton: a biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Paton, Alan 1980. Towards the mountain: an autobiography. Cape Town: David Philip.
  • Paton, Alan 1988. Journey continued: an autobiography. Cape Town: David Philip.
  • Paton, Alan 1975. Knocking on the door: shorter writings. Cape Town: David Philip.



Jewel Koopman 2006 Copyright to the Alan Paton Centre & Struggle Archives

University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg Campus

P/Bag X01, Scottsville, 3209

Tel: +27 (0)33 260-5926