WHEN Durban attorney Robin Petterson first got his hands on a book written by a long-lost relative in Australia detailing their family history in South Africa he had no idea it would inspire him to buy and restore a run-down 1820 Settler home in the Bathurst bush.
Standing outside the refurbished stone house built by his great-great-great- grandfather Isaac Wiggill in 1820, Petterson yesterday recalled how a photograph in cousin Theo Wiggill’s book, The Cotswold to the Cape, convinced him and his wife Carol to get on their two Harley Davidsons and ride to the sleepy Settler town to check out his family roots.
Arriving in the pouring rain, the couple made a beeline for the historic Pig and Whistle Hotel to ask locals if they knew where they could find the house.
“No one knew where it was … eventually I showed the barman the picture in the book and he told us where to find it.”
Riding down the wet and muddy back roads on their gleaming Harleys, Robin rode right past the place – which was hidden in the bush – and became concerned when he did not spot Carol in his rear-view mirror.
“I thought she had fallen off, so I turned round and went back – only to find she had spotted the house.”
Petterson knocked on the front door, introduced himself as a descendant of builder Isaac Wiggill and was promptly invited in by elderly owner Pat Fanner.
“The place was in a shocking state. It was very eerie going into a house built by a relative who died on 21 February 1863 – exactly 100 years to the day before I was born,” he said.
Petterson later contacted Fanner and told her that if she ever wanted to sell she should call him and get it valued as he was interested in buying it.
Six months later, shortly after Fanner died, he received a call from her son who found his details on a slip of paper while sorting out his mother’s personal belongings and shortly after that he became the owner – almost two years ago.
Restored by Dave and Lauren Brunette, even salvaged items from the grounds and buildings – like 200-year-old slate roof tiles and old sneezewood poles – were reused in the house.
Although the main house contains ancient cast iron stoves, yellowwood ceilings and other antiquities, it also boasts mod cons like skylights in every room, airconditioning, a burglar alarm, and custom iron and sneezewood lights by Linda Schenk.
The couple, who specialise in renovating Settler homes, said a lot of the restoration had been done on “instinct”.
“We tried to salvage and re-use everything we could. It is sad to lose historic old buildings.”
Estate agent Rosemary Palmer, who sold the property to Petterson, said: “It was pretty derelict when it was sold but now it is absolutely awesome.”
Petterson told a crowd of family and wellwishers at the house he would leave the property to Hospice in his will.
He said restoring the place had been a mammoth undertaking and he had spent far more money renovating the place than he did to buy it.
“It is important we protect our history and heritage because nobody else will. Our history is not popular. It is not fashionable.”