Bondi of H.M.S. Verbena
A Ship's Mascot Remembered
A Royal Navy Sloop, the H.M.S. Verbena of the Flower Class, was built at the Blyth Dockyard and launched on 15th November 1915. She was later assigned to the Africa Station, where, from her base at Simonstown, she paid regular visits to ports on the Southern African Coast. It was during a visit to Lourenco Marques (Maputo) in 1928 that the people of that city presented the crew with a pedigreed bulldog. The dog was named Bondi. As ship's mascot, his name was entered on the ship's list, and he drew an allowance for victuals from the Admiralty.
Sadly Bondi died during Verbena's third visit to Knysna in January 1931. The crew of the Verbena were due to give a variety concert in the Knysna Town Hall on Friday night 30th January 1931.A party was sent ashore to decorate the hall for the event, and had to march up from the Wharf. Bondi, not wanting to stand anchor watch, joined the men on this march, on a very hot January afternoon and collapsed and died from sunstroke near the Town Hall.
Bondi was buried on the wharf just north of the old warehouse and a wooden tombstone placed at the head of the grassy mound, which marked his final resting place. A brass plate with the inscription "Bondi of H.M.S. Verbena" was attached to the tombstone. The Ship's Log for Friday 30th January 1931 records very simply: “16:00 hours - Bondi died ashore"
Thereafter, whenever a British Ship visited Knysna a detail of seamen were sent ashore to polish the brass and clip the grass on Bondi's grave. H.M.S. Delphinium in 1932, H.M.S. Rochester in 1933, and H.M.S. Milford and H.M.S. Weston in 1934 continued the tradition, started by H.M.S. Verbena. Up until the outbreak of war in 1939, sailors from H.M.S. Bridgewater, H.M.S. Penzance, H.M.S.Auckland, and H.M.S. Londonderry maintained the grave in a "ship shape" condition.
During the war years Thesens was involved in the building of 10 "little ships" (Fairmiles) and the wharf became a restricted area. British ships no longer visited the Port. It was not until 1948, with the visit of H.M.S. Nereide to Knysna, that the tradition of tending Bondi's grave was revived, and continued later that year with the visit of H.M.S. Actaeon. H.M.S. Nereide visited a further 5 times, the last being in 1953.
The Knysna Harbour was closed to shipping in 1954, so bringing to an end its links with the Royal Navy, started in 1817 by H.M.S. Emu.
HOWEVER, The South African Navy revived the tradition on 13th July 2001 when men from the mine hunters S.A.S. Umhloti and S.A.S. Umzimkulu polished the brass plate and made the grave "ship shape" once again.
The tradition has been maintained since 2001 by ships of the South African Navy during the Oyster Festival in July.