(c) 2016 Mount Merrion Historical Society
Bonington story - connection with 103 The Rise, Mount Merrion
By DES SMYTH / Posted: January 3, 2018
edited version based on copy from "ASCENT - a life spent climbing on the edge" by Chris Bonington
The first owner of 103 The Rise Mount Merrion were Max and Alice (nee Parkinson) Bonington. Why they chose Ireland and indeed Mount Merrion as their preferred retirement location is open to conjecture. His grandson suggests that the threat of war (WW2) was sufficiently strong for them to choose a country that would most likely remain neutral.
Who exactly was Max Bonington? Well according to the above mentioned Grandson he was quite a colourful man.
Maximilian Christian Bonig was born in Schleswig-Holstein in 1874. The son of a farmer he hated the idea of a life on a farm so he ran away at the age of ten to join a sailing ship but was quickly hauled home. At age 12 his parents allowed him to start an apprenticeship with a shipbuilder. Four years later he signed up as a carpenter with a Mauritius bound barque. That was the beginning of a wandering life that took him around the world. Remember this was still in the nineteenth century. His early exploits saw him spend months on a New Bedford whaler and shanghaied aboard a Nova Scotia boat bound for America with a Blue-nosed, red-haired, one-eyed skipper. Whilst still a teenager he was washed overboard from a schooner which ran aground near New Brunswick and was the sole survivor.
At age 21 he joined the US Navy for a short while before returning home to Germany. Soon however the lure of the sea was too great and he joined the crew of an ill- fated ‘Highland Glen’ bound for India. The ship was almost grounded twice on the outward journey and he left it in Calcutta. It actually capsized on its next journey to the West Indies with a cargo kerosene. It was at that time that Max decided that he would change his name to a more anglicised sounding Bonington.
In 1897 he signed on the ‘WARREN HASTINGS’ a troop carrying state-of-the-art metal hulled Steamship. It was carrying a thousand troops and their families from Mumbai to Mauritius when it struck a rock off the coast of Reunion Island and started to take in water.
Max went below and spent an hour closing tight heavy doors and screwing down the ports. This act prevented the ship from sinking and the passengers were taken safely ashore by rope.
Max was commended for his gallantry and was rewarded by the Indian Government with the job of Assistant Harbourmaster in Port Blair the principal town in the Andaman Islands. The Andaman Islands were then a colony founded on the same principal as Australia for convicts of both sexes, from the Raj, released on a ticket-of-leave to work in the Timber industry. The Islands were covered in tropical forests and mangrove swamps and were populated with one of the world’s oldest and most isolated human populations, the Negritos, a dark skinned people whose average height was less than one and a half meters tall. Those who lived by the sea were amiable but the few hundred who were based in the jungle were hostile.
It was in Port Blair that Max met and married Alice Parkinson the 19 year old daughter of a deceased Royal Engineers Sergeant Major. They wed in 1908. Their first home on Ross Island in the Port Blair Harbour was a typical Empire officials compound---Two Clubs, Ayahs to mind and play on the extensive lawns with the children, tennis and croquet courts, library and even a white and blue uniformed Brass band made up of ex- convicts.
In 1915 he transferred to the Forestry Department and subsequently surveyed all 3000 square miles if the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, he was also appointed Officer in charge of Aborigine affairs. He got on famously with the coastal tribes and the jungle based tribes trusted him and treated him as one of their own.
During WW1 he set up and managed a new settlement in the North Andamans to exploit the virgin forest there on behalf of the Indian Government who were encouraging settlers from the mainland. They imported Elephants from India to drag logs to the nearest tidal streams where they were lashed into rafts and towed to the newly constructed saw mills.
The settlement thrived and was later called Port Bonington. Max was awarded an OBE in the Honours list in 1930 for his work with the native people. After he retired he and Alice came to Dublin and settled in to their home in the newly constructed Kenny built house at 103 The Rise in Mount Merrion.
In his garden Max built a greenhouse and grew a wide variety of vegetables. He also reared Chickens and Ducks. During WW2 he generously supplied fresh vegetables and occasionally eggs to his neighbours and friends. He was involved in many local activities.
Alice died shortly after the war and Max remained there until his own death in 1956.
One of the nicest stories involving Max occurred in 1952 or 1953. John du Moulin won the contract to build the new Catholic Church of Saint Therese in Mount Merrion. The site was on a hillside so the decision was made to build on a North / South axis rather than the more usual East/West axis.
It was a very high church and it was to be clad in Granite stone. The problem for John du Moulin was getting the heavy stone in place. Rebuilding was underway in the UK after WW2 and cranes were impossible to get. So it is reported that John Kenny went to Germany and obtained a new hydraulic crane from Herr Max Liebherr in Bavaria. The only problem was that nobody in Dublin could assemble and disassemble the crane as it was required when working around the Church. So Liebherr sent an engineer to work with du Moulin. Unfortunately this man had little or no English. So what to do?
Someone mentioned that Major Bonington in 103 The Rise could speak German, was recently widowed and might appreciated a German speaking tenant for a few months. He was asked and was delighted to have the company.
John du Moulin junior related that he a few friends were intrigued to see the engineer return from a trip home to Germany with a big wooden box. That night they were walking past 103 when they heard singing coming from the kitchen. When they peeked in the window they saw the two men saluting each other with glasses of schnapps and singing German folk songs. On the floor was the open wooden box with another 11 full bottles.
Maximillian Christian Bonington died in Mount Merrion in 1956.
The aforementioned Grandson who provided the details of Max’s life was one of the world’s foremost explorers and mountaineers - Sir Christian Bonington CVO.CBE.DL
Major Bonington is very fondly remembered by some of the older members of our community.
In a speaking engagement, on one of his recent times visits to Dublin, Chris Bonington told the audience that the first mountain he ever climbed was the Little Sugarloaf near Bray, Co. Wicklow.
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