Hidden Karoo, launched in March, is a treat for Karoo lovers. Written by Patricia Kramer, with photographs by Alain Proust, it captures the Karoo’s vast landscape, flat-topped mountains, conical hills, scrubby bushes and hidden valleys. “Here pioneers carved roads out of rock to set down roots in an unforgiving environment.” says Patricia. “Here dreams were born and legends made. In this ancient place rocks and fossilized footprints tell the story.” Hidden Karoo, a series of photo-essays, tells of conservation and neglect “One town boasts splendidly restored buildings, while along a dusty road lies another – forgotten and waiting. But waiting for what – renewal, or a slow death?” Hidden Karoo offers a glimpse into towns, villages, farms, churches, public buildings and private homes, against a backdrop of awe-inspiring landscapes and asks readers to consider what was, what is and what might be. Published by Penguin Random House, its recommended price is R490.


Historical biographer, Peter Elliott’s latest book, Lad O’ Pairt, launched in January. tells the story of the life and times of his great grandfather, Sir Thomas Muir, one of the greatest organisers and reformers of education in the Cape. Muir’s wife became ill in the early 1890s and they were advised to seek a warmer climate. They chose South Africa and arrived on May 20, 1892. A widely known and respected mathematician, Muir took up the post of superintendent-general of education. He remained in the post until 1915 travelling from place to across the Colony in a special caboose, so many old train stations feature in the book. It also covers Muir’s humble beginnings in Lanarkshire, his time as a schoolmaster in Glasgow and his passion for mathematics. One of the oldest schools in this country, Muir College Boys’ School in Uitenhage, was named in his honour. He was as man with an upright bearing, a gentle, kindly manner, twinkling eyes, a quick smile, penetrating wit and a keen sense of humour, He had a wide knowledge of books. He considered Pauline Smith to be the greatest South African writer. He felt her stories of the Klein Karoo showed extraordinary insight into the lives and customs of the people. Muir served on so many organisations and societies that his friends said he was simply too busy to become old. Peter has drawn on Muir’s personal diaries of his travels in the interior, to provide insight into the social and political spectrum of the time. The book costs around R250 at most booksellers.


A man born on a reservation in Dakota, learned the ways of Indian trackers, became a scout and an officer in both the US and British armies. His story is told by Steve Kemper in A Splendid Savage: The Restless Life of Frederick Russell Burnham. A colourful adventurer, Burnham honed his outdoor skills working with cowboys and frontiersmen of the old West. He had little formal education. never finished school, but by the age of 14 was supporting himself. A highly experienced soldier, he saw action in many feuds and wars such as the Matabele War, Anglo-Boer War and WWI. During the Anglo-Boer War, met Robert Baden Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, and passed on his knowledge of woodcraft, the outdoors and tracking to him. When Lord Roberts asked General Frederick Carrington to recommend a scout he, without hesitation chose Burnham describing him as “”the finest scout who ever scouted.” At the time Burnham was prospecting on the Klondike. He received a telegram from Roberts offering him a post as a scout, and adding: “ If you accept, come at once – the quickest way possible.” Burnham was captured twice and escaped. He was almost fatally wounded after his horse was shot and fell on top of him. His injuries were so serious he was ordered back to England. On arrival he was invited to dine with Queen Victoria. Despite his US citizenship he was given the British rank of major by Edward VII during WWI. In recognition of his heroism he was awarded the DSO.

A slip resulted in the wrong e.mail address for Karoo Roads II. The correct one is


The Anglican Church (of the Province of South Africa – CPSA) was never limited by the frontiers of the Colony. The first Bishop of Cape Town, Reverend Robert Grey, travelled across the Karoo twice while he was in office. His successor, Reverend William West-Jones, who arrived in Cape Town on October 3, 1874, also travelled to far away parishes and many new developments resulted from these trips. One was the Railway Mission which started in Noupoort. The idea was born after Bishop West-Jones visited Wellington railway workshops in 1876. He was shocked at the appalling facilities provided for railway men and at the consequent moral degeneracy, states Philip Le Feuvre in his PhD thesis Cultural and Theological Factors Affecting Relationships Between the Nederduitse-Gereformeerde Kerk And The Anglican Church in the Cape Colony ”What I need,” said Bishop West-Jones, “is a clergyman who will give himself up specially to this work , moving on, as the line advances, to exercise a wholesome control over the various gangs of men employed.” What the Bishop had in mind was a roving chaplain who would move along as the line progressed. What emerged was the Railway Mission


This mission was started by two brothers, Douglas and Henry (Harry) Blomfield Ellison. Both were ordained clergymen and working under the auspices of the Grahamstown Cathedral of St George and St Michael. In 1892 they set up a center in Noupoort, obtained a coach from the Cape Government Railways, hitched this onto trains travelling the line. It was uncoupled it at lonely sidings where they would then minister to the spiritual needs of railway workers, operating and maintenance crews, station-masters, gangers, plate-layers, their families and others living in remote areas of the hinterland. The missionaries stayed until another train passed, to take them to new fields of ministry. Douglas took his dog, Peter, along on these trips. The brothers were joined by T Jones and R S Seacome. In time, there were 11 assistant chaplains, and four native catechists. Misses F W Brooks and W C Lea, were appointed as secretaries and E Birchell as financial administrator. This “roving ministry” which was conceived in 1876 every year proved itself more and more effective, yet it only received official recognition by the CPSA in 1904.


The Bishop of Grahamstown, the Right Reverend Henry Cotterill, reported that under the superintendence of Reverend Douglas Ellison, the railway mission did excellent work primarily ministering to railway men across thousands of miles in South Africa. “But it does much more than that. The mission-car is a movable church, which supplies spiritual ministrations to pioneer settlers in new districts where, as yet, there is no church. It serves to form the nucleus of congregations which, in no long time, are able to build their own church, and furnish themselves with the services of a resident clergyman. It helps to prepare railway people for baptism, confirmation, communion and, at times, even marriage. It sympathises, cheers and supports people in isolated places.” It was hard work, but well worth it, he added. “The Railway Mission has thus broken new ground. It is first on the spot. Time and again new parishes have been formed through its pioneering work. It is now no longer a diocesan institution, but forms, in fact, a provincial organizations (although its central home is in Grahamstown). Its operations having been extended as far as the Diocese of Pretoria and Mashonaland.”


Douglas Ellison headed the Railway Mission for 17 years before moving to Canada in 1908. He received several letters of thanks for his work in founding this organization,. One of these was from T R Rice, General Manager of the Railways, and another from the Synod of the Church of the Province of South Africa. The mission had its own newspaper, Light on the Line – copies are held in the Yale University library. A popular play entitled Along the Line and two books – God’s Highwaymen : the Story of the South African Church Railway Mission written by Dorothy F Ellison, a sister of the missionary brothers, and Northward from Cape Town : the Anglican Church Railway Mission by John Roden – captured the work of these missionaries. ”The mission reached a peak of success and usefulness by 1930, but was disbanded in 1957,” says G H Pirie.


DRISA (Digital Rail Images of South Africa) is creating a searchable catalogue of the historic Transnet photo collection. This will include a thumbnail of each photograph. They are also making the old SAR&H Magazine accessible on the internet to railway and history researchers across the world. For more contact: Johannes Haarhoff or information specialist Visit


The railway mission also offered a medical service. Nurses travelled up and down taking care of Dutch and English families in isolated, scattered homes along the line. In time this service helped Noupoort acquire a little hospital, states Dr J J Marais in his Overview of Noupoort. He states that with the assistance of a railway missionary named of Hill and some railway administrators a small building large enough to house about 8 to ten patients and one nurse was acquired. It was set up at the railway location. This was so successful that it led to an application for a provincial hospital. This was granted, set up with a bequest of R5000 left by A F S Visser. The hospital was named the Fritz Visser hospital and officially opened on September 1, 1955, by the Administrator of the Cape, P J Olivier.  To learn more about Noupoort – and some other Karoo towns – visit the Karoo Foundation website at


During the Anglo-Boer War confidential news was generally sent by coded telegram. In The Code Book, an item in the Australian ABW newsletter, The Kopje, Anthony Stimson, writes: “Code books contained some quite bizarre words such as ‘scripulite’, ‘Jewishly’, ‘mimical’ and ‘aleknight’. After the engagement on Graspan farm, near Reitz on, June 6, 1901 – described as a ‘major scrap at Reitz’ by the Press – and considered South Australia’s worst day in the war, Lord Richard Nevill, private secretary to Premier Frederick Holder found himself looking up some weird words. He was familiar with words such as ‘cancans’ (casualties), ‘uncloak’ (South Australian Bushmen) and ‘conquered’ (lance-corporal), but he had to look up ‘spurless’ (dangerously wounded), ‘crackles’ (since dead), ‘spurted’ (seriously wounded) and ‘flutestops’ (gunshot wounds). The telegram, gave the names of eight South Australians killed in about 1 ½ hours in an area about the size of six tennis courts. The toll of dead and wounded was so high because the fighting was at close range in and around captured wagons some carrying old men, women and children. Nevill found the message difficult to decode because some of the words were misspelled and others not in the Government House code book. It mentioned that Corporal Percy Wells, a 6’1½” tall, mounted infantryman, had “flutestops” in the “right arm, buttock and abdomen.” Wells had indeed been severely wounded. “He was taken by cart to hospital where he told the army surgeons that he would rather die than have his right arm amputated as they proposed. He kept his arm but it was never much use,” said Anthony. “When discharged from No. 6 Field Hospital, on December 17, 1904 Wells’s papers recorded bullet wounds to his right side (with incisions); right forearm, right elbow, right upper arm, right side of head, right buttock, and right shin as well as a wound to the back of his right hand and bayonet wound to the back of his back of left hand. He died in 1959.”


President Paul Kruger’s last journey in South Africa began as a train slid slowly out of the Cape Town station at 10:00 in December, 1904. (He died in Switzerland from congestive heart failure on July 14, 1904. His body was embalmed in The Hague and later transported to South Africa on a special ship, De Batavier, to lie in state in Cape Town.) Men with bare, bowed heads and weeping women lined the route from Cape Town’s Groote Kerk. Church bells solemnly tolled as the longline of coaches got underway. The train was undecorated, One carriage was filled with wreaths, the others carried members of the official funeral committee. The funeral car at the end of the train, had plate glass back and sides. Inside the coffin, draped in heavy black crepe, could be clearly seen as the train passed through the little towns on its way to Pretoria. At tiny Hanover Road station in the Karoo about 500 people from the village and surrounding farms gathered to pay their last respects. The South African News reported that “He, whom all still affectionately call ‘Oom Paul’, was born in this district on Bulhoek, part of the farm Schuylhoek, between Hanover and Colesberg. It was from here, at the age of about 11. dressed in veldschoens and leather trousers with a flintlock rifle on his shoulder that he trekked northwards with his family. What an epic the life of this man whom Bismarck styled ‘the greatest statesman of the century’ has been since then,” said the newspaper. So the people of the Hanover district gathered to honour a son of their veld. A beautiful wreath of white everlastings, adored with “Vierkleur” ribbons was carried to the station and placed on Kruger’s coffin by the Mayor, S J Burger, who was accompanied by old Mr Nienaber, General W C Malan, Reverend S P Fouche and Mr S C Cronwright-Schreienr, MLA. “People then filed past and parents lifted little children so that they could look into the funeral car. People stood silently for about eight to ten minutes while the engine took on water. The train then silently moved on, out onto the veld that the dead hero had known and trodden as a boy, to the solemn strains of a psalm and the Dead March. Over 800 people gathered at De Aar where an address was given and a wreath laid by P S Cilliers, mayor of Britstown.


In 1903 a British statesman met an Afrikaner delegation and some farmers on a train at a Karoo railway siding. The place was Rosmead, 12 km east of Middelburg and the statesman was colonial administrator Joseph Chamberlain. He visited South Africa between December 26. 1902 and February 25, 1903, seeking to promote Anglo-Afrikaner conciliation by meeting people in the newly unified South Africa and discussing a colonial contribution to the Empire. In February he met an Afrikaner delegation and the Albert Farmers Association on a train at Rosmead. Each delegation was seated at opposite ends of a coach. This oddly represented the deep divisions across the country, states Pat Gibbs in his PhD thesis Coal Capital: The Shaping Of Social Relations in the Stormberg. “A man named Veerasamy, from the largely marginalised Indian group, provided catering for this meeting, thus completing the metaphor,” says Pat.


Some time ago Prince Albert historian Dick Metcalf, an avid explorer of old mountain passes, wagon, post coach and transport routes and keen follower of the paths of the explorers, found Hendrik Swellengrebel’s diary on the internet. He worked hard at translating it, then, to his surprise, when finished, discovered that Professor Gerrit Schutte from the Van Riebeeck Society had just done the same and that the book had been published by Historical Publications. Dick’s next surprise came when Margaret Lourens found a pile of books in a room that had been closed up since about 1969. She asked Dick to take a look at some motor car books and right on top was book with name Schumacher on it. “ Not the racing driver,” he said, “But Johannes  Schumacher the free-lance artist who did the aquarelles for explorers like Gordon, Swellengrebel and Van Plettenberg in the 1770`s.” Only 550 copies of this book were printed from  the Swellengrebel [private] collection and Margaret found nine copies, six of which were still in their postage wrapping. “These have 56 Aquarelles each and they tie up perfectly with the book Swellengrebel in Afrika. Dick set off to photograph modern-day versions of the depicted scenes. “I still have a way to go,” he says. “While trying to photograph the Simonstown scene, I found that the artist had gone to four different spots to see the views depicted. I weas surprised to discovered that the book Historical  Simon`s Town shows almost exactly the same picture as that of Schumacher on pages 24/25, but this is attributed to Du Bois (1763). The only difference is the position of the three ships in the bay and the flags they are flying. This just proves just how exciting travelling through history can be.”


Middelburg-born Colin Turpin made a name for himself in law. He was the son of William Conyngham Turpin, the chemist who put the town on the map with his range of pharmaceutical products (Round-up March, 2021). From Miss EM Wallis’s private school Colin moved on to Middelburg Primary and St Andrew’s Anglican School in Grahamstown. After matriculating in 1944, he taught at St Mark’s Anglican School in Mbabane, Swaziland, until enrolling at the University of Cape Town, He graduated with an LLB in 1950, went to England to further his studies at Cambridge University and there obtained an LLM in 1953. He studied and rowed at Christ’s College. He was elected a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, in 1961. Colin was a leading authority on Constitutional Law and wrote widely on this subject. His work was said to be original, luminous, precise, and well researched, displaying wide vision. He lectured on Roman Law, Advanced Roman Law, Constitutional and Administrative Law, French Law and Government Contracts and only stopped supervising in Constitutional Law at the age of 80. Colin served Cambridge Law Faculty in many capacities, including secretary of the degree committee and editor of the Cambridge Law Journal. Colleagues and students remember him with affection, awe and deep respect. Colin was married to Monique for over 60 years. They had four children.


On February 1, 1854, J S Reed and Company announced, in the Graaff-Reinet Herald, that they were prepared to carry passengers and parcels on their mail carts. Passenger tariffs, either way, was £4 10s and each passenger would be allowed to carry 10lbs luggage, but all fares had to be paid in advance. The charge for parcels was 1s 6d per lb. All parcels had to be pre-paid and none could be more than 10lbs in weight. Groups of parcels were not to exceed 40lbs. The contractors reserved the right to refuse to take any passengers, in case of a heavy mail. All bookings had to be done at G Hurford’s Post Office in Graaff-Reinet or Reed’s offices in Port Elizabeth where parcels would also be received. The contractors warned against sending letters or newspapers in parcels on their mail carts and emphasised that there was a heavy fine for doing so.

Imagination is more important than knowledge.  Knowledge is limited; imagination encircles the world- Einstein