AN ODE TO THE KAROO

Hidden Karoo, in 300 pages of true beauty, takes readers on an extensive journey across the vast plains allowing them to discover the true magic of the Karoo in all its forms. Patricia Kramer’s passion for historic architecture shines through the entire book. A palaeolithic archaeologist, she has spent much time recording South Africa’s historic buildings, particularly those in danger of collapse or demolition, In a series of photo-essays, she tells of conservation and neglect and poses the question of what the future holds. Alain Proust’s excellent photographs, capture the beauty of the modern-day land with its flat-topped mountains, scrubby bushes, conical hills and endless vistas, but this book offers much more than excellent photography. It takes readers back in time revealing the intriguing history of this captivating dryland. The Dutch reformed churches, true icons of the region, reigning proudly over villages where many old houses seem beyond repair. Kramer also looks at farms, early settlers, old hotels, homes and businesses that sprang as people moved into the interior particularly along the railway network, which allowed the true Victorian village of Matjiesfontein to come to life. Trains brought visitors from across the world to visit what was possibly South Africa’s earliest spa. The private museum here is always worth a visit. The route continues through Touws Rivier across the plains and ever northwards to Beaufort West. The spotlight then falls on the stunning Swartberg range and villages like Prince Albert, that nestle in its shadow. Then it’s on to places like Willowmore, the plains of Camdeboo, the Sneeuberg mountains, Nieu Bethesda with its world-famous Owl House, Aberdeen and Middelburg to the wonders of historic Graaff Reinet with its wealth of historic buildings and its Gothic revival DRC, loosely based on Salibury Cathedral. The book allows a glimpse of the wild frontier wars of the 19th century. It moves on through Cradock, Somerset East, Richmond, Hanover and Colesberg, each with their own intriguing tale to tell. Lesser-known historic spots, like Deelfontein, form part of the mix. There, during the Anglo Boer War, two high society British women created the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital. This singularly exclusive hospital, was the largest surgical and convalescent facility of its kind ever created by the British Army. It was also the most expensive Before its coming there was nothing on this plain and when the war was over there again was nothing. Hidden Karoo covers small towns like Williston, Fraserburg, Loxton, Victoria West and Carnarvon, the SKA, the world’s largest radio telescope, and the corbelled houses. Moving westward it takes in the Hantam and Tankwa Karoo, tiny isolated places like Loerisfontein, Nieuwoudtvillle, Calvinia and Sutherland before moving on to the orchards, vineyards and charming towns like Calitzdorp, Ladismith, Montagu and historic Oudtshoorn in the Klein Karoo. The book, features a colour-coded map, but sadly lacks an index. It is published by Struik Lifestyle.

NOUPOORT TO THE RESCUE

The Karoo recently came to the rescue of a young lad in Perth, Australia. A recent HASS (Humanities and Social Studies) assignment, required Felix Hauri to choose a specific town in any country, anywhere in the world, draw a map of the area, and to create a timeline of historic events covering the last 200 years of the town’s existence. He was then required to discuss the historic, economic, agricultural and cultural development of the town, as well as its tourism potential and, in this profile, include the history of three notable people who had lived in the town or surrounds. While browsing the internet he came across the cameo on Noupoort on the Karoo Development Foundation website and that had it all in a nutshell. It turned out to be the perfect resource and gained him as pat on the back from his moderator, who was entranced by the cameos. “What I love most about them is the original research, plus the wealth of information that has been distilled into clear readable English. I had never heard of Noupoort, but being a geographer the information was sufficient to allow me to transport myself directly to this little village and to want to visit the place. Australia has hundreds of little towns, villages and hamlets, but no one has dealt with an area (i e the Karoo) in this way,” he said.

A VETERAN CAMPAIGNER

Several dogs saw “service” in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War. One of these was veteran campaigner, Drummer, the famous war dog of the Northumberland Fusiliers. He was the only dog Lord Methuen allowed to accompany his column. Drummer came out with the first regiments. He was present at Magersfontein, where his owner, Major George Ray, assistant correspondent for The Times and son of the regiment’s surgeon, Colonel Sydney Ray, was killed. Drummer, who was once wounded in the shoulder, shared in the relief of Kimberley, where Cecil John Rhodes gave him a biscuit. Queen Victoria signified her intention of giving him a medal when he returned, but the War Office objected, and the gallant Drummer had to be content with miniature medals and clasps, for Diamond Hill, Johannesburg, Paardeberg, Driefontein, Relief of Kimberley, Belmont, and Modder River. Drummer also saw “foreign service” in Gibraltar, the Egyptian Campaign, Battle of Omdurman and the pacification of Crete. After going through three campaigns he was poisoned in Colchester, At the time Colonel Ray was the principal medical officer at the military hospital, reported the Evening Express, of Thursday January 23, 1902. The “Dogs Annual” for 1900 was dedicated to Drummer, and contained a eulogistic article.

ANOTHER GOOD BOY

Jock, was another regimental dog who served in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War. He joined the 1st Battalion Scots Guards regiment when it was sent in November, 1899. On his return from the front he was stationed at Windsor where, attached to his collar, he proudly sported a South African medal, with bars for battles at which he was present, i.e. Belmont, Modder River, Driefontein, Johannesburg, Diamond Hill, and Belfast. Jock, who invariably followed the battalion into action, always barked when he saw a Boer, stated the Nottingham Evening Post ,of Tuesday May 19, 1903.

‘SOLDIERED’ ON THROUGH MANY LIVES

When the 3rd Victorian Bushmen Corps returned to Melbourne, Australia, after the Anglo-Boer War, they brought with them a beautiful rough collie named Bushie. Back home he was given a “saddle” with a silver plate inscribed: “I am the Bushmen’s dog – whose dog are you?” When the Bushmen were on their way to South Africa, they met Bushie after he was severely stabbed by a sailor and left for dead. When they disembarked in Beira, they took him with them even though it was predicted that he would not survive. But, he did. He accompanied the Corps through the then Rhodesia, where tse-tse flies and the ticks would have killed a lesser “soldier”. At one stage Bushie was so badly infested with ticks that both hind legs became paralysed. He was then put into a baggage wagons. Two months later, during a severe engagement, he was lost. After a while he turned up in the ranks of a Scottish regiment, and, “served” with them until he fell into the hands of the Boers. They decided to keep him, but he managed to escape. After a long and lonely journey of over 150 miles, he managed to rejoin the Scots reported the Hull Daily Mail, of Wednesday, July 17, 1901. Soon after that he was captured and made a prisoner of war. Again he managed to escape. He joined the Wiltshires, who were on their way to join the Bushmen near Noupoort. In the turmoil during the pursuit of De Wet, Bushie was wounded. One of his old Bushmen comrades found him with a bullet wound in the chest. To everyone’s amazement he fully recovered fully and “soldiered” off with them again on the rest of their campaign. It was later discovered that Bushie’s parents were highly pedigreed and winners of numerous prizes.

A CANINE WHO WON HIS CASE

An most unusual case was heard in heard in the Dublin magistrate’s court in 1903. The prosecution was led on behalf of a bulldog, considered to be the most distinguished canine in the country. He had once belonged to General Philip Botha, but in September, 1900, the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles Mounted Infantry,captured him on the general’s farm and thereafter he served with them. Wearing a coat with green facings and displaying the Queen’s South African medal with three clasps, and the King’s South African medal with two clasps he faced the defendant, Ernest Warmingham, canteen manager at the Royal Irish Rifles Barracks. Warmingham was charged with cruelly, kicking and beating the dog, who belonged to Colour-Sergeant Edwards. Edwards told the court of the bulldog’s bravery. He said the dog had “marched” with General French and been wounded during one campaign – Edwards and pointed to a scar.. Edwards stated that after missing his dog from barracks, he searched and found it “in a very bad state, bleeding badly from wounds on the legs and head”. Several people claimed to have seen Warmingham violently thrashing the bulldog with a stick. Warmingham claimed that the bulldog had attacked his dog, an Irish terrier. The court considered that “gross and unnecessary violence had been used” and fined Warmingham £1, with costs reported the Evening Express, December 16. 1903.

FATAL CROWS IN THE NIGHT

Dr Frederick J W Porter, joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) in 1891 as a captain. At the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War he sailed for South Africa on October 22, 1899. His detailed day-to-day experiences were captured in a series of letters to his wife. These began on the day he set sail and continues until he was carried off the battlefield on April 4, 1901, to be treated for fever. These letters give a vivid and, at times .most amusing picture of the war and his life as a field surgeon. They describe operations and detail treatments. Porter was a dedicated doctor, but not lacking a sense of the absurd. He writes: “October 13, 1900. 1 didn’t sleep a wink all night. First of all the dogs began to bark in the nearby location, then the moon rose and cocks began to crow. To my horror, one of my cocks also began to crow like blazes and threatened to wake up the whole camp. This was awful, so I got up, went out and wrung his neck. Half an hour later one of the hens started a row, so I went out and killed her too. I thought that this was the end of it, but it was not to be. I had two more cocks and they started up after a bit. The result was no sleep, and four corpses in the morning …” After recovering from the fever, Porter was given command of the Medical Division at Bloemfontein General Hospital. He was later seconded to the S A Constabulary on July 1,1901,promoted to the rank of major in 1903 and served until 1905.

AT LEAST WEAR A GOWN

Throughout the war Porter wore a “cholera belt”. Like many doctors he believed cholera could be prevented if the abdomen was kept warm. The rest of his gear was “standard” and as described by Joseph Bryant in Operative Surgery, published in 1900. Bryant stated that the most suitable dress for an operating room surgeon was a long rubber apron covered with a freshly sterilized, short-sleeved, white linen gown, which reached to the feet, This could be supplemented by pinning a sterilized towel moistened with antiseptic fluid in front. “Each assistant should wear, at the least, a gown,” said Bryant, who recommended “a change of the underwear as a refinement”. He added that this was not commonly practiced, but “it adds much to the comfort of the surgeon.” Porter believed in the anti-typhoid vaccine which had been perfected by 1899. Inoculation, however, was entirely voluntary. No records were kept because the authorities concluded that the vaccine was of no value.

NO FAITH IN INNOCULATION

Many had no faith in the typhoid vaccine. On his way to Noupoort Corporal P T Ross, 69th Sussex Company, Imperial Yeomanry, wrote that he had overheard two RAMC doctors, bound for the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein, discussing the “ghastly failure, inoculation”. In A Yeoman’s Letters Ross said: “One proclaimed: ‘Inoculation is bally tommy-rot!’ The other said: ‘Tommy rot, indeed, it nearly killed me!’ And then the first, again added: “It’s a fact, the unnecessary suffering endured by the poor beggars who allowed this experiment to be performed upon them, with the hope of spoofing the fever fiend, has been great and strangely in many cases, the inoculated have been the first victims’.”

UNUSUAL RIFLE CORPS A HIT

The Wellington Amazons gained prominence after performing at a fête held by Lady Douglas at Government House in March, 1900. This Ladies Rifle Corps, wore modified versions of troops’ uniform – possibly inspired by the attire worn by Lady Sarah Wilson, who came to South Africa as a war correspondent. The women appointed themselves to a range of military ranks states the Black and White Budget of May 26, 1900. Under instruction from military officers, they drilled with model rifles obtained from school cadet supplies and rode decorated bicycles. Their popularity led to the creation of female ‘khaki corps’ around the country. Composed mainly of ‘society women,’ they became a popular attraction at fundraising events around New Zealand.

SOMETHING NEW AND DELICIOUS

In 1950, according to the June 4 issue of Cape and Natal News, rhubarb was considered something “new and wonderful”. The newspaper reported that a Mr Upjohn was advertising rhubarb plants for sale, while Mr Hart, of Glen Avon, had been supplying this “delicious vegetable” to friends for years. He had brought in the first seeds for sale at the Somerset Fair. He also cultivated gooseberries, currants, and cherries with great success. His black heart cherry trees had been sent to the colony by Mr Vetch, of Exeter, in Kent and had done particularly well. “The fruits of  Glen Avon are unequalled in the colony, as no expense or trouble has been spared to bring them to perfection,” wrote the newspaper. It went on to discuss iron and said “Generally speaking the district is rich and getting richer. Iron roofs for houses, mahogany furniture, pianos and such things are all the rage now, and the wagon chests and veld stoeltjes are rapidly going out of fashion,”

NOT MUCH RESPECT FOR ‘MEESTERS

In mid-1800s and 1900s farmers employed itinerant meesters to educate their children. These men were not very highly regarded. In 1865 a Cape newspaper reported that only “very low-class persons found employment as a meester”, adding that it was the “very lowest occupation” to which an unfortunate wretch could apply himself. “A man can go no lower – even smouses (pedlars) meet with more consideration.” It added a plea for respectable and competent teachers. “Not the worthless, weak, indolent men with vicious propensities who have made teaching their avocation. These vagabond Hollanders, runaway Englishmen, all deserters, absconders and others of a similar ilk, do more harm than good. They are in every way unfit to teach.” A Burghersdorp newspaper cited the case of Alfred Francis who had been employed by a Mr du Plessis. “He was so poor that Du Plessis had supplied him with clothes but, soon after that Francis had then stolen a horse and made off. He was arrested in a house at the lower end of town, with some dubious females.” A Colesberg newspaper said: “not one in fifty meesters is qualified to teach. Most are broken-down, old soldiers, sailors or stewards of varying bad habits, who can have no good influence either intellectually or morally on young children.” The meesters were usually employed for about six months at a salary of 30 to 40 shillings a month. They were expected to help with farm work, minding the lambs, making halters and riems or mending chairs and saddles, states Colin Bundy in an article on runaways and vagabonds.

A GENIUS WORTH HIS WEIGHT IN GOLD

During the Anglo-Boer War, British education secretary, Edmund Beale Sargant, was the driving force behind the establishment of schools at the concentration camps. He had formed opinions on education and imperial unity while travelling across the dominions. The South African camps gave him the opportunity to put these views into practice. The first concentration camp school was established at Norval’s Pont in late January 1901. Its success motivated him to extend the process over the whole concentration camp system and Lord Milner credited him as being a “genius educationalist worth his weight in gold”. Emily Hobhouse also approved of the schools which she called “the only bright spot in the camp life”. Millicent Fawcett’s Ladies’ Committee hailed them “amongst the most cheerful features of the camps”. Attendance was voluntary. There can be little doubt that these schools had political overtones and that they represented the ideal opportunity to institute Milner’s Anglicization project. states Cheryl S le Roux in Creating a British World in Yesterday &Today, July 2016.

ANSWERED THE CALL TO TEACH

The War Office decided that an initial quota of 100 British teachers was required for the concentration camp schools. So, in November, 1901, the government advertised across the country for experienced female teachers to serve in the camps in South Africa. The number was later increased by another 100 and between January and March, 1902, a similar advertisement was placed in newspapers in Australia and Canada, seeking 40 teachers and New Zealand, seeking 20. The response was significant. In Canada over 1000 women applied, in Australia there were over 350 applicants, and in New Zealand, 20 were selected from 222 applications. Maud Graham was one of four Canadian teachers deployed to Norval’s Pont. She states that there was already six English teachers working there when she arrived. A Dutch assistant helped her take roll call as she struggled to pronounce the children’s names. On her arrival a class of 300 was divided. She ended up teaching 130 children

GRAAFF REINET’S CHILD SERVANTS

Soon after Sir George Grey took over as governor of the Cape Colony in 1854 he discovered that there was an intense labour shortage. He began to encourage immigration. Among the first to arrive in the mid-1850s was a group of about 75 immigrants who found jobs as labourers in Graaff-Reinet. At the time servants were in short supply and there was a great need for young people to help clean, do housework, look after children and the like. Also, larger cattle herds on the farms meant that more and reliable help was needed in that field.. Most farms were not yet fenced, and while some farmers had as many as three cattle stations, animals still had to be brought in to the kraals at night. This led to a local Dutch teacher, Myndeert Noome, deciding to “import” child servants – Dutch boys and girls of between 12 and 14 – from poor families and orphanages. The first group arrived in Graaff-Reinet in December, 1856, and this was so successful that another arrived in December, 1958. In total Noome “imported” over 100 youngsters to Graaff-Reinet, but they vanished into history and not much is known about them. Between 1858 to 1861 a total of 3832 immigrants were recruited in England, Scotland and Ireland for the Cape Colony to alleviate the shortage of skilled workers. Many were stone masons.


Nothing is permanent in this world— not even our troubles – Charles Chaplin