South African National Parks (SANParks) and World Wide Fund (WWF) are working together to create a new national park in Eastern Cape. It will be located in the mountains near the Lesotho border and close to Naude’s Nek pass, which at 2500m is one of South Africa’s highest lying roads This new NE Cape Grasslands National Park will cover a 30 000ha protected area. “The aim is to contribute towards the conservation of grasslands and water security,” explained SANParks acting CEO Dr Luthando Dziba. “The NE Cape Grasslands National Park will take a somewhat different form to traditional parks, in that the landowners will have the opportunity, through stewardship, to incorporate their land in the park on a voluntary basis. As such, they also stand to benefit from a range of financial incentives for private and communal land that is formally protected.” He added that owing to its rugged and unspoilt landscape, the national park has potential for adventure and cultural tourism. “We thus can’t wait to see this project coming to fruition.”


A top British journalist and war correspondent, G W (GeorgeWarrington) Steevens, said that travelling into the Karoo was like ascending a “dusty stairway leading to the highlands of South Africa”. In From Cape Town to Ladysmith – An Unfinished Record of the South African War, he wrote, “Now we were climbing into the vast desert of the Karroo, the dusty stairway that leads on to the highlands of South Africa. Once you have seen one desert, all the others are like it; and yet once you have loved the desert, each is lovable in a new way. In the Karroo you seem to be going up a winding ascent, like the ramps that lead to an Indian fortress. You are ever pulling up an incline between hills, making for a corner round one of the ranges. You feel that when you get round that corner you will at last see something: you arrive and only see another incline, two more ranges, and another corner—surely this time with something to arrive at beyond. You arrive and arrive, and once more you arrive—and once more you see the same vast nothing you are coming from. Believe it or not, that is the very charm of a desert—the unfenced emptiness, the space, the freedom, the unbroken arch of the sky. It is forever fooling you, and yet you forever pursue it. And then, it is only to the eye that cannot do without green that the Karroo is unbeautiful. Every other colour meets others in harmony—tawny sand, silver-grey scrub, crimson-tufted flowers like heather, black ribs of rock, puce shoots of screes, violet mountains in the middle distance, blue fairy battlements guarding the horizon. And above all broods the intense purity of the South African azure—not a coloured thing, like the plants and the hills, but sheer colour existing by and for itself.”

Note: At the end of the end of the 19th century Steevens was the most eulogised and possibly the most influential journalist and war correspondent in Britain. Yet, he did not have a military background. Many of his family members were Plymouth Bretheren. When Steevens was a boy his main ambition was to become a greengrocer; then he won a scholarship. Kitchener described him as “a model correspondent, the best I have ever known”.


Montagu Book Festival – September 23-26 – More from Montagu- Ashton Tourism –; Richmond’s Book Bedonnerd Book Festival – October 27 – 30. The Booktown The Self Publishers Awards Gala dinner and presentations will again be part of this year’s festivities. For more check


Impressionist artist Nita Spilhaus loved the dry, dusty, barren Karoo. The limitless space, emptiness, silence and quiet and beauty of the region particularly appealed to her and with her palette-knife technique, she was able to capture the romantic spirit, magic and colours of the area. Her great-nephew, Peter Elliott, is the first person to compile a serious study of her work as it relates to the Cape Town art scene of the early 20th century. In this beautifully illustrated book, simply entitled Nita Spilhaus, Peter discusses her relationship with a small group of prolific and productive impressionist artists. “She was one of the very first woman professional artists in South Africa,” he says. “Her most active artistic period was from about 1910 to 1925, when she was one of a close-knit group who worked and exhibited together.” Born Pauline Augusta Wilhelmina Spilhaus, she was the daughter of Christian Ludwig Karl Spilhaus and Virginia Augusta Coelho, who died when she was born. Her siblings were Virginia Henriette and Karl Antonio. She was raised by her grandfather and she studied art in Munich and Dachau, where she showed a love for moorland landscapes. She furthered her studies at the private art school of Friedrich Fehr.


In 1908, after the death of her grandfather, Nita decided to come to South Africa to join her brother’s and uncle’s families. Both were well-known businessmen. This move from the hub of European art was a culture shock, however, she gradually made friends and established herself as a leading member of the local artistic community. Peter Elliott’s book contains wonderful vignettes of the circle of Cape artists whom she befriended. Among these were J S Morland, Moses Kottler, Allerley Glossop, Ruth Prowse, Pieter Wenning Constance Penstone, Edward Roworth, Churchill Mace, Hugo Naude and Florence Zerffi, who nursed her back to health during the 1918 ‘flu pandemic. Nita married Dr Ernst Simon, an osteologist, in 1921. In 1940, she travelled to the Karoo with her family to view a total eclipse of the sun which happened on Tuesday, October 1 and which was said to have “dramatically plunged the sun into darkness for 5 minutes and 35 seconds.” This spectacle was observed in a broad path up to 218km wide. During this trip theyvisited her brother’s farm. She painted a small watercolour, Fraserburg, on this trip, all the time chatting to her niece while she worked on it at the side of the road. She later gave it to her niece and inscribed it in remembrance of this trip. Nita later also captured clouds and a Karoo sunset sky, in a painting entitled Karoo Scene. The book is available from Clarke’s Bookshop, Select Books and Africana Books. More from Peter Elliott at


In addition to being a respected businessman Nita’s uncle Arnold Wilhelm Spilhaus was also a recognised amateur botanist, He collected plants during the 1870s for the Lübeck Museum. By 1919 he was a life member of the SA Botanical Society. His was a keen hiker and a founder member of the Mountain Club of SA. He was also an early patron of South African art. He spoke several European languages fluently and had wide cultural interests. Towards the end of his life published some entertaining philosophical pamphlets. The son of Christian Ludwig Carl Spilhaus and his wife, Caroline Henriette, he was born in Wassner. He served a four-year apprenticeship at a wholesale firm before joining Lippert Brothers, which had interests in South African. In 1869 Lippert sent him to this country to investigate furthering its business opportunities. This assignment took him as far as the Zambezi River. In September 1871 he opened a branch for Lippert in Cape Town and managed it until December, 1876, when he opened his own business. Early in 1873 he married Lydia Mary Sedgwick. They had 3 sons and 4 daughters.


Spilhaus joined Herbert Wilman of Beaufort West,to founded Wilman, Spilhaus & Co. Originally it traded mainly in wool, hides and imported products, but later acquired other interests, including diamonds and agricultural machinery. Spilhaus’s work for the firm regularly took him on journeys inland to buy produce. Wilman decided to retire towards the end of 1895. Spilhaus took over and changed the company name to Wm Spilhaus & Co. Having decided to remain in South Africa he became a British subject in 1891. In July 1915 the firm was made a limited liability company and he became governing director, while two of his sons and a son-in-law were directors. When Walker & Hall Ltd of Sheffield, the first British firm to use the system of silver plating by electrolysis closed its local operation, Spilhaus took it over, opened a showroom in 1934 and this was the beginning of Spilhaus, which is still a trusted name in business today. Generations of South Africans have purchased cutlery, crystal, stemware and giftware from this company. Arnold Wilhelm died at the age of 100.


In 1900 during the Anglo-Boer War two Victoria Crosses were awarded for bravery in action near the little Northern Cape town of Van Wyksvlei. The recipients were Henry James Knight and Harry Hampton. Henry, who was born in Yeovil, Somerset, on November 5, 1878 was christened James Huntley Knight, but for some reason he changed his name to Henry James Knight when he enlisted. His VC was thus awarded under his “new” name. Henry enlisted with the 1st Battalion, King’s (Liverpool) Regiment. On arrival this regiment became part of No 1 Company, 4th Division of the Mounted Infantry. Within a year of his arrival Henry was involved in action which led to the award of the VC. The London Gazette, of January 4, 1901, reported that on the August 21,1900, during operations near Van Wykvlei, Corporal Knight was posted in some rocks with four men covering the right rear of a detachment under Captain Ewart. “While holding the right of the line the enemy, about 50 strong, attacked Captain Ewart’s right and almost surrounded Corporal Knight’s small party. The enemy was firing at short range, but Knight held his ground. He directed his party to retire one by one to better cover. He maintained his position for nearly an hour, covering the withdrawal of Captain Ewart’s force, and losing two of his four men. He then retired, bringing with him two wounded men. One of these he left in a safe place, the other he carried to safety across a distance of nearly two miles.” Henry was invested with his medal on June 8, 1902 in Pretoria by Lord Kitchener, Commander-in-Chief, of the Forces in South Africa.


Harry Hampton, a sergeant in the 2nd Battalion of The Kings (Liverpool) Regiment, was born in Crown Terrace, Richmond, London on December 14, 1870. He was nominated for the VC during the same engagement on August 21,1900. Harry, who was in command of a small party of mounted infantry, held an important position for some time against heavy odds. When compelled to retire he saw all his men to safety, and then, although he had himself been wounded in the head, supported Lance-Corporal Walsh, who was unable to walk, until the Walsh was hit again and killed. Shortly after this Harry was again wounded, but managed to make it to safety. He received the decoration from King Edward VII during an investiture at St James’s Palace on December 17, 1901. Henry James Knight’s VC is on display at the Museum of the King’s Regiment, in Liverpool, but the whereabouts of Harry Hampton’s decoration is unknown.


Van Wyksvlei, which was founded in 1881, is a small Northern Cape town 149km east of Brandvlei, and about 100km west of Prieska. Most roads in this remote area are untarred. The town was named after Van Wyk, a local farmer, on whose land it was laid out. The Afrikaans suffix “vlei” meaning marsh or wetland was added, but this is quite odd because the town is situated in the heart of the Dorsland (Thirstland), one of the driest places in South Africa. The first state-funded dam in South Africa was built here in 1882. There are some interesting San rock engravings on the farm Springbokoog, which may be viewed on appointment.


Garwood Alston, a surveyor who came to the Cape in about 1856, also collected plants, insects and other natural history specimens and published some meteorological papers. The eldest son of Edward John Alston and his wife, Mary Kenningvale, he was born in Great Bromley, Essex, on May 13, 1838. In 1860 he married Elizabeth de Witt, with whom he had eleven children. He moved to Van Wyksvlei and acquired the farm, Boterlergte. In 1861 he drew up a plan for a new postal route between Cogmanskloof and Seweweekspoort. The high quality of his work led to frequent government contracts and important surveys over a period of 40 years. In 1894 he surveyed the boundaries of a proposed Bushmanland Game Reserve just south of the Orange River and west of Pella mission station. Nothing came of this proposal. Oddly his survey showed the river up to 14 km further north than indicated on existing maps. In 1880 he submitted plans to the government for an irrigation dam at Van Wyksvlei. These plans were approved and the dam, built between 1882 and 1884, became the first state-funded dam in the country. Garwood had some experience in civil engineering and the dam, over 300m long with walls almost 10m high, was constructed from gravel and clay. From 1884 he and his sons managed the resulting agricultural settlement and by 1886 had developed about 600ha of irrigated lands. In 1886 Colonial Botanist, P. MacOwan obtained seeds of the Australian salt bush and sent them to Garwood for testing at Van Wyksvlei. These testplantings were most successful and by 1893 seeds were distributed to farmers across South Africa. Known as Alston’s Salt Bush it became an important fodder plant in the Karoo.


Way back a fairly large Jewish community lived in the area around Wolwefontein, a little village, railway station and trading centre between Jansenville and Steytlerville in the Uitenhage district. In the early days this little village also had a postal order office, as well as a telegraph and telephone agency. The first Jew to move into this area, according to the magazine Jewish Life, was Edmond Nathan. He settled in Waterford and later, in 1896, married Nancy Moss of Jansenville. The ceremony, which was conducted by Port Elizabeth’s Hebrew Congregation’s marriage officer A M Jackson, took place in the home of Mrs Streak in Uitenhage. Another resident of area was Abraham Franch from Kolmy in Russia. He settled in Kleinpoort in 1896 and applied for naturalisation in 1899. Forty-four-year-old Phineas Berghaus and his 23-year-old son Elias, who had arrived from Konstantinovo in Lithuania in 1897, who also settled in Waterford area, applied for naturalisation in 1904 and so did Isaac Gershon Globas, from Vilna in Lithuania. He worked as a store clerk in the Klein Winterhoekberge area. Harry Kussel and a Mr Adler set up a general dealer’s partnership in 1906 to deal in wool, mohair, ostrich feathers and livestock. Three years later Harry gave up his share of this partnerhip and went farming. Over the years these people gathered and socialized at the Wolwefontein Hotel.


Chaya and Abraham Glazer bought the Wolwefontein Hotel and adjacent store in 1909. Together with their sons, Hyman and Judah Meyer, they quickly improved the properties and built up viable businesses. They bought adjoining stands, added a manual petrol pump and were soon providing many other essential services to the town’s people. The family acquired several farms across the district and these were run by Judah Meyer. Hyman headed the business side of the family’s operations and employed many young bachelors who emigrated from Eastern Europe. This made Glazers a popular shopping venue for mothers with marriageable daughters. By 1922 Glazer and Company were widely known, highly respected general dealers, hoteliers and produce buyers. By 1934 the Glazers had stores and postal agencies at Greystone, Kleinpoort and Jansenville. From the outset the Wolwefontein Hotel played a key role within the Jewish community in this area. Religious services such as Pesach, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur were regularly conducted by Judah Meyer. In the congregation were the families of Max Factor, Louis Trapido, Jack Miltz and Philip and Charlie Lande. By 1957 there were still four Jewish families living in Jansenville, Waterford and Wolwefontein The hotel remained in the family until Hyman died in 1971, when it was closed. Years later it reopened as a game lodge.


Australia sent 43,000 light wiry horses to South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War. None returned. The army were mounted on animals drawn from across the world. Among them were horses from Canada, New Zealand; great round-hipped English chargers, squat, short-legged, big hipped, “mongel” Argentinian horses with bad shoulders and arched necks – 90% of these horses so closely resembled each other that if a soldier lost one there was very little chance of identifying it among the others – and then, there were the wonderful little Burmese ponies. These were considered the most marvellous arrivals at the front. Ridden by the Burmese Mounted Infantry these thirteen hand high animals could carry a man and his gear, weighing seventeen stone, from daylight till dark, day after day, on a diet of a few handfuls of mealies. “They were so small that if they fell into an ant-bear hole they disappeared altogether .” said the Australian Journal. The website states that 360,000 horses out of a total of 519,000 were shipped to South Africa as well as 106,000 mules and donkeys out of a total of 151,000. The number of horses killed in the war was at the time unprecedented in modern warfare. For example, in the Relief of Kimberley, French’s cavalry rode 500 horses to death in a day. It was said that the average life expectancy of a British horse, from the time of arrival in Port Elizabeth, was around six weeks.


Army horses were divided into three classes – cavalry horses, mounted infantry horses, and gun horses. The cavalry horses were the most difficult to acquire. They needed to be strong enough to carry a cavalry saddle with full equipment weighing about 45kg, and a man of 75 to 120kg. With this weight on their backs, these horses were expected to move from place to place at the rate of 15k an hour. The army needed two classes of gun horses – field battery horses and horses for the Royal Artillery. The former needed to be heavier than the latter. Generally “gun horses” needed to be active and able to go at a great pace, carry a man and, at the same time, drag a gun. Then, it was said that a first-class carriage horse made an ideal mount for the Royal Artillery.

Success in not final; failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts – Winston Churchill