The first recorded grant of a section of land in the Maitland area was made during the first decades of the British colonial occupation at the Cape.
The farm, named ‘Varsche Vallei’ was a loan farm granted by the then-Governor of the Cape, Lord Charles Somerset to M.J. La Cock at 30 rixdollars per annum. The farm covered 826 morgen and encompassed the area now known as Wingfield. [De Vries, 1991]
The well-known fossil of the extinct Cape zebra, Equus capensis was found in 1909 embedded in the sandy limestone of the area. It apparently derived from a former land deposit now lying below sea-level and presumably of the Middle or Upper Pleistocene age.
Did you know?
- The town was named after Sir Peregrine Maitland, Governor of the Cape (1844—47) It was proclaimed a separate municipality in 1902, but was incorporated in the municipal area of Cape Town in 1913.
- Not many of us are aware that Maitland houses ‘De Nieuwe Molen’ or ‘new mill’, which is the oldest remaining mill in South Africa. Completed in 1782, it was built for the Burgher council who owned it until 1807. This tower mill, also the largest of its kind in the Cape, was declared a national monument in 1978.
- There also is an out-of-commission former Royal Navy Aerodrome called Wingfield in Maitland.
- The Maitland Cottage Home was opened for cases of bone tuberculosis among the non-White population. It was later moved to Newlands, where it did not confine itself to bone TB patients. It is now called Maitland Cottage Hospital.
Burying The Dead
Maitland is not only well-known for the largest cemetery in the Cape Province but for the large crematorium too.
As the town progressed and grew, so did the rail system at the Cape and on 13 February 1862 the railway line from Cape Town reached Maitland. In later years this was a significant milestone for the town as Maitland Station or Woltemade was the anchor railway station for the arrival of mourners at the cemetery.
“A Funeral Train starts from the Cape Town terminus at 3.35 pm every afternoon, and returns at 5 pm. Fare 1/” – thus reported the Cape Town Guide for 1897.
To serve the Maitland Cemetery the South African Railways introduced four new stations, namely, Cemetery No. 1, Cemetery No. 2, Cemetery No. 3 and Cemetery No. 4. For a period there was also a No. 1A. Unimaginative as these names were, they were nevertheless in keeping with the station called ‘Necropolis’ which had been established to serve the London Necropolis at Woking, and which was no doubt the model on which the Maitland Cemetery was based.
Cemetery No. 4 was that used by the non-European mourners, but as it was the furthest from town they had the shortest time in which to bury their dead, as they were the last to arrive and the earliest to have to catch the train back. Cemetery No. 3 was officially known for many years as ‘Cemetery Loop’ because there was a double line there which allowed trains to cross, and the engine of the Funeral Train to be re-positioned at the other end of the train for the return journey. At that time the railway beyond Salt River was single track.
Sir Thomas Upington and John X. Merriman (though he died at Stellenbosch) were buried in Maitland cemetery . So too, was Abraham Fischer, the only Prime Minister of the Orange River Colony and author, Olive Schreiner, who was originally buried at Maitland Cemetery but then later reinterred on the summit of Buffelskop, near Cradock.
When the Spanish Flu epidemic hit Cape Town in 1918, the month of October was known as ‘Black October’ as some days over 100 people were registered as dying. The internment registers bear witness to the ages and names of these people who died during this deadly pandemic – all buried at Maitland Cemetery. A total of 139 471 people died during this tragic period.
The War Years
In 1903 11,000,00 tons of hay were stored at Maitland from contractor Wilson and Worthington for fodder during the Anglo Boer war.
Holy Cross Convent in Maitland was started by the Catholic Missionary Sisters of the Holy Cross Congregation in 1910 and opened in an old farm building. The school offered boarding facilities to both primary and high school learners up to 1974 when a new primary school was built in a neighbouring suburb. The boarding school was forced to close in the 1980s due to the diminishing number of sisters.
Standard Encyclopaedia of South Africa
CABO – The journal of the Historical Society of Cape Town Vol. 5 No. 3 of 1992
Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 03 February 1900