RARE POTS FOUND IN PRINCE ALBERT

Two clay pots, typical of those used by early Khoekhoe (Hottentot) people, were recently found in the Prince Albert area after a heavy rainstorm. They had been washed out of a natural drainage channel at Waterkop smallholdings, on the outskirts of the village, and were discovered by Gareth Williams and his friend Willem Mathee, a student at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. One pot was intact and contained a dark glistening substance; the other had been broken into a number of large and small fire-blackened shards. The find greatly excited the archaeological world and Dr Judy Maguire, local palaeontologist, told the Prince Albert Friend that the intact pot was rare and immensely important, particularly because it still contained remnants of its contents. “I am sure that these pots date back to a century or two immediately preceding local European settlement,” she said. Judy added that in her 45-year association with caves, deposits, archaeology, archaeologists, digs and museums she had never before come across an intact pot, let alone one with contents. The Iziko Museum in Cape Town had 34 pots, with a history spanning almost 200 years, and only four of these were intact, said Judy. The contents were analysed by Judy’s husband, John Begg. a geologist and found to be magnetite. He said this naturally occurring iron ore might have been used for body ornamentation, trading or for ritualistic purposes.

THE MAGNETITE MYSTERY

John Begg explained: “The long crystals of magnetite were floated on water and used in olden times as compasses. It is, however, highly unlikely that the Khoi used the naturally occurring iron ore in this way. This then poses the extremely interesting question: What is a cache of magnetite doing in Prince Albert, what was it used for and where did they get it from?” Judy added that early travellers recorded the Khoekhoe custom of besmearing themselves with glistening mineral substances mixed with animal fat and of sprinkling it into their hair to make it shine. “For this they mostly used specularite, an even shinier form of iron, known to the Tswana as ‘sebilo’. In 1778 Wikar noted that the Brique traded up and down the Gariep with various groups of Khoi who wanted ‘shiny material’ for body adornment purposes.” Somerville noted this practice and so did Burchell. Magnetite has been found buried in clay pots in Namibia and along the southern Cape coast, but not previously in the Karoo. One of the Iziko museum pots, found in the Fraserburg area contained specularite,” said Judy. Specularite and magnetite filled pots had been found at pre-Christian cairn-marked Khoi sites, where bodies were buried in crouching, squatting and upright positions. Such pots formed part of the grave goods and this attested to their importance, she added.

FOLLOW HISTORY IN NEW BOOK

A new book for history lovers is on its way. Compiled by Gabriel Athiros and entitled The Cape Odyssey 101, this 192-page soft-cover, full colour publication, will contain 38 articles on early Cape history. Among them will be items on The Blue Antelope, Spectral Horsemen, A Lonely Karoo Monument, The northern highway, Olaf Bergh, Burchell, Meerhoff’s Castle, Van Plettenberg’s Beacon, The Chavonnes Battery, Hugo’s dream – the haunted house of Wellington, Ernest Quiller and the lady with the lamp as well as early Cape medical history. The publication also includes some Afrikaans articles including the early written language, an interesting legend of Riebeeck Kasteel, the Swartlanders and the British. The book will cost R200 including VAT and postage.

THE EXCITEMENT OF APPROACHING ‘THE FRONT’

On his journey up to Modder River during the Anglo-Boer War to investigate the situation in respect of typhoid, Dr Howard Tooth stopped to dine at Victoria Road and breakfast at De Aar. In a letter to his wife, he wrote: “We shall soon be at the Orange River and after that we will hear the sound of guns.” Orange River, he explained was a tiny station in the middle of a huge camp, with heaps of transport wagons, mules, oxen and soldiers in the last stages of “vagabondition,” and “sweating in the most awful way”. The officers too, he said, were covered in dust and dirt. “We had a filthy dinner in the refreshment room at “flaming prices”. He was astonished to find that soda water cost 1/- a bottle! “Lt Walsh and I have been shopping, buying biscuits and lemon juice. There is no place between here and Modder, which is about 4 hours away, to grub. All along the last 20 miles (32km) of line are camps of mounted infantry. They are patrolling all the way in little companies and singly scouting. At Modder we will see the night bombardment. From De Aar our train became ‘military transport’, so we no longer had guards or anything.” He found this slightly alarming, but quite exciting. “We have to shift for ourselves, so we have been lighting lamps, pumping water and generally making ourselves comfortable.”

THE BEAUTY OF ‘NIGHT BOMBARDMENT’

As Dr Howard Tooth and his companions neared Modder River, they saw flashes of night bombardment. He wrote. “It is a beautiful night with a half moon, and it has almost been difficult to realise we were so close to the theatre of a bloody war, but this really looks like a real war now.” He wrote of the “insane beauty” of the sparks and flashes that filled the night sky as the bombs hit and the camps signalled to each other by flashlight. As they chugged along past Grasspan they heard the sounds of a concert going on and strains of “My Old Dutch” filled the air as soldiers cheerily sung this ditty. A storm rolled up along the horizon and lightning started playing all around adding to the flashes of the night. And, then, nostalgically the sounds of bugles filled the air as they began sounding “lights out”.

ARRIVED AT LAST!

“Got here last night but had to sleep on the train.” wrote Dr Howard Tooth. “I got up at 5.30 and tramped over the great plain of sand to the guard’s hospital camp to introduce myself to the surgeon, Col MacGill, who was most kind and welcomed me heartily. I then had breakfast in the mess where everything was rough, but good.” He was allocated a tent and together with his servant quickly got it into “applepie order.” Then, he felt it was time for “a nice bath”, but just as he was about to step in a sand storm arrived. “I had to bolt and rushed to shut down the fly and sides of the tent as fast as I could. Then I held the door closed, but all to no avail. Down came a column of red sand and rain and in a moment the inside of my tent was covered with dust and red mud!” This hardly amused him – the sand storms of the Karoo were a great torment to this great doctor.

RIGHT BEHIND THE GUNS

Once he had calmed down again, Dr Howard Tooth wrote to his wife: “My bath came out of the Modder River, that winds round our camp. It is quite a sight to see men bathing in it all day, but it is full of typhoid, I am afraid. Nevertheless, I have had to filter it into my drinking bottle and shall have to drink it as there is nothing else. This great plain is a city of camps. There are at least 40 000 men here. Wherever you look you see tents. The heliograph flashes constantly. The guns have been going since early morning, a bombardment is expected this evening. I am going to ride up to our posts nearby to see the fun. Our guns are right in front of me and, with the naked eye, I can see the men walking about. At any moment an ambulance may be called out. Beyond are the greats hill of Magersfontein. They are covered with Boers, but we can’t see them. The Boers all around us except just on the railway line – a large force has to be sent down to guard that. If the Boers get some long-range guns to bear, we shall have to flee. My tent is right behind the guns, so a shell could easily reach me. We have been told to retreat to the river if shells burst in the camp. The area around the river will apparently afford good cover.”

RIVER SURVEY COST HIS LIFE

Albany farmer Thomas White was “no ordinary man”. He loved mathematics and land surveying and, in his youth, completed a highly acclaimed survey of the Island of Guadeloupe. So, it was hardly surprising that he was often called upon in South Africa to undertake accurate topographical surveys. Sadly, however, it was the love of this job that cost him his life. Thomas, a lieutenant in the British Army, saw action in the West Indies, but decided to retire on half pay and settle in South Africa. He came to this country with a party of 1820 settlers, first went to the Riversonderend area. He later moved to Albany, where he married Ann Damant and settled to farming. In time he became one of the most progressive farmers in the district and the first man to export Merino wool from the Eastern Cape, writes F C Metrowich in The Valiant But Once. Early on the morning of May 13, 1835, Thomas rode out with a scouting party from the Cape Mounted Rifles, to survey the course of the Bashee River. It was a calm and peaceful day, so he climbed to the top of a koppie to get a better view. The guards, delegated to go with him, did not keep a proper watch. They sat dozing in the warm sun. Thomas was so absorbed in sketching and measuring, that he also did not hear an approaching marauding band until it was too late. Suddenly men leapt out from behind some rocks and attacked him. Thomas reached for his gun and was only able to fire off one shot before being overpowered and killed. By the time Captain Ross and the rest of the party rushed to the summit it was too late. Thomas and the sentries were dead. The scouting party then struggled to dig graves. They had to use their bayonets as they had not brought any picks or spades.

DEVELOPED A HARDY STRAIN OF WHEAT

Thomas was a highly-respected, level-headed, well-liked and friendly man. He was often called upon to advise the Government on frontier affairs and this at times necessitated him having to travel to Britain. On one of these trips he visited several countries in Europe collecting wheat species. Back home he began experimenting with them and in time was able to breed a strain which did particularly well in the Eastern Cape. It became known as “White’s Wheat” and was widely planted throughout the area with great success. In 1827 Thomas took over the run down, poorly managed Table Farm and developed this into one of the most progressive farms in the district.

CIGARS TO MAKE THE DESERT SMILE

The Farmers Chronicle of May 13, 1887 reported that it was rumoured that the Honorable Thomas Brown, on conclusion of his coal contract, intended starting a cigar manufactory. “The silent hills around his homestead will soon resound with the clatter of a steam engine and the joyous laughter of merry maidens whom he intends to employ. This will make the desert smile again as there is nothing like local industry,” stated the newspaper

KILLED BY A SCORPION

In the 1890s James Simmons came to South Africa in search of a better life. He thought that he had found it in the employ of the Cape Colonial Railways. He served first as manager of the refreshment rooms at Fraserburg Road Station (Leeu Gamka) and later at Orange River Station. He found people in the latter area to be most friendly and they had welcomed his arrival. His world seemed perfect until the evening of Tuesday, April 12, 1892, when he chose to “take the air” and go for a stroll across the veld, states an article in the Queenstown Free Press. He never got that far. He stopped at a disused engine shed in a lonely part of the railway yard to chat to a friend. While leaning against the wall he felt a sharp pain in the fleshy part of one of his hands. He looked down and saw a scorpion scuttling off. He knew it had bitten him and he rushed off in search of help, but before he reached home his arm had begun to swell, his throat became constricted and he began to lose his vision. His friend, meanwhile, had rushed to the telegraph office to call the doctor from De Aar. He came and so did the doctor from Hopetown, but by then James was blind and could not speak. James died in great agony just after 11 o’clock that night. He was survived by his widow and two young children. Many people in the Karoo mourned his passing.

FIERCE WIND ROBS FARMER OF HIS LIFE

On Wednesday evening, April 19, 1853, a cross wind blew Mr H de Villiers of Klein Drakenstein right out of his heavily laden cart. The Cape Frontier Times reported that he was “blown from his seat by the strong gale at the six-mile stone, on the hard road”. The wheels of the cart unfortunately passed over him, and he received so many severe fractures that “within a few minutes his life was extinct,” stated the newspaper. This, wrote the reporter, was indeed a sad occurrence as Mr de Villiers was in his prime of life and had not yet even attained his 33rd year.

SIMILAR ACCIDENT, BETTER RESULT

Mr. P W R Dixon, a Colesberg resident, suffered a similar accident. He was returning with his family from a short holiday at Kowie, when he was thrown out of the eight-horsedrawn wagon which he was driving. The accident was caused by a severe rut in the road. Dixon fell under the wheels, which passed over him, but fortunately did not cause any serious injuries, stated The Cape Frontier Times of December 20, 1853. The badly shaken Dixon was helped back into the wagon by his wife and children and they then proceeded home at a much more sedate pace. At home a steady stream of friends and family visited to hear a first-hand account of “his adventure”.

GRUMPY HORSE DELAYS THE MAIL

On the morning of Wednesday, August 2, 1853, The Graham’s Town Mail cart did not arrive on time and, according to the local newspaper, the citizens of the village became quite agitated. It was nearly one o’clock when the cart was heart rattling down the main street. Investigation revealed that the driver, had gotten out of the cart, somewhere in the neighbourhood of Sidbury, to answer an urgent call of nature. While doing this he received a severe kick from one of the horses and this “deprived him of his senses”. No other traffic passed and so he lay on the road, alongside the cart until he recovered and was able to depart again. The reporter remarked that it certainly was rather remarkable that a horse so vicious, so able to seriously to injure a driver, should quietly remain standing still until the man recovered! But, no one else was there so the townsfolk just had to accept the driver’s story.

DRESSED LIKE A DONKEY?

A “Mulish Obstinacy in Dress” was decried in The Cape Frontier Times of November l, 1853. It seems young men of the area had added stripes to their trousers, much to the annoyance of a local resident. He wrote to the editor complaining that: “Our young men of the present day run about with black stripes down their legs. These are not unlike the stripes on the legs of mules. Why not carry the likeness further and allow the stripes, as in the case of mules, to run all over their coats? Surely, he who dresses himself like a mule must be ‘a donkey’ and accordingly cannot make himself too ridiculous. A sharp young friend of ours, who has studied heraldry calls these thick heavy stripes ‘the bars sinister of bad taste’.”

HONEST TO A FAULT

“Everyone who has lived at the Cape at any time will know Mr Pankurst,” wrote a reporter of The Star. The newspaper, on June 13, 1884, praised the old gent as “an 1820 man” and stated that he was “a phenomenal fellow”. At 91 years of age Mr. Pankhurst had “ridden 30 miles on horseback the other day, jumped on to a post-cart, and travelled a further 70 miles.” The Star considered this somewhat of an achievement for a man of this age, but the venerable Pankhurst did not think it worthwhile “being cracked up at the cost of truth”, so he wrote to the newspaper stating that he was only 85, and the distance he travelled was 20 miles, not 30. He did not dispute the post cart bit but stated that he thought the Press ought to be prosecuted for ‘telling lies’ about him”.


Diarise: Richmond Fugard and J M Coetzee Festival – May 23 to 26, 2013

The 110th Boer War Commemoration – Richmond – May 30 to June 1

Enjoy a tasty meal at The Vetmuis Plaaskombuis, Loop Street, Richmond – Opening May 1


Deserve your dream! – Octavio Paz – winner of 1990 Nobel Prize for literature