The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Drylands Conservation Programme has proved successful, reports senior field officer, Bonnie Schumann. This programme focuses not only on the conservation of the critically endangered riverine rabbit, but also on socio-economic upliftment opportunities for the rural community in this area and the provision of jobs during habitat restoration. “The restoration techniques improve habitats and the biodiversity of the ecosystem to ensure the survival of this unique, threatened species, and the other species sharing the riparian areas,” said Bonnie. “With quite some trepidation we planted out about 3 000 nursery-grown Karoo plants at the large restoration site at Maanhaarspoort along the N12 near Victoria West in March 2015. The first plantings at this site in 2014 were devastated by one of the worst winters on record, and typical, dry, windy Karoo weather. The survival rate of our 2014 planting was very poor, to say the least, but this is the nature of the Karoo. We nevertheless soldiered on determined to continue the fight for the survival of the riverine rabbit. We conducted a number of trials designed to increase plant survival and some were most encouraging.” These included a trial comparing the effectiveness of using tyres and shade cloth structures to protect newly transplanted plants. “Results, measured against equal numbers of “control” plants that had no protection, looked very promising, particularly after a much milder winter. Well timed autumn and spring rain also helped yield good results. Almost 100% of our sample of 690 tagged plants survived the 2015 winter. In addition, 83% of the draaibos and 64% of the skaapbos we had tagged flowered in spring. Now we wait with bated breath to see what influence of the hot dry summer will be.” The work of this programme is made possible by support from Ford Wildlife Foundation, Altron, Rand Merchant Bank, Rona and Roos Opvoedkundige Trust, Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Populations (ZGAP), as well as many individual farmers and partners.


Mr. William Craig, assistant engineer in the Cape Colony Public Works Department, visited Brisbane, Australia, in March 1901 to discuss the building of timber bridges. He told the Australian Government Architectural and Engineering Department responsible for bridges, that there was “a dearth of good timber in South Africa”, which could be used in the construction of bridges and small country buildings, such as police stations and post offices. Mr. Craig, a former municipal engineer from Ipswich, in England, was also commissioned to obtain quotations for items such as round hardwood girders. He told The Brisbane Courier (March 27, 1901) that the Colony had been using Western Australian jarrah but added that while this wood was indeed very hard, it did not entirely stand up to the ravages of the Cape weather. Ironbark was preferred, he said, and Cape authorities desired the timber to be shipped in its round state so that they could fashion it themselves. Subject to the approval of the Australian Ministry, Mr. Craig was promised bridge plans and blue tracings of buildings erected in country districts, such as Queensland.


During the Anglo-Boer War, a doctor was found guilty of sedition and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Dr Thomas Nicholas German Te Water, a conscientious Graaff-Reinet doctor, was a medical politician who served in the Sprigg and Schreiner governments from 1896 to 1900. He held the post of Minister without Portfolio in the latter. Te Water played a major role in the advancement of frontier medicine. In December,1899, he was charged with making a seditious speech and when a warrant was issued for his arrest news sped around the world. Newspapers reported that Te Water had made a seditious speech at a secret meeting of Afrikaners in Graaff-Reinet, assuring them that Steyn and Commandant de Wet would invade the Cape Colony. When they did, he said, it would be the duty of the Dutch burgers to rise.

Another peek into early Cape medicine in honour of the Medical History Festival to be held in Richmond


In the 1800s the incomes of professionally qualified doctors were threatened by home practitioners, shop keepers and apothecaries. Jesse Shaw, of Fort Beaufort, was one of the major threats. He advertised himself as an MD (USA), medical botanist by Diploma, specialist in Cape Materia Medica and member of the Society of Medical Botanists of Great Britain. He approached the Cape Medical Committee (CMC) for a licence to practice herbal medicine in the Colony but was rejected. Despite this he continued to practice herbal medicine, state Harriet Deacon and H. Phillips in The Cape Doctor in the Nineteenth Century: A Social History. In Grocott’s Mail Jesse advertised a “new Medicine Specific prepared almost entirely from Colonial herbs”. He stated that it had never been known to fail. “No house should ever be without a bottle and no digger should leave for the diamond fields without a good supply.” So proud of his product was Jesse that he sold it through agents in many villages. He married Mary Ann Fassant, a spinster from Fort Beaufort, on June 6, 1859. The occasion was witnessed by their friends John Holden and Emily Windle. Shaw was “closely involved with Africans on the eastern frontier” states Andre Odendaal in The Founders: The Origina of the ANC and the Struggle for Democracy in South Africa, and when the Native Education Association was formed in the 1870s, he acted as its first president. J T Jabavu, who was elected vice-president, was mostly responsible for revitalizing the organization. Other “doctors” whose qualifications were not recognized by the CMC, but who nevertheless practised, were J B Hammerschmidt, J E Hulling, of Grahamstown, A R Welsh of Herschel and G E Cook of King Williamstown, who advertised and sold “Orsmond’s Great African remedy, prepared from Cape roots”.


“Weeds are simply plants growing in the wrong place or time,” says Wendy Morris in Points of Departure. “The 1820 settlers brought with them seeds and even rose bushes and the Moss rose still grows in the areas in which they settled. My great grandmother collected fruit pips until she had a sackful. These she planted at the mission station of Wittebergen and then on family’s farms in New England. Her grandfather came to visit with a sack of almond pips. Those were planted and trees were established. My great-great aunt and uncle Orsmond developed a Great African Remedy from local plants and knowledge passed on to them by a San man at one of the Wesleyan mission stations.” This popular “elixir” was sold in the 1890s in thin flared-lipped, rectangular, aqua-coloured bottles, about13.25cm tall. There were various versions of Orsmond’s Great African Remedy – one was an “infallible blood purifier” said to eliminate all impurities and maintain body health. Another, named anti-relax, claimed to “afford instant relief in every case of dysentery, diarrhoea, or colon ailment. Then fruit pills, a pile cure and ben-curo powders for all skin diseases, were also all sold under the label of Orsmond’s Great African Remedy.


Among the pioneers of medicine in South Africa were many medical missionaries. Their role in history has not been widely explored state the authors of The Cape Doctor in the 19th Century: A Social History. “Medicine played a larger role in some societies than others. The Glasgow Mission Society (GMS), for instance, was particularly keen that its missionaries had some medical training. In his list of talents required by a missionary, Reverend Thomas Bell, of the GMS, stated that men entering the field of medicine and intending to work abroad should have “some acquaintance with the rules of physic”. He entreated them to know the pulse and the letting of blood. He added that the indigenous people had bodies to be cured as well as souls to be saved. He referred to the traditional healers as “quacks whose cataplasms are as revolting as their materials”. He added: “They roar, jump and drum to render their remedies efficient.”


Among the memorable early doctors at the Cape was Petrus van der Spuy, the first South African-born Doctor of Medicine and minister of religion. It was a tremendous and costly undertaking in the middle of the 18th century for an Afrikaner boy to sail for Holland and study there, states Lawerance Green in Beyond the City Lights. He adds that Petrus was the son of the Van der Spuy stamvader (patriarch), and that he had relations in Rotterdam who looked after him. He first he qualified in medicine at the University in Groningen; then went o to study theology at the Leiden University. After obtaining these degrees he returned to South Africa and his home town, Paarl, where he lived in the pastorie (Dutch Reformed Church manse) for nearly 30 years.


William Guybon Atherstone’s loved nothing more than adventuring in the great outdoors. This led to an interest in mountain climbing Cape Town historian, Stephen Craven, who researched his climb of Cockscomb, a 1758m high mountain, in the Baviaanskloof, states that WGA left Grahamstown in the afternoon of October 10, and rode for 4½ days via Sidbury to the base of Cockscomb He overnighted at Pollard’s Inn, rode to Harris’s farm on the Quagga Flats, for breakfast, and then on to Tunbridge’s farm on the Sundays River. He descended the grass ridge to Coega Valley (Bay Road) drift near Lewis’ farm where George White joined him. In the afternoon of October 13, they arrived at Hendrik Lange’s farm where Atherstone sketched the approach to Cockscomb. The evening saw them at Palmer’s farm on the Elands River where they spent the night. Next morning, they rode about 6½ km to Philip’s farm, then on to Scheepers’s farm, where they rested for two hours. They spent the night at Erasmus’s farm, probably Erasmuskraal, 7½km SE of Cockscomb. Next day at 05h30, WGA, White and Erasmus began their ascent of Cockscomb from the south-east, at times climbing on previously untrodden ground. WGA eulogised the views, geology and vegetation. Despite the fact that none of these men had any climbing experience, the difficulties presented by Cockscomb did not daunt them.


William recorded castellated rocks, dead silence. magnificent tints, a bluish sea of wavy snow, wonderful echoes, which were imitated by baboons, and clouds, which gave the shadows and ridges “a most peculiar, soft appearance”. As they climbed out of the valley the sun shone at different angles on the snow and the glare was almost unbearable. “The bleating of lambs and goats came up in a faint shrill cry to the peaks and the Zuurberg looked an immense distance away. The mist began to boil up from the valleys like steam from some vast volcanic crater and the painful stillness made me pause and gaze on it with awe. Every moment became more and more exciting, every step we took was on ground never before trodden by human foot, for no Boer or Hottentot herdsmen had ventured this far. We mounted the hill – now – came the moment of excitement – there was a deep chasm between us and the peak … close above us, temptingly inviting ascent? We pause to take breath and consult on our route.”


“We jumped the ridge and another and felt a strong wind above us. Knowing there was a cave, where we could sleep if benighted, we determined to make the assault on the peak. The path seemed inaccessible, very slippery and dangerous. George tumbled about and dislodged a boulder which rolled down the mountain leaping from cliff to cliff, ledge to ledge, becoming smaller and smaller till it stopped with a crash in the valley below. By 10h00 we had ascended higher than Sherwill had! It appeared the peak could be scaled, but, first, we had to take off our shoes, stockings and jackets and leave them behind with the grub and two bottles of water. Hand over hand and foot after foot, we were obliged to pull ourselves using our alpen sticks. The scene from the summit was grand! The grassy road winding along to Doornfontein, Bruintjieshoogte, the Camdeboo range, the along Gamtoos and into the Karoo, a desert waste, wild and barren. Near the top of the Cockscomb were three kinds of proteas. The peak and range consists of gray granite sandstone. Not relishing sleeping on the summit without our jackets or any covering, thoroughly exhausted, our hands bleeding, our feet red and sore, reluctantly we scrambled down. Halting to rest, we lay in the shade of the rocks and looked at the ‘Cock’s comb’, we could scarcely believe we had climbed it.” WGA made another ascent in 1871.


William Guybon Atherstone and Andrew Geddes Bain are said to have discovered the first dinosaur bones in South Africa. These two decided to “holiday for the purpose of geological exploration” in early 1845 at Bushman’s River, in the Eastern Cape. WGA, who arrived a day late at the camp site, was greeted by Miss Jeanie Bain “slowly staggering up the hill” under what appeared to be a heavy load of stones. He immediately went to help her and saw that they were not stones but fossilised “bones bigger than those of an ox!” WGA and Bain thought the bones had belonged to the Iguanodon, described by Dr Gideon Mantell in England in 1825. They sent some of the fossils to the British Museum. (Perhaps some only because there is no record of bones “as big as an ox” reaching Owen). In 1876, these were incorrectly described by Owen, as Anthodon serrarius. However, when Dr Robert Broom visited the Museum and examined the Bushman’s River material, he re-named this fossil Paranthodon africanus, a close relative of the stegosaurus.


Lizette (Nel) van Heerden is searching for information on her grandfather, Thomas Lodowicus Nel. He was born in the Klaarstroom area in about 1892. He married to Aletta Johanna Catharina van Eck. Their marriage certificate states that he was a worker from the farm Witsand (now Vrolikheid). The couple had only one child, a son. Thomas died about six months after he was born. Lizette says: “Sadly Aletta does not seem to have been able to raise her son on her own, so he grew up with the families of Andries en Carlien Kruger and David and Martha Fourie, who appear to have been relatives. They worked on various farms in the Klaarstroom area and eventually retired to live in the village where my father’s aunt, Hannie and uncle, Willem Adriaan Nel, also later lived. I have spent time in the area trying to trace these people without success. Some time ago I met Oom Dawid Fourie, a De Rust resident, who did remember my father, but he was very deaf and it was difficult to talk to him.”


The Lowen family was hit by dreadful triple tragedy in September 1842. Lieutenant Wellington Star Lowen, 28, a beloved son of this family and a member of the Cape Mounted Rifles, who manned an outpost near Bathurst, received a summons on September 14, to come to Grahamstown without delay as his mother “was at the point of death” and brother, also desperately ill. Lowen immediately saddled up and sped off. He almost rode his horse to death on his way to the hospital reported the The Cape Frontier Times of September 15, 1842. As he dismounted, he collapsed and within hours was dead. Doctors said his death was caused by “inflammation of the brain, brought on by shock, excitement, anxiety, exposure to the sun, and hard riding.” His commanding officer said that even though he made such speed as to almost disable his horse, he sadly did not manage to see either his mother or brother, both of whom died shortly after he did. Lowen was an officer of great promise, who had gained great esteem and affection among his brother officers. His loss was deplored and would be deeply felt by all who had the pleasure of knowing him.


Grahamstown lost a kind and benevolent man in September 1843. He was the district jailer, William Liddle, formerly a Sergeant-Major of His Majesty’s 75th Regiment. The Cape Frontier Times of September 7, 1843, stated that while Liddle was only 45 years old at the time of his death, he had been a soldier for 32 years. William, said the newspaper, “a highly respected officer had gained the confidence and esteem of his comrades. As a measure of his worth and testimony to his character and services he recently received the Horse Guards silver medal. As district prison jailer he was a highly valued public servant, remarkable for the benevolence of his disposition, and uniform kindness to those in his care. He discharged his duties, painful as they may have been, with consideration and gentleness, stated the newspaper.


On May 9, 1843 Philippus, 18, rode away from Florispoort, the Nuweveld farm belonging to his father, Johannes Stephanus Jacobs and never returned. It was the eve of his wedding and there was much to be discussed with his fiancé, the daughter of a neighbouring farmer. At the end of a delightful evening of exciting planning, Philippus was about to return home, however, as he was about to mount his horse, it for some reason took fright and, as it bolted, kicked him. He was so severely injured that he died within hours, reported the Cape Frontier Times of May 25, 1843.


A dreadful accident occurred on the wagon route outside near Kimberley reported the Queenstown Free Press of April 8, 1884. Mr Snapman, Kimberley store-keeper was returning home in a horse-drawn trap, with his wife and daughter. The trap hit a huge boulder and overturned, shortly after passing a lumbering ox-wagon. Mr Snapman and his daughter were flung into a ditch at the side of the road, but poor Mrs Snapman landed on her stomach in the middle of the dusty road. Before she could catch her breath and scramble up she was trampled by the oxen and wagon wheels crushed her causing instant death.

We may live without poetry, music, and art; We may live without conscience, and live without heart; We may live without friends; we may live without books; But civilized man cannot live without cooks. OWEN MEREDITH