The 5th annual Stoep Wine Tasting Weekend – “the best little wine festival in the Karoo” – will take place in Graaff-Reinet on May 25 and 26. Organisers say it will be bigger and better than ever before. Already 31 wine estates, as well as many craft beer, brandy and gin makers, have confirmed their attendance. A highlight of the weekend will be the launch of well-known chef, Gordon Wright’s, latest book Karoo Food. The programme includes food demonstrations and master classes.


The 14th annual Bedford Garden Festival, which attracts visitors from across South Africa, is scheduled to take place from October 19 to 21. Gardeners and nature-lovers will be encouraged to explore country roads and ramble around the village, to discover superb gardens in town and on grassland farms in the surrounding picturesque Mankazana, Cowie and Baviaans River valleys. The programme includes cultural history walks and talks, visits to sheep, goat, cattle and game farms, as well as the nationally known butterfly collection at Huntly Glen. Visitors will be able to indulge their interests in outdoor events, including bird watching and enjoy a Sunday midday garden concert.


Don’t miss the annual Karoo-lus Festival in Graaff-Reinet from September 28 – 29 this year. This is a true value for money event, say the organisers.


Graham Duncan’s new Amaryllidaceae of Southern Africa is the definitive and superbly illustrated book covering all known Amaryllids in Southern Africa. Excellent paintings of each Amaryllid, done by Barbara Jeppe and her daughter Leigh Voigt, make this a collectable publication.


In June 1859, The Cape Mail stated that there was still a great demand for labour in South Africa. It reported that 2 000 immigrants had recently arrived, but that they had only somewhat satisfied the needs of the labour markets. There was still a demand for workers of almost every description. “If an equal number, or twice as many, arrived, they would find little difficulty in securing good wages and good prospects,” stated the newspaper. It added that there was a “steady demand” for experienced agriculturalists, farmers, domestic servants, mechanics and artisans. The Cape and Natal News of June 4, 1959, agreed, stating that the Colony would require, for public works, then in progress or about to commence, many hundreds, and very soon some thousands of excavators, navvies, masons, bricklayers, carpenters, blacksmiths and innumerable nondescripts who are prepared to form “a busy hive of working men”.


Carl du Toit met with a fearful death on the railway line at Touws River, reported the May 10, 1902, edition of the weekly journal, South Africa. Carl had been repairing a stop block on the branch line when some trucks were being shunted. Before he realized what was happening, he was pinned between the buffer of a truck and the stop block. “The impact was so great that his body was almost cut in two,” stated the newspaper. His death, which was almost immediate, was a great shock to the villagers and all who knew him.


The vast distances that had to be covered in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War severely tried many a soldier. In his book, Two Years on Trek – Being Some Account of the Royal Sussex Regiment in South Africa, Lieutenant-Colonel Louis Eugène du Moulin tells of how exhausted his men became after long treks. On February 23, 1900, a sweltering, tedious, rough, 20-mile march brought them to Strydenburg by way of Prieska, but once there the men could not rest because they were hot on the trail of the Boers. They had found evidence of recent commando camps at many farms along the road. “Maxwell’s column was already in the town, when we got there and Munro’s arrived shortly afterwards,” he said. “De Wet could not cross the Orange River because it was flooded. Some of his guns and men were captured by Colonel Plumer.” Day after day the convoy plodded on in blistering, wearisome conditions. The Karoo stretched in all directions around them – “brown, dusty, waterless, and quite flat”. Du Moulin said there was little sign of life – a few sheep here and there, a few ostriches, and a very occasional farm. “The scrubby bush was most trying on the horses. A ‘pan’ here and there promised relief to the thirsty men and beasts, but the water was often brack.” De Wet eventually managed to cross the Orange River on February 28, 1900.


Better territory lay ahead for the column’s next march. “Our column’s next piece of convoy work consisted of accompanying 100 ox wagons and 19 mule wagons from Orange River Station to Colesberg, a distance of 100 miles (160,9 km),” states Lieutenant-Colonel Louis Eugène du Moulin. “This was done in the remarkably quick time of six days. We made an average of 17 miles (27,3 km) a day, despite bad weather.” Two and a half miles (4 km) an hour is fast for an ox wagon, so the column had to be on the move for eight hours each day.” Du Moulin and his men reached Colesberg on March 8. During the final leg of this trek they travelled through green country along the hills of the Orange River. “We found a great abundance of fruit of all kinds. Colesberg itself was a pleasant and friendly town, behind which rose the towering sides of Coleskop. It seemed impossible for a gun to be drawn to its summit, but this was accomplished. A signal station on the top maintained helio communications within a radius of from 30 to 40 miles (48 to 64 km). At times, however, they exchanged messages across more than 70 miles (112 km).


Many great British Generals won their spurs during the Anglo Boer War. One was Field Marshall John Denton Pinkstone French, 1st Earl of Ypres. French was a Major-General when he arrived in South Africa to fight in the Anglo-Boer War. He, however, left as a Lieutenant-General with two knighthoods. By 1914 he was Field-Marshal and Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in France. During the Anglo Boer War, while on duty in the Colesberg area French was visited by his wife and four-year old son. The boy suddenly became desperately ill and, as British military doctors could do nothing for him, they advised he be sent to the highly regarded Children`s Clinic in Graaff-Reinet. This was run by three Dominican nuns, who were trained as teachers, but also schooled in childhood diseases by the local doctor. The sick boy and his mother were quickly sent off on the long journey to Graaff-Reinet, with an escort carrying a white flag. The nuns did all they could for the sick child, says Graaff-Reinet’s Ann Murray but, sadly, they could not help, and he died. He was buried in the local Catholic cemetery. After the funeral French, who was not a Catholic, asked what he could give the nuns in appreciation of their efforts. They requested a lamp for their chapel. French felt that this was far too modest and so presented them with a huge, beautiful, 36-candle chandelier.


The name Henry Bailey Christian is well known to the South Africa’s horse racing fraternity. The H B Christian Memorial Handicap is one of Port Elizabeth’s premier races. Henry, who was born in Cape Town in 1823 and died in Port Elizabeth on 19 September 1903, came to the Eastern Cape in the 1850’s to join John Owen Smith and Company. He quickly became a leading figure in the business, cultural and sporting worlds. He was a keen agriculturist and had a farm at Kragga Kamma. His nephew, Vyvyan H O Christian, who was born in King Williams Town in 1872 and died at Port Elizabeth on October 27,1953, was also influential in sporting and cultural affairs. Educated at St Andrews College, Grahamstown, and at Charterhouse, England, he qualified as a lawyer and became a partner in the law firm of Pagden, Christian and Handley. Fletcher Christian, the leader of the mutiny on HMS Bounty in 1879, was also a member of this family.

ENJOY the atmosphere, food and fun at a genuine hinterland Dankfees in Merweville from April 27 to 29.


The story “Struck by an oar” in the February 2018, issue of Round-up set Port Elizabeth historian, Richard Tomlinson, thinking. He had not heard the tale before and his efforts to find out more, uncovered several mysteries. It seems The Cape and Natal News of February 1, 1860, got the story slightly skewed. “Colin Urquhart’s authoritative book Algoa Bay In the Age of Sail (1488 to 1917) gives a long list of ships that sank in Algoa Bay, but the Waldenstein was not among them,” says Richard. He discovered that this ship came to grief on Bulldog Reef at Struis Point near Arniston in the Western Cape, on October 13, 1862. Richard consulted former Bay World historian and shipping expert, Jenny Bennie, who said: “The Waldenstein was on a voyage from Durban to Cape Town with the Christy Minstrels and eight Dutch ministers on board, when she was wrecked. One passenger, Joe Brown, lost a silver belt encrusted with precious stones.” The mystery deepened, when Richard checked Looking Back, the journal of the P E Historical Society. “An article by E Morse Jones of the Lower Albany Historical Society, in the September 1967 issue, stated that John Webb, a master from Grey Institute Elementary School and Lieutenant Cowper Rose of the Royal Engineers, were drowned while landing from Waldensian. The Cape and Natal News stated that Rose was to succeed Major-General Bolton as commander of Algoa Bay, but Bolton makes no mention of this. And, finally there was quite some confusion regarding Cowper Rose’s rank. The Cape and Natal News give it as Colonel, and Morse Jones as Lieutenant. “Both are unlikely because he was to relieve a Major-General, so I imagine he was a Lieutenant Colonel,” says Richard.


Further research by Richard revealed that J T Rennie of Durban acquired the Waldenstein on December 28, 1857. “In The Maritime Postal History of Port Elizabeth K A Baker, states that when, the Madagascar, the regular mail carrier was wrecked on December 3, 1858, the Natal mail service was taken over by the Waldensian. She executed this service alone and under contract until she was wrecked in October 1862. Passengers, and possibly the mail, were taken off by two vessels and there was no loss of life. The Waldenstein’s service was not good and there were reports that the public and the business community of P E had become extremely dissatisfied with her. They claimed that it took ten days for goods and passengers to reach Algoa Bay from Cape Town. However, once she went down, there was a tremendous outcry as the people had to rely on the intermittent services of small coastal vessels, says Richard


On reviewing the whole situation Richard came to the conclusion the Lieutenant-Colonel Cowper Rose drowned while transferring from the Waldensian in Algoa Bay, before she was wrecked at Struis Point. This explains why the The Cape & Natal News billed the site of the drowning as Algoa Bay. It also explains why the wrecking of the Waldensian does not feature in Colin Urquhart’s book. The mention of “transferring in a surf boat” also provided a clue as Struis Point was not a port and, therefore, would not have had any surf boats. Just goes to show what checking and re-checking can achieve.”


There is a misconception that Van Riebeeck’s arrival was the beginning of all things in South Africa. People forget that many ships called at the Cape for fresh food and water long before 1652. Many who came ashore report seeing wild animals, such as lions. In May 1609, Cornelius Claesz, a Dutchman wrote that lions were widespread and that the indigenous people “made war” against them. In 1619, Thomas Best, an Englishman, stated that “lyons were many in the Land of Prestor John” and reconfirmed this when he passed again in 1627. Lions were seen by Edward Terry, in 1619, Thomas Herbert, in 1627, Johan Albrecht von Mandelslo in 1639, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier in 1649 and three years later by Van Riebeeck, himself, who struggled to keep them at bay, states C J Skead in The Mammal Incidence of the Cape Province. These creatures intimidated the first brave men to venture into the interior. In 1774 Carl Thunberg mentioned “hordes of lions”. Kolbe, “found them everywhere” and said the meat “had no ill taste”. Francois Valentyn reported that the fat of the lion was “an excellent remedy and the flesh very tasty”. Thomas Pringle claimed to have tasted the flesh of the last lion shot in the Baviaans River Valley, near Bedford. Lions were plentiful around Prince Albert, Beaufort and Leeu Gamka , where the last Cape lion, a huge, black-maned sub-species, now extinct, was shot in 1858. A juvenile was later captured but did not survive for long out of the wild. Jacob le Clercq, said he had shot 70 in one year and a Richmond, a man named Jacobs, claimed to have shot 200 – eight in a single day.


Members of an expedition that left Cape Town on October 1, 1801, managed to go fly fishing in the Karoo. William Somerville, a Scottish physician and inspector of the Army Medical Board, and Petrus Johannes Truter, a physician, judge, civil servant, member of the Cape Court of Justice, and commissioner of police, set off to explore an as yet unknown area of the Colony and establish a cattle-bartering route in the hopes of alleviating the chronic food shortage at the Cape. As it was spring and the rainy season, they decided to travel along a route used by the ingenious people. Conditions were so good that they were able to go fly fishing in the Riet River in the middle of the Karoo. “These two were probably the first explorers ever to do so,” writes Hazel Crampton in The Side of the Sun at Noon. Also on this expedition were Truter’s brother-in-law, English statesman, writer and historian, John Barrow, Samuel Daniell, an English artist, and two missionaries, Jan Matthys Kok and William Edwards. Samuel acted as the expedition’s official secretary. The expedition reached the Sak River, beyond the colonial boundary, on October 21 and arrived at the south bank of the Orange River, near present Prieska, on November 1. They proceeded north to Lattakoo, near Kuruman and became the first Europeans to meet and describe the southern Tswana people. In essence the expedition was a failure. They learned much about the area and its people, but only brought back 50 sheep and 212 cattle. NOTE: Somerville’s wife, Mary, (also his cousin), was an eminent Scottish science writer, polymath and astronomer. She was hailed as the Queen of 19th Century Science by the Morning Post in 1872. .


In his Narrative of Journeys To The Eastern Cape Frontier And Lattakoe, William Somerville mentions the very brackish waters of the Karoo. The expedition first encountered these at a short tributary of the Ongeluks River on the farm Jachtfontein, near Sutherland. “From the taste, as well as the operative effects of the waters, I should suppose that (Magnesia Vittriolata) Epsom salt was part their composition. Even the nitrus efflorescence, which is so frequently seen on these desert plains contains a considerable proportion of this salt.” Poor rainfall, coupled to hydrological, geological, and soil conditions often results in the waters of the South African hinterland becoming “brack” (salty). Somerville also mentioned the Karoo droughts were so intense at times that water sources could not be relied upon. Travellers often found them dried up. Locusts, he said, were also a great problem as they destroyed the veld and crops. What they spared was destroyed by antelopes in search of water. Then, he said there was a plague among horses in the Karoo and that the veld was “at no time favourable to oxen”. Along their route they found that flocks of sheep, belonging mainly to poorer inhabitants, that had suffered from climatic extremes “leaving their owners totally destitute of bread”. He added: “Those who have been more fortunate do not help their neighbours, but exact exorbitant prices of six, seven or even eight sheep for one bag of wheat.” Truter’s diary reveals his interested in, and knowledge of, plants, climate, geography, and the rock art of the Cedarberg. He later experimented with the cultivation of cotton, pineapples and rice at the Cape.


The Eye, the natural fountain at Kuruman, was discovered by artist Samuel Daniell on the Somerville expedition. This spring, said to be the biggest natural fountain in the Southern Hemisphere, delivers approximately 20-30 million liters of crystal-clear water daily and supplies the needs of the town. It also feeds the Kuruman River and spills out into two 7 km irrigation canals. This source of water led to the establishment of a mission here in the early 19th century, and to The Eye being named the ‘fountain of Christianity’. The Tswana people christened this fountain Gasegonyane, which means small water calabash with bubbling water. The waters of the Eye contain an abundance of fish, including carp, goldfish, barb and blue carper, but fishing is prohibited. The highly endangered pseudocrenilabrus philander is also found there. In season water lilies floating on the surface make a spectacular show. Paintings done by Samuel on this journey were published by his brother, William Daniell.


On returning to Whitby, in May 1880, after a visit to the Eastern Cape, Ethel Wood died in a freak accident. She slipped and fell backwards down a flight of steps. The teeth of a comb, which was holding up her hair pierced her neck and severed her spinal cord. Death was instantaneous, stated The Empire of June 9, 1880.

There is a cult of ignorance . . . winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge – Isaac Asimov.