Unmarked graves in a hinterland cemetery, set Doreen Atkinson off on an intriguing quest. A professor of political science, trustee and vital cog in the wheels of the Karoo Development Foundation (KDF), she was touched by a visit to Kuilsville cemetery near Danielskuil. During her 30 years of working in the Karoo she had seen many unmarked graves, but this time she paused and pondered wondering know who was buried there, what they died of, when and was there anyone left to tell their story? So, in 2019 assisted by a team of people interested in this community she began patiently gathering stories. The team included Reverend Linda Cornelissen of the Verenigende Gereformeerde Kerk (VGK – Uniting Reformed Church, a union of the black and coloured Dutch Reformed mission churches), Reverend Thozamile Sedimo of the NGKA (Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk in Afrika – Dutch Reformed Church in Africa), Reverend Johannes Stuurman of the Moffat Mission in Kuruman and some members of the local community. The result was sufficient material to put together Danielskuil – Skatkis van Stories (Treasure Chest of Stories), a project sponsored by the National Heritage Council. “It was exciting, we explored the roles of the people through happy, sad and tough times, wars and forced removals,” said Doreen. “This book takes a peek at the past, but offers a view of the future, based on love, faith and hope.” Copies cost R200 each – to order contact


During the Anglo-Boer War doctors faced some curious dilemmas. As the war dragged on towards its end, the bulk of the medical personnel were not RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) trained, and the British army became increasingly dependent on civilian doctors. These doctors were, however, still under military orders and subject to the strict demands of military bureaucracy. In his memoirs, Doctor to Basuto, Boer and Briton 1877-1906, British-born Dr Henry Taylor, tells of being put in charge of an army hospital in Ficksburg, but not being allowed to visit his patients after dark. Because he was a civilian he was subject to curfew regulations. In the end he was relieved of his duties writes John Boje, from the Pretoria University Department of History, in The Doctors’ Dilemmas During The SA War, in Historica, May, 2018. 


Danielskuil, 72km north-east of Postmasburg, has a rich history. Its Tswana name is Tlaka le Tlou or Tlaka-lo-Tlou and his means “elephant reed”. This spot was once the home of Barend Barends, one of the most important Griqua leaders along this turbulent northern frontier between 1790 and 1834. His story is captured in a biography Barend Barends – Die Vergete Kaptein van Danielskuil (The Forgotten Captain of Danielskuil) written by Dr Bart de Graaff, a Dutch journalist and historic researcher. During the Anglo Boer War the British built and used a blockhouse on the northern side of town. The area has rich asbestos, diamonds and limestone deposits. The high-grade calcitic limestone, is mined and processed at Ouplaas factory, in the industrial area, by Idwala Lime, a privately-owned distributor of calcium-type lime products and the largest operation of its kind in the northern Cape. Extraction and production begins at an open cast mine where “benches” are created by blasting. This releases fragmented material from the ore body. This material is then put through a series of crushing and screening processes which reduces it to pebbles, which are converted to lime by calcining (burning) at temperatures of between 900-1200 deg C, in either two rotary or two vertical kilns. The first town asbestos related diseases were reported at Danielskuil in 1942. (Note: “Idwala” means rock.)


Interestingly, the first case of cigarette smoking in South Africa was recorded at Danielskuil. The story goes that in June, 1823, George Thompson, declined the offer of the traditional pipe in favour of smoking tobacco wrapped in paper. Thompson had arrived at the Cape in about 1818 and opened a business. He travelled widely searching for expansion opportunities. On an expedition to Kuruman he visited the magnificent falls on the Orange River, which the Khoikhoi had named Ankoerebis, “place of great noise”. When the trekboers (migrant farmers) arrived, they could not pronounce the name, so they called the waterfall “Augrabies”. In 1827 George published Travels and Adventures in Southern Africa. This travelogue contains observations of interactions and relationships between the colonists and the people in the “country of the Bushmen, Korannas, and Namaquas”.


An immensely long record of human and environmental history spanning hundreds of thousands of years can be seen at the Wonderwerk (Miracle) Cave, about 40km from Danielskuil. Archaeologists have been researching this massive site since 1940, despite major damage caused by farmers digging up large parts of the cave interior to sell as organic-rich fertilizer at that time. Sadly, it contained valuable archaeological deposits, artifacts, bone and other material that would have been crucial to understanding the site’s cultural and palaeo-environmental history. Oldowan (early stone chip) tools and animal bones from the 2,5m thick sedimentary layer in the cave prove that it was occupied by Early Stone Age humans about 2m years ago. Later Stone Age sequences date back some 10,500 years. The cave also has evidence of the oldest controlled fire in Southern Africa. There are small, engraved stones and rock art on the walls. The art near the entrance, is being researched by KDF trustee, Dr David Morris. The site is open to the public and there is an interpretative center. Danielskuil’s other historic sites, include stone buildings, the Vermeulen grave, the Dutch Reformed Church, and Old Town Hall.


When Archdeacon George Mervyn Lawson died in 1945 a treasure of artworks was discovered in a most unusual place. “Upon his death 247 original drawings and engravings by French, Dutch, Flemish, English and Italian masters were found in his coffin, which was stored in the ceiling of his residence,” says Dr David Morris of the McGregor Museum. Lawson, a well-known plant collector, was born on the Channel Islands on May 7, 1865. He grew up in London where he matriculated from Westminster School and King’s College in January 1885. He then went to the University of Oxford and after qualifying with a BA degree in 1889, underwent religious training. He emigrated to South Africa in 1892 to do missionary work. Initially he was on the staff of St Cyprian’s Church in Kimberley, where he was in charge of four missions. Around 1900 he started to work in the outlying areas and from 1903 until his death was director of missions for Griqualand West. From 1913 to 1941 he served as Archdeacon in the Anglican Diocese of Kimberley and Kuruman. During WWI he was chaplain to the Kalahari Horse in the SWA Campaign – he later volunteered for service in Europe.


In South Africa Lawson developed an interest in succulents and was encouraged to collect by Archdeacon Frederick Arundel Rogers, son of plant collector Reverend William M Rogers. Lawson prepared herbarium specimens for identification by Maria Wilman, then director of the McGregor Museum, in Kimberley. She passed some on to the Bolus Herbarium in Cape Town. The species Ruschia lawsonii (Perdevygie) was named in his honour by Mrs H M L Bolus. Lawson’s papers and correspondence from 1921-1939 is held by the William Humphreys Art Gallery. He lived in Papkuil until his death on August 17, 1945, and travelled more than 1000km every two months on horseback to visit his scattered flock. Born in Dorset on January 3, 1876, Archdeacon Rogers, was educated at Oxford University’s Keble College, where he graduated with a BA in 1897 and MA in 1904. He came to South Africa in 1899, just before the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War and took a post as acting lay chaplain to the British forces. He earned a medal and clasp. In his spare time, he began collecting plants along the Midland railway line. He returned to England to be ordained and then came back to South Africa and joined the Church Railway Mission as assistant chaplain. Once again he spent his free time collecting plants along the railway lines and in 1908 presented more than 1000 plant species to the Albany Museum, in Grahamstown. After contracting malaria, he went to England for 18 months to recuperate. and during this time his cottage in Bulawayo burned down destroying a manuscript he was preparing on the history of the railway mission. This was an insurmountable disaster. Rogers collected extensively across southern Africa, and in other countries, including Cyprus, Iraq, India, and Kenya.


In 1906 a Scottish hydraulic engineer acquired an 80.94ha farm, with deep alluvial soil, on the banks of the Orange River, about 3 km outside of Aliwal North. He named it Conville and within four years it became part of the Municipal Irrigation Scheme. The engineer, David Gerrand, son of Andrew Gerrand, was born in Maybole, Ayrshire, Scotland on December 28, 1855. The ground was all under irrigation from the municipal water furrow, which passed along the upper boundary, and ran into a huge dam and from it there it flowed into different camps. In 1911 Somerset Playne, in the Cape Colony – Its History, Industries, and Resources, wrote that four years previously this farm had been bare veld, but since David had created level beds and terraces, this was one of the most carefully laid-out irrigation farms in South Africa. Lucerne was the chief crop. David led water to various sized beds from sluices, so no digging or spadework had to be done to aid its flow. The lucerne flourished to such an extent that it was cut six times a year and turned into winter feed. Because ostriches thrived so well on lucerne he kept a flock of between 220 to 800 birds. In time it became the nucleus of one of the finest ostrich flocks in South Africa. He also ran Ayrshire cattle on Conville. The farm was partitioned into small camps which were hedged by quince, pine, and macrocarpa cypress trees. The irrigated orchard had 400 apple, pear, peach, plum, and other fruit trees. The commodious stone house with all mod cons, teak windows and wide verandas was designed by Sir Herbert Baker. David used it when he was there, but Conville was managed by his nephew, J D Murchie. On September 29, 1908, David married 24-year-old Marguerite Consey de Villiers, from Beaufort West. He died at age 64 on September 12, 1920.


It was a long project, but well worth the effort. This was the opinion of those who heard Bach’s Dorian Toccata echoing through the Cape Dutch-style farmhouse that 79-year-old William Selway “Bill” Robson had built in 2012. Bill had also built this “‘almost 50-year-old organ” from “bits and pieces” dating back about1812. The organ had 310 pipes and two keyboards Bill rebuilt them from “rescued” material and from an original ebony-and-ivory keyboard of a piano dated 1851 that was destroyed in a fire; one of the pipes was from 1897 and most of the from around 1820. Born in South Africa, Bill started playing the piano at the age of five. He moved to England where he studied mechanical and electronic engineering. His father taught him how to do woodwork. He returned to South Africa in 1968, and accepted a job with the Navy. Then, after reading Three Centuries of Harpsichord Making, by Frank Hubbard, he taught himself how to make organs, harpsichords, and spinets and established Selway Robson Harpsichords and Pipe Organs. Bill claims to be the only harpsichord and baroque organ maker in South Africa, writes Yolande du Preez on Facebook. He built the only pure baroque pipe organ in South Africa for St Norbert Catholic Church in Kommetjie. Among his tools dating back to 1735, are some very old planes which once belonged to his once belonged to his maternal grandfather.


In the early 2000s Professor William Beinart from Oxford University and Dr Luvuyo Wotshela from Fort Hare, wrote Prickly Pear: The Social History of a Plant in the Eastern Cape. This book explores different perceptions of the plant, local knowledge, uses and informal markets that have developed around this invasive cactus since it found its way to South Africa more than 200 years ago. The prickly pear plays an important role in the lives of many women, in shacks, towns and farms across the country, who turn it into mead/beer (iqhilika yetolofiya), chutneys, konfyts (preserves) and jams, made from the fruit and peel. Freshly peeled prickly pears are served ice cold, or on ice. While the prickly pear has largely been destroyed in South Africa, some scientists believe it to be a plant of the future, perfectly suited to a world faced by climate change and global warming.


Quarter-master Sergeant Douglas Morton Lyne, the oldest son on Harry Lyne and his wife, Sarah (nee Hume), died of typhoid at Norvalspont on May 9, 1902, states the website. Before joining the Second Tasmanian Bushmen under Colonel Watchorn, he was a promising young banker, employed by the Bank of Australia in Davenport and had just received a promotion to the Launceton Branch. A few months before he died Douglas was one of seven volunteers called upon to storm a koppie on which the Boers were known to be. They charged without hesitating right into the midst of a group of Boers and succeeded in capturing several, including three commandants, states the website. The remainder of the Boers became disorganised and fled. Douglas was mentioned for gallant conduct in dispatches to Lord Kitchener.


Herschell, once a “home” to some master scientists, is now The Grove School. The school stands on part of a a large tract of land between Stellenberg and Boshoff (now Claremont) granted by the Dutch East India Company to J D de Beer in 1660. Then followed an extremely exciting history. He named it Veldhuysen (Feldhausen, field horses). In 1710 vice-governor William Helot, acquired he land and built a house; in 1776 Baron Valentijn Alexus Schönnberg von Frauenstein, a protestant, emigrated from Traunstein, in Germany, bought Feldhausen, renounced his titles, but kept his servants and possessions, states the Herchelion. He became a burger (citizen) in1783, and set himself up as shopkeeper and confectioner. He went to Clanwilliam where he married Anna Fredrika Koning with whom he raised a large family. He then, he died in suspicious circumstances, says one story, and almost immediately Anna married their Scottish overseer. She transferred all the family assets to him, but this was a serious miscalculation, because he instantly sold them and disappeared with the proceeds, never to be seen again. The Schönnbergs were left destitute. Anna’s youngest son, Valentinius Alexius, moved to Cape Town where he obtained several minor Government posts, and in time was able to start his own gingerbread bakery, But, his luck would not hold.


Meanwhile, the property had passed to Jan Meindert and later to Jan Frederick Kirsten. Valentinius’s business was a remarkable success an in 1823 he married one of Kirsten’s daughters. Their family property was transferred into his name. A frugal man before his marriage, Valentinius changed completely. He was no farmer. He preferred the “good life” and gambling. He loved to bet on the horses and in time he gambled away the entire property and felled a beautiful grove of trees to pay his debts. Feldhausen changed hands again until on November 19, 1834, Royal astronomer to King George III, William Herschel, acquired the property. He allowed Valentinius to keep a long, narrow piece of wasteland, named Herschell and on which o build a house.


The Herschells rather despised Valentinius, because he was so slow to sign the land transfer and because he left an infestation of rats and fleas. Old habits die hard, and before long Valentinius’s died insolvent. His wife could not manage his estate, so his son sold it together with his mother’s jewellery to clear their debts. Wiliam’s son, John Frederick William Herschell (later Sir), came to South Africa to continue his father’s work. He was an English polymath, mathematician, astronomer, chemist, inventor, and botanist. He was said to be one of the most sought-after of all British men of science. He declined an offer from the Dukeof Sussex to travel to South Africa on a navy ship. He had inherited money and preferred to pay for his passage. He, his wife and their three children, departed from Portsmouth on the SS Mountstuart Elphinstone with his 508mm telescope on November 13, 1833. During the voyage he catalogued the stars, nebulae and other objects of the southern skies. This was an extension of the survey of the heavens undertaken by his father. He arrived in Cape Town on January 15, 1834 and set up a private 6.4 m telescope at Feldhausen. While in SA he was free from demands and strong obligations to a larger scientific community. He engaged in a broad variety of scientific projects and later said this was probably the happiest time in his life. His experiments as a photographer led to him being hailed as the inventor of photography. He also invented the blueprint, a means of reproducing technical and engineering drawings. He researched colour blindness and the chemical power of ultraviolet rays.


Sir John Herschell married his cousin Lady Margaret Brodie Stewart, who shared his interest in botany. They had twelve children. They combined their talents to produced 131 botanical illustrations of excellent quality of Cape flora. He used a camera lucida to obtain accurate outlines of the specimens and left the details to his wife. When HMS Beagle called at Cape Town in June 1836, Captain Robert FitzRoy and the young naturalist Charles Darwin visited Herschel. Darwin was influenced by Herschel and quoted him in some of his writings. Herschel returned to England in 1838, and was created a baronet. He published Results of Astronomical Observations made at the Cape of Good Hope in 1847. In this publication he proposed the names, still used today, for the seven then-known satellites of Saturn. In the same year, Herschel received his second Copley Medal from the Royal Society. A few years later, in 1852, he proposed the names, still used today, for the four then-known satellites of Uranus. A stone obelisk, erected in 1842 in his honour. Today it stands in the grounds of The Grove Primary School, in Claremont. It marks the site where his 20-ft reflector once stood.

The only difference between try and triumph is a little UMPH – Marvin Philips, AIM Group