OLD AIRSTRIP BACK IN BUSINESS

Matjiesfontein airstrip has been re-opened. Several private flights from around the country have already used this airstrip, which has been out of action since it was destroyed in the Laingsburg flood. Somehow its restoration never seemed to be a high priority on anyone’s agenda. Then Alan Veasey, a pilot who flew for 23 years, bought Rietfontein farm and decided to turn it into a Private Nature Reserve. A deserted airstrip on his doorstep made no sense, so he took a closer look and discovered that it could be resurrected. Alan’s enthusiasm rubbed off on David Rawdon, owner of Matjiesfontein village, and between them they agreed to share the costs of restoring the runway and bringing the airfield back into service. Slightly south west of Matjiesfontein village, this landing strip runs in a westerly direction. Alan managed to extend it by 1030 meters of compacted earth. The elevation of the runway is 3020 ft. There is a windsock on a koppie at its northern side. The mountain range on the south has a maximum height is 5 000 ft. “The Overshoot and Undershoot of the runway is clear open veld,” says Alan. “To our delight the project has been a great success. In the long run it will do a great deal for tourism in this part of the Karoo.” Anyone wishing to use this airfield must bear in mind that it is a private landing strip and that prior arrangements must be made with either the Lord Milner Hotel (Tel No: 023 561 3011) or Rietfontein Private Nature Reserve (Tel No: 082 557 3844). Before any aircraft is given permission to land on the runway a disclaimer form has to be signed. “The success of this project has been encouraging,” said Alan. “We are now planning some open days and fly-in’s.”

PAT ON THE BACK FOR PRINCE ALBERT’S TOP WINEMAKER 

When Mariska Schreuder of Bergwater Vineyards had made it to the finals of Woman Winemaker for 2006, the whole village of Prince Albert celebrated. “We were all so proud of her,” writes the editor of the Olive Branch. “She might have been the youngest of the five finalists, but she certainly showed she had the talent to make it among some of the top “movers & shakers” of the industry. These included such big names as Mary-Lou Nash, from Black Pearl, Erika Obermeyer, from Graham Beck, Carla Pauw from Anura and Eleanor Visser, wine maker at Spier/Longridge. The award went to Eleanor and Spier, but, in the eyes of the Prince Alberters, Mariska was a winner just for having been nominated and reaching the finals.

A TRIBUTE TO THE MAN WHO OPENED THE ROUTE TO THE INTERIOR

A man, who eloped with the 15-year old daughter of a French officer during the Peninsular Wars, made a name for himself in the Cape as a roads engineer in the 1800s and opened the route to the interior. Artist, architect and land surveyor, Charles Cornwallis Michell, came to South Africa in 1828 when the Colony was hamstrung by poor roads and virtually no mountain passes. He was a major in the Royal Artillery and Governor, Galbraith Lowry Cole, commanded him to investigate what could be done to improve the Hottentots Holland Kloof Pass. It was little more than a dirt track started by Khoi Khoi herders. Michell devised a plan to build a new pass using convict labour. He was given the go-ahead, and this was the start of a 20 year long career during which he played a crucial role in opening up the Cape interior and boosting economic development and expansion. As the Colony’s first Surveyor-general and Civil Engineer he designed many roads, bridges and mountain passes, among them Sir Lowry’s, Houw Hoek, Montagu and Michell’s Pass, named in his honour. He suggested improvements to Table Bay Harbour and designed Mouille Point, Cape Agulhas and Cape Recife lighthouses. Now a long-awaited book entitled, The Life and Work of Charles Michell, is being launched by Fernwood Press. Written by Gordon Richings and the result of years of study and research, this book is lavishly illustrated. It includes reproductions of Michell’s sketches, watercolours and engravings. Graham Ross does not tell us what happened to the French Lieutenant’s daughter, perhaps Gordon Richings will.

MANNA STILL ON TRACK

Plans for the re-launch of Alfred de Jager Jackson’s Manna in the Desert are still well on track. “The book is currently being printed at Interpak in Pietermaritzburg and 1 000 limited edition, numbered copies, will be ready on about August 22,” says Craig Elstob. “Breathing new life into this well-known historic work has been great fun and exciting. I am proud of the “new” book, it looks great. We are still planning to launch in Beaufort West later this month.” The “new” Manna in the Desert will cost about R230 plus postage.

MEET THE ALPORTS OF BEAUFORT WEST

The Alports of Beaufort West have a rich romantic history. They were related to the Cape’s first premier, Sir John Charles Molteno, and with him Percy John Alport ran a major general dealer’s store. The Alports were active in the many spheres of the life in early Beaufort West. A popular family they moved in many circles, playing integral roles in business, helping establish a Masonic Lodge and to develop the town. Some were elected to the town and district councils, others served in the town guard, many played tennis or taught. One offered drawing and painting classes, another had a beautiful solo voice. One became a doctor and discovered a cure for a kidney disease. Another was one of the first lieutenants of the Beaufort West Cadet Corps formed in December 1893, with Laurence Solms and Peter Reynolds. Oddly enough the person who known most about this Karoo family lives in New Zealand. “Your readers may wonder about a Kiwi’s interest in a Great Karoo family,” writes Helen Verrall, “The answer is simple. Percy John Alport, a highly respected businessman of the Karoo of the 1880s, was my great, great grandfather’s younger brother, so I am often asked about the Alports of Beaufort West. One of Charles Augustus Alport’s direct descendants, now also lives in New Zealand, and she too is involved in family research. We frequently exchange notes. I enjoy Rose’s Round-up, but I have noticed some inconsistencies regarding the origins of the South African family, so I decided to share my information with your readers. I’d love to hear from South African family members.”

THE FIRST TO GRACE THE SHORES

Several Alports found their way to Beaufort West. The first was Percy John, the second last son and ninth child of James Swaine Alport and his wife, Mary Ann (Beck). Percy, who was born at Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, Canada, on February 10, 1822, set sail for South Africa in about 1840. He stayed in Cape Town for a while and it was there that he later married Sophia St Ives Margeretha Jarvis, on October 8, 1846. She was the sister of Elizabeth Maria Jarvis, the second wife of Sir John Charles Molteno. In time Percy moved to Beaufort West where in 1852 he and Sir John set up a business called P J Alport and Co. It became quite famous throughout the Karoo and it also has a branch in Cape Town. Percy and Sophia had no children. In about 1867, he wrote to Canada to a nephew, the son of his eldest brother Henry Rose and his wife, Eleanor Parker, and invited him to come to Beaufort West and run that branch of the business. The offer interested Charles, but at the time he was desperately in love with the 16-year-old Emily Bate and he had absolutely no intention of travelling across the world without the girl of his dreams.

THE LOVERS ELOPE

When Percy John’s invitation, addressed to Charles Augustus, arrived in Canada his nephews were visiting their cousins. Charles and his brother, Arthur Cuthbert, had just returned from a fruitless expedition to the Yukon Goldfields. Every claim they had pegged failed while those of their neighbours struck it rich. Their endeavours at setting up an hotel in Vancouver also flopped. They then tried selling cigars, painting a town white and working in the coal mines, where an explosion almost cost Arthur his life. They needed something exciting to do and this seemed to be it, but there was only one problem. Charles was desperately in love with Emily, the beautiful daughter of Mark Bate, mayor of Nanaimo, Victoria, British Columbia. But Mark, a man of considerable influence and wealth had other plans for his daughter. He refused Charles her hand and in good old Victorian fashion “kicked him down the stairs.” Percy’s invitation brought things to a head. Charles obtained a special license and, with Arthur’s help, eloped. Silently the brothers rowed to the Bate residence, crept up to the house where Charles found a handy ladder in a shed. He leant it against the wall, helped Emily leave via her bedroom window. Next day, July 10, 1873, they were married in Nanaimo and then they fled to the coast where they boarded a vessel leaving for South Africa. But Emily’s father rushed aboard threatening to annul the marriage. Charles talked him round and he allowed them to leave on the next ship. The couple arrived in Beaufort West, shortly before their first child, Blanche Emily, was born in April 1874. Arthur then went to England to visit his recently widowed mother. There he found an invitation from Uncle Percy awaiting him. He left for Beaufort West in 1876 and once there married Ellen Esther Thwaits, daughter of James Alexander and Catherina (Bantjies) on April 17, 1879.

A DOCTOR IN THE FAMILY

Arthur Cuthbert’s eldest son qualified as a doctor. He gained fame when he discovered a cure for a kidney disease, now known as Alport’s Syndrome. Arthur Cecil, born in 1880 and he captured much of this family’s story in a book entitled “The House of Curious,” published by Hutchison in 1930. In it he covers the exploits of his father and uncle in Canada, their arrival in Beaufort West, his early life in the village, his medical studies in Edinburgh, his meeting with his wife, Janet (Jeanie), his time as a doctor during the Boer War and as a general practitioner in Rosettenville and Turffontein. It ends at the start of World War I, when he volunteered to serve with the Royal Army Medical Corps. Arthur Cecil then took Jeanie and his young son to England and they never again lived in South Africa. Arthur Cuthbert and Ellen, however, had three more children: Grace (1882), Sidney Norman (1884) and Dorothy (1887). Grace married Dr James Ward Summerhayes, who died in 1907. In 1917, she married a cousin Arthur Bernard Geary (son of Rev Henry and Blandinah (Alport). Arthur served as British Vice-consul in Alexandria and Cairo, so they spent most of their time in the Middle East. Grace had no children from either marriage. Sidney Norman and Dorothy both married. His son to his first wife became a priest. Dorothy had two daughters. Arthur Cuthbert died in 1898 and Charles died at sea on November 13, 1900. “Family lore has it that he fell overboard, from the ‘Kinfauns Castle” near the Island of Madeira, but this was never proven,” writes Helen Verrall. Ellen and Emily worked for Alport and Co for many years. Both died in Beaufort West. Ellen on November 17, 1941 and Emily in September 1943.

FEW REMAINED IN BEAUFORT WEST

Charles Augustus and Emily had eleven children – five sons and six daughters. Percy and Phyllis died young. Most of the rest married, but almost all moved away from Beaufort West. The eldest daughter, Blanche, stayed in Beaufort West and married, Albert (Bertie) Hartzenberg in about 1900. Blanche died in 1942 and Bertie in 1949. Maude Lucy Evelyn, (or Eveline), born 1879, married John (Jack) Rookledge in England. They returned to Beaufort West in 1905 and lived there till Jack died in 1919. Then Maude and their daughter, Daphne, born in 1914, returned to England. Charles Percy Lawrence (born 1877) remained a bachelor until was he was nearly 50. Then he married Eileen Mavis Shone, 30 years his junior, on April 20, 1926. Harry Battiscombe (born in 1882) married Katherine Johnson and settled in Plumstead. Alexander McConnell (born in 1888) became a lawyer and practised in Peddie. He married Florence Riches. Frederick Augustus (born in 1892) married Florence Kiddle. Mildred Mary (Milly), the last member of the Alport family to reside in Beaufort West, married Alfred Bernhardt. She died at Hesperos Old Age Home on May 27, 1986 and her daughter-in-law Marie, who still lives in town is possibly they family’s last link with Beaufort West. Queenie Rose Marie, who was born 1897, never married. She died in, Beaufort West in 1956. Constance Cherry, (born in 1900) married William (Billy) Harper of Beaufort West. She died in 1967.

TWO MORE NEPHEWS ANSWER THE CALL

Another two of Percy John Alport’s nephews, followed his footsteps to South Africa. Percy Warburton, the youngest brother of Arthur Cuthbert and Charles Augustus, came to Cape Town in 1881 with his wife Elizabeth (Eliza Sedgewick). They settled in Mowbray and from there kept in touch with their Beaufort West cousins. The other Alport with links to Beaufort West and the Karoo was Augustus James elder son Augustus Frederick Clarke (Fred) Alport. He emigrated from Ontario, Canada, in the mid 1880’s, and spent a couple of years farming ostriches in the Beaufort West area. He then moved on to the Diamond Fields, where he latter took up a position at De Beers. He married Ida Fensham in Beaconsfield in 1887 and died in Kimberley in 1892.

VISITOR ‘ATTACKED’ BY FEATHERED ‘THIEF’

A tourist was recently ‘peck-pocketed’ in Prince Albert. While this may have afforded him a few humiliating moments it left him with a delightful holiday tale to share with friends. “I suppose it can only be described as one of those rare, a uniquely Karoo experiences,” said Dr Pete Reinders. “On Herman Oliver’s farm we were surrounded by a hundred or so adolescent ostriches. All I could see was a sea of huge eyes, fluttering eyelids and an undulating forest of furry necks, all seemingly yards long. They pecked at my buttons, my head, my hands and appeared especially excited by my pipe. While I stood entranced by the magic of the moment, a probing beak quietly slid my wallet out of my back pocket. Suddenly I saw a spray of credit cards hitting the dust. I scrabbled desperately in a sea of horny toes to retrieve them all the time receiving many painful pecks on my head and neck. The moment was quite bereft of dignity.”

DISCOVER THE KLEIN KAROO

Dr John Almond has designed a special three-day programme to introduce nature lovers to the glorious landscapes and fascinating wealth of natural history of the Klein Karoo. These trips are scheduled to take place from October 24 to 27 and November 2 to 5. “The programme, based at the scenically lovely Red Stone Hills Guest Farm near Calitzdorp, covers a broad range of local natural history, with a special focus on geology, fossils, landscapes and vegetation,” says John. “Tuition is through slide lectures, al fresco talks in the field, scenic drives along quiet back roads, as well as several walks in Karoo veld and mountain kloofs. Participants must thus be sufficiently fit to walk comfortably in rocky terrain for a couple of hours if they wish to enjoy the field trips.” The programme has been structured to include time for relaxation and to enjoy this guest farm’s well-known cuisine and the world famous Calitzdorp port. The programme, which starts at 14h00 on the first day and finishes after lunch on the last day, costs R2000 per person (sharing). This includes tuition, illustrated hand-outs, three-nights accommodation and meals. “The rains have been good in this area so we can expect vibrant vegetation. The geology of the area is both colourful and thought-provoking,” says John. “Quite some interest has already been shown in these programmes, so it would be advisable to book early if you are interested in participating.”

CONSERVE THE BLUE CRANES OF THE KAROO

Few people realize that the largest population of South Africa’s national bird, the Blue Crane, lives in the Karoo. “This is the natural habitat of this species, Anthropoides paradiseus,” says Bradley Gibbons, Project Coordinator of the Karoo Crane Conservation Project. The Blue Crane, endemic to southern Africa, is listed as “vulnerable” in the Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. “Every effort must be made to conserve this species,” says Bradley. “During winter, Blue Cranes are gregarious. This means they are social and are found in flocks varying in size from 30 to 300. They are termed ‘local migrants’, as they only move small distances from their breeding sites. Blue Cranes are omnivores and feed mainly on insects, worms, bulbs and tubers, frogs, reptiles, grain and grass seeds.” Bradley explained that 15 species of cranes are found across the world. “The only continents where these birds are not found are South America and Antarctica,” he said. “Eleven of the crane species are threatened, so as a family these birds are in danger of becoming extinct. Cranes live for a long time and only reach maturity and start breeding when they are between 4 to 5 years old. Sadly, they face many threats before reaching maturity.” In addition to the Blue Crane, two other species of cranes were found in South Africa said Bradley, the Grey Crowned Cranes (Balearica regulorum) and Wattled Cranes (Grus carunculata). These are listed as “vulnerable” and “critically endangered” in the Red Data Book of Birds. “The Blue Crane experienced a decline of 80% in the early 1980s caused primarily by threats such as deliberate or accidental poisoning. This can still occur today. Other factors that threaten cranes are collisions with power lines, fence entanglement, injuries caused by bailing twine, damage to eggs, nests and taking chicks out of the wild. The biggest threat, however, is habitat destruction caused by urbanisation, agriculture, mining and forestry. Eskom has a Partnership Project to investigate power line collisions. Where these are found to be a threat to the birds the power lines will be fitted with flappers. These “flappers” or plastic markers are attached to the lines to make them more visible to the birds in flight. They have been very successful in reducing the chance of birds such as Blue Cranes colliding with the power lines.

THE HIGH, BUT IS IT STRAIGHT?

Mention the spire of the Aberdeen Dutch Reformed church and it’s guaranteed to get a reaction. When the story of the repair to the weathervane appeared in Round-up No 33, Cape Town historian Dr Cyril Hromnik couldn’t resist making this amusing remark. “So, they fixed the weathervane, but who’s ever going to straighten up the spire?” That’s just the kind of backhander guaranteed to get the locals all hot under the collar. Most love to boast that their beautiful Gothic Revival church, built in 1907, has the highest spire in South Africa, but few will accept that it is 45,75cm out of plum. Dominee F S Vivier measured its height on August 5, 1987 and proclaimed it 53,32 meters high. Several reasons are given for its being a little “out of plum.” Most are technical and involve differing materials. Also, the level and plum line used by S J Jansen van Nieuwenhuizen during building can even be inspected in a private museum. Ds Vivier, one-time minister in Aberdeen, advises: “Stop being touchy! Use this intrigue as a tourist attraction!”


“Anger is a wind which blows out the lamp of the mind.”

Robert G Ingersoll, born in Dresden, New York on August 11, 1933, he became one of the most eloquent orators of his time. A free thinker, he served in the Civil War, became a major force in the Republican Party, taught himself law, passed the bar and established one of New York’s most lucrative law practices