A new cookbook will be on the shelves in October. It is the result of a move to the Karoo in 1990 which made it possible for Rose Willis to indulge her two great loves – historic research and cooking. “Friends scoffed when, after a particularly busy time in Johannesburg’s world of public relations, we announced we were going to drive down the road, find a house we liked and move to there,” she said, “But, we did just that and so I found myself in the Karoo. Never having been out of a city, I wasn’t sure I was going to like life in a “dorpie,” but I soon discovered the Karoo is was a place of warm welcomes and open-hearted friendliness. The area intrigued me and, as I was without work, I drew a circle on the map and started researching the cultural history of all small Karoo towns. This led to a job in tourism and an opportunity to explore the Great Karoo. A paradise of home-grown products and tantalising taste treats opened up. I discovered Karoo food, rich in tradition and rooted in history. I also found townspeople and farm folk all only too willing to share tried-and-trusted recipes, as well as some special hand-me-down dishes from Grandma and her predecessors. I started collecting recipes. Most had been adapted, a pinch of this, dash of that, large handful and cupfuls had become recognizable measures, so the recipes were easy to follow. Also, rich, fatty, old-fashioned mutton stews and vinegary venisons had vanished into history along with overly sweet puddings, yet the fine flavours all remained. I discovered the hospitality of the Karoo dated back to a time when there were no hotels, when travellers brought the news to these isolated areas and when food was central to social life,” said Rose. The collection of recipes in The Karoo Cookbook portrays this region’s diverse social fabric and, while some dishes are rooted in tradition, others are as modern and adventurous as tomorrow. There is something for everyone. The venison and ostrich sections meet the demands of the health conscious and those watching their waistlines. All recipes were tested by the Institute of Culinary Arts. The book, superbly illustrated in full colour, and available in English and Afrikaans, is published by Struik.


A new book covering the history of a different part of arid zone has just been published. Written by Arne Schaffer owner of Africana Books Life and Travels in the North West from 1850 to 1899 covers “the forgotten half-century” and a new era that started in Namaqualand in 1850 and moved through Bushmanland and the West Coast. “The great period of exploration was in the past,” says Arne. “The travels of Oloff Bergh, Simon van der Stel, Coetze, Wikar, Hop, Paterson, Gordon, Le Vaillant, Thompson and others had been documented. The missionaries had told their stories of first half of the 19th century and many make good reading, but the next 50 years in that captivating region are poorly documented. Also, much material was written in German, Dutch and Afrikaans and so is not easily accessible to the casual reader. I found this history so absorbing I felt the stories simply had to be made available to a wider audience. It took quite some time, but I have captured the tales of the locals, their foibles, conflicts, and some of the lighter moments of their life during the time when the red gold, copper, started to flow from the underground veins in increasing streams and nourished industry and economic growth in this vast, arid area.” People flocked to this new Eldorado in the desert and their stories are now told in Arne’s new book. It includes tales told by travellers, miners, a cleric, engineers, a transport rider, geologists, surveyors and a quirky magistrate and it describes some of the harshest living conditions in the land, as well of what it was like to work and travel in this isolated area. Published by Yoshi, this 260-page soft cover book includes 30 pen sketches by well-known Cape Town artist, illustrator and cartoonist, Tony Grogan. There are also two folding maps. Life and Travels in the North West is available from Africana Books at the cost of R200 including postage


A young man born in Oudtshoorn in 1916, joined the American Navy, while still in his teens, to “see the world” and have “some great adventures.” It seems his wish was granted, because from the time J I Kaplan enlisted to the time he was demobbed, he was never short of excitement. He was shot through the heart during the Battle of Dunkirk and miraculously survived much to the astonishment of the medical world. Pronounced fit he rejoined his ship only to be torpedoed – not once, but three times. His ship was also in the vicinity of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the atomic bombs were dropped. He also clearly recalled the Japanese Harikiri pilots bombing American ships. Kaplan told these tales to Arthur Markowitz, who shortly after World War II was searching for stories for The S A Jewish Times. At the end of the war Kaplan, who held the rank of Lt Commander, was awarded the Marine Combat Bar with three stars, the Atlantic War Zone Bar and the Pacific War Bar. He recalled attending an incredible church service in Guadalcanal in 1945. It was arranged by a Rabbi, and he was assisted by a Protestant chaplain. ‘The United States Government provided matzos and gefilte fish, the Navy sent milk and eggs and a Roman Catholic priest brought the wine. This all happened four days before Peisach and it was the most impressive service I have ever attended,” said Kaplan. Then, after all this excitement, Kaplan ended up in Hopetown where he opened a store called The Atomic Shop. Asked why he chose to settle there he said he was amused by the fact that the town’s first Jewish shopkeepers had missed out on buying the first diamond found in South Africa. “But,” he said, “A man must settle somewhere, and this place is as good as any other. Also, my intriguing shop name brings in the customers.”

Note: John O’Reilly, a pedlar, brought a shiny stone to Martin and Leopold Lilienfeld, Hopetown’s first shopkeepers, saying he’d acquired it from a Mr Van Niekerk who’d been given it by a Mrs Jacobs whose son had picked it up on the farm, De Kalk. The brothers dismissed the stone as a child’s plaything and declined to buy it. They learned from their mistake – the stone turned out to be a diamond. The next time Van Niekerk came in with a stone they bought it. It was the 83 ½ carat Star of Africa.


South Africans love to give grand titles to good farmers, so we have “mealie kings,” “mutton kings,” and the like. In the 1920s Ceres had at least three such “kings.” Joseph Sarembock, who came to the area in 1920, ended up as “apple king” of the area. “It was largely due to his efforts that about a third of all deciduous fruit exported from South Africa came from Ceres,” stated The S A Jewish Times of August 22, 1947. Losky Cohen, was known as the “potato king” and Theo Kirsch, who was born in Ceres, but who farmed in Wolseley, was called the “plum king.” Max Rose, who arrived in South Africa in 1890 from Shavel, in Lithunia, went straight to Oudtshoorn where he started out as a feather buyer, but in time became such a successful ostrich breeder that he was known throughout the Klein Karoo as the “ostrich king.” He told reporters that the ostrich feather boom, of the early 1900s, netted over £2-m a year from international markets. “Demand led to ostriches being ruthlessly hunted and killed for their plumes,” he said, “Things got so bad that ostriches were in danger of extinction.” An Outdthoorn farmer is credited with saving the birds. According to The SA Jewish Times of February 20, 1948, Joel Myers, who had started as a trader in Aberdeen in the Great Karoo built a great walled enclosure on his farm to keep wild ostriches on his land. Then he regularly rounded them up and plucking them. Others soon followed his example. The slaughter stopped and the birds were saved. Before the 1914 slump in demand for feathers, there were 870 000 mature birds in the Oudtshoorn area alone.”


There’s a remote spot on a lonely old route through the Zuurberg Mountain Range that has a tragic link with South African Jewish history. “Towards the end of the 1800s an elderly Jewish couple fleeing brutality in Lithuania arrived in South Africa in search of a better life,” writes Arthur Markowitz in The S A Jewish Times of July 2, 1948. “They set up a trading store at this beautiful spot and looked forward to chatting with passers-by, but that was not to be. They were brutally murdered. Their bodies were found by a traveller. The couple is buried in Uitenhage. The murderers were eventually found in Pearston, arrested, tried, found guilty and hanged.”


The Jewish Community of Grahamstown celebrated the end of the Anglo-Boer War by planting trees. Mr J Nailand, who arrived in South Africa from Jurushki in Lithuania in 1895, settled in Grahamstown in 1899, after “wandering for a while.” He said the local Jewish community was so saddened by the war, so when it ended in 1903 we decided to planting trees as a symbol of peace. We chose a site on the top of the mountain so that everyone would see these trees of peace. Then, one day, dressed in their best – and some even wearing top hats – local Jews climbed the steep path to the summit, dug holes and planted saplings. Years later this became known as The Jewish Grove,” states The S A Jewish Times of August 6, 1948.


In the early days most men who needed a bath and lived near the sea simply plunged in and freshened up. Ladies, of course, did the best they could using a cast iron baths in the kitchen. Men who lived too far from the coast to regularly dash and splash found rivers, dams or reservoirs a good alternative,” writes Victor de Kock in The Fun They Had. “Early Beaufort Westers bathed in the town dam and when it was proposed that this practice be stopped, there was an outcry. Locals declared that if bathing were deleterious to the water, then boating must be so too and if one were stopped, the must also go.” If people were so worried about the cleanliness of the town’s water, they said, then the whole dam should be covered so as to avoid the dust blowing in, “we maintain this is far more deleterious than the washing of a few human bodies.” These protests went on and on in the newspapers for quite some time. Then the council decided that since most men seemed to be taking their baths in the dam in the late afternoons at a time when ladies may fancy a stroll along the wall, the practice should definitely be stopped. This time, despite a huge hue and cry, bathing was prohibited.


In 1872, Beaufort West authorities decided to build a dam at the fountain in the Gamka River. Despite t he fact that he was due to leave town that year, the dam was named Tinley’s Dam in honour of Captain Tinley who had come serve as magistrate in October 1867. The dam was welcomed by people who lived on the northern side of town because it was a more convenient place for them to do their washing – up until then most residents were using the Kuils River pools for this purpose. The local brick maker also made good use of the new dam. However, within two or three years there was such a build up of soap in the water at Tinley’s Dam that wash days there had to be prohibited. The soap scum eventually got swished out and today the little dam, within the terrain of the golf course at the western side of North-End, still exists. Over the years heavy rains have at times caused damage, but this has always been effectively repaired.


Clean, fresh drinking water was a complex problem in early Beaufort West. Then, on December 1, 1879, Percy Weeber, one of the town councillors, came up with a good idea. He proposed that the fresh water fountain below Springfontein Dam be used exclusively for drinking water, writes Wynand Vivier in Hooyvlakte. Weeber suggested the fountain be closed off, to prevent contamination by dust and dirt, and that the water be piped directly to Donkin Street where it could be made available to anyone who wanted it by the installation of strategically placed taps. His suggestion was enthusiastically received and within short a neat little stone building was erected over the fountain and a pump was installed. But that was all that ever happened, nothing came of the proposed pipes and taps and the town survived without this elaborate drinking water scheme.


Newspapers of the late 1800s often recorded astounding thought-reading feats. Several “professional” mind readers toured the hinterland and kept audiences across the country enthralled. One of these was a man called Stuart Campbell. His performances were hailed as “nothing short of excellent.” In an interview he once told of his efforts to get President Paul Kruger to consent to having his thoughts read. “The very suggestion threw the old President into a paroxysm of rage. When he eventually calmed down, he explained that his mind was full of important State secrets,” says Campbell. “What would happen, asked the President, if after I had read his mind I communicated his thoughts to Mr Cecil John Rhodes. This would just not be politic! So, apart from the wickedness of the whole idea, the President he felt it best if he kept his thoughts to himself.”


When Beaufort West’s first preacher came to town, he had to share a house. John Taylor complained that this “third-rate dwelling” had such a thin partition down the centre that he could hear every sound coming from the other side. No one took any notice and four years later, when he left for Cradock, nothing had been done to improve his living conditions. Born in Scone, Perth, Scotland, in 1778, Taylor, a devout man, was a fully ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and 38 years old when he joined the London Missionary Society and came to South Africa with Robert Moffat, Evans, Kitchingman and Brownlee. Before departing for the isolated new district of Beaufort in December 1818, Taylor married Antonia F van Gysel, a sister of the second wife of Rev M C Vos of Tulbagh. His role in the newly established Beaufort West was one of minister and missionary. An able, zealous man of strong convictions and high principles, he was asked to served the people of the town and district, and also to set up a mission at Kookfontein for the Hottentots, San (at the time called Bushmen) and ‘Basters’ who lived in the surrounding areas. Antonia supported him in every way. She and two of their daughters are buried next to him in Cradock.


The failure of the Shangani Patrol in the 1890s, the massacre of Major Alan Wilson’s men and the disappearance of “Lobengula’s gold,” was blamed on two obscure private soldiers, both batmen in the Bechuanaland Border Patrol. One was James Wilson and the other William Charles Daniel, from Beaufort West. In Lobengula, Hugh Marshall Hole, says Lobengula sent two messengers, his son Nyamanda and the son of his trusted induna Mjaan, an old general who grew up with him, to take ten bags gold to Jameson in Bulawayo and say: “White men, I am conquered. Take this money and go back.” Lobengula added if the army would let his people go away and hide he would surrender. The gold vanished and Major Forbes, claimed never to have received any message from the King of the Matabele, says Robert Cary in A Time to Die. Hole says Wilson and Daniel were the rear-guard of one patrol and the indunas had given the gold and message to them. No one was around, so they stuffed the gold into their own saddle bags. Cary writes that at an enquiry “it became clear that 31-year-old Daniel, born at Beaufort West, in the Cape Colony, in circumstances of some doubt, was the leader of the conspiracy.” The Rhodesia Herald stated: “he is a short man apparently with a tinge of black blood in his veins.” Wilson, eight years younger, was described in the same newspaper as “a taller man of unmistakable English features, but not such as one would expect to find in a man prepared to do anything desperate.” Cary adds “even on first report the evidence was damning and nothing emerged at any time afterward to throw any doubt on the men’s guilt.” Goold-Adams wrote “I heard that two of our men, on a pass to Bulawayo, had purchased farm rights for about £70 a piece and that they had gold in their possession. I sent for them independently and asked how they became by so much money. Daniel said he had won the money gambling and Wilson that when he started out for Matabeleland he had got together as much money as he could with the object of speculation in farms and gold claims.” So much suspicion surrounded the case that Goold-Adams had the men arrested even though they had no money on them. He then rode 100-miles to the nearest telegraph office to relay the story to Sir Henry Loch in Cape Town. Loch was not happy. He said it sounded much like the stories of rough justice that come out of the cowboy towns of the Wild West.


Rose’s Round up will be part of the Genealogical Potpourri Stand at the Family Research Exhibition in the Holy Trinity Church Hall in Paarl, on September 27. This exhibition, open from 10h00 to 1600, will feature various organisations handling different aspects of genealogical research, preservation of historic documents, photographs and other articles of cultural interest. Among them are the Cape Family History Society and Huguenot Memorial Museum, Genealogical Society of South Africa and the Genealogical Institute and the Cape Family Research Forum, which specialises in Moslem family research. A Cape Town bookseller who deals with specific publications relevant to family research will also have a stand at the show. In addition to Rose’s Round-Up, which is being exhibited because it offers assistance to people trying to trace Karoo families, the Genealogical Potpourri Stand will also feature the work of Mrs Margie Müller from Robertson. She has done a great deal research on Eastern Cape families. She has also recently compiled several family trees, among them are those of the following families: Du Preez, Müller of Koraansdrift, Painter, Rudman, Saaiman and Van Tonder. Some major archives, such as the Western Cape Archives and Record Service in Roeland Street, and the Drakenstein Heemkring in Paarl, will also have material on display.


It will soon be much easier for researchers to find information on the Succulent Karoo. A new database, funded by the Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Programme (SKEP), is now up and running. It includes 6 000 research papers, most of which were provided by the Plant Conservation Unit at the University of Cape Town. These were identified during the first phase of the programme, which is still in operation. A project team is contacting various people and organisations to establish what resource material they have on the Succulent Karoo and whether they will make this available for adding to the database. “Over the years a great deal of research has been done in this area and many papers and reports have been written, but these are almost impossible to access as they are not readily available in one location,” said Cindy Mathys of SKEP “We trust the new database will resolve this problem. During Phase Two information will be added to provide locations indicating where various items in this vast store of information can be accessed. The idea is to identify libraries in both South Africa and Namibia so that researchers in both countries can be served. The project team will also survey delegates at the Interfaces 2008 Congress in Oudtshoorn this month to establish who is using the database and what they think of it.

I have a great ambition to die of exhaustion rather than boredom. – Thomas Carlyle