The long forgotten Klipplaat railway line is back in the news. Cape Town’s Ray Hattingh discovered more about this isolated line and the Klipplaat station in Boon Boonzaaier’s book, Tracks across the Veld. “According to Boonzaaier the Klipplaat to Oudtshoorn section of this rail route was opened in stages from 1902. The entire line was opened for traffic on March 1, 1904. This line through the arid Klein Karoo and Camdeboo areas needed engines with large water tanks and the problem was solved by the introduction of the Vanderbilt-tendered Class 19D’s during 1948 and 1949. Eighteen 19D’s worked the line for 30 years until General Electric products took over in 1979. When the Graaff-Reinet line was closed in 2002 the points were locked. Now traffic between Port Elizabeth and Oudtshoorn simply traverses a long curve without going near the old station. From Klipplaat the line continues to Humefield, where drivers are changed.” Ray added that when stone throwing became a major hazard a decision was taken to change drivers in the middle of the veld rather than put their lives at risk.


The order was simple. Fly from Cape Town to Bloemfontein with a refueling stop at Beaufort West. Nothing complicated about that, or so Lt Harold Woolf Cohen, of South African Air Force 6th Squadron, thought when he was asked to fly an AT-6C Harvard Mk IIA 7200 from Brooklyn Airfield to the permanent flying unit at Bloemspruit, outside Bloemfontein. He was, however, fated, never to arrive. Cohen took off on schedule at 09h05 on February 17, 1943. By 11h30 he discovered he was lost. He tried to find out where he was by searching for clues on the ground. Soon, he spied a railway station and descended to read the name board. It was Klipplaat. Checking his map, he found he was 161 km away from Beaufort West, so he changed direction, but instead of turning to starboard, he turned to port. About 25 minutes later he was still lost and running low on fuel. He managed to execute an emergency landing on a farm near Cookhouse after one dummy run and without damaging the aircraft. Harold found someone to guard the plane and set off to find a phone. He called 44 Air School at Grahamstown and they dispatched Royal Air Force Engineering Officer Flight-Lt A T Jarrett. He arrived at 16h30, confirmed there was no damage, helped Cohen refuel and he took off to land safely in Grahamstown at 19h45. An inspection by RAF Navigator Instructor Flight-Lt J Watson established Harvard’s compass was faulty. This was fixed and Cohen was on his way again at 15h00.


But once again Cohen was fated not to reach Bloemspruit. After a while he again found himself off course and running low on fuel. He performed another emergency landing, this time at Taung. Again the aircraft was undamaged. He once more he found someone to guard the plane and again set off to find a phone. He called 21 Air School at Kimberley. They rushed out, inspected the plane, confirmed there was no damaged, helped him re-fuel and pointed him in the direction of Bloemfontein. With the help of some labourers Cohen cleared a runway which he personally measured out and took off. All went perfectly, until he was airborne, then the plane’s right wing struck a tree. The Harvard crashed. This time the engine and airframe were seriously damaged, and Lt Cohen’s left leg was injured. He was rushed to Kimberley hospital, but on February 25, was transferred to Johannesburg Military Hospital. A month later he was discharged. An official enquiry was eventually held, and the Adjutant General decided that no disciplinary action would be taken against anyone in regard to this accident.


In early January 1847, Graaff-Reinet businessman, J Goodair, lost patience with one of his customers. In a newspaper advertisement on January 8, he stated: “If C Bleach does not call before January 30 and take away the piece of cloth and waistcoat, he left with me on December 18, 1845, and pay the money he borrowed, the articles will be sold on that day.”


In the mid-1800s most Karoo towns raised their own rifle corps. Beaufort West first discussed the idea in November 1857, and called a meeting of interested men on December 17. Enthusiasm was encouraging and 20 men handed in their names. Beaufort West Volunteer Rifles first paraded under T B Lawson on March 24, 1858. Locals were delighted, but businessmen less pleased were not keen to release men to drill. On July 24, the Corps turned out under Lt. McNaughton in uniform, with muskets and bayonets, to welcome Sir George Grey. Later it was decided “to replace the rusty old muskets” and new rifles and sword bayonets, costing £7, complete with belt and cartouche box. They were the same as those used by the Cape Royal Rifles. The corps was named Beaufort West Royal Rifles in 1859. It had 40 men and three officers, Lt-Col J G Devenish, Lt P McNaughton and Capt J Christie. By August numbers began falling and was at times so low that the sergeant refused to drill them. By 1860 there were 38 men. The corps paraded to welcome Judge Watermeyer and was complimented on its drill that day. Numbers continued to drop and by 1861 there were only 28 men. Rifleman Rice won the Prince Alfred’s Rifle award in 1862, just before the Corps disbanded.


The Colesberg Mounted Rifles, or Colesberg Rifle Corps, raised in 1860, first drilled and paraded on the Queen’s Birthday that year. The 37 men performed extremely well because the commanding officer was previously an army lieutenant. The district surgeon Dr H P Morgan was appointed as medical officer. Both he and the OC were mounted. Officers were Col H Green, Maj W Dawson, Capt G Murray, Lt and Adj. W Roach, Lt D Olthoff, and Quartermaster B van Blerk. Legislative Council Member, the Hon. Ludwig von Maltitz, presented a silver bugle to the unit in November 1861. It disbanded in 1863.


Cradock Mounted Volunteers, raised in 1860, had 71 men. Commanding Officer Capt J E Nelson was assisted by 1st Lt T C Scanlen; 2nd Lt and Adj Louis Schrijner and Dr George Grey. This was the second unit to bear this name. The first, raised in 1850, was disbanded in 1852 after delivering excellent service in the 8th Frontier War. Nelson and Scanlen both served with this one. The second unit’s uniforms and accoutrements, similar to those of the Grahamstown Corps, were ordered from Hamilton’s. Turnouts and musters produced such good riders and swordsmen that a drill sergeant was requested from the Cape Imperial Mounted Rifles “to add a bit of polish.” The rifle corps paraded as every opportunity. In December 1860, they ordered a standard from England requesting that it carry their battle honours. Sadly, when it arrived some were spelled incorrectly. In March 1861, 12 members turned out to assist the police to catch horse thieves. The patrol was most successful patrol. They recovered the stolen stock at Pretorius’ Kloof and arrested 12 thieves. The local newspaper began referring to them as “The Cradock Bricks.” On August 12, 1861, the corps rode out, resplendent in full uniform to welcome Legislative Council Member, Hon H Tucker, and in January 1862, it challenged the Cape Royal Rifles to a postal shoot. The unit’s strength was 84 in 1861-1862, 85 in 1863, but only 28 in 1864 and 22 in 1865 when Lt Scanlen took over. The corps was disbanded in 1866.


A steady stream passed Mrs. Flight’s Military Outfitters, in Southampton, in January 1862, just to see the splendid light blue silk standard destined for South Africa and on display in the window. It was superb reported The Hampshire Independent of January 18, 1862. “Workmanship and embroidery are magnificent, and worthy of inspection.” The Union Jack was in the top left-hand corner. In the centre a red silk circle, with embroidered rose, shamrock and thistle, was surmounted by an Imperial Crown, and encircled by Cradock Mounted Volunteers, embroidered in gold. Below were banners with “Cape of Good Hope” and the motto “Ready Aye Ready.” Sadly, apart from Whittlesea, the battle honours, emblazoned on the standard, were incorrect i.e. Imanvir, Inggobir and Farmerfield. The standard was presented to the commanding officer on the Queen’s Birthday by Mrs. Gilfillan, widow of William Gilfillan, a former civil commissioner who, with his sons fought bravely in many frontier wars.


Lovers of hot chocolate will be delighted to know it’s an old time favourite. Way back in 1854 Dunn’s Chocolate was advertised as “just the thing for the diggings!” in the Graaff-Reinet Herald of Wednesday, April 5. The advertisement stated: “This delicious and wholesome beverage can be used agreeably without either milk or sugar. It does not require boiling and can be prepared in one minute by simply adding hot water. It is far more conducive to health than coffee and is especially nourishing. Travellers will find it a valuable addition to their comfort while on the road. It is sold in tins and 1 lb (0,45kg) packets at the Herald’s Offices.”


To get a view of the Great Karoo Carl Peter Thunberg climbed Slypsteenberg. He described the countryside “as poor, flat Carroveld, without any mountains”. He said the eye could not reach its boundaries, that there were no farms nor houses on the extensive plain over which farmers had to travel from the Camdebo across the Hex River to the Cape. “It is said that farther on there are mountains (the Nuweveld) which probably extend from the Roggeveld to the Sneeuberg. The immense dry Carroveld cannot be inhabited for want of water and scarcely any animals reside there, except for a short time or immediately after rain, when a little salt water is found here and there in the hollow places. The colonists, who farm either in Roggeveld or snow mountains, wait for rain before they cross the desert. They pitch their camps near places where there is water.” He said there was hardly any grass, so it was difficult to find grazing for horses. “The oxen put up with the brack water and salty leaves of shrubs and bushes. In the daytime when the sun shines out hot, if one casts one’s eye over the smooth and arid plain, it is affected by a tremulous motion in the air just as though one were looking at a flame. Plants as well as herb bushes stand very thin in the Carooveld. In this burning hot climate, where not a drop of rain falls sometimes for a space of eight months, the Khoi, who transverse this plain, assuage their thirsts with a magical plant which has a large and succulent root. It is called ku or kambro.”


He was an expert on Karoo fossils, yet he never visited the country. Richard Owen, (later Sir Richard), born in Lancaster, England on July 20, 1804, studied and described many of the important early Karoo fossils for 40 years. His credited with introducing the term “dinosaur” and providing the first description of a South African dinosaur fossil. From 1820 to 1824 Owen, was apprenticed to a surgeon-apothecary, he then registered at the University of Edinburgh, but stayed only two semesters. During this time, he attended some preparatory medical and comparative anatomy classes. He then went to St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London and dissected cadavers for anatomy classes. He qualified as a surgeon, worked at the Huntarian Anatomical Museum and later became the curator of the natural history collection at the British Museum. He held this position until he retired. In his lifetime he published over 400 papers, many dealt with fossils, mostly from the Karoo.


‘Most fossils described by Owen were mammal-like reptiles of Permian to Jurassic age,” says Professor Cornelis Plugge, who has done much meaningful research into early scientists. “Owen’s first paper on this topic, published in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society in 1845, covered the first fossils sent to England by Andrew Geddes Bain.” The genus Dicynodon, mentioned in this report, later proved to be the dominant group of herbivorous mammal-like reptiles of the Karoo. Parts two and three of the paper followed in 1855. Later papers, describing many more new species of Synapsida, were published between 1860 and 1884. Owen introduced the term “dinosaur” in 1842. After the Great Exhibition of 1851 he and artist B W Hawkins created the world’s first theme park, housing life-size stone and iron dinosaur statues at the Crystal Palace. The dinosaur fossil he described was found by J M Orpen near Harrismith in 1853. In 1876 Owen produced an illustrated catalogue of the South African fossils in the British Museum and an editorial article appeared in the Cape Monthly Magazine His only paper published in South Africa, entitled Extinct Animals of the Cape of Good Hope, appeared in the same journal in 1879.


Graaff-Reinet shopkeeper, J Hancock, was exasperated by people popping into his shop in search of a bottle of brandy. He said so quite firmly in an advertisement in the Graaff-Reinet Herald of Saturday, April 19, 1856. “People have been troubling me since licences have been granted to sell brandy and wine. I warn them warning that I shall give them brandy in their eyes if they continue to bother me. I keep a shop but do not sell spirits.”


Lee and Meurant, on the other hand, were only too happy to oblige those who wished to celebrate. In January 1847, they advertised a rather fine range for those who desired a drop of “something stronger” now and then. Their list of items available, in wholesale or retail quantities, included Cape and Boer’s brandy, ale and porter, French liqueurs in cases, Sazera’s best cognac also in cases, gin in red and green cases, demijohns and stone cans. They added they were expecting daily deliveries from the “Flora”, “Lady Leith” and “Gilbert Henderson” of other niceties and eatables including Berkley, Pine, Edam, Sweetmilk and American cheese and sugar candy in half and quarter boxes, as well as 400 bags of Mooghy rice, 200 bags of Java and Mauritius sugar, 100 bags of Blue Bean coffee, plus steam mill and American barrel flour.


Many authors, both men and woman of the Karoo, have brought great joy to others through their literary efforts. One, Anna Margaretha Louw, acknowledged as one of South Africa’s greatest Afrikaans novelists, was born on the farm, Soetwater, near Calvinia on December 31, 1913. Her mother taught at the Soetwater farm school, so Anna attended this humble little school until she passed Grade 8. She was then sent to Calvinia High School as a boarder to complete her matric. Anna went on to study English, Afrikaans, Dutch, German, French and Psychology at the University of Stellenbosch and graduated with a BA Degree. By the time she was 20 Anna had fallen in love with Lewis A Hurst, and soon after they were married the couple left for New York, where they lived for two years. She and Lewis had three children: Wendy, Nicholas and Elizabeth. While in the United States Anna attended the University of Columbia, where she took courses in journalism, drawing and visual arts. When they returned to South Africa, in about 1935, Anna decided to continue her studies and registered at the University of Cape Town for a B Social Science Degree. After graduating she started writing short stories, first for radio and later for magazines. Her first short stories appeared in Die Huisgenoot in about 1945. Then, encouraged by her success as a writer, she moved on to writing travelogues, longer articles, more short stories, dramas, essays and about ten full-length novels.


Her works were highly acclaimed by literary critics, most of whom found her writing outstanding. They praised her style, sharp observations, clever use of irony and the wonderfully simplistic way in which she portrayed human beings. Mostly her characters were surrounded by huge forces of nature yet hampered by their own weakness. Her novels were acclaimed for being written according to “great classical tradition”. She was acknowledged as a “fearless writer who did not shy away from the portrayal of misdeeds and injustices, and one who was totally unafraid to describe the wonders of God”. As one of the country’s most accomplished Afrikaans writers Anna soon found herself winning top and coveted prizes. Among these was The Olive Schreiner Prize for Prose, (1964) for Twenty Days That Autumn; the Scheepers Prize for Youth Literature (1968) for Die Voortreflike Familie Smit and The W A Hofmeyr Prize, (1971) for Die Groot Gryse – a historical novel about President Paul Kruger. Her best work, Die Kroniek van Perdepoort, received many prizes, including the Hertzog Prize in 1975, as well as the W A Hofmeyr and CNA Prizes in 1977. This novel explores good and evil and the seven deadly sins. With her second husband, Gerhard Bassel, the father of her twins, Christina and Editha, she travelled extensively through Europe until he died in 1990. She died at the age of 90 on June 12, 2003.


The post arrived in Cradock quite normally on October 9, 1938. Then disaster struck. The postman stepped into a building to deliver some letters and when he came out again his horse was gone. He reported this to Magistrate Michael Goss. His horse, he said, was a beautiful Chestnut with a star on its forehead and a “G” on the left rump. It had faithfully conveyed the mail from Somerset to Cradock. He also reported his assistant, a man named Snell, had absconded on the same day, so he felt there was every reason to suspect Snell was the thief. A reward of £1 was offered for any information leading to the recovery of the horse and conviction of the thief but neither Snell nor the horse was ever found.


Max Rose’s grand niece, Jane Murray, is searching for information on the South African side of the family. She lives in the United States and has appealed to Round-up for help. She writes: “I only very recently found out about my South African relations. Max Rose, my great grandfather, came to America with his brother Joseph in the early 1900s. They started a furniture store in the Long Island, area of New York. A little later their sister, Anne, joined them. I believe their other brothers, Albert and Bernard, remained in South Africa. Family legend has it that Max was known as “The Ostrich King” in the early 1900s, so he possibly lived in the Oudtshoorn area, but I am not sure. The story goes that he lost everything when the feather market collapsed, but he regained his fortune when he developed a special feed for ostriches. Albert, I believe, ended up in England, but I can’t find out what happened to Bernard. We would love to know more of our South African roots, particularly as my brother, Bob, hopes to visit South Africa next year and would like to visit some to the places that the early family might have known. Your readers may be interested to know that I live in Arizona where a Dr. A. Chandler once lived. He too had a passion for ostriches and because of him we have an annual ostrich festival in the City of Chandler,” says Jane.

Do your little bit of good where you are and those little bits of good put together will overwhelm the world. Desmond Tutu