Taffy and David Shearing have just completed another valuable work on the Anglo-Boer War. Entitled The Rebel Record, this 983-page, three volume series contains the names of 15,433 Cape colonists who joined the Transvaal and Orange Free State forces as rebels during the war. Ideal for military historians, genealogists and family historians it forms the database of Taffy’s 2004 University of Stellenbosch doctoral dissertation The Cape Rebel of the South African War. In the foreword Prof Albert Grundlingh of Stellenbosch University says, “Taffy and David have been exceptional in mining the rich history of the Cape rebels.” This 50-year labour of love contains full names, addresses, and even voter and ward numbers where possible, to make it easy to identify people who had the same family names. “Surrendered rebels and those who were captured under arms were first divided into Class 1 (the leaders who were gaoled) and Class 2 (the followers who were disfranchised),” says Taffy. “In 1901 when Martial Law returned 32 Cape Rebels were sentenced to death by Military Courts and executed for high treason under arms, to the horror of their families, who thought the Cape Parliament would protect them. Many rebel prisoners-of-war gave false addresses, and it was only after many years that these were discovered and corrected.” The volumes cost R700 plus R70 postage and packing.


William Spilhaus, a young merchant who regularly travelled into the Karoo in the 1870s, worked for a firm run by the brothers Ludwig and William A Lippert. As young Spilhaus made regular journeys into the hinterland to purchase wool and other farm produce for Lipperts, he needed a special cart to traverse the rugged roads, so he had one built with high wheels and with a broad seat. It was drawn by a pair of good horses. These were essential, he said, because even with the best steeds the daily distances he could travel were limited. He was not always sure of finding a hotel or even reliable and clean lodging in every village, but he was generally assured of good hospitality on the farms. “Farmers would accept money for forage and stabling, but not for meals and lodging. At times there was no alternative but to sleep out in the open. This was not unpleasant, even in the winter, he said. “Select a place in the lee of some Karoo bushes, clear the ground of rocks, lie down on your sheep skin karos or veldkombers, hold one end in your hand and turn over with the closed side towards the wind. This done, cover yourself, head and all, and you’ll be quite snug throughout the night. Meals in the open are a delight and meat cooked over an open fire is fit for a king.”


Nigel Amschwand, a profession engineer by day, but an intrepid explorer in his spare time will discuss “The Forgotten Highway” at a Vernacular Architectural Society meeting on September, 20. This man, who has traversed many less travelled routes and vertiginous mountain passes with a fearless spirit and an investigative eye, will talk will be about the old route into the interior that was opened up in the 18th century. He will discuss a few of the alternative ways that were used to get to Karoopoort and he will describe the route to the Roggeveld escarpment using modern maps with overlays of early roads and farm diagrams. This interesting talk, supported by historical facts, stories, William Burchell’s sketches and narratives from other early travelers, will take place at The Athenaeum, Boundary Terraces, Newlands, on September 20 at 20h00.


In the 1850s a British journalist joined a patrol so that he could report on “the excitement of border life”. Although there had been unrest and some cattle rustling in the area, his first day out was peaceful, he said. In January 1853 in the Grahamstown Journal he wrote: “In the late afternoon about 40 men started gathering on a a farm where we were hospitably entertained until everyone had arrived. At 4pm we set off on a winding route in the direction of Cradock and Graaff-Reinet. After a few hours we stopped at a small spring, a common resting place, but there was nothing to be seen. We had a good view of wild, dreary, elevated table land, extending to blue hills in the dim distance. All was calm as we rode through low country and were covered by clouds of dust. At dusk we off-saddled on a small stony koppie and partook of some refreshment, which luckily, we had ready cooked, as there was not a bush nor stick of wood within miles. We composed ourselves as well as we could among the stones fancying to rest for a while, but scarcely were we comfortable when we got the order to saddle up. As we set off a thick mist came down. Our guide fortunately was well acquainted with the country, but we doubted him. Each time we got a glimpse of the moon we felt quite certain we were going wrong; but we consoled ourselves that we would soon be back at the farm we’d left late that afternoon. Some even speculated whether we would be in time for supper. I know not when I enjoyed a ride so much as this night.”


There were ten young Englishmen in the party wrote the journalist in the Grahamstown Journal. “We rode together, confident that there was no likelihood of meeting an enemy. We also amused ourselves by telling jokes and singing songs, much to the surprise of some sedate Dutchmen in the party. Later travelling became heavy-going. The soil was light and porous, and our horses sank in at every step. There were angular holes of water and no sooner had the horse stepped out of one when its feet were into another. This was dangerous country where a mount could easily break a leg. At last, because of the uncertainty of the route, we were compelled to halt for the night. Soon most were dreaming of the girl he’d left behind. By morning our solitary blankets gave insufficient protection against the cold Karoo air. Most of us were pleased when daylight came and there was a call to saddle up, even though there was a thick mist.


The scouting party rode into fine grass, so tall that the horses could crop the seed without even stooping, wrote the journalist in the Grahamstown Journal. “Presently we began to ascend a rather treacherous path, made more dangerous by the mist. Eventually we rose above the mist and were greeted by a splendid view. The whole valley below us was covered in cloud, while above us all was clear and bright. We were not allowed to enjoy the scene for long before we were ordered to ascend to the summit. The route was steep and covered by small loose stones. I looked up thinking if the enemy was there about us and rolled down a few of the large stones, a great deal of mischief might be done to us. At last we reached the top and a more difficult place to fight an enemy I never wish to see. It was about a mile square, stoney and covered with large rocks and long grass; precipitous rocks were everywhere. Cautiously we spread ourselves over the top, we could see the enemy below totally unaware of our presence. Before we could get near, they one of their men raised the alarmed. We fired, one of their men dropped and the rest hid among the rocks. The hunt was on and it is more frightening than you would suppose. You must keep both eyes open, and both hands on your gun, so as to be ready to shoot at a moment’s warning, and yet, you have to take care not to shoot one of your own men. It was all rather unpleasant, especially when everyone has a deadly accurate aim.” In the end five of the enemy were killed, the flock of sheep was recovered, and the writer admitted to being tired, footsore, and never having been so scared by anything in his life.


Endless stories were told about the slowness of trains crossing the Karoo. One told of a passenger who, after a long halt in the wilds, put his head out of the window and shouted to the guard: “What is wrong?” He was told cattle were crossing the line, writes Brian Roberts in Kimberley, Turbulent City. Eventually the train started, but 20 minutes later, stopped again. Once more the irate passenger rushed to the window and stuck his head out. “What more cattle?” he yelled at the guard. “Oh no sir, the same cattle,” came the reply.


In the 1883 George Eastman invented dry, rolled film and put photography into the hands of the common man. Easy to use cameras came on to the market and taking photographs became a popular hobby. A young British nurse, Emily Seabroke-Cooper, was one enjoyed this new pastime. She found she was able to indulge this new interest when she came to South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War to serve with the Imperial Hospital at Deelfontein in the Karoo. She took an interesting landscape photographs as well as many pictures of nurses at work and at leisure and views in and around the hospital and in the wards. Later when she was sent to the other Yeomanry Hospital at MacKenzies Farm at Maitland, near Cape Town, and Pretoria, she compiled a similar portfolio of photographs there. Years later, these photographs, richly illustrative of a nurse’s life in a war situation, were published in an album.


Ludvig Flemmer was a young boy of 14 when he first tasted prickly pears. On the way to Cradock they had passed though an area where these grew prolifically and one day their old wagon driver, Windvoel, thinking that the children would enjoy the succulent fruit, picked a dish full and cleaned them. He was right Ludvig and his six brothers and sisters thoroughly appreciated them. Remembering the delicious syrupy fruit Ludvig next day saw another plant laden with fruit. “Full of enterprise he made off and collected huge quantity, filling his trouser pockets, and shirt front with as many as he could squeeze in. He did not realize what a damage the thorns would do and he was soon in agony. It was most fortunate for this young man that his father was a doctor and able to allievate his suffering,” writes Steve Herbert in The Flemmers of South Africa. Ludvig never forgot that day and for the rest of his life in south Africa no one could ever again persuade him to even taste another prickly pear.


Even though Lieutenant Arnold W Hudson took a plentiful supply of water for his trip into the Kalahari it soon ran out. “I was very much afraid of water in the dryland (mainly because it was fearfully salty and brack),” he wrote in Trekking the Great Thirst. “All too soon I was proved right because it killed two oxen.” He then procured a supply of melons. These were fed to horses and oxen to quench their thirsts. As a word of advice, he added: “It is always advisable to cut up the melons before giving them to horses because they have smaller mouths than the oxen and find it difficult to chew the melon if it is not cut into strips.” Then they began to run out of water for human consumption. “The natives were boiling up some melons. The juice coming from them looked most uninviting. What I wouldn’t have given for a glass of clean water.” Then he remembered a tin of cocoa in his saddle bag and he thought he might add some to the juice. Neither he nor his companions thought this would work but were favourably surprised at how pleasant the drink was. “The cocoa blended excellently with the melon juice and the result was quite palatable. What was more it satisfied our thirst.” After this the cocoa was carefully husbanded. It lasted for the whole trip.


Lieutenant Arnold Hodson once discovered a jackal was tougher than he thought. “A jackal can bite very hard, as I once experienced to my cost. On a certain occasion in the South African arid zone I wounded one and foolishly thrust the muzzle of my rifle into its mouth. The animal bit into it and before I could get my rifle free again the beast was dead with all its front teeth broken and the sight of my rifle badly bent.”


The Bushman (San) used sticks to make various kinds of traps. Some of these are described by Lieutenant Arnold W Hodson in Trekking the Great Thirst. “They use varying sizes of stick to suit the different kinds of animal they wish to catch. For guinea fowl they use medium-sized switch, and for springbok a small pliable tree. In this way they even catch large game. They also set noose traps. The running noose is made of ostrich sinews and practically unbreakable. It will hold anything. Bushmen and Hottentots also use ordinary iron rabbit traps that they get from wandering traders. With these they mostly catch jackal.


The area around the Nuweveld Mountains was never successfully occupied by the trekboers of the 18th century. It was a dangerous area and home to a number of lawless, violent men. Hiding in caves, crevices and secluded valleys were run-away slaves, deserting sailors, absconding soldiers, vagabonds, debtors, thieves, murderers, escaped prisoners, bandits, counterfeiters, arms and ammunition dealers, illicit liquor smugglers, landlopers and swervende skepsels (wanderers generally up to no good) as well as many other criminals writes Nigel Penn. All were safe in the knowledge that the police would not, in fact, could not, follow them into this hostile place. It was here that Khoisan chose to make a last stand against landseekers and trekboers leaving the Colony. This sector was a summer rainfall area, but despite this it is almost always immensely dry. This applied in particular to the Koup, which had to be crossed to reach this “new veld” of better grazing. Farms in the Nuweveld area were constantly abandoned because there was insufficient water and grazing was poor. It was not possible to use the Nuweveld as a base and trek from there because the surrounding areas were just too dry and the good grazing to the north was claimed as legplaatse, said one report. In fact these legplaatse (loan farms) were considered to be part of the Roggeveld because farmers from there used them for summer grazing. As trekboers moved in so the game moved out and the San began to prey on the farmers’ stock. An almost genocidal war broke out and dragged on for almost 30 years. At times between 1770 to 1800 large parts of the Nuweveld were totally abandoned. In 1776, for instance it was reported that it was unnecessary to appoint a veld corporal for the Koup because the area was totally abandoned Yet, even when there was no conflict raging the mobile society that lived in the Karoo put a great strain on the sparse environmental resources


Plucky, pint-sized Miss E.L.C. Watson, a mathematics teacher from Elgin in Scotland, steered her way onto the pages of South African history in 1912 when she became the first person to ride a motorcycle from Cape Town to Johannesburg and then to Durban. Many consider her trip a milestone in the emancipation of woman who gained a new kind of freedom cycling became popular about a decade earlier. No longer did the fairer six have to wait to be taken out they could go out and alone too. Watson, a highly education, modern, innovative woman completed this 2000 mile solo trip on a 2 ½ hp motosacochi (motor cycle), states an article in the Colonist and Evening Post. She was actively involved in women’s rights and poverty issues in England and also wanted to make a contribution in this regard in South Africa. However, she found that the wounds caused by the Anglo-Boer War had not yet healed. She was greatly admired not only for being the first person for undertaking such a journey, but for attempting such a trip along and in a country where drifts were frequent and roads both rugged and unreliable.


Miss Watson set off wearing neat riding breeches, a habit coat, high lace-up books and a motor-cyclist’s peaked cap. Bit by bit the travel outfit and kit were discarded. She simply threw them away, she said, to be more comfortable. “The tea basket was the first to go,” she told a newspaper reporter, “A large can of lubricating oil followed and then the hat I had brought to shield me from the sun. I found the peaked cap sufficient. A dispatch case followed and then one by one the tools she had packed. “To my great surprise I found I could get rid of the two gallon can of petrol I had brought as never was I too far from a petrol store. I did all I could to avoid big rivers, but on one day during a thunder storm almost cycled right into the Vaal. The dongas, however, were another problem. These irregular channels made by heavy rains certainly presented a difficulty, so did the sluits and spruits (streams) that were not bridged. In some places the water courses were very deep. I had to go gently through these waterways, yet still ensure that there was sufficient power to propel the machine up the other side. I often chose ‘rushing through’ simply because this was far more exciting,” Miss Watson was not the first woman in South Africa to use a motor cycle. That honour went to Mrs Sutton, General Cronje’s daughter.

S A’s First Boy Racer: Charles Rorich is said to have been the first South African fined for speeding. In 1906 he was caught doing 12 miles an hour in an 8 mile an hour zone in Cape Town and fined £2.

The secret of getting ahead is to get startedSally Berger