NEW BOOK COVERS 963 DAYS AND MORE

A new set of books, which will be of interest to Boer War enthusiasts, has just been published. Entitled The Anglo-Boer War 963 Days it is written by Pieter G Cloete and consists of two A4 soft-cover books – a 410-page main volume and a 50-page addendum of maps, facts and statistics. The main volume gives a concise, day-by-day, blow-by-blow, account of the eleven months preceding the ultimatum and the 963 days of the war from the start of hostilities to the signing of the Peace Treaty. The main book chronologically covers political and military events. The set costs R650-00. For further details and to order contact pgcloete@lantic.net

A VASE FOR THE FACTS

In the 1990s, T B King donated a brass vase to the Albany History Museum, in Grahamstown. It stands in pride of place on a pedestal. The vase has an interesting history linked to a libel case. It was initially given to George Hay, editor of the Cape Mercury, by fellow colonists to mark their appreciation of his conduct in publishing the facts and exposing a miscarriage of justice in the famous Pelser Libel Case in 1885. The Mercury hailed this as “one of the most extraordinary cases ever submitted to a jury”. The Hay vase is Japanese in origin and Roman in shape. It is decorated with gold inlay similar to cloisonné work with repeated patterns of crosses, bows, tiny insects, butterflies, a praying mantis, irises, stalks, creepers, flowers and stylised birds on the edge.

FASCINATING STORY

In Justice in South Africa, Albie Sachs states that the court case flowed from the shooting of an African by a farmer named Pelser. The incident took place on a farm near Burghersdorp. In January, 1885. Zachariah Gqusela went to fetch his employer’s horse from Willem Pelser. When he refused to produce his pass Pelser shot him and he died as a result. Because of many contradictions and improbabilities the solicitor-general, Advocate Andries Frederick Stockenström Maasdorp “declined to prosecute” and in a note dated February 16, 1885, stated that Pelser had acted in self-defence. For months the farm became a centre of accusations. There was a preliminary case, but Burghersdorp farmers protested against any arrest of Pelser and the action was dropped.

A SHARP RETORT

The King William’s Town Presbyterian minister, Reverend John Don, in April wrote a sharply worded letter to the editor of The Cape Mercury appealing for justice, highlighting the solicitor-general’s “dereliction of duty” and calling Pelser a “wretched murderer”. Maasdorp retaliated by indicting Don for criminal libel. As editor George Hay was equally implicated, and also charged. The case came before Judge Jacob Dirk Barry in Grahamstown and a jury of nine. At the last minute the case against George Hay was dropped and Rev Don stood alone in this sensational case called “Regina vs Don”. It lasted for four days, from November 12 to 16, 1885. Pelser made three statements – each inconsistent with the other. Pelser’s neighbours threatened to take the law into their own hands if he was charged. Finally, Judge Barry returned a verdict of “not guilty” and Don was discharged. There were cheers in the court room. He returned to King William’s Town where he received an 8-page address on vellum, with 800 signatures, from John Tengu Jabavu, editor of Imvo Zabantsundu. The judge praised him “for lending himself to the cause of free discussion and impartial justice”. Pelser was never charged. The judge left the matter “to his conscience”. Don struggled with acceptance in the community and was never really able to settle down again. .Advocate Maasdorp was knighted in 1904.

THE AGE OF HEROES

The Anglo-Boer War took place in the middle of what was known as the Heroic Era of Antarctic Exploration (1895 to 1922). It is thus not surprising that many men were involved in both events and, oddly enough, it was the ABW that led to most gaining prominence as polar explorers, says expert Sydney Cullis. His stories range far from the Karoo, but they are ABW linked. Among the heroes he mentions is Sir Ernest Shackleton, today considered the most famous of the Antarctic explorers. Following the outbreak of the ABW Shackleton transferred to a troopship on which he met a young army lieutenant, Cedric Longstaff, whose father Llewellyn W Longstaff was the main financial backer of the National Antarctic Expedition. Shackleton used this acquaintance to obtain an interview with Longstaff senior, and obtain a place on the expedition. His first experience in the polar regions was as third officer on Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery expedition (1901-1904), but he was sent home early due to ill health.

WORKED AT SIMONS TOWN DURING WAR

Frank Wild, Shackleton’s second-in-command, said to be the most experienced of all the Antarctic explorers, served as a Royal Navy rating at Simon’s Town during the ABW. When Scott needed replacements for unsuitable men on his 1901 National Antarctic Expedition, he received 4000 applicants. Wild, was one of those chosen, and it was an excellent choice. He served on several expeditions His later years were spent in South Africa, where he died on August 23, 1939. Many years later his ashes were discovered in Johannesburg and interred near those of Sir Ernest Shackleton. Ernest Joyce – the only person, other than Frank Wild, to have four bars on his Polar Medal – also served at Simons Town during the ABW. He too was selected when Scott needed replacement seamen. He served on four Antarctic expeditions. John King Davis, an Irishman, said to be the most celebrated of the sailing skippers of the Heroic Era, was in Cape Town during the ABW. He took part in three Antarctic expeditions between 1907 and 1930. Another Irishman, Cecil Meares, who served with the Scottish Horse during the ABW, was part the 1910-1913 polar expedition.

DIDN’T RETURN

Lawrence “Titus” Oates, served with the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons during an ABW. He was seriously wounded in a skirmish near Aberdeen in the Karoo in March 1901. In 1910 he applied to join Scott’s Terra Nova expedition. He was accepted mainly on the strength of his experience with horses and his ability to make a financial contribution of £1,000 towards the expenses. He was not fit enough for such a challenging trip and also had not recovered sufficiently from his Boer War wounds. Amundsen beat them to the Pole and after facing several grueling experiences on the ice Oates was suffering badly from depression. He also had gangrene and frost bite. On March 16, 1912, he stepped out into a blizzard announcing “I’ll be a while”. He never returned. Scott, Wilson and Bowers, waited for him, then tried to continue, but also died

JOINED THE AUSIES

Horace Edgar Buckridge, sailed to Australia from England at the end of the 1800s and while there joined the “NSW Imperial Bushmens Unit” as a volunteer for a year. He sailed with them to South Africa to fight in the ABW. While in South Africa, his year expired, so he joined the Imperial Light Infantry in Durban. He was present at the battles of Laings Nek and Spioen Kop, where he was captured. He later served in Scott’s Railway Guards. He took the part of Mrs Quinn in the first play ever to be staged in Antarctica. He later died of a head injury. Bertram Armytage, an Australian whose parents were relatively well off served as a part-time soldier with the Royal Victoria Artillery Brigade. During the ABW he was commissioned in the 6th Dragoon Guards. He took part in the 1902 -1904 polar expedition, but afterwards, was unable to find a suitable job. Dressed in his dinner suit he lay down and took his own life in the Melbourne Club on March 10, 1910.

COSMIC RADIATION

Charles Wright, a young Canadian physicist, attached to one of the polar expeditions, had for two years been studying cosmic radiation at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. In anticipation of continuing his work in Antarctica, his instruments needed calibration, but the site where he hoped to work was removed from sources of radiation. He, therefore, chose to take his instruments to Matjiesfontein in the Karoo, to carry out the calibration. He arrived there on August 18, 1910, and found the situation ideal.

STUDIED WITH SANGOMAS

Dr Henrik Greve Blessing, a Norwegian medical doctor, “studied scurvy because he had time on his hands.” He discovered that stress was the main cause. He decided to “stress himself” by injecting himself with morphine. He did not develop scurvy, but by the time he came to South Africa in 1900 he was addicted to morphine. In December, 1901, he stayed with an uncle, Gundred Gundersen, a Norwegian missionary based in Eshowe and visited many other stations in the area. In early 1902 he stayed with Lars Tittlestad. Blessing became very interested in the conflict and was indirectly involved in it. When he returned to Norway he gave lectures on the subject and wrote a manuscript (which was never published) entitled “Boers and Englishmen” In it he said he was almost inclined to side with the Boers, because so often they had shown themselves to be brave and persevering.” I also had the personal honour of seeing, and saluting from a distance, a troop of these modern Puritans and Cromwellian Ironsides. One fine morning at sunrise, they raided a close to my friend’s well-supplied store. They woke the boss and in a polite, buy very firm manner, demanded the keys. They then helped themselves to as much in food supplies and clothes as 30 horses could carry. Some of them were even thoughtful enough to take along a little surprise for their wife. Blessing studied the local plant life and learnt their medicinal properties from the sangomas. He returned to Norway in 1904 and then went to the Arctic.

ONLY ONE ENGLISH BOOK

There are several other snippets related to the polar expeditions and the ABW in Stanley Cullis’s paper. For instance, he states that Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole on December 14, 1911, owned only one English book – a special edition of the Illustrated London News’s South African War. Yet, Amundsen is said to have taught English to the Eskimos.

A CHEF AND AN EXPLORER

William Murray, was a member of the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition and a chef. During the ABW he was awarded several distinguished service medals. He was an ammunition expert at the Winchester factory during the WWI, states a special article in the New York Times of November, 23, 1937. Dr James Harvey Pirie who was born in Scotland and qualified as a doctor there, joined the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition in 1903 as its medical officer and later became interested in Antarctic Philately.

BROTHERS STAMPED!

On April 15, 2021, the eight Irish polar explorers were commemorated on a set of stamps. Called Through Snow and Ice the series celebrates men, who played significant roles in epic Antarctic expeditions. In addition to Kilkea-born Ernest Shackleton, an obvious hero, two brothers, Mortimor and Tim McCarthy, both fishermen from Kinsale, were among those honoured. Separately, they were involved in two of the most famous expeditions to the South Pole before the WWI. Tim was part of the crew of the doomed Endurance, He greatly impressed Shackleton during the events that led to a desperate ice and ocean escape and was thus one of six men chosen to make the legendary journey to South Georgia, alongside Tom Crean, from Kerry, who is also celebrated. Tim was killed in March, 1917, while serving on a British merchant marine oil tanker that was torpedoed. Mortimor, who was part of the doomed 1910 Scott expedition, joined the Navy at the age of 12, fought in the ABW, won the Silver Polar Medal for bravery and then set off to explore the Arctic before volunteering for destroyer duty during WWI. He settled in New Zealand. In 1963, he made a last trip to the Antarctic as one of only three survivors of the Scott expedition. By then he was 83, but still “mad for adventure”. He was the oldest person ever to visit the Pole.

A FINE LINE FOR THE EMPIRE

Also commemorated is Edward Bransfield, who in January, 1820, caught sight of the icy shoreline of East Antarctica On the basis of this sighting he followed the edge of the ice sheet and formally claimed it for the Crown. A stamp is dedicated to Patrick Keohane of Courtmacsherry, who on October,29, after a winter on the polar continent, was among the men who went to search for Scott’s group. On November 12, they found the frozen bodies of Robert Falcon Scott, Edward Adrian Wilson and Henry Robertson Bowers eleven miles south of One Ton supply depot. Also honoured is Brandon Robert Forde, who with his companions examined the area around Ross Island in temperatures that dropped as low as -62C. Forde returned home with a severely frostbitten hand. Until his death he wore a glove on that hand. Francis Crozier from Banbridge in County Down is also honoured.

GERMAN VIEWS

The German Antarctic expedition arrived in Cape Town a few weeks after Discovery. They reported: “Cape Town is under martial law – the huge ammunition dumps around the harbour indicate that we stand in the midst of extraordinary events. The country and people roundabout are on the side of the Boers. At that time an order had just been issued forbidding the assembly of more than three Boers at any place in the whole of the Cape Colony”. When they returned in 1903, having done some excellent scientific work there was a plague in Cape Town so they anchored in Simon’s Town. They travelled widely in the Cape Colony. They went to Ceres where they met with a doctor Reinecke who “had served as a doctor during the war on the side of the Boers.” His brother, who had fought at Spioenkop, was in confinement for some time. When freed he went to Germany and qualified as a doctor based on his medical experience during the Boer War

RETURNED TO STUDY

One of the doctors on Nimrod, Alistair Forbes McKay, joined the City Imperial Volunteers Mounted Infantry, while studying medicine in Edinburgh in 1899. He arrived in Cape Town at the end of January 1900. He took part in the Battle of Jacobsdal prior to the Battle of Paardeberg and after the surrender escorted Cronje’s forces to the Modder River When the CIV was disbanded he joined the South African Constabulary. He returned to Edinburgh to complete his medical degree before coming back to South Africa and serving as a civil surgeon. He died when his ship was trapped in the Arctic ice.

HALE AND HEARTY

On February 12, 1924, A A Zietsman arrived in Johannesburg in the sidecar of a motor-cycle. He astonished people by claiming to be 107 and ton have been a voortrekker and veteran of the Battle of Blood River, He came from Kromdraai, where he had been living with his 80-year-old son. Born in 1810, in Uitenhage, he married at 25 and had six children, all of whom are alive. At the age of 50 he married a second time and had 12 daughters. His aim was to obtain a pair of crutches, to enable him to go to church.

SCHOOL BOY DROWNS

John Walsh, 16-year-old St Aidan’s pupil, drowned when he and some friends went for a swim in Cutler’s Kloof in September, 1878. Friends reported that Walsh, who could not swim was a fun-loving boy. They said he was quite lively before getting into the water. Six boys got into the water and slowly waded out into the dam when Walsh suddenly disappeared. They called out to him but he did not resurface. A boy named Wilmot got out of the water and ran up and down the on the bank, calling to Walsh. The rest tried to dive, but because of deep water at that spot could reach him. On receiving the report the Civil Commissioner at once sent up two of his best policemen, Sergeant Hammerell and Sergeant Hay to the dam. A small boat was obtained from Captain Jay. Many locals rushed to the spot including Fred Barr, and some professors from St Aidan’s. There was sufficient help, Reverend Law and others got into the water and swam about searching for a long time, however several difficulties were experienced. There was no grappling iron and the boat leaked. It was more than an hour before the body was recovered, stated the Grahamstown Journal of September 27, 1878.

KENDREW’S KAALKOP CRATER

About 250 000 years ago, a meteorite of about 20m wide hit the Karoo plains and formed a bowl-shaped crater about 110m deep crater, with a diameter of 640m. A shallow pool of brackish water formed inside of it. In time the water evaporated, leaving a layer of limestone. Over the years this was repeated until an almost insignificant limestone hill, about 3m high was created. It was named Kalkkop. Today it stands among the Karoo sandstones and mudstones on the farm Bulrivier near Kendrew, Aerial photos from the 1940s, showed it to be a perfectly circular white deposit. It was thought to be a volcanic crater until 1947 when a borehole drilled by a mining company revealed that it contained remarkably pure limestone down to a depth of about 90 metres. Below that lay fragmented, but typical Karoo rocks. No one suspected that it was a meteor impact crater until 1992 when another borehole was sunk in its centre to a depth of 152m and later extended to 380m. The drill core revealed that below the limestone was evidence of impacted rock. This confirmed it was an impact crater. It is one of only three such craters in South Africa.


Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors, just be better than yourself