The spirit of Prince Albert is captured in a book launched by the village’s own Writers’ Guild. Some time ago the many writers who live in Prince Albert formed this Guild. In time the beauty of the village, its location and the magnificence of its surroundings inspired ten members, all experts in their own fields, to write this book that captures the flavour of the town. Prince Albert – Kweekvallei covers the rock art, early indigenous inhabitants, fresh mountain water in irrigation furrows, the town’s unique architecture and its exceptional and eccentric people. Among them medical men, parliamentarians, bounty hunters and church leaders, have all added their own touch to the story of Prince Albert. Considerable research was needed. Writers have used material from many libraries, and the Fransie Pienaar Museum, to trace the tale from Zacharias de Beer’s grazing farm, granted in 1792, to the present-day village. The 126-page well-researched and liberally illustrated book costs R120. It includes old maps, drawings and many hitherto unpublished photographs, such as the unusual view of Church Street, dating back to the late 1800s, used on the cover. “Kweekvallei, ‘valley of cultivation’, also implies ‘ valley of plenty’, and shows how deeply the town’s cultural history is rooted in its environment,” says Guild member Derek Thomas. “The two factors which have had the strongest influence on the town’s character, clear, fresh, mountain water and natural beauty, are both handled with insight in chapters on the natural environment and the geotectonic formation of the Swartberg.” The book is available from Fransie Pienaar Museum.


Remembrance Day this year took on a new meaning for Ingrid Paterson, a Round-up reader in Scotland. “James and I attended the service in Inverness. During the two-minute silence I sat thinking of all the South Africans who died in the Boer War, as well as World Wars I and II. I always find this period of silence very moving and I wondered how and when this tradition started. Then, in an article “Two-Minute Silence Started in Africa,” The Sunday Post, of November 13, explained it all for me.” For this article, the columnist, known as “The Queries Man,” interviewed Neil Griffiths of the Royal British Legion in Scotland. He said that Sir Percy FitzPatrick, author of Jock of the Bushveld, was in church in Cape Town in 1916 when a silence was observed to mark South Africa’s casualties in World War I. Sir Percy was so inspired that he urged a wider adoption of this practise. “On December 14, 1918, Cape Town became the first city in the world to observe a two-minute silence. Then Sir Percy wrote to King George V suggesting a silence in Britain on the first anniversary of the Armistice. The King’s invitation to the nation to join him in a ‘perfect silence’ on November 11, 1919, proved a huge success,” said Neil. The ‘silence’ was observed annually until it was suspended for World War II. “Perhaps people had grown tired of wars and so the observance of silences on November 11 dropped away. Remembrance Sunday, created in 1946, included two-minute silence, but its observation also declined. A two-minute silence was again proposed to mark the 50th anniversary of V E Day on May 8, l955. The wide observance of this idea prompted the re-introduction of a two-minute silence on November 11, at the Remembrance Day Service, that year. Public response was enormous, so observance continues to this day,” said Neil.


Ever thought that commonages, the public land surrounding most Karoo villages, were the country’s earliest fueling stations? “This always raises a laugh,” says Marina Beal, secretary of the Nama Karoo Foundation. “Then people realise that way back before cars and petrol pumps, oxen, horses, mules and donkeys drew the transport wagons and these animals all needed ‘fuel’ along the way. The great swaths cut into the Karoo veld by the wagon trains that left the Cape, and areas such as Albany, in the late 1700s and throughout the 1800s, can still be seen from the Landsat satellites. These vehicles brought settlers, families who joined the Great Trek as well as prospectors rushing to the gold and diamond mines. Each wagon was drawn by 16 to 18 oxen. The hooves of these heavy animals did almost as much damage as their feeding habits. Each northbound trek also included horses, small and other stock, all of which helped to denude the fragile Karoo veld.” Animal species were lost due to extensive hunting. Certain climax species, like grasses, were lost. Sensitive watercourses were particularly vulnerable as they offered easy access and were used as roads, said Marina. Trees suffered as well. They were cut for fuel or burned to eliminate hiding places for predators. One may be forgiven for thinking that the arrival of trains and cars in the 20th Century would have saved the commonages. “Not so,” says Marina. “Commonages then were leased to farmers and their stock overgrazed the land. They also built dams which disturbed natural waterflow. Eroded gullies (dongas) occurred where there once were natural wetland sponges (vleis). Alien vegetation, like prickly pear and Scotch thistle, flourished and spread, making it virtually impossible for the natural vegetation to regain its place. Today, with few exceptions, like at Graaff-Reinet and Beaufort West where SANParks operate, most Karoo commonages are used by Small Black Farmers’ Associations, who now try to make a living on land that has been overgrazed for more than 125 years. South Africa is the world’s second worst soil erosion offender. The time has come for all to now try to curb erosion, help natural vegetation regain the veld, and conserve water, our most precious resource.”


At first glance, the Karoo terrified early travellers. They feared their stock would not survive on the short stubbly Karoo bushes. Finding water also worried them, yet they trekked ever northwards sometimes just making it from one water source to the next. “When one breaks a twig of a Karoo bush, no matter how dead it may appear, it is found to be green and succulent inside,” writes Violet R Markham in The South African Scene. “Sheep and draught animals can exist on these bushes, even during the dry seasons, and practically every season is dry.” Violet explains how the roots of these plants had “the power to find moisture in this arid district.” Springtime in the Karoo impressed her. “These dusty-looking plants are covered in springtime with little yellow flowers with a strong aromatic scent and medicinal qualities. The health of sheep is attributed to these qualities. The Karoo, in fact, is healthier for animals than the grass veld further north. Animals here are not subject to disease in the same degree as elsewhere.”


In 1884 the Karoo was in the grips of a drought, yet the sheep still flourished. The Beaufort Courier of Tuesday, October 7, 1884, states: “We learn that parts of the Nuweveld are beginning to suffer much from the drought, yet fat sheep continue to come from that region. Yesterday we saw a beautiful looking wether brought in by Mr Rademeyer, weighing, as it stood, about 120lbs. But this was an average animal, only a sample from a flock of 300 grazing at Donkerhoek. This is the sort of animal which the despised Karoo bush supports.”


When Sir William Wilcocks travelled through the Karoo after the Anglo-Boer War he said it reminded him of Egypt. He also enthusiastically reported on the region’s potential for irrigation. However, the schemes he put forward were so vast and so costly that they alarmed South African authorities states Violet R Markham in The South African Scene. ”Dry though the surface of this land may be, water is always obtainable by sinking a bore hole. One of the obvious changes from the pre-war days is the number of windmills attached to pumps which may be seen all over this dry region. They dominate the veld in a curious, almost eerie, way. And, as they creak and turn, they seem to convey a strangely uncomfortable suggestion of vitality. Looking at them one is reminded of H G Wells’ Martians terrorizing the country side on their monstrous stilts.”


Early travellers in the hinterland came across some curious practices. Spaarman, who travelled into the interior in 1792, comments on an odd custom he came across in some hinterland churches. “There were benches on the sides for the men, but the women each had their own chair or stool. A good deal of etiquette was attached to these chairs. A young girl would be given a chair at the back of the church. As her elders married and moved away, or died, so her seat came forward, until in her old age she would find herself in the front row, under the pulpit and eye of the dominee.” Some early Cape Town churches also had a “table of precedence” attached to their seating arrangements. There is a delightful story of the time when Mrs Van Noot was shown to the front seat of a church when her husband visited as Inspector General of Fortifications. (He later became Governor.) As Mrs van Noot was about to take up this prominent seat, Mrs Cranendonk, wife of the Chief Merchant, strongly and loudly objected. It meant that she would have to take up a less prominent seat, writes Mrs A F Trotter in The Old Cape Colony. She put up such a scene that her husband leapt to his feet, spoke of the dignity of his appointment and the affrontry to his position. Whereupon Van Noot said he did not “care a button” where his wife was placed, only to earn a stern glare from her. “The whole scene was reported to the Company’s Directors ‘back home’, and they, with some exasperation, replied that they could take no note of such trivialities.”


In the late 1800s a special book entitled Photographic Scenery of South Africa was launched to honour the great work done in South Africa by Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere. It describes the Karoo as a huge tract of land without a single tree. “The herbage consists of short bushes on which sheep flourish, while the remainder of the Colony can barely support a few head. The drought may wither and blight elsewhere, but the hardy Karoo bush defies its greatest efforts at annihilation. Throughout the Karoo there is no river that does not cease to flow during the greater portion of the year; there are but few springs and from these very indifferent water is procured. For the sustenance of their flocks the farmers are almost wholly dependent upon rainfall.” Graaff Reinet and Beaufort West are described at the gems of the inland area, the Midland Province. In Graaff Reinet, The Gem, “agricultural and pastoral occupations are pursued with great profit.” An extremely neat town, celebrated for its beauty, it produces “immense quantities of fruit. The district produces some of the finest grapes in South Africa.” Beaufort West, connected to Cape Town by rail, ranked next to Graaff Reinet in beauty. “Its principal claim to fame is the large business it does in wool and the fact that it constitutes the half-way town and the largest on the western route to the Diamond Fields. Strangers are struck by its streets which are lined with fruit frees, pears, mulberry and the like, and its reservoir which is about a mile long.” Two other “interesting” towns are mentioned: Victoria West, “situated between two high ironstone mountains and a place where farms have considerable value” and Murraysburg, “which has a library with over 4 000 books.”

NOTE: Victoria West, in its day, was the first stop in the Karoo for Imperial Airways on its Cape Town to London flights. Those were the days! Nowadays only major cities handle international flights.


The Cape Argus of August 9, 1952, states that a brown hyena was killed on the farm of Mr Donald Rose in the Nuweveld mountains north west of Beaufort West. “This animal was thought to have been in the area for about four years but had apparently taken to sheep killing in the ten months before. It was shot by a trap gun set in a footpath after farmers estimated that it had accounted for more than 40 sheep. This animal measured l60 cm from tip of its nose to its tail and stood 91,4 cm high.” According to C J Skead’s Incidence of Mammals in the Western Cape, these animals, once plentiful in the area, were rarely seen in the Central Karoo in the 1950s.


The mayor of Beaufort was the envy of his neighbours when he “invented” a new watering system. (Today these are freely available and at times costly.) The Beaufort Courier of October 7, 1884 reports; “Mayor Madison has moved into his new house on the banks of the Gamka and is raising a little paradise on what formerly was a dry, bare and ugly spot. Everyone should go and see the ingenious contrivance he has for making a little water go a long way. Water is poured into a tube of some kind close beside each tree. All the water goes to the roots. Not a drop is wasted. Only a few cans do as much good as an hour’s leading. This certainly is a little winkle worth knowing in a droughty country such as ours.”


“You will be delighted to know that in your last issue you delightfully described the doings of one of my ancestors,” writes Ralph Anderson referring to “Justice Undone” in Round-up No 26. “Where did you find the story. No one in the family had ever heard of the attack on the magistrate by a man he’d just sentenced, nor of the brave stand taken by his wife. It was a most entertaining and greatly intriguing tale.” The saga of how this tale reached Round-up is a story in its own right. It came from an ancient, yellow and tattered page of The Courier, found some years ago by Beaufort West second hand dealer Pieter Nortier. This page, and a few others like it, had been used as drawer lining in an old piece of furniture he had acquired. They mystified him because the piece was not as old as the newspaper pages, but he passed the pages on to Rose Willis “in case she might find a story or two for Round-up.” (Pieter, who died earlier this year, was among its keenest readers.) The page lay about in a box of background material, which eventually came to Bloemfontein with Rose. She found it browsing through the box, looking for a story, as Pieter had long ago hoped she would do. “There must be many more stories about the magistrate in the annals of Beaufort West,” says Ralph. “For instance, I have read of Peter Jacobus Weeber, the Member of the Cape Parliament, who opened the bridge over the Gamka River at Beaufort West and I was wondering whether his father was M.J.Weeber, Beaufort West’s chief jailer, who is mentioned in Wynand Viviers’s book Hooyvlakte I would very much like to know more about this family who eventually also married into the Blyth’s, another old family in the history of Beaufort West. If anyone else is researching these families I would appreciate them getting in touch with me.”


Bloemfontein historic researcher Joan Abrahams recently picked up a box of Reader’s Digests at a church bazaar. “This was like finding a box of gems,” she said. “I have found something of interest in virtually everyone. For instance, I came across this little snippet that may be of interest to your readers. ‘The first four solar powered GSM cellular base stations of Vodacom are in the Karoo, along the N1 between Colesberg and Three Sisters. Cloudy weather hardly affects performance. After seven days of cloudy weather along the Karoo route, the system was still operating with 90% battery capacity available. Although solar-powered masts cost more to install initially, they can be installed faster and cost less to maintain. They can also be used to bring communication into areas that previously seemed impossible to supply.’ Yebo Gogo!” says Joan.


In 1884 The Beaufort Courier announced that the Graaff Reinetters seemed to be encouraging ox-wagon competition to the trains. “This has happened to such an extent that authorities are making a great fuss and have reduced the trains to three a week,” writes a reporter in the issue of October 7. “We cannot see what right any community has to expect the country to be at a loss in the running of trains if they are not properly supported. If the people of Graaff Reinet are not to blame, then it must be the ‘Bay-onions’ who encourage the ox wagons to compete with the trains. Do they not realise they are inconveniencing many and cutting off their noses to spite their faces? Do they really believe the ox wagon will prevail? The Government should turn the table on such people and curtail their travel conveniences!”


The trip from Fraserburg to Fraserburg Road Station was at times tedious. When W D Weeber held the contract to run the carts for post and passengers from present-day Leeu Gamka (then Fraserburg Road) to Fraserburg, he did everything possible to make the journey comfortable. He advertised covered carts capable of carrying passengers would leave Fraserburg for the station on Mondays and Thursdays at 10pm (22h00) and that the trip from the station would be on Tuesdays and Fridays at 2pm (14h00). The passenger’s fare was £3 and luggage allowance was 30lb per person. Parcels under 10lb cost 6d a pound and those heavier than 10 lb, 4d a pound. “Passengers desirous of travelling with the mail cart in the day time only can alight halfway at the contractor’s farm, Rietvlei, where they may spend the night, if they wish. A private cart will be provided for the remainder of the journey at a reasonable price. However, it is essential that such arrangements be timeously made,” said Mr Weeber.

“As we acquire knowledge, things do not become more comprehensible, but more mysterious.”

Will Durrant a philosophical writer in the United States in the early 1900s. His book, “The Story of Philosophy” (1926), sold over two million copies and was translated into many languages.