Prince Albert has proved it knows how to party. So, next year, the village aims to celebrate its 250th anniversary in style. Fans are advised to start penciling dates into their diaries. The first step on the road to this milestone celebrations took place on Saturday, December 3, when the town’s new, arty dustbins were unveiled. “This collection of 94 special bins, decorated by local artists, many of whom were children, makes us confident that we now have will have the most attractive, colourful and informative dustbins in the world,” says tourism officer Zelia Mullins, “This is just the start, there’s much more in the pipeline. Intrigued? Visit our webpage for full details of next year’s programme. There you will also be able to see photos of the ‘dustbin artists’ in action. It would be a good idea to bookmark this page among your favourites because 2012 is going to be a truly fun year in Prince Albert.”


A group of budding young artists are helping to put Prince Albert on the map. It all started last year when Sonja McKenna went to take a closer look at Christine Thomas’s Children’s Community Art Project while she was on a visit to town. The vibrant paintings on display were an inspiration. Initially she thought that they may make ideal post cards, but then she hit on the idea for a calendar. So, Christine, Sonja and Zelia Mullins, got together and chose a selection of paintings which they thought captured the fun and festivities of the village. “This was an immensely difficult, but exciting task. Each piece of art was inspirational and exceptional in its own way. Prince Albert now its own unique 2012 calendar which doubles as an events diary because it contains details of regular happenings, forthcoming activities and contact numbers,” said Zelia. Among the illustrations are delightful, lively, paintings of historic places of interest such as the library, a Huis Kweekvallei, the museum and Seven Arches. An arts and crafts montage complements the paintings. There is also a montage of artist self-portraits. The calendar, which costs only R65, is an affordable, yet different Christmas gift. All the profits will be ploughed back into the community and, depending on sales, the children would like to build a bird-hide and create a cycle trail around the town.


Early in 1884 A Difford, the traffic manager at Brounger Junction, as the railway station at De Aar was then known, was distressed that no suitable tenders had been received to run the refreshment room. This despite the fact that advertisements had been placed in various newspapers. He appealed to the head of the Western system of the Cape Government Railways to re-advertise and this was done on May 6, 1884. Difford felt that this outlet should have been snapped up because it had two bars – one for first and second class travelers and another for the occupants of third class. It also had a good kitchen and dining room and the only real stipulation was that the rooms had to be opened half an hour before the arrival of all passenger trains and closed again half an hour after they departed. As locals had not expressed an interest Difford hoped a “Cape businessman” might see the potential.


Water is perhaps the most precious commodity in the Karoo. So, in 1880 the people of Beaufort West were prepared to apply for a huge loan to conserve their supply. A notice placed in The Courier in June 1880, by Commissioner Charles de Smit, stated that an appeal has been made to the Cape of Good Hope Parliament to lend the Municipality of Beaufort West £4 000 so that the water reservoir, supplying the town, could be repaired.


Bread was not easy to find along the wagon route said early writers. Hinterland housewives had to grind their own flour and make their own yeast from sour dough, potatoes or veld plants. Bread was often baked in a hollowed-out ant heap, says Prince Albert historian Pat Marincowitz. Brick or clay ovens with chimneys and doors came later. Even later ‘luxury’ ovens appeared. They were still built outside, but there were doors inside the kitchen so bread could be popped into the oven without leaving the house. Getting the oven temperature right was an art. A fire, mostly of mimosa wood, was made inside the oven and kept going until the required heat was attained. Ashes were then scraped out, bread pans placed inside, and the doors were sealed – mostly with mud. When the seal was broken the crisp loaves were turned out, rubbed with butter and covered with a blanket to cool. “In the early days there were no refinements such as bread boards,” said Pat. “Pioneer women clasped huge 22cm loaves to their chests and cut huge thick slices from them using long sharp knives. I can’t see any modern woman daring to do this.”


Early bread had a unique flavour. Experts say this came from the yeasts, microscopic dust particles and trace elements emitted by the millstones. In Plains of the Camdeboo, Eve Palmer states: “Karoo bread always has a faint taste of mimosa, even when cool.” In 1890 Anne Martin, in Home Life on an Ostrich Farm, urged settlers to learn to bake bread “in the Boer way,” and not to accept any “old fly-infested offering” that came their way. “If there ever was a competition for bread-makers of all countries in the world the Dutch women of the Karoo would bear away all the prizes for their delicious whole-meal bread, leavened with sour dough,” she said


Making “suurdeeg” (sourdough or yeast) was an art, said Pat Marincowitz. “Early housewives started by peeling and grating a potato and then boiling this in about a liter of water for 10 to 20 minutes. Half a tablespoon of salt, 2 teaspoons of sugar, a few raisins, a little flour and a slice of bread was then added. The mixture was pressed down, covered and the pot was placed in a warm place, such as a cupboard, between feather pillows or eiderdowns, and left to ‘prove’ or ‘develop’ normally overnight. By the next day little bubbles had appeared on the surface and there was a yeasty aroma. The mixture was beaten, and sufficient flour added to make a sticky dough. More flour was added, and the dough was kneaded until the mixture no longer stuck to the hands. Again, it was left in a warm place to rise, then it was ‘knocked back’ (kneaded again) divided, placed in pans, left to rise again, then baked. ‘Óu suurdeeg’ (quite literally old sour dough) was the first “dried yeast”. The housewife simply pinched off a small piece of raw, risen dough and placed this under the flour in the meal bin. When needed it was soaked in luke warm water – to get it going again. The longevity of this yeast was never tested, but in my youth, bread was constantly being made from ‘pinched-off’ dough. I also remember a fickle “potato yeast,” commonly called ‘plantjie suurdeeg’. For this water, flour, grated potato, a tablespoon of brown sugar and a cup of flour were put into a screw top jar and left in a warm place to ferment. Once this ‘plant’ was going, a little was also always held back to be ‘fed’ for the next batch.”


Armmansbrood (Poor man’s bread), gebraaidepap (braaied porridge) or waterbrood (water bread) were traditional breads of the early Karoo. To make them all that was needed was flour, water and a little salt, mixed together and kneaded into a stiff dough. This was then rolled out, (normally using a bottle), spread with fat or oil, rolled up and rolled out again. The process was repeated four or five times till the fat or oil made the dough quite soft. It was then rolled out to a thickness of about 10mm, cut in slices and “baked” over an open fire till golden brown and crisp. “It had a wonderful flavour and was delicious with fresh coffee,” said Pat Marincowitz.


In the 1800s being ordered to muster a commando was one thing. Doing it, at times, was quite another. At the outbreak of the 1878-9 Frontier War this problem faced John Joseph Barry, the last member of the great clan that “reigned” in Swellendam. He received orders to muster the Swellendam Commando in Beaufort West. Fearing that the men would fall out along the way and go home, he enticed them along in carrot-and-donkey-fashion by having cart loads of liquor forwarded to every halt to await their arrival. In this way the commando straggled from stop to stop until it reached Beaufort West. Once it arrived there intact, John Joseph, not without visible relief, handed over his command and returned home,” states Edmund H Burrows in Overberg Outspan


Many early writers describe ox wagon travel as tranquil, but Wesleyan missionary, William Shaw, did not find it so. He found it noisy but amusing. Extracts from his letters and journals in Never a Young Man, compiled by Celia Sadler, state: “The African wagons, covered with white sail-cloth tilts, were each drawn by 12 or 14 oxen, urged on by stalwart Dutch colonists in rather primitive attire, or by tawny Hottentots with hardly any attire at all.” He added that the noise made by the incessant cracking of huge whips and the unsophisticated, unintelligible jargon was wondrous and amusing to English minds and ears. Also, he and his party were not “experienced in the African way of packing a wagon” and this almost ended in disaster. The driver told them to repack. “The Dutch driver, got his message across rather graphically by putting his hands on each side of his head, exclaiming: ‘Break neck, break neck,’ and indicating this would happen if the load remained as it was. This was sufficient to cause our descent and immediate action. Eventually the wagon went forth with great noise and almost ran down the bank of the river. We trembled for our goods and were thankful we were no longer in the vehicle ourselves,” said Rev Shaw.


When P T Ross enlisted as a young yeoman, keen to see action in the South African War in 1899, he found he had landed in a world of numbers. In his diary he wrote: “Even the horse has a number. It is No 1388 and assigned to the 69th company of the Imperial Yeomany,” he said “My company number is 51, my regimental number, 16484, my rifle and bayonet, 2502 and the breech-block and barrel of the rifle are numbered 4870. Our battalion is the 14th, commanded by Colonel Brookfield.” Ross, who rose to Corporal in the 69th Sussex Company, wrote in Yeomanry Letters: “Our lines drew Hungarian horses and saddlery was served out. One good thing about the 69th – they had excellent saddles, but the first time we turned out in full marching order was a terrible affair. Imagine me as an average Yeoman in full kit. Dangling on each side of the saddle are apparently two small hay-ricks in nets; then wallets full, and over them a rolled overcoat and an extra pair of boots. Behind me is a rolled waterproof-sheet and army blanket, with iron picketing-peg and rope. My mess-tin sits on top. Elsewhere the close observer mentally notes a half-filled nosebag. So much for the horse. Then, loaded with the implements of war, bristling with cartridges, water-bottle, field-glass, haversack, bayonet and so on, we behold The Yeoman. Mostly with great dexterity (but not always) he fits himself into the already apparently superfluously-decorated saddle, and once there, though he may wobble about, takes some displacing.”


Of his horse, Imperial Yeomanry soldier, P T Ross, said: “The noble quadruped is not an altogether pleasant beast.” Ross tried to take his horses to water but found it would not drink. “There were dead horses to the right and to the left. The water was black. Nearby a horse was dying – in a sad and quiet way – while another lay within a few yards of it, apparently doing the same thing. My performances with the two noble steeds in my charge must have been distinctly amusing to view, had anyone been unoccupied enough to watch me. Vainly did I try to induce them to drink of the printer’s-ink-like fluid – a mix of water and mud, already stirred up by hundreds of other horses. Eventually they did go in, but only for a splash, paddle, and roll, not to imbibe. I went in with them a little way, nearly up to my knees, in the mud. I must have been a sight!”


Beaufort West was divided into field cornetcies in 1880s. This was announced in The Courier according to cuttings discovered by Wendy van Schalkwyk of Aberdeen. Ward 1 of the Nuweveld was called Adjoining Quaggafontein, and it was 3 766 morgen and 350 square roods in extent. It was bounded on the north by Marais Claim, on the south by Bastaardspoort and Uitspansfontein, on the east by Quaggasfontein and on the west by Lot C. Ward 2 was in the Gough area and called Klip Gat. It was 6 875 morgen 424 roods in extent and bounded on the north-east by Eerste Water, south-west by Blinkkraal, south west by Rhenosterkop, and west by Klipstavel. Ward 3,792 morgen, 440 square roods in extent, and called Schalkwyksfontein, was bounded on the north by Slagtkloof, on the south by Wolvehokskloof, on the east by the Nuweveld Mountains and on the west by Kookfontein. Gouph 4, bounded by Tuiskraal and Hottentotsrivier on the north, Bushmans Leeget in the south, Valkfontein in the east and Tuinkraal in the west was called De Cypher, It was 7088 morgen 270 square roods in extent. The cost of these surveys varied from £37\9\6d to £15\7\6d.


One had to have a license to sell almost anything in old Beaufort West and inspectors patrolled the town checking that these were up to date. A notice in The Courier of 1885 states that wholesale licenses, costing £15 each, had been taken out by J J van Blommentein, Watson, Tennant and Co, P J Alport and H Hermans. General dealers, J J Blommenstein, Watson, and Alport each paid an additional £5 for gunpowder licences, while Blommenstein and H Baron had paid £5 each for an entitlement to sell ostrich feathers. It cost L Daniels, J C Swanepoel, E G Wolhuter and S Gillingham £5 each for bakers’ licenses, while J P Theron, D J Bosman, S Hermans, H P Eybers and W G Lotter paid the same to operate butcheries. P J Burgers, B Bernstein, J Abrahams and L Gordon took out hawker’s licenses costing £10 each and the latter paid the additional fee to sell ostrich feathers. B Kromm and C Howard paid £10 each for licenses for their billiard saloons and B Pritchard and C Pillans each paid £10 for auctioneer’s licenses. It cost R T Bolt, R Hohmann and C J Davey £5 each for apothecary licenses. Marriage licenses cost £5 and so did the hunting license issued to J Kruger. The prices had not changed much by February 28, 1899, when 34 people, among them many farmers, applied for general dealers’ licenses. Nine men, among them Amen Allison, applied for licenses to sell liquor and supply aerated water. These licenses cost £1\10\-. Three more butchers appeared on the scene, the bakers increased to seven and Lennon Limited opened an apothecary.


In 1883 a manhunt was mounted across the Karoo for an Italian wanted for murder. George Dimitri eluded the police for quite some time despite the fact that “wanted” notices and a description had been placed published in many local newspapers and in the Government Gazette. However, according to The Courier of October 8, 1883, Resident Magistrate, W B Chalmers, advised that the “warrant for the apprehension for George Dimitri for murder” had been cancelled because he had been arrested in Beaufort West. In those early years the Beaufort West police force had an excellent reputation for being sharp-eyed.


In March next year 100 years will have passed since the South Pole was discovered and polar explorer, Robert Falcon Scott, and his companions, died waiting for Titus Oates to return. “In the light of this it is perhaps fitting that a new book now brings the life of one of the unsung heroes of Scott’s party into the limelight of remembrance,” said Ross MacPhee of the American Museum of Natural History, at the launch of Scott’s Forgotten Surgeon, the exciting biography of explorer, Dr Reginald Koettlitz. This book covers four exciting journeys undertaken by Koettlitz leading up to his ill-fated trip with the Terra-Nova Expedition. It includes hitherto unpublished photographs and correspondence. Koettlitz eventually settled in Cradock in the Karoo. He and his wife are buried there. The book costs£18.99.


Robert Pringle narrowly escaped death when a stock thief fired at him. Bullets hit him in the face, arm and shoulder. According to a report in The Graaff-Reinet Herald on Saturday, November 7, 1851, rascals one night stole some sheep from Thomas Pringle’s kraal. When this was discovered a commando of 14 men – including six sharpshooters from Cradock – rode out to track them. The men could not believe their eyes when they saw the thieves sitting in a concealed place roasting the mutton. No one was sure how many rogues were in the band – they had seen the spoor of only five – but they feared more may be hiding in the bush. For this reason, Thomas fired and sent the vagabonds scurrying in all directions. As Robert rose to take a shot, one of the thieves fired and dangerously wounded Robert. He got thirteen buckshot in his face, chest and left arm. The man standing next to him was shot dead. The vagabonds held their position. They had the advantage of being in an unapproachable spot and this prevented the men from the commando from even reaching the body of their dead friend. It lay only a few paces from the villains’ stronghold. A messenger raced to Cradock to summon Dr. Armstrong, who arrived as soon as he could, and extracted some of the shot from Robert. He could not reach four in the arm and shoulder. The doctor thought it in advisable to cut them out as they had deeply penetrated the flesh. Robert had suffered immense pain when the others were removed, particularly when one was cut out of his forehead. A shot which went through his upper lip and into his nose, came out into his throat two days later. The Doctor said that he had never before seen such a narrow escape. Beside the shots in his body, one musket ball, one pistol bullet and five buckshot had passed through the brim of Robert’s hat.

It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. – C S Lewis