JUST THE THING FOR CHRISTMAS

Anyone interested in South Africa’s ecclesiastical architecture and church history will find A Platteland Pilgrimage fascinating. Designed as a companion publication to the successful 101 Country Churches, which Darryl Earl David and Philippe Menache produced in 2010, this 132-page A4, soft cover, full-colour book is packed with information on 102 churches across South Africa’s nine provinces. However, their new book, with foreword by Gabriel Fagan, offers much more than the first. Excellently compiled and beautifully illustrated, it includes a series of photographs of each church as well as interesting interior details, such as pulpits, organs, galleries and some exquisite stained-glass windows. Many are quite stunning. In addition, the new book includes more historic detail and covers the role of each church in the community it serves and its relationship to the town or village where it is located. The book does not cover only Dutch Reformed edifices, most of which are extremely beautiful and many of which are based on European cathedrals, it includes Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Catholic and mission churches, as well as some picturesque school chapels. There are also snippets on alternative religious communities, such as Buddhists, who have temples in the vicinity of some hinterland towns. A full-colour, numbered map aids the reader in establishing exactly where each church is. The text includes invaluable information on the ideal times to visit and the best ways to photograph each building. Then, there is a four-page section with potted pen details of the architects, among whom are some of South Africa’s best-known church designers. Darryl, who is closely associated with the tiny Karoo town of Richmond, and a founder of its Book Town Festival, said: “Soon after I discovered the Karoo, I became aware of an unusual brand of tourism – church tourism. The magnificent churches of the hinterland captivate many and some enjoy photographing these buildings. This led to our first book. As soon as it reached the shelves, we knew we had to expand on it.” A Platteland Pilgrimage took a year to write. “We enjoyed every step of this pilgrimage, even though it was tough at times,” says Philippe. “We are convinced that we have a great offering here.” The book, ISBN 078-0-620-54170-1 costs R250 plus postage.

SPOTLIGHT ON THE SWARTBERG PASS

An extended public works programme, managed by a Cape Town-based company, ANIX, has been operational in Prince Albert from September 27. This huge workforce, managed by eight supervisors, two of whom are women, has been trained as part of a poverty alleviation scheme. Workers started by concentrating on general landscaping in some areas of the village as well as on its outskirts. The main aim of the project, however, is the rehabilitation of the Swartberg Pass. This will start in earnest in February next year and continue until December 2013. The project will include compacting the road surface at embayments, improving the ramps at the “dansvloer”, rehabilitation of the storm water channels using natural stone, repairing of the dry-stone walls to an approved standard and the introduction of signage and plaques, which will provide historical information along this breath-taking and important tourist route. Dilapidated items at all stopping points and view sites will be replaced. In addition, ablution and braai facilities are being planned for erection at the Eerstewater picnic site, states an article in the November issue of the Prince Albert Friend.

A HORSE FOR THE KINGDOM – BUT WHAT DO THEY NEED?

The Australian Journal published in early 1900, posed the question: “What sort of horse does the army need? The aim was to position Australian horse breeders to become a main supplier to the British War Office. The article explained: “In South Africa soldiers are mounted on animals drawn from all ends of the earth; great round-hipped English chargers, light wiry Australians, mongrel Argentines, wonderful little Burmese ponies and last, but not least, Cape horses.” These were not as ineffective and worthless as one military writer had recently stated. “It must be remembered that Boers are doing all their work on local horses, and their rapidity of movement clearly shows that these mounts are not useless.” Army horses could be divided into three classes – gun horses, mounted infantry horses and cavalry horses. The latter were the most difficult to acquire. “A cavalry horse is expected to carry about 19 stone and still move rapidly from place to place at a rate of at least nine miles an hour.” (This calculation was based on a cavalry saddle with full equipment, weighing about seven stone, and a man of about 12 stone.) “These horses are also expected to have pluck enough to charge at an enemy and cut him to pieces at the end of a long day. They also have to do scouting work, riding round hills and then need to flee at full gallop when under fire. A first-class Australian steeplechase horse would make an ideal cavalry horse; but needless to say, there is no hope for profitably breeding these at the prices the army is prepared to offer. Indeed, few can breed such a horse. A good weight-carrying animal of quality, pace and power, would be worth more as a carriage horse, a gentleman’s hackney, or a hunter, than as gun fodder. Any breeder who could supply active, fast, well-bred handsome horses up to eighteen stone, would not need to wait for the Army to buy them. He would easily find buyers across the world for all he could breed.”

IN THE END IT BOILS DOWN TO MONEY

“In Australia the Army pays an average of £16 for a cavalry-type horse,” continued the Australian Journal. “The British army, however, will pay up to £40 per head. Consequently, it is next to impossible to draw any fair comparison between English and Australian cavalry horses as prices differ so widely. When war broke out in South Africa, the New South Wales Lancers were supplied with police horses, many of which were worth £40 a head in Australia. In fact, if Australia had been raked from one end to the other no better horses would have been found. They were all well-bred, yet, beside the robust English cavalry horse, they looked light and weedy. Their loins were lighter, their quarters drooping, and, in the eyes of the English authorities, they were all too slight in frame to command admiration. On the other hand, English horses look lumbering and under bred to us. Without doubt British horses are as strong and sturdy as they look. Even with 17 or 18 stone on their backs they do not get stressed, whereas, to be honest, our horses do feel the weight very much.”

A SHOCK TO AUSSIE VANITY

The war showed beyond any question that Australia did not breed a weight carrying charger in any way equal to the British horse, continues the Australian Journal. “This may come as a shock to the vanity of Australian breeders, but it is quite true. This was proved when Australia sent two chargers to South Africa for General Baden Powel. Each horse cost £100 and were the pride of the continent, but when they arrived it was clearly seen that every English cavalry regiment at the front could produce five of six officer’s chargers which were handsomer, stronger and more up to the work than the two Australian horses. Our horses certainly had quality, but the English horses were no mongrels. On enquiry we found that many of the officers in South Africa were riding their own hunters as chargers. Among those hunters was some splendid horseflesh. However, this war has also proved that well bred horses are too delicate to stand pressure, stress, starvation and mismanagement. A war is hard on horses. Good horse, or bad horse, right type, or wrong type, the ill treatment and hardships that they have to undergo brings them all to one level and the ‘five-pound scrubber’ is quite as likely to survive as the finest specimen of the weight carrying charger. It is not the severity of the work they have to do which kills the horses, rather it is the wretched conditions under which they have to do this work. If the horses can be kept free from sickness and be properly fed, they will be able to do all the Army’s work with the greatest of ease,” stated the journal.

MAN WHO LED ‘A CHARMED LIFE’ TREATS A DOCTOR

The life of a hinterland farmer was not easy in the 1880ss. They not had to be brave and courageous, they had to have luck on their side. One frontier fighter, John Jarvis Bisset, was said to have led a charmed life. He was not yet two when he came to South Africa with his parents in 1820 and he was little more than a toddler when he was almost killed by an assegai. From then on he had many narrow escapes. On one occasion, after being wounded in battle he was racing for safety and help when he saw his friend Dr Stewart, of the Cape Mounted Rifles, leaning against a rock with blood pouring from wound in his chest. Bisset gallantly turned his horse and raced to the doctor’s aid. As he dismounted and stepped towards his friend a second bullet hit struck the doctor in the head and Bisset found Dr Stewart’s blood and brains spattered over his face and jacket, writes F C Metrowich in Frontier Flames. Bisset managed to remount and stay on his horse even though blood was pouring from his own wounds. He knew he would faint, fall and bleed to death, if he did not get help. A friend assisted with a tourniquet, and then Bisset saw Dr Fraser, “one of the finest officers in the services,” close by. He took courage and dismounted, but just as the doctor kneeled down to examine Bisset, he fainted, Forgetting, his own agony Bisset first the doctor with a cup of cold tea. Dr Fraser then adjust the tourniquet and dress Bisset’s wounds.

STILL IT WAS NOT THE END

Bisset was alive, but not out of danger. There was no means of transporting him from the battlefield. His comrades devised a plan, but it caused Bisset even more excruciating agony yet, it saved his life. Bisset wrote: “Two men got hold of me each taking an arm, their elbows well into my armpits, a third man stepped in between my legs, and tucked each thigh under each of his arms. My face was towards the ground.” In this unfortunate, uncomfortable and extremely painful manner Bisset was carried to camp, on his 52nd birthday, his face scratching “over mimosa bush, brambles and long grass”.

SAVED BY A TURKEY

John Jarvis Bisset fought in many more battled and suffered many other wounds. On one occasion, he was lying in high fever, “virtually at death’s door,” when a turkey saved his life. “Day after day John Jarvis lay in high fever on the verge of death,” writes F C Metrowich in Frontier Flames. “His pulse deteriorated, he was delirious and a wound in his thigh was discharging great gouts of pus. There appeared to be no hope for him.” Then Dr Fraser who was again attending him found Mrs James had grabbed a turkey hen when she fled to the fort for protection. This bird laid a daily egg and this was used to in an effort to nourish Bisset, but on the 14th day, he was still in a coma and under the influence of morphine, when the doctor heard a death rattle in his throat. Dr Fraser held a mirror to Bisset’s face. Apparently, life was extinct, but in a last desperate attempt to save his life the doctor poured a few drops of a stimulant down his throat. The dying man came back to consciousness. Fraser then stripped off the blankets and found Bisset saturated with blood. An artery had burst. Bisset was so weak that the doctor was afraid to retie it, he somehow managed to keep Bisset alive until coagulation set in and the bleeding stopped. Bisset survived. He died at the age of 74 in Folkestone, Kent.

SCREAMS SAVE FATHER

During the Anglo Boer war Graaff-Reinet saw much rebel activity. On October 19, 1901, Veld Cornet Smit and some men from Commandant Van Deventer’s commando arrived at the farm, Bloemhof, to round up all the mules, writes Bartle Logie in Traveller’s Joy. They captured the owner Arthur Murray and forced him to run ahead of them. Arthur called out to his wife, Ellie, that he had been taken prisoner and she, fearing that they would be looted, gathered all the food and sent her daughter, Eleanor, to hide it in a nearby hollow tree. A Boer stopped the girl and asked what she was carrying. “Nothing,” she said. “All right, put it where your mother told you,” he replied. She did and the Boers took the food. Just then four-year old Billie Murray ran out to see what was causing the commotion. When he saw soldiers and his captive father he began to scream. The Boers released Arthur but rode off with the mules.

HE ATE, DRANK, SPAT AND ……

William John Burchell came across several rather curious fellows on his travels through the Karoo. He mentions meeting a rather unusual farmer in the Bokkeveld near Ongeluks River, which at the time was “quite dry, except for two or three puddles of bad water”. They parked their wagons in the riverbed where an abundance of Karoo thorns afforded shelter from a violent south-easterly wind, which had sprung up. “We had scarcely released the oxen from their yokes when we were visited by a boor. We accompanied him to a miserable hut close by to purchase some sheep. His only food was mutton without bread or any kind of vegetables. His sheep were numerous and thriving though they fed on nothing but bushes He had no large cattle because the Karoo does not produce proper grassy pasture for cows and oxen. Our visitor’s place in the scale of civilisation would be nearly at the bottom, if not below zero. His mental powers seemed to have lowered themselves down to the level of those cattle which were the only concern of his thoughts. He seemed to possess a mere animal existence: he could eat meat, drink a dram, smoke a pipe, spit and practice some other disgusting vulgarities; which last enjoyments he indulged in without ceremony and almost without cessation. He seldom spoke because he had nothing to say. His lifeless eyes betrayed the vacancy of his mind. He was, however, invited to our wagons and treated civilly.”

AND SO THE SILENCE VANISHES

The rail brought many changes to the Karoo. “At places where travelers might once have begged piteously for a meal at an old wayside outspan, there now were bright-faced, big-hearted, jovial railway men who bids you come and dine at their cottage,” wrote a correspondent of the Cape Monthly Magazine of May 1878. At some stops travelers could see the remains of a stone “scherm” (shelter) some built long ago by circuit advocates seeking a night’s rest. “Now (in 1878) close nearby stands an extensive hotel where ‘one can be as happy as in a palace’, and large railway works. The quiet of the Karoo has disappeared and busy scenes have come. Cuttings and embankments are everywhere. In February the “material train was running to Vleifontein, two days from Uitkyk. Soon the rail will reach Grootfontein, and that is only about two days from Beaufort.”

AN EXHILARATING RIDE

Every old Karoo traveler remembers Buffels River. It is about a day from Grootfontein, which is two days ride south of Beaufort West. Two roads diverge above five hours after Grootfontein. The Ghoup Road, the one on the right hand one goes on to Greeff’s (outside present-day Laingsburg) and thence to Ceres and eventually to Worcester. At Buffels River one again finds large workshops, establishments and neat engineer’ houses, scattered all around among the thorn trees. A few hundred yards on the Beaufort side of the Buffels River stands a railway engine and the reality dawns on you. This is no dream. Nearby is an engine driver’s house and by co-incidence almost outside stands a railway engine’s named “South Africa” ready for a run up to Vliefontein. Next morning at 06h00, by special permission, we board a material train – that is to say trucks – and take an exhilarating ride to Matjiesfontein. We arrive by o7h30 and save a full day of tired mules and sandy travel. As we rattled off from Buffels River we imagined ourselves in earthly paradise.

EASY TO REACH ANYONE INLAND

At Matjiesfontein I was astonished to see large establishments, a crowd, a busy booking office, telegraph office and hotel. The telegraph, of course, is the accompanist of the railway and one sees lines running alongside the rail throughout the dreary Karoo. This certainly is the seventh wonder of South Africa. I can only imagine the change in a year or two when stations dot the map and telegraphs tap news and information across the length and breadth of the land. It is true that from 6 am to 6 pm you have only done 95 miles but reckon on the saving of time and your animals and the comfort of the traveler himself. Change is simply wonderful. Now (April 28) there is a train that can travel from Matjiesfontein to Cape Town in a day. Before long all complaint against the Karoo will be gone and it will be easy to reach anyone who lives inland.

JUDGES JUMP FOR JOY

The trip across the Karoo from Beaufort West to Karoopoort was long, tedious, trying and tiring. A correspondent of the Cape Monthly Magazine of May 1878 wrote I remember a Circuit Court’s Judge’s entourage reaching Karoopoort and every member of the cavalcade, from the oldest and sedatest to the youngest and liveliest of advocates, not concerned for dignity, giving a roar of joy. Without any want of respect, they ranged themselves on either side of the road where the wide Karoo converges into this narrow poort and gave a cheer of three times three to celebrate the end of the sandy miseries. One of the heartiest cheerers was the kindly, good, good judge. At Wagenmakerskraal, where there formerly stood only the most miserable, dilapidated-looking Boer houses which, despite the hardships of the journey, only brave travelers dared enter, there were several large flourishing railway workshops. Beside a spreading mimosa tree stood the neat house of the engineers and a pulsating “smithy”