Yeomen of the Karoo by Rose Willis, Dr Arnold van Dyk and Prof Kay de Villiers, won two prizes at the third annual S A Independent Publishers Awards, at the Richmond Booktown Festival. It was the winner in the Medical Category, and it shared the best of the best award with Ashwin Desai’s latest novel and Heather Costaras’s biography. The announcement was made by festival organizer, Darryl David, at a gala dinner on Wednesday, October 2. Yeomen of the Karoo, the story of the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein, was edited by Dr Suzette Botha, the foreword was written by Professor Fransjohan Pretorius, while Charmaine Alberts and Caria Vermaak at Firefly Publications, in Brandfort, handled design, layout, publication and marketing. The authors thank them all for their encouragement and support. Yeomen of the Karoo tells the story of the largest, most sophisticated medical and convalescent hospital set up by the British Army during the Anglo-Boer War. Designed to treat yeomen, who were a “cut above the common soldier”, it ended up treated everyone, including some Boers. It is a tale of bravery, sacrifice, medical advances, adventure, camaraderie and love. The hospital, the brain child of two British high society ladies, was staffed by a hand-picked group of civilian doctors, all experts in their fields, who dropped in salary to take a job they did not need. Some paid the highest price and remain forever in the Karoo. Some copies of Yeomen of the Karoo, costing R450, are still available Another Karoo-based winner was the innovative travel guide, Road Tripper – Eastern Cape Karoo, written and published by Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit.


Way back a couple of enormous 200kW stationary generator engines powered the Cango Caves lighting system. These giants, built by Crossley, in Manchester, England, kept the lights on in the caves on from 1928 to 1963 when the lighting was linked to the Eskom grid. Once their working life was over, they were sold to a Camdeboo farmer who moved them to a shed on an Aberdeen hilltop, where they still are. The farm, Waterkloof, a guesthouse and can accommodate 15 people, is owned by Koos and John Lategan, whose father who purchased the engines over 50 years ago. Visitors may see the engines and, if they are lucky, the brothers might fire them up, but this is a lengthy and fussy process. It requires elaborate oiling, greasing, warming of a spout, tweaking a flange, levers, tappets, valves and gaskets. After this encouragement massive wheels begin to spin, and after a great chuff and cough the giants come alive and chug along. These engines, say the brothers, can run on diesel, petrol, crude oil and even a dash of mampoer, witblitz or “moonshine”.


Portulacaria afra, known as spekboom, and mentioned in Round-up No 287, is endemic to South Africa. It occurs in the KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, Western and Eastern Cape, where it is referred to as a miracle plant. Portulacaria afra, which does not occur naturally anywhere else in the world, grows prolifically in the Albany thickets, a woodland eco-region in the Eastern Cape and here restoration projects are creating jobs and helping to build up the economy. The Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Authority says its income surged by 300% within nine months of starting spekboom rehabilitation in the province’s reserves. This hardy, drought resistant plant, which grows well in sandy loam-type soils, is becoming popular among South African gardeners. “Two related, but annual plants, Portulaca grandiflora (summer vygie), a native of South America and Portulaca oleraceae (porcelynbos), which is widely used in East Mediterranean countries, were introduced to South Africa,” says Dr Sue Dean.


In 1882, two Doke brothers, both preachers, arrived in South Africa. William, the elder was a missionary, who set off immediately for the Congo, where he died a year later. The younger, 21-year-old Joseph John had a “missionary’s heart”, but suffered from severe asthma and palpitations, so could not travel great distances. He took a job as a preacher in the Congregational Church at Claremont. In time he successfully set up a church in the Karoo and went on to become a well-known author and artist. He wrote the first biography of Mahatma Gandhi as well as two romantic novels set in the hinterland. Joseph was born on November 5, 1861, in Chudleigh, Devonshire, where father was the local Baptist Minister. Because of his poor health he had very little schooling. Shortly after his arrival in this country Joseph befriended Henry Beard, a leading Cape Town merchant, who wrote to Reverend H J Batts, secretary of the Baptist Union of South Africa, stating that Joseph was a popular preacher, but that the Cape winters were proving to be too damp for him and suggesting that he might fare better in the Eastern Province. Joseph was invited to start a Baptist church at Graaff-Reinet, but no salary was guaranteed. The journey to the Karoo was long, slow, tedious and, because he was so frail, very trying to his health. He arrived at Ebenhezer Bigg’s farm in a state of collapse. Nevertheless, he started a church, fell in love with Agnes Hannah, Ebenhezer and Mary Ann Biggs’s 23-year old daughter and married her in 1886 married. They had three sons: William Henry, Clement Martyn, and Vincent Comber, as well as a daughter, Olive Carey. Two of their sons and Olive became missionaries.


Joseph visited Egypt, Palestine and India, to study mission work. A problem with his elder son’s health took him to New Zealand, where the family lived for 7 ½ years, however, in 1902 Joseph’s father became ill and he went back to Chudleigh to take over as pastor. Towards the end of 1903, Joseph was called to Grahamstown by the Baptist Church. After four years there he moved to Johannesburg, where he worked until his death. His arrival in Johannesburg coincided with Mahatma Gandhi’s campaigns on behalf of South Africa’s Indian population. Joseph met Gandhi during an outbreak of plague in Johannesburg and was enormously impressed by the man. He aligned himself with Ghandi’s cause and protested against unjust racial laws. He offered to resign his position in the church if his sympathies were unacceptable to his congregation. Later, after Gandhi was assaulted in 1908, Joseph and his wife nursed him back to health. In his autobiography Gandhi wrote: “While living under Doke’s hospitable roof, I never so much as felt that it was not my home, or that my nearest and dearest could have looked after me better than this family did. They remained in constant attendance on me. His son’s room was put at my disposal, and the son slept on the floor in the library. His daughter, Olive, softly sang Lead Kindly Light to me in the evenings. While I was ill, Mr. Doke would not allow the slightest noise anywhere in the house. The children all moved about very quietly” Joseph’s book, M K Gandhi: Indian Patriot in South Africa, published in 1909, originally appeared as a series of articles in The London Indian Chronicle. His first novel, The Secret City: A Romance of the Karroo, appeared in 1913 and the second, The Queen of the Secret City, in 1916 – three years after his death in Umtali.


In 1913, in memory of his missionary brother, Joseph set off with his son, Clement, then 18, to visit missions in the then Rhodesia and along the Congo border. This trip was financed by the proceeds of his first novel. Initially his health was good, but he suffered from sore feet because of the great distances he had to walk (some 1475 miles – 2372km), so he was carried in a “machilla” – a hammock slung on poles carried by two bearers. Joseph interviewed many people, made copious notes and took photographs which he hoped to use in lectures. In early August, while they were in Bulawayo, Clement was called back to Johannesburg, but Joseph decided to continue alone. Before long he became seriously ill, was hospitalized and treated for pleurisy and fever, but it was discovered that he had typhoid. A telegram was sent to his wife, who made plans to rush to his side, but she did not make it. He died on August 17. His remains were not taken back to Johannesburg. Two funerals were arranged one took place in Umtali and the other was held at exactly the same time in Johannesburg. At the latter Gandhi praised Joseph’s Christian vision. An obituary in Indian Opinion hailed him as a seeker, a generous and natural giver, a true friend and brother to all.” He knew no distinction of race, colour or creed.” He was president of the South African Baptist Union from 1906 to 1907.

Note: Clement became a highly acclaimed linguist and one of the greatest 20th century scholars of African languages. He was among the first to abandon Euro-centric approaches to language in favour of locally grounded ones. A prolific writer, he travelled widely, publish grammars and translated the Bible into Lamba.


When Joseph left in 1902 the Graaff-Reineters greatly missed him. A new preacher was urgently needed, so the Baptist Church appointed John Maynard, a young, insignificant-looking, London-based lad who had grown up in an orphanage. At the time he was working as a dispenser in a chemist shop and, while he had not delivered any sermons, he had enthusiastically taken part in meetings in the London slums. He was asked to go to Graaff-Reinet and hold the fort until Joseph could return. Quite thrown by the suggestion, he initially refused, however, the church gave him a day to consider and then agreed to go. There was no promise of a salary or security, yet this inexperienced youth, who had never preached, sailed off to take the place of the man whose fame had spread across the Karoo. “It seemed a mad thing to do,” writes Reverend H E Betts in the History of the Baptist Church in South Africa. All worked out well and, in time, Maynard felt a call to move into mission work. He went to England to study and on qualifying was sent to the Congo. He had not been there for long before he contracted fever and died. Sadly, at the time his death, his fiancé was on her way to Africa to marry him. Only on her arrival did she hear of his death.


Graaff-Reinet’s Jewish population was always small. It fluctuated with the prosperity of the village, but among the Jews who settled there were some who played major roles in South African history. Isaac Baumann (who became one of the first mayors of Bloemfontein in 1849) was the first Jew to arrive in Graaff-Reinet. He came from Hesse-Cassel in Germany in1837 and, once he had settled, he opened a trading store. Two years later he was joined by relatives, Joseph Baumann and his wife, Rosa. By 1854 his brothers Jacob and Louis had arrived and soon they were joined by another brother, August, and his wife Bertha, who arrived in 1862 and remained in Graaff-Reinet for almost 30 years. Among prominent family members were Dr Emil Baumann, an authority on child care, who became a Member of Parliament in 1933 and Richard, who established the law firm, Baumann & Gilfillan in Johannesburg in 1902. The Mosenthal brothers, Adolph and Joseph, also from Hesse-Cassel, came to South Africa in about 1842 and they also percolated to Graaff-Reinet where they set up their mercantile business. In time it had a network of enterprises spanning almost the entire Eastern Cape/Karoo. To staff these businesses and help then run their empire efficiently they brought out scores of family members and friends. Among them were the Lilienfeld, Hanau, Hotfa, Alsberg, Nathan and Weinthal families. Edward Nathan served as mayor of Graaff-Reinet from 1862 to 1865; Emil Nathan became a prominent lawyer in Johannesburg and a member of the House of Assembly in 1910 and Dr Manfred Nathan became an Income Tax Court judge. He was also the author of several works on South African law and history and served as president of the Jewish Board of Deputies in 1906. Leo Weinthal became a well-known writer and journalist. He founded the Pretoria News in 1898. The Mosenthal’s also brought a Pole, Phoebus Caro, to Graaff-Reinet in 1856 after he survived a shipwreck.


Among other Jewish pioneers of the 1850s and 1860s were the Benjamin brothers – Joseph and Michael Henry, who was elected to the Cape House of Assembly in 1864. Then came Maurice and Louis Joseph, Hermann Wertheim and a man called Rothschild. The town’s Hebrew congregation, the third to be established in South Africa was founded around 1850. Ground for a Jewish cemetery, now one of the oldest cemeteries in South Africa, was granted by the governor, Sir George Grey and consecrated in 1858. It was proclaimed a national monument in 1985, states the Jewish Digital Archives project. Over the years many Jewish settlers, came to the Karoo. Mostly they were from Germany and England, but only a few remained in the area because the region suffered through depression, war and droughts. The Jewish population of Graaff-Reinet dwindled and almost died out during the 1880s, but it was revived again between 1890 -1910 with a new wave of immigrants, mostly from Lithuania and Latvia, where anti-Semitism was rife. Among those who came from Lithuania were the Balkind, Brett, Levy, Lipschitz and Michelson families. From Latvia came the Nurick, Rubens and Suttner families; the Herbsteins came from Rumania (Moritz Herbstein was the first chairman of the local Zionist Association, founded in the late 1890s and soon Graaff-Reinet became the centre of Jewish and Zionist life. His son, Mr Justice Joseph Herbstein was a judge of the Supreme Court in Cape Town from 1947 to 1963); the Gruss family came from Austria; the Bregers from Galicia; and John Ruben from England. The numbers of Jews in this part of the Karoo were boosted at the turn of the century by Boer War when refugees from the then Transvaal poured into the region, but once again, in time, poor economic prospects forced many Jews to leave Graaff-Reinet.


As sheep and goat farming increased in the Graaff-Reinet area so did wool and mohair production. The town’s most prosperous early years were from 1850 to 1860. During this time two Jewish doctors arrived as well as some traders, merchants and shopkeepers, including a butcher, furniture dealer, garage and bottle store owners, Hoteliers, a cinema proprietor, accountant, solicitor and town engineer, soon joined the ranks. The Rosenthal’s trading stores led to the rise of Jewish peddlers. Known as ‘smouse’, they popped up across the Karoo and a monument honouring them was erected in Graaff-Reinet in 1989. Other Jews to arrive in the Karoo included the Solomon, Raphael and Horwitz families. Harry Solomon became a member of the first Transvaal Legislative Council in 1903 and president of the Jewish Board of Deputies in 1904; Frank Horwitz was a town councilor for 25 years and twice elected mayor of Graaff-Reinet; and Sylvia Raphael was an Israeli Intelligence agent who served 22 months in a Norwegian jail in 1974 for her role in the murder of a suspected Black September terrorists. Community records indicate that there were 37 Jewish families in Graaff-Reinet in 1875. The highest recorded number of Jews in this town was 82 in 1904.


Excitement shot through Queenstown in 1884. A body, found in a shed in Sir Lowry’s Road, turned out to be W T Inglesby, of the Circulation Branch of the General Post Office. He appeared to have committed suicide. News rippled rapidly through the town, stated the Queenstown Free Press of May 13, 1884. There was a great deal of gossip because Ingelsby worked with postal and money orders and money at the Post Office Savings’ Bank. He was reported to have gone home the previous evening looking very pale and “in a disturbed state of mind”. Once home he went into the room of his two children and fell asleep next to them in his clothes. A servant saw them like that at about 23:15 but did not disturb them. Shortly after 06:00 next day the same servant saw blood flowing from beneath the door of a shed and reported this to her mistress. Mrs Inglesby immediately went to check and found her husband, in a sitting position – one leg was doubled under his body, the other was covered with blood and gore. His nose and part of his face had been blown away. A Martini-Henri carbine lay at his side. He was dead. Inglesby was a member of Prince Alfred’s Own Cape Volunteer Artillery, and the carbine had only recently been issued to him. He was still dressed in his office clothes but had no boots on. He had taken these off when he went to lie down with the children. The coroner, J M Crosby, later stated that a bullet, had passed through the face, and the crown of the head, finally exiting through the galvanised roof of the shed. This trajectory indicated that the stock of the weapon must have been resting on the ground when the shot was discharged. A burned-out candle indicated he had committed suicide in the early hours. The newspaper stated that Ingesby was a steady, but sensitive and nervous man. He never drank. Close examination of Post Office accounts revealed that no money was missing, so no aspersions could be passed on his integrity. The whole sad affair remains a mystery of the old Karoo.


Duncan Hutcheon, the second veterinarian to be appointed at the Cape arrived on March 2, 1880, wore a top hat and frock coat at all times. He conducted a number of invaluable investigations into a variety of diseases. He proved that a bull imported from Holland in 1854 brought bovine pleura-pneumonia to this country, another brought foot and mouth, and this was spread by cattle railed for slaughter from Beaufort West to Piquetberg Road in 1893. By the following year the disease had spread to all four provinces. A rabies outbreak occurred in 1893, followed the importation of an Airdale dog. Fowl cholera, first described in France, came to the Bedford district in 1882, he said and a consignment of goats, from Constantinople brought pleura-pneumonia to the country. This was only brought under control by the slaughter of 6162 coats in 1881, states P J Posthumus in Past Veterinarians.


The Grahamstown Mail, which normally arrived early, only rolled in at 13:00 one April day. When the driver was questioned about this delay, he said he got out of the cart, near Sidbury, to check the harnesses. While doing this one of the horses gave him a severe kick which knocked him senseless. There were no passengers nor passers-by, so he lay on the road verge until he regained his senses, stated an item in The Cape Frontier News of April 19, 1853. “It is certainly rather remarkable that a horse so vicious, as seriously to injure the driver, should quietly remain still until the man recovered!” commented the reporter.

Failure is not fatal but failure to change might be. – John Wooden