Steve Lunderstedt’s new book The Road to Magersfontein will make an ideal Christmas gift for any Anglo Boer War enthusiasts. This book, which fully explains the battles off Belmont, Graspan, Modder river and Magersgontein is to be launched in the Bridget Oppenheimer Room, Kimberley Club on November 27.Steve a well-known tour guide in the Kimberley area, and an authority on the Boer war and these battles will be on hand to sell and sign copies form 11h00 to 14h00 and again from 16h00 until 18h30 on that day. The book is an enjoyable and easy-read. It explains the battles without getting bogged down in the intricate details of tactics. It is slightly larger than A4, has a full colour cover and a good variety of interesting black and white photographs to compliment the text. Copies, which cost R250 plus postage and packing, can be ordered from Steve at He says: “Sadly, I cannot handle sales outside of South Africa due to massive postal delivery problems.”


In 1899 the first Christmas away from home was hard on many young men. The Anglo Boer War had broken out a little over two months before and there was no chance of getting home to celebrate with their families. The wives and mothers of Kroonstad in the Orange Free State realised this and sent fruit cakes and “doekpoedings” (steamed Christmas puddings) to many men who were stationed nearby. The local commando’s chef’s also set up a special menu – and even wrote it out in English, despite the fact that many of the men were Afrikaans speaking. It featured Soup a la Joubert, Fricassee of Curried Owl a la Ladysmith, Roast Lamb with Long Tom sauce, Beans a la Buller and Big Ben pudding. The drinks list was also designed to amuse. It featured Sand River Water with a “kick”, White Chain Lightning and Goldsmith and Walker’s beer – the latter two men owned the town’s bottle store. Those who attended thoroughly enjoyed the meal. It made the war feel far away, said some. They added it was such fun that even when the beans ran out and potatoes appeared in their place on the plates, these were still referred to as beans. Max Schon and his friend, a Mr Whelan, were responsible for the table décor in the mess tent and this was said to be “so charming as to bear the mark of an artist,” writes Dot Serfontein in Kroonstad Kroniek. A town spokesman said: “On the following Wednesday, December 28, despite the uncertainties of our position individually, the seriousness of war and its woeful and total consequences, we organised a gymkhana. It was a most successful event. Then, on New Year’s eve – in the dying moments of the old year – nearly all the guards took it into their heads to fire several volleys, according to an old Free State custom of seeing out the old year and ushering in the new. This observance annoyed the officers, and totally astonished the enemy.”


A serious accident occurred at Beaufort West railway station on July 16, 1886, reported the Grahamstown Journal. Ian Fleming, a railway employee lost one of his legs in a freak accident. Ian was engaged in attending to the wheel-boxes of the carriages of a Cape Town-bound train when the engine came up from behind from the loop-line. Before he could leap out of the way the wheel of the tender passed over his foot. The leg was fearfully mutilated, and had to be amputated immediately. “Ian has worked on the railways at Beaufort West for many years.” stated the newspaper. “He is a well-liked, respected and friendly person. The inevitable cut back in earnings, which he will now have to face because he has only one leg, will seriously affect his family.”


Philippolis’s widely respected medical doctor, John Nunn Eagle, lived an eventful life. Born in Coggeshall, Essex, England, in September, 1822, the only child of Francis and Sarah Ann (nee Sprague), he completed his medical studies before emigrating to South Africa. On arrival he temporarily lived in a wooden hut on Durban beach where his wife Emily (nee Ashford) gave birth to their third child, Emily was born in about 1848. John then gathered up his family and trekked across the Drakensburg to Colesberg, but after an altercation around 1854 with the Cape medical authorities regarding his qualifications, he went him to Fauresmith in the Free State. By 1962 he had moved to Phiippolis, where he remained for the rest of his life. In 1863 he was recognised at the first medical practitioner in the Orange Free State says the Dictionary of South African Biography John served as a medical officer during the second Basuto War and, at its end in 1866, pronounced Basuto paramount chief, Mosheshwe, medically unfit to attend the signing of the peace treaty in person. The lure of diamonds took him to Pniel in 1870, but that did not work out and during the same year he was declared insolvent. In the late 1890s he was a member of the Second South African Medical Association and between 1859 to 1881 is recorded as receiving vaccine lymph several times, presumably for use in his medical practice.


John Nunn Eagle had a wide field of interests. In 1891, at the request of the Cape Meteorological Commission, he set up a meteorological observation station at Philippolis. Within six years it was upgraded to a second order meteorological station – one of only two in the Orange Free State. John continued his observations until shortly before his death from kidney cancer on March 26, 1900. Sadly the station was then closed. He was a keen gardener and farmer. He had two farms, Otterspoort and Vogelfontein, both in the Philippolis district, where he refined the wool of his merino sheep. He had an extensive knowledge of the classics and of legal work. He drafted wills and other legal documents. He imported a press and printed a great deal of meaningful work in Philippolis. He also acted as editor of Free State High Court case reports.


All was, however, not always a bed of roses in the Eagle family. Dr John’s son Frank Charles William Eagle, also as Philippolis resident, accused him of paying more attention to his patients than to his family when Emily Jemima, his only daughter as well as two sons, John Mallalieu and Charles Frederick, – three of his seven children died of diphtheria in 1879 and 1882. They were all under the age of three. This fallout between father and son was so serious that Frank upped and left the town. He took his wife, Cradock-born Fanny (nee Townsend Hockey), whom he had married on December 18,1867 in a magnificent double wedding in Philippolis, and his four remaining sons, and moved to the Aberdeen in the Karoo. There he bought a trading store. It was in much demand because of his knowledge of animals and medicine. He had picked up quite a bit of medical knowledge from his father. He was also a very talented jack-of-all-trades and a good craftsman. He had several storerooms crammed with cameras and photographic equipment, medical and surgical items, clocks and tools. The family moved to Bedford in the Eastern Cape, but sadly bad luck followed him and after a few years in their new home, the house burned to the ground.


While living on one of the family farms in the Jagersfontein district Frank and Fanny had several cartloads of “spent” blue ground delivered to their farm. Even though it had already been worked, Fanny painstakingly reworked it in the hopes of a find. Her patience paid off. She found a 21 carat walnut-sized stone and several smaller ones. One evening in their Bedford home a house guest asked to see the diamonds. Good-natured Fanny got out the box in which they were kept and proudly showed them to him. Later that night the family woke to find the house on fire. Fanny rushed to try to save the diamonds, but the box was gone. She was totally distraught and spent quite some time scrabbling through the ashes searching for them until she collapsed from smoke inhalation. She was taken to the home of Ernest Steinhobel, a friendly neighbour, but nothing could be done from her. Her frantic search had caused her to inhale too much smoke. She died on December 14, 1892. She was only 45 years old. Two years later, on August 15, 1894, Frank married Harriet, fondly known as “Harry”, the daughter of William Dodds Pringle and his wife, also Harriet (nee Hockley) , in Lyndoch, Bedford. They moved to a new house in Hope Street in Bedford. It had a huge basement which she put to good use, but Frank only discovered that after she died on July 6, 1920 at the age of 63.


Harriet was a good homemaker and a dab hand in the kitchen it seems. After her death Frank found that she had filled the basement with bottled jams, jellies, preserves and pickles, all carefully labelled and dated. He was a slightly eccentric and very frugal man, so instead of sharing or giving away the largesse he had found, he decided to consume it. He spent the next 10 years steadily eating his way through “the stock”. An orderly fellow, he was absolutely paranoid about eating things in the right order. He began with the oldest bottles – no matter what they contained – and ate these first. As a result of this “chronically ordered menu” his youngest son  recalled eating nothing but stewed apricots for an entire week, with disastrous digestive effects! Frank died at the age of 71 in Bedford Cottage Hospital, on January 28, 1922, and was buried in the local cemetery.


A popular Eastern Cape Karoo sportsman was found dead at his residence in early 1886. No one knew why stated the Grahamstown Journal of March 29, when reporting that Thomas Clough, affectionately known as Tom, was found dead at his residence. “A few years back Tom, a fine, promising young man seemed to have a good long life before him, but then domestic and financial troubles overtook him and he lost heart. Also, the death of his mother two years ago crushed him.” Tom was a popular lad and great sportsman. “The Old First City men will remember him as one of the smartest drills in the regiment and his connection with that corps, as First Lieutenant during the early of its formation, will never be forgotten. An ardent cricketer, he was not only known as a tolerably good all-rounder, but he was reckoned to be one of the best bowlers in the Colony. He was also a keen cricket supporter and almost never missed a match.” Many of his former team mates and regimental buddies attended his funeral which was conducted by the Reverends N Abraham and T Spargo.


Lightning caused havoc at a Karoo home states the Victoria West Messenger of May 4, 1886. “Mrs. Michael Heugh of Blauwbank farm recently suffered seriously injuries when lightning struck her home. She, her child and maid servant were in the kitchen together during very heavy weather. Mrs Heugh was standing near the fireplace when a flash of lightning came. It passed down into the house and broke one side of the chimney. It entering the ground within two or three feet of where Mrs Heugh was standing. She fell down and was unconscious for about six hours. Fortunately she gradually recovered from the immediate effects of the shock. Her husband sent for the doctor, who said that, although her condition was serious, he had high hopes of her full recovery. The maid had a burn one of her legs and the child was unhurt,” stated the newspaper.


Isaac Eugen Robinski came to Williston from Lithuania He did well in this little town and. in time, was able to acquire a bottle store, two general trading stores, two sheep farms and a hotel. He applied for citizenship in 1893 and after this was granted his wife, Dora (nee Gordon), a lass whom he had married at the age of 15 – to avoid conscription – came out to join him. They had five children: Isidore, David, Ellen, Max and Hetty. Isaac joined the Dutch Reformed church and became a major donor. He served the town as mayor from 1911 to 1913 and played a meaningful role in the town until his death. After Dora died in 1894, Eugen married Ray Elsi, a delicate, petite, prim and proper, yet cold, English woman. She never called him by his first name, only referred to him as “Robinski”. Theirs was not as happy marriage, yet it produced four daughters, Evelyn, Lilly, Esther, and Laura. Eugen turned to some mistresses for comfort and at least one more child was born. He scandalised Williston Society when he accepted a San girl from her mother as payment for medicine. The family called her Bushy and she became a dear friend to his daughter, Evelyn who was born with a club foot. Eugen died in Williston in 1931 and was buried in the Jewish cemetery, where a huge marble tombstone marks his grave.


Two stories of Eugen’s Williston Hotel still survive to amuse the local and visitors. When it was built he wanted it to be truly grand, the only double storey building in the Karoo and the pride of the town. However, when it was finished he discovered that the builders had forgotten to put in the stairs, states the town historian Elsa van Schalkwyk. This almost led to one of his classic outbursts, but their quick offer to fix it defused the situation. During the Anglo-Boer War a group of Boer soldiers brought their British captives into the pub. A raucous gathering developed in the bar and quite a tab was run up. They agreed that whoever won the war would pay it. Being true gentlemen the Brits paid up at the end of the war, said Elsa.


Life on the ocean wave between England and South Africa was not always a pleasure. In To the Cape for Diamonds, Frederick Boyle states: “The P and O and Royal Mail ships mostly arrived safely at appointed ports, however, with the Union Line, there was uncomfortable doubt. Strange, unexpected, improbable incidents often occur. Yet, this company has held the monopoly of the route since 1856. It is subsidised by the Government – the current figure stands at £20,000 per annum – and it is fearless of competition. Its contract time for carrying heavy freights and the mail is a most liberal – 38 days. This company looks upon the Cape Colony as a prey. Too poor, too distant, too apathetic to protect its covenanted rights. British South Africa suffers all things and scarcely complains. The ships are powered by coal, which is sometimes off-loaded onto the deck, before being stacked away. This gives the ships a black stain, it gets into the very bones of the passengers. It flavours our soup, marks our linen, burns with the tobacco in our pipes, and works itself into pretty patterns on our bread.”


Once in South Africa overland travel also offered excitement. Frederick Boyle wrote: “We raced across the veld with black night wrapped around us and our hearts in our mouths. The darkness was so dense, we could not see the road ahead. The music of the reins told of the terrain horses were traversing. Now they plunged into a sluit, a rain-course; now they gaily leapt over a high stone; anon they dragged us through bushes, and then jammed one wheel into rut leaving the others on the bank. Sometimes the driver descended to examine the route. Was he alarmed? We prayed all perils would be averted, also for the driver to rein in the horses. Of course, no Englishman would think of making such a request. There was a bottle swinging within two inches of my temple, just in a line to cut an artery, but I couldn’t find courage to remove it particularly as the driver seemed so careless of his own neck. We tried to be a credit of our country as we rattled along, banging up and down, right, left, to the front, to the back, holding on with both hands for fear of being tossed out, shaken in every nerve and with tongues nearly bitten through. No attempt was made to speak because this simply ended in a gurgle and a gasp. This drive explained the sobriety of the South African farmers. It is evident that drunkards cannot live in this country. On these roads they would break their necks at the first offence.”


The Karoo, lay stretched before us, said Frederick Boyle. “It is not a wasteland of sand, many parts bear tolerable vegetation, yet there is perhaps no tract of land upon the whole earth’s surface – certainly none that I have seen – that is so desolate and forbidding. It has no waves or hollows, it is one unbroken sheet of barrenness. No object – plant or stone – over six inches high, breaks the dead level, till in dim haze it fades against the low and dusty hills. Distant crystal chips twinkle like stars, dazzle and expire. The sun pours down in pitiless supremacy. No shadow falls except the gloom of a passing cloud. Even the stones that clothe the land are small and shadeless. A dusky knot of prickles here, there, a sprig of heath, a tuft of chamomile or sage, a thin grey arm of nameless root, a bulb like a football broken, pealing in the heat – such is the vegetation. The dry sand cannot bear a load, so its hot yellowness is only dotted with the feeble greys and olives. Though never a breeze be blowing, faint, pale whirls of dust arise, and circle languidly again and again. Far-off hills bound the colourless horizon and, on the vast plains, mirages, deceptions, great lakes of water shine. This is the landscape is that stretches before you, but you may dwell on the scene for only a moment – just while your wagon rolls out and into the open. After an instant all fades from sight as the lurid sun bakes the earth. Dust leaps up like a foe from ambush, wraps itself around you in palpable clouds, filling your nose, ears, mouth, hair, penetrating your clothes until it reaches your flesh. Horses become invisible; driver and passengers loom fantastic as through a mist. Then the coughing and swearing starts and the cries for water. Within seconds it seems a three-gallon keg is drained. Such is the Karoo and such the pleasures of travelling through it.”


One Thursday morning a local resident, David Hume was involved in a nasty accident, reports the Grahamstown Journal of July 8, 1886. He was strolling near St Bartholomew’s Church when he suddenly fell down in the street. The shrieks of two children who had been with him attracted the attention of some passers-by. Mrs. Watkins sent some men to left him up while she called the doctor. He was able to come to the scene almost immediately and on removing David’s hat it was found he had cut his face and temple quite badly. Dr. Stanley was not sure what had caused the fainting fit, so he had David taken to his house for observation

It is strange how simple things become, once you see them clearly – Ayn Rand