A new book entitled Anglo-Boer War Blockhouses – A Military Engineer’s Perspective has just become available. This 310-page, self-published book, written by Simon Green, and printed by Porcupine Press, offers a fresh look at how the construction of over 9 000 small fortifications sought to change the course of the war. It is full of interesting information for the casual enthusiast and the history buff. The book examines all aspects of blockhouses. It tells the reader about blockhouses before the war, how they came to be used in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War, their concept, design and the impact they had on the war. It also looks at how they were manned and operated as well as at conditions inside the block houses. The book has several interesting photographs, such as one published in The Sphere of October 19, 1901. It shows African sentries at Noupoort, awaiting dispatch to the blockhouses along the railway line. “They are armed, contrary to original gentleman’s agreement not to,” says Simon. “They are also pretty well dressed for the cold. An account of the day suggests the intermediate night OPs either slept or avoided direct engagements with the Boers. These are all key factors in the human component of the blockhouses story.” Copies of this book cost R360, delivered to PEP stores. The book can be ordered from the special page which Simon has set up as an interest group for discussion on blockhouses across the country. Simon is already working on a follow-up called ABW Blockhouses The Field Guide. It will be published in 2021.


As Christmas 1901 approached Trooper Alex Willat dearly wanted to send as Christmas card to his fiancée back in England, However, there were absolutely no cards to be had in Graaff-Reinet, where he was stationed, But, being an inventive lad, he came up with a plan. He cut a sizeable khaki square from his uniform, frayed out the ends and wrote “South Africa, A Merry Xmas 1901 Graaff-Reinet” in four lines across it and posted this to her. She was so overwhelmed that she framed it. When Alex returned to England they were married. They later moved to South Africa and settled in the old Transvaal where Alex died in Johannesburg at the age of ninety-eight. This unique Christmas card is now on display at The Military Museum section of The Graaff-Reinet Museum Complex, states the Graaff-Reinet Advertiser of December 13, 2016.


Early on in the Anglo-Boer War the Soldiers’s Christian Association in South Africa commented on the generosity of South African citizens during the Festive Season. “Not only were the soldiers received almost everywhere with hearty cheers, but lavish gifts were showered upon them. Flowers, fruits, tobacco and dainties of all kinds were handed to them as they proceeded to the front. In many cases such largess was sent up after them.” The association also reported that a gentleman from “up country” enquired what troops were going to pass through the railway station near his farm and undertook to supply them with fruit on Christmas Day and for the next two months. On Christmas Day a number of ladies at a Karoo station lined up with all sorts of good things for the men travelling on the trains that day. Another gentleman who heard that a troop train was going to stop at the railway station nearest his house, hastily collected twenty-four dozen new-laid eggs for the men to have for breakfast. Such Christian kindness was much appreciated, stated the Association.

NOTE: Chris and Julie Marais’s latest book Karoo Roads has arrived and those who would like something special for Christmas can now order copies from


Just before Christmas 1899, after the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War, Queen Victoria decided to send a gift to each fighting man in South Africa. She asked Cadbury, which held the Royal Warrant for cocoa and chocolate to produce 123 000 tins of chocolate for these British soldiers. This would be the first time during a war in which Britain was involved that chocolate, a great comfort food and an excellent source of energy, would be sent to the troops. This request, however, posed an ethical conundrum for George and Richard Cadbury. They were Quakers and pacifists and opposed the war. They did not want to appear to be profiting from a conflict situation, but they did also not want to upset the Queen. They therefore formed a temporary alliance with their rivals, Joseph Storrs Fry and Henry Isaac Rowntree, both also Quakers. The three companies agreed to collaborate, produce the chocolate and make it available in special unbranded tins which they would donate free of charge to the war effort. Queen Victoria was not happy. She did not want unbranded chocolate. She wanted the troops to know that she was sending them the finest quality British chocolate.


The manufacturers agreed to brand the chocolate, but not the tins. Still, this was not what the Queen wanted. Eventually the chocolate was packaged red, gold and blue tins measuring 6ins x 3.5ins (152mm x 82mm), with an embossed image of the Queen. Her Royal cypher was on the left and “South Africa 1900” on the right. Across the bottom, in the Queen’s handwriting, was: “I wish you a happy New Year, Victoria RI”. This gift was highly appreciated. “At the time so little chocolate was available to working class people that many of men saved their tins and some even sent them back home for safekeeping,” said Alex Hutchinson, archivist for Nestlé who now own Rowntree’s. One man sent his tin to his mother asking her to keep him a block in the hopes that he would survive the war and get back home alive. The gift was so treasured that bids of up to £20 were rejected by soldiers earning a shilling a day.” One tin recently came up for auction in Britain complete with its chocolate.


Chocolates were not the only Christmas gifts sent to the troops. The “Scottish Tobacco Tin” was sent out by the people of Scotland to Scottish Regiments serving in South Africa. It was bright yellow (like the Scottish flag) with a rampant lion in one corner, a red thistle in the centre and at the top “Frae Scots tae Scots”. These tins measured 82mm x 100mm x 16mm. The few that were found were empty, proving perhaps that soldiers liked smoking more than eating chocolates, said one collector. One was sent back home with some cartridges, a casing, a silver peace/memorial medal and a thank you letter – “just to let you know I got your present and I thank you very much for it, but the tobacco was mildewed.” Private S Ferguson 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers E Coy South African Field Force, sent home a tin with “a Kruger Shilling, some cartridges, loaded into a Mauser Clip to hold them together and two pencil cases taken from a dead Boer.” This was accompanied by Christmas and New year wishes for his family.


The 3rd and 4th Battalions of the Devonshire Regiment sent tobacco to the 1st and 2nd for Christmas. These “Devonshire Regiment Tobacco tins” were an overall greenish colour with Gold, Red and Silver printing. They measured 79mm x 116mm x 27mm and were inscribed “Semper Fidelis – from Devon Regiment, South Africa, Xmas 1901″. The bottom of each tin is gold with black printing, which states: “Manufactured by the Richmond Cavendish Coy. Ltd., Bonded Tobacco Works, Liverpool, England” down in corner was the name of the tin makers, Read Brothers, Liverpool.


Commandant van der Merwe, said to be Gideon Scheepers’s most trusted Lieutenant was killed in the Karoo, near Matjiesfontein, in September, l901. Du Plessis, the man reckoned to be the cleverest scout in the Colony was captured in the same action. An article datelined Matjiesfontein, in the Courier of September 19, 1901, states that Col Crabbe dealt a crushing blow to Commandant Van der Merwe’s commando on Tuesday, September 10. Crabbe, with two columns, attacked the enemy, estimated at about 100 men, at dawn. The Boers were completely surprised and overwhelmed. Van Der Merwe and some others were killed, several were wounded and 39 men, including Field-Cornet du Plessis, were captured. Crabbe was also captured with 11 horses, 23 saddles, 20 rifles and 1 000 rounds of ammunition. The enemy fled eastwards. Just before he was killed Van der Merwe was twice wounded rather seriously, stated the newspaper.


Henry Fitzroy Maclean Somerset, the grandson of a former Governor of the Cape, Lord Charles Somerset, spent quite some time in the early Karoo where he at one stage was the police chief in Hanover. Born in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, on November1, 1838, he was the son of Frances Sarah the daughter of Sir Henry Heathcote of Hurseley and Lord Charles’s eldest son, Lieutenant-general Sir Henry Somerset, who died in Gibraltar in 1862, leaving 27-year old Fitzroy a monthly allowance of £10. Fitzroy went from school at Sherborne to Oriel College, Oxford. Like his mother he was intensely interested in music so moved to Magdalen where his beautiful and “most melodious” baritone was greatly admired. He spent for four years there as a choral scholar. He played the violin, violincello and piano. He was also a keen horseman and sportsman and, in addition to excelling at cricket and got a blue for rowing. He had considered studying for the ministry, but was overcome with rheumatism and so left for the Cape, well provided with letters of introduction to his family’s official connections, friends and relatives. However, like so many other high-born younger sons of well-to-do English families, who were expected to make a living in “the Colonies”, he was not equipped to do so.


He initially went to Colesberg to stay with Heathcote cousins from his mother’s side of the family. He was a tall, dark, handsome graceful and exceptionally charming. His beautiful blue eyes caught the eye of many a young maiden and mother with a marriageable daughter. But they hesitated because, while he was fluent in Latin and Greek, he had neither the aptitude nor temperament to earn a daily wage. Nevertheless in Colesberg he met and married the 19-year-old Ellen Amelia Arnot, granddaughter of David Arnot, a devout, Scottish blacksmith from Cupar in Fife, who had come to South Africa with Benjamin Moodie group of settlers. He had gone to work for a Hollander named Frederick Korsten, who had an industrial empire at Cradock Place near the Bethelsdorp Mission outside Uitenhage, at that time only village in the Eastern Cape. states the Colesberg history site Korsten’s empire consisted of a tannery, cooperage and sawmill. He also had several ships. While working there David met a local girl, Kaatje der Jeugd, also known as Catherine van Wyk, fell in love with her and received permission to marry her. The ceremony took place on October 2,1819. in Uitenhage. Their his son, David, who in time greatly influence the history of Colesberg was born there on June 26, 1821. The beautiful Ellen was his eldest daughter. Her mother was Anne Grimmer.


Said to be “the local belle”, Ellen had a fine, slim figure, large violet-blue eyes, retroussé nose and nut-brown hair. She spoke a polished English, did water colour paintings, loved needlework, and was an outstanding soprano and musician. She played the piano and the harp and also taught music to some of the locals. It was the love of music that brought them together and even after they were married in Colesberg on July 18, 1867, they were in great demand at local concerts. They were widely known for a duet “The Brothers Return”. It became known as “The Somerset Song” and they sang it countless times for visitors from Cradock, Richmond, Fauresmith, Philipstown and other distant dorps. After their marriage Fitzroy, even though he was “an Oxford man, strong as a horse, honest as daylight, steady as a rock” showed no sign of competence as a consistent wage-earner and Ellen had no choice but to continue with her music lessons. The couple had 12 children – ten girls and two boys – before she died on December 12, 1911. Fitzroy also served as magistrate at Douglas, but a year-long illness forced his resignation. He attempted farming, but that was curtailed by drought, so “ruined in health and fortune, he returned to Colesberg to become a piano-tuner and Ellen played the organ in the Anglican church, states Thelma Gutche in The Microcosm. He died on June 29, 1907 at age 67.


Captain Fred McCabe, the commanding officer of the District Mounted Troops in Graaff-Reinet was shot three times during the Anglo-Boer War, but almost not injured. On one occasion while taking shelter behind a rock a British bullet ripped past the top of his head and only whipped off his hat. A short while later, when scouting in the Graaff Reinet area, he again peeked out from behind a sheltering rock and a bullet clipped off the tip of his right ear. Then, once he got over his fright, he raised his head again and the unbelievably another bullet zipped past clipping of the tip of his left ear. His son, Henry, told local historian, Andrew MacNaughton: “quite amazingly one wound was the exact duplicate of the other, In fact,” said Henry, “these wounds were so alike that I thought my father had been born with misshapen ears.”. Fred McCabe went on to receive a military cross during WWI.


The tiny hamlet of Middleton, near Cradock, began in 1850 as an Anglican mission, to serve a community mostly of former slaves, Almost 30 years later, in 1879, the railway reached this spot and a Victorian-style station was built. In time the station building was converted into a pub. Then, in 1903 the Anglican congregation erected the All Saint’s United Church. The spot was auctioned in1904 and the first of its many owners was Percy Sparks. He bought it for the equivalent of R600. Fleetwood de Kock, acquired it after that and owned it for 52 years. Then, in 1989, it changed hands again and an attempt was made to turn it into a tourist attraction, but that did not work, so it was put up for auction again in 1993. It did not sell. Then, in 1997 a businessman, Marius Van Koller, bought it for R2,5m, By then the tiny settlement had a pub, police station, petrol station, bottle store, general dealer shop and a few houses. Marius and his wife renovated Middleton Manor during the next eight years, but by 2003 it was back in the market again. It was too far away for them to manage.


The tiny railway siding at Carlton, near Noupoort, at the top of a tiny wind-swept plateau between two peaks in the Sneeuberg range, was created in 1881 by the Cape Government Railways. Reaching this spot entailed working in dangerous conditions, The terrain was covered in thick, sometimes thorny bush and reeds. Workers had to keep a constant eye open because the area was said to be “alive with marauding lions.” Jonathan Rudolph, who is working on the history of Noupoort and surrounding areas, said: “The original old station building still stands today on the farm of a family’s friend.” It must have been a challenging place to live and work because winters in this part of the Karoo can be chronically cold. This siding and nearby pass, Carlton Heights, were well protected during the Anglo Boer War. Small, sentinel-like outposts along the pass, bear testament to this.

NOTE: In later years Carlton Heights road and railway cuttings, as well as hillslope and gulley exposures played an important role in on-going geological and palaeontological studies of the Main Karoo Basin evolution.


When Cradock’s first Dutch Reformed Church was demolished in 1862, the yellowwood was not wasted. Hendrik Petrus Lombard, who was born on the farm Lombardsrus, bought it and constructed a watermill. In 1864 he erected as double-storeyed, thatched mill house from stone quarried on the farm at a site near the Tarka River. The inside of the building was plastered with clay and all the woodwork, including the ceiling, was done by an English carpenter. During a flood in 1874 the Tarka overflowed its banks and, the mill was practically under water. The clay plaster was washed out from the walls and the thatch roof had to be replaced with corrugated iron, but fortunately the mill itself was still useable. The mill was driven from a teak wheel with a thick axle of yarra wood which was resistant to water and decay. The cogs in the wheel were made of soetdoringhout (sweet thorn wood). The smaller wheel inside the building was made of yellowwood and had an iron axle which turned the grindstone. This was practically the only metal in the building. From the funnel-shaped yellowwood bowl the wheat flowed through a square yellowwood gutter to the two circular grindstones and from there to a yellowwood container. The mill, could grind up to twelve bags of grain a day, was driven by water from a weir. The strength of the water flow governed the grinding speed, however, as the mill served places up to 150 km distant such as the Baviaans River, the Winterberg, Adelaide and Fort Beaufort, it was often necessary for milling to continue through the night. The grinding fee was one rijksdaalder (15c) per bag weighing 203 pounds. The mill operated continuously until 1928. Then, in August, 1972, Hendrik’s great grandson, Jurie, donated it to Cradock Historical Foundation and, with the help of the local Rapportryers organisation, it was moved to town.


On his trip into the hinterland in1753 Ensign Beuller found that the indigenous people had a curious way of smoking. In their book, Into the Hitherto Unknown: Ensign Beutler’s Expedition to the Eastern Cape, Hazel Crampton, Jeff Peires and Carl Vernon state that he met a group of Hottentots and gave them some tobacco – “for which they thanked us very much”. He then said: “For smoking, those people used an eland’s horn in which a reed was stuck with a piece of wood on it that turned it into a pipe. The horn has water inside, through which the smoke must first be drawn to take away its bitterness before it gets into the mouth. When water is lacking, they use their own urine. Instead of exhaling the smoke, they swallowed it, which caused such a strong cough that the blood streamed out of their noses.”

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams – live the life you have imagined -Henry David Thoreau