END OF AN ICONIC RIDE
The journey is over, but the memories remain. Some say reminiscences of their ride along 600km of the Forgotten Highway will never fade. This includes the armchair travellers who so much enjoyed seeing Piet Coetzer’s six beautiful Flemish horses, Minister, Kimon, Kristal, Tom, Klara end Karnet, almost every day. They were the “stars of the show.” There were, however, many more who contributed to this historic ride which left Sutherland on October 22 and arrived in Griquatown on November 6.. Among them were Skoene, Sadriek, Papie and Heinrich, who cared for the Flemish beauties ensuring they provided unforgettable photo opportunities. The tranquil sounds of the clicking of their harnesses and hooves took people way back to a slower world of wagon travel. Also riding along were Jasper, Jasper Jnr and Floors, from Carnarvon, as well as the Noltes, Marlie, Pere, Makro, Marnus and Christo, the youngest member of this Carnarvon party was five years old. Then there were the Cronjes from Pampoenpoort and, all the way from Newcastle, Ansie and Waldo Bosse, plus Johan Janse van Rensburg from “lower down in the Cape”. Adri Smit from Karoo Kontrei was there armed with camera and note pad to record the journey. Maeder Osler, from Colesberg and Lukas, a talented cook Bossie and Sakkie from Brandvlei, in Bushmanland came along for part of the way.
MEANINGFUL WORKSHOPS AND VISITS
This expedition was not simply a joy ride. A series of meet and greets introduced the travellers to the warm, open-hearted hospitality of the Karoo and they were able to make friendships which will last a life time. Ideas for promoting towns and attractions along the route to help build the local economy and create job opportunities, were held at each village and led by the KDFs indefatigable Professor Doreen Atkinson. Blue heritage plaques were unveiled and there were visits to historic buildings, churches and sites such as Carelse graf, and Rietfontein, the site of the first mission north of the Orange River. It was established in 1801. Interested groups visited historic cemeteries and Anglo-Boer War memorials as well as the cairn which remembers all the unnamed people buried in Prieska Cemetery. The old burial register at the Vosburg museum intrigued the group which also enjoyed visits to other museums. The route brought back memories of times gone by, of church weekends in Niekerkshoop and a world when a 1933 Chevvy in perfect condition was king of the roads.
HISTORIC SEND OFF
The expedition had a rousing send off from Sutherland in the western Roggeveld Mountains. This town was established in 1858 and named for Scottish cleric, Reverend Henry Sutherland, who was born in Paisley, on October 21, 1790. He was a member of the first group of Scottish ministers recruited by the Reverend George Thom at the request of Governor Lord Charles Somerset to fill the shortage of ministers in the Dutch Reformed Church. This was also part of Somerset’s Anglicisation policy. By 1872 the town had a population of 138 people living in 19 houses. They had commissioned Charles Freeman to design them a church. (He also designed the Standard Bank in Cape Town and Graaff-Reinet’s DRC.) The church, which had seating for 1 200 people, was built by 1899 under the guidance of contractor John Delbridge. During the Anglo-Boer War British soldiers, who had garrisoned the town, used the church as a lookout. They left it in a terrible state, with graffiti covering the walls. Some can still be seen. During the war a force of 250 Boers engaged the British in a battle on the outskirts of town. It lasted for 10 hours. All that remains is the ruins of a fort used in this engagement on a hill named Rebelskop. Several Boer War soldiers are buried in Sutherland. One soldier is named on two gravestones. Oddly he was not wounded in battle – he drowned during a flash flood.
Sutherland was the birthplace of two famous Afrikaans writers and poets – N P Van Wyk Louw and his brother, W E G Louw. Between them they achieved six Hertzog prizes for literature. Among the famous sons of Sutherland are Dr Henry Olivier, a highly acclaimed engineer; Adriaan Vlok, a well-known politician and Andre van der Merwe, a renowned urologist who conducted the world’s first successful penis transplant on December 11, 2014. During the operation, which took nine-hours at Tygerberg Hospital, a penis, which was amputated after a ceremonial circumcision went wrong, was attached. He also performed the first laparoscopic kidney transplant in South Africa. During a four-hour operation a kidney was removed from a living donor and transplanted into her sister. In his youth Andre’s dream was to become an astronomer.
THE DAM MAN
Sutherland-born Henry Olivier, who is also remembered in the local museum, was one of the most outstanding engineers South Africa has produced. He was the chief engineer of several famous dams in Europe, Asia, Pakistan, Iran, and India. He designed Kariba, PK le Roux (now Vanderkloof), Hendrik Verwoerd (now Gariep), Cabora Basa and Owen Falls dam in Uganda. He was also involved in the 81km long Orange-Fish Tunnel, which was completed in 1975. For a time it was by far the longest tunnel in the world. Henry was born in Sutherland January 25, 1914. He attended the local school, but matriculated in Umtali in 1932. He was then awarded a Beit Junior Engineering Scholarship to the University of Cape Town (UCT). He graduated with a B.Sc. honours in Engineering in 1936 and was awarded the Beit Senior Engineering Scholarship as well as the Cape Town City Council Scholarship to study overseas. After completing a year’s postgraduate training in Johannesburg, he went to England where he joined Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners, consulting engineers. He made a name for himself during WWII, when, as part of the team that built the Mulberry Harbour, a floating dock which aided the Allied Invasion of Normandy in 1944. The construction of submersible concrete naval bombardment towers used in the Allied landings in France followed. After the war he worked on the Scottish Hydro-Electric scheme. He went to Iran to build a reticulated water system in to Tehran. He designed a multi-purpose power and irrigation scheme for the Lar Valley. In 1945 he was awarded the Beit Engineering Fellowship for postgraduate research.
Henry received his M.Sc. in Engineering at UCT in 1948, obtained a Ph.D. in Engineering at the University of London in 1953. In 1967 he received the first Doctorate of Engineering awarded by the University of the Witwatersrand. The following year he received a Doctorate of Science (honoris causa) from UCT. He was decorated by the Queen for his services to Uganda with special reference to his work on the Owen Falls dam. He was invested a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George. During the same year he was also awarded the Coronation Medal. He was a Fellow of the Professional Civil Engineering Institutes of Great Britain, the USA, South Africa and Rhodesia and also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in Great Britain. He was a consultant to the World Bank. He was also made an honorary citizen of Sutherland. In 1994, he was nominated by the American Biographical Institute as the Man of the Year for his civil engineering work. In 1992, F W de Klerk, then president of South Africa, honoured him with a gold medal. Henry obtained two more doctorates from the universities of London and the Witwatersrand. He received three honorary doctorates from UCT as well as the universities of the then Rhodesia, and the Orange Free State. Among the seven books he wrote is one called “Dam It.”
TULIPS AND MUCH MORE
Another interesting fact about Sutherland is that South Africa’s tulip growing industry was pioneered there by Reverend M B Brink. He arrived in Sutherland during a snowstorm, and having lived in Holland for several years, he immediately thought the climates were similar and therefore ideal for growing tulips. He tried and was most successful. Also interesting in this area are the ‘sterboom’ (star tree), which blossoms in September and bracken roof houses – dwellings with walls built of sun-baked bricks and roof trusses cut from tree trunks and covered with reeds. Then the entire reed roof was plastered with clay. Today they are known as clay roof houses. Sutherland is the most southern place where diamonds were discovered in South Africa. About 18km from town is the South African Astronomical Observatory which houses 10 telescopes, one being ‘SALT’ (Southern African Largest Telescope) which can observe a candle flame on the moon. The last active volcano south of the equator is near the observatory. It was active 66 million years ago.
A FIGHT TO THE FINISH
During the Anglo-Boer War a force of 120 Cape Mounted Policemen under Captain Bates, assisted by Captain C G Dennison (who created Dennison’s Scouts), held Kuruman from October 1899 to January, 1900. In the end all of were taken prisoner, together with 12 officers, stated a telegram. The numbers of the assailants varied from 300 to over 1000. From November 12 to 17 1900, the place was bombarded. Frequently the Boers got very close to the trenches and walls of the little forts, but were always driven off with losses. The Boers then brought a heavier gun, whose shells smashed the defences and made a surrender inevitable. “Too little justice has been done to the defenders of Kuruman,” wrote John Stirling, in The Colonials in South Africa. Their endurance, watchfulness, and pluck could not have been excelled. They had no artillery, and by rifle fire alone they held the place and kept a considerable body of the enemy employed for two months. They had no means of getting news to Mafeking. About one-half of the force was hit during this siege.. Captains Bates and Dennison, and 155 men from Kuruman, were captured by the Boers and transported to Pretoria.
The blockhouse, which overlooks the town from the top of Prieska Koppie, is built almost entirely of tiger’s eye semi-precious stones. The area has always been renowned for semiprecious stones. This town, founded in 1878, on the south bank of the Orange River at the foot of the Doringberg, was originally named Prieschap. This Khoisan word means “place of the lost she-goat”. At this fording place travellers could almost always easily cross the river. The town is surrounded by small settlements such as Niekerkshoop, Marydale, Copperton, Omdraaisvlei and Putsonderwater. The road between Prieska and Vioolsdrif is often called the “Rock Garden Route”. The rare halfmens – Pachypodium namaquanum – also known as elephants trunk grows in this area and succulents of the Lithops family can be seen. The genus name Pachypodium is from the Greek for “thick foot”.
TEN THOUSAND KILOMETERS IN A WAGON
James Backhouse, a Quaker minister, missionary, nurseryman, and amateur botanist visited this area in 1838. He was appointed a minister by the Quaker Society of Friends at York in 1824. He then felt he should devote his life to the ministry. This led him to the Cape to preach, promote temperance, and visit public institutions such as gaols and schools. During his two and a half years here he travelled over 10 000 km, visiting almost all the towns and mission stations that existed at the time. He left Cape Town on September 27, 1838, and travelled through the coastal districts of the southern Cape to Port Elizabeth, the Little Karoo, the Eastern Cape, going as far as north-east of the Kei River near Umtata. Then from March 1839, he moved through the southern Free State, Lesotho, Griqualand West, Kuruman, Namaqualand, Namibia and back to Cape Town by May 11. 1840. In the Eastern Cape Backhouse collected fungi, including the type specimen of Broomeia congregata, found only in South Africa. It was described by M J Berkeley in 1844. After returning to Cape Town he started a school for the poor and wrote several religious pamphlets. He published a book covering his journey in 1844.
SURROUNDED BY REMARKABLE HILLS
Backhouse arrived in Philippolis in June 1839. He said: “It consists of a single street of cottages, a chapel, and about 60 mat huts, cattle kraals, and the foundation of a school-house.” The place was surrounded by remarkable hills of basalt, he said. The stone chapel stood at the head of the town, near a stony hillock. It was built in Dutch style. The missionary’s house was a very simple, built of brick and thatched. It was divided to the height of the walls. It had a few trees behind it. The rest of the houses were of mud. Many were neglected and half unroofed. Many who lived in the mat huts had oxen and wagons. “In the forenoon we called on Adam Kok. He was a young-looking man, of plain features and middle size. He was dressed in a drab, duffle jacket, bound and buttoned with black, and trousers that were the worse for wear. His dwelling was a small thatched cottage, built of clay, but far superior to the mat-huts.” Snow fell that evening, and remained on the ground till midday. Backhouse spent his time writing, but that was difficult because of the cold. The houses were badly constructed for warmth, and fuel was scarce. Enveloped in a kaross he walked briskly to the stony hills, to get warm.
JOIN THE KNIGHTS
The Friend of November 20, 1873, advertised a public meeting would be held in Bloemfontein, “for the purpose of opening a Lodge in connection with the ancient order of The Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem. The well-known principles of the Order, and their ancient antagonism to the priest-ridden Knights of the Temple, fully justify the Grand Master in hoping for full attendance, ”stated the newspaper.
A BRUSH AHEAD OF ITS TIME
George Clayton, a well-known hairdresser and perfumer in Port Elizabeth, announced a magnificent new hair brush to his clients in the Eastern Province Herald on January 30, 1866. His advertisement stated that he was “pleased to avail himself of this opportunity of thanking his patrons for their support and advising them that he has just received from England the necessary Apparatus for brushing hair by mechanical means.” He had, he said, imported and erected at considerable expense the necessary machinery for Camp’s Celebrated Rotatory Hair-brushing Apparatus and that it was “now in working order at his establishment.” He emphasized that Camp’s brushes were claimed by the trade to be the best. “Gentlemen can now have their hair brushed and thoroughly cleansed in a most delightful manner,” claimed the newspaper.
A dreadful thunderstorm hit Oudtshoorn in March 5, 1866. The rain came down in steady sheets and enormous hailstones fell across the village causing considerable damage, stated the Eastern Province Herald of March 13, 1866. The storm was accompanied be severe lightning. One bolt hit the home of A de Ridder. The building instantly burst into flames and two of his sons were killed. The third was stunned. When the body of the eldest was dug out of the ruins it was literally in pieces, said the newspaper. The second son’s body was found in the stables. He was severely wounded, but still alive. He was rushed to hospital, but died the next day.
APPEARANCE OF A BEACON
In 1830 Carl Julius Kemper and his uncle, Ludwig Krebs, were specimen hunting near Colesberg when a local farmer from Zamenkomst showed them a beacon. Carl painstakingly drew two differing views of it. One of his sketches was later copied by the owner of Quaggasfontein. In September, 1844, James Michael Howell, a resident of Colesberg, stumbled across the beacon while hunting. He was unable to identify what he had seen and wrote to the Graham’s Town Journal. Carl responded to this report and sent the Journal a copy of his drawing. The story of the beacon then went quiet for almost 60 years. Residents were aware of it, but could not find it. Then, in 1892, soon after they bought Quaggasfontein. two brothers Henry and George Murray re-discovered the beacon after some searching. It was smashed, charred and smoked-stained, but recognisable, For 13 years they displayed the pieces on their stoep.
In 1873 the Beaufort West correspondent of The Friend reported that “fruit stealing was the order of the day.” Complaints came from across the town until the police caught seven young boys aged between 8 and 12, “in the act.” The newspaper of March 20, 1873, reported that they appeared before the magistrate who ordered 10 cuts each with a quince rod and placed them under contract (community service). This had a beneficial effect said the reporter because no stealing had been heard of since then.
TIRED OF WAITING
The Friend of March 20, 1873, carried a most amusing article. A young hinterland resident one day received notification that a small parcel had arrived from England addressed to him with a note stating that he should appoint an agent to witness the opening of the parcel at the customs offices. Thinking that it must surely contain a precious, dutiable item, the young man appointed an agent to accompany him. The parcel was duly opened and instead of valuables, it contained a slice of wedding cake. It had been sent by an old sweetheart who said she would wait for him no longer and was sending this to let him know she had not jilted him.
A DREADFUL FRIGHT
A shot rang out on Freedom Day in February, 1874, and a Philippolis shopkeeper was accidentally shot The Friend of February 24, reported that Jacobus Eselin, had been shot through the knee by W Maddox, from Beaufort West. Eselin was rushed to hospital and he almost lost the leg, but in the morning doctors reported that it had been saved and that he would be able to walk again. He was, however, still suffering from shock, said the newspaper and had had a dreadful night. The £10 prize offered in the Government shoot off was won by J Jeffrey. In the Harness and Saddle match, the harness went to D Hockley and the saddle to C Boshoff.
Adventures are the best way to learn / It’s not what you look at that matters. It’s what you see.