There’s a treat in store for all who love Prince Albert. A new book, compiled by Cultural Foundation members, Lydia Barella, Mary Anne Botha, Judy Maguire and Derek Thomas, has just become available. Prince AlbertSense of History, Sense of Place, celebrates the town’s unique cultural and environmental history covering everything from geology, palaeontology, archaeology and anthropology to architecture and agriculture. These are brought to life through stories of the people who settled in the area, among them the De Beers, of the original farm, De Queekvalleij, as well as residents of Bo-dorp, Rooikamp, Nuwerus and some surrounding farms. This 119-page soft cover book, an excellent guide to the town’s local gables, mills and provincial monuments, is well illustrated. Drawings and photographs enhance glimpses into the lives of early citizens. The well-preserved architecture of Kerk Street turns a walk into a journey back in time, to the bygone days of the 19th and early 20th century. Readers might well almost expect Dr Luttig to step out of Helmuth or ‘Asja’ Murphy to drive by in the Rolls Royce that he so lovingly restored. There is also a section on the community of Gamkaskloof (The Hell) and the construction of the road into this hidden valley. “Resourcefulness and hard work were watchwords for the ‘Klowers‘. Their knowledge of medicinal herbs, witticisms and humorous riddles are also discussed in this book, together with the significance of the Swartberg Mountains, Thomas Bain’s Swartberg Pass and the town’s water furrow system,” says local historian Ailsa Tudhope. Prince AlbertSense of History, Sense of Place is available from Fransie Pienaar Museum at a cost of R295.


The Cape and Natal News of January 31, 1859, reported that the outbreak of smallpox in the hinterland had subsided and communication with the country districts was once again opened. Business, stated the newspaper, had received a considerable stimulus. Property sales in all country areas was favourable and farms, originally sold for a “mere song”, were now realising very considerable prices.


In an editorial in its issue of March 31, 1859, The Cape and Natal News cautioned visitors and immigrants of two evils. “We warn would-be settlers of two temptations which will beset their path. The first, and most strongly to be guarded against, is the taste for drink. In this colony, locally made wine and spirits are to be had very cheaply compared to prices of similar items in Britain. Be warned, the climate is hot, it induces great thirsts. This, coupled to the cheapness of local liquor and the fact that money may be easily earned here, puts great temptation into the path of the working man. If this is not firmly resisted, ruin will follow. Hundreds have died miserably in this colony from the abuse of ardent spirits and hundreds are still dragging on in a wretched existence, buoyed up for a time by the daily, perhaps hourly dram, which ends in the destruction of health and constitution, if not life itself. There is no man so utterly miserable in this colony as the drunkard. The second evil, and minor danger is a claim for excessive wages.


In 1859 Pieter Ferreira, of Kragakamma, succeeded in cultivating a Cape gooseberry so perfect that it was praised by the Port Elizabeth Mercury. In its March 2 issue, the newspaper said the fruit was bred to such perfection that it was nearly the equal the English gooseberry in size, but superior in flavour. A specimen had been left at its office for all who were interested to see. This gooseberry was 38mm in circumference and it weighed 28 grams.

NOTE: The Karoo Food Festival \ Kosfees takes place in Cradock from April 29 to May 1, this year.


The Atherstones were possibly South Africa’s most prominent “medical family”. Their contribution to medicine in this country stretches across four generations and covers 134 years of unbroken service. The family originated in Warwickshire, England and its name is linked to Atherstone village, near Mereval, Atherstone Friary, which is mentioned in the Doomsday Book, some exciting historic events as well as early British kings. Around 1760 three brothers, William, Samuel and Hugh, the direct ancestor of the South African family, moved to Nottingham where they started a cloth-dyeing business. In 1819 Hugh married Ann Green and they had 15 children, of whom John Nothingham, “father” of the S A line was the youngest. John arrived with Edward Damant’s party of 1820 Settlers – (Damant was one of his two Damant brothers-in-law). Two of his sons qualified as doctors – William Guybon, who rose to greater prominence in medical and scientific circles than his father and Edwin, his son from his second marriage. William’s son, Walter Herschel also became a doctor and so did his son Harold Damant Aherstone. Some say John’s son, Frederick Korsten, also studied medicine, but turned to farming,


Historian, Sue Mackey, who has researched much settler correspondence, says that Mary, who married Edward Damant, was not John’s sister, as sometimes stated, but his niece, the daughter of his older brother Hugh. Lieutenant Edward Damant, who headed the party that John travelled with as an independent member, was his wife’s brother. Born on January 25,1791, John studied medicine and first practiced in Nottingham for a while. He also spent a year as a resident house surgeon at Guy’s Hospital in London, before emigrating to South Africa. He married Elizabeth Damant – a few years his senior – on December 13, 1811 at St James Church, in Piccadilly, London. They had nine children, four sons and five daughters – two died in infancy and one girl lived only to 15. The rest survived until well into their 70s and 80s. After being licensed to practise in the Cape Colony in April 1820, John accepted the post of district surgeon of Uitenhage. It was there that his son, John Frederick Korsten Atherstone, was born on October 1, 1821.


John found it difficult to make a living and make ends meet in Uitenhage so, after a year, he moved to Cape Town. Then, in August 1822, he accepted the position of district surgeon of Albany. He had just set off when, like Daniel O’Flinn, he heard that there was no house there, so he returned to Cape Town where he spent six years building up a large practice. He delivered South Africa’s first series of public lectures and demonstrations on physics and chemistry. In April 1826, he drew the British government’s attention to the need for a public school where “natural and experimental philosophy and chemistry” could be taught. He even offered to teach at such an institution, but nothing came of it. He was also a keen horticulturist and a member of the Cape of Good Hope Horticultural Society, which was formed in December 1826.


In 1828 John was again appointed district surgeon of Albany to succeed Dr Alexander Cowie. He set up a lucrative practice in Grahamstown. In 1831 he and Graaff- Reinet’s district surgeon, Dr Thomas Perry, went to Phillipstown to vaccinate the Griquas at in an attempt to stop smallpox from spreading. In 1835 John bought and ran a private hospital which later became Albany General. He and William rode from their farm, Iron Pot, to Mooimeisiesfontein to try to dissuade their good friend Piet Retief from leaving on the Great Trek. They were unsuccessful. John became one of the most prominent doctors in the Eastern Cape, served in the 7th Frontier War and was elected to the first Cape Legislative Council, but resigned his seat. John was also a good teacher and several men, who made names for themselves in the area, were apprenticed to him. William Guybon started training with his father, so did two of his friends. They were Richard Nathaniel Rubidge, who completed his medical degree at the University of London in 1843, and Charles H. Grisbrook, who changed his mind and decided not to qualify in medicine. Oddly all three developed a taste for natural history and pursued interests in botany, geology and palaeontology whenever they could. William practiced medicine with his father in Grahamstown for six decades. On June 16,1847, he was the first surgeon outside Europe and America to perform an amputation of a leg under anaesthetic. This operation, performed on Albany Deputy Sheriff, Frederick Carlisle, and was completely successful.


Elizabeth died on November 17, 1838 and on August 20, the following year, John married Anne Grant, 34, daughter of Thomas Damant and widow of Major Thomas Charles White who was killed during the 6th Frontier War in 1835. She had three children, Thomas, George and Emily. John moved to Table View farm, 10 km northwest of Grahamstown, where they had three more sons and a daughter. In 1848 John played a major role in founding the Grahamstown Philomathic Society, a debating club whose object was the cultivation of rhetoric, literature, and general knowledge. John went into semi-retirement when he reached his 50s. His son William Guybon succeeded him as district surgeon. Sadly, in May 1855 during a trip to town, John was involved in a serious cart accident and sustained a spinal injury from which he never recovered. He died a few days after the accident.

Note: William Guybon’story will be carried in the next issue.


William Guybon’s half-brother Edwin, who also qualified as a doctor, developed a great interest in ornithology and etomology. His contributions to the science and cultural history in South Africa were overshadowed by the achievements of his prominent brother, yet, they were none the less significant. Edwin was awarded Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery degrees at the University of Aberdeen, in Scotland. He became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1866. He was licensed to practice in the Cape Colony in December of that year and did so in Grahamstown for the rest of his life. In later years he returned to Aberdeen to further his studies, receiving the degree Doctor of Medicine in 1882. He was married to Armine Girdlestone. An ardent student of bird life in his leisure hours, Edwin added many rare species to the collections of the Albany Museum. In 1861 alone he donated 39 bird species and some mammals to the museum. More followed from 1867 to 1872. He regularly exhibited birds at meetings of the Albany Natural History Society (founded 1867) and served on its first council.


Another of Edwin’s early interests was in entomology. He donated his collection of Cape butterflies to the Albany Museum in 1864 and offered to take charge of its entomological collections. In February 1885 he was elected a council member of the newly formed Eastern Province Branch of the first South African Medical Association, but sadly the branch did not survive for long. During 1890 he identified birds for the Albany Museum and chaired a meeting at which it was decided to revive the Albany Natural History Society. When the Literary, Scientific and Medical Society, legal owners of the Albany Museum, was revived in July 1892, Edwin was elected to its management committee, which was in charge of the museum, and he served in this role until he died in 1898. He also served on the council of St. Andrew’s College in Grahamstown.


Walter Herschel, William Guybon Atherstone’s youngest child, was born in Grahamstown in 1856. He qualified as Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1887. He was licensed to practice in the Cape Colony in May 1888 and during the same month was appointed as district surgeon of Bathurst and medical officer of the convict station at Kowie. In August 1889 he was appointed acting surgeon superintendent of the newly established Port Alfred asylum, later the Kowie Asylum. This institution was housed in vacant convict barracks that was quite unsuitable for this purpose. Walter reported this and complained about it. In November 1893 Walter became medical superintendent of the asylum and rose to be one of South Africa’s most highly respected psychiatrists. From 1896 to 1901 he served as acting senior medical officer on Robben Island, but thereafter returned to Port Alfred to again become the medical superintendent. He remained in this post until 1920. He married Fanny Harrison and their son, Harold Damant, who qualified as a doctor in 1915, joined him in his practice. After losing an eye Walter gave up general practice and devoted all his energies to the asylum which from 1908 admitted chronic cases only. After his retirement he remained in Port Alfred for the rest of his life. He was interested in ichthyology and in 1912, presented the Albany Museum with some blocks of limestone containing fossils of the mollusc genus Turbo. Walter also had an interesting collection of fishes which was donated to the museum when he died on April 11, 1941.


When Rev Mance-Bisley arrived in South Africa he was horrified to find that there should exist in the British Empire a school where no cricket was played. He could not comprehend that “sturdy, well set-up, senior secondary lads, preparing for their matriculation”, did not know how to play the game, writes C Louis Leipoldt in The Valley. No one owned a bat or had seen a set of wickets, but “even more disturbing” was the fact that no boy owned a cricket ball. The good reverend promptly sat down and wrote to a Cape Town firm, and in due course several sets of cricket implements arrived at his door by the post-cart. They were taken to the school, where at morning assembly the reverend spoke enthusiastically on cricket. He made it clear that he considered it the duty of every boy to learn to play. There was a possibility that some future South African battle might be won on the cricket field, he said. Mance-Bisley confessed to feeling emotion surged up in him like a wave when he saw cricketers at play – here was grace in this action. Leipoldt wrote said: “He divested himself of his coat, turned up his shirt sleeves, shortened his braces by two holes, bounded and bowled with an agility one would scarcely have expected from a person so sleek and so chubbily rotund. How his spectacles remained on during these vigorous exhibitions of arm and leg play was a miracle, but they did; and they evidently served him well for he bowled with skill, maintaining a good length and varying his pace. The little batsman took the bowling with some trepidation at first, but soon steadied, snicked and blocked with commendable judgment.”


Imperial Yeomanry soldier, Syd Critten, diarised his adventures in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War. Describing a train trip from Wellington to Bloemfontein he wrote: “Entraining the horses took time. Each compartment had eight men, but sleeping bunks for six, so we draw lots and two slept on the floor. I gave my bunk up to a fellow who had tooth-ache and found the floor not half bad. Next day we stopped at Prince Albert Road to water and feed the horses. We also had tea, biscuits and bully beef. The trains go very slowly, about 15 miles (24km) an hour through country that is not very interesting; nothing but low hills and wasteland. We enjoyed some sharp curves which formed the train into an S. Some stations have funny names, like Uitkyk, and Letjesboch. Several were too long to take down but were very amusing. When we stopped at Beaufort West to water and feed again, a train load of Boer prisoners en route to St Helena, via Cape Town, passed us. At Beaufort West we also drew 10/- -a week’s pay – which we all badly needed. I tried to find Clifford Goodwin there, but was told he had gone. At Victoria West we watered, fed, and had tea again. Just after midnight there was a huge commotion and the train was stopped. One of our section, a man named Carpenter, was missing. He had walked out of the train in his sleep, we searched unsuccessfully for him for about 20 minutes, then we went on our way. We wired along the line for other trains to be on the lookout and pick him up. When we reached De Aar who should come walking up but Carpenter. He had managed to get there on three different trains. He had no boots and was bruised and stiff. Everyone congratulated him on his escape. We are very near to the front and will be at Noupoort soon. I expect before you get this letter I shall have been in some skirmishes.”


Inefficiency, labour unrest and destruction of public property are far from new. In September 1859, a small steam engine, built by Hawthorne and Company’s works in Leith, Scotland, arrived in Cape Town harbour. It had been imported by Edward Pickering, the British contractor commissioned to build a railway from Cape Town to Wellington, a distance of just over 70 km, but over mountainous terrain. Pickering just could not get the job done. His team of rail builders took almost two years to lay the first three kilometres. Understandably, the Cape Town Railway and Dock Company, who owned the line, lost patience with the procrastinating Pickering and fired him and his crews. The workers did not take this lightly. The Cape Argus reported that during ensuing negotiations “disturbances‟ followed. “General fights broke out. Men flew at each other like infuriated tigers. Pickering’s men tore up the rails and sleepers as far down the line as the culvert at Salt River and then made a barricade to ward off authorities as fighting continued.” The upheaval led to Supreme Court action and, eventually, the railway company was forced to complete the work itself, under the leadership of its own resident engineer. William Brounger. His work ethics and discipline were exemplary. He set construction standards that were not to be bettered for many years.

You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough – Mae West