ATTENTION ALL BOER WAR BUFFS
Exciting plans are on the cards to host an Anglo-Boer War weekend at Matjiesfontein. It will be held in The Lord Milner Hotel from April 7 to 9. A “boutique collection” of top speakers will present a series of talks on various aspects of the war. Among them will be the eminent historian, Dean Allen, author of Empire, War and Cricket and an authority on “old Matjiesfontein”. He will lead a walking tour around the village during which visitors will be allowed to explore some of the unique Victorian buildings, many of which have fascinating links to the Anglo-Boer War. There will also be a tour to Monument Graveyard, about 10km south of the village, to visit the final resting place of General Andrew Wauchope, of the Highland Brigade, who died at Magersfontein, as well as graves and others who died at this world-famous village. Dr Arnold van Dyk will also be there to address visitors on Yeomen of the Karoo, among others. Yeomen is the recently published book, which Rose Willis, Dr Van Dyk and Professor Kay de Villiers wrote on the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein, near Richmond. As space at the village is limited it is essential to book accommodation if you want to enjoy the full ambience of this weekend.
DIARISE THE FESTIVALS
Those who enjoy Karoo festivals should plan to be in the region in April. That’s when the most popular ones take place. The Klein Karoo Nationale Kunstefees (KKNK) is scheduled for April 8 to 15; the AfrikaBurn Festival, in the Tankwa Karoo, will take place from April 23 to 30; the ever-popular Cradock Food Festival will be held from April 27 to30 and, as ever, will be a foodies delight, and the Prince Albert Town and Olive Festival is planned for April 28 and 29. Details of both the Cradock and Prince Albert festivals are carried on Facebook and because both have grown so in popularity, accommodation booking is essential. And, for something a little different, anglers might enjoy The Rhodes Wild Trout Festival. It is scheduled to take place from March 16 to 20. The full story of rainbow and brown trout, as well as how and when they were introduced to South Africa, is told on www.fosaf,org.za. Follow the link for trout fishing.
WHO KNOWS THE FRY FAMILY?
Llewellyn Fry, who lives in Johannesburg, is trying to find out more about Charles Fry who worked in the X-ray Department of the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein in the Karoo. Much of Charles’s story is told in the recently published Yeomen of the Karoo, written by Rose Willis, Dr Arnold van Dyk and Professor J C ‘Kay” de Villiers. Llew writes: “I have a relative who is trying to trace the Fry family in South Africa. He is flying out from New Zealand in March this year to erect a plaque to our ancestor Horace Fry who went AWOL in the Anglo Boer War in 1901. Horace eventually went to Cape Town, got himself pardoned and settled in Val (a town just beyond Heidelberg). There he became a respected member of the community and worked as the town plumber and blacksmith until he died.
HEAR MORE ABOUT THE YEOMEN
Listen to Myrna Robins discussing Yeomen of the Karoo in the Book Choice slot on the Cape’s popular Fine Music Radio channel on Monday, February 6, 2017, between 13:10 and 14:00. Myrna nominated Yeomen of the Karoo as Book of the Year in her blog, www.wineweekend with Myrna Robins, last year. Those who do not receive the FMR station can go to www.fmr.co.za, and then click on podcasts then on book choice to listen.
BARE SAND BETWEEN THE BLADES
The sparse vegetation of the Karoo intrigued early travellers. As most were used to the lush green fields of Europe, they constantly referred to the absence of grass in South Africa. One of the early expeditions which left Cape Town in January,1661, stated that “a thousand acres would not provide enough food for one head of cattle.” And, in 1773, Carl Thunberg noted that the fields were by no means as thickly covered with grass as they were in Europe. He said that the grass grew “very thin showing bare sand between the blades”. Then, in November 1777, after a particularly wet summer, Gordon described the vast level plains as being made up of “broken veld”, i.e. half Karoo and half grassveld. In December he passed through a sector “almost completely covered in grassveld”, but within short found himself again traversing “broken veld” with parts of “cruel, sour grass”. In December 1797, Barrow described a flat area over which he was travelling as having “strong clayey soil” and being covered “with fine grass, but destitute of wood or bushes”. In July 1803, Van Reenen, who was travelling from the Sneeuberg to the Orange River, also described “reddish clay overgrown with vygesbosje”. Capellli said the flat lands were called Karoo-ground because only little low bushes grew there. Lichtenstein also wrote of the Karoo saying, “grass is hardly to be met with in this tract, so it is with difficulty that a horse can find fodder here”. He added: “Oxen regale themselves with the thinly scattered forage that African fields afford. As pure grass is rarely to be found here, they are obliged to be content with heath plants.” In 1812 Burchell stated that “no true grass was observed in any part of these plains”.
South African churches are the keepers of the country’s oldest records. Most early churches kept very precise records of marriages, burials and christenings and some ministers, like Guy Gething, who served Beaufort West’s Christchurch, added colourful anecdotes to the entries. For over a century the Dutch Reformed Church (Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk or NGK) was the only official church in South Africa – its records date back to 1665. Then, in 1778, came the Lutheran Church and its records start in that year. Anglican Church records date back to 1806, Methodist to 1816, Presbyterian to 1824, Catholic to 1837 and Church of England to 1870. The Nederduitse Hervormde Kerk has records from 1842 and the Gereformeerde Kerk (Dopper church) to 1859. Not all churches in South Africa have central repositories. Many still keep their records at parish level.
ANOTHER POPULAR PLACE NAME
In the November 2016, issue of Round-up it was stated that Richmond was the most popular place name in the world. It seems, however, that Aberdeen is not far behind. The local publicity association states that there are 38 Aberdeens across the world. There are 18 places named Aberdeen in America, in Jamaica there is an Aberdeen in Saint Elizabeth and another in Saint Ann, and in Scotland there’s Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen City. There’s an Aberdeen in the Karoo on the N9, near Graaff-Reinet, and one each in Mashonaland, Zimbabwe; in Western area, Sierra Leone; in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands off India; in Saskatchewan, Canada; in New South Wales, Australia; in Saint John, Antigua and Barbuda and in Hong Kong. In America Aberdeens can be found in West Virginia, Washington, Texas, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Montana, Mississippi, Massachusetts, Maryland, Kentucky, Indiana, Idaho, Georgia, Florida, California, Arkansas. Aberdeen in South Africa was established in 1856 and named after the birthplace in Scotland of Reverend Andrew Murray. It has experienced many periods of boom and decline. The houses are a mix of Victorian, Georgian, Gothic, Russian, Flemish and modern 20th century styles. The district is the largest mohair producing area in the country, but there are also wool and mutton producers, as well as goat, ostrich and cattle farms in the district.
TOYS FORM THE LINK
The UK charity organisation, Shopmobility, which is sponsored by Hellman Worldwide Logistics, last year sent small soft toys to 22 of the Aberdeens around the world. These were Angus, the Bull and Donny, the sheep, both mascots of the successful Scottish Aberdeen Football Club. The aim was to encourage people to have pride in their Aberdeen, and to share interesting facts about it with other same name places. Aberdeen in South Africa was delighted to be among the recipients of these mascots.
Note: Shopmobility is a scheme which lends manual wheelchairs, powered wheelchairs and powered scooters to people with limited mobility.
SCANDAL SENDS A FRENCH COLONEL TO THE BOERS
A French colonel, who chose death over capture, the estranged husband of a famous actress inked to George Bernard Shaw and Pygmalion, two chivalrous British Lords and a horse, are all interwoven into the history of Boshoff. At the core was one of the most tense political dramas in modern French history – the Dreyfus Affair. Echoes of this scandal vibrated across Europe. This brought French Infantry Colonel Georges Henri Anne-Marie Victor de Villebois-Mareuil, into the Anglo-Boer War on the side of the Boers. The Dreyfus Affair, states Isabelle and Robert Tombs in That Sweet Enemy, rocked France. A French Jewish artillery captain, Alfred Dreyfus, was falsely accused by the French Army of passing military secrets to the Germans. He was tried and convicted of treason. This so disgusted De Villebois that he resigned his commission in the French army and offered his services to the Boers. Then, sadly, while in the Boshoff area, De Villebois was betrayed by a servant who informed the British of his position. This betrayal cost him his life.
Two women – Mrs Ryneveld and Miss Enslin (who later married Chris Andries van Niekerk, President of the Senate) were shopping for groceries when they heard of this treachery. They hurried out of the store and headed home as they did not want to become involved. Sadly, however, they were unable to avoid involvement. They were stopped by the British near Kareepan and concealed behind a hill where they became reluctant spectators to the battle. De Villebois was killed fighting a Yeomanry regiment led by Lord Metheun. Before he fell near a wild olive tree, that still carries the bullet holes from the battle, he is said to have shot Sergeant Patrick Campbell, the estranged husband of the well-known actress, “Mrs Pat”, a one-time mistress of George Bernard Shaw and the woman for whom he wrote Pygmalion. (her original name was Beatrice Rose Stella Tanner.) De Villebois’s body was taken to Boshoff where he was given a full military burial states Stephen Millier who analysed Lord Metheun’s role in the war. Methuen paid for the funeral and headstone out of his own pocket, then wrote to De Villebois’s daughter expressing his regret at the death of such a brave and gallant soldier. Patrick Campbell was buried quite close to De Villebois.
Note: De Villebois-Mareuil was the first of only two foreign volunteers to be given the rank of Major-General in the armed forces of the Boer Republics The other was his second in command, Evgeni Maximov.
A CHERISHED TROPHY OF WAR
De Villebois’s horse, Colenso, which had been wounded in the battle, was sent back to England as a “cherished trophy”, states That Sweet Enemy. Lord Chesham, commanding officer of the Yeomanry regiments in South Africa had Colenso transported to his estates in Latimer Buckinghamshire. He changed the horse’s name to De Villebois. In England it recovered and lived a long and happy life. When it died in February 1911, its heart and ceremonial trappings were buried on the village green next to the memorial commemorating local men who had served in South Africa.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE MAN
De Villebois was a suave, dapper, good looking man with an enviable curled moustache. A brave soldier, a complex man and an anglophile, he once used the nom-de plume “Georges Simmy” to sign a novel and friends said indicated that he thought himself a good friend, but one who is not totally successful at life. De Villebois was the son of an old military family. He spoke excellent English and had a penchant for making grandiloquent proclamations. His admiring cousin, the playwright Edmond Rostand, is said to have used him as a model for his stereotypical French hero, Cyrano Bergerac, written in 1897. De Villebois, who was considered by some as “a bit of a toff”, had his clothes made in London, and acquired a British governess for his daughter. He knew Oscar Wild, the Prince of Wales and was a friend of the writer J E C Bodley, yet he fought on the side of the Boers because of a debacle that remains one of the most notable examples of a complex miscarriage of justice.
ROUGH RUGGED ROADS
The Cape Frontier Times of December 20, 1853, reported that on a return trip with his family from Kowie P W R Dixon from Colesberg found the Colony’s roads more rough and rugged than he expected. His wagon hit a rut in the road, and he was thrown off the wagon-box. “He was driving a wagon with a team of eight horses, and he fell under the wheels which passed over him,” stated the newspaper, but added it was happy to report he did not suffer serious nor permanent injury and that he was well on the way to “ a fair recovery”.
UNIQUE RANGE NAMED FLOCK
Petrusville is a small village in the Great Karoo where a delightful range of felt slippers, dolls, knitted and crocheted throws, as well as felted animals is made under the trade name Flock. This range of uniquely-designed, hand-crafted, home products, was started under the guidance of Zahn Spies. ”Every crafter in this project is a local woman,” says Zahn “Their needlework skills have been traditionally passed down from mother to daughter and using these they make items that help them create a better lifestyle. The wool which they use comes from local farms. Until this project started most of these women trod a harsh, poverty-stricken path though life, but now Flock has helped them move away from their difficult circumstances and into a new world.
CRADOCK BANK SURVIVES ‘A RUN’
In the late 1850s a Mr H tried a “run” on “consols” in the Bank of England. The bank’s owner, Baron Nathan Rothschild, however, outwitted him and managed to keep the bank on a solid footing. In 1861, in South Africa, a Mr Lester made a similar attempt on the Cradock Bank. He tried to make a sudden run on the bank for gold, but the Cradock establishment survived the “drain” and proved itself a little too strong for Mr. Lester, states The Cape and Natal News of September 30, 1861
WILDER THAN THE WILD WEST
Hans Brander, a desperado, crossed the Kei River in the early 1850s and intimidated local farmers by stealing their stock. However, the absence of further excitement “this game” soon irked them and so Brander and about 40 of his henchmen returned to the Colony, stated the Honorable Sir George Cathcart in one of his reports. Brander moved into the Amatola region, then headed for the Zuurberg, at that time considered to be the heart of the Colony. He travelled via Albany because the Boers had waylaid all the drifts in the Somerset district. This gang was widely hunted by the Albany police, assisted by the 12th Regiment. Several desperate engagements occurred and in one the police lost and one officer and three men, while three others were wounded, stated Sir George. He added that of Brander’s men 16 had been killed and almost as many wounded. Then, The Cape Frontier Times of September 13, 1853, reported that “the notorious Hans Brander” had been killed in the Kei River area. “He died in the Fish River Bush from wounds received in a clash with the police patrol, led by Walter Currie.” The news of Brander’s death brought great relief to the frontier farmers as these marauders had been chased hither and thither across the region without much success for months, said the newspaper. One commando brought back a great many cattle and about eleven horses, taken from Clayton’s place, at the mouth of the Fish River, where two farmers had been killed. Brander, with Jan Cornelis, Frederick, a Cape Corps deserter, and Stephanus Smit, who was part of a gang that murdered James in the Winterberg, also attacked some military wagons and captured rifles, gunpowder, and clothing. Frederick was subsequently wounded by a patrol near Kingwilliam’s Town, and then hung up on a tree. On hearing this Sir George sent some men to see if the tale was true and indeed it was Reports said he was still hanging three days later. Shortly after that a man named Jack, who had been part of the party that took Clayton’s cattle, surrendered. The newspaper also reported that Umlangeni, the prophet was also dead and that Gaika, chief of the Macomo, was complaining that the land assigned to them was too small for them to live in. He said all the chiefs were dissatisfied.
FIRST COLONIAL PATENT AWARDED
Woodford Pilkington had the honour of being the first colonial patentee, stated The Cape Frontier Times of January l, 1861. “He has invented and patented a new system of forming and driving piles,” reported the newspaper. “Instead of employing the cumbrous teak logs generally used in the colony, Mr. Pilkington uses three, four, five, or six parallel iron roads, firmly connected by means of horizontal discs or plates, through which they pass. The system, which has some peculiarities, which could only be made intelligible with the aid of illustrations, is soon to be tested by the Colonial Engineer.”
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We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them – Abigail Adams