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The “festival man” of the Karoo, the dynamic Darryl David, who with Dr Peter Baker put Richmond on the map by turning it into a Booktown, is at it again. He has moved from literary and food festivals to an idea of creating a craft village in the little Klein Karoo town of De Rust. In making this announcement he quipped that travel journalist Chris Marais once said: “If you see an Indian family walking around your village with four dogs, be sure they are planning a festival!” And this was almost so. On a trip through the Klein Karoo Darryl, who almost never travels without his wife, Sherita Rampersad, daughter Kiara, and dogs, stopped for refreshments at De Rust. A few interesting little shops caught Sherita’s eye. She went inside to see what, if any, local craft was on offer and was stunned by the items for sale. Darryl followed. He too was impressed and so the idea was born. Why not create a crafter’s haven at this delightful spot beneath the mighty Swartberg Mountains, he asked. His plans have already stirred up a great deal of interest and approval. There is still much to be done, but it seems this idea may in time become a reality. More from ddavid@uwc.ac.za


A young man named Edmund Shackleton, died at Beaufort West on Decembers 28, 1889. He was 39 years old and the youngest of nine children born to Ebenhezer Shackleton, uncle of the famous polar explorer Ernest Shackleton, and his second wife, Eleanor Bell. Born in Dublin on April 7, 1850, Edmund spent his early childhood on an Irish estate where his father owned and ran a highly successful mill, which produced an average of 15 000 bags of flour annually, states the blog Ireland in Ruins. This mill was noted for having one of the deepest and longest millraces in Ireland. The Shackleton family home, an elegant residence built in Elizabethan style, was near Moone Abbey, the seat of the Yates family. Edmund attended the University of Dublin, qualified as a doctor and became a licentiate of the Irish Royal College of Surgeons. He married Anna Leech on August 27, 1879, and soon after their wedding the couple came to South Africa. He decided that as there was a great need for qualified doctors in the hinterland that he would set up a practise in the Karoo. Anna died on January 12, 1882, and Edmund, seven years later Death notices for him were carried in S A Weekly Journal of January 4, 1890, and in The Lancet Vol 1.


Hermi Baartman, who formerly worked at the Graaff-Reinet museum, survived what she terms “a devastating battle” with mycobacteria chelonae absesscus, a complex, drug resistant disease “I had to take immensely strong antibiotics for a year and this destroyed my short term memory. As I began to feel better I felt a great need for “brain gymnastics” to help me find my place in my life again, said Hermi. She joined a literary group which encouraged her to rhyme. She found that she could do it quite well and so began to write poetry. As she gained confidence she decided to write a book on her love for the Karoo. “It is now done,” she says, “and it is available from the Graaff-Reinet Museum.” This 200 page-book has stories of the Karoo, of its mountains and fossils, of rain, drought and general life in the dryland. It covers expectations, shattered dreams, the Boer War and some ghost stories. More from Hermibaartman@yahoo.com


In 1884 it was discovered that W A Baker, former postmaster at Klipheuvel Station, had stolen two letters in August the previous year. He was charged with this crime in the Cape Supreme Court and found guilty on February 17, 1884. He was sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour. This is one of the tales of the old post office discovered by Professor Franco Frescura. He doesn’t reveal what the letters contained. Money no doubt.


At the turn of the last century a son of the Karoo made a made for himself in both sporting and legal circles. He was Percy Sydney Twentyman-Jones. Born in Beaufort West on September 13, 1876, he was the son of Alfred George Twentyman-Jones, an estate agent, and Eliza Ardenne. He had five brothers and a sister. He married twice. firstly in 1901 to Martha Bertolda Vos, the daughter of Charles Torrianno Vos, who bore him a son and a daughter, and secondly to Gwynneth Constance Dorothy Wilkinson (nee Jeffreys). The surname Twentyman comes from his grandmother Sarah Elizabeth Head Twentyman, who was born in London, and who married George Thomas Jones. Percy was influenced to study law by his uncle Sidney Twentyman-Jones, the Judge President of the Eastern District Court. After completing his schooling at the Diocesan College he studied privately for an LLB at the University of Cape Town. He graduated in 1898, began his legal practice in Cape Town in 1902, took silk in 1924, and in 1926 he was appointed as a judge on the Cape Bench. He had a notable career as a criminal judge and was known to offenders as “Percy, the judge with no mercy”. In January 1946 he was appointed Judge President of the Cape Provincial Division of the Supreme Court, but retired at the end of that year. He wrote several legal works, and also contributed articles on sport and law to the local Press


Percy Twentyman-Jones was an excellent all-round sportsman who played cricket and rugby at international level. He played rugby union for Western Province and for South Africa as a wing. He also played in three international rugby tests during the British tour of 1896 and distinguished himself as the second South African to score a try in a test match. He was a highly-acclaimed right-handed batsman and played cricket for western province from 1898 until 1905. He was a member of the international test team that played against Australia in 1902 and during this match excelled as a batsman and a fielder. He was then selected to represent South Africa in the third test match in Cape Town. Immediately after that Percy was selected to play for the national soccer team, but due to pressure of work, was not available, despite the fact that many said “his sporting life left little time for law,” states Judge Marius Diemont in Brushes with the Law. That was not true. His interest in sport, however, never waned and in later life he served as a sports administrator. After his retirement, he was appointed Chairman of the Women’s Legal Disabilities Commission.


After Percy Twentyman-Jones was appointed as a judge many friends quipped that it was his good looks that won the day. They claimed that his classical features, silver hair and red robes made him the best looking judge on the South African bench. He one day won a frivolous “beauty contest” in the judge’s common room hands down. Percy was greatly influenced by his uncle, Sydney Twentyman-Jones, who was born in London on January 20, 1849, while his parents were on an overseas visit. Sydney obtained his LLB in 1872, an LLM Cantab in 1876 and an LLD in 1890. In 1882 he was appointed Senior Puisne Judge in Griqualand West and five years later he was appointed to the Eastern Districts Local Division at Grahamstown. Percy succeeded another son of the hinterland man as Judge President of South Africa in January, 1946. This was Judge Hendrik Stephanus (HS) van Zyl, who was born on January27, 1876, on the farm Hexrivier near Clanwilliam. HS van Zyl had virtually no formal schooling until he was 14 years old. He was then sent to the Blaauw Valley School near Wellington. In June 1892, he enrolled at the Victoria College in Stellenbosch and from there graduated with a law degree. Percy Twentyman-Jones died in Cape Town on March 8, 1954, his daughter, Gwendoline Edythe Lipp, passed his legal and other papers on to the University of Cape Town Library. Among these were interesting photographs of South African cricket and other sports teams of the 1880s.


In 1955 the jurisdiction of the Northern Cape Court was enlarged to include Britstown, Philipstown, De Aar, Kenhardt, Prieska, Gordonia, Upington, Keimoes and Kakamas. This announcement was made just as Judge Marius Diemont was elected to serve this area so, he decided that the best way of getting to know the territory was to go on circuit. There was a backlog of work in De Aar, so he set off for that little Karoo town almost immediately. It was a huge railway junction and an unbearably noisy place. This also applied to the Magistrate’s Court which was located next door to a panel beater’s shop. Hearing testimony was almost impossible. So he called for the panel beater, gave him the choice of stopping work while the court was in session and being permanently excused from jury duty or facing a charge of contempt of court. The panel beater, of course made the “right” choice, he writes in Brushes with the Law.


Another man named Twentyman also lived an interesting life in South Africa. He was William Twentyman, who took over on the job of postmaster at Storm’s Vlei, on August 1, 1868, and provided the service for free. His story was discovered by Professor Franco Frescura while researching officials of the early post office. He states that Lawrence Twentyman emigrated to the Cape in 1818 and, working as a silversmith, established himself in Cape Town. His business prospered, and in 1841 the firm of Twentyman and Company purchased land in the district of Swellendam. There it worked at setting up a little village on the farm Avontuur. They decided to name it Storm’s Vlei possibly in honour of Christiaan Andreas Storm, the previous owner of the land. In 1844 Lawrence’s nephew, William Twentyman, arrived from England to assist him and was placed in charge of developments at Storm’s Vlei. The village soon began to play an important role in the postal affairs. A twice-weekly postal service to the eastern frontier was set up in 1849 and Storm’s Vlei became a stop for the post-cart. William was awarded the contract to set up a changing post for the post horses, and, in order, to handle this as efficiently as possible, he established a well-appointed smithy to conduct repairs to the carts and whenever necessary to shoe the horses.


In 1864 William Twentyman married a young widow, Annie Sarah McIntyre, nee Arderne. She had been married twice before and had borne four children. Somewhat suspiciously, both her previous husbands had died by the knife. The first allegedly cut his own throat and the second had died by some unexplained mishap. When Lawrence Twentyman decided to take his family back to England, William and his new bride opted to go with them, however, after Lawrence died in 1868, William returned and purchased Storm’s Vlei from his uncle’s deceased estate. On August 1, 1868 William was appointed postmaster for Storm’s Vlei. He was granted a liquor license in 1869 and after that opened an inn to cater for the overnight needs of passengers travelling to Grahamstown. “It is probable that he ran the post office from his inn, for the benefit of his guests,” says Franco. Disaster struck on May 13, 1871, when, at the age of 48, William was fatally stabbed virtually on the doorstep of his inn. He managed to crawl inside, but before anything could be done he bled to death. The identity of his assailant was never discovered, but the motive was said to be interference with local women”. His wife, reportedly “a tiny woman of great personality” continued to run the inn.


One of Oudtshoorn’s ostrich palaces tells of much more than riches, romance, luxury, splendour, opulence, and glamour. Now known as the Spookhuis (Haunted House), it is the curator of a ghost and love story. The house, moved through several phases after its early life of sumptuous grandeur, ” states The Herald of October 4, 2016. In addition to being a feather palace it became the home of a beauty queen, a Springbok rugby player, and an orphanage for the Polish refugee children after WWII. It’s also been a boutique, a lodge and a clinic. A woman was found dead in the lounge, but she is not the only ghost. It seem a doctor who ran the clinic downstairs and lived upstairs and employed a local beauty as a nurse. She became smitten with his “beautiful blue eyes” and the two fell in love. The inevitable happened. The nurse fell pregnant. Both knew this would cause an immense scandal, so the couple decided “to go to Mossel Bay to discuss matters”. There, say some, they took a walk along the cliffs where she slipped and fell to her death. Afrikaans author, Sue van Waart, however, says an old fisherman told her that on that fateful day he saw a car pull up with a furiously arguing couple inside. The woman leapt out and ran along the cliff path. The man followed, grabbed her and a brief scuffle ensued before a blood-curdling scream filled the air. The woman, flew over the edge and fell to her death, he said.. Did the man push her? The fisherman could not say., however, to this day their ghosts still roam the old mansion, says Sue. In Kannelandse Kamee she writes that the doctor was a dodgy character with wandering hands. Other nurses had left his employ because of this. He moved to Johannesburg where he again got up to his old tricks. On one occasion the police were called to separate a couple arguing on a balcony. In the fracas the man fell over the railing to his death in the street below. That man was said to be the doctor and the policeman the brother of the woman who had died at Mossel Bay. Poetic Justice, urban legend or just a good story? Who knows?


In My Memoirs: 1878-1918, the German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II states that in 1900 both France and Russia approached him to form an alliance and attack Britain, whose army was in South Africa busy fighting the Anglo-Boer War. He declined and immediately told Queen Victoria about the plot which was foiled.


Robinski seems an odd name for a street in the Great Karoo. Yet this is the name of a road in Williston and it has as great tale to tell. It was named in honour of the town’s first mayor, a Lithuanian refugee, Eugen Robinski. He fled to South Africa to escape anti-Semitism. Family historian, Stephen Robins, has recorded many tales of this fascinating man in Letters of Stone. He states that Eugene arrived in Cape Town in 1888 and, seeking anonymity, immediately set off on foot for the hinterland. A Rhenish mission and German-speaking community drew him to Williston. He was 20, reasonably well educated, literate, had a good knowledge of commerce, a sophisticated style and good manners. This allowed him to “blend in”. He was a colourful creature – a stocky, compact, robust, attractive, larger-than-life man, with penetrating eyes. He set himself up as a smous (a travelling pedlar), but soon “re-invented” himself, changed his name to Isaac (Izak). He became a dignified, respected and distinguished town elder. Yet, while normally elegantly turned out in suit, with waistcoat, a well-pressed collared white shirt and tie, he was eternally surrounded by an aura of mystery.

Note: In July 1768, Johan Abraham Nel of Stellenbosch rested here at a fountain near the Sak River to await the birth of his son. He celebrated the child’s arrival by planting an almond tree. In 1845, the Swiss/German missionary, Johann Heinrich Lutz, established a Rhenish mission at this spot and named it Amandelboom. In 1883, the name was changed to Williston, in honour of Cape Colonel secretary, Colonel Hampden Willis.


Eugen had a combustible temper, which flared out of control when he drank too much. He claimed to have fled the anti-Semitism, but some said there was far more behind his dash from his Prussian homeland. According to one tale he worked as a “bouncer” at a hotel in Kőningsberg, the capital of East Prussia. It one day became necessary for him to throw out a very drunk Cossack. He did this, but the next day the man was found dead in the alley behind the hotel. Eugen’s rough handling was blamed. Some said Eugen followed the man into the night, beat him up and left him to die of exposure, others said the man had been attacked by a gang of robbers and yet others that his death had been an accident. The police arrested Eugen and imprisoned him. He managed to escape, some said aided by a jailor paid off by his father. While on the run he got into a fight with a border guard, floored him with a powerful punch and as a result the man died. The stories followed Eugen to Williston where, in a bar brawl one day, he punched a man and sent him flying across the room. This was enough to ensure that Williston people forever gave Eugen a wide berth.


In 1869 Garnet Wolseley, future commander-in-chief of British forces in South African during the Anglo-Boer War, wrote The Soldier’s Pocket-Book for Field Service. In it he stressed the importance of sport. “The ambitious officer should expend his energy on being a good sportsman, good cricketer, good at rackets or any other manly game,” he said. “A sportsman is preferable to the most deeply-read man of lethargic habits.” By the end of Queen Victoria’s reign the army’s adherence to, and passion for, organized sport had become all-consuming, states Peter Donaldson from the University of Kent in an article entitled We Are Having An Enjoyable Game. “The average officer,” he wrote, “spends more time on sport than any other single pursuit including military duties. Even students at staff colleges had their time filled up with a never ending diet of physical activity and team games. Sport was the focus that reinforced the flood of volunteers who swelled the ranks of the British army in the aftermath of Black Week in 1899. A significant proportion of new recruits came from the middle classes, the very stratum of society at the forefront of the cult of athleticism. They brought a fervour for games into the barrack room and on to the parade grounds,” states Donaldson.


In 1899 when setting out to cover the Anglo-Boer War for the Morning Post, 25 year old Winston Churchill brought with him 36 bottles of wine, 18 bottles of ten-year old scotch, 6 bottles of vintage brandy and a good quantity of excellent champagne. His war stories were said to contain “many bottles of whiskey, claret, and port.” He drank brandy and champagne at lunch and dinner. He almost always had a glass of whiskey by him, but he had not always liked it. “I disliked whiskey at first,” he said. “It was only when I was a subaltern in India, and had a choice between dirty water and dirty water with some whiskey in it, that I got to like it. I have always, made a point of keeping in practice.”

The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you will see – Winston Churchill