Fancy a “relaxed, but gently stimulating excursion” into the Karoo? Register now for John Almond of Naturaviva’s trip to the Worcester Robertson area. The first outing (March 7 to 9) was over-subscribed, so he proposes taking a second tour from March 14 to 16. The trip starts near Rawsonville and follows a route as far east as Cogman’s Kloof along quiet, scenic back roads where John shares information on the area’s natural history, ecology, geological highlights and landscape evolution. “Participants must be fit enough to survive several hours on foot in rocky terrain so that they can participate in walks at places like Vrolijkheid and Die Krans Nature Reserves,” says John. Time is allowed for civilised tea or coffee breaks and wine tasting at some local cellars en route. Cost of the trip is R1 420 per person, payable in advance. “This covers shared accommodation for two nights in well-equipped cottages on the outskirts of McGregor, one dinner, specialist guiding, illustrated handouts and entrance fees to reserves Apart from the scrumptious dinner and a communal braai, this is a self-catered trip,” says John. “A good proportion of the route is travelled on dust roads, but high clearance vehicles are not necessary.” The excursion ends at about 16h00 on Sunday.


Water in the arid zone has always been a major concern. So, when S le Roux, then minister of Agriculture, visited Oudtshoorn in 1948 farmers could speak of little else but improving water supplies. For the past 20 years they said serious droughts had depleted water supplies throughout the region. A short report on the meeting, in The Farmer’s Weekly of August 18, 1948, stated that two ambitious schemes had been proposed – the alteration by tunneling of the flow of water from the Outeniqua Mountains to the Klein Karoo instead of the coast, and the leading of the waters of the Orange River to the Karoo by a series of artificial channels. Minister Le Roux also received a deputation of farmers from along the Gamka River. They had a more realistic proposal – they urged him to build a dam on the river. He promised to visit within short with J G Strydom, the then Minister of Irrigation Affairs. This happened and the dam became a reality.


W L Speight, author of Romance of Place Names firmly believed South Africans were romantic and endowed with rich imaginations. “South African is a land filled with romance,” he wrote in 1820. “Here people will find much material for creating captivating place names and for weaving fascinating tales around them.” But, Reverend J A Hewitt did not agree. In the Cape Monthly Magazine of 1876, he wrote an article – The Topographical Nomenclature of South Africa – stating that “nothing could be more irregular than the way in which South African places are named.” As each new dorp, village or stadt arose he said names were chosen from a jumble of European and Colonial hometowns or to pander to celebrities. There were also dreary, repetitive links to local animals or water sources, interspersed by an indigenous, Hebrew or foreign word. “Little imagination is shown. Now and then the name of a Christian saint occurs, to increase the confusion.”


Young brides fresh from European cities or the comparative sophistication of Cape Town, found the early Karoo quite daunting. So, The Beaufort West Courier in July 1887, published some recipes to help new house-wives “impress any visitor.” These included a rich, easy to make plum cake which included “half a pound of good butter, fine white sugar, twice-sifted flour, eggs and sultanas. The secret apparently was to beat the butter and sugar by hand “until it looked like thick white cream,” then add all ingredients using a feather light touch and bake at once.” There was a recipe for quick baking powder bread “that will be envied by of your friends.” It was mixed with water or milk, kneaded lightly and “baked in a quick oven.” Breakfast or tea scones, a good plain cake, pancakes, batter pudding and Norfolk dumplings followed. These were said “to turn a stew into an unforgettable dish.” The secret was to boil them for 20 minutes without lifting the lid.


Karoo farmers dependent on wool for a livelihood across the ages have pondered ways of promoting it. In 1930 Mrs Andree Luscombe, a Graaff Reinet farmer’s wife, came up with an excellent idea. Tired of sitting around endlessly talking, she went into action. She wrote to The Farmer’s Weekly, suggesting a beauty competition be built around wool. She then arranged a meeting with the Wool Council’s Publicity Department and proposed the idea to them. Within short a nation-wide Wool Queen Competition was on the cards. Andree’s fierce campaigning led to The Graaff Reinet Wool Rally, the first non-commercial community effort arranged on behalf of wool producers. And, she didn’t stop there. She organised many allied events and threw herself wholeheartedly into finding a Wool Queen in every wool producing area. “This was an enriching, enlightening and exhilarating experience,” she said. In The Outspan of November 24, 1938, Wool Council chief, Norman de la Harpe, whom Andree christened “the father of the wool queens,” said that she had fired him with such enthusiasm that he composed a catching march called The Wool Queen Salute. “Her idea was a wonderfully original. It pepped up wool publicity, added a great deal of glamour and instantly turned wool into front page news. Thousands of people across South Africa became aware of wool. They attended “Wool Weeks,” mannequin parades, film shows, lectures, demonstrations and exhibitions. Wool became “chic” and “in.” One newspaper said the finals of the Wool Queen elections brought in more readers than some major murder trials When war broke out the campaign was abandoned. “When the war is over, my heart is set on finding a World Wool Queen. I am convinced that is a possibility,” said Norman.


When Charles Howard, the manager of Beaufort West’s Royal Hotel died in June 1887, the clientele was advised that William Fletcher would pick up the reigns. He had been the well-liked Howard’s assistant for years. Clients were assured there would be absolutely no change in the well-run establishment. William, said the advertisement, was an energetic young man, who will arrange carts to meet every train, and spare no effort to ensure the table is kept to its high standard. The best brands of liquor will, as always, be available.”


In the 1940s “a tried and trusted” beauty cream, named Karroo, was advertised in many popular magazines. It was said to “cream freckles away like magic.” “Troubled by freckles?” asked The Outspan of April, 1949. “Not me,” it continued. “I used to spend half my time worrying about a complexion marred by ugly freckles, then I discovered Karroo Freckle Cream – so easy and pleasant to use. What a boon! You can have a lovely skin like mine if you use Karoo Freckle Cream, now available in attractive screw-top jars.” It came in three strengths and cost 4/6 at chemists. The mildest version was said to be a good general skin tonic and the strongest claimed to protect the skin from the ravishes of the sun.


Genealogical researcher Anne Lehmkuhl has launched a new magazine. Called Bygones & Byways it can be viewed at It contains some superb reading, but is a 3MB file, so she advises readers to be patient when downloading it. Articles cover the demolition of the Dolphin Hotel, a Kimberley church centenary, the launch of the Oral History Institute, A housing estate on ABW site, Name changes, The Century Club which celebrates long lives, A sailor’s wartime memoirs, the Van der Merwe book, Hottentot Venus, Helen Martins, an old jail that became a guesthouse and S.S. Ceramic – a WWII drama at sea. The publication also includes tips for researchers and information on family history centres world-wide. Anne previously published the popular genealogy newsletter, Generations, which was an essential reading for people across the globe who were researching South African ancestors.


In 1933 newspapers across the country reported a dreadful drought. It was worse they said than the droughts of 1864, 1903 and 1916. The Cape Times mentioned two farmers who had set out from Kenhardt with 3 000 sheep hoping to find better conditions. “Nowhere could they find water. By the time they reached Carnarvon only 60 sheep were left. At dusk they reached a farmhouse, asked for water, but were told the farmer had only enough for his family’s needs. They just stood there looking at the heaving flanks of their parched flock. Then, according to a local newspaper, one took a hunting knife and scientifically slit the throats of the animals before taking his own life. The second poisoned himself. Travellers report that sheep are found lying on almost every road in the Karoo. They are so emaciated that they cannot get up even when car hooters are sounded.”


The Karoo acacia, the doringboom which adds to the beauty of the arid inland areas of South Africa, is often mentioned in the writings of early travellers. Its downy yellow pom-pom flowers and “bleeding” gum intrigued many. In African Journal Thomas Baines wrote: “I rode over extensive mimosa-covered plains seeing locals collecting the gum exuding from these trees. They sell it to traders. In one morning, I saw a single trader purchase enough of gum to fill four wagons. The natives call the gum in-Tlaka.”


Among the adventurous young men who travelled to the Diamond Fields in 1871 were James Kidney Gibson and his younger brother John Alexander. Like many others they hoped to strike it lucky, but their destiny lay not in diamonds, but in transport. James was not a strong man, so for the brothers the 23-day overland cart trip from Cape Town to Kimberley was arduous, uncomfortable and hazardous. They were convinced a safer, quicker, more efficient and comfortable mode of transport was needed and they set out to provide this. They invited their youngest brother Frederick Chapman to come to South Africa to join them. He arrived in 1873 and helped set up a coach service that blazed a trail across the Karoo to the diamond and gold fields. The Gibson brothers also built good roads, bridges and a pont at Hopetown. Their coaches plied the route to Kimberley from Wellington long before the rail reached Beaufort West. Then, as the railway slowly snaked across the country, they made each last rail stop their starting point. In this way they progressed from Wellington to Matjiesfontein, then Beaufort West, Victoria West, De Aar (initially known as Brounger’s Junction) and eventually to Orange River Station, where politics halted the progress of the line. Their coaches were crammed and seats far over-subscribed. Keen travellers offered £5 and more to anyone prepared to give up a ticket. There were few takers.


The Gibsons also set up a service based at Grootfontein, near Middelburg, to transport travellers through the eastern Cape area to the diamond and gold fields. The brothers were among the first to set up schedules and keep to them. Regular stops to change horses helped them do this. At the height of their success they owned 1 000 horses and mules. These were kept in peak condition in stables on farms along the routes. In 1884 they transported the Warren Expedition to Bechuanaland and when the rail reached Kimberley in 1885, the Gibsons set up services between the camps. When gold was discovered in 1886, they expanded their service to meet the new demand and soon between 10 and 14 coaches a week were flying to the Transvaal. Then they expanded their service to Pretoria and obtained a contract to carry mail for the Transvaal Government. The brothers lost many of their strong, imported American mules to the British Army during the Anglo-Boer War. Always keen on new opportunities, Frederick and John set up a coach service from Vryburg to Johannesburg, once the Bechuanaland railway line was opened.


Frederick gained a great deal of experience transporting supplies during the Griqualand West Rebellion (1878 – 79). So, when a war broke out near Prieska in the Northern Cape in 1879, he contracted to transport the Artillery Corps to the border at the Orange River. One of the VIPs who used his coaches at this time was Sir Thomas Upington who visited the region in the hopes of negotiating a peace settlement. On completion of the talks Frederick Gibson personally drove Sir Thomas to Beaufort West in his own cart, so that he could catch a train back to Cape Town. Ever the entrepreneur, Frederick supervised the laying of the tramway from Kimberley to Beaconsfield in 1887, then went to New York to purchase “the best available cars in the world” for it. He moved to Cape Town in 1890 but did not settle down. When the Cape Colonial Government approached him to lead an expedition to Matebeleland he was off again. Frederick died at his home in Observatory on February 8, 1901. Find out more about these exciting men at the Togryers Museum in Ceres.


The coming of the motor car, the horseless wonder, was heavily opposed by farmers. They feared if it replaced horses the demand for oats and hay would considerably be reduced. The Star, of January 5, 1897, hailed the car as “the greatest evolution in transport since the wheel,” but warned that its introduction would not be smooth because of its dangers. These machines could, “reach racing speeds of 20km an hour,” said a reporter. After seeing a demonstration of a German Benz Voiturette, imported by Pretoria businessman, John P Hess, the newspaper admitted that “the principal of the motor car appears to have a great future in this country which is troubled by horse sickness and Rinderpest, but its engine noise is a trifle irritating.”


Cricket in South Africa is over 200 years old. Researcher Alan Woodman says, “The first match in Africa took place in Cape Town on January 5, 1807, but it is the tiny Karoo village of Matjiesfontein that has a fascinating cricketing story to tell,” he says. “The central character is the creator of the village, James Douglas Logan, Laird of Matjiesfontein and around him is woven a tale of international test matches, the coming to South Africa of great cricketers such as George Alfred Lohmann and Lords Hawke’s teams and racism in the game in the early 1890s. In Logan’s Way Robert Toms writes’: “Logan’s deep affection for cricket undoubtedly helped to popularise the game in South Africa. He was more than an enthusiast. He was a fair performer at the crease. At his invitation George Alfred Lohmann at the time said to be ‘one of the greatest all-round cricketers the world has ever seen,’ came to the Karoo. Logan was convinced the clear, fresh air would cure his chest complaint.” Sadly, it didn’t. He lies buried in Monument Cemetery, 10 km south of Matjiesfontein. The first official game at the village was played “on a fine November morning on an unforgiving pitch of hard Karoo soil, in the partial shade of blue gums and against a backdrop of the Witteberg Mountains.” The occasion was the opening of the Matjiesfontein Waterworks. Top dignitaries, most of whom arrived by train, were welcomed by the band of the Worcester Regiment.


Logan caused a furore in 1894 when he withdrew as the guarantor of a South African Tour to England. Interviewed by the Cape Times on August 4, he said: “I found myself dealing with people with whom formerly I had had no negotiations on the subject of the guarantee and with the fact that the team would visit England under quite different Management to that which I had been led to anticipate. When I, the original guarantor, promised my £500 it was on the distinct undertaking made with Mr Cadwallador, that the very best team should visit England. I have two reasons for my withdrawing. Had it not been for Mr Cadwallador as Secretary of the South African Cricket Association, there would have been no visit of a team to England, and in the end, I found myself without any voice on the question of management. Also, Hendricks ought to have been included in the team; he was their finest bowler, but they would not have him because he was a coloured man. Since they began their tour of England, they have played against colour, so I ask myself why they could not have played with colour?” In March 1896, when interviewed at Matjiesfontein by The Cape Argus on cricketing issues of the day Lord Hawke touched on professionalism, saying that he hoped during the South African visit there “would be no humbug” about it. Logan got to his feet and poured out his soul on the thorny question of professionalism. He said had great respect for the man who went honestly forward and received the money at the front door, rather that at the back. This interesting story just rolls on and on. For instance, a South African team, the “Bashi-Bazouks,” visited Matjiesfontein in September 1899, for a friendly match. It was so friendly they allowed the home team to field 18 players!”


It seems 1887 was not a good in Beaufort West. The town’s main store, P J Alport and Co, reported they were reducing stock because of the “depressed times.” But they assured customers they could still expect “quality goods.” For instance, they stated, the Tartar would soon dock with seven cases containing over 1 000 pairs of men’s, ladies’, youths’ and girls’ shoes and boots in a “variety never before seen in Beaufort West.” A new stock of Huntley and Palmer’s Biscuits was “on the water,” said their advert. The Pembroke Castle, had brought Nestlés milk, Epps and Taylor’s cocoa, Scottish oatmeal, fresh currants, assorted jams, marmalades and oils, pearl barley, sago, bleached ginger, candied citron and mixed peel, custard powders, and Three Castles tobacco. Bath sponges, castor oil, prayer books and hymn books were also being unpacked. So were horse shoes, globe nails, blacking in jars, tins, round kettles, snuffers, mouth organs, wooden taps, toys, hair brooms, machine oil, plaited wire, shoe brushes, preserving pans, birdcages and violins. These had come on the Mexican. Alport’s first class, master tailor and seamstresses “whose work was of the highest standard” advertised that the Garth Castle had brought an unbelievable variety of patterns and materials such as corduroys, Zephyr and Cambric prints, Winsey and Célon shirtings, suitings, fancy checks, ginghams, Oxford Voerchitz, velvets, Berlin wools, Belgian laces, silks, crepe, foulé, government serge, sateen, broché, tartan and Irish tweed. Shawls, sheets, field glasses, travelling helmets for men and women, nun’s veils and top-class coffin furniture – a specialty of the store – was also being unpacked said the advertisement.

There are two ways of spreading light: to be a candle, or a mirror that reflects it

Edith Wharton, a novelist who, heavily influenced by Henry James, explored the dynamics of American upper-class society and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for “The Age of Innocence” in 1920