TOP AWARD FOR BOOK TOWN MAN

Darryl Earl David, one of the founders of Book Town Richmond, won the top prize in the highly prestigious Natal Witness Short Story Competition at the end of last year. He received the winner’s trophy and a R10 000 cheque for his story, Bliksem and Biltong Le Grange, which was also published in the first issue of The New Richmond Reader, in December. Darryl, however, was not the only winner with Karoo connections. Richmond-born, Denise Gilden, who lives in Pietermaritzburg, walked off with a prize for her debut short story, The Dream. She has been invited to participate at the 2012 Book Town Fair next October. Of The New Richmond Reader, Dr Peter Baker, co-organiser of the Book Fair, says: “We are hoping that the Richmond Reader will become the home of short story readers, and more importantly of short story writers. We know that many writers of this format have no home for their material, so we hope this publication will fill this shortfall in the market. We also welcome photographs.

THAT WAS A YEAR, THAT WAS

A Cradock sports club will celebrate its 130th anniversary with several others throughout the country this year. Rovers Rugby Club was founded there on September 6, 1882. Other sporting highlights of 1882 include the commemoration of the first rugby match played in Mossel Bay, the founding of the Natal Football Association in Durban, The Jockey Club was founded by 10 horse-racing enthusiasts at Phoenix Hotel, in Port Elizabeth and Ottomans Cricket Club in the Bo-Kaap, for which a weeklong celebration is planned from February 5.. Mossel Bay Athletic Club played George that year and the first South African soccer club was started in Pietermaritzburg.

NEW BIOGRAPHY CAPTURES THE THEATRE OF THE HEROIC AGE

Scott’s Forgotten Surgeon is a fascinating read. In this biography Aubrey A (Gus) Jones has captured the essence of the man, his adventurous life and poignant love story. Reginald Koettlitz, a great man, of noble descent, died in the Queens Central Hospital, Cradock, on January 10, 1916, within two hours of his beloved wife, Marie-Louise. He was 55 and had been part of the Theatre the Heroic Age, witnessing the pomp, ceremony, triumph and tragedy of major expeditions of discovery to the Arctic, Antarctic, the Blue Nile and Amazon. The great Scottish explorer, William Speirs Bruce, described him as “a man of great charm and character, an explorer of the best type, scientific, painstaking, and indifferent to notoriety or reward.” Yet Koettlitz died a bitter and frustrated man. His highly professional attitude led to dissention and dissatisfaction because he was too often highly critical of the lackadaisical, often disorganized, attitudes which were prevalent among expedition organizers of the day. Koettlitz was a geologist, botanist of great skill, expert ski-runner, dog and pony handler, as well as an authority on polar survival. As a surgeon and medical man his knowledge surpassed that of most expedition doctors. He had the skill to prevent and treat scurvy, the most dreaded of expedition diseases, yet this was neither acknowledged nor utilised and this resulted in his dismissal. Koettlitz perfected a new three-colour development process which enabled him to show the first colour slides of Scott’s expedition in Dover, his home town, where he was never forgotten. This biography is rich in hitherto unpublished material, it contains many quotes from personal correspondence, and it brings the late 1800s to life in a rich, romantic way. After spending so much time on the ice Koettlitz chose to settle in a “place in the sun”. He and his wife, who had recently lost their first and only child, came to South Africa, where he farmed and worked as a doctor. His last wish, to be carried to his grave by Freemasons, was honoured. For six years he and Marie-Louise lay in an unmarked grave. Then is 1922, Rev C W Wallace, Rural Dean of Cradock, with the support of the Freemasons, collected funds and rectified this.

KAROO MEAT POPULAR FROM THE START

The Cape passed into British hands in September 1795, yet, by 1797 when Lord McCartney, became governor, there was still scant interest in the hinterland. Their only concern was that the Cape’s meat supply came mainly from Graaff-Reinet and some lesser interior districts. In journals reporting on his journeys to the Eastern Frontier, William Somerville mentions meeting “butcher’s knechts” (meat buyers) in this area. He also mentions that large cattle raids by the Xhosa and Khoi caused the colonists to evacuate the whole southern part of the Graaff-Reinet district. This led to the 1799 Van Jaarsveld Rebellion, which was suppressed in April that year. McCartney’s successor, Major-General Francis Dundas, had no men to send out as peacekeepers because fear of a French attack in India had depleted the Cape garrison. When, Graaff-Reinet was born out of Swellendam in 1786 and Magistrate Woeke succeeded to an uneasy legacy, states Edmund Burrows in Overberg Outspan. Beyond dragoons and ammunition, the Company furnished only good advice, so any power it could hope to exercise on the frontier was limited. The new regime, however, failed to drive the Xhosas out of the Suurveld and the company still had insufficient men to police the tinder-box trade of cattle bartering and stock-theft. When Woeke called out a commando in1789 to check the s cattle raids, Governor van der Graaff censured him and anxious to avoid war appointed the much maligned Honoratus Maynier to “impose the rule of law”. He, however, was not able to encourage support and all that he managed to do was to prevent the frontiersmen from moving further into the hinterland. They detested him for this. Into this explosive mix stepped J H van Manger, a parson who turned his pulpit into a “political cockpit,” said Burrows. An impotent anger filled Graaff-Reinet burghers who rued the luck that had brought them Maynier as a magistrate and von Manger as a minister. Just then, matters went from bad to worse and a plague of locusts, followed by a severe drought swept the land

A MOTLEY BUNCH

Somerville found the inhabitants of the Graff-Reinet district to be a motley bunch, states Edna Barlow in the historical introduction to the Van Riebeeck Society volume entitled William Somerville’s Narrative of his Journeys to the Eastern Cape Frontier, etc. William, a Scot, the eldest son of the Rev Thomas Somerville, had a medical degree from the University of Edinburgh and was the garrison surgeon. He was considered “an extremely clever and useful young man”. Somerville was very much a late 18th century man; courageous, urbane and broadly, rather than deeply, informed, says Edna. He said the burghers of Graaff-Reinet were outcasts from all the nations of Europe and had been compelled to serve the Dutch East India Company as soldiers to extricate themselves from prison. Now breeding cattle was their only occupation. They lived a great distance from the Seat of Government and, mostly because of the scarcity of water, far from each other. “These men were destitute of ties that bind men to their native countries and countrymen. They had no common interest to unite them and, since they had escaped from a rigid military discipline, were little disposed to education. Habit and choice led them to be farmers and the only means of indulging their slothful inclinations was to engage local inhabitants, i.e. Hottentots, to assist and serve them.

SWARM RAVAGED THE LAND

In the late 1790s swarms of locusts ravaged the Karoo. The damage to crops was so great that in 1796 Maj-Gen Craig, who once referred to Graaff-Reinet as “the great magazine for meat”, was unable to buy fodder for his horses. George McCall Theal reports that “towards the close of 1799 locusts again appeared in vast swarms. “They have ravaged the country for two years and eaten every green thing. They have caused so much devastation that even the game disappeared.” Many families had no cattle left and most were in dire need of food. A drought followed in 1800 and the 223 grain farmers of the hinterland lost almost 3 000 draught oxen. It was feared that this would have a devastating effect on food supplies across the country. However, sheer will and careful planning triumphed. In his journals William Somerville reported: “During the short six-year period that the settlement has been in the possession of the British it has twice undergone the most pressing crop failures. Beside the backward state of husbandry this has been caused by unprecedented droughts and plagues of locusts. These destroyed crops in the Sneeuberg, Renosterberg, Graaff-Reinet and Bruntjieshoogte. “Within only a few hours the fairest prospects were laid to waste by those destructive insects that darkened the air in swarms and obscured the rays of the sun. They baffle every effort to turn their course. Swarms speedily extinguish large fires. Water has no effect and few die under the feet of sheep sent to trample them.” As if that was not enough, “a local distemper then broke out.” This pervaded across the Colony, said Somerville, sweeping before it many thousands of horses. Those that recovered or escaped this pestilence were ill fitted for ploughing because of debility and lack of food. The effect on young horses was most severe.

GENIUS ON TWO WHEELS

The bicycle delighted early South Africans. Cycling was a fashionable pastime in the early 1880s and by the time Dunlop patented the pneumatic tyre in 1888 cycle racing was already popular in South Africa. Within a few years a Karoo man had become the cycling champion of the world. He was Laurens Schmitz Meintjes, and he came from Aberdeen. Meintjies, who was an outstanding rider, started setting up records in the Transvaal in the early 1890s. He won a major track cycling event in 1891, and, in the following two years qualified for the honour of being undisputed champion of South Africa. His prestige was so great that cycling clubs across South Africa organised meetings to defray the cost of sending Meintjes to the race meetings in Britain and America in 1893 to compete against the best riders in the world. He travelled first to Britain where he won numerous races and then on to the United States and won the world championship on August 15, 1893, at the inaugural meeting of the ICA Track Cycling World Championships, in the “stayer’s” contest, an endurance section. “The young Springbok, unheralded and unsung, rode brilliantly in America and established world records for distances from three to 50 miles,” said one newspaper report. He returned to South Africa, where he again dominated the scene in 1894, but this was his last competitive season. He was in business on his own and found that he could not afford the time to ride and keep his business going. He found that he had to concentrate on making a living to support his family, so South Africa lost one of its greatest riders in his prime. Meintjies, who was born in Aberdeen on June 9, 1868, married Rowena Augusta Watermeyer in Graaff-Reinet on August 14, 1894. In 1927 he married Jesse Reid Smith. He served as a captain in the Cape Town Highlanders during the Anglo-Boer War. Meintjies died in Potgietersrust on March 30, 1941.

TOP HONOUR FOR KAROO SOLDIER

The Victoria Cross (VC) was awarded to 78 members of the British Armed Forces for bravery in action during the Anglo-Boer War. One of the recipients of this highest and most prestigious award for gallantry made to British and Commonwealth forces was John James Clements, a son of the Karoo. Clements was born in Middleburg, on June 19, 1872, and shortly after the outbreak of the war he enlisted in Rimington’s Guides at Noupoort on October 20, 1899. Awarded the rank of corporal Clements was a popular, well-liked man among the troops. According to The Victoria Cross, Colonel Rimington said: “South African born, he had a splendid physique, was a good boxer and always ready for a ‘scrap’.” He lived up to this when his scouting party was attacked at Strydenberg on February 24. 1900. Twenty-eight-year-old Clements was shot through the lungs by some Boers. According to the London Gazette of June 4, 190, he fell to the ground and lay there bleeding badly. The Boers came towards him and called upon him to surrender, however, instead of submitting, he leapt to his feet, dashed at the Boers and shot three with his revolver. He then forced all five in the party to surrender to the unwounded men of Rimington’s Guides. For this immensely brave act he was awarded the Victoria Cross. It was presented to him in London on July 1, 1902. Clements recovered from his wounds and went on to serve in World War I. He died on June 18, 1937

PRAISED BY HIS COMMANDING OFFICER

In presenting the Victoria Cross to Clements Major-General Bruce Hamilton said: I have personally enquired into the particulars of this case from those who were present, and especially from the late Lieutenant Harvey, who commanded the party. His testimony on such a matter is absolutely reliable. He told me that when he and Clements were wounded only two members of his party remained – intelligence officer, Carlyle and Wilson. They were facing five unwounded Boers at close quarters, and that they would probably have been obliged to surrender had not Clements, who with conspicuous courage and devotion, despite the fact that he was already dangerously wounded, dashed among them and shot three of them with his revolver. As a direct result of Clements’s action our party escaped being made prisoners, and instead we captured the Boers, who surrendered by raising their hands in the air. We brought them to our camp, where two eventually died. The attack took place near a farm about 8 km south of Strydenburg. Hearing that a party of Boers was on the prowl, the Guides managed to capture one man and he told them that five others were watching them from a nearby kopje. They decided to leave one man in charge of the prisoner and to charge the hill. This was not Clements’s only courageous deed. According to his superior officers he constantly risked his life while out on scouting work. Clements went to King Edward’s Coronation as a member of the Damant’s Horse Contingent, was discharged on his return on October 15, 1902. He bought ground in Natal and settled down to farm near Newcastle. He enlisted in Botha’s Scouts for the German South-West Africa Campaign and, at the outbreak of the World War l, enlisted again and served until the autumn of 1915. He returned to South Africa and to his farm, where he died at the age of 65. He was survived by his wife and eight children.

BEAUFORT WEST PREVENTED A ‘SWEEP’

John X Merriman feared that Rhodes, “with his money”, would “sweep country constituencies” and gain hinterland support 1897. He wrote to Percy Molteno, in London, stating: “Out here the stream is setting in the direction of installing Rhodes again in power. Innes is moving a resolution in favour of the strict maintenance of the London Convention, the last hope of the war party. Few have read the Convention; fewer still have the brains to understand it; yet they all shout that it must be “enforced” – by British bayonets and at British cost. Kruger, I am told, is beginning to see the game, and, if he chooses, can checkmate the Rhodes party by timely concessions. You may form an idea of the state of opinion here from the Press. It is exclusively Rhodes-ian and in favour of the interference of Great Britain in the internal affairs of South Africa. We are anxiously awaiting the returns from the Beaufort West election: Graham (Tom) is standing as a Rhodes man against our old friend, Luttig. If Graham gets in it will be a knockdown blow, showing that Rhodes can sweep country constituencies with his money.” However, as a post-script Merriman added: “Luttig got in by a triumphant majority and has given the opposition one of the ugliest knocks they have had since the Raid. They now acknowledge that to “sweep the country” will not be easy.”

MEMBER FOR BEAUFORT MAKES HISTORY

After the second British occupation of the Cape in 1806, English was declared the only official language. Fifty years later, in 1856 J.A. Kruger, Member of the Legislative Assembly for Prince Albert, asked for permission to address Parliament in Dutch. His request was denied, and this started a campaign to get Dutch recognised again an official language in Parliament. On March 30, 1882, Jan Hendrik Hofmeyer, “Onze Jan”, appealed for the official use of Dutch alongside English. He was supported by Saul Solomon, a Jewish newspaper publisher and printer in Cape Town. A little later the Constitution was amended and, on the June 13 Jan Roeland Georg Luttig, the Member of the Legislative Assembly for the Beaufort-West, became the first person to deliver a speech in Dutch. There is no official record of the Dutch speech, but the Cape Argus published it in English on June 14, 1881.

MURDER ROCKS RICHMOND

Early in 1924 a murder shook the quiet little Karoo town of Richmond. Petrus Stephanus Francois, the only child of Barbara Hauptfleisch, was accused of killing his mother in a fit of fury on January 13, 1924. It seemed his action was motivated by greed. Petrus lived with his mother but farmed a plot of land on the outskirts of town. When World War I broke out he was just over 30 years old, so he gave up his ground and enlisted. He was immediately sent to Europe where he served in the trenches four years. After being demobbed in 1919, he returned to the home of his mother, found a job at the butcher’s, married and fathered a child. He also started slaughtering animals on his own and he began to drink heavily. This annoyed both his mother and wife. His mother asked the bottle stores and hotel to stop supplying him with liquor. They did, but after a while the ban was rescinded, and he was instantly “up to his old tricks again”. His wife took the child and left him resulting in a tremendous increase in his liquor consumption. Again, his mother appealed for him to be blacklisted and again all the suppliers agreed. This led to heated arguments fired by the fact that Petrus was broke, and his mother refused to lend him any of the £600 she kept hidden in the house. On the afternoon of January 13, he waited for his mother to go to her bedroom for her afternoon nap. Soon after she dozed off, he suffocated her, dragged her body to the kitchen, placed it on its side on the built-up hearth, sprinkled it with petrol. Then he ignited the fire using a match. His intention was to suggest that this was an accident caused by his mother suffering a fatal heart attack while cleaning the stove with petrol. Lividity patches on the back of the body, however, proved that Mrs. Hauptfleisch had not died in that position. A post-mortem established beyond doubt that she had been throttled to death. Petrus was sentenced to death on September 25. He appealed, but this was turned down and he was hanged on December 23, 1924.

A BRIGHT AND SHINING LIGHT

Joanna Anderson was the wife of one of the brave pioneering missionaries who came to South Africa in the mid 1800s. She was a kindly, friendly soul, well known for her good deeds and hospitality. When she died in 1848 Reverend Anderson said this was the greatest sorrow of his life. At her funeral he eulogised her, saying that she shone in all the graces of Christianity and discharged, with fidelity, every duty God ever asked of her.” Without her, he said he had no courage to carry on, but he did for almost four years. He was 78 at the time of her death. He continued to live very simply among his flock, a very sad and lonely man, until he died in 1852 at the age of 82.


Pain makes man think. Thought makes him wise. Wisdom makes life endurable.

John Patrick – Tea House of the August Moon.