The Karoo has some interesting festivals in the pipeline for 2020 and, if festivals are your thing, perhaps you could factor some into your travel plans. If you love food, hospitable people and the Karoo, Cradock is the place to be from April 24 to 27 next year. The 8th annual Karoo Food Festival is already being planned and as ever the programme promises to be interesting and truly tasty. For more – email karoofoodfestival@gmail.com. The Klein Karoo National Arts Festival takes place in Oudtshoorn from March 23 to 29, Afrikaburg in the Tankwa Karoo is tabled for April 27 to May 3 and, of course, the Richmond Bookfestival – Boekbedonnerd – is, as usual, scheduled for the last weekend in October. As a warm up to this booklovers should consider the Knysna Literary Festival from March 6 to 8 or the Franschoek Literary Festival from May 15 to 17.


During the Anglo-Boer War British forces were heavily dependent on the Railway for the transport of troops, supplies and other paraphernalia of war. Much of the line could not be guarded as it ran through remote expanses of the Great Karoo. It was thus often hit by Boer commandos. The British army tried to curb this by erecting blockhouses, forts and dug-outs, such as the one called Die Fortjie. on Frank Horwitz`s Merriman farm. In 1955, a railway ganger was patrolling that part of the line when his dog set off in pursuit of a hare, states Marj Noel in Stoep Stories, published in May 2014 by the Graaff-Reinet Heritage Society.  The ganger followed, stumbled into a disused dug-out and kicked up a rusty bully-beef tin. It was heavy. He inspected it closely and, to his surprise, found that the tin contained 21 dirty old coins. He popped them into his pocket and when his shift ended showed them to the station master at De Klerk Siding. He gave them a cursory glance and told the ganger that they were rubbish and that he could keep them. In fairness, the station master was feeling poorly that day and perhaps could not see too clearly because he had been stung by a bee and both eyes were swollen almost shut. The ganger departed feeling, if nothing else, he had a good tale to tell. A few days later he showed the coins to a man who was spraying locusts for the Department of Agriculture. He was more thorough. He cleaned one and, on seeing Queen Victoria’s image, recognised it as a gold sovereign. He offered the ganger £1 each and the man sold him a few. Frank Horwitz, became aware of the find, and claimed that, as the coins were found on his property, they were rightfully his. By then the ganger had sold more and Frank was only able to “rescue” eleven. He also paid £1 each for them and had them made into a magnificent bracelet for his wife, Brenda. The coins dated from 1853 to 1877. “Frank and Brenda say they often wonder about the British Tommy, who hid them and wonder why he never returned for his treasure. Perhaps he was killed,” says Marj. “Other treasure hunters have scoured the area over the years, but nothing further was ever found.”


On a Saturday morning in 1886 William Hewson of Salem – a little settlement about 20km south of Grahamstown – set off in a Scotch-cart for a visit to his father-in-law, a Mr King. With him was his three-year-old son. At a spot where they needed to pass through a fence, one of the cart’s wheels became entangled in some lose wire. The cart lurched and struck a fence post with such force that it overturned and fell on to its side. The oxen took fright and dragged the vehicle along the road for about fourteen metres before they could be stopped. Sadly, instead of being thrown clean the little boy was trapped under the cart. His head became stuck between the side planks of the cart and the road. By the time the oxen were stopped, it was found that the poor boy had suffered fearful injuries. One ear was missing and the top of his skull had been sliced off. He was, however, perfectly sensible. His father raced him to Albany Hospital, where everything possible was done for him stated the Grahamstown Journal of May 31, 1886. The newspaper added that doctors were hopeful of a good recovery.


During the Anglo Boer War Queen Victoria decided to honour the bravery of her soldiers serving in South Africa with a personal token of her appreciation and regard. To this end, in the last year of her long life, the Queen personally crocheted eight scarves for presentation to men judged by their peers to be “the best all-round soldiers”. These scarves, made in khaki-coloured Berlin wool, each with the initials ‘VRI’ on one of the knots of the wool, were, in time, presented to men voted by their comrades as the bravest of the brave. Four went to men serving in the colonial units, i.e. one man each from a Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and South Africa unit, received a scarf, while the other four went to members of the regular British regular army. A number of legends surround the scarves. Some believed them to be the equal of the Victoria Cross. Others felt that because of their personal nature they ranked above a VC. The scarves, however, bore no relationship to the VC. In fact, they had no status at all as a decoration, but they were treasured by the men who received them. Each man considered the receipt of “The Queen’s Scarf” a great honour


The “Imperial scarves” went to: Colour Sergeant F F Ferret DCM, Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment, Colour Sergeant F Kingsley DCM, 2nd West Yorkshire Regiment, Colour Sergeant H Clay DCM, 2nd East Surrey Regiment and Sergeant W Colclough, 2nd Devonshire Regiment. “Colonial scarf” recipients were : Private Dufrayer, New South Wales Mounted Infantry (Australia), Private R Thompson, Royal Canadian Regiment, Trooper H D Coutts, New Zealand Mounted Infantry and the South Africa one went Trooper L Chadwick of Roberts’ Horse.


The South African recipient of the Queens Scarf, was without doubt a very brave man, but he was not a South African. Leonard McKuiry Chadwick was born at Middletown, Delaware, in the United States on November 24, 1878. He joined the US Navy and during the Spanish/American War, and on May 11,1898, he earned the Congressional Medal of Honour for extraordinary bravery for cutting a cable in Santiago Harbour while under a heavy fire. After the Anglo-Boer War broke out he was commissioned to bring mules to South Africa and on arrival decided to stay. He saw action in several places, created notable diversions and was captured by the Boers on July 28, 1900. In 1902 a magazine referred to him as “a brave American trooper of Roberts Horse who galloped out to save wounded men at Koorn Spruit while under heavy fire and, who later while still under fire, helped to save the guns. For this he was nominated by his peers to receive the Queen’s Scarf and Lord Roberts confirmed the award. So, South Africa’s scarf went to America. Trooper Chadwick was the most decorated of all the Queen’s Scarf awardees. In addition to the Congressional Medal of Honour he was awarded the DCM during the Anglo-Boer War and commended by Lord Roberts for meritorious service on April 2,1901. He died in about 1940.


A local painter, William Turner, suddenly fell backwards from a ladder at 08h00 one morning while working on the upstairs windows, about 10ft (3 m) above the ground, at the home of a Mr Meredith, states the Grahamstown Journal of July 8, l886. When he struck the ground he seemed to try to lift himself on one elbow before falling back totally unconscious. His employer, Mr Eaton, as well as a doctor were called. Nothing could be done at the spot, so William was rushed to hospital where he remained in an unconscious state. A reporter added: “It appears that the problem started last night when William was overcome with fainting spells and giddiness. Doctors now think that the fall from the ladder was occasioned by a seizure of some sort. His condition remains unchanged.”


On a hot summer day March day in 1886 Grahamstown resident, James Miller, enjoyed a few slices of watermelon. Almost immediately he complained of feeling unwell, became rapidly worse, was seized by spasms and within a few hours was dead, states the Grahamstown Journal of March 15, 1886. Was the day too hot, the fruit too cold? No one knew. Townspeople were distraught because James was at one time – with good reason – considered to be the strongest man in South Africa. His strength equalled and at times surpassed that of the late celebrated athlete, Colonel Fred Burnaby,” reported the newspaper.


On August 20, 1912, seven cases, containing 1708 ostrich feathers were shipped from Oudtshoorn to London. Close of their heels went six more cases also carrying a similar precious cargo to be to accepted by the National Bank of London and to be sold by public auction by either Figgis and Company or Hale and Son. They came from Isaac Nurick, a Jewish feather baron of Russian Lithunian origin. The feathers were carried on the Saxon and they represented a particularly good season. They were insured for £11 500. At the time ostrich feathers per pound almost equalled that of diamonds. The gross value of the trade in feathers had rocketed from £87,074 in 1870 to more than a million pounds in 1882, but whispers were afoot warning of an imminent collapse in the market due to the loss of interest by Russian and Americn buyers. Some wondered about the truth of such statements because ostrich feathers were the arbiters of style. A consignment valued at £20 000 had gone down with the Titanic and some wondered whether this might not have created a gap in the market. Nurick’s feathers did well. He was well connected across the global feather world, stated Sarh Abrevaya Stein, in an article entitled Ruffling Feathers. His logo made up of his initials and O for their town of origin was well known.


Oudtshoorn was once known as the Jerusalem of Africa because it had such a large colony of Lithuanian Jews. Most were feather merchants and among them was Isaac Nurick, whose story is one of rags to riches and back to rags again. Feathers gained him a beautiful home and one of the first cars in the village where it was said that being Jewish and in the feather trade was an advantage, but it counted for nothing when the market collapsed. In 1913, at the height of a feather boom 100,000 tons of plumes were sold to trim the hats and gowns of the fashion-conscious, by 1914, at the outbreak of WWI, the markets crashed and feathers were worthless.. The crash brought financial disaster across the globe. Some suppliers tried to ride it out, but that was not possible. Bereft of income, pride and reputation, the feather barons declared bankruptcy with the exception of Isaac who “refused to pay a penny for every pound” he owed. “Slums mushroomed to house entire communities disenfranchised by the crash, feather merchants committed suicide rather than face their debts, husbands sold their wives’ jewellery to remain solvent,” states Sarah. Isaac’s family fortune was legally in his wife’s name, so he had no reason to go under, but he felt that was dishonest, so he chose to declare all his wife’s possessions and to sell what was left. His beloved Annie was on her death bed at the time. After she died of breast cancer Isaac went to London to try to recover some money. He couldn’t and the children that he had left in Oudtshoorn, never saw him again.


Reed Howes immigrated to South Africa at the end of the Anglo-Boer war and took up a post as headmaster of Boys High School in Oudtshoorn, the “ostrich capital of the world.” There he met and fell in love with his wife, Muriel Alice Lind, but she did not see a life for herself in the hinterland, so he agreed to move to Cape Town after their marriage. He studied law and set up a practice as an advocate Their daughter, Dulcie, who was born at Little Brak River, did her parents proud and made a name for herself in South African ballet circles. In time she was to have a formidable effect on the world of dance in South Africa where she worked as a dancer, teacher, choreographer, and company director. During her performing career, she was considered the prima ballerina assolutta of South African ballet. In 1927, she danced for a short while with the Anna Pavlova’s touring company and in 1934, she established the company that evolved into today’s Cape Town City Ballet. In 1937, in London, Dulcie married newspaperman Guy Cronwright, who became managing director of The Cape Times. They had two daughters.


Harry R Giddy, clerk to the resident magistrate at Fort Beaufort was reported missing in July, 1886. The local magistrate announced that he had last been seen on the previous Monday evening. When he did not turn up to work his colleagues became alarmed because he was a punctual and reliable man Police search parties were sent out in every direction. Some found footprints, which were identified as belonging to Harry. They led down to the river, but could only be followed for a short distance as recent heavy rain had destroyed the spoor reported the Grahamstown Journal of July 22, 1886. Locals began to fear that Harry had fallen into the flooded river. These fears intensified when his hat was found about 4,5 km downstream. This led to speculation that Harry might have slipped, fallen into the swirling waters, been unable to gain the bank and, as a result, drowned.” Sadly he was never seen again, nor was his body ever found.


A Canadian scout, Major Charles Joseph Ross is said to have been the man behind the idea for a re-enactment of the Boer War. He came up with the idea while discussing the upcoming world’s fair, and hoped to capitalize on the expected popularity of that event. He hired artillery captain Arthur Waldo Lewis, to assemble British and Boer veterans to restage pivotal battles and, through an advertisement, in Johannesburg’s Rand Daily Mail of March 1,1904, assembled the cast. The advertisement promised “a chance for the unemployed.” Within short over 600 veterans, 350 horses, oxen, mules, transport and ambulance wagons, twelve large cannons, ten rapid-fire guns, ammunition, provisions, cooking utensils, surgical supplies, and a portable grandstand which could seat ten thousand, set sail for the USA. The show was chartered as a corporation in Missouri, and placed under the direction of Frank E Fillis, the circus master and showman who had brought so much entertainment to South African and hinterland audiences.


Disputes and dissention almost destroyed the re-enactment, but New York showman William Aloysius Brady provided financing for the show to be set up in a 15-acre (61,000 m2) arena. It featured more than 1,5 km of scenery, depicting South African landscapes. Tinsmiths, carpenters and other tradesmen worked diligently to make everything as realistic as possible. Fillis sold this ambitious exhibition as “the greatest and most realistic military spectacle ever seen in the history of the world.” It certainly was a realistic. It featured a British Army encampment, several Zulu, Swazi, Ndebele and San villages. Soldiers re-enacted major battles, sporting events and horse races, twice a day in shows that lasted from two to three hours. “Generals” and “veterans” from both sides were featured and, in an exciting conclusion Boer General Christiaan de Wet escaped on horseback by leaping from a height of 35 feet (11 m) into a pool of water. Admission ranged from 25 cents to one dollar and admission to the villages was another 25 cents. In the currency of the day the set cost $48,000 to construct, but the show grossed over $630,000, and netted about $113,000. It was said to be the highest-grossing military show ever seen. Public interest, however, eventually waned and, on September 5, 1905, the New-York Tribune, reported that a court-appointed sheriff had “seized the costly spectacle.” With nowhere else to go, a group of 200 Boers took up residence nearby until the end of September. On October 13,1905, the last man took his leave and the show was officially disbanded.


The circuit courts brought the highest level administration of justice to the outlying districts. The fact that the sittings of the courts were open to the public, and the fact that the community participated in the proceedings by way of jury service, contributed to the integration of the administration of justice into the social fabric and “judicial conscience” of the people in the outlying communities. The circuit courts played a major role in entrenching the English procedural and judicial style within the minds of the people states Judge Marius Diemond in Brushes with the Law. Judge Burton left Cape Town on April 15, 1828, in order to take the eastern circuit which was due to start at Uitenhage on May 1. His progress from Uitenhage to Grahamstown and thence to Graaff-Reinet received extensive and favourable publicity in The Colonist. He was received with enthusiasm wherever he went. Upon his departure from Graaff-Reinet, Judge Burton was given a rousing farewell. The civil commissioner, W C van Ryneveld, commented favourably on the manner in which the proceedings in court had been conducted. He also expressed the hope that the judge would use his influence to prevent the exclusion of persons not acquainted with English from the list of jurors.


On the circuits in the Cape there were accidents and mishaps aplenty. Judge Sampson said that “accidents by any cart in which I travelled were so frequent that I was regarded as the Jonah of the Circuit”. Judge Cole, who described the roads as generally “bad and sometimes dangerous”, while on circuit as an advocate, was involved in an accident in which his cart capsized and he was dragged along bottom upwards for some distance by the frightened horses. On the eastern circuit, Judge Sheil was seriously injured when on approaching the Umzimvubu River. The horses bolted and his carriage overturned. He was taken to a nearby trader’s station on an improvised stretcher made from a broken door.  Judge Cloete said that the road between Clanwilliam and Calvinia “is in an execrable state, quite a disgrace to any civilized society”, and added that “on one occasion the Chief Justice met with a serious accident, which nearly killed him”.

Life is a ticket to the greatest show on earthMartin H Fischer