FORGOTTEN SURGEON REMEMBERED

A new book on Dr Reginald Koettlitz, who travelled with Scott’s first expedition to Antarctica and is buried in Cradock, will soon be available. Entitled Scott’s Forgotten Surgeon and written by Aubrey A (Gus) Jones, this well-researched book, contains previously unseen photographs and archive material, such as correspondence with Nansen. Koettlitz, the son of a Reformed Lutheran Church minister and an English woman, completed his schooling at Dover College and studied medicine at Guy’s Hospital in London. On qualifying he worked as a general practitioner in a country village for eight years. Then, in 1894, he joined the Jackson-Harmsworth Expedition to the Arctic and spent almost four years “on the ice.” He later joined other foot, mule and camel expeditions to Brazil, Abyssinia, Somaliland, across Africa from Berbera to Cairo and down the Blue Nile to Khartoum. Before leaving for South Africa he assisted Shackleton in planning the Nimrod Expedition which almost reached the South Pole. In 1901, at the age of 40, he joined Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery Expedition to the Antarctic as a senior surgeon. This ended in disaster for him because he was blamed when the men contracted scurvy and this despite the fact that during the Jackson-Harmsworth Expedition to Franz Josef Land, he fine-tuned techniques of preventing scurvy. Koettlitz returned to South Africa and took up residence at Darlington, but later moved to Cradock. “Koettlitz was a major role-player in the heroic period of polar exploration when Nansen, Amundsen, Shackleton and Scott dominated the headlines,” says Gus. He was an experienced ski runner, dog and pony handler, an expert on botany and polar survival. He was awarded a medal by the Royal Geographical Society.

KAROO WRITERS TO BE SALUTED IN CRADOCK

The country’s newest festival, the annual Schreiner Karoo Writers Festival, will be held in Cradock from July 8 to 10. This event grew out of the Spirit of Schreiner Festival, held last year to celebrate the life and works of Olive Schreiner. A comprehensive programme has been organized. It includes talks by noted writers, such as Cradock-born novelist Etienne van Heerden, who will discuss the Camdeboo connection in his book, 30 Nights in Amsterdam. Heather Parker Lewis will talk on her book, Olive Schreiner – the Other Side of the Moon; Michael Cawood Green, winner of the Olive Schreiner Prize for prose, on his book, For The Sake of Silence; Judge Chris Nicholson, on his book, Permanent Removal: Who Killed the Cradock Four and Darryl Earl David, with his co-author Philippe Menache, on 101 Country Churches of South Africa. Paul Walters and Jeremy Fogg will speak on the relationship between Olive and her husband Samuel-Cronwright and a “toast to the Karoo” will be proposed by novelist, poet and singer Toast Coetzer. A highlight of the festival will be a guided tour of ‘her’ Lingelihle, by Mayor Nyameka Goniwe, widow of anti-apartheid hero Matthew Goniwe. Journalist and playwright, Tony Jackman, will present a staged reading of Bloody England, his play about Schreiner and Cecil John Rhodes. Chris and Julie Marais will show Karoo slides; Sabata Mokae will talk about Schreiner’s Kimberley, and Chris Thurman on Guy Butler and Cradock. Eve Palmer’s Plains of Camdeboo and Return to Camdeboo will be re-launched by Penguin; Chris Mann will read from his Karoo poems, and Almore Cupido will introduce Clinton du Plessis’s poetry. In addition to some good food at top accommodation establishments, there will be two optional day trips – a guided walk to Olive Schreiner’s grave on Buffelskop and a day trip to Graaff-Reinet and Cranmere Farm (of The Plains of Camdeboo fame) led by Professor Paul Walters of Rhodes University English Department.

EPIDEMIC OF ‘KAROO-ITIS’

A strange epidemic occurred among staff at the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein, reported senior surgeon Alfred Fripp in the British Medical Journal of July 30, 1900. Doctors termed it “karoo-itis” and mostly it surfaced among newcomers from England. The latest contingent, he said had just presented with exactly the same symptoms as the initial batch of staff showed when they first arrived. “The disease affects people serving in a wide area in the arid central zone of South Africa. One of its many causes seems to be the extremely hot weather, but fortunately since it is now winter, it seems to have disappeared.” Doctors at Deelfontein, said Fripp had compared notes with colleagues at other places such as De Aar, in their efforts to isolate and exclude some of the symptoms. “We have some theories,” he writes, but he did not detail them. He added: “Perhaps we shall soon arrive at a true explanation of its cause, and then I hope we will know how to prevent the distressing symptoms. At present we simply do not know what to do.”

A MENAGERIE TO ENTERTAIN PATIENTS

One unusual aspect of the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein in the Karoo was that it had a menagerie for the entertainment, amusement and instruction of the sick and wounded men. Specimens were collected by principal medical officer, Colonel Sloggett and two taxidermists from the British Museum, who had been sent to the hospital to be treated for typhoid fever. They were E C H Seimund and C H B Grant, both members of Yeomany regiments, and other members of the medical team who also found the veld creatures and abundant bird life of the area fascinating. An article in The Ibis, No 13, dated January, 1902, states that for its very interesting collection of South African birds the British museum is indebted to Colonel A T Sloggett who, while serving at the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital during the Anglo-Boer War, sent them information and specimens. The actual collection, says the article, was made by two of the museum’s taxidermists who served as troopers in the Yeomanry and who helped Colonel Sloggett compile the collection At the conclusion of the war most of the animals were sent to the Zoological Gardens in London. The trio presented a fine collection of preserved material to the British Museum. This collection included about 830 bird specimens and their eggs. “Forty bird species were recorded in the Deelfontein area from 1901 to1902,” state Sue Milton and Richard Dean in an article in the October 1, 2008 Journal of African Ornithology.

DINNER SALUTES WAR EFFORT

St. Mary’s Hospital annual dinner at the Whitehall Rooms of the Metropole Hotel in London, on October 3, 1901, was as usual a grand affair. Guests included 24 St. Mary’s doctors as well as several other medical men recently returned from service in the South African War. In total there were almost 200 guests and in a characteristic colourful speech Edmund Owen, acknowledged the country’s debt to those who had served abroad and paid an eloquent tribute to those who had fallen. Thanks were returned by Wallace Ashdowne, a surgeon who had just returned from service with the Imperial Yeomanry Base Hospital, at Deelfontein in the Karoo. It was a most successful evening, and one of the most interesting dinners given by the hospital, said an article in the British Medical Journal of October 1901.

TRAIN TRIP FAR FROM ENTERTAINING

American entertainer G A Farini looked forward to touring South Africa by train. The sleeping arrangements, however, did not live up to his expectations. When he boarded a train in Cape Town in June, 1885, for a range of appearances in the hinterland he hoped in particular to enjoy travelling in the new, widely advertised, “comfortable Pullman Sleeping Car, but his hopes were short-lived. The South African version only vaguely resembled the sleeping cars of the American railroads. He stated that on one side of the gangway was a row of seats for one person, and on the other a row of wider seats for two. Over each of the latter the attendant – or “steward” – suspended a piece of canvas from the roof of the car. On to this he placed a thin, dirty mattress and this contraption constituted a bed – no covering whatsoever was provided. “Most seasoned travelers who remembered the swollen legs and aching backs of the early coaching days could be forgiven for thinking these primitive arrangements a luxury,” writes Brian Roberts in Kimberley – Turbulent City. “Even Mr Farini came close to thinking the same after a night out on the veld.”

SAILORS OF THE SAND

Explorers of the dryland faced many problems in bygone days. Travelers were faced with uncomfortable, bumpy rides across the rough rugged terrain. They had to traverse areas where no roads existed, as they plunged into the sandy conditions of the Kalahari. “Great engine power, balloon tyres and sand resulted in a curious ride wrote Frank Debenham, emeritus professor of Cambridge University, in Kalahari Sand. “The action of the tyres passing over dry sand is curious. We soon discovered that moving between hard and soft sand patches caused wheel wobble and, to correct this, the driver needed a strong arm. At times all he could do was strive to keep moving hoping the wheels and steering gear would stand up to it. We were all thrown from side to side, up and down, as if on a bucking horse. Finding something to hang on to was difficult and very tiring. You needed to be a good sailor to navigate this rugged African terrain without becoming sea sick,” he said

UNWRITTEN RULE OF THE ROAD

On his journey into the hinterland George Thompson stayed over with a Knysna woodcutter who had seven children, “but no milk, nor food to speak of.” Nevertheless, that night he said he “dined on a little cheese and buttermilk” that the family was able to share with him. The unwritten rule of the road, he said, was that all travellers were hospitably received. Inland people always tried to help with food and fodder. Travellers were always welcomed when they dropped in and without ceremony offered lodgings for the night. “It is a custom of this country that no one, no matter how uncivil in other respects, will refuse hospitality to a wayfaring man. Hospitality is always available to strangers and they know that wherever they go they will receive it. So, in South Africa the expense of travelling is small, but the cost of hospitality to those who live close to great roads may often be considerable. Yet, they always share their fare – even though it be little more than boiled pumpkin and meat – and they do this unselfishly, with good hearts.” This practice stopped after diamonds and gold were discovered. Many writers state, the poor hinterland farmers could not afford to feed the hoards of fortune seekers on the roads anymore and many times had to break this unwritten rule of the road and turn them from their doors.

TWO STRIKES TO THE GRIM REAPER

Many countries and Red Cross type organisations sent equipment and personnel to South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War. Among these was a group of Scots from Edinburgh who collected £12 000 to establish and staff a hospital, writes professor J C (Kay) de Villiers in Healers, Helpers and Hospitals. Personnel embarked on the SS Briton which arrived at in Cape Town on April 10, 1900. There was no transport to take them northwards, so they did not disembark, but sailed on to Port Elizabeth. There they found no suitable accommodation for the nurses, so on May 17, 1900, these women were sent on to Noupoort in the Karoo where they joined the No26 General Hospital. Tragedy struck three weeks after they arrived. Sister Mary Boyd, the sister of physician Dr Francis D Boyd, was struck down by dysentery. Nothing could be done to help her and she died four months later. One of the orderlies, William Dick, also died of typhoid.

NOT SUCH A STUPID OX AFTER ALL

In Trekking The Great Thirst, Lieutenant Arnold W Hudson tells of some of the difficulties facing travellers into unexplored territory in the late 1800s. He was making his way into the Kalahari and stated that in this extremely dry part of Africa bullocks were invaluable. “Indeed, one can do nothing without them and in the sand they are more useful for slow work than horses so they are used a great deal for packing and riding. Packing is a complicated business. It takes three men to pack an ox. One controls it by a riem (thong) passed through its nostril, then there is one on each side to balance and secure the load on the beast’s back. The load is secured by passing a long riem round and round, over the back and under the belly of the animal and after each circle tightening it by pressing a knee against the ox and pulling for all they are worth. This packing is a fine art because many an old bullock, used to the ways of the road, will blow himself op during packing and then, when he thinks the loaders are finished and ready to move off, he will breathe out and assume his normal size. The pack then becomes loose and falls off. There is no alternative but to start from the beginning again, but if the ox is not properly tethered while the load is being re-assembled – and this is often the case as the trek was ready to leave – he simply sets off. Once they get away, they are extremely difficult to catch.” Hudson had a great deal of trouble with pack bullocks. His loads kept tumbling off.

MEN BEHIND THE CHURCH

As a result of a London Missionary Society outreach programme a congregational church was started in Cradock in 1820. Rev George Baker, who was born in Essex in 1789 and who had come to South Africa in 1815 to serve as a missionary with the LMS moved to Cradock as the town’s first preacher in 1821. John Munro, who was in charge of the Bethelsdorp, also moved there in December 1839, to become the town’s first teacher at the Congregational School He worked in Cradock until his retirement in 1846. Robert Barry Taylor joined this community on August 26, 1848. Up until his arrival the school had doubled a church, but he did not find this satisfactory and he motivated the community to collect funds and to build itself a church. This Neo-Gothic building with yellowwood doors was inaugurated on July 24, 1855, states the 21st anniversary booklet of the Cradock Congregational Church. The church was a small scale a replica of the Harpenden Church in England. It had a square tower with four small turrets on the corners. Sadly, these did not survive. Initially it was called the Harpenden Chapel, then the Harpenden Independent Church. Later its English links faded, and it was known as the United Congregational Church. A few years after its completion, the building was destroyed by storm and earth tremor. Undaunted Robert Barry Taylor simply began raising funds again for restoration work. This time a front porch and clock tower were added. The church was enlarged during the time of Pastor J G Weis (1906–1914). In 1974 the building was seriously damaged in a flood, but the congregation leapt into action to rescue it. The congregation felt it owed a great deal to Rev Taylor and his wife, Marianne, so they buried them beneath the pulpit. In 1982, when the church was declared a national monument, Professor Dennis Radford, from the University of the Witwatersrand, worked on restorations. He said he felt Rev Taylor had initially been buried in the church cemetery when he died in 1876, and that the same applied to his wife when she died in 1895. In his opinion it was only in 1909, when the church was enlarged, that the couple were accorded the honour of burial beneath the pulpit.

EXCITING DISCOVERY

An exciting discovery was made while restoration of the Cradock church was in progress. A beautifully painted, colourful, traditional old Cape-style frieze, similar to the antique paintings at the Koopmans de Wet House, Boschendal and Libertas, was discovered on the walls by a Scottish expert, Mr Rattray. Further cleaning revealed a second treasure, a marble panel, framed in yellowwood and painted to resemble a knotty wood was also found. “Such panels were immensely stylish in Victorian times,” said Rattray. Sadly, this magnificently restored historic church just disappeared. Vandals struck and destroyed much of the interior, then later years and it was swallowed up by modern developments, electricity pylons and substations and then it disappeared under a web of power lines.

AFRICA’S OWN COLLECTIVE NOUNS

Early hunters and explorers said that when elephants were browsing their rumblings were so phenomenal that they could be clearly heard over a distance of 1,5km. Some attributed this to indigestion, while others felt it was a clever communications system, a chorus to let each other know where they were because when alarmed a herd of elephant could vanish swiftly and silently. Frank Debenham in Kalahari Sand suggests we should speak of a rumble of elephants. “Africa,” he said, “should boast its own collective nouns.” He suggested “a hurtle of hartebeest” would best describe “the loose-jointed, careless way in which these slope-shouldered animals thunder across the plains. “A gallop of gemsbok” was another suggestion. “We tried to outpace some but found that when they really got down to it, with their long straight horns laid almost on their rumps, they ran at about 35 miles (56km) an hour,” said Debenham.

FIGHTING FIT?

Australia sent several outstanding doctors and surgeons to South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War. Among them was Archibald Watson, Professor of Anatomy at Adelaide University. Of the soldiers he treated, he said: “I was surprised at the number of men with hammer toes, flat feet, varicose veins, visceral phthisis, skeletal syphilis, mental aberration, hernia, poor vision and defective dentition. We had no real means of treating any of these, but we always did our best.”


If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got. – John Wooden