The 7th Annual Schreiner Karoo Writers Festival takes place in Cradock from July 21 to 24 this year. “This is the perfect place to indulge in warm Karoo hospitality; feast on fabulous farm food, mingle with like-minded spirits and marvel at the wonders of the Karoo,” says organiser Lisa Antrobus Ker. “Visitors will be able to meet old friends, make new ones; enjoy fireside chats and open microphone sessions.” The programme is packed with top level speakers and interesting outings. “Visitors should not miss the literary walk, a drive to the Mountain Zebra National Park, a tour of Lingelihle Township nor a trip to Cradock’s historic graveyard where several celebrities are buried,” says Lisa. Most events take place at Victoria Manor or Schreiner House.


The Cradock Literary Festival kicks off with a trip to Lingelihle Township. The Neville Alexander Evening follows with a presentation of The Salvation of a Ministry, an extract from The Life of Olive Schreiner. At breakfast on Day Two Marielize Van Zyl will discuss her life as a forensic investigator and her book, In die spore van ‘n Speurder. Later, Jeremy Fogg, Paul Walters, Larry Collett and Brian Wilmot read excerpts from Guy Butler biography and poetry. Sandy Shell will discuss The Oromo Slave Children and Pamela Maseko and Russell Kaschula will “ask” to whether The Arrival of the Missionaries in the Eastern Cape was a blessing or curse? Afternoon sessions include Mike Hardwich’s Stories of a vet / conservationist; Lucy Graham’s presentation of Schreiner and Rhodes Must Fall and a conversation between Hugh Macmillan and Stanley Manong regarding The Other Cradock Four. The day closes with a farmhouse supper and a presentation of Pudding, Port and Poetry at Cradock High School. The Saturday programme includes Sigi Howes talking about Iris Vaughan’s cricketer father; Antony Osler’s introduction of his new book, Mzansi Zenand, Mike Ferrar’s discussion of Antarctic explorer Dr Reginald Koettlitz, who, with his beloved wife, is buried in Cradock. In the evening Chris and Julie Marais will present a photographic tour, Journey through the Eastern Cape Karoo. Talks take place at various venues and cost between R10 and R20 p.p. For the energetic, there will be a trip to Buffelshoek farm and a hike to the Schreiner sarcophagus.


A sincere thanks to all who have ordered copies of Yeomen of the Karoo, the story of the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein. We appreciate your interest and support. Those who would still like to order a copy, still have time to do so, we are sure you will not be disappointed. To honour all who did such magnificent work for and at this hospital, we aim to launch this book at the Richmond Bookbedonnerd Book Festival, which takes place from October 27 to 29.


Planning is now well underway for the 3rd Karoo Parliament scheduled to be held in Laingsburg from September 14 to 16. Karoo Cuisine Tourism, agriculture, predators and people as well as local economic and skills development will be highlighted this year. There will be a follow up presentation on Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, and child care in Karoo communities. “Child neglect is a severe problem throughout the Karoo,” say the organisers. “So is the fate of the adults who fall through the social safety net.” A plenary session entitled Building Bridges to the World of Work will focus on opportunities for the youth, empowerment, employment opportunities, how to access jobs. The question of whether the Karoo can learn and benefit from programmes elsewhere in the world will be discussed and there will be a dialogue between Karoo businesses and municipalities. During this the critical role of chambers of commerce will be highlighted. Public-private partnerships, wool production, shale gas production, uranium mining and saving water – one drop at a time, will also be discussed.


Eastern and Western Cape MPs almost came to blows over travelling in the mid-1800s, Serious dissention arose regarding the seat of government and there was even a call for a political secession, writes Ivor Markman in the Herald of July 8, 2005. “Grahamstown-based members complained because they had to travel 700 miles (1100 km) to Cape Town to attend sittings. They took umbrage because, the Eastern Cape\Karoo, the hub of the wool, ostrich and other vital agricultural products, generated far more income than the Western Province. Eventually, Governor, Sir Philip Wodehouse, managed to get members to agree that Parliament be held alternately in the two towns. An editorial, the Eastern Province Herald, in April 1864, said “now that the seat of legislature has been brought among us, we will avail ourselves of the occasion and seize the opportunity to turn it to our advantage.” This didn’t really happen because Parliament sat there only once.


Grahamstown had the distinction of being the only city ever to host a sitting of the Cape Parliament. April 28, 1864 was also the only occasion on which that body sat outside Cape Town. This first and only sitting of parliament to be held in the Eastern Province was opened by Governor Wodehouse. Parliamentary officials began arriving in Grahamstown from about April 15. The Eastern Province Herald reported that the Parliament would be “comfortably though not splendidly housed”. An ambitious entrepreneur saw this as a great opportunity for the arts in Grahamstown and, to coincide with the opening of Parliament, opened the new Theatre Royal. The Graham’s Town Journal commented that this move had cost no more than £500, but that the materials used could be sold if things did not work out as planned. The main meeting was held in Shaw College Hall, an attractive and roomy building named after Wesleyan missionary, Reverend. William Shaw, founder of the local grammar school. The old military hospital of the Drostdy barracks was also used during the day. The opening procession was led by Speaker, Sir Christoffel J. Brand, Civil Commissioner of Albany, who was very formally attired in wig and gown. The President and members of the Upper House (Legislative Council) entered and took their places to the right of the Governor’s seat, with the Usher of the Black Rod in attendance. Wodehouse entered a few minutes later. Reports of the session were carried in May editions of The Eastern Province Herald, and Illustrated London News of July 16, 1864.


In 1859 a local newspaper warned immigrants to avoid two evils. The first was a claim for excessive wages and the second – far more dangerous and with further reaching repercussions – was the locally made liquor. According to the newspaper it should be avoided at all costs. “To all intending to settle in South Africa, we cannot give better advice than to be careful of the local liquor, a temptation that is sure to beset their path,” stated The Cape And Natal News of March 3, 1859. “Do not develop a taste for drink in this colony where spirits and wines of colonial manufacture, can be purchased at low cost compared to prices of similar items in Great Britain. The heat of the local climate induces thirst and this, coupled to the cheapness of local liquor, puts great temptation in the path of the working man. If not firmly resisted this temptation will end in downfall and ruin. Hundreds have died miserably in this colony from the abuse of the ardent local spirits and hundreds are still dragging on a wretched existence, buoyed up for a time by the daily, perhaps hourly dram, which finally destroys health, constitution and life itself. There is no man so utterly miserable in this colony as the drunkard,” concluded the newspaper.


British publishers were stunned to have newspapers returned in 1859 because they were not correctly addressed. The Cape and Natal News of March 31, 1859, states that newspapers came back stamped “return to sender – imperfectly addressed” All items bore a town name followed by CGH. “It seems the initials CGH (Cape of Good Hope) were “too magical” for the Post office authorities to comprehend,” said the newspaper.


On February 1, 1860, The Cape and Natal News reported that the first electric telegraph in the Colony had been laid down. It was in active operation as far as the railway works extended, stated the newspaper. Its use had been confined to railway contractors, but it was expected that it would be thrown open to the public within a couple of years, “by which time it is probable that the works will be completed”. It is then proposed to extend this line along the sea-board districts as far as Grahamstown.


Roads in the interior had improved rapidly under the superintendence of Andrew Geddes Bain, reported The Cape and Natal News of October 1859. The newspaper stated that an excellent road had been opened to King Williams Town. “The Beaufort, Cradock and Graaff-Reinet roads are also much improved and the formidable pass, over Woest’s Hill, which for many years has almost cut off our coast country from us, has been subjected to great improvements. The bridge over the Konap River is progressing rapidly, the one over the Little Fish River, near Somerset, is to be constructed by contract without delay, but, sadly the bridge over the Fish River, at Espags, is in abeyance, owing to official mismanagement,” said the newspaper


Several missionaries and their wives left England in 1858 enthusiastically looking forward to service in Africa. On arrival they had to travel from Cape Town to Matabeleland by ox-wagon – a journey of about 1500/1600 miles. In the group were four expectant women, among them Mary Livingstone. When they reached Beaufort West, Emily Moffat gave birth to a son; a little further along the route, Evan Morgan Thomas was born at Griquatown, in February 1859. By the time they reached Kuruman the mission station there was under threat from Boers, writes John S Moffatt in Lives of Robert and Mary Moffat. An epidemic struck the party at Kuruman and the four-month-old Moffat baby died, so did Mrs. Sykes and her newborn child. The missionaries were later joined by Roger and Isabella Price and their baby daughter, as well as the Rev Holloway Helmore, his wife, Anne, and their children, Emma, Anne, Emily and Olive. They were all headed for the Makololo mission near the Zambezi. Within a year Holloway Helmore, his wife, two of his children as well as Isabella price and her baby daughter were dead. William Sykes buried his wife and son at Kuruman before going on to Inyati where he did great work with his second wife, Margaret Charlotte Kolbe. She patched a blanket for tribal chief Mzilikazi, and he was so pleased with her work that he gave her a sheep for each patch.


Three hunters rode across the Karoo flats on a beautiful winter’s morning in July 1856. They were Robert Bain, and the youngest Murray brothers, George and Walter. They were en route to Cephanjes Poort, Kol Hoek and Zaayfontein to hunt wildebeest, springbok and other plains game. Sadly, their friend, Robert Wilson, who had hoped to be part of the chase had had to retire after his horse fell and smashed the stock of his rifle. He, fortunately, was not injured. The hunters’s three-day visit was most successful. They bagged 88 springbok and two wildebeest, (gnus) and all were in excellent condition. Many of the springbok were actually quite fat, they said, “as fat as such game can be.” The strong wagon they had taken was so heavily laden with these 90 carcases that they have some difficulty getting it back home along the rough and rugged Karoo roads. Fortunately, the weather was cold, stated a report in the Graaff-Reinet Herald of July 5, 1856, so nothing was lost nor had to be left behind. “I have known fresh meat in these parts to keep well for nearly a month in winter without any salt,” said Bain. He and the Murrays said they looked forward to making plenty biltong.


Hooligans played a bad prank on a post rider on the Colesberg road in January 1860.Three men stopped the postcart on the pretext of needing help to fix their broken-down cart. They asked him to help them find a small pole, or piece of wood, so that they could repair their vehicle. The good-natured man set off and while he was away these hooligans cut open the mail bags and rifled through their contents. They destroyed some letters and buried others in the sand. When the post rider returned they plied him with brandy and made him drunk. The villains, Stanfield, a deserter from a regimental band, Kerr, a shoemaker, recently arrived from England and Clayton, a young Africander, were arrested. Clayton turned State evidence, and “has given much information to bring the guilt home to the other parties”, stated The Cape and Natal News of Janaury 2.


Rhubarb plants were offered for sale in Somerset East in 1850 by a Mr Upjohn. He said they were something new and wonderful and not commonly found in the Colony, states The Cape and Natal News of June 4, but the paper added, Mr Hart of Glen Avon, had been supplying friends with similar plants and seeds for years. He was also a reliable supplier gooseberries, currants, and cherry trees. The latter, Kentish and Black heart varieties, had been sent to the Colony years ago by a Mr. Vetch, of Exeter.


Sergeant Arthur L Johnstone of the Mildurian Volunteers shared exciting Boer War experiences in letters to The Mildura Cultivator in June, 1901. The Volunteers were the first Australian unit to reach Grahamstown, where they got a “splendid reception”, he said. He also told of “an exciting skirmish” with General De Wet’s men in the Orange River area. “At about 05h00 we rode into De Wet’s advance guard – 400 strong. They had seen us coming and lay along the ranges, waiting until we got within 500 yards. When they opened fire, we tumbled from our saddles; some immediately returned fire while others raced for the kopjes and fired from there. We fought all day firing over 8 000 rounds. I don’t know if a special order has been issued by Providence regarding Australians, but we seem to get into the most unheard of scrapes and get out again mostly unhurt”. Arthur recalled an earlier engagement with this “slippery gent” (De Wet). “We had to race off leaving all our blankets behind. We even left the column guns and had to exist on one biscuit a day, supplemented by any raw spuds we could pick up at the farms. Had De Wet turned and set a trap for us we would have ceased to exist. If I live to be 100 1 won’t forget that day.”


Arthur Johnstone also wrote of a day when his regiment rode “into a pass and almost into the jaws of death”. He said: “A surprise awaited us in that pass. The Colonel and his men were suddenly face to face with Boer rifles. Shots rang out, men bolted and the guns were without support. The Colonel galloped back shouting: ‘For God’s sake, Bushmen, come and save my guns’. Nothing loath, we charged up. There was a splendid afternoon’s shooting between enormous hills. It looks fine to see shells bursting all along the ridges. The Royal Horse Artillery are splendid fellows, cool as ice and great shots. One Boer was shooting from behind a tombstone on a Boer farm and we could not hit him through it, so we fired a shell and sent both stone and man to a better world. A shell went through an ostrich and burst at the door of a farmhouse, another knocked pumpkins from the roof. I saw a chap lying down shooting when a bullet fell right at his ear, covering him in dust. Another man had a shot go through the cuff of his tunic; a bullet just missed his arm. Even I have a hole in my tunic. The cyclists came under fire for the first time, and there was such a scramble as they tried to turn their bikes around in the narrow roadway. The more sensible ones just lay down at the side of the road. At times one’s flesh creeps, wondering where the next shot is coming from.”


“The country looks lovely after recent rains,” wrote Sergeant Johnstone in The Mildura Cultivator of June 27, 1901. “The Cape Colony has a splendid climate, but it is rather too wet for our liking just now, as we have not had tents since Christmas. Most farmers seem wealthy. They grow enormous crops of maize (mealies) and pumpkins, however, sheep, angora goats and ostriches appear to be the main source of revenue. Ostriches cost from £10 to £100 per pair. The average yield of feathers is about £5 or £6 per bird each season. Stone is used for almost everything here. There are miles and miles of fencing with all posts made from slabs of stone. One has to see it to believe it. Here stone is the simple answer to many things. It is easy to find. One sees layers and layers of rock everywhere. In beds of creeks, where the earth has washed away, the stone has the appearance of tiled floors. This is quite beautiful to see. Ploughing is done with size 25 ploughs and spans of 10 oxen. I recently swopped some stories with a Dutch farmer who thinks Australia must be a wonderful country. One of men, Freddy Moseley is at present at Deelfontein Hospital with a slight touch of fever.” Arthur reported that he had been promoted to quartermaster sergeant of C squadron and added “it is the best position a non-commissioned officer can hold”.


Graaff-Reinetters were shocked to hear of the death of John Watson early in 1859. The Cape and Natal News of March 31 reported that Watson, a native of Lanarkshire, and well known Graaff-Reinet resident had committed suicide by cutting his throat with a razor. “There is a suspicion that this poor fellow, known as a steady industrious, man, may have developed sun-stroke during the recent hot weather. He seemed to have suddenly changed his habits and showed unmistakable signs of derangement. Nevertheless, he was most kindly treated by the Ross family in whose house he lodged, stated the newspaper. It added that “fortunately, Watson left no widow or family to suffer calamity caused by his misfortunes.”

It’s not wise to violate rules until you know how to observe them T S (Thomas Stearns) Eliot