It is once again time for the annual Independent Publishers Awards Competition. This highly contested event is the only competition of its kind in South Africa and it culminates in a gala awards banquet at the end of the Richmond Book Town Festival in the Karoo at the end of October, each year. The competition, which has various categories, honours all self-published authors and brings their works to the attention of a wider audience. Any self-published author wishing to enter should contact Darrel David, Book Town organiser and coordinator of the panel of judges.


Internationally known, highly respected Professor Kay (Jacques Charl) de Villiers died on Tuesday, June 5, after spending some time in hospital. He was 90. Kay, an esteemed author and writer on medical matters, visited Richmond, last year, when Yeomen of the Karoo was awarded two prizes at the Independent Publishers Awards Competition. In essence, however, he was more than a co-author of this book on the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital, at Deelfontein. Both Arnold van Dyk and I found him to be a guiding light throughout the project – mostly we will miss his immense wisdom and infectious chuckle. Widely known in the world of, medicine, military medicine and history, Kay was an expert on the Anglo-Boer War, the doctors, the outbreak and treatment of diseases, such as typhoid, and the way in which both armies treated their sick and wounded. He was an authority on Red Cross Societies, and international foreign aid during the Anglo-Boer War. His contribution to the world of neurosurgery was immense, as was his contribution to South African and international universities and institutes of learning. He served on many local and world medical and educational societies. He was honorary life vice-president of the World Federation of Neurosurgery Societies and life president of Pan African Neurosurgery Association. He was a key role player in the establishment of the Cape Medical Museum and for this he was awarded a gold medal by the Simon van der Stel Foundation, Cape Town honoured his contribution to cultural affairs by granting him the Freedom of the City. Always willing to help and share information, Kay was a unique person. He will be greatly missed.


During the Anglo-Boer War British and Australian newspapers reported that a warrant had been issued at 05:30 on Tuesday, January 1, 1901, for the arrest of Dr T N G Te Water, South African Cabinet Minister Without Portfolio. The Sydney Morning News, among other newspapers, stated that Te Water, a friend of Prime Minister W P Schreiner, was charged with making a seditious speech at a secret meeting of the Afrikander Bond, held at Graaff-Reinet, in December 1899. He had told those present that Boer leaders, Steyn and De Wet, would invade the Colony within short and reminded them that when this happened it would be the duty of every Dutch resident to rise. The British Army was “seriously affronted” by this, stated The Mercury in Hobart Tasmania.


A fire on Settler’s Hill, in the Albany District, at the end of August 1841, wiped out the home of a tinsmith and a school. According to The Cape Frontier Times of September 1, the thatched roof of the building, which was partly inhabited by tinsmith Bagshaw, and partly used as a school by a Mr Paine, caught fire. The dwelling was almost burned to the ground – only the walls were left standing. Luckily most of the furniture was saved. Two fire-engines speedily arrived but were of little use because there was insufficient water to douse the flames, which were being fanned by a violent wind. “Fortunately, the house was detached otherwise the consequences might have been much more serious,” stated the newspaper, adding that this was the fourth fire in that district within a few weeks and that finding water to fight remote fires was a serious problem.


In Beaufort West hearts are trumps. This Karoo town is the birthplace of heart transplant pioneer, Professor Chris Barnard and the main street is named in honour of Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin whose undying devotion to his wife, Elizabeth, is one of the world’s great love stories. Rufane, a remarkable and honourable man, born in 1773, was the eldest child of the greatly respected British Army General, Robert Donkin. On August 30, 1815, Rufane married Elizabeth Frances, 25, eldest daughter of the very Rev Dr George Markham, Dean of York. (and granddaughter of the Archbishop of York) In accordance with the social customs of upper classes of the day it was a traditional organised marriage, however, the two fell deeply in love. When Rufane was posted to India she insisted on accompanying him on this arduous journey. When she became pregnant in India the heat and humidity took its toll and she became seriously ill. She died of fever in August 18, 1818, at the age of 28, shortly after their son George David was born. The effect on Sir Rufane was so devastating that he was forced to take leave. After burying Elizabeth in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, in Upper Hindustan, India, Sir Rufane was sent to South Africa as acting governor. Before she was interred, however, he had Elizabeth’s heart embalmed and kept it with him until he died (by his own hand) in Southampton, England, in 1841 on what would have been their 26th wedding anniversary. Her heart was then buried with him.


An unknown part of the Donkin romance is told by William Clarke Russel in A Marriage at Sea. He quotes from the memoirs of one of Elizabeth’s relations, Admiral Markham, who stated that Bessie, as Elizabeth was affectionately known, became extremely fond of a young French girl named Josephine, who had been adopted by the Dean. The girls were inseparable and so devoted to one another that even after the Dean’s death when they were both 17, they could not be parted. They remained together until Bessie married “a crusty old general named Rufane Donkin”. Markam says despite this being an arranged marriage, the two fell in love and Bessie decided to go out to India with Rufane at a time when most women of her class stayed at home. However, she could not be parted from Josephine, so it was arranged that for the young French girl to accompany her. Markham states that this did not work out as well as was expected. “A problem arose on the voyage because Rufane had a jealous disposition and could not tolerate Bessie being close to anyone but him. To the surprise of the captain and other passengers Rufane began to treat Josephine in a rough and churlish manner,” A sensitive young lass she withdrew, but fortunately a young officer on board took pity on her and entreated her to marry him so that he could protect her. She accepted his proposal and they were married by Captain Haviside while the ship was still at sea.


“The Howse farm, between Koonap Post and Double Drift, in the Eastern Cape had a flock of about 1 600 valuable sheep and, for this reason, the owner decided to hire men to build kraals to keep his stock safe. The men, however, were almost murdered while carrying out this task. The Cape Frontier Times of June 2, 1841, reported that “an outrage was committed” on the farm when five armed men attacked the two wagons in which the kraal-builders were sleeping. The vagrants threw stones at the wagons and then fired several shots into each one. A wagon chest was struck and burst into flames, then the sail caught alight, but fortunately this fire was doused. The vagrants then tried to untie the oxen and make off with them, but by then the kraal-builders had gathered their wits and were able to fire on their assailants. This put the vagrants to flight. Major Armstrong of the Cape Mounted Rifles, who was stationed at Koonap Post, raced to the scene, but was unable to catch the vagrants or follow their spoor. After this attack Howse’s employees refused to remain at that spot as they felt their lives were in danger. Neighbours considered the attack “outrageous,” stated the newspaper.


A Scottish teacher, Charles Stewart, and his wife, Hannah decided to emigrate to Australia in 1839. By the time they reached Cape Town Hanna was so ill that they had to abort their trip and disembark. While in the city George met Rev Andrew Murray who persuaded him to go to Graaff-Reinet “as there was a great need for qualified teachers” in the hinterland. George, then 31, went and opened a school there in 1843. This school was a great success and it served the community well until the Graaff-Reienet College was opened. George then went to Richmond. Again, he opened a very successful school and ran this until his wife died. He then went back to Graaff-Reinet to live with his daughter, Mrs Mary Crawford. Elesa Willies, his great granddaughter is now seeking more information.


News that one of their sons had been seriously wounded during the Anglo-Boer War brought Lord Frederick Temple-Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, Marquis of Dufferin and Ava, and his wife, Lady Hariot, the Marchioness, rushing to South Africa. Their younger son, Frederick, a second lieutenant in the 9th Lancers, had had been shot in the chest they were told and so they raced to his aid. By then Frederick had seen action at Belmont, Enslin, Modder River and Magersfontein. He was also present at the relief of Kimberley and he was part of the advances to Bloemfontein and Pretoria. The incident happened on Christmas Eve, 1900, in a conflict with Commandant Kritzinger, and while Frederick was serving under Colonel Grenfell, in the Cape Colony. Fortunately, Frederick survived. His father, a retired British public servant, had been a successful diplomat in the Court of Queen Victoria, in his younger days. He became a popular figure after publishing a best-selling account of his travels in the North Atlantic. The couple’s eldest son, Achibald James Leofric, Earl of Ava, a war correspondent and heir to the title, was killed just a few days later at Wagon Hill at Ladysmith, on January 6, 1900, while carrying a message. He was 36.


Lord Frederick Dufferin often told a tale of how a ghost had saved his life. He saw the apparition late one night in 1849, while staying in a house in Tullamore, County Offaly, in Ireland. Awakened by the sound of a vehicle arriving late at night he rose and looked out of his bedroom window. He saw a hearse draw up. A man, in undertaker’s garb got out and walked across the lawn carrying a coffin on his back. The man stopped and looked up at Lord Frederick’s window. Their eyes met briefly. The man then continued towards the house and disappeared into the shadows. Slightly shaken Lord Frederick went back to bed and in the morning thought the whole event might have just been a bad dream. Nevertheless, at breakfast he mentioned it to his hostess. She was quite perturbed and told him that the next time he saw this man he would die. Some years later Lord Frederick, then British ambassador to France, recognised the lift operator at the Grand Hotel in Paris as the man he had seen in the garden in Ireland. He refused to get into the lift and a moment later it came crashing down killing all occupants including the mysterious man, who, it was said had only begun work at the hotel that morning. Some journalists refuted this story, but Lord Frederick stuck to it. After all it was a good tale.


A rich irony saw men who had fought against each other during the Anglo-Boer War fighting side by side 12 years later in WWI. Cradock-born Cornelius Petrus Vermaak, Corrie, a son of the Karoo, was such a man. Born on the farm Leliekloof, he grew up in a small, caring farming community. At the age of 18 in May 1901, he joined Commandant Wynand Malan’s Commando, to fight against the British. Then, 12 years later on August 6, 1914, joined the Imperial Forces (as rifleman No 1645) to fight against the Germans. He left for the front aboard the Galway Castle on May 27, 1915. It was said that this good-looking young man, who had a fresh complexion, brown eyes, black hair and stood 5 ft 6 ½ in (1,52m) tall, joined Malan’s Commando because his father, 54-year old Jacobus Vermaak, was Malan’s. batman. By doing so he became a Cape Rebel because the Colony was under British rule and those who joined the Boers were considered traitors, punishable by death if caught. After seeing action across the Karoo, Corrie was caught, tried in his hometown, Cradock, and given a prison sentence. It was probably commuted on payment of a fine, states the website, which tells his whole story. After the Boer War Corrie joined the public service as a constable and later moved to the 4th South African Mounted Rifles in Pretoria in the same capacity. The SAMR was a para-military outfit divided into four sections and it constituted South Africa’s the first permanent force, a forerunner to the permanent army. Corrie was despatched to German South West Africa where, after sustained pressure, the Germans were driven to the north of the country. They surrendered at Otavi on July 9, 1915. This was also the day that Vermaak was discharged. He returned to his police duties He was discharged from this service at the age of 50 on July 5, 1932. He returned to farming.


While Corrie was fighting in the Karoo a local man, Lt Robert H Murray, was killed on May 2, 1902, near the farm Groenvlei. He was out on patrol when he saw some men dressed in khaki. He mistakenly took them to be native scouts and rode out to meet them. However, on discovering they were Boers he tried to make a getaway but was killed by a volley of fire. His men had carried his body back to their bivouac on the farm Tweefontein, states the website



In 1881 horses could be led to water outside Graaff-Reinet Methodist Chapel on a Sunday, but they were not allowed to drink if a service was in session. It was the duty of the “street keeper” to see that this instruction was rigidly carried out. This “keeper” roamed the streets of the village in the 1850s clad in an old-fashioned suit, wearing a fantail hat and carrying a shovel and bell. No one seems to know when this job was first filled, states Stoep Stories No 19 (May 2014). “This poorly paid official acted as a general factotum.”


After a successful trip to the Grahamstown Fanie van Rensburg, a young farmer, was on his way home. He rode contentedly in the morning sunshine until a problem caused his wagon began swerving. Fanie stopped and stepped down to inspect the “disselboom” (shaft). While trying to establish what had gone wrong one of the oxen, at the back of the team, kicked out and knocked Fanie down. This sudden action caused the rest of the team to lurch forward and a wagon wheel went right over Fanie’s head, crushing it, reports the Grahamstown Journal of June 9, 1880. Hearing of the “gruesome accident” Field Cornet C Webb rode out to see what had happened. He was horrified at the sight that met his eyes, reported the newspaper.


The inn at the Koonap River crossing became one of the Eastern Cape’s popular stopping and meeting places. This half-way post between Grahamstown and Fort Beaufort, was built and run by George Tomlinson, a Lifeguard veteran of the Battle of Waterloo, and his wife, Harriet. They arrived with the 1820 settlers. The inn which was “much frequented by soldiers and travelers” became such a success that the couple was later joined by George’s nephew, William. George was “a genial and intrepid innkeeper, and especially noted for his cutlets”, states Dennis Walters in Bridging the Eastern Cape. During the 6th Frontier War in 1834, the little inn was repeatedly attacked at night. However,“such stout resistance was made by Tomlinson, an old dragoon, his friend, Dr Ambrose Campbell, and a party of the 75th regiment, that the ground was soaked with blood.” The attackers fled. When the cattle were gone and the house deserted, it was burned down.”


As the borders of the colony constantly moved into the, as yet unexplored, hinterland, more and more rivers needed to be crossed. One of the main ones that held up day-to-day travelers and prevented farmers from getting their produce to market, was the Great Fish River. Several bridges had to be constructed along this route. They are all detailed in Denis Walters’s superb book Bridging the Eastern CapeThe Life and Work of Joseph Newey. One of the biggest challengers was found at Cradock where, when the river flooded, it caused great inconvenience to local farmers and travelers from further afield. In the late 1850s the municipality undertook to build a bridge and on hearing this news the farmers subscribed generously Two iron lattice girders, with spans of 90 ft (27,43 m) each, were brought up by wagon. However, the cost of the final construction was so high that the municipality could not afford to complete the project. The Divisional Council was then authorised by Parliament to take over the material and finish the job. It raised a loan for this purpose and the bridge was completed in 1863. It was opened, with suitable ceremony, by Sir Philip Wodehouse, then governor of the Cape, and named in honour of William Gilfillan, the first civil commissioner and magistrate of Cradock.


Disaster struck after the bridge had been in existence for only 11 years. In December 1874, the whole of the Eastern Cape was hit by a great, devastating flood, the extent of which has never been exceeded. This dreadfully devastating event affected the Great Fish River and some of its tributaries and to this day this flood has not been exceeded, writes Dennis Walters. The flood waters toppled the Cradock Bridge from its piers and abutments and washed it away. The bridge was vital to the area and had to be reconstructed. The central stonework and abutments were raised by 6ft (1,8m) and more iron girders were used. This work was undertaken by the Divisional Council, with a contribution of £2 800 from the government. All the work was done under the supervision of Joseph Newey. These stories are examples of the exciting material in Dennis Walters’s book which is also beautifully illustrated by some of Newey’s paintings. He was an excellent self-taught artist

Experience is a good teacher, but her fees are extremely high.” William Ralph Inge