Karoo enthusiasts joined archaeological historian Dr Cyril Hromnik to watch the last sunrise and sunset of winter from an ancient Quena stone temple in the Moordenaars Karoo. This took place on June 18 and 19. Dr Hromnik organises four of these fascinating field trips each year for those who wish to experience the equinoxes and solstices at astronomical temple-observatories. Normally between 200 and 250 people interested in history, cosmology, ecology, religion and culture join him on these trips. “These temples were built as places of worship by the ancient Quena or Otentottu (Hottentot) people, whose descendants today form a major part of the present-day Cape Coloured population,” says Dr Hromnik, who has discovered many of these Indo-Quena temple-observatories in the Karoo. He has also spent years studying and testing their functionality. “I have proved that they still work to this day,” he says “The measurement of time is at the root of Indian, Egyptian and Quena religions. Their systems survived geographically at opposite ends of the Indian Ocean and in Africa. Indian influences in all of them provide clues to these systems. In view of this, having an opportunity to experience the action of a Quena temple-observatory is exciting for any person interested in the origins and beginnings of the Indian, Egyptian and African civilisations.” David Luscombe, on whose farm the temples are, says” “Watching the solstice and equinox sunrises and sunsets from these temples is immensely moving. Virtually everyone who joins us finds their visit to an ancient temple in the pristine Karoo an unequalled joy and unforgettable experience.”


A love poem written in 1849 has Prince Albert all agog. Local historian and storyteller Ailsa Tudhope is trying to find out more about William Scott and Anna Cornelia de Vries. “Earlier this year Leon de Wit discovered a fragile, filmy, folded piece of paper in an old family bible. On it William, on June 3, 1849, had penned a poetic declaration of his love for Anna. The poem refers to “the blooming tincture of her skin, peace of mind and harmony within, the brightness of her sparkling eye and the soft soothing of a calm reply.” He vows to retain wonderful memories of her forever in his heart. But, Prince Alberters know neither William nor Anna. Would it not be wonderful to find out if their romance blossomed and led to marriage?” says Ailsa.


On going research into Anglo-Boer War blockhouses has once again taken Richard Tomlinson to the Karoo. “In May I found some I’d not previously managed to locate. I was also able to inspect one blockhouse at Tulbagh and the two at Dwyka River. In 1996 when I tried to visit the latter two I got stuck in a sandy drift. However, this time the district road engineers at Beaufort West told me of an easier route and I was able to reach them. Some time ago I found a contemporary reference to 18 standard pattern blockhouses between Wellington and Richmond Road (Merriman). I have now found all but one. Recent discoveries were at Hermon South (Limiet River), Hermon North (Berg River). Both are fairly complete stone structures. There is also a collapsed concrete blockhouse at De Wet Station (formerly Hex River Station). I have an unidentified archival photograph of a stone blockhouse with steam engines and train behind it. There is a mountain in the background, which curves down to a poort on the righthand side. I have checked out Touws River and Laingsburg near the (rebuilt) railway bridge over the Buffels River but have not been able to establish exactly where this blockhouse was. Laingsburg seems most likely, but the flood scoured the site, so I could not be sure. I would love to hear from any one who knows.”


In the second half of the 19th century railway lines crept across Africa. To many these symbolised the progress of civilisation. One British citizen was so enthralled that he suggested the coin of the realm should bear not the profile of Queen Victoria, but rather a steam train racing across the African veld belching a plume of smoke. The Cape Colony caught up with railway fever in 1828 and started planning a railway system. However, enthusiasm waned only to surface again in 1845. Construction work began on March 31, 1859 and by 1876, 106 miles of rail had been laid from Cape Town to Worcester. The mountains seemed insurmountable, but then surveying crews reported that a 200-foot tunnel would solve the problem. Its construction, however, was quite beyond local capabilities. The news was not quite so disastrous as it could have been because a 20-year-old young engineer George Pauling had arrived in the country only a year before. “He knew his job. The mountain was pierced, and civilisation reached Beaufort West, 339 miles from Cape Town in 1880,” writes Mark Strage in Cape to Cairo. “Here it paused while lawmakers argued over which of their respective constituencies should next benefit from the railway.” Diamonds had been discovered. Fortune hunters were streaming endlessly northwards, and machinery was needed to run the mines. One voice rose above the rest. This man had no doubts. “Where else can it go but Kimberley?” asked Cecil John Rhodes.


Adventure, diamonds and an Imperial Route across Africa tempted a peer of the realm to “the wilds of the Dark Continent’ in 1891. The Times broke the story on February 28, 1891, stating that the intrepid, high-handed and completely unpredictable Lord Randolph Churchill “had definitely decided to undertake the arduous journey to Africa ‘Land of Ophir’ in the spring.” Newspaper columnists and cartoonists had a field day. Many treated the expedition as the most hilarious event of the year, gleefully forecasting likely and unlikely situations, which might confront him. The Daily Graphic offered two thousand guineas for 20 letters – an astonishing fee for an amateur journalist. The Daily Telegraph topped this offering £100 a column. Lord Randolph, however, accepted The Graphic signing a contract for his letters to be published in book form. In one he told of leaving the lush Cape by the Kimberley mail train accompanied by his shipboard companion Sir Charles Metcalf, and aide-de-camp, Captain Gwynydd Williams. This promising young Royal Horse Guard officer had resigned his commission to accompany Churchill to Mashonaland. They spent their first up-country night in the little village of Matjiesfontein. “A curious settlement, established by an enterprising Scotsman, at the edge of the vast, arid, scrub-covered Karoo,” writes Brian Roberts in The Churchills in Africa “It had a single British-suburban-like street complete with a row of ornamental lamp posts. Lord Randolph considered it an excellent example of British initiative. Remembering his promise to his constituents (one of whom he discovered was driving his train) Lord Randolph recommended the forbidding countryside to young English farmers ‘with a good training, an active disposition and a small capital” as a likely spot in which to seek a home and fortune.”


“A great imperial-sized tract of land where silence, solitude and desolation can be multiplied a million-fold,” was Julian Ralph’s vision of the Karoo. In Towards Pretoria, he writes: “We are on the edge of the Karoo desert, a great tract of land, which looks like a rubbish-shooting ground of imperial size.” He described every scene “framed by great rolling hills and billows of baked, stony earth hills called kopjes.” “The entire country is spotted with stones and tufts of dry vegetation. This is mainly sagebrush, so bare and dry that its roots appear to be sticking out above the ground. Barren watercourses torture little trees to grow beside them. These also are so bare and brown that they might as well be turned bottom up. The view is unobstructed in every direction for miles, yet you see nothing but the same burnt desert with hot arid air dancing over it. The occasional little herds of buck are difficult to spot until you are close. The Karoo might well be heaven for snakes, lizard, and beetles. However, the only living things I saw were goats, stately ostriches and a small black and white bird like an undersized magpie. Silence, solitude, desolation – multiply these a million-fold and you have the Karoo. Yet, it is not without beauty and a future. Everywhere in everything its colours are wondrous. Close at hand the hills are almost brick red, yet a little further away they become dove coloured and those farthest away are coloured in varying shades of purple. Tufts and splotches of vivid greed appear wherever there is or has recently been water. Even the stones and shrubs are full of colour. Water is the magician’s wand in this country.”


With great clarity Pam Avis, 84, recalls a walk with her father on a Karoo farm 80 years ago. “The magic of that day has never left me. My dad, Gervase Collett, a tall, handsome, upright man, inherited the farm De Keur in the Middleburg district in the 1800s. Blue mountains, Doornberg, Thebus, Koffiebus and Lions Hill, encircled our land. The homestead, shaded by tall trees, stood on a gravel rise above the trickling Brak River. It was a beautiful place. That day, I was only four-years-old and I skipped along excitedly, holding Dad’s hand and delighted by his company. He told me the farmhouse had originally been a double storey transport hotel, serving coach and wagon routes during the exciting diamond and gold rushes. The thought thrilled me. One night a fierce wind blew the roof off of the top storey turning the ‘hotel’ into a single storey establishment. The roof was never replaced. Later we paused at ruins of a mud-floored stone dwelling. In its day it could only have offered crude shelter against the elements. Dad sat down on the wall and told me that many years ago, a woman crossed from the house to check on bread baking in a Dutch oven (bakoond). As she turned to go back, she saw to her horror a lion was standing between her and the house, where her baby peacefully slept. The lion stared straight at her. She was too terrified to move. Then, mercifully he tossed his head and proudly moved on. I shivered and looked warily over my shoulder! Strange groves encircled a large jagged rock at the side of the house. Dad said these had been made by a chain, dragged by oxen to clear ground so that vegetables could be planted.”


The magic of a wondrous day, when as a four-year old she accompanied her father on a walk across the Karoo veld, is for ever imprinted in Pam Avis’s memory. “As we walked down the stony path from our homestead to the river Dad pointed out many interesting things in this land he knew and loved so much. Dotted about were beautifully spun hinged lids on the subterranean tunnel nests of trapdoor spiders. He demonstrated how these little creatures fiercely held the ‘doors’ down if anyone attempted to open them. We also saw the intriguing conical traps built in fine sand by lion ants, which waited patiently, pinchers at the ready, to grab any unsuspecting insect entering the cone. On the open plains we spied ever-vigilant meerkats and the odd nocturnal springhare. We crossed a flimsy wire suspension bridge near koppies covered with orange aloes and yellow prickly pears. Here hundreds of dassies (rock hyraxes) snoozed nonchalantly, basking and sunbathing on virtually every ledge. The plant life of this arid landscape was incredible. Cleverly camouflaged succulents exactly matched the colour and shape of the stones among which they grew. Wild purple tulips dotted the veld. Here and there were mossy mounds of green topped by delicate purple flowers. Dad called these Karoo violets. We also saw repulsive stepilias among the rocks. Their blotchy dark red flowers were covered with sticky hairs, which trapped insects for the plant to “eat.” A horrid rotten smell permeated this area. Suddenly a whirlwind danced across the plain, tossing dust, pebbles and a “rolbos” (tumbleweed) into the air. Dad told me that the tumbleweed was brought to South Africa with animal fodder from America during the Anglo-Boer War. He thought the same was true of prickly pear. He showed me a 4 ft square stone “wolf trap” with a hinged stone lid. Early farmers lured hyenas into these traps with meat and then killed them. It had been a long walk. Dad lifted me to his shoulders as we headed home. The sun, a crimson ball in a vivid sky slid slowly beneath the horizon. Darkness filtered in. Soon a black velvet dome with a myriad of pinprick stars covered the earth. The stars felt close enough to touch. I’ll never forget the magic of that day.”


The South African Immigrants British Mailing List has linked an Australian researcher and Round-up. “I found details of your website through this organisation and wondered whether you could tell me more of the Karoo and perhaps help me discover some of my South African family,” writes Shirley Black from Australia. Shirley claims to have a “very colourful” background. “I was born a Shirley White. I married and had three sons as Mrs Pink. I am now Mrs Black. I am, however, searching for information on the White family who once lived in the Karoo. Even though I have never had the privilege of visiting, I must admit the Karoo enthralls me. When we were children my father often entertained us with captivating stories of his time in the Karoo. Through him I built up a love for the place even though I have never been to Africa. Reading of Ingrid Patterson of Scotland’s success in finding family ties through Rose’s Round-up encouraged me to enlist your aid. I hope some South African researching the White family will have found a trace of them in the Karoo in the 1800s and be willing to share information with me.”


The Caterpillar Club, perhaps the world’s most unique club, intrigued readers. Many enjoyed the story of Vic Proctor’s attempts on the S A Land Speed Record in Round-up May 2004. Most were amazed to learn of how he ‘exploded’ on to the membership list of this club. The Caterpillar Club has neither annual fees, nor meetings. Few members ever meet. On confirmation of membership, a card and caterpillar pin are issued. And, membership is not necessarily “renewable” even though Charles Lindbergh qualified four times. “Yet, prized as membership may be, I think most people would rather not qualify,” says Austrialian historic researcher Midge Carter. “According to my research the club was established in 1922 by Leslie L Irvin, founder of Irvin Aerospace in Canada and inventor of the first free fall parachute in 1919. Irvin selected the name Caterpillar Club in homage to the silk threads from which the original parachutes were made and the fact that the caterpillar lets itself gently down to earth on an almost invisible thread of silk. The club’s motto is ‘Life depends on a silken thread.” An article by David Josar in Stars and Stripes on January 7, 2001, claims the club currently has 4 000 living members. Not all have fallen out of aeroplanes. Club membership soared to about 100 000 during World War II, says Josar.


Railway stations in the Karoo are like oases of green with willow and eucalyptus trees, flowers and vegetable gardens. This was the opinion of Julian Ralph, who wrote Towards Pretoria, detailing the northward movement of the troops during the Anglo-Boer War. He reported: “Before I woke up the train was at a place called Matjesfontein and a man was calling out my name. When I was dressed and stepped out on the platform, I found that a Mr J D Logan had heard I was passing through and wished to invite me to breakfast. As I rubbed my eyes I saw far and away on every side the stony, tufted, shimmering desert, yet close beside me were tree-shaded cottages with blooming gardens and lawns. I hurried away from the picturesque station to a handsome house, where I found a luxuriously ordered table, smoking hot viands led off by salmon from England. Trained servants added to comfort, which was as abundant as anyone could wish. This was Mr Logan’s home and his village. He is building a fine hotel as its chief glory. While we were at breakfast, he dictated to his secretary letters of introduction to people further north and before I finished off my coffee the letters, all typewritten, were handed to me. After breakfast the train took off and Mr Logan started on a shooting trip. The whole episode was like a tatter of dreamland – a little spring of enterprise gushing out into the desert.”


Ralph Blyth Anderson, 87, is taking a closer look at his family tree. He and his daughter, Helena Rose, visited Beaufort West earlier this year trying to trace some links. “I am searching for information on the Weeber and Blyth families. M J Weeber’s daughter Cornelia Louisa married John Alexander Blyth, my grandfather. He was possibly the jailor mentioned in Hooyvlakte. I cannot trace a link between him and John Blyth, eldest son of D H Blyth, a prominent Beaufort West town councillor from 1866 to 1883. I could not find M J Weeber’s grave, so imagine it was a practise in the early 1800’s to bury people on their farms. I would be delighted if someone could confirm this.” Ralph found “much of interest” in Hooyvlakte, Wynand Vivier’s history of Beaufort West. “There are pictures of the young Blyth girls including my mother. Many older Blyths are also mentioned. So is Pieter Jacobus Weeber, who was Member of Parliament for Beaufort from 1889 to 1907. I found his grave. My paternal grandfather, Ebenezer Thomas Anderson was magistrate of Beaufort West from 1904 to 1910. During this time my father met and married Sheila Blyth. I also found the graves of my maiden aunts May and Gladys Blyth. May was a teacher and I wondered whether she might have taught Chris Barnard. I am also interested in the military history of Beaufort West and would love to know more of John A. Blyth, who was part of one of the voluntary rifle units, which reportedly served at Rorke’s Drift. As far as I can gather, however, his unit was not a part of the action there.”

The best thing about the future is that it only comes one day at a time – Abraham Lincoln