‘MANNA’ RE-ISSUED

Manna in the Desert, Alfred de Jager Jackson’s special book on the Great Karoo, is being reprinted. The new, better illustrated, hard cover edition, which includes a dust jacket and additional background material, will be launched in Beaufort West in August. No changes have been made to the style and spelling of the original text. The man behind the project is Alfred’s great grandson, Craig Elstob. “Like him I love the Karoo,” said Craig. “I visited Bakensrug and Kamferskraal, the farm where he was born, and where he spent the first 20 years of his life and, thanks to Manna in the Desert, was able to see the world he loved through his eyes. I then knew the book had to be reprinted and with other family members set about making this possible.” Alfred wrote Manna in the Desert, when he was 60. It captures the essence of the Karoo, a place where he says, “you find rest for the weary body and comfort for the troubled soul.” His love for the area is in evident in every chapter. He discusses the Karoo’s “evil barrenness,” its bewitching beauty, its isolation, the joys and hardships of farming in its harsh climate, plagued by periodic droughts and flash floods. Alfred writes of the plants, birds and animals of the Karoo and firmly states his aim is “to draw men towards a right and reverent regard of nature, particularly as exemplified in the Great Karoo.” Alfred’s simple faith shines through in poems and his many tributes to the Creator, the Great Author. But Manna in the Desert is much more than a eulogy of Karoo ecology. It offers an insightful look into the lives of people who lived in the area, those who came to visit and one that “came out of the sea.” This is the story of a young man, a closely-knit farming family and two decades of happiness. Then, in 1880, tragedy struck, and ill-health forced Alfred to leave his beloved Kamferskraal. His heart-break is poignantly recorded in a chapter entitled “Valedictory.” This, however, is not the tone of the book, Alfred brings the early Karoo to life with an enchanting and touching honesty, offering many a smile and at times a good laugh. He encourages readers to share his experiences, just as the Israelites of the Bible shared the manna sent from heaven. The book costs R180 plus p & p.

THE PIONEERS USED IT TO TREAT FEVERS

The Leeu Gamka Indigenous Nursery promoted the medicinal properties of the sand olive in May. “Dodonaea angustifolia, locally known as “Sandolien,” and “Ysterhouttoppe,” is an attractive small tree which grows to a height of about 5 meters,” says promotional officer, Charlotte Bothma. “This tree, which has long, narrow, pale green leaves, flourishes along forest margins and in arid zones, such as the Karoo.” According to Medicinal Plants of South Africa early Cape pioneers used a decoction of the leaves as a remedy for fevers. Other early uses included the treatment of pneumonia, tuberculosis and skin rashes. Many people is still boil fresh leaves and twigs, or steep them in hot water for a while, then filter the liquid and use it as a gargle for a sore throat and oral thrush or to treat colds, influenza, stomach trouble, measles and arthritis.

MATJIESFONTIEIN GHOSTS STAR IN TV ADVERT

Matjiesfontein is said to be one of the most haunted places in South Africa. A variety of ghosts, dating back to the Anglo Boer, have at odd times been seen in and around the hotel and on the road from the cemetery. They have featured on radio programmes, as well as in newspaper and magazines articles, but now they have become TV stars and “appear” in a Vodacom advertisement. This is the second advert in with a link to Matjiesfontein. In the first, a tourist passes the “Matjiesfontein” a road sign, and then stops to buy a wire windmill. Of course, he locks his keys in his car, but it’s Vodacom to the rescue. In the latest advert the would-be hero books into a ghostly hotel, clearly the Lord Milner. A variety of things go bang in the night and scare him but, this time the “cleverer” one, who always has his Vodacom cellphone at the ready, is also somewhat at a loss. After all: “Who do you phone when you hear a ghost?”

THE RISE AND FALL OF THE ‘ODD FELLOWS’

In the 1870s Beaufort West’s bachelors decided they needed a club. So, on July 26, 1878, a young man called Pfister, invited all unattached men, widowers and bachelors, to join him to discuss forming a club or lodge, where they could “get together to play cards and enjoy a drink.” The Loyal Pioneer Lodge (LPL), based on similar ideals, had been founded only a short while previously, so its members decided to attend. The LPL was loosely based on the British Odd Fellow Society. (It had nothing to do with Odd Fellow Orders, set up across Europe as Trade Unions.) Under Pfister’s guidance an Odd Fellow Lodge, “open to all gentlemen of the town,” was established and the LPL disbanded. The Odd Fellows held an inaugural dinner, at the Commercial Hotel in New Street, on January 5, 1880. It was a grand affair attended by 22 men. Dr Henry Drew, who was elected chairman, delivered a stirring acceptance speech. He and the Simpson brothers served on the committee for many years. Things went well and within a year the Odd Fellows had sufficient funds to purchase ground and build a hall. In The Courier of January, 1881, they called for tenders, based on building plans drawn up by engineer Avon Bruce Brand. By April 12, the hall was completed, and another grand inaugural dinner was given. Local baker, Peter Krummeck, catered and Bernard Kromm, owner of the Royal Hotel, loaned them cutlery, which included his imported Rogers’ dinner knives. To his horror, at the end of the dinner six dozen knives had disappeared, never to be seen again. The Odd Fellow Lodge became an extremely popular meeting place and flourished for about a decade. . Then, some members began bringing lady friends along and this led to its demise. The place “became far too jolly.” Members’ wives, backed by churchmen and “sober residents,” objected. Within a year the lodge was gone. “By August 1891 the hall was being hired out for general functions,” writes Wynand Vivier in Hooyvlakte. “Then, when the Methodist church came to town in 1883, services were held in the Odd Fellows Hall. In September 1894, Bernard Kromm bought it and converted it into a residence. This lovely old house still stands at No 10 Meintjies Street, next door to the Schouten Flats.”

SHIPWRECK PUTS PAID TO DIAMONDS

After surviving a shipwreck Bernard Kromm’s path led him to Beaufort West. There he acquired two hotels and started a roller-skating craze. Bernard and two of his brothers, Henry and Philip, sailed from Plymouth, aboard the RMS Teuton, on August 6, 1881. They were bound for South Africa where they intended joining a diamond syndicate. The Teuton, however, ran aground off Quoin Point, between Danger Point and Cape Agulhas. Henry and Bernard were among its 34 survivors and an eyewitness account from Bernard appeared in an Eastern Cape newspaper. He said “When the Teuton sailed from Cape Town at 17h30, on August 30, little did anyone dream what drama lay ahead. The ship struck something at about 19h30. Passengers were ordered to the poop deck and the lifeboats were prepared, but Captain Manning, had such confidence in his vessel that he did not give any orders to abandon ship. Manning was convinced the Teuton’s six compartment hull would keep the ship afloat. This was a dreadful mistake. Nevertheless, he steamed on until the bow had sunk so low that the stern was out of the water. Then, at about 22h30 he ordered women and children into the lifeboats and told other passengers and crew to prepare to abandon ship. The Teuton suddenly dipped at the bow and somersaulted. She went down like lightning. I would not have believed it possible that a vessel could sink so quickly. I am almost certain that one lifeboat with the women and children in it was still fastened to the vessel by a rope and did not clear the vortex.” Bernard, who could not swim, miraculously survived by jumping from the poop deck. He was dragged down by the suction of the sinking ship but managed to grab hold of a piece of wreckage. He was hauled aboard a life boat. He later discovered one brother safe and the other drowned.

SURVIVED TO START A CRAZE

Safely ashore the Kromm brothers seem to have given up their thoughts of moving into the diamond trade. Henry Kromm acquired the Drostdy Hotel in Graaff-Reinet, and Bernhard bought both the Royal and the Masonic Hotels in Beaufort West. Family history researcher Kathy Kromm who lives in England, says: “I discovered that my husband’s great great grandfather’s brother, Johann Bernard Kromm, started a roller-skating craze in Beaufort West in the 1800s. Soon after arriving he hired the town hall and opened ‘Kromm’s Elite Skating Rink.’ The municipality charged him 7/6 a day and, to cover costs, he charged 6d entrance fee and 6d to hire skates. Interest in the sport mushroomed so, in 1892, he built a rink at the Masonic Hotel. It became famous throughout the Karoo.” Rinks also sprang up at the Lyric and Coronation Halls, competitions flourished. Then, just as quickly as it started, interest in skating vanished. Beaufort West’s first cinema was then opened in Coronation Hall.

OLD KAROO HORROR STORY REVISITED

A crumbling gravestone alongside an isolated road recently caught the attention of Prince Albert paleontologist Judy Maquire. “It’s just beyond a farm fence on the gravel road past Abrahamskraal to Leeu Gamka. It starkly stands on the third ‘vlakte’ after ‘Sandra se Draai,’ on the south side of the Rietfonteinhoogte. The spot is so lonely, the landscape so vast and empty that this stone commands attention,” said Judy, who’d often passed and wondered about it. She decided to investigate. “The cement headstone has cracked and it’s crumbling. It was lovingly embellished with ‘folk art’ that includes leafy vines, an angel in a circle with text that tells part of the macabre story.” It states: ‘Een Gedenkteeken van M. A. De Beer vermoor op den 11 Januarie 1889. God bewaar deze steen ten aan zien van allen’ (The memorial stone of M A De Beer, murdered here on January, 11, 1889 and it calls upon God to preserve the stone in plain sight.).It seems Mathys (“Thys”) de Beer, grandson of Samuel de Beer and an employee of the District Council, had been opening the mitre drains along what was then the main road between Prince Albert and Beaufort West, one hot summer day. With him were two young coloureds, Opraap and Pijan. They’d finished for the day and were on their way home across the sun-scorched wastes of the Koup in a mule cart. They knew only a few steep, heavy-going pulls remained on the rutted track before they’d catch their first glimpse of Prince Albert. Just then a Khoi Khoi man, Willem Huisies, appeared. An altercation broke out between him and Thys. Willem suddenly he lashed out and attacked Thys with an axe. Opraap and Pijan fled. The axe blows were so severe that Thys’s head was entirely severed from his body. Willem then calmly threw Thys’s gory, severed head and hacked body on to the back of the cart, slapped up the mules on their rumps and nonchalantly strolled off across the veld. The mules, of course, obediently trotted home. Back in Prince Albert Tant Hannie, Thys’s wife waited patiently. “Perhaps she eventually she heard the cart clatter into the yard and wondered why Thys had not come in as usual,” says Judy. “Maybe she wondered why the mules were just standing waiting to be unharnessed and perhaps she stepped out to investigate. The ultimate horror of this story, too awful to imagine, is not recorded.” Thys’s remains were buried in the Lotz-de Beer graveyard. A memorial was erected by his wife and family at the spot where he was attacked. Sadly, it is now crumbling and in dire need of repair.

BEST LOOKING MAN ON THE BENCH

Percy Sidney Twentyman Jones, born in Beaufort West on August 13, 1876, grew up to be one of the best looking men of his day. In 1912 The Cape Bar voted Judge Jones its most handsome member, but that was not his only claim to fame. According to South African cricket captain, Murray Bisset, he was the only Judge to represent South Africa in two branches of sport, namely cricket and rugby. However, in Law, Life and Laughter Ellison Kahn points out that Vivian Herbert (Boet) Neser, a judge in the Transvaal Provincial Division from 1943, was also a cricketer of renown. “He captained South Africa against Lord Tennyson’s team, and also all five test matches against S B Joel’s English X1, in 1924-25. Judge Neser didn’t make a name playing rugby, but he did referee the four test matches between the All Blacks and Springboks in 1928.” Judge Jones (Twentyman was his maternal grandmother’s maiden name) once had a strange experience in Bloemfontein. There for an appeal hearing, he went to his hotel one afternoon to rest. Suddenly he was aware that he could hear Judge Wessels’s stentorian voice loudly and heatedly discussing the merits of his (Judge Jones’s) arguments for the following day. Only then did he realise that his room was right next to the judge’s lounge. He got up, wandered round and told his colleagues their discussion was far from confidential. Judge Jones died in Cape Town on March 1954.

ONE WAY TO MOVE A COMMANDO ACROSS THE KAROO

John Joseph, a member of the great Barry family of the Overberg, was a man who got things done. At the head of the dying Barry and Nephews company, and the last of his clan to reign in Swellendam, he was also District Commandant in 1878 when one of the Frontier wars broke out. John Joseph received orders to muster the Swellendam Commando at Beaufort West. He feared it would not be as easy as it sounded and that some of the men would fall out and return home along the way. So carrot-and-donkey-wise he enticed them across the Karoo, writes Edmund H Burrows in Overberg Outspan. John Joseph sent a cart load of liquor ahead and ordered it to halt now and then and await their arrival. Then, just as the lads were enjoying a drop of something to wash the dust out of their throats, off went the wagon. Of course, they had to pursue it, so needless to say, the commando arrived in Beaufort West intact, and in good time. John Joseph, with visible relief, handed over his command and rode home. That same year this intuitive man got himself elected to the Legislative Council, despite the fact that his company was failing.

RARE GLADIOLUS “REDISCOVERED”

The Western Cape’s Gladiolus roseovenosus is not only rare, it is endangered. Despite the fact that this species was only identified as recently as March 1, 1982, none of these beautiful blooms have been seen for a decade, yet Cape Nature experts never stop searching for them. Their efforts were recently rewarded when a patch of “rooiaar pypies” (trumpets with red veins), as the species is locally known, was recently discovered. It all began when Anne-Lise Schutte-Vlok went in search of Gladiolus roseovenosus in an area where it once was known to be. She didn’t find any, but she did come across a very interesting species, Gladiolus rogersii, a beautiful blueish bloom, named in honour of an old English pastor, Reverend Rogers. She mentioned this to her husband, Jan Vlok, and a few days later, when he and Marina Eilers were travelling back from a Gouritz Initiative meeting, they decided to investigate and see the blue blooms for themselves. “We set off armed with Anne-Lise’s directions, and, of course, there the Gladiolus rogersii were in their full glory. Quite beautiful to see,” said Jan, “we wandered about for a bit just to see if we could spot anything else interesting and what should we come across? Eleven Gladiolus roseovenosus in full bloom! We were absolutely stunned at the sight. What a wonderful surprise and just when we had begun to think that the species had become extinct!”

PERHAPS IT’S THANKS TO THE LONG-TONGUED FLIES

In addition to being rare and endangered, the Gladiolus roseovenosus is also mysterious. “It was named for the dark pink veins on its white blooms. The function of these pink lines is to lead the pollinators to the nectar so that successful pollination can take place,” explained Cape Nature expert Jan Vlok. “We know this, but we have no idea who the pollinators are. We imagine that they must be one of the specific species of long-tongued flies of the fynbos. However, because this plant is so rare, we have not been able to prove this.” The Gladiolus roseovenosus was discovered as recently as March l, 1982, and oddly enough not in a way-out isolated spot. It was found in a small piece of veld, directly opposite the forestry office in Ruitersbos on the Robinson Pass between Oudtshoorn and Mossel Bay. After that Audrey Moriarty, compiler of the Outeniqua Veld Flower Guide, discovered some in the Witfontein Plantation. All of these plants bloomed regularly until 1996 and then vanished. “For a decade we combed the area, but found no trace of the plant,” said Jan “We feared they had died out.” A second patch of Gladiolus roseovenosus has now also been found an area where previously none had ever been seen. These were discovered along one of the hiking routes from Eight Bells Hotel. Owners, Jacqui Brown and her father, Peter, both keen conservationists, immediately cleared the area of all threatening undergrowth to try to ensure the survival of the species. “Indeed, praiseworthy action of private landowners,” said Jan.

PIG’S EAR FOR EAR ACHE?

Early residents of the hinterland made some interesting lotions and potions from indigenous plants. A favourite was Pig’s ear for ear-ache. They dripped warmed juice from the thick, fleshy leaves of this common succulent Cotyledon Orbiculata directly into the ear to ease the pain,” says Charlotte Bothma promotional officer at Leeu Gamka Indigenous Nurse. “Some people also used this juice to combat tooth ache. However, Medicinal Plants of Southern Africa warns that internal use is dangerous and potentially lethal. Toxicity of this woody-stemmed plant is affected by the moisture content of its bright green to grey leaves. They often have a reddish margin and their surface is usually covered with a waxy layer. Early residents also used the fleshy part of the leaves to soften and remove corns and warts.”

PARDON ME, WHAT’S THAT SMELL?

When gas was installed in Grahamstown’s Supreme Court in 1912 everyone was delighted. In fact judges and court personnel were so satisfied with it that they refused to change over to electric lighting and heating – that was until the Judge President arrived to preside over a case. Shortly after he took up his seat a peculiar, offensive, odour pervaded the courtroom, growing steadily worse as the proceedings went on. Eventually the judge asked what it could be. No one knew. So, the Judge President adjourned the court, stood up to leave the bench, stumbled and fell. “It was then discovered that the unpleasant smell was caused by the sole of his shoe burning on the gas heater under the bench. Electric lighting and heating followed without delay,” writes Ellison Kahn in Law, Life and Laughter


Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.

T H Huxley born in Ealing, Middlesex, England, the son of a schoolmaster, he was a precocious student, but taught himself read advanced works on geology and logic by age 12.