Prince Albert’s Dick Metcalf claims to have “Karoo-blood” in his veins. A keen historic researcher, photographer and explorer, with longstanding family ties to this fascinating arid area, he loves nothing more than travelling through the vast, ancient Karoo thirstland. To share his love of the area he recently devised 27 trips for fellow adventurers and published them in a small, well-illustrated, black-and- white, wire-bound booklet entitled Outward-bound from Prince Albert. It is available from the Fransie Pienaar Museum. Using the book as a guide, visitors can travel across the Swartberg Pass to the Cango Caves and Oudtshoorn, through the Weltevrede Valley, to the Gamkapoort Dam, to the local goldfields, and to several historic farms. For those who’d like to venture further there are drives to Towerwater Hot Springs, Willowmore and Vondeling, The Hell, Koup, Leeu Gamka Dam, Sutherland, Hoekplaas and Seweweekspoort. Several other east, west, north and south-bound trips are also detailed. Not all are round trips but, says Dick, “there is enough space at the end of each for vehicles to turn”. This delightful little booklet certainly does take one off the beaten track and along some roads less travelled. In addition to some handy travelling trips, it includes unusual snippets of information. The Fransie Pienaar Museum is selling the booklet for funds


In March, 2011, a rare group of 22 orders and medals came up for sale at Smiths Newent, a Gloucestershire-based auction house in England. Said to be the “pick of the lots”, they were valued at £15,000 and there was a healthy interest these medals as they had belonged one of Britain’s top military surgeons, Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Thomas Sloggett. He came to South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War as principal medical officer at the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital and commandant for the district of Deelfontein in the Karoo. He was also deputy administrator of the Cape Colony from February 28, 1900, to August 23, 1902. While in this country Col Sloggett indulged his interest in natural history and ecology and establishing a menagerie at the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital to educate and entertain the patients. Constantly searching for the unusual led him to discover a rather rare little vlei rat which was named in his honour. Sloggett’s medals, awarded for service between 1916 and 1918, fetched £24,000 – the top price at the auction.


During his time in the Karoo Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Thomas Sloggett (as he then was) collected many interesting mammals in and around Deelfontein and sent them to the British Museum. He one day came across a tubby little rat which was eventually named in his honour. Some called it “Sloggett’s ice rat” – an extremely odd name since it was discovered in such a hot area as the Karoo – but it was a vlei rat and it was named Vlei Rat Otomys sloggetti (Thomas, 1902). Sloggett’s vlei rat is a member of the murinae family of old-world rats and mice. Fossils prove the species dates back 14-million years. The Otomys and Parotomys members of the murinae species are often placed in a separate sub-family. Sloggett’s vlei rat is found in Lesotho and the Karoo as well as central and eastern South Africa. Its natural habitats are sub-tropical or tropical high-altitude grasslands at altitudes of about 2,000 to 2 600 meters above sea level, swamps, and rocky areas. Some have been found at 1 500 meters above sea level in the Karoo. These diurnal little creatures have an unusual and distinctive molar pattern. They have three rows of cusps instead of two.


A young boy’s grief at the death of his father, a mystic pirate cove on England’s Dorset coast, and a surgeon who served in the Karoo during the Anglo-Boer War, are all strangely linked to J M Barrie’s story of Peter Pan. Barrie met a small, heartbroken, Peter Llewellyn Davies, in Kensington Park in 1889, just after the boy’s father, Arthur, had died. Peter had totally withdrawn from friends, family and society and refused to speak. Moved by the boy’s grief Barrie began telling him fantastic and mystical tales about a mysterious place called Never-Land filled with lost boys, mermaids, pirates, smugglers, secret caves and beautiful woods. The boy, and in time his four brothers, were greatly entertained by these stories and, Peter later became the inspiration for the play, Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, which Barrie wrote in 1902. It was first performed on the London stage in 1904. In time Barrie met the boys’ mother, Sylvia Llewellyn Davies, and they became lovers. Their relationship lasted until she died leaving a request for Barrie to be a guardian of her boys. Sylvia and her sister, well-known author, Daphne du Maurier, were the daughters of Gerald De Maurier, who played Captain Hook on the opening night of the play. But, how does Deelfontein’s Imperial Yeomanry Hospital’s senior surgeon, Alfred (later Sir Alfred) Fripp fit into this picture? Gerald Du Maurier was a patient and close friend – he was also as friend of Barrie’s. The lives of these three men closely interlinks with two other like-minded men of letters and medicine, namely the Dorset poet and novelist, Thomas Hardy and Sir Fredrick Treves, a colleague of Fripp’s, who was widely known for his treatment of Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man. The point of intersection of these men’s lives was Fripp’s large country estate, The Mill House, on the beach at Lulworth Cove in Dorset. This rather misty, magical place of high cliffs, caves and coves, is said to have provided Barrie with the inspiration for Never-Land. It is a spot steeped in tales of pirates, smugglers and mermaids.


Fripp and Barrie, who lived within a mile of each other in London’s West End, moved in the same social circles and shared philanthropic interests. Both were actively involved in children’s charities. In 1924, Bert Temple, one of Fripp’s wealthy patients and a close friend, set up a drinking club in the surgeon’s honour. It was named Ye Ancient Order of Froth Blowers and its objective was to raise money for children’s hospitals and charities. This order achieved a great deal for underprivileged children. Barrie also loved children and when he died in 1937 he willed the copyright of Peter Pan to the Great Ormond’s Street Children’s Hospital.


Fripp and Barrie also shared a love of the theatre. Sir Alfred and his wife, Lady Margaret attended the opening night of Peter Pan on December 27, 1904 and they later supported Barrie by selling tickets for the play. An advert in The British Medical Journal in 1912, states that tickets for Peter Pan were available from Lady Fripp at her Portland-Place home. The Fripp family to the theatre came through Dame Lena Ashwell OBE, who was Sir Alfred’s cousin. She was an actress who was honoured for entertaining the troops during World War 1. She became Lady Simson when she married Sir Henry Simson, the Royal obstetrician who later assisted at the births of Queen Elizabeth II and the late Princess Margaret. Fripp’s family certainly was an interesting one. He came from a long line of merchants, judges, architects, artists, authors and dramatists. He added surgeon to the list. His grandfather, Rev. Samuel Charles Fripp married the daughter of marine artist Capt Nicholas Pocock, a man descended from a long line of sea captains, one of whom was mentioned in Gulliver’s Travels. Pocock’s work was of such a high standard that he was commissioned to illustrate the official biography of Lord Nelson. Fripp’s father, also Alfred Downing Fripp, was a well-known watercolorist and his uncle (father’s brother) George Arthur was also a renowned artist. Over the years the friendship between Barrie and Fripp grew closer and in 1911 when Barrie began adapting the play into the novel, Peter Pan and Wendy, he is said to have stayed for a while with the Fripps at Mill House. Sir Alfred’s daughter, Betty, who lived in Lulworth all her life, shared her father’s interest in children. She also knew Lady Baden Powell and became actively involved in her girl-guides movement. Betty annually took children of the village to see Peter Pan in London at her own cost.


Bishop Griffiths marvelled at the springbok when he travelled through the Karoo in 1838. Not only did he find these animals “beautiful to behold”, but their flesh, he said, made excellent eating and their pretty white and yellow skins provided people with carpets when sewn together. He found Graaff-Reinet a beautiful town with neat houses, all white-washed and thatched. “They are seldom more than one storey. The streets are planted at each side with lemon and orange trees. Water for irrigation purposes is conveyed to these by cart. The whole town is surrounded by mountains. It is quite an oasis in the desert. You’d never imagine such a neat town could exist in such a lonely and desolated spot.” Before leaving Graaff-Reient en route to Beaufort West and Cape Town he was given an ostrich egg, some ostrich feathers and eight pieces of “bill tongue” (biltong) for the journey. He wrote that he awoke at 05h00 and on the way to have a cup of coffee, noticed his hair is getting quite lank. “It had lost all its curly character,” he wrote. “I wondered whether it was the climate, or had my spirit broken in this desolate land?” On his departure from Beaufort West he wrote: “I soon found that what I had heard of a cart travel was true. It jolted most tremendously, and I was sure that by the end of the journey every bone in my body would be dislocated. The canopy was too low and seat too narrow.” The Bishop prayed for forbearance as a journey of 400 miles (644 km) lay ahead.


Carl Peter Thunberg once climbed Slypsteenberg to get a view of the Great Karoo. He described the countryside he saw as “poor, flat Carroveld, without any mountains”. Yet, the eye, he said, “could not reach its boundaries”. He added. “There are no farms nor houses on this extensive plain over which the farmers travel from Camdeboo across Hex River to the Cape. It is said that farther on there are mountains (the Nuweveld Range) which probably extend from the Roggeveld to the Sneeuwberg. The immense dry Carroveld, which commences behind the mountains, for want of water cannot be inhabited and scarcely any animals reside there, except for a short time or immediately after a rainy season.” He also said that “when a little salt water is found here and there in some of the hollow places” game would be found. “The colonists have farms either in Roggeveld or the snow mountains and are obliged to wait for rain to cross the desert. Even then they have to pitch their camp near places where there is water. Grass is hardly to be met in this tract, so it is difficult for a horse to find fodder, but oxen put up with the brack water and salt leaves of shrubs and bushes.” He also said there was a strange phenomenon to be seen in this harsh dryland. “If one casts one’s eye over the smooth and arid plain when the sun shines hot, it is as if the eye is affected by a tremulous motion in the air just as though one were looking at a flame. Plants as well as herb bushes stand very thin in the burning hot climate of the Carroveld where, at times, not a drop of rain falls for months. Nevertheless, the Khoi who transverse these plains assuage their thirsts with a magical plant called ku or kambro, which has a large and succulent root.”


The Karoo was in the grips of a terrible drought in the November 1903, when T Silver attempted to drive through the area. This decision cost him dearly. He tells of his experiences in The Veld and African Pictorial, of November 1903. “The sun-baked Karoo lay before me, an illimitable panorama of rocky boulders, stunted bushes, waterless river beds and sand, sand, sand! Stone and sand, sand and stone – nothing else. Only the hum of beetles broke the deadly monotony. In this dreary, dancing, palpitating heat if was difficult to find the right track. All too soon darkness fell. My petrol ran out, and I was exhausted. There was nothing for it, I was forced to sleep beside the machine. The night became bitterly cold. I had no water; my tongue was parched, and my lips cracked. As soon as daylight came, I decided to walk to Prince Albert. It was a dreary, wearing, 15-mile (24 km) trudge.” A day’s rest was badly needed, but with the tanks refilled, he decided to push on. Still good luck was not with him. All too soon he ran into a blinding dust storm. He tried to grope his way through it to Victoria West, but the task was too daunting, he did not manage. Staying on the road was virtually impossible. A patrolling policeman found him lying prostrate beside his car. The policeman had to use brandy to revive him. Fortunately, he was also able to offer Silver a little nourishment and food. Then, patched up, “with mouth, lips and ears covered in ghastly-looking sores, boots worn through and feet badly blistered”, Silver eventually reached the Modder River.


Vast distances in the hinterland often prohibited people from arranging or attending funerals. At times this task had to be left to strangers. Such was the case when John Ford, 46, and his son, Edward, 14, drowned. John, a highly respected man, came to South Africa with the 1820 settlers and settled in the Eastern Cape Karoo area where he spent 20 happy years. Then disaster struck. A flash flood swept John and Edward away. Both drowned. Their relations thanked “the men of the Amaponda Country for securing their bodies and for ensuring that they were given a proper Christian burial,” in a letter published in The Grahamstown Journal of February 19, 1847. “We appreciate the kindness of these people,” they wrote. “We beg they will accept our sincere thanks for the melancholy satisfaction they have afforded us by their kind and arduous exertions in paying to our loved ones a last tribute of respect.” Ford left a widow and eight other children.


Arena Josias (Harry) De Kock, known to most as Oom Harry, was widely respected as an officer and a gentleman. A bridge builder in more ways than one, he served in the commandos during the Anglo-Boer War and was praised for his bravery, says Dr H O Terblanche of the University of Port Elizabeth who researched his story. Harry quite literally built bridges in the city and hinterland. He was also a respected “bridge builder” in the Afrikaans community, in respect of commerce and culture, as well as between English and the Afrikaans speaking people and other communities. The son of Maximilian de Kock, a Free State trader and farmer, Harry was born at Kroonstad on September l, 1863. After school he worked in several businesses and eventually, he set up his own in Frankfort. There, one day he lost his heart to the town’s new teacher, Helena Gertruida Lategan, one of the first graduates from Dr Andrew Murray’s Huguenot Seminary at Wellington. She had initially worked in Cradock, in the Karoo before accepting the Frankfort post. From Harry’s point of view, it was love at first sight but, even as a self-made man, he was too scared to even speak to such a “well educated woman.” He told his Ouma Elsje of his dilemma and she warned: “Faint heart never won a fair lady”. He plucked up courage, asked Gertruida out, and “as soon as was decently possible” proposed. She accepted and they were married in 1887. This lasted for 50 years.


Harry de Kock joined the Frankfort Commando soon after the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War. He distinguished himself as a soldier. During the war his house was burned down and he lost all his possessions. Gertie and their children spent three years in a concentration camp. Yet, after the war Harry served in the Repatriation Council. A few years later was appointed to manage a trading company in Cradock. Under his guidance it became one of the most prosperous organizations in the Eastern Cape Karoo area. Harry was highly respected in business circles and in 1920 a deputation approached him to become the managing director of the newly founded Boere Saamwerk Beperk (BSB) a farmers’ wool and produce broker’s organization in Port Elizabeth. He accepted and held this post from 1921 until he died in 1937. BSB became the largest organizations of its kind in South Africa. As a mark of respect, the Free State flag was draped over Harry’s coffin at his funeral, one of the biggest ever seen in the area. There were over 300 cars in the cortege. Gertie died in 1946 in the age of 85 years. They had five children. Their eldest son, Maximilian Ferguson, a well-known attorney in Cradock, also became the mayor of the town.


The entire Cape and Karoo were threatened with disaster when an epidemic of smallpox broke out, in the middle of 1882, writes Brian Roberts in Kimberley Turbulent City. (There had been outbreaks of smallpox in the Colony in 1713 and in 1755) This epidemic, which originated from a visiting steamship, the Drummond Castle, spread quickly throughout the Cape. Within weeks cases were being reported from Worcester and from as far afield as the railway camp at Victoria West

Failure is success if we learn from it.
By the time we’ve made it, we’ve had it.
The dumbest people are those who know it all.
The purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one.

Said by Malcolm Forbes, a world’s most famous businessmen, who lived a lavish, flamboyant lifestyle, and had a private jet named “Capitalist Tool”.