Well-known ornithologist, Richard Dean, is writing a book on the bird collectors in southern Africa. Part of the story includes information on the military men who collected birds. The army section includes information on the two men who helped Colonel Sloggett collect material around the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein during the Anglo-Boer War. Richard is now searching for photographs of the vulture colony at Nelspoort – it was one of the largest in the Karoo. Richard says: “The colony became extinct in the early 1900s.” There was also a huge vulture colony at Gamkaspoort, near Prince Albert, he says.


Some say that the first people to see South Africa’s indigenous blue crane thought it looked like an angel. The story goes that this led German zoologist and theologian Anton August Heinrich Lichtenstein to name the bird Anthropoides paradiseus (the Latin word for paradise). Today South Africa’s national bird, the blue crane, also known as the Paradise or Stanley crane, is threatened and listed as vulnerable by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). Across the country people and organisations constantly fight for its protection and preservation. Grahame Lindop, chairman of the Nama Karoo Foundation, recently paid tribute to all who made Phase II of the Eskom High Karoo Blue Crane Project such a success. Among them were Andrea van Gensen, from Kimberley, Bloemfontein’s Gerrie van Schalkwyk, and Chris Marais’s team in Colesberg. Thanks to their efforts the lethal power line, which had a devastating impact on crane populations in the area, is now gone.


Cranes play a significant role in many cultures across the world. Their great beauty, imposing size and the fact that they are the largest of all flying birds on earth has led to them being considered near-sacred in many lands. They figure as sentinels of heaven, omens of longevity and icons of good fortune in some countries. In Japan, the crane, together with the dragon and tortoise, is considered a mystical, holy creature. According to an ancient Japanese legend, you only have to fold a paper crane to be granted a wish. In South Africa the blue crane features in /Xam, Zulu and Xhosa cultures. Only significantly special Zulus may wear crane feathers. The Xhosa call the blue crane indwe and men, who distinguished themselves in some way, were decorated by a chief with blue crane feathers in a ceremony called ukundzabela. These men, known as men of ugaba, wore the feathers in their hair and would reinstate peace and order if trouble arose. In /Xam mythology the blue crane was the sister of the mantis and as such related to his wife, the dassie, their son !kwammang, an aspect of the rainbow, their adopted daughter, the porcupine and their grandson, the mongoose. Mythological \Xam stories suggest that the blue crane has lived in the Karoo for a very long time, states Neil Rusch in the Nama Karoo Winter Newsletter. Local blue crane populations have declined due to loss of habitat, poisoning and power-line collision. Recently a malicious campaign aimed at exterminating the Sneeuberg’s mega blue crane flock was foiled by the Nama Karoo Foundation. This flock, the largest in the world, has been protected for generations by the people of Richmond, Murraysburg, De Aar, Philipstown, Colesberg, Hanover, Middelburg, Nieu Bethesda and Graaff-Reinet.


Peter Matthiessen journeyed across the world in search of cranes. He details this pilgrimage The Birds of Heaven, He travelled the vast taiga of Siberia’s Amur Basin and the Mongolian Steppe to India, Bhutan, China, Japan, Korea, Australia, Africa, western Europe and through the United States, visiting Wisconsin, Nebraska, the Gulf Coast, and Florida, accompanied by passionate ornithologists and “craniacs,” as well as Mongolian nomads and Gujarati nawabs to study crane’s struggles for survival in a developing world.


Members of the Vernacular Architecture Society were recently treated to a discussion of research into 18th and 19th century Karoo archaeological structures left by Khoe and San pastoralists, hunter-gatherers and trekboers (migrant) farmers. The talk included fascinating information on Khoesan and Khoe camps, trekboer kraal systems, rock engravings and vernacular architecture. The central theme tracked Khoesan cultural change through the 19th into the 20th century and corrected the perception that colonial marginalisation of Khoesan people within the rural farm economy completely obliterated their cultural practice. The speakers, Simon Hall, Associate Professor in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cape Town and Vuyiswa Lupuwana, an MPhil student in the Department, said their research highlighted the archaeological contribution of the Khoesan to this landscape and recognised their cultural continuity. There was also a discussion of recently recorded rock engravings of domestic architecture on the farm Grootfontein, in the Kareeberg near Williston. As far as is known these are the first engravings of their kind to be found. The engravings and their physical setting were discussed together with speculation of their origins. Researchers said they were seeking confirmation of the identity of these engravings, as well as information on their features, chronology and distribution. Simon’s historical archaeology fieldwork in focuses on the Karoo and the Tswana-speaking farmer communities north of the Gariep.


Freshford House, the magnificent historic home, which is part of the National Museum in, Bloemfontein, has a sad link with Oudtshoorn. The house, which transports visitors back to the late 1800s, was built by architect John Edwin Harrison, who lived there with his wife, Kate Caroline Marchant, from 1897-1908. She came from Freshford, in Somersetshire, England, hence the name of their residence. Kate was the niece of the Reverend Alfred Morris of Oudtshoorn and, shortly after the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War, the couple visited him for a short holiday. Their first child, Alice Julia, barely a year old at the time, took ill during this visit and died. She was buried in Oudtshoorn in November 1899.


The Fernkloof Trail Run, sponsored by Rush Bars and Dischem, is scheduled for June 18. Two options are available to runners -a beautiful 16km route and or 7km sector. Both have been specifically tailored for the event and feature flat sections, steep climbs with great views, as well as leafy afforested areas. There are also challenging technical sections. The route starts at Fernkloof Wine farm on the R407 between Prince Albert and Klaarstroom, at 09h00. Entry fees for the 16km run is R270 (R180 for under-18s) and R 250 for the 7km section. All entrants will receive a goodiebag, the first 150 will receive tee-shirts and entrants over-18 will be given wine. All finishers will receive medals.


Many tourists stop to admire the wonderboom: (wonder tree) on the outskirts of Willowmore. This “needle and thread” tree and its companion are considered a freak of nature. The wonderboom is in fact two small shrub trees – a Ghwarrie or Euclea undulta and a Shepard’s Tree or Boscia Oleolides. They grow so close together that they appear to be a single tree. The Shepard’s Tree is , however, really interesting. It has three stems, two of which have “joined” to form an “eye of a needle”. The third has twined itself through the “eye”, forming the “thread” and wonderfully creating a threaded needle effect. This wonderboom was discovered early in 1906 when the road was made between Willowmore and Aberdeen. It was only when the road was tarred in 1961, however, that it received more attention and was acknowledged as a wonder of nature. The tree is about 10km from Willowmore on the (N9) road to Aberdeen.


The Cape and Natal News of January 31, 1859, reported good property sales. “Sales are favourable across the country,” wrote a reporter. “Farms originally sold “for a song”, are now fetching considerable prices owing to the subsidence of the smallpox and because communication with the country districts is again free and open. The economy is generally improving, and all business has received a considerable stimulus.”


“The third year of the South African war will commence next week, and the nation is becoming decidedly impatient at the delay in bringing it to a successful conclusion,” stated the October 19, 1901, issue of The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser. “There is no desire to minimise the almost unprecedented difficulties faced by the troops. The area of operations is enormous, much of it is mountainous and rugged. Roads are bad and everywhere food is scarce. These conditions suit irregulars much better than European troops, yet admitting all these difficulties, does not account for the unnecessary prolongation of the campaign. The real causes lie with ourselves. The Government has been given carte blanche to draw upon the unlimited resources of a mighty Empire, and the energies of a great nation. Had they done so to an adequate extent, it is inconceivable that ere this the dogged resistance of a few thousand peasant farmers could not have been broken. The miscalculations and terrible blunders which cost the Empire such a fearful price at the beginning of the war are still repeated, and the old incurable optimism still prevails.”


The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser continued its criticism of the campaign. It stated that at the beginning of June Lord Kitchener had estimated the armed forces of the Boers at 13,000 men. Since then he had reported the death, capture or surrender of 5 000. “So, unless they have been reinforced, the Boers should now number only 8,000. Even these seem to be operating in bodies of considerable size, which is nil in our favour, and yet our army of 230 000 men, of whom, one-third are mounted, seem to be making little impression on them. It is a marvel to Englishmen to find that the bulk of our forces still largely acting on the defensive. We seem quite unable to utilise our overwhelming numerical superiority. Our Intelligence Department seems ever at fault, and our reinforcements almost invariably come up too late to be of any avail, even against a repulsed enemy. The whole conduct of the campaign has been a complete puzzle to Englishmen at home, and though patriotism has long restrained severe comment, the incessant blundering is beginning to weary even the most patient supporters of the Government. There is a strong suspicion that politics – and mistaken politics – are at the bottom of many of the mistakes of the war, stated the newspaper.


An Imperial Yeomanry soldier, Syd Critten, wrote to his family describing a train trip through the Karoo during the Anglo-Boer War. He stated that on March 18, 1900, they were given biscuits and grapes. Bully beef and coffee were later handed out at some of the stations. Each man was ordered to take only one shirt, one pair of trousers, one pair of socks, one pair of canvas slippers, a towel, soap, washing brush and shaving kit, which all had to be rolled up inside a greatcoat and strapped on their backs, along with one blanket and one waterproof sheet. Each man was given 100 rounds of ammunition. Entraining the horses took a long time, but eventually they were ready to go. Eight men were assigned to each six-bunk compartment, so they drew lots as to who had to sleep on the floor. This did not bother them because, “we had the good fortune to travel in carriages and not in coal trucks,” he wrote. “We saw little else but small hills and bare veldt, a town here and there, all along the line. We were able to buy plenty of very cheap fruit, which we enjoyed.


Syd’s company arrived at Naauwpoort at 12 noon, detrained and pitched their tents. “We had a look round to see what like a place it was. There is nothing but hills all round and a few houses about the station. There were plenty of troops, many of them sick and wounded and bound for the big base hospital which already had about 800 in it. Syd also mentioned seeing about twenty big strong Boer prisoners of war. They were kept in an area guarded day and night by soldiers. It was fenced off with barbed wire and had some corrugated iron structures. While Syd and his company were there they were sent out from time to time “to practice skirmishing” on the veld, he said. “We attacked a big hill, but of course that was no enemy” Towards the end of the month they were again rounded up and told they were going further north to become part of the war. Great excitement rippled through the camp as men looked forward to becoming part of the action.


Sylvester, the Karoo National Park’s renegade lion is reportedly happy in his new home at Addo National Park in the Eastern Cape. After causing havoc in the Beaufort West area SANParks hopes that this “escape artist” he will bond with the lioness and establish himself as the resident pride male. So do his “followers”.


The hardships of life in Scotland in the mid-1830s led to William Anslie’s decision to emigrate and join his brother- in-law, the poet, Thomas Pringle, in South Africa. William, his wife, Jessie, (Pringle’s sister), their three sons and two daughters, sailed from England on the Maria in May 1833. The ship was within sight of Algoa Bay when a severe storm drove it off course and it was ten days before passengers could land in Port Elizabeth in June. There was no one to meet William and his family and because there was also no railways or telegraph system to the hinterland at the time, it took some weeks before they managed to get news of their arrival to the Pringles. Once they succeeded wagons were immediately dispatched to bring them to the Bedford district, where Robert Pringle, Jessie’s father lived. The family had hardly settled when the 1835 Frontier War broke out and William found himself in the heart of frontier unrest. Fortunately, he lost no more than his cattle, which were swept off in a raid. During this war William met many soldiers and found that one of the products they missed most was beer, so when the war ended, he started a brewery on the Pringle farm Glen Thorn to cater to the needs of the thirsty men stationed at Fort Beaufort. There was a good and steady demand for the beers and ales he produced, but the 30-mile (48km) trip to the fort by ox-wagon was a great handicap, so William turned his hand to farming.


The Ainslies were a proud family that could trace its roots back across nineteen generations, states an article in In an item entitled Putting the Fun back into Genaelogy Becky Horne and Andrew Roger say that this family’s story begins with Sir John Ainslie in 1116 at Dolfynstown in Roxburghshire in Scotland and moves down the ages to William and his family. They had quite an adventurous life in South Africa after their arrival 1833. However, after William bought the undeveloped farm, Spring Grove, in 1839, built a house and planted crops their fortunes began to prosper. While farming proved to be a much better venture for the Ainslies, William’s war service was not yet over. At the outbreak of the War of the Axe in 1846 he and his elder sons joined the burgher forces mustering at Fort Hare and Fort Beaufort. They rode with commandos from Graaff-Reinet, Somerset, Cradock, Colesberg and other districts and, in mid-June, as part of a strong force under Sir Andries Stockenstrom, helped clear the enemy from the Amatola Mountains. When the force reached Klipplaat, it was disbanded. For William and his family there was never a dull moment on the frontier. They were constantly on the outlook for marauders and, from time to time, were involved in fierce fighting. In one skirmish, William was wounded in the groin, and on another occasion, his brother Robert was shot through the foot. With his neighbours William patrolled the area from Blinkwater to Knoonap and the Waterkloof, in search of stolen stock. He had several narrow escapes and often found Scotland was but a distant memory.


The Cape Frontier Times reported a “dreadful occurrence” on March 3, 1843. From Beaufort West the clerk of the peace wrote: “It is my painful task to communicate particulars of a horrid deed of self-destruction, which took place here this evening at twilight, by an inhabitant, in his dwelling and which, no doubt, will hereafter be proved to have been hastened by fear, excessive agony of mind, and remorse of conscience.” It seems that the man, Jan Wilters had previously “most cruelly beaten and dreadfully ill-used a woman who was living with him, and that she had not since been seen, nor had any satisfactory account been given of her”. People were kept in the dark about this matter, but on hearing of it, the clerk of peace lost no time in enquiring about the assault and possible murder. A warrant was issued for Wilters’s arrest and a senior constable was dispatched with two assistants to apprehend him. As they approached Wilters’s house they saw him sitting on the stoep. However, when he saw them, he rose and went into the house. By the time they arrived his daughter told them her that her father was not at home. Because Wilters was a powerful man and because the constable feared his might violently resist arrest – even perhaps with firearms – he left his two assistants to guard the house while he went in search of further assistance. Shortly after this a gunshot was heard and when the window was forced, Wilters was found lifeless, stretched out on his back on the floor of the room. A gun lay next to him. The district surgeon was summoned and on arrival declared Wilters was dead. No trace of the woman had yet been found, said the newspaper. Wilters, who worked an agriculturalist in this district, was in fair circumstances. He was survived by five children, four girls and one boy.

Television is like the American toaster, you push the button and the same thing pops up every time. – Alfred Hitchcock

He also said: “Television has brought murder back into the home – where it belongs” and “Television is like indoor plumbing. It didn’t change people’s habits. It just kept them inside the house.”