The beautiful bridges of the Eastern Cape intrigue many tourists and photographers. Their creation is closely linked to the life of British civil engineer, Joseph Newey, who was responsible for the erection of nine stone arch bridges and about 70 iron lattice, girder and timber bridges in the last quarter of the 19th century. The full story behind the construction of these magnificent bridges is told in Bridging the Eastern Cape – The Life and Work of Joseph Newey, a beautifully illustrated, 134-page coffee table-type book, was written by King Williams Town-born Dennis Walters, an experienced, registered professional, who has a private consulting, civil and structural engineering practice in East London. His aim was to create a book to fill a gap in the historical record of civil engineering in South Africa and help to preserve this sector’s national heritage. Among the 270 illustrations are monochrome and colour pictures from private collections, photographs, paintings, drawings, plans and portraits of people involved in the construction of the old bridges. The book includes a map to help visitors locate each bridge. This A4, landscape, hard-cover book with dustcover, printed by Coral Tree Press, costs R400 plus R50 for postage.


Joseph Newey, the man who designed and built most of the beautiful Eastern Cape and Transkei bridges was born on December 15, 1846, at Dudley, Worcestershire, England. After leaving school he gained considerable experience working under his father who built railway and other bridges in England and on the Continent. In 1872 Joseph came to South Africa from West Bromwich, to erect two iron lattice girder bridges at King William’s Town and Committees Drift for the Cape Colony’s Public Works Department. He stayed for 32 years and became a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers. He was elected as an associate member of the Institute on May 6, 1879, and a full member on November 9, 1891. His link with the Eastern Cape bridges is mostly forgotten. Many were demolished as they were built to carry ox-wagons and the horse-drawn carts of the pioneering era. Later, the coming of the motor car made his single lane bridges redundant. Among his best-known bridges are the stone arch bridges at Cala, Barkly East, Ugie, Maclear, Aliwal North and Lady Grey. The devastating flood of December 1874 totally destroyed six bridges and damaged many others. However, as Joseph was the PWD man on the spot, he was given the job of repairing them. While he was working on the construction of the iron lattice girder bridge over the Great Kei River in 1877, the Gaika Rebellion (9th Frontier War) broke out, and Joseph had to flee for his life to fortified Komga.


During the tumultuous times of the Eastern Cape Frontier Wars Joseph Newey showed great courage. He carried out much engineering work which facilitated military movements. His intimate knowledge of the country and resources were of great value to men like General Gordon. In 1881 he was appointed district inspector of Public Works and in addition to engineering work, he was entrusted with location selection and the layout of townships, and also given the control of several architectural projects. Joseph was appointed district inspector of the PWD at King William’s Town in 1882, entrusted with the survey and construction of many main trunk line roads in the Colony and Transkei. All public buildings in the area were then also added to his portfolio. In 1893 he was promoted to the position of chief inspector of Public Works (the title then given to the chief Colonial engineer) and placed in charge of all government engineering and architectural projects throughout the Cape Colony (with the exception of railway works). He served in this capacity until the end of June 1905, when he retired, due to ill health, brought on by exhaustion and a bad heart. The Anglo-Boer War occurred during his term of office, and his wide experience was once again of great assistance to military authorities. Joseph also served as a Justice of the Peace for the Cape Colony, and a Fellow of the Imperial Institute. After he retired Joseph moved to his farm at Kei Road and died there on January 9, 1907.


The Friends of the War Museum in Bloemfontein is organising a tour to the Western Free State from September 20 to 24. It kicks off at 18:00 on September 20 with a meal at the museum followed by a talk on General C C Badenhorst’s role in the war. Next morning the tour departs to visit interesting sites as Doornhoek, Dealsville, and Tweefontein, Boshof, as well as the site where George Henri Anne-Marie Victor Count de Villebois-Mareuil (known as George) was killed on April 5, 1900. They will also visit the cemetery, church, monument and hospital in Boshof as well as Kotie Steenkamp’s grave at Leeufontein. The group will overnight at Makulu Lodge near Boshof where a talk will be given on the life of De Villebois-Mareuil, a French infantry colonel who fought on the side of the Boers and who was the first of only two foreign volunteers to be given the rank of Major-General in the armed forces of the Boer Republics. (The other was his second in command Evgeni Maximov). Next day group will visit the graves of Commandants Jacobs and Erasmus at Rietfontein; then go to Slypkliphalt and Magersfontein, and, on Sunday, to Hartbeesfontein, Du Plessis Dam and Leeuwplaat in Hertzogville, and to Hoopstad to see the graves of some “joiners”. They will overnight at Clearwater. Finally, there are visits to Bultfontein, Hartenbosch and Hammersfontein. Costs are R3 600 per person. A deposit of R2 500 is payable by June 15.


“Oh, my poor Billy!” According to family members Phoebe Townsend uttered on hearing her eldest son, William Isaac, had contracted typhoid and been rushed to the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital (IYH) at Deelfontein in the Karoo. William had enlisted soon after the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War and, as Sapper 1684 in The Royal Engineers 45th (Fortress) Company, had sailed for South Africa to fight the Boers. Phoebe had heard that the IYH was the largest surgical and convalescent hospital set up by the British Army in South Africa, and so she was sure Billy would be afforded the best possible treatment, and soon recover. But this was not to be. Hot on the heels of the news of his hospitalization came a telegram saying he had died on January 23, 1901 and been buried in the faraway Karoo. Phoebe was heartbroken and she had no idea even where this place was. The news of William’s death simply added to her grief as it was so close to the anniversary of her husband’s death. Phoebe, the daughter of Isaac Day, a farmer and landlord of The Chequers, a pub at Harwell, had married William Henry Townsend, a blacksmith, on May 12, 1875. He died on January 5, 1890. His arm became gangrenous after he was kicked by a horse and it had to be amputated, but this did not save his life. William and Phoebe, who also ran a little pub called The Catherine Wheel, had seven children, say historic researchers Jillian and Rhys Hedges, who live in England and who have just completed a book on the family. Their children were Emma (born 1876), and named for her maternal grandmother, William Isaac, (1877) and named for his maternal grandfather, Richard, (1880), Bertram Day, (1882) who was given his mother’s maiden name, Bertha Fanny, (1883), John Edwin, (1886), and Phoebe Susannah, (1888). William Isaac and Richard were apprenticed to an engineering pattern maker in Dorchester at the age of 17 and 14, respectively. This meant they had to walk eight miles to and from work each day. William’s apprenticeship stood him in good stead when he volunteered for service. He had not been in South Africa for long before he contracted typhoid in the De Aar/Richmond area and was sent to the IYH. William’s grave is in the main cemetery at Deelfontein and a Guild Cross marks the spot.


One of William Isaac Townsend’s last letters was written to his sister, Bertha Fanny. He wrote: “My dear Fan, I suppose Xmas is over by now and all the good things devoured. Hope you all enjoyed yourselves. We did out here as well as we were able. It was so hot and there was plenty of hard graft.” He mentioned the Boers had an engine at Ottoshoop, and that the Engineers had been asked “to pull it away on New Year’s Eve, however, heavy rain had prevented this, and the Boers had managed to take possession of the engine. “We are expecting an attack here every day. We are having such a lot of rain at night now. Woke up these last two mornings with the water running under our bodies. Hope it will be fine tonight.” Covering family business, he states: “You said there was a row the other week and that C Osborne was going to strike mother. Please tell me of all such things, but first fetch the poker and hit him across the head as hard as you can. Tell them from me, I’ll have a go at them when I get home. By gad I won’t forget the curs, if I am here for a year or two more and I’ll inform Dick when he comes home. I am used to rough and tumble now. I must say ‘goodbye’ hoping this will find you and all the others quite well.” Sadly, he never made it back to England.


Storms and measles played an oddly significant role in the life of Kotie Retief. He was the grandfather of Helen Duigan and on Facebook recently she paid tribute to him mentioning that while he came from came from the “Kolonie” he decided to fight on the side of the Boers in the Anglo-Boer War. However, the Cape was under British rule, so when he was caught, he was sentenced to death as a traitor. He was put on ship to Port Elizabeth, where he was to be executed, a storm forced the ship had to continue to Cape Town. There he was to be put ashore, but almost immediately sent back to Port Elizabeth. However, once he got there, an outbreak of measles meant he had to be sent to St Helena, where he was often asked to translate documents for the Governor. When peace was declared and the prisoners of war were returned to South Africa, Kotie was sent to Pretoria for decommissioning. On the way he decided he had had enough, so he jumped off the train and walked back to his hometown, Graaff-Reinet, where he lived happily as the patriarch of a family with many descendants. “In an odd way the family owes its thanks to storms and measles,” says Helen


Karoo enthusiast, Brian Benningfield recently received a note, written in February 2016, by the then 92-year old Blanche Church (nee Hoggan), who was born in Touws River. She remembered her beloved Karoo writing: “Let me cast my eyes across the brown arid veld stretching to the horizon like a wide leather belt. I smell the scent of wild herbs covering the dry dusty land. Prickly pear and chincherinchee vie for the attention of the midday sun as it scorches the already dry earth. I listen to the windpump slowly sucking up whatever water there might be underground. Heading towards the railway station I hear the chugging of an old steam train as she makes her way on the three-foot metal line while spewing clear white smoke from her metal funnel. Her high-pitched whistle echoes as it reaches the blue mountains in the far distance. The engineer and his fireman are never too tired to wave a welcoming hand from their much-loved train. A solitary farmhouse with its single chimney indicates a loving family is gathered together in a cosy kitchen. There is laughter as little brown bodies hop, skip and jump, in the midday sun. Mother hen and her batch of newly hatched chicks scratch the good earth in search of food, while a tired dog manages a bark or two as a warning to ‘keep your distance or suffer the consequences’. As I extend my gaze it seems I am viewing Eden for that is how I view my beloved Karoo.” She concluded that it calmed her restless soul, made her more aware of nature and its glorious contribution to the beauty of the Karoo.


Way back in 1926 Blanche Church’s family lived next door to Brian’s father, Alfred Benningfield, in Woodstock in the Cape. Alfred was about five years older than Blanche. In later years he joined the South African Railways and, as luck would have it, ended up being the fireman to Blanche’s dad David Hoggan, who was an engineer. The article sent to Brian contained a photograph of the engine which David and Alfred drove. Brian was delighted to receive this little memoir and he visited Blanche at her home in Wellington about two months ago. “I was amazed at how she was still able to remember her past in the greatest detail. She was particularly good at remembering names, dates and place names!” said Brian.


Members of the Grahamstown Total Abstinence Society met to drink tea together in the new Wesleyan school room, on the evening of Friday, May 21, 1841. It was an enjoyable social event and when the tea apparatus was removed, Thomas Nelson was called to the chair, so that the business of the meeting could commence, reported the Cape Frontier Times of May 26. The “numerous and respectable” assembly, was addressed by the Chairman, as well as by Mr R Gush, Rev Locke, Mr Hewitson, who had only recently arrived in the Colony, Mr W Smith, Mr N Smit and Mr Tudhope, who afterwards signed the total abstinence pledge. Rev Shaw then rose to refute a statement, in Mr Wesley’s journal, which alluded to him as being “nine-tenths a Quaker, and one-tenth a Methodist”. Rev Shaw firmly stated that he was nine-tenths a teetotaler, and that the remaining tenth belonged to temperance. He added that it was not impossible that the fractional part adhering to temperance might eventually be absorbed by the teetotal portion of his composition. The newspaper approved Rev Shaw’s standpoint stating: “Though not teetotalers ourselves, even in the ninth degree, we feel that the discussion of this question is productive of good. We firmly believe that those who bring this matter to the public eye are well entitled to the thanks and countenance of the friends of temperance.”


William Gill, founder and benefactor of Gill College, Somerset East, was born in 1792. His family lived in the village of Market Harborough, in Leistershire, England, where his father was a clergyman. William grew up in this lovely area, where he got to know and appreciate the plants and natural wonders of the countryside. At school he was an achiever, a studious and popular boy. He always excelled at whatever he did. In 1810, at the age of 18, he was indentured so serve a five-year apprenticeship in medicine with a Dr Thomas Peck, in Wellingborough, Northampton. His industriousness and willingness to learn greatly impressed Dr Peck, who encouraged him to go to Glasgow University to continue his medical studies. William did just that and in later life said that this was the happiest time of his life. He had such fond memories of Glasgow and its university that, when he endowed Gill College, he asked for it to be modelled on Glasgow University.


On completing his studies, William took a “gap year” and toured through France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany, pursuing his interest in botany. This journey gave him a taste for travel, so he decided to come to go to South Africa. He arrived in 1822 and set himself up as a surgeon and apothecary. His first practice was in Caledon. He later went to Malmesbury in the Swartland, where his practice thrived. This allowed him to finance a trip into the interior, to collect botanical specimens. For this he purchased a wagon, supplies, firearms, and hired two locals to accompany him. Soon after he crossed the Orange River tragedy struck. A container of gunpowder blew up and destroyed most of his possessions. Disheartened, he returned to Cape Town and made plans to return to England, but before these plans were finalised two friends, Rev Thom and Dr James Barry, convinced him to apply for the position of district surgeon in the newly established village of Somerset East. His application was successful, and he moved there to replace a Doctor Jonge, of whom it was said “his want of self-control secured his dismissal.”


William Gill arrived at his new home to find a raw, sprawling village with about 70 houses. He was fascinated by the vast number of botanical specimens the Boschberg area. He soon settled, made many friends and became firmly entrenched in local community life. With two of his new friends, George Morgan and Philip Marillier, the local magistrate, he started the Somerset Reading Society, which in time became the public library. He also served on a committee tasked with establishing and running a public school. His professional and social life, coupled to his interest in botany, kept him so busy that he never married. His housekeeper and cook, Leah McMaster Kandaas, and a manservant, Job, took care of him. Because of the economic state of the district his practice was not very lucrative. However, he did make money from a farm he owned in the Cookhouse district. He lived sparingly yet was generous towards those in need. William spent almost 40 years in Somerset East before ill health struck, He suffered from oedema and was confined to a couch. In the end he was only able to gaze at the slopes of Boschberg. He died in 1863, at the age of 71, and was buried on his beloved mountain. In his will, he left £23 000 to set up and run an institution of higher learning. It was stipulated that the money was not to be used for buying or erecting buildings, so people of the district undertook to do this. The foundation stone was laid in 1867, a local committee was formed to run the school and seven local men were made trustees. Gill College was opened in 1869, six years after William’s death. In 1916, his remains were buried in front of the school – a fitting memorial for such a great man.


A young man named Foley died in Graaff-Reinet from small-pox on the last Saturday in May 1841. He was only buried on Monday as his friends insisted on holding a wake over his body. The Cape Frontier Times of June 2 reports that an application was made to the Magistrate on Sunday morning requesting that he be buried immediately. The Magistrate issued the necessary instructions, but these were ignored. The magistrate then directed the local Roman Catholic priest to perform a service at once as the deceased was a member of this church, yet “the friends” still refused to co-operate and did not give us Foley’s body until the next day. The newspaper considered their behavior to be “barbarous conduct” but was happy to report that “all those who were mixed up with these disgraceful proceedings were compelled to be quarantined at the small-pox hospital.” The newspaper reported the disease had spread to several other areas.

Learn to say ‘No’. It will be of more use to you than learning to read Latin – C H Spurgeon, 1867