On the 40th anniversary of Laingsburg’s severe and devastating flood (January 25, 1981) the town honoured those who died. A touchingly simple grave-like memorial was laid out in the shade of a tree at the Flood Museum. On it 104 small karoo stones, one for each resident who was lost, have been placed on it. Their names are simply written. Some stones also have a short message of remembrance. This museum was initiated by local resident and librarian, Francis van Wyk, who for many years has collected items relating to the flood and the town’s cultural history. The Wolfaardt Collection of Africana and memorabilia, once housed in the library, is also on display at this museum with some pre-historic fossils, items from the Great Trek and Anglo-Boer War. “If anyone would like to show their respect by adding a message this can be done by collecting a small stone at the Tourist office, in the same complex, and placing it on the memorial,” says Francis.


The Prince of Wales, who abdicated as King Edward VIII in December, 1936, visited South Africa in 1925. His visit was a grand affair with large welcomes across the country. All major and tiny towns were extravagantly decorated from April 30 to July 29, But one royal reporter stated: “He did not come to dance, jazz, play polo or bridge, nor to halloo to the Karoo out of the window of his train, He was there to perform a serious duty.” The Prince’s main mission was to effect a reconciliation between English and Afrikaans-speaking South Africans and to persuade both of the benefits of keeping South Africa in the Empire. The Prince is said to have managed to soften anti-British prejudices and to boost English morale, states Hilary Sapire – www.researchgate.net. The Prince was one of five representatives of the British crown who visited South Africa between 1910 and 1943. Others included Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught – Queen Victoria’s third son – who came to open the first parliament of the newly formed Union in 1910. (He visited again in 1920 to open Chapman’s Peak Drive.) Another was Princess Alice – a granddaughter of Queen Victoria – and her husband, Alexander Cambridge, the 1st Earl of Athlone and 4th Governor General of South Africa (1924 – 1930). Princess Alice visited South Africa six times before her death at the age of 98 in 1981. On her last visit she was 89. She travelled widely and wrote about her trips Then followed the 1947 Royal Visit of King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Princesses. Elizabeth (currently Queen Elizabeth II) and Princess Margaret. Despite a busy programme they managed to visit many tiny Karoo places along the rail. Kendrew was one. There they overnighted at a specially constructed side line, named Koningsrus. This was the first visit to a dominion by the sovereign after WWII and the first by the entire British royal family to any dominion. Karoo towns were honoured. Much time was spent teaching young girls to curtsey and present flowers.


When Ancestry 24 closed its doors five years ago and ended a nine year run of saving South African heritage, Heather Woodland MacAlister set up Ancestors South Africa. Over the years this little one-man business has helped countless people trace various branches of their families. Her clients range from “the man next door” through countries across the world to some international news stations. These include New York, Australia, the BBC “Who do you think you are?”, Heir Hunters UK, Ireland and Scotland, Heather has now extended the Ancestors’s service by creating a new open forum for anyone to use. It will work like the classified sections of the old newspapers which announced births, marriages and deaths as well as “seeking” people ads. “The forum will help people searching for ancestors, friends and family as well as those building family trees. They can now post their own announcements. For decades classifieds and domestic adverts have been a rich source of information,” said Heather. Visit https://www.ancestors.co.za/database/forums/portal.php


When Reverend William Homan Turpin, from Tullamore, in Ireland, arrived in South Africa in 1857, little did he know he would have a son who would put a Karoo town on the map. Reverend Turpin, himself. However, was a dynamic man. In 1860, he founded St Philip’s “red brick” church in Grahamstown. He was very popular and much-loved by his congregation who called him “Fikizolo”. The reason for this is quite delightful. The congregation had been promised a priest from England for a very long time, so, when Reverend Turpin, eventually arrived a welcome ceremony was arranged. He was asked to say a few words, however, he knew no Xhosa, so he was told to say “Ndifik’ izolo” (“I just arrived yesterday”). Months later he was still saying “Ndifik’ izolo” because he thought it was as greeting. Reverend Turpin started as school at his home. It was informally known name of “eTshetshi” school (church school). It did so well that it was formally constituted in 1886. When he died in 1920, the name of the school was changed to Fikizolo School to honour him. It bears that name to this day.


Reverend Turpin married Elizabeth, the daughter of William Gray, an 1820 settler, who had come out on the Chapman. Their eldest son, William Conyngham, was born in an ox wagon on the way to Grahamstown on July, 10, 1960. After qualifying as a pharmacist William moved to Middelburg, where he founded the Karroo Apteek (a chemist) in attractive shop in the centre of the main business district. He soon started manufacturing his own specific products in a small laboratory and one of these placed the town firmly on the centre stage of the cosmetics world. William developed a skin lightener and it was a winner. In 1933 William added an extra “r” to the name of the region to identify his product range. In addition to the skin lightener, known as Karroo Freckle and Complexion Cream, he made Karroo Matt Cream, Karroo Foot Powder, Karroo Heel Balm and Snellerin, an analgesic pain killer as well as remedies for colic and diarrhoea.


William very quickly became the largest manufacturer of skin lighteners in Africa. This product promised to remove blemishes, and leave a “clear complexion”. It was widely advertised. The advertisement featured a blonde woman admiring her face in a compact mirror and it explained that the cream came in three strengths – mild, medium, and strong. It cost four shillings a pot. This advertisement coupled to the extremely hot, and sunny Karoo weather, suggest that the skin lightener was developed with white consumers in mind, but it rapidly migrated across racial divides. The business prospered to such an extent that William acquired local investment from ten farmers who were all given shares in the company. William used this extra financial backing to broaden his product base, register his trademark and KA Laboratories.


The cream contained mercury. Pharmaceutical handbooks and journals of the day warned this “might be bad”. However, at the same time they described mercury creams and ointments as effective treatments for skin infections and hyperpigmentation. They did, however, add that such products should be produced using a medical doctor’s prescription or formula. William must have obtained his recipe from such a source. By 1943, demand for his products had become so great that he had to move production from the pharmacy to a newly-built factory. There he manufactured a range of other cosmetic and medicinal products. Most factory workers said that they always knew that Karroo Freckle and Complexion Cream contained mercury. They also recalled truckloads leaving the factory each week for distribution across the country and for destinations in the rest of Africa. The company was in time taken over by the KwaZulu-Natal-based Rolfe Laboratories,


In 1940 William, a deeply religious man, arranged for a sanctuary, vestry and chancel to be added to St Barnabas Anglican church in memory of those who fell in WWI. He married Middelburg-born Maria Madeleine du Toit. They had four sons. Their youngest son, Ferdinand Worthington Turpin, took over the business in the 1930s. Ferdinand married Ivy Thelma, (née Stümke). One of their children Colin Conyngham Turpin, who was born in Middelburg in June, 1928, became an academic at Cambridge University. Colin was a leading authority on Constitutional Law, but he served the Faculty in many ways and edited the Law Journal. His work was said to be original, luminous, precise, closely researched and displaying wide vision. His enthusiasm for teaching was so great he only stopped supervising in Constitutional Law at the age of 80.


Joshua Abraham Norton, who spent much of his early life in South Africa, declared himself Emperor of the United States in 1859. In 1863 he added Protector of Mexico to his title. He had a whimsical 21-year “reign” over America. Joshua was about two years old when he came to South Africa with his parents and brother as part of Thomas Willson’s party of 1820 settlers on the La Belle Alliance. His parents, John and Sarah were Jewish and both 25 years old. His father was a farmer. Joshua’s left for San Francisco after his mother died in 1846 and his father in 1848. He had about $40,000 in his pocket from his father’s estate. Through some good business deals he turned that into $250,000 but lost this fortune after investing in Peruvian rice. He then also lost a court case trying to void his contract. He filed for bankruptcy and by 1858 was living in reduced circumstances at a working-class boarding house.


Totally distressed by what he considered the inadequacies of the legal and political situation in the States, Joshua on September 17, 1859, he took matters into his own hands and declared himself Norton 1, Emperor of the USA. He sent notices to all newspapers announcing this. He then acquired an elaborate blue uniform with gold epaulettes, a beaver hat decorated with a peacock feather and a rosette. He enhanced his imperial uniform/costume by carrying a cane or umbrella. He issued his own currency from the Imperial Government of Norton. This was honoured. He sold souvenirs bearing his name. He adopted two stray dogs, named them Brummer and Lazarus and declared them celebrities. They, like he, ate at free lunch counters. Some considered Joshua eccentric, many thought him totally insane, but most citizens of San Francisco celebrated his imperial presence. He made many proclamations to churches and businesses. He ordered Congress to be dissolved by force. And he decreed that a bridge and tunnel should be built to connect San Francisco Bay to Oakland. Special officer Armand Barbier one day arrested him and tried to have him committed to an insane asylum, but police chief Patrick Cowley, intervened and immediately had him released with a formal apology. Cowley said he had shed no blood and done no harm. On January 8, 1880, Norton collapsed in the street and died before he could be given medical treatment. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, more than 10,000 people lined the streets to pay him homage on the day of his funeral.


On January 19, 1786, explorer, Colonel Robert Jacob Gordon, wrote of a south-easter that sprang up in the Prince Albert area. He also mentioned a brisk wind that rose and caused thundery weather to build up in the mountains. “It remained very hot. The thermometer steadily rose from 80 (26◦) through 87 (30◦) to 90 (32◦),” he said, Despite the strong wind his exhausted party outspanned and found a pool of delicious water even though the river was dry. “We saw fresh lion tracks here but observed nothing further except that the lions had drunk recently and had rolled in the wagon-road like horses.” Then, after about a three hours ride they come to Queekvallei, the home of the Widow De Beer, who was then married to Adam Raubenheimer. This farm, said Gordon, lay on the Swarterivier half-way to Gamka River. The farm was a “pleasant sight” for men who had been travelling for so long a time through dry, parched country. “We found everything in abundance,, delicious fruit, such as grapes, water-melons and peaches, he said.”


A south-easter that blew on January 22. 2021, in Prince Albert created a catastrophe, states local historian Ailsa Tudhope. It caused the fall of a carved lady. The wind was so strong that it blew down one of the carved ‘Burgers of Prince Albert‘ – carved trees in Church Street. These sculptures, were created about 14 years ago by Richard John Forbes to commemorate the De Beers, of Queekvallei, the farm on which the town was founded. The trees were planted by magistrate George Rainer, in 1879.


Protea has just launched some excellent books for Afrikaans bookworms. Among them are Ai Abraham, by Dr Abraham Luckoff. He grew up in Clanwilliam and Graaff-Reinet and he takes a light-hearted look at life on three continents as a dominee, diplomat and newsman. FA Venter’s Kambrokind, a poignant look into Karoo farm life – droughts, locusts and long trekpads with hungry sheep – has just been reprinted. Then there is 17 Maal Moord by Daniêl Lotter – a collection of well-known, gruesome murder South African cases, spanning more than a century. A paperback edition of Dr Michael Cluver’s Karoo Fossils was launched on January 30.


After the Anglo-Boer War farmers and veterinary surgeons across the Karoo strove to re-establish horses. Good Thoroughbred bloodstock was imported. Grootfontein College, which was established in 1911, outside of Middelburg, played a vital role. Among the first vets to work there were P J J Fourie, Schalk van Rensburg and Middelburg’s state vet E M Jarvis, who later went to De Aar. In 1949, state vet, C W A (Charles) Belonje, the first man in SA to report on reproduction in Thoroughbred mares, was stationed there. In 1958, he was honoured for his pioneering work on the fertility of these animals in harsh environmental conditions. Stud farms sprang up. Among these were Ralph Koster’s farm Klawervlei, on the Nuweveld Mountains, outside Beaufort West. Several Durban July winners were bred there. Henry Nourse, a dynamic man, who had run a profitable post coach business, made a fortune in mining and had a passion for horses, established Dwarsvlei, near Middelburg. At one stage it had 600 broodmares and was the largest farm of its kind in the world. Hendrik du Toit, an excellent stockman, managed it until well into his 80s. Tragedy struck Sandy van Breda’s Temple Farm, near Schoombee. The head groom maliciously poisoned the horses and the best Thoroughbred stallion, wrote C H B Marlow in A Brief History of Equine Private Practice in South Africa. By the time this was discovered he was long gone.


The first American Saddle horse, a black five-gaited stallion, Myer’s Kentucky Star, was imported into South Africa by Claude Orpen of Middelburg in 1916. It died within 18 months. He then imported Red Domino in 1920. In 1934, several more were imported by S P Fouche. This breed is honoured at the Horse Museum in Richmond. A registered society was established in 1949. Cape Town veterinary surgeon, George L Faull. took care of many Karoo Thoroughbred stud farms. Among his clients was Beaufort West’s Ralph Koster. George was recognised as a doyen among vets in South Africa. Jack C Boswell, a son of Jim, one of four brothers, from a well-known British circus family which came to South Africa, is regarded as the father of private veterinary equine practice in this country, states Marlow. After a Jockey Club sponsorship allowed him to spend a year in England he became recognised as SA’s top “racing veterinarian”. In 1948, G F J “Frik” van Rensburg became the first rural equine private practitioner in SA when he opened a general practice in Colesberg. Among the vets. who offered excellent service to breeders in the Karoo in the 1950s were Chris H van Niekerk, W A J “Willie, Dup”, du Plessis, (a born and bred Colesberger and second cousin to Van Rensburg), Tremayne Toms, Jean L du Plessis, J M John O’Grady, M A J Maurice Azzie, B De B “Brian” Baker. and C H B “Chris” Marlow. In 1958 Azzie obtained his pilot’s licence and served the Birch Bros in Dordrecht. Marlow, on the recommendation of Willie Dup purchased a Cradock practice, with enormous potential from Andries du Plessis. Jean du Plessis purchased Van Rensburg’s practice in Colesberg, Sadly, however, at the end of the 1950s there were only two private rural vets left in the Karoo –Marlow in Cradock Du Plessis in Colesberg. The latter sold his practise in 1960 to R C Robin Rous and moved to Dordrecht.


Yorkshire-born Arthur Waistell Hird, a draper’s assistant, born in 1870, came to South Africa around 1890 in search of work. He found a job with H J Ruddle and Company in Port Elizabeth. He was a soft-spoken, retiring, almost shy kind of man, popular with the customers and well liked in the community. He was deeply religious and also a member of the Sons of England, a patriotic, benevolent society which promoted English values in South Africa. After a while he moved to Queenstown where he met and married Emily Maria “Amy” Barker stated The Daily Representative of November 4, 1931. They had two children, Alfred, who in time became postmaster in Richmond, and Lorna, who became a teacher, Arthur opened his own business in Queenstown, but later moved to Kimberley where he joined an artillery regiment and fought in the Langeberg Rebellion of 1896-97. (This was a war waged by two Tswana groups – the Bathaping and the Batlharo – against British settlers in Griqualand West.) At the end of that campaign he relinquished his business and bought a farm near Queenstown. He then suddenly suffered a setback in health and was ordered to go to the coast. He moved to Mossel Bay and took a job with Kenner and Company. In 1927 he moved to Oudtshoorn. He was appointed manager of Sanders and Sons in George, but his problematic health did not allow him to keep it. He returned to Oudtshoorn and died on October 29, 1931.

Experience is a good teacher, but the fees are very high – William Ralph Inge