Richmond’s Third Anglo-Boer War Conference and Commemorative Weekend is scheduled to take place from May 29 to 31. Organisers have developed an interesting programme, featuring lectures by top speakers, outings to neighbouring towns, field trips to interesting places and walks through the village. These will cover a wide variety of aspects of the war. “This three-day event has been designed to provide a forum for enthusiasts to share information and knowledge, on this important sector of South African history, so a series of social events and free time for discussion has been included in the programme,” say the organiser John Donaldson.


The Boer-War weekend programme kicks off at 14h30 on Thursday, May 29, with a field trip to Deelfontein, the site of the old Imperial Yeomanry Hospital. This will be followed by a potjiekos dinner at 18h30. On Friday, after a Boere-breakfast, there will be a trip to the garden of remembrance and museum, led by Tokkie Pretorius and Johan van Zyl. Then Dr Jan van der Merwe will talk on Thomas Francois Burger, and Allen Duff will discuss Smuts’s ride through the Colony. In the afternoon there will be an outing to places of interest in Middelburg and Noupoort. Saturday morning will include a discussion of an Anglo-Boer War tourist route. This will be followed by talks on Emily Hobhouse, by Herman Binge, the effects of the War and the 1914 Rebellion, by Johan van Zyl, writing history, by Fransjohan Pretorius, and the “bittereinde” ministers, by Dr Arnold van Dyk. In the afternoon Rodney Constantine, will talk on Black Involvement in the War; Tobie van der Westhuizen and Kobus Nel will discuss De Aar’s vital role in the war and Professor Kay de Villiers’s will talk on “bittereinde” doctors. The day’s programme concludes with a historic walk through town and sundowners at Vegkop.


The magic of Karoo air was well known in the late 1800s. People streamed from across the world in search of better health and to seek a cure for respiratory ailments. Sometimes, however, the dry air was too dry, and the dust of the Karoo caused nagging coughs. So, in 1894, a Molteno-based chemist, Ambrose Lomax, decided to give the crisp, clean air a bit of a helping hand when it came to nagging coughs. Using a traditional Dutch herbal remedy designed to calm (stil) chest (bors) complaints, so he called the product Borstol. It was an instant success. Lomax used the distinctive Molteno clock tower, as a trade mark. Demand mushroomed to such an extent that Lomax needed larger premises. He looked about and found a suitable site for a factory in Adelaide. He moved there and within a few years Borstol was a household name. Lomax did not advertise his produce, he relied solely on word of mouth. In 1918, when the Great Flu hit the country, Lomax was inundated with orders. By then he had developed other Clocktower products, one of which was an excellent salve. By the time Ambrose died in 1941, he was a wealthy man, states Reader’s Digest booklet, What’s in a Name. His son, Talbot, took over the business and while he installed sophisticated production technology, he also did not advertise the products, but relied solely on telephone orders. When Talbot died in 1974 the Clocktower business passed to Beecham South Africa. The original recipe for Borstol remains virtually unchanged since 1894, say the makers.


Cornish miners, or Cousin Jacks, as they were called, played an important role in the South African mining sector in the late 1860. Initially their techniques were put to good use in Kimberley after diamonds were discovered and later these were put to good use in the gold mines. Some sources say that before the Anglo-Boer War an estimated 25% of the entire white work force at the mines was Cornish. The sheer numbers of emigrants caused a decline Cornwell’s population and destroyed parishes, which were dependent on miners’ remittances. It is interesting to note that a sum close to £1 million a year was being sent back to Cornwall from the Transvaal alone at the turn of the 19th century. This caused friction with the Kruger government, and was ultimately one of the causes leading up to the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War in 1899. However, during the War many Cornish settlers returned home, nevertheless, it is claimed that the Cousin Jack’s legacy – Cornwall’s influence on South Africa – is one of the most prominent in the world. They introduced their food – saffron cakes and Cornish Pasties; – their sports, rugby and wrestling, their religion – Methodism – as well as carol singing and brass bands to this country. Cornishmen also managed Cape Copper Mining Company at O’Kiep, where Cornish work practices predominated. A legacy of the Cornish miners today is the Cornish pumping engine which survives in its original house at O’kiep. Constructed in 1882 by the Harvey’s Foundry in Hayle, Cornwall, this is the only remaining in situ engine of its type in the southern hemisphere.


Way back in the mid-1850s a ship wreck delivered a delicious, spicy chutney to South African shores. When the SS Quanza, which was bound for Australia from the USA, ran aground off the coast near East London, Captain Adkins’s wife abandoned ship clutching her mother’s favourite chutney recipe. The captain and his wife decided to make South Africa their home and eventually settled in King Williams Town. There their daughter, Amelia, she spent a happy, carefree hinterland childhood until she married Mr H S Bell, during WWI and moved to Fish Hoek. There she started making her grandma’s chutney from the recipe handed to her by her mother. Initially jars went only to church bazaars, but folks so enjoyed the piquant, fruity flavour of this product that they began to order it. Soon Amelia had quite a production line going in her home kitchen. She bottled the product in empty jars acquired from family and friends. As demand mushroomed the Balls approached Cape Town businessman, Fred Metter, for marketing advice. He roared with laughter when he heard that such a sought-after product was being sold in second hand bottles. Metter helped them design of the now well-known eight-sided glass bottle and eye-catching oval label. “What are you going to call it?” he asked. Without hesitation, she replied “Mrs Ball’s chutney, of course!” By the time Amelia died at the age of 97 in 1962, the recipe was known only to her son and grandson. Renowned writer, poet, physician and dietician, C Louis Leipoldt, hailed it as a “locally made foodstuff of great and undoubted excellence”


It was a lovely autumn day and Mr. Mills was proceeding on horseback, in a leisurely fashion to Graham’s Town, when disaster struck. As he rode along from Mill River, he was approached by three young men who asked him for some tobacco. They seemed friendly enough and so he obliged. Then, they asked for some money. They said they were hunger and needed to buy food. Still thinking them to be decent fellows, he took his purse out of his jacket pocket to pass them some money. It contained £50 in notes and some gold. It was them that struck states a story in the Cape Frontier Times of May 13, 1840. “One young fiend grabbed hold of the bridle of his horse, another dragged him from its back and the third made off with his purse. To date nothing has been heard of the men, nor Mr Mill’s his horse, money and purse”


Garrison-Sergeant-Major Drennan lost his hand simply because he was cold. On a harsh winter day in June 1840, the mess room fire refused to draw, so the sergeant decided to fire a blunderbuss up the chimney to dislodge the soot. The gun exploded and shattered his hand so badly it had to be amputated, states the Cape Frontier Times of June 24, 1840.


Jeremy Bentham, remarkable man. Lived, but one of his social reforms was felt in South Africa. A philosopher, revolutionary thinker, social theorist and successful lawyer, Jeremy developed an innovative prison system in the late 18th century. Aversion was introduced at the Grahamstown Provost Prison by governor, Sir Benjamin D’urban. Jeremy despised conditions in prisons, which he felt should be places of moral reform, so developed a design whereby one guard could monitor many prisoners. He named the system panopticon (after the Greek God Panoptes, an all-seeing giant with 100 eyes.) Bentham also supported women’s rights, unheard of for his day, argued for animal rights and wanted to decriminalise homosexuality, which, at the time, was punishable by hanging. He also tried to outlaw corporal punishment and execution, which in the late 1700s was considered to be public entertainment. He was also the founder of a utilitarian philosophy, which aimed at establishing “the greatest happiness for the greatest number” at all times.


Bentham, who died in 1832, donated his body to science, with some extraordinary conditions, all of which were kept. He requested that his body be dissected by one of his friends in front of a gallery of medical students. After that he wanted the bones to be stripped of flesh and the skeleton, dressed in one of his best suits, to be seated in his favourite chair. This was done and the suit was stuffed with hay so that the body would look “lifelike”. Thirdly, his wanted his head was mummified and placed on the body. He asked for the glass eye, that he carried with him in his pocket during his lifetime, to be placed into the head. Finally, he wanted the skeleton, the suit and the head to be placed in a glass, “auto icon”, self-display unit, at the University College London, which considered him it’s spiritual founder. The mummification of his head was not successful, so a wax copy was made, and Bentham’s hair was placed on it. A straw hat was then put on the head which students from time to time “borrowed” for pranks. Most bizarrely of all, Bentham stipulated that his mummy should be taken to meetings, so he could “participate as much as he was able”. Minutes listed him as “present, but not voting.” He had a deciding vote, always in favour of the motion,” stated Grocott’s Mail.


There are now few old settlers left to tell of the initial trials of colonisation,” stated the Colonies and India Newspaper of February 15, 1888, in an obituary for Mrs. Maria Roberts, 92. “Maria, who was born on April 6, 1796, came to this country as an 1820 settler. She entertained many with thrilling tales of early settlement, marauding hordes and times of threat and challenge. Raised in affluence and refinement, in a Somersetshire home, Maria was not a well child, nor even healthy as an adult. After she married her husband, attracted by the new settlement projects in Africa, decided to emigrate. Despite the fact that few thought she would survive the sea voyage, she sailed with him on January 1, 1820. She had to be carried aboard. The sea voyage did her no good and by the time she arrived in Algoa Bay on May 1, her health had not improved, still she refused to remain behind when others climbed aboard a wagon bound for their new home at Albany. There she raised a family and helped her husband farm. Remarkably Maria outlived almost all other members of the party. She met Rev and Mrs William Shaw, joined the Methodist Church, and took part in its struggles. Her house became “a prophet’s chamber, the resort of preachers and the pious”. Her own earnest piety, gentleness, and valued counsel attracted a large circle of friends, said the newspaper. “With her children and adopted daughter she turned the wilderness into a home.”


In 1913, at the age of 60, Caroline Murray, second eldest child of Sir John Charles Molteno, recorded memoires. In these she described the family’s regular annual trips from Beaufort West to Cape Town when her father had to attend a session of Parliament. She writes: “He had been a member since the first Parliament sat in 1854, so those journeys formed a very important part of my early childhood.” Much preparation was necessary for this 12 to 14 days trek , “as along the bare and lonely route there was no way of obtaining what might have been forgotten”. Mules, oxen and drivers were carefully selected and “the greatest consideration was given to provisions”. These were packed into a large covered basket, called a “cosmantje”. Hotels were unknown and the few farms they passed were primitive. When the eagerly looked forward to day at last arrived a long-tented wagon with a team of 12 to 16 oxen drew up in front of their house in “the wide straggling street”. Caroline reported that the drivers looked handsome, proud and smart with wild ostrich feathers stuck in their felt hats. In their hands were long whips which would snake out across the backs of the oxen and crack like a pistol shot to set the team off. “Papa himself would see to important matters such as packing. This had to be done with scrupulous care bearing economy of space in mind. It was seldom completed without nervous strain, and, at last the critical moment, just when we were all ready to climb in and take our places, someone would try to sneak past Papa’s eagle eye and surreptitiously smuggle a forgotten item aboard. It was a relief, to hear the whip crack and the wheels creak as the wagon set off, rumbling through the little village and out into the lonely veldt.”


The wagon was comfortable. She said: “Inside a cane framework called a katel was stretched and upon this a mattress was laid. There my mother and the children slept while the men slept on the ground. I used to long for some relief from the monotony of the limitless Karoo. It always seemed the same – bare level plains covered only with sparse low bushes and plentiful stones. It was always stretching away to mountains on the horizon which seemed to promise some new thing, but which, when reached, brought only a higher plateau of the same featureless expanse. It was not scenery that would appeal to a child who longed for trees and flowers, but it created a memory that now no other scenery can stir with quite the same emotion.” The stages of the journey were determined by outspans. Always the availability of water had to be considered “We sometimes had a rare chance of washing in a pool in a river bed. For drinking-water we had to depend upon a vaatje, a little flat cask which had to be filled when water was available, and which would have to last until the next water was reached. In the thirsty heat, when the stage between was long, this often was a severe trial. As to food, there was room for only the barest necessaries. Butter and milk were unknown luxuries. The smell of black coffee still brings to mind the first inspan of the day.”


Despite the hardships, these journeys were always a delight and an adventure. “I remember, sometimes lying awake at night in the wagon, listening with a creepy feeling, to the weird cry of the jackals breaking the immense stillness. Then close by I heard the friendly munching of our oxen which were tied to the disselboom to prevent them from straying. It was a welcome sense of familiar companionship. Sometimes we took the route through Bain’s Kloof and Wellington, others through Ceres and Mitchell’s Pass or else through Montague Pass and George, and then on from Mossel Bay by sea to Cape Town. In the latter route I remember we passed the little Inn of Messrs. Furney and Swain, which after the bareness of the Karoo, seemed a little oasis of comfort, and the meal of bacon and eggs for which they were famous an unbelievable luxury. And, the short voyage by see, a delight and pleasure.”

Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass – It’s about learning to dance in the rain – Vivian Greene