Energetic Karoo outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the Meiringspoort Trail Run and Mountain Bike Challenge which takes place in De Rust, on May 26 this year. The runs first covers 9,5km and 19,5km and the mountain bike courses, 27,5 km and 60,5 km. Both events start at 07:00. Mountain bike enthusiasts will also enjoy the Lazy Hippo Stage Race in the Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve on New Holme Guest Farm in Hanover. The routes pass through some beautiful scenery and include interesting challenges. This family friendly event will be held from July 6 to 8. Organisers have planned fun events for children and cooking lessons for wives.


The 15th annual Wacky Wine Weekend, hosted by Robertson Wine Valley, takes place from May 31 to June 3. Over 40 wineries and tourist establishments will showcase the valley’s winning wines and host wine-tastings, wine and food pairings, educational presentations and private tastings with some esteemed winemakers. Each establishment will host its own programme for which bookings and payments must be made directly. There will be a coupons and passports for general tastings some of which are free and some “pay as you go”. Visitors are also invited to explore and enjoy some fun-filled wine activities, outdoor adventures, live music and fine dining experiences.


The Grahamstown Journal reports that on an April afternoon in 1880, Mr Robertshaw, the owner of Zwartkops farm, saw a body being washed down a canal and into his wool washing dam. He immediately sent word to the magistrate, who rushed out to the farm. Investigation revealed that this was the body of William Jarvis. Those who knew him said he had been drinking heavily at local taverns for the last two or three weeks, but no one knew why. Then, Jarvis was arrested, charged and convicted of stealing a bottle of brandy from the Tunbridge Hotel. He was sent to prison, but on release simply started another drinking spree. Then, states The Uitenhage Times, he left the bar in a “state of delirium tremens”. It was not clear whether Jarvis committed suicide, or simply fell into the stream, in an inebriated state, and drowned while trying to cross the river which was swollen by the recent heavy rains, added the newspaper.


At the time of the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War, and right up to until WWI, there was no uniformity of education, nor defined job descriptions, for nurses. Their work, efforts and sacrifices were recognized by only some medical men. The problems were rectified in 1919 with the promulgation in England of the Nurses’ Registration Act with rules and regulations prescribing qualifications needed to care for the sick and wounded. Alfred D. Fripp, a senior surgeon at the Imperial Yeomanry Hospitals (IYH), at Deelfontein, in the Karoo, during the Anglo-Boer War, was among those who valued the services of nurses. “Apart from their skill and help to doctors, they confer such comfort and happiness on patients, that I am sure there will be plenty of scope for the nurses in the future,” he said. Fripp brought 40 nurses out to the IYH but said 180 would not have been too many. He believed that the employment of nurses on a ‘large scale’ would be a great advancement in military medical care. Nurses had to adapt to meet the exigencies of war, stressful weather, insufficient supplies and, at times, extraordinarily long working hours. Many agreed that their experiences during the South Africa War enabled them to adapt their skills to meet the needs of patients. The invaluable role of nurses at the IYH is discussed in Yeomen of the Karoo.


The first diamond, appropriately named Eureka, was discovered in South Africa, near Hopetown in 1867. It was an alluvial diamond and it weighed 21,25 carats. Soon after, the 83,5 carat Star of Africa was found nearby. Then, in 1869, diamonds were found in yellow – and later blue ground- near present-day Kimberley, and men from across the world raced to South Africa to seek their fortunes. Within a few years, South Africa yielded more diamonds than India had done in over 2,000 years, state websites covering the history of diamonds. As fortune hunters raced northwards to the diamond fields, on foot, by horse, donkey, ox-wagon, and cart, it became clear that a railway service was urgently needed. A line soon snaked up across the country, following the diamond hunter’s route. This gave rise to the development of small stations and settlements, like Hutchinson. For some strange and unknown reason, the rail bypassed Victoria West, a little town established in the north-south wagon route, in 1843. It served the fortune hunters as a staging post, but the railway station was built 12-kilometres to the east and named Victoria West Road. The name was changed in 1901to honour Sir Walter Francis Hely-Hutchinson, CGMC (Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George), an Anglo-Irish diplomat, colonial administrator and, at that time, Governor of the Cape Colony. Within short, Hutchinson became an important Karoo junction. A branch line was built to Victoria West in 1905, extended to Carnarvon, and then Williston, in 1915 and Calvinia, in 1918. The regular service was stopped in 2000 and the railway station closed in 2001. Occasionally trains still stop there to service Victoria West. A group of researchers is now seeking information about Hutchinson and the people who lived there.


Born on August 22, 1849, Walter Francis was the son of Richard Hely-Hutchinson, 4th Earl of Donoughmore and his wife, Thomasina Jocelyn Steele. After leaving University, Walter joined the army and served in Malta and the Windward Islands, before coming to South Africa in 1893 to take up the post of Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Natal and Zululand. In 1901 he became Britain’s last Governor in South Africa and held the post until Union was established in 1910. In 1909, during the absence of Lord Selborne, he also acted as High Commissioner. Sir Walter, who served throughout the Anglo-Boer War, identified closely with the emerging South Africa. He developed a rapport with the locals and, when plague threw Cape Town into a panic, Sir Walter and his aides put on their best uniforms and walked slowly through the fever wards. Among Sir Walter’s closest friends was Sir Abe Bailey, one of the first two men to own a car in the Cape. Sir Walter married Mary, daughter of Major-General William Clive Justice, on February 19, 1881. They had seven children, two of whom died young. Their youngest son, Christian Victor Noel Hope Hely-Hutchinson, who was born in Cape Town on December 28, 1901, died at the age of 46 from being too frugal. The winter of 1947 was very cold and long, however, to save fuel (which was still rationed), Victor refused to switch on the radiators in his office. He developed a cold which turned into pneumonia. He died on March 11, 1947.


During his short life, Victor developed from a child prodigy – who composed many pieces before he was 10 – into one of the most versatile musicians of any era. From mid-1920 to the 40s he was widely known as a solo pianist, accompanist, orchestrator, academic, music teacher, reviewer, administrator, conductor and composer.

Victor’s talent for music quite literally developed at his mother’s knee. Lady Mary played the piano and sang very well. When she discovered that Victor, who grew into a strong, stocky baby, was prone to violent temper tantrums, she played the piano for him and so used music to soothe him. He sat on her knee and, before he could speak, he knew music notes and could sing. He was taught to play the piano by, among others, Dr Thomas Barrow Dowling, organist of Cape Town Cathedral. Victor, like his siblings, was educated in England where he honed his musical talents. He wrote many widely acclaimed pieces, but is best known for the Carol Symphony, written in 1919, and for settings nursery rhymes to music. Among these was Edward Lear’s Owl and the Pussy Cat and Old Mother Hubbard, which is sung in the dramatic style of Handel. In 1922, he returned to Cape Town, to teach at the South African College of Music. He married Marjorie Hugo and by 1926 moved back to England to take up a number of important musical posts. When his father became desperately ill, and was taken to Muizenberg, to recuperate, Victor raced to his side. It soon became obvious that Sir Walter would rally only when Victor played the piano and sang for him. This led to his recovery. Sir Walter was so proud of the compositions which Victor had completed by the age of eight that he had them published in book form. Sir Walter died on September 23, 1913, at the age of 64.


The Karoo greatly influenced the work of well-known abstract painter, Cynthia Villet. She painted on paper in oils and watercolours, however, among her work was a series of monotypes and collages of a beautiful scenes in nature. Art critics hailed her work as lyrical, poetic and magnificently abstract. Many said her colours, textures and calligraphic markings harked back to her childhood in the Karoo. “This region is reflected in the soft colours of Vancouver, the tropical brilliance of Barbados, and desert patterns of the Jordan Valley, so similar in reality to the Great Karroo”. Besides being part of many important private collections, in South Africa and abroad, Cynthia’s work also has pride of place in the Museums of Modern Art in New York, Baltimore and Jerusalem, as well as in the OAS Museum in Latin America and the South African National Gallery in Cape Town. Cynthia was born in Beaufort West in 1924 and she spent her childhood in this village. Her father was Dr Charles Theodore de Mornet Villet and her mother was Lilla Brink, from Calitzdorp. Her brother Gouret, a photographer fondly known as Gray, who was named for his grandfather Daniel du Plessis de Gouret Villet, who came from Humansdorp. Cynthia married architect, Kenneth Hall Gardner, on June 24, 1944. The couple lived in Cape Town before moving to Canada, England, Israel and later Barbados in the West Indies. Between 1970s and1980 she held exhibitions at galleries in New York, Washington, Jerusalem and Cape Town. All were well attended, and her work was highly praised. Princeton academic, Roger Lipsey, hailed her as “brilliantly creative and one of the foremost artists of her day.” He added that she worked in the tradition of Paul Klee, Ben Nicholson and Jules Bissier.” 


The Villet family was originally French. Cynthia’s great grandfather, Charles Mathurin Villet, arrived from Haiti in 1797 and settled in Cape Town. He was an impresario, dealer in natural history material and a major contributor to the South African Museum after it opened in 1923. . In 1819 he established a menagerie in Green Point known as “Aux Champs de Fleurs”. It was visited by travellers from across the globe. Her father, Charles Theodore de Mornet Villet, generally known simply as Mornet, was a medical doctor and a skilled artist. He worked in watercolours and oils on a variety of surfaces, including canvas and board, and often painted on both sides of whatever material he was using. He seldom signed his work. Born in Cape Town on September 24, 1892, he studied medicine in Ireland and practiced in Wynberg, where he earned a reputation as a surgeon of exceptional skill. Both he and Lilla Brink, who he married on February 14, 1923, were avid collectors of South African succulents. Between them they set up a magnificent collection and discovered several new species. After he retired, they settled in Worcester, from where he continued collecting plants and painting… He died in Barbados in 1963, while visiting Cynthia.


A freak accident occurred at a local cricket match, reported the P.E. Telegraph of May 1880. During a Saturday afternoon cricket match at South-end, in Port Elizabeth, blacksmith, John P Murray, who was acting as umpire, was struck on the temple by a ball. He was stunned and bewildered for a while, but later seemed to have recovered and so went home. In the evening he felt so much better that he went to visit his sister, but after a short while there, he once again felt unwell. A doctor was called, and he treated John, but said that the condition was not likely to prove serious. During the night, however, John became delirious and died at 06:00 next morning. Twenty-seven-year-old John was engaged to be married and his fiancée was devastated at his death. He was a popular, but quiet young man, widely liked by many members of the community. He was a member of No. 5 Company of Price Alfred’s Volunteer Guard and so was buried with military honours. A large number of friends, family and members of the corps attended his funeral. The regimental band played the solemn strains of the “Dead March in Saul”.


In April 1880, the Diamond Fields Advertiser reported that a dreadful accident that had occurred at a Kimberley mine. It appears that William Stilwell was getting into the tram tub to be drawn up, when the engine began working too soon. “The unfortunate man was severely bruised and knocked about between the tub and the roof before the engine could be reversed and he could be let down again,” said the newspaper. “We are informed that his ribs have been displaced, and that he is in great danger. Readers have offered sympathies and good wishes for his recovery to Mrs. Stilwell and his family in this time of intense anxiety.”


In the mid-1800s hostilities were rife in the Colony and soldiers were desperately needed. Newspapers reported that men were needed for the Cape Frontier Wars, (1779–1879), the Morosi Rebellion (1879), the Gaika-Gcaleka War (1877-1878), the Northern Border War and The Basutoland Gun War (1880 to 1881), and Bechaunaland Rebellion (1897), among others. Over the years Beaufort West raised several units to serve in these wars. The Beaufort Volunteers was formed in 1850. Then came the Beaufort West Volunteer Rifles (raised in April 1857), and The Beaufort West Royal Rifles, a 40-man strong unit, which was raised in 1858 under Lt-Col John Goldbury Devenish, Lt P McNaughten and Captain John Christie. The SA Military History Journal reports that the end of 1860, the Blue Book gave the strength of this unit as 38 with two additional officers, Lt T B Lawson, and Adj. P J S Truter as pay and quartermaster. Twenty names were taken at the first meeting and the first parade, under Lt Lawson took place after some difficulties in getting employers to release men for drills. By July the corps was fitted out with uniforms, muskets and bayonets and, under Lt. McNaughten. welcomed Sir George Grey. Later imported rifles and sword bayonets, on the same pattern as used by the Cape Royal Rifles, were ordered at a cost of £7 each, complete with belt and cartouche box. These replaced the rusty old muskets. The Corps paraded for the Chief Justice, but by August, 1859, numbers were falling and the drill master refused to drill so few. The corps nevertheless paraded to welcome Judge Watermeyer. The Cape and Natal News of May 3, 1862 reported that Beaufort West’s Vincent Rice, won the Prince Alfred rifle shooting prize for scoring the highest number of hits and points in the Western Province.


The Beaufort West Rangers “a new fighting unit” was raised in January 1878, states J Hulme in Cape Colony Volunteer Units. Under the command of Lt Edward P Solomon, it had five officers and 43 men, all mounted and armed with long Snider carbides. Due to drought, however, the horses were not in prime condition. Lt Solomon received the bar for service in the 9th (and last) Frontier War in 1879. Dymes Beaufort West Rifles was raised on March 31, 1881, and during the Anglo-Boer War the town had an effective town guard unit. In 1857 John Molteno, member of the Legislative Assembly for Beaufort West, who himself had fought in the War of the Axe in 1846, moved that the army be given free ammunition and that its annual grant of £50 be increased, but the House was not in a generous mood and the grant remained unchanged.


The Beaufort West fighting units were sometimes confused with those of Fort Beaufort. This outpost had a unit known as the Beaufort Rangers under the command of Captain B W Hall. He was succeeded in February 1878, by Captain J Richards. Strengths of this unit from August 1877, to June 1880, varied from 3 and 50 to 4 and 74. Their weapons, in August 1877, included 50 Snider carbines and 21 short rifles. By June 1880, this had moved up to 66 carbines and 2 short rifles. Ten men are recorded as leaving for the front on October 10, 1877, and in January the following year there was only one officer and three men at the Fort. Reports state that at the beginning of the year, men were needed for patrols and to act as escorts to ammunition wagons. In April six men were given leave to attend their stock.


The lower Baviaan’s River area was “in a hopeless state of unrest” and had been so for six months, reported the South African Commercial Advertiser of January 3, 1852. “William Trollip’s farm has been attacked and a clean sweep was made of all his stock. Sheep and horses grazing near his house were snatched shortly after being released from their kraals. Two of Trollip’s sons and two other young men set off after the thieves Four or five marauders raced ahead with the stock while the rest stayed back as a rear guard,” stated the newspaper. Several shots were exchanged. At a critical moment Henry Trollip, a man said to have shot more marauders during the last war than any other single individual on the frontier, arrived with two more young men, Gilbert and Stokes. When it became clear that the enemy’s ammunition was running low, they managed to recapture the stock. Sadly, this attack was just too much for William Trollip. He decided to “give up”, said the newspaper because for the past 12 months he and others along a line from Daggaboersnek to Goba had sustained heavy losses. Trollip said: “Magistrates and field cornets seem powerless.” He instantly made arrangements to sell his stock, but before the transactions could be completed his sons Henry and Edward were killed almost on his doorstep

There is nothing more frightening than active ignorance. – Goethe