Looking positively to the future Richmonders are planning a  new festival linked to oral traditions, storytelling and the wool industry.  It will be named “Spinning a Yarn”.  Organisers, Peter Baker and Darryl David, (the men who created the Bookbedonnerd Book Festival in 2007 and put Richmond on the map by making it South Africa’s only Book Town) have approached some organisations such as the Mohair Spinners Industry and the local government for sponsorship. They are also planning to get talented crafts people in the area to pass on their skills to others by teaching them to knit, crochet, spin and produce woollen, mohair and other Karoo-related products. Designed to showcase the Karoo, the festival will also include food. Well-known Karoo chef, author and Richmond resident, Annatjie Reynolds, will present cookery classes, demonstrations and master classes, over the same weekend (scheduled for the end of  April or early May, 2021.) Peter and David are lining up great speakers including a professor from McGill University in Canada, who will discuss some aspects of the Anglo-Boer War and a professor from the University of the Witwatersrand who is an expert on heritage.


“The term ‘spinning a yarn’ means telling a story, usually long, creative, imaginative, colourful, even unlikely and not necessarily true,” says Peter Baker.  “The key, however, is that the tales must be entertaining.” All South Africans love a good story. The country as a whole, and the hinterland in particular, boasts one of the strongest storytelling traditions in the world. We feel this tradition should be celebrated in a festival,” says Peter. “We aim to celebrate the tales of people like Nokugcina Elsie ‘Gcina’ Mhlope, an actress, poet, playwright, director, author and one of South Africa’s few female storytellers; Herman Bosman and his Oom Schalk Lourens tales and Diana Ferrus, a writer, poet and storyteller of mixed Khoisan/Slave ancestry, who was born in Worcester in August, 1953. Her 1998 emotive poem about Sarah Baartman is widely believed to have been responsible for the return of Baartman’s remains to South Africa.  We plan to invite great local and international storytellers, as well as unsung tellers of South African tales, to Richmond.  We want people who have the ‘gift of the gab’ to showcase their skills and share this valuable asset with others.  But we want to go much further. We want to document and promote Griekwa Afrikaans, the Nama language and the culture of the First People of this country. If we can’t do it in the province of their birth, where will it be done?” asks Peter.


The Karoo is one of the largest wool and mohair producing regions in the world and Richmond lies in its heart. For this reason the town plans to focus on these fibres in its planned new festival. It intends to revive interest in pure wool and mohair items such as quilts, scarfs, cardigans, jerseys, jackets, socks, duvets, pillows, rugs and carpets. In the 1990s almost every little Karoo village had a spinning and weaving operation, which created jobs and offered a wide variety of products for sale, but for a variety of reasons these faded away. Prince Albert is one of the few that still has a weavery which has been supplying products since 1983. The Richmond festival organisers plan to revive some traditional old crafts such as rug hooking. “Some say the technique was invented in England, others claim that the Vikings brought it to Scotland, and yet others date it back to 4th century Egypt when tufts of wool were pulled through a linen base.  Rug hooking, as we know it, developed in England during the early part of the 19th century when weavers were allowed to collect ‘thrums’ – small pieces of yarn less than 9 inches (23cm) in length –  as these were considered to be waste and useless to the factory. They looped and hooked these through bits of burlap salvaged from sacks to make floor covers because they could not afford machine-made carpets.  These items also doubled as blankets when the weather became very cold. In time this ‘craft of the poor’ developed into a fine art. By re-introducing these crafts we plan to exploit a gap in the market, and, in some way, assist in the creation of jobs,” says Peter.


The Prince Albert company, Karoo Looms. previously Wolskuur Spinners, was founded in 1983. This weavery began selling rugs, curtains, cushions and other fine hand-woven items into a steadily developing local and international market. From 1989 the weavery began to specialize in the production of woollen rugs, most of which were exported to Germany. Mohair, which is non-flammable and known as the ‘noble’ or ‘diamond fibre’, because of its lustre, resilience and durability, became the fibre of choice. The weavery worked on perfecting production and built up a reputation for creating some of the best quality mohair rugs on the market. In October 2010, the operation was bought by John Southern, a man with an extensive history in business and textiles. He introduced new blood and ideas. In time he linked up with Sophia Booley, a local resident with a passion for quality, design, craftsmanship and service, She now manages and runs the business, which has a showroom and gift shop in Church Street. More from:


Plans are still on track for Richmond’s BookBedonnerd XIII, say organisers Darryl David and Peter Baker. They have lined up an exciting and positive group of speakers for the occasion and have already booked some for the 2021 Spinning A Yarn Festival. Among people on the list are: Pieter Louis Myburgh (Gangster State & The Republic of Gupta); Prof Kathy Munro (The Humble Post Card & Karoo Heritage); Prof Ashwin Desai (Wentworth and the Beautiful Game); Carla van der Spuy (Plaasmoorde & Blood on Her Hands); Nico Moolman (Russia in the Anglo Boer War); Gaireyah Fredericks & Jaja Binks (Kaaps Oppie Richterskaal); Hannes Visser (Die Dag Toe Pa); Steve Wimberley (Adventures of Dr Grumble); Prof Carman Miller (Anglo- Boer War); Angie Butler (Shackleton’s Critic, the Life and Diaries of Eric Marshall); Carina Stander (Die Bergengel); Gisella Ullyatt (Die Waarheid Oor Duiwe); Andrew Pike (The Oceanos Rescue); Thomas Mollet (Annie Dewani Murder); Christine Barkhuizen le Roux. (My naam is Prins, Ek slaap met die lig aan), as well as Antony Osler, Diana Ferrus, Terry Crawford Brown, Sandra Shell, Philip Kretzman, Antoinette Pienaar and Dorian Haarhoff. Of course, some will fall out due to unforeseen circumstances, and others will be added to the lists for both festivals, however, this gives BoekBedonnerd followers a glimpse of what lies ahead.


One son of the Karoo, who has always been considered something of an enigma in the art world, is post-impressionist Francois Krige. His evocative Klein Karoo landscapes captivated many across the globe. Born in Uniondale in 1913 to legendary international rugby union centre, Japie (Jacob Daniel) Uys, and his wife, Sannie, an Afrikaans novelist, Francois is also the brother of the renowned poet Uys Krige. Despite coming from this well and widely known family he was a shy, diffident, unassuming man, a recluse who loathed the limelight. Yet, he remained an enigma in the South African art world throughout his long career which spanned much of the 20th century After studying at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, Francois travelled with his brother, Uys, and studied art in Spain and the Low Countries in the thirties. Upon returning to South Africa, he became a member of the New Group along with artists such as Gregoire Boonzaier and Walter Battiss. He distanced himself from fame and his famous family preferring to pursue his art in relative isolation. Fascinating periods in his career included his sketches of Allied operations in the Western Desert and Italy during WWII, hiking alone in the Himalayas, and journeying to the Kalahari to live with the Kung Bushmen. He recorded their lifestyle in superb drawings which were later used as inspiration for Gauguin-like paintings. When he died in 1994 a magnificent collection of beautiful works was discovered in his studio including his dream-like renderings of the San and Barakwena people of Central Botswana. These were worked from drawings done when he visited these people in the 1960’s. They pay homage to a people that have vanished.


A South African-born man pioneered the technique of printing on translucent fiberglass panels and laminates in the 1960s. He was Dolf Rieser, who was born in King Williamstown in 1898. Educated in Germany and Switzerland he obtained a diploma in agricultural engineering before turning his attention to biology and earning a Doctorate in Biological Science. At the outbreak of WWII he moved to England to join in the war effort and after peace was declared lectured on biology, liberal studies and art. He produced a series of engravings entitled Africa and Tales of the Congo and became a full member of the Royal Society of Painter Etchers. His works are held by many top international museums.


Margery Wright, (nee Cron), a woman hailed as a “true missionary”, died in Grahamstown on May 18, 1886. She was the grandmother of Samuel Cron Wright, the husband of Olive Schriener and her death was noted in colourful fashion in the Grahamstown Journal of May 19, 1886. The obituary stated that her life “had closed” and that she had “come to her grave in a full age, as a shock of corn is carried in in its season.” Born on September 17, 1797, in Billing, Lancashire, she and her husband, Reverend Peter Wright, who was born on August 18, 1796, in Prescott, Lancashire, came to S A in 1822, to work as missionaries. They were sent to Theopolis, because of the “precarious state of her health”. However, after a few years, in about 1826, they were transferred to Griquatown, but there the chief, Andries Waterboer, “was not at all disposed to receive the Gospel”. This made their work extremely difficult. The field was new, the country unopened and intertribal wars were perpetually taking place. However, nothing daunted, they stuck to their posts and saw their labours bear fruit. From Griquatown they went to Philippolis, which was under the chieftainship of Adam Kok ,and there they endeavoured to resuscitate the mission.


After nine months of arduous toil Peter Wright was struck down by fever. Margery, who was left with nine children, tried to stick to her post but, in time, circumstances forced her to return to England. She stayed there for three years, before coming back to Philippolis. From there she went to Cradock, but stayed only for a year because of the disturbed state of the country. In 1852 she moved to Grahamstown where her home became a favourite place for a very large circle of friends. “She was highly esteemed in the village and people loved listening to her stories of early missionary work. When Sir Bartle Frere visited Grahamstown he asked to be taken to see her, so that ‘from her own lips’ he might hear the story of her missionary work and other experiences,” stated her obituary. She was a lady of strong mind, dignified in demeanour, and a true friend. She was considerate of the poor, and ever ready to help the distressed and suffering with kindness and acts of practical benevolence. She was a great reader, and her mind was filled with useful information. She was a true missionary, and, to the last, took a lively interest in the spreading of the word of God, it added.


Robert Riddell, who was born in Hamilton, Northumberland, Canada, on September 12, 1859, became one of the first veterinary graduates to serve as a non-commissioned police veterinarian. After graduating from Ontario Veterinary College, Bob, as his friends called him, joined the Mounted Police and served Colonel Otter’s column with distinction at the Battle of Cut Knife Hill. He was awarded the North-West Rebellion Medal with clasp. At the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War he came to South Africa with the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles and, while in the country, travelled across the Karoo seeing action at Colesberg, Kheis, around the Vet and Sand Rivers and in the Transvaal. He returned to Canada on July 16, 1902, married Anna M Dillon on September 6, 1912, and turned his hand to ranching. He and Anna had one son. Bob died in Seattle on February 11, 1938.


A soldier from an old, distinguished German Military family did sterling work in the Eastern Cape as a botanist, forester and cartographer in the mid-1800s. He was Caesar Carl Wilhelm Hans Henkel, who was born in Fulda, Hesse, in 1837. He served as an officer with the British German Legion during the Crimean War and India Mutiny before coming to South Africa in about 1856 as secretary to Baron Richard von Stutterheim, commanding officer of the British-German Legion. Caesar later held a variety of administrative posts in the Eastern Cape and played a major role in settling German immigrants in King Williamstown, where he worked as a forester. He also handled this kind of work in the district of Stockenström. In time he was appointed chief forestry officer and stationed at Umtata where he was responsible for the conservation of indigenous forests and for the development of commercial forestry. His pioneering work in these fields is said to have greatly influenced the course of forestry in South Africa. When he retired he became a town councillor for Umtata and started importing useful and rare trees and shrubs which he planted on his estate, “The Pines”, outside the village. There he also started the first fish hatchery in the country. He enjoyed painting and several museums displays his artwork. He married Marie Hendiette Auguste Radue and they had 12 children – six sons and six daughters. Their eldest child, John (Johannes Elias) Spurgeon Henkel, who was born in Peddie, followed in his father’s footsteps and was responsible for the conservation of forests and introduction of exotic species.

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Boyd Robinson, who lives in Australia, has long aimed to trace the path that his grandfather, Alfred Robinson followed through the Karoo during the Anglo-Boer War. For the present, however, coronavirus has put paid to his plans. His grandfather, Private Alfred Robinson (8078) of the Volunteer Company of the 1st Durham Light Infantry was captivated by the Karoo. It was totally different to the world he knew and its rugged grandness fascinated him. He kept a most comprehensive diary and in this he describes the desert conditions which he said were interspersed with some of the pretty towns. Alfred left England with his company on February 23, 1900, and disembarked from the Avondale Castle in Durban on March 28. After seeing some action in Natal they moved through the Free State and into the Karoo. March 7 saw them overnighting in Colesberg, By the next night they were at Noupoort and they then moved on to De Aar. In time they arrived in Beaufort West, which he called a fine town with good water and shady trees on each side of the street. The company stopped there for a while and Alfred particularly enjoyed this village. He found the patrols into the “Karoo Desert” less pleasant. Away from the town there was no water and the little they found was bad. The land was covered in a short brush scrub, which was foreign to him, and conditions were very hot and sandy. Eventually they resorted to digging holes in dry river beds in an effort to find water. What little they found, he said, was very dirty. There was no grazing and by the time they got back to Beaufort West their horses were “pretty done up”.


After some time Alfred’s company was ordered to move on to Graaff Reinet. To do this they entrained at Beaufort West at 16:00 and travelled all night to De Aar, where the train arrived at 04:00. From there it was on to Noupoort and then to Graaff Reinet, where once again water was very scarce and dirty, Even though the area was very scenic it was mountainous and travelling through the rough rugged terrain was hard. At times the country was so steep that they could not ride and had to lead their horses for hours on end. They passed through Bethesda, another pretty little town in an almost private little valley, surrounded by very high mountains. Again fine trees lined the streets, he said. The company camped on the outskirts of the village where they spent a very cold and wet night. After a while they moved out of this area and on to Colesberg and Norvalspont, into the Free State and then to the Transvaal. Before crossing into the Free State Alfred reported that he had a swim in the Orange River. After the war, Alfred emigrated from England and settled in Bethlehem in the Free State where he found employment as a cabinet maker on the railways. He later turned his hand to farming. Boyd’s father and his two aunts were born in Bethlehem. The family opted to move to Australia in 1910, he says.


John Hund is searching for information on James Maden, who lived in May Villa in Beaufort West in the 1890s. According to information he has, John says, James was an engineer/builder and was reputedly involved in the construction of the new Dutch Reformed Church, which was designed by James Bissett and whose foundation stone was laid in 1892. The church was completed in 1894. ”I wish to verify this information and obtain perhaps written records about the part he played in the construction.” James originally came to South Africa, it seems, in search of better health. He later, left the Karoo and moved to Cape Town where he served as town engineer for Claremont Municipality from 1901 to 1914, He then returned to England where he died in 1931.


Allen Duff needs information on the Bain family for a book he is researching on the Millwood Goldfield near Knysna. One of the fortune-seekers who went there in 1886 was Charles Alfred Oliver Bain from Beaufort West. His father, Samuel apparently came to South Africa in 1850 for health reasons and settled in Port Elizabeth, where he founded the Brandsburton Breweries. Samuel served this city twice as mayor and was also the District Grand Master of the Eastern Province Masonic Lodge, Then, in the early 1880s, he moved to Beaufort West. Charles, who had been educated at Grey High School and at Driffield College, in Yorkshire, joined his father as a bookkeeper/clerk in 1886. “Perhaps Samuel opened a brewery in the Karoo to serve those racing to the Diamond Fields, but I have not been able to substantiate this,” says Allen. On February 2, 1887, Charles married Jane Treadwell de Villiers, one of the daughters of Ryk Daantjie. He and Jane had five daughters. Recognising that Millwood was doomed to failure Charles moved to the Transvaal and became a founder shareholder of Driefontein Gold Mine. He retired to Pietersburg and died there – a very wealthy man – 10 July 10, 1938. Some information came from a Mrs Lardner-Bourke. “How does she fit in?” asks Allen.

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right – Henry Ford