Eric Miller’s short film, Shunted, is far from shunted – it has once again been propelled into the limelight. This film captures the history and memories of the community at Hutchinson, a small Karoo railway station named in honour of colonial administrator, Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson. This short documentary, made towards the end of 2020, premiered at the Apollo Theatre in Victoria West and from the outset was a winner. Since then it has received many awards and been featured at several film festivals. Eric submitted the film to the Singapore World Film Carnival. “It was one of the last festival submissions I made and given everything else happening at that time I pretty much forgot about it,” he said. Then. out of the blue he received a notification that the film had made the list of finalists. Wonderful news followed – Shunted had received an “Outstanding Achievement Award” in the documentary film section, and will be screened at the WFS. “My thanks go to Annamarie James, our editor. Much of the praise and attention the film has received is due to her.” said Eric. Shunted is available to South African viewers to stream via the Labia website.


BookBedonnerd, the annual Booktown Festival in Richmond, will honour an exceptional son of the Karoo, who celebrates his 90th birthday this year. He is the formidable Athol Fugard, who is considered to be the greatest living playwright and he comes from Nieu Bethesda. The event is scheduled to take place from October 26 to 29 and say organisers: “There will, of course, be some writers presenting their books and the South African Independent Publishers Awards Programme and Gala Banquet will also take place as usual, but the focus will be on theatre and entertainment. To this end we have enlisted the support of the Johannesburg Market Theatre, Cape Town Baxter Theatre, and some key role players of the old Fugard Theatre, which sadly has closed. There will a great selection of Fugard acting and directing and it is hoped that this will have an enriching effect on the local community.” Early birds can enjoy a day of Richmond Filums in the old library on Wednesday.


David Hilton-Barber’s just published book – Footprints Along The Way – Lifetime of Memories of a Journalist, Author and Publisher – is an immensely interesting read. It is well researched, well-illustrated and peppered with well-known names and events of South African history. The story is beautifully told, but then David proudly states: “Throughout my life, the written word has been my motif.” His interest in writing can be traced back to his great-grandfather who founded the Cape Times in 1876. Born in Grahamstown and with 1820 Settler blood in his veins, history and historic research was an obvious path for David to choose. “My interest in history, was greatly encouraged during my years at Rhodes University where I studied under the guidance of Professors Guy Butler (English) and Winnie Maxwell (History). This mapped my future.” David claims to have witnessed the unfolding of 80 years of history – as a bystander rather than participant – through the Eastern Cape, the Colonial world of Northern Rhodesia and the politically doomed Central African Federation. He was part of the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg, and saw much press excitement there, as well as the unfolding world of public relations as multi-national companies strove to make their marks on the South African markets. He watched the development of the Lowveld and the seaside villages of the Western Cape. 


While much of the book is a memoire of David’s life it tells a much wider story. He admits to some failures and “terrible decisions”, yet this is a very special look at life in South Africa.
The story begins (but only in Part Two) with the great Barber Clan, its activities in the 11th and 12th centuries, its link with William the Conqueror and it follows the gentle spread of these pioneering people of great wastelands to many countries across the globe. Humble, quiet God-fearing men and women they ploughed, sowed and struggled against misfortunes of rain, hail, drought and general bad weather and dealt with plagues, such as locusts. They lived their lives without luxuries, without electricity, without telephones or “the wireless”. They walked to where they wanted to be. Perhaps they achieved very little and after a life of hard work were laid to rest in the village graveyard, but they were content. They were happy. There was, however, a branch of the family that was nothing if not adventurous. Among them were merchants who owned extensive properties, warehouses and shops, one rose to the lofty position of Lord Mayor of London, another was a sought-after portrait painter, and yet another, after making a considerable fortune vanished without trace. The money, which today is worth several millions, remains unclaimed despite the fact that many attempts at accessing it have been made over the years. Among one of the enterprising adventurers who made his way to the southern tip of Africa, was Hugh. the second son of Thomas Barber, an artist and his wife, Mary. After completing his studies at Eton he, encouraged by his 26-year-old brother, Frederick William, and cousin, William Guybon Atherstone, emigrated to South Africa in December, 1838. He was destined to leave his own mark on the land.


David’s personal story includes the shocking murder of his father, Harold Hilton-Barber, outside a roadside store in Zimbabwe in April,1982. He was shot dead right in front of his wife. Harold was a respected man and an innovative farmer even in the hard days of farming in Rhodesia in 1930. The Press hailed him as “an elder statesman, a great cattleman and a foremost rancher.” Adding magic to the tale are Queen Modjadji, a direct descendant of the once powerful royal house of Monomotapa, John Murray, the 11th Earl of Athol, General Jan Smuts, the visit of the British Royal Family in 1947, William Schlesinger, Kenneth Kaunda, Robert Godlonton, one of the founding fathers of the press in this country, William Cock, of the Kowie Port Development Company, the Bowker family of the eastern Cape, missionary Dr John Philip, Heart transplant pioneer, Dr Chris Barnard, and many more. “In my latter years I have turned to researching, writing and publishing non-fiction historical books, slim volumes of interest to a niche readership. I have launched books at bookshops, given presentations at book fairs, addressed meetings of historical societies, participated in Zoom events and have begun receiving author’s submissions from far and wide.” This delightful 400-page memoir, which David claims is “a modest contribution to family and friends” costs R200 per copy. Only a few signed and numbered copies of the first special are still available. More from


Sarah van Lingen, from a farm in Schoombee near Middelburg, is part of a private tourism and community group which is organising the Karoo Winter Wool Festival to be held in Middelburg, from June 24 to 26. Their aim is to create a unique experience that promotes a product that has carried the Karoo’s name into the international arena “We hope to educate people about wool, explain why it is such a wonderful fibre and how it is used to create garments and items that we use every day. Not only do we want to show the process, but we also want to celebrate all the wool-based businesses in South African,” says Sarah. “To this end we have invited members of the fashion industry, small business owners, wool producers, wool manufactures, sustainable fibre advocators and networks to share their knowledge and promote their products.” The programme will include a exhibitions, talks, workshops and discussion groups. More from Sandra at

A Most Tasteful Festival …

Cradock’s popular Food Festival takes place on April 29, 30 and May 1. This year’s event will be one for the books, say the organisers. “Our mission is to create a top-class festival with excellent cuisine and innovative food ideas. This year there will be a whole range of different stalls.

And A Treat For Wine Lovers

The 9th Annual Stoep Tasting Wine Weekend takes place in Graaff Reinet and Nieu Bethesda from May 26 to 28, 2022. During this time visitors can sip, taste and purchase world class wines whilst strolling along the streets or simply sitting on a stoep and watching the world go by, say the organisers.


The Agave or garingboom, as it is known across the Karoo, is huge aloe-type plant with broad, dark, blueish-grey, curling leaves and, at times, attractive yellow flowers on top of a mast-like stem. This plant, which is native to Mexico, is an essential part of the Karoo. The name agave is derived from the Greek “agavos” meaning “illustrious”. The plant has a rich history wrapped in many myths and legends. It is linked to the Aztec goddess, Mayheul, a symbol of long life and health, dancing and fertility. The Nahuatl, the original inhabitants of western Mexico, worshipped this plant which, to them, represented the goddess Mayheul’s earthly power over wind, rain and crops. There is a story that tells of Mayhuel many children – The 400 Rabbits. Oddly they had numbers and not names. The 4th rabbit was the naughtiest, the most incorrigible of the entire family. One day, according to a tale told by The Winged One, this mischievous rabbit stole the mother agave plant and fled out into the great wide world looking for a rich, red, dry and desolate place to hide it from his siblings. The 4th rabbit travelled far and wide before eventually choosing the Karoo as one of “his perfect” places. It is now widely-cultivated in temperate, sub-tropical and semi-arid regions of the world. It is easy to grow and has become naturalised in many parts of South Africa. It thrives in the Karoo, where the 4th rabbit has given its name to an alcoholic beverage brewed in Graaff-Reinet.


The agave plant has long been part of human culture. Research shows that for over 10,000 years this plant has been used as a source of fodder, food and fiber. It was already ancient when the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the Americas in1492. By 1520, it was exported back to the Old World. Agave is mentioned as a food of the Aztecs and natives in the Florentine Codex of 1580.The ancient Aztecs and Mayans used the agave for countless purposes, from making musical instruments to structural fiber for building materials. One of the old tricks was to take a leaf thorn and strip it down until they had a needle with attached “thread”. These could then be use to sew a variety of materials together. ‘(In modern-day Cape Town some hairdressers use these “threaded needles”, instead of plastic, to sew weaves.). The fiber can be used for paper production, the heart of the plant can be eaten and its juices drunk, explains an article in Science in Africa. In the early 1900’s, these plants were distributed across the country to control soil erosion and for use as fodder. They were planted across the Karoo and over time multiplied into the thick “forests” across the koppies, fields and roadsides.


The roots, sap, and juice are used to make a variety of tinctures and medicines. These can be used to treat bruises, constipation, diarrhoea, jaundice, indigestion, flatulence; to promote urine production, to prevent hair loss, promote hair growth and in the treatment of certain types of cancer. They are also used to promote labour and milk production in pregnant women; The plant is a natural antiseptic as well as aseptic. It is used as a beauty aid and as an astringent. The membrane can be peeled off and used as a Band-Aid. It can also be used it as a type of cling wrap to keep food fresh and uncontaminated. Studies are currently being conducted into the plant’s sugar and insulin levels for the treatment of diabetes. The plant takes anything from 10 to 25 years to reach maturity. If left untouched, agave spends the energy stored in its core to push up a single, stem tipped with flowers. These are highly nutritious and particularly enjoyed by kudu. (The only animals said not to eat them is the horse.) Pushing up the stem exhausts the plant. It dies soon afterwards and the stem comes crashing down. However by then a myriad of small plants are already growing at the base of the mother plant. The dried stem is sought after by bird breeders for nesting boxes.


A 12-year-old peasant boy, Dollie de Wit, a despatch rider during the Anglo-Boer War, was sent to deliver a secret document to a Boer commando at Algerynskraal, about 15 km from Ladismith, in the Klein Karoo. He was waylaid and captured by the British in Naaukloof, a narrow kloof, about 2 km from his destination. After his capture he was sentenced to death. However, when the sentence was to be carried out, the rifle jammed and the bullet never fired. A story on states that the officer in charge then took the bullet, handed it to the boy and let him go. Dollie took the cartridge home, showed it to his mother Hendrina de Wit and then hung it on a string above his bed. This bullet became one of his most precious possessions and it hung above his bed until he the day he died of natural causes at the age of 78.

  • Dean Allen’s book Frontier Land Volume 2 is now available –


After enjoying the supplement on the horses, sent out with the April issue of Round-up, a reader sent this rather sad little Boer War story.” I loved your stuff about the horses. I wish my grandfather could have been around to read it – horses were one of his passionate interests. I learnt to ride under his tutelage astride a full-sized horse, a beautiful “geelskimmel” named Mieta who was half Arab and half racehorse. I still have the saddle I used, a former US Army McKinley saddle with bucket stirrups. My grandfather acquired it in America in the 1920s. I made sure my sons learnt to ride, tell the truth and shoot straight, which, according to the Arabs are the three things a man must teach his sons. My maternal grandfather, who during the Anglo Boer War was a Cape rebel who fought under General Jan Smuts and General Manie Maritz during the invasion of the Cape in late 1901. On one occasion Smuts’s men shot up a British convoy near the tiny Karoo hamlet of Middelpos, they naturally helped themselves to food, ammunition and horses, since theirs were very travel-worn. One was a beautiful mare belonging to a young British officer, and he made such a heart-felt plea to Maritz to be allowed to keep her that it melted that hard man’s heart. But just as Maritz was about to hand over the horse the officer made a fatal mistake. Not realizing Maritz’s feeling of sympathy, he hauled out a bag of sovereigns and offered to pay for the horse. Maritz flew into a towering rage at the thought that the Englishman believed he could be bought and promptly changed his mind and kept the beautiful mare.”


A 1901 a newspaper report headlined British Merciless Against Republican Supporters covered the execution of Cape Rebels and “violators of martial law”. Datelined, “in the veld, October, 31” it stated that “British authorities have continued with their merciless persecution of people who support the Boer Republics in any way, who contravene martial law regulations or who, according to the British, act outside the accepted practices of ‘civilized’ warfare.” From Pretoria it was reported that R C Upton, found guilty on a charge of espionage, died in front of a firing squad. In Johannesburg the Khakis executed a Dutchman, Cornelius Broeksma, as a spy since he dispatched information on the cruel nature of the scorched earth policy and the British concentration camps in a secret code to the Netherlands. On October 2 Piet Schuil, a foreign volunteer, was executed by a firing squad after Khakis accused him of shooting British soldiers under cover of a white flag towards the end of the Battle of Moedwil. In the Eastern Cape, the British executed three of Smut’s scouts on October 3 for wearing khaki uniforms. Ten days later another member of Smut’s commando died in front of a firing squad in Aberdeen for the same reason.


The newspaper continued stating that Cape Rebels or presumed rebels who fell into the hands of the Khakis are treated particularly harshly. On September 4 three men, F Troy, a Swede, who lived in Johannesburg, H J Veenstra and J van Vuuren, died before a British firing squad in Colesberg. On October 7 an 18-year -old Cape Rebel J H Roux was executed on a charge of treason in Graaff-Reinet. Four days later J W G Jansen and a man named Rautenbach were hanged in Vryburg, in the Northern Cape, on charges that they stole horses. The most damning executions from a military point of view were the death sentences for treason passed by a military court in Middelburg on Commandant Hans Lotter (on October 12) and his field cornets W Kruger, J Schoeman and D C Breedt as well as adjutant P J Wolfaardt (on October 11). It was not only adult men who were victims of the implementation of Martial Law. On September, 11 a Mrs Brooks and nine young girls appeared in a court in Maraisburg. They were charged for singing the Republican anthem during a brief occupation of the town by a Boer Commando. Some were charged for kissing burghers who were not related to them. Two girls were released, but Mrs Brooks and the other seven girls, aged between 15 and 19, were sentenced to 30 days imprisonment each. On September 12, the military court in Graaff-Reinet sentenced five teenage members of Commandant Lotter’s commando to death The youngest was only 14. In this case Lord Kitchener showed clemency and commuted their sentences to life imprison with corporal punishment. On September 26, there was a case against a teenager, Rocehelle de Villiers, the 16-year-old son of the mayor of Aberdeen. He was sent to prison for one week for contravening Martial Law by galloping down the main street on horseback.

Run Or Ride – Britstown’s the place to be on April 23. Keen runners or mountain bike riders who are in the area on that date should join The Smart Challenge. For runners, there’s a 10km and 21km run for R100 or a 5km fun run for R30. For a R150 entry fee mountain bikers can choose between a 30km or 60km course.

Believe you can and you are half way there – Theodore Roosevelt

SchoombeeThe Rocks Hold The Key

A supplement to Round-up No 342 – May, 2022 issue

The rocks hold the key to the secrets of the tiny Karoo hamlet of Schoombee, near to where the Karoo Winter Wool festival is being organised. It slumbers alongside the road between Middelburg and Steynsburg next to a ghost of an old railway station with tracks laid down by the Cape Government Railways. This once was a busy line linking Rosmead, Burgersdorp and Hofmeyr, but it is now abandoned and the old station building stands in the sun remembering the busy bustle of the days when the trains still ran. Most of the people who worked at venues like the cash store in the settlement and at the station have long gone.

The first people to leave a legacy on the rocks in this area were the San. Here they happily lived, hunted and left art and artefacts as evidence of what their world once was like. After them came wanders, trekboers and settlers, and at least one of them carved a message into the rocks. The Anglo-Boer War also touched this area. A blockhouse, built of local stone still stands – a reminder of the turmoil. At the end of the war, it was converted into a popular place for a braai and picnics, while the soldiers’ barracks became a shearing shed.

Shortly after the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War the ZAR (Transvaal Government) feared that the British Government would punish captured rebels harshly, especially those who once held official positions under the Colonial Government, so as early as February, 1900. Melt Marais, on behalf of the ZAR, offered rebels a free passage to Europe, plus £75 for expenses. “Not everybody wanted to go,” said Boer war expert, Dr Taffy Shearing. “Guilliame Andries Schoombie, refused the passage money, and became a despatch rider for General Christiaan De Wet instead.” (Guilliame was a son of the man who gave his name to the village, but who was living at Steynsburg at the time.)

Way back in 1780, a Dane, Andreas Gotlieb Schoombee (also written as Schaumbe, Schoombie, Schombie, Schombé and Schumb) settled with brother, Guilliame on a piece of land 15km north east of present-day Middelburg. It was a stony, rocky area, so they called their land Schoombeesklip (Schoombee’s stone) and there they set up a viable farm.

However, a dramatic tale preceded their arrival. It all started one night in 1765, in the town of Konigsberg in Denmark. (official records give this place as Kongsdal, Nørup and Vejle.) It seems that one evening Andreas and his twin brother Guillame went out for some drinks. An altercation erupted between them, hot words followed, a scuffle broke out and during this Andreas threw his brother from a balcony. He was sure that he had killed him, but he didn’t wait to find out, he fled.

Andreas threw his belongings into a bag and headed for the docks where the only ship making ready to sail was the VOC Sloten. She was bound for South Africa. He did not care. He boarded and signed up as the ship’s carpenter. Only later did he discover that he was also required to be soldier and carry out whatever other duties the captain ordered him to do. The Sloten arrived in Cape Town on August 26, 1765. Andreas remained in service of the company for a while, but was later discharged. He then found a job as a tradesman. Years went by and after a while he moved to Stellenbosch where he met and married Johanna Sophia Viljoen on September 18, 1785. They had seven children.

One day on a trip to Cape Town Andreas found himself on the quay where a ship from Denmark had just docked. Homesick for his homeland and glad of the chance to once again speak his native language he wandered over. While he was chatting and relishing news of home he suddenly saw a man who seemed a little more than familiar. Could it be? He could not believe his eyes – it was Guillame, the brother he thought he had killed.

There was a glorious reunion after which Andreas took his brother to Stellenbosch. There Guillame told Andreas that he had come to South Africa for two reasons. Firstly in the hopes of finding him and secondly because “Governor Baron Joachim von Plettenberg was offering farms to settlers prepared to move into the interior. This sounded exciting and they decided to apply. They were granted land in the Middelburg area The land was far more stony than they had hoped for, so they named their farm Schoombiesklip. The farm prospered

The years rolled by and despite skirmishes with cattle thieves and problems with predators and other wild animals, life was good. Then one day when they were out in the fields, the sun seemed to darken and like one of the plagues of the Bible the land was suddenly covered with locusts. The brothers raced about stuffing towels and blankets into every opening of their house to prevent these creatures from coming inside. And then, almost as suddenly as they came the locusts were gone, but so was all the good pastureland. A drought followed and the brothers could not financially recover. They had to sell their land and move to Cape Town. But before they left Andreas felt he must leave some mark of himself at this beautiful place where he had once been so happy. He sat down and into one of the huge boulders carved: “Anno 1780 Aprel ik ben die plaas heft aangelygyt. AGSB uyt Denemark sprenghane als s/a/nt.’ (“The year is 1780 April and this farm was founded by me AGSB from Denmark. Locusts like sand.”)

The message was discovered by Joan Sutherland, a genealogical researcher, who spent quite some time walking in the veld looking for this rock. Like old Schoombee she found the area tranquil and the views magnificent. Eventually she found the boulder near a koppie. The carefully carved letters were hidden by lichen, but once this was brushed off she could clearly see the inscription.,

“It must have been quite an effort for Andreas to carve out this message,” she said. “Sadly, however, when he stood back to admire his effort he found he had left out the “a” in “sand” and so had to squeeze it in.”

Andreas acquired the farm Katryntjiesdrif, near Wellington on March 6, 1790, but about four years later sold it to Pieter Engelbrecht. He also had a farm Buffelsvlei, where an injured buffalo attacked and severely wounded him, and another called Schoombeesfontein. He moved to Graaff-Reinet where he died on March 15, 1829 at the age of 88.

There’s nothing much at Schoombee anymore. But hospitality is still key. This is a world of fifth and sixth generation farmers, of 250 million-year-old fossils, of horseshoes left on the veld by Boer and British soldiers. It is the world of good food, winter venison, cheesemakers, painters, photographers and chefs. Here the ancient mountain outcrops – said to resemble the old tea and coffee pots of the early Dutch settlers and so known as Teebus and Koffiebus – are still talking points. The area has become a favourite of outdoor enthusiasts seeking a taste of the true Karoo, wide open spaces, stunning sunsets, clear starry nights, fresh air and, in the winter, snow-capped mountains. Some farms offer game viewing rides, fossil walks, bird watching, hikes, mountain biking, hunting and an opportunity to try out sheep shearing.

Note: Elizabeth (Betsie) Verwoerd, the wife of South Africa’s sixth Prime Minister, Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, was born in Schoombee, on May 17, 1901 Andreas Godlieb and Johanna Schoombee’s eldest son, Guillaume Andries, who was born in 1787, had a son named Izak Daniel Johannes Schoombee. Born in 1892 he was Betsie’s grandfather. Her father, Wynand Johannes Schoombee – born in 1868 – was the second youngest of Izak Daniel’s 11 children.


The Arrival of the first Schoombee’s in South Africa – (how it might have happened) By Adele Schoombie. Gedcomfiles from Kobus Schoombie; On Route in South Africa: Explore region by Region by B P J Erasmus, The Cape Rebel Of The South African War, by Dr Taffy Shearing; Wikitree, Wikipedia and Google sites.