A highly successful search for riverine rabbits has delivered exciting news. Some of these creatures seem to have settled down and started breeding in the wild. A team of 25 researchers recently scoured a huge area of the Central and Klein Karoo between Touws River and Montagu, as well as part of the Ceres Karoo to discover the status of this critically endangered species. They reported rabbits near Touws River and Ceres. During a two-day search on Slangkrantzrivier/Keurfontein farms near Touws River seven riverine rabbits were sighted. This is the furthest south that these animals have so far been found. Eight rabbits were seen at Ibhadi Game Lodge, near Ceres. “This does not mean that the rabbits are out of danger,” explains Dr Vicky Ahlmann, head of the Riverine Rabbit Working Group (RRWG). “It was always assumed that the distribution range of the riverine rabbit was limited to Sutherland, Calvinia, Fraserburg, Beaufort West, Victoria West, Carnarvon and Williston areas. So, these new discoveries raise many questions. We need to know whether these animals have hidden in the Succulent Karoo for more than a century, or whether the riverine rabbit always been there and mistaken for a hare? Also, why are daily sightings much higher in this part of the Karoo than in the formally known distribution area? More research is now needed to help us better understand this rare and mysterious creature.


A Prince Albert boutique wine recently scooped up two top awards at an international wine competition. Herman and Susan Perold’s sweet wine, SoetKaroo Muscat d’Alexandrie 2004 was awarded a Double Gold Medal (Grand d’Or) by a panel of 12 top judges at the Michelangelo International Wine Awards. At the presentation ceremony, at Spier, outside Stellenbosch, it was revealed that while 1 200 wines were entered; only 28 double gold medals (96%+) were awarded. The Perolds’ also walked off with the Good Taste Garagiste Trophy in the Red Muscatel Class. This is awarded to the best boutique wine of which less than 9 000 bottles are made. “We are immensely proud of these awards,” said Herman Perold. “But it is hats off to wine maker Flip Smit and Cango Wine Cellars. They guided us all the way. At Cango Wine Cellars, near Oudtshoorn, Flip performs his magic using a special, small Italian apparatus.” These top awards were for Perold’s first harvest in the 2004 season. Their 2005 batch is still in the tanks but Flip confidently predicts that this will be even better.


An anthropologist from the United States recently entertained visitors at Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Centre, outside Kimberley, with a talk on how Neanderthals coped with food supplies affected by the changing climate of their world. She has also studied how their dietary patterns affected their teeth. For her research Shireen El Zaatari, a PhD candidate in the Interdepartmental Doctoral Programme in Anthropoligical Sciences at Stony Brook University, New York, reconstructed Neanderthal dietary habits from various sites in Europe and the Middle East using the occlusal micro wear of their molar teeth. “The aim of my study is to get samples from across as wide a geographical and temporal range as possible in order understand how Neanderthals were able to adapt to these changes,” said Shireen. She came to South Africa to study dental wear patterns of Later Stone Age groups in inland areas, such as the Karoo, and at coastline sites to discover possible variations in their dietary habits. She will compare the dietary habits of these groups to those of contemporary San. “Occlusal micro wear data from these modern human groups, along with data from other groups with a variety of dietary habits, such as Australian Aborigines, Tasmanians, Zulu, Arikara farmers, and the like, will form the basis of the comparative sample for the fossil human groups in my dissertation,” said Shireen.


It seemed a routine case of assault, till it backfired. On Tuesday, October 17, 1904, Beaufort West resident magistrate and civil commissioner Eben T Anderson sentenced a Cape Government Railwayman £1 or 7 days in jail for assaulting a coloured boy employed by James Pantry of the Beaufort Hotel. The offender paid up. The magistrate went home for lunch. In the early afternoon there was a hammering on the magistrate’s front door. His servant, Sarah Kriel, went to answer and called out: “Mr Anderson, someone is here to see you!” It was the railwayman. “He leapt at the magistrate, tearing his shirt and three buttons from him waistcoat. He struck him about the face and head with his fist,” reported The Courier of October 20, 1904. The magistrate called for help, but the accused dragged him out onto the veranda, where he began hitting him with a broomstick. The two grappled, fell from the veranda and into the garden. They created such a stir that a crowd began to gather. However, no one seemed willing to get involved. Just then Mrs Anderson appeared in the doorway. Sarah had run off to call her. She stepped up to the fray, grabbed the railwayman and the broomstick, which “she put to good use, allowing her husband time to get to his feet.” The Andersons then rushed into their house, locking the front door behind them. The man roared in rage, banging and kicking at the door and rattling the handle until Police Sergeant Donoghue arrived. He managed to handcuff the man who was “under the influence of drink and acting in a very violent manner” and escort him away. District surgeon Dr Westby, then arrived to treat the magistrate for severe cuts and bruises over his right eye and injuries to his hands, arms and hips. A little later Assistant Magistrate A A van Breda committed the man for trial, refusing him bail. Beaufort Westers were full of praise for Mrs Anderson. There was much talk about violence, the indignity of being attacked in your own home and the power of a woman to curb the evils of liquor and madness.


David Katzman, a genealogist, in La Jolla, California, is tracing his family’s epic journey from Belarus to Oudtshoorn in 1906. “They landed at Cape Town, and from there were obliged to travel first by rail to Graaff Reinet and from there by horse and cart to Oudtshoorn,” writes David. “This they were told was the best route and that no trains went to Oudtshoorn. No I wonder, was this trip done by the normal post cart, or were there carts, like taxis for hire at the station?” March next year will be the 100th anniversary of this trip and David hopes to publish a commemorative account of his ancestors’ epic journey. He is thus looking for information, pictures, postcards and any other material which will help to give a picture of life in the Klein Karoo from 1900 to 1910. “Of course, I would prefer originals, if possible, but this is not essential. I am looking for town scenes of Oudtshoorn and Graaff Reinet, pictures of the railway station, as well as the horse carts that were used to transport passengers to outlying districts in those days. Also, any rural and topographical scenes taken anywhere between Cape Town, Graaff Reinet and Oudtshoorn would be welcome. If anyone has an old post cart route map, that would be wonderful.”


Ingrid Paterson, who lives in Inverness, Scotland, came across a delightful South African story which she felt Round-up readers would enjoy as much as she did – “even though it has nothing to do with the Karoo.” Way back in 1699 the Dutch East India Company built a hospital, the first at the Cape, for sick soldiers and sailors, recovering from diseases such as scurvy. It seems they neglected to provide it with a suitable toilet. “It’s only privy was situated near a tavern on the main road,” writes Betty Hughes (Cox) in Walking Through History. The temptation was too much for the more than 500 serving men of the Dutch East India Company who were patients at the hospital. No bed pans for them. They frequently left their beds to answer their calls of nature. “Nightly absenteeism from the beds caused the Company great concern, for it retarded their recovery,” writes Betty. This hospital stood for 85 years near present-day 4 Wale Street. One day in December 1710, a famous Scot, arrived on a ship from Java, and called at the hospital. Alexander Selkirk, had been stranded on the desert island of Juan Fernandez for four years and in time his story so intrigued Daniel Defoe that he based Robinson Crusoe on it. Selkirk, then a master on a ship in the convoy that rescued him, was responsible for the crew, so had several sick sailors hospitalised. He visited them daily taking them luxuries they would not otherwise have enjoyed, and so perhaps making it unnecessary for them to trail up the road to the toilet and other facilities. By April 1711, the men were well, the ships sea-worthy and provisioned and Selkirk sailed for home.


At the end of the 1800s there were many whispers in Beaufort West about the “Curse of the Kavanaghs”. Shortly before the Anglo Boer War a Major Kavanagh died in the town and was buried in the Roman Catholic cemetery. Some had heard the story from him. Others heard it from Colonel Kavanagh, a man who “spent a good deal of time rebel-hunting in the Western Cape Colony during the War,” according to a story in The Courier. The Colonel told anyone in the Karoo, who cared to listen, that his father was “one of the most remarkable personalities ever known.” But, according to the Colonel his father had no arms and legs and had to be wheeled into the House of Commons of which he was a member. “The Kavanaghs are descended from Dermot MacMorrough, one of the Irish kings,” said the Colonel. “Way back in time, no one knows exactly when, nor why, someone cursed him, screaming out: ‘May your son be born without arms and legs.’ Generations passed, nothing happened. The family relaxed. The curse remained unfulfilled. Then, after the death of his first wife, my grandfather, Arthur Kavanagh married Lady Harriet Trench. Her family was horrified that she could dare marry a man with an ancient curse hanging over him. Their third son, my father, Arthur MacMorrough Kavanagh, was born with only rudiments of fingers on his shoulders and toes on his thighs. Some said the use of the old MacMorrough name resulted in the curse being fulfilled.” The Colonel maintained his father was one of the very best and ablest of Irish landlords. “His courage and noble character conquered his frightful disabilities and led to his success.” It was a good tale. It kept the Colonel’s glass topped up.


Karoo mutton and other meats at special prices. Who could resist? Those who promised it, it seems. Beaufort West Co-operative Meat Suppliers Association offered quality meat at good prices at its Market Square shop. This had been promised at its first shareholders meeting in the Lyric Hall on October 14, 1904. Then, one resident wrote to The Courier. “We well remember the directors of Beaufort West Co-operative Meat Suppliers asking whether they could rely on our loyalty. We also remember the confident affirmative was given by most local residents and all the directors present. How then is it that we find these very directors buying their meat at the morning market at prices far lower than they are offering in the shop run by their association?” states a “Letter to the Editor” in The Courier of October 20, 1904.


Christian Coetzee and Joseph Dawson had always been good friends, yet one ended up dead, shot by the other. During an enquiry in Beaufort West in September 1902, Constable George Chantler, said he had been called out at 06h00 on the morning of January 31, to examine a body at the blockhouse. He found Joseph Dawson, shot through the back of the head. Witnesses, among them Coos Prens, and Cobus Steenkamp, said: “Joseph and Christian were fooling around, joking, laughing and playing about. Then a gun shot rang out and Joseph fell to the ground. It was a pure accident.” District Surgeon Dr Maeder examined the wound and confirmed that it could have happened as the witnesses said. However, the Officer Commanding at Beaufort West said “no guns were allowed to be loaded at the blockhouse without orders and no orders had been given for loading on the morning in question.” The jury found Christian to have been negligent and pronounced him guilty of culpable homicide. They recommended mercy, so he was thus sentenced to three months’ imprisonment with hard labour.


Way back in 1902 Beaufort West Municipality decided to protect birds and game within its boundaries. George D Rainier, then acting resident magistrate, issued a proclamation which was published in The Beaufort West Courier of September 18, 1902, stating that “in terms of Section 3 of Act 42 of 1899, birds and game of every description whatsoever shall be specially protected within the municipal limits of Beaufort West for a period of three years from August 3, 1902.”


Several Prince Albert residents interested in eco-tourism and the ecology recently visited the new cultural heritage centre created by Ian Uys at Bushman Valley, at Swartberg Private Nature Reserve. They were most impressed with the collection of San artefacts, weapons and items of clothing on display. These visitors agreed this centre was a wonderful addition to facilities available in the village and, because of its close proximity to town, most useable by villagers and tourists alike.


In the 1800s residents of little hinterland towns always avidly looked forward to seeing the travelling variety shows. Beaufort West was no exception. They raved about “the exceptionally good show” put on by Ada Delroy and Company. “Their fame preceded them, but the reality exceeded anticipation,” reported The Beaufort West Courier on Wednesday, June 20, 1898. “Miss Delroy herself is the most graceful dancer we have ever seen tripping the stage. Her Cobra di Capella dance, with exquisite lighting effects on her costume, was the embodiment of grace. It left the audience breathless.” Miss Delroy also excelled as an actress and singer and with Maude Lita rendered beautiful vocal selections.” The audience was convulsed with laughter at the antics of Teddy Ford and James Bell, but it was Madam Bell who really stole the show. “Not only could she could see the past, tell the whereabouts of long-lost articles, give messages from distant relatives and some who’d passed on, but she could read thoughts and answer unspoken questions.” The Courier called her “an uncanny, marvellous and psychological bewilderment.” She claimed to have no super-natural powers. “The means I employ is totally natural,” she said. “One day in the future they will be more generally understood and used by scientific workers.”


Water is of prime concern in the Karoo. So, over the years there have been many wondrous water schemes. In 1903 a lake was proposed. The Courier of March 19, 1903 reported: “A new scheme is now under consideration. Briefly – for one must go gently when breaking new ground – there is a proposal for building a wall 100 ft high, 70ft thick at the base and 600 ft long. This is to be placed at the mouth of the kloof through which the Zwartkops River runs. It will dam up the river and create a lake three miles long and 75 ft deep, with a surface of 200 acres. One good storm should fill it with nine and a half million gallons and that will give us enough water for a year at least.” Some people hailed it as a good scheme. Others were more cynical. One of the immense storms, that hit the Karoo from time to time, would cause severe damage, they said. Before too much consideration could be given to the scheme good rains came and some feel saved the day.


There was a smallpox outbreak in the Karoo in the 1880s. This led to towns like Beaufort West creating special hospitals, called Lazarettos, to care for patients. Special precautions were also taken to try to prevent the disease from spreading. Arthur G Barlow in Almost in Confidence tells of a journey taken with his mother in 1882. “I trekked with my mother in a Cape-cart from Bloemfontein to Colesberg and on to Port Elizabeth. At the Orange River Bridge my mother and I, with all our luggage, were bundled into two separate sentry boxes, each with a small aperture out of which one was able to put one’s face to breathe. Inside each box three big pans filled with burning sulphur, gave off dense, stinking fumes. A small box was placed inside for me to stand on. I almost choked before I reached the opening out of which I had to put my face. In this manner we were fumigated against carrying the infection of smallpox into the Cape Colony. Armed guards of burghers were put on watch at the boundaries of bigger villages.” Later Arthur, his mother and brother Alfred had difficulty in getting back to Bloemfontein after visiting a farm on the Modder River. Kimberley, says Arthur, was one of the towns that suffered most severely during the smallpox epidemic. Dr Leander Star Jameson, infamous raider of the Transvaal Republic, who was there at that time, had never seen smallpox. Initially he declared the disease not to be smallpox at all, but, then he had trained in Great Britain and had never had an opportunity of seeing it.


Inverness has mounted a campaign to become a “Fairtrade City” and try to help end poverty in the developing world. An article in the Inverness Courier of September 16 states that the Highland Council now offers Fairtrade tea and coffee at its meetings and in all its offices and canteens. Schools across the region now also stock Fairtrade orange juice and chocolate. “I noticed this article shortly after hearing a BBC report about Western Cape Farmers going under because they could not get a fair price for their grapes,” writes Round-up reader Ingrid Paterson, from Inverness in Scotland. “So, despite the fact that Tesco, a giant supermarket chain here were selling Cape Grapes at very reduced prices, I bought mine from Marks and Spencers who were not. I felt like a good old patriot!”

“The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.” Arnold Toynbee