MEMORIAL – 30 YEARS IN THE MAKING
On October 12, 2019, at the end of a highly successful conference commemorating the 120th anniversary of the Anglo-Boer War, a memorial was unveiled to honour those who fell on March 10, 1900, at the Battle of Driefontein (Abrahamskraal) near Petrusberg, as well as those who died in the field hospital. The battle followed the Battle of Poplar Grove. Boer forces, under the command of General Christiaan de Wet, were holding a 7-mile(11 km) line covering the approach to Bloemfontein when Lord Roberts ordered Lieutenant-General Thomas Kelly Kenny to attack their position from the front, while Lieutenant-General Charles Tucker moved against the left flank The Boers were forced to withdraw. They lost 124 men, who were either killed or captured – 82 British soldiers were killed and 342 wounded. A main role-players behind the erection of this memorial was Dr Garth Benneyworth. After locating the site in 1989 he set to work arranging for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to restore the graves and maintain them for perpetuity. He then, with friends in South Africa and Australia, began raising funds for the erection of a memorial. At the unveiling he said: “Reaching this day has been 30 years in the making. Until only a few weeks ago this area was still overgrown and neglected. I am proud of what we have achieved. I sincerely thank all who were involved.”
POPULAR MAN MISSED HIS FAMILY
Among those commemorated at Driefontein is Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Edward Ernest Umphelby of the Royal Australian Artillery. He was the highest ranking Australian officer to serve in the Anglo-Boer War. To honour him a wreath was laid by Gita Kamath, the Australian High Commissioner in South Africa. Umphelby died on March 12, two days after being wounded. He initially joined the Militia Garrison Artillery at Warrnambool in June, 1881, and after numerous promotions, extensive training and education in Australia and England, reached the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1897. He was placed in command of the Western District Garrison Artillery. At the outbreak of the Boer War, Umphelby was nominated by Victoria’s Minister of Defence as one of four special service officers to serve in South Africa. He joined the staff of Lieutenant-General Sir FW Forestier-Walker, Commanding Officer of the Lines of Communication in Cape Town, on December 9, 1899. After serving briefly as a Press Censor, he applied to join Lord Methuen’s army at Modder River Station. His request was granted and he was appointed as staff officer to Colonel Barker, commanding Officer of the Howitzer Battery. Umphelby’s full story appears in the Journal of Australian Colonial History https://www.une.edu.au/about-une/academic-schools/school-of-humanities/research/journal-of-australian-colonial-history/jach He was a popular man and nicknamed “Uncle Bill”. He missed his family and wrote: “Sometimes I get a little down in the dumps here when I think how far I am away from home and the uncertain game I am playing; but I believe in luck, and hope to be with you all shortly.” This was not to be.
GREAT MAN HONOURED
Another milestone in the 120th commemoration of the Anglo Boer War was reached on Saturday, October 19, when a statue of General Koos De Le Rey was unveiled was at Kedar Lodge at Boekenhoutsfontein. This was followed by a heritage dinner in the Armoury Lodge. It was designed to honour Koos and Nonnie De La Rey’s legendary hospitality. After a severely wounded Lord Metheun was captured by General De La Rey he was treated with the greatest respect. Despite the fact that he was a bitter enemy and the man who had given the order for their farmhouse to be destroyed, the compassionate Nonnie De La Rey slaughtered her last chicken, cooked it and served it to him with gravy and patties.
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LEFT HIS NAME ON A ROCK
Twenty-six-year old Edward Cook, the son of Leicestershire farmers, left his homeland filled with enthusiasm to serve in South Africa as a missionary. He had arrived in Cape Town in the early 1830s, met Mary Frances Thornhill, who had arrived with the1820 settlers, and married her. She was the daughter of Christopher Thornhill and his wife, Dorothea. Shortly after their wedding they left for Namibia where he reopened the Warmbad Wesleyan Mission. Edward was the first missionary to carry a letter from Governor Benjamin D’Urban to the Nama chief, Abraham Christian. On route, the couple stopped to overnight at Heerenlogement Cave, also known as The Gentleman’s Lodging. There he carved E Cook, 1834, into the sandstone wall. This huge cave on the slopes of the Langeberg Mountains, approximately 20 km north of Graafwater in the Western Cape, had for hundreds of years offered a safe, dry haven to explorers, adventurers, botanists, astronomers, ministers and missionaries travelling northwards. It was so big that it also kept their horses safe and sheltered for the night. In time the Cooks had five children, John Thornhill (1831), Edward Boyer (1837), Dorothea Moundsey (1838), Mary Frances (1839) and Anna Maria, who was born on May 29, 1843, two months after her father’s death. Edward was sent to work among the powerful Bondleswarts clan. He had high hopes for his mission work, but by March 9, 1843, he was dead. “The hardships of missionary life, its labours and travels in a wild region amongst a people not yet softened by the influence of Christianity, proved fatal to his once robust constitution,” stated the Grahamstown Journal. Edward was only 38. His body was taken back to the mission for burial.
BACK TO THE KAROO
Mary Frances suddenly found herself in the middle of nowhere with five young children to support. She went back to Cape Town, but there it was no easier, so she returned to England. However, after a few years she missed South Africa and its pleasant climate, so she returned and went to live in Cradock, where some of her family had settled. There she fitted will into village life and was quite happy. She was “universally respected and held in great affection by all who knew her,” states the Grahamstown Journal, of June 9, 1886, reporting her death. ”She was kind, amiable, truly pious and she had great strength of character.” The newspaper said this was built up during her stay at the mission. “It enabled her to successfully overcome the trials of an isolated existence amid the dangers of heathenism, wild beasts and frequent tribal wars.” Mary died peacefully “though she had been dealing gradually with increasing infirmities; after suffering a paralytic attack.” She was 76.
IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN A VICTORY
Kimberly historian and tour guide, Steve Lunderstedt is helping to collect funding for a special memorial to commemorate the Boers who fell at Modder River. These men took part in a series of key and interesting battles,” he says. “After the battles of Belmont and Graspan General De la Rey, a deeply religious and able commander, took control of the combined Orange Free State/Transvaal forces. At the battle of Tweeriviere/ Modder River, on November 28, 1899, he confronted the British troops from trenches which he had ordered his commandos to dig along the bank of the Modder River, at the Riet River junction, astride the wrecked railway bridge south of the station. Boers in these trenches, forward of the river, surprised the British particularly as Lord Metheuen had personally ridden out the day before and seen nothing of the Boers. It was a torrid battle and, in temperatures that rose to around 110 deg F (43 deg C), De la Rey’s Lichtenburg Commando kept the British forces pinned down for the entire day. “The untimely withdrawal by the Boer forces overnight on November 28/29 – mainly because they felt vulnerable and feared being outflanked – arguably robbed them of what would have been a famous victory. For the British, it was a surprise to find that the Boers had vacated their positions and that they, the British Army, had in fact won the battle.” At least 76 British soldiers were killed that day and many more succumbed to their wounds during the days that followed. These men are remembered by five memorials on the battlefield. The Boer forces lost between 23 and 73 men – De la Rey’s Lichtenburg Commando alone lost 18 – and there has never been a memorial to them. In the aftermath Lord Methuen said that this was one of the hardest and most trying fights in the annals of the British army. “Yet sadly this is the only battle in the Kimberley area that does not have a Boer memorial,” said Steve
THE DANGERS OF THE EARLY ROADS
John Nel, an employee of Bedford Enterprises in Somerset East, suffered a fatal accident one day while driving home on his own. This cart capsized and a considerable time later he was found lying unconscious in the road and suffering from severe head wounds. He died shortly after being found. He had only been married for 18 months reported the Grahamstown Journal of April 16, 1886.
GREAT POET WITH TIES TO SA
A young man with South African connections is commemorated among 16 Great War poets at Poet’s Corner in West Minister Abbey. Born in Bristol in 1887, he was Isaac, the eldest son and second of six children of Barnett (formerly Dovber), a pedlar, and Hacha Rosenberg, a seamstress. Orthodox Jews they had escaped the shtetls of Dvinsk (in Latvia) and, in 1897, settled in a poor district in the East End of London where Isaac was sent to school. He left at the age of fourteen and became an apprentice at a firm of engravers in Fleet Street. He was interested in poetry and art and attended some evening classes where he showed great promise. This took him to the Slade School of Fine Art at the University College of London. Sadly, he suffered from chronic bronchitis. which led to depression, so at the age of 27, after publishing ten poems and holding a successful exhibition of paintings, he decided to visit his sister Mina, in Cape Town, in the hopes of finding a cure in a warmer climate. He did not have the fare, but managed to cadge £12 from friends for a Union Castle line ticket. He arrived in June, 1914, with high hopes for a new life. His work was quickly recognised in this country. The chic studio journal of the South African Women’s Council lionised his work and published some of his best pieces. Betty Molteno, the daughter of Sir John Charles Molteno, the Lion of Beaufort West and first premier of the Cape, invited him to their Rondebosch estate. There for the first time in his life Isaac had a room of his own, coffee brought to him in bed and his shoes polished for him. He hoped to visit his Uncle Peretz, who was a rabbi in Johannesburg. His breakthrough here invigorated him and fostered his genius, states Stephen Gray, in an article entitled Half-Used Life Blasted to Extinction. Isaac wrote to a friend stating that “coming away has made me more confident and mature.”
THE END OF HIS DREAMS
WWI, however, put paid to his dreams. Isaac went back to England. Sadly many of his portraits were lost when a folder of his work blew off the ship on which he was travelling. He enlisted in October, 1815. He was critical of the war, but his family were in dire financial straits and he chose the army in an effort to help them financially. He was assigned to a “bantam” battalion for men under the minimum height of 5ft 3in (1,6m) in the Suffolk Regiment. He transferred to the Kings Own Royal Lancaster Regiment and was sent to the Western Front in June, 1916. He continued to write poetry while on active service and his Poems from the Trenches are said to be some of the most outstanding written during the WWI. In a landmark study of literature of WWI Paul Fussell hails Break of Day in the Trenches as “the greatest poem of the war” Isaac had just finished a night patrol, on April l, 1918, when he was killed in Fampoux, north east of Arras. He was buried in a mass grave, but in 1926, bits of what might have been his corpse were exhumed. His family back in the East End ghetto were sent a bill for three shillings and sixpence, so that he might rest under a Star of David with “Artist and Poet” on his tombstone, when reinterred. In addition to the Poet’s Corner, which was made on November 11, 1985, Isaac is also honoured in the National Portrait, Whitechapel and Tate galleries in Britain.
SUICIDE MYSTIFIES EASTERN CAPE
Eastern Cape Karoo farmers were horrified to hear of the suicide of Thomas Hopper, a well-known farmer, states the Grahamstown Journal of March 11, 1886 . “Thomas, who was widely known throughout the region as a carrier, poisoned himself by taking a quantity of McDougall’s sheep dip,” after his wife left for church with their eight children. They left Thomas at home because he complained of feeling unwell. When they returned they found him lying on a sofa. They could clearly see that he was very ill. In answer to his wife’s questions he stated that he had taken a tumbler-full of McDougall’s sheep dip. The family did everything they could to relieve his acute suffering and excruciating pain, but without success, and he died shortly afterwards. The matter was reported to the Dr Preston, the District Surgeon, who rode out and conducted a post mortem. No one ever established what led to his suicide. Some say it was caused by financial embarrassments.
The Barkly East Dispatch of April 16, 1886, reported “a most shocking accident”. Mr S Marais and his family were coming in to town to attend nachtmaal (communion) when near one of the drifts his wagon overturned and rolled two or three times down a steep embankment, before pitching into the river. His wife, two daughters of 18 and 21 and two small children were trapped inside. They became entangled in the bedding, the wagon fell on top of them and they were smothered and drowned. All this happened while Mr Marais stood on the bank, quite powerless to help them, stated the newspaper. It added that family members stated that he “almost went out of his mind with grief.”
INVALUABLE SERVICE ON THE FRONTIER
Henry Hutton, and his wife, Caroline (nee Atherstone) played key roles in botany in the Eastern Cape. Henry, who was born in Essex on May 12, 1825, was the son of Henry Hutton and his wife, Elizabeth Sophia (nee Beevor). He came to the Cape in August, 1844, landed at Algoa Bay, liked the country and four years later married Caroline. Born on November 14, 1826, she was the daughter of Dr John Atherstone; and sister of the widely-known and highly acclaimed William Guybon Atherstone. Caroline and Henry had five sons and seven daughters. During the Frontier War of 1846 (The War of the Axe) Henry served as aide-de-camp to Commandant-General Sir Andries Stockenstrom. The following year he was made clerk of the ordinance at Grahamstown, and later, in 1849, he became secretary to the Royal Engineers on the eastern frontier. Henry served as volunteer with the 12th Foot and helped clear the Fish River Bush. By 1851 he was a staff officer for the Albany Rangers. He took up several meaningful positions in the Cape civil service. Among these were chief superintendent of convicts, Justice of the Peace for Albany, roads magistrate, magistrate to the convict department, inspector of locations for Albany and Fort Beaufort, manager of Vooruitzigt Estate, secretary and treasurer of the Divisional Council of Bedford, and Justice of the Peace for Kimberley. By 1891 he and Caroline were farming at Beaumont in the Fish River area 30 km north of Grahamstown. Henry retired in 1892.
AVID PLANT COLLECTORS
He and Caroline played a key role in recording the plants of the Eastern Cape. From early in the 1850s they were sending specimens to the Albany Museum and these were acknowledged by the acclaimed international botanist, William Henry Harvey. In his Thesaurus Capensis in 1859 and, in the following year their efforts were highly praised. They donated most of their specimens to the herbarium of the Albany Museum. These included plants which they had collected on a trip to the Witwatersarnd. On one of their field trips in the Katberg area, north of Fort Beaufort, Henry discovered a new genus of Liliaceae and Caroline found a new genus of orchid, which was named Huttonaea in her honour. Later the species Schizoglossum huttoniae, Nerine huttoniae, and Calamagrostis huttoniae were named after her, states researcher Cornelis Plug. Three species were also named in Henry’s honour: Anagallis huttonii. Brachystelma huttonii and Cyrtanthus huttonii. In 1867 colonial botanist, Peter MacOwan named Henry as one of five collectors who had thoroughly covered the Grahamstown district. During his lifetime Henry was a member of the Grahamstown Philomatic Society (a debating society). He also joined the Albany Agricultural Society as well as the Literary, Scientific and Medical Society. .He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. When Henry died in Grahamstown on January 21, 1896, the director of the Albany museum, Dr Selmar Schonland, hailed him as a good friend and said he had been collecting plants for the museum for over 40 years. His invaluable efforts were greatly appreciated. Caroline moved to Natal where she continued collecting and sending specimens to the Albany museum. Her contributions were acknowledged in a museum report in 1908. She died in Pietermaritzburg on March 12, 1908.
RELIGIOUS “MADNESS” LED TO SUICIDE
In 1886 Wednesdays were “half holidays”. Businesses closed and workers had the afternoons off. A Steynsburg resident reported strolling down the road on March 3, “a beautiful Karoo afternoon” and hearing groans coming from inside J W Stevens and Company’s store. He went up to the door thinking that it was merely a drunk inside. Then he fancied he heard someone cry out. He wondered whether someone had been attacked inside and so called to another passer-by to come over. They were then both horrified to hear a voice cry out: “For God’s sake come in – I’m dying.” They immediately sent for Mr Hiskin, an employee of the company, who rushed down to unlock the door. They then all burst in and found Mr B Stevens “groaning and curling about in fearful agony on the floor”. He mumbled that he had taken a dose strychnine. Unfortunately says the Eastern .Province Herald of March 15, 1886, the village had no doctor. “If there had been one he might have been able to assist. The townspeople, however, did what they could.” The Justice of the Peace was sent for, and he took Steven’s dying declaration. The man stated that he had taken the poison because he had sinned against God and that this had put him in a “very melancholy state for some time.” The JP concluded that Stevens had become “religiously mad”. He lived two hours after taking the poison and his death cast quite a gloom over the little village. Great sympathy was expressed for his mother and relations, who all live in England.
It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it – Lou Holtz