When William Burchell arrived at the Cape in 1811 he was an eager, but inexperienced naturalist with a romantic passion for science. Soon after setting foot on shore he commissioned a custom-built wagon, and set off in it accompanied by Khoekhoe servants, to explore the flora and fauna of the vast southern African interior. He travelled through the Cape across the Roggeveld escarpment, traversing the Great Karoo and onwards to an area east of Kuruman where he ultimately reached the extremities of the northern Cape. By August, 1812, he arrived at Litakun (now Dithakong), the most northerly point of his trek. He could go no further – “all our provisions were now exhausted and we found great difficulty in procuring game in the vicinity of the town.” He set off on a hunting trip, returned a month later, completed his research and began a return trip which was to take four-years. During this time he travelled over 7 000 kilometres and he collected an astonishing 63 000 specimens of plants, bulbs, insects, reptiles and mammals – many of which had not previously been documented. His achievements far surpassed those of other travellers of his day. He also completed over 500 paintings and illustrations. His out bound trek was well-described in the widely-read Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa, however, little has been published about the challenges and discoveries made on his three-year return journey from 1812 to1815. This has now been rectified with the released of Burchell’s African OdysseyRevealing the return journey, written by Roger Stewart and Marion Whitehead.


For Burchell’s African Odyssey Roger and Marion drew on much, as yet, unpublished material, such as Burchell’s letters, meticulous records, illustrations, detailed maps, documentation of events along the way, as well as of descriptions of people he met and their surroundings. Burchell even recorded daily weather conditions. Researching this epic pioneering return trek through the arid southern Kalahari, hot, dry, Karoo via Graaff Reinet, Grahamstown, along the Great Fish River, through the war-ravaged eastern Cape, and along the Eden-like southern Cape coastal belt back to Cape Town was a daunting task. Roger Stewart worked on it for 15 years. This beautifully illustrated book now captures Burchell’s genius and his fascination for this region. Back in London he cultivated seeds and bulbs from this trek and introduced them to horticulture in the UK. Most of his specimens are lodged at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, in London, and at the Oxford Museum of Natural History. Roger deals in historical maps of Africa. He represents the International Map Collectors’ Society in South Africa and is a member of the Washington Map Society and the Royal Society of Southern Africa. Marion is an author, travel writer and freelance photojournalist with a keen interest in natural and cultural history. She was formerly an assistant editor of Getaway magazine and the author of South Africa’s Favourite Passes & Poorts. The book is available from most reputable book sellers and mostly costs just over R300.


A new book entitled Karoo Rock Engravings and written by Professor John Parkington, Dr David Morris and Neil Rusch, is to be launched in Sutherland before the horse caravan sets off along The Forgotten Highway. The launch is scheduled to take place at Sterland in Sutherland on Friday, October 21, at 17H00. Both David and John will speak at the launch and copies of the book will be available for sale at the function. Several other books, such Karoo Cosmos, which has chapters by several authors, who are prominent in the fields of archaeology, astronomy, folklore and education, will also be for sale at this function. Karoo Cosmos places this cosmic understanding of this vast area in its historic and archaeological context, by recognizing the ǀxam interest and explaining the sky long before the coming of the Square Kilometre Array Organisation – SKA radio telescope – waseven thought of in the Karoo.


The KDF Horse Ride, a grand cavalcade, of horses, carts and other vehicles, will leave Sutherland on October 22 on a historic 600km ride to Griekwastad, where they will arrive on November 6. The ride will be led by Piet Coetzee, from Senekal, driving his historic wagon hitched to six beautiful black Flemish horses. Sutherlanders are arranging a morning market to coincide with his sendoff that day. Many people on bicycles, individual horses, donkey carts and cars aim to join the expedition which will progress at an average speed of 10 kph for 2-hour periods. They will stop over and stay at villages along the way and, at various places, will visit places such as the old age homes. At some places children and other interested people will be able to visit the horses. This unique, unusual and exciting ride signifies the opening of KDF’S newest project, The Forgotten Highway. As its aim is to promote tourism in this vast area workshops will be held in several towns. The aim of the project is to promote the historic route to the north taken by San, Korana, explorers, hunters and missionaries travelling from Tulbagh and Ceres to Reverend Robert’s Mission in Kuruman, and then on into Central Africa.


In December, 1901, a group of Boers were attacked in the Calvinia area on a seemingly tranquil summer morning. No one was aware that Doran’s column was in the area, so around 30 horses were quietly grazing in a field at Leeuwendrift guarded by a number of unarmed youngsters. At about 10:00 just as the Boers mounted and prepared to ride out on patrol, the British attacked. The Boers managed to charge through the British line, but they had to abandon their grazing horses and their guards. The Intelligence Agent at Calvinia, reported that during this incident seven men were captured. Among them was Calvinia Rebel, 14-year-old Johannes Loubser from Wilgenbosch. He was dangerously wounded and not expected to survive. He didn’t. He died on December 17 after managing to explain that he was one of about eight horse guards, who leapt on to horses and riding bareback, tried to evade capture. He was forced off his horse, he said and, as he stood unarmed with raised hands, his captor robbed him of his knife plus some other items and then shot him. As he lay on the ground, he heard the man re-loading, but he was not shot again. The next afternoon he managed to start walking, in a bid to seek help. He reached De Puts and from there managed to send a messenger to Mr van der Merwe of Brandwacht who was the member of the Legislative Assembly for Calvinia. Van der Merwe sent a carriage to bring Loubser to his farm and there took his statement which is still in the Calvinia Museum. The other prisoners were taken to Sutherland and from there to Matjesfontein where they stood trial on January 24,1902.


In 1878 a man named D’Arcy Read toured an enormously popular ghost exhibition across the hinterland. In an advertisement headed Ye Ghost!!!, in The Friend of November 18, 1878, he advised that he was leaving Bloemfontein to continue his highly successful Ghost Exhibition and that he would be travelling via Fauresmith and Philippolis to Colesberg and Graaff-Reinet. The advertisement was placed by Secretary H Arthur Greene. The D’Arcy Read Theatrical Company was a musical company set up by D’Arcy Read and his wife Elsie Sydney. They were recruited in England by J H le Roy and came to South Africa in 1868 with the Le Roy and Duret company. The first performance took place as part of a grand fete held in the Gardens in Cape Town, after that they performed in the Theatre Royal, but when it burned down, they lost most of their wardrobe. Le Roy and Duret cancelled all performances, so the Reads joined forces with James Leffler and his wife, created Read-Leffler and set off to tour the principal towns of the Karoo as far as Colesberg by ox-wagon. There the Reads and Lefflers parted company and Leffler decided to go back to Cape Town. D’Arcy Read continued touring and offering popular musical style entertainment across the hinterland in various venues. His ghost illusions were based on magic lantern type performances popularised by English scientist John Henry Pepper in 1862.


Dwarsvlei, a farm near Middelburg in the Karoo, is offering children a wonderful way of starting off their December holidays, this year. The farm is launching its first Dwarsvlei Children’s Adventure Camp and it is aimed at children between the ages of 9 and 14. The main objective is to get the childre to explore Karoo and all it has to offer. This adventure camp will include hiking, fossil hunting, camp outs, star gazing, braais, as well as fun obstacle courses, various games and challenges, as well as arts and crafts. A team of experienced educators and camp councillors will lead each session, and make sure that all places are safe spaces for children to explore and learn to appreciate the beauty of the Karoo. More from Sarah at dwarsvlei.karoo@gmail.com 


Piet Pienaar was a friendly, kindly and helpful man. He lived in the Noupoort area. One day he went to visit his brother-in-law on the farm, Tweefontein and while there noticed his sister struggling to close one of the doors. In his book Vyf-En-Veertig Jaar Langs Die Spoor, his grandson, Reverend B J Bennie, one of the pastors who preached from the railway mission church train, states that Grandpa Piet was something of a carpenter and so immediately leapt into action to rectify the situation. He took the door off and armed with hammer and plane reshaped and replaced it. By the time he had done that he had built up a good sweat, but was very satisfied with his efforts. He bade his sister and her husband farewell set off for home, but as there was a cold wind blowing and on his ride to his own farm he caught a chill. Both of his wives, Agatha and Anna, had predeceased him, yet, he took to his bed and dosed himself with hot toddies, but things didn’t improve. He got worse and worse and then, just died on January 7, 1890. His kind deed had cost him his life.

NOTE ; Reverend Bennie was born in Graaff-Reinet on May 10,1879. His father, Barend Pienaar, farmed on Gatsrivier near Nieu Bethesda. His mother, Johanna Maria (nee Pienaar) was only 21 when he was born and she died nine days later. She and Barend had been married for just over a year – they were married in Graaff Reinet on March 28, 1878. She was the daughter of Petrus Jacobus “Piet” Pienaar, who was also known as Piet “Riviertjie”. He lived on Dorsfontein in the Sneeuberg area and he was widely known as a weather profit. After his mother died Baby Barend went to live with Oupa Piet.)


Reverend Bennie thoroughly enjoyed the time he spent on the mission train. But, he said there were two essential requirements, good stamina and a good stomach. Other necessities, were “a bicycle to get about and a canary to keep you company.” He mentioned that the coach was comfortable; it had been built from scratch by Thornton, Childs and Gee coach builders. T.S. McEwan, a canny regimental-type Scot, who was General Manager of the Cape Railways before Union and subsequently, a member of the Railway Board, greatly supported this mission, he added. Discussing a typical trip,he said day one went from De Aar to Hanover Road, Day Two to Noupoort; Day Three to Rosmead, Day Four to Visrivier, Day Five to Cradock, Day six to Cookhouse – on Sunday a large service was held on Cookhouse Station, then, it was on to Alicedale, Sandflats and Port Elizabeth. He held services in the then South West Africa, across the Klein Karoo, in the Overberg, Bushmanland, and in the Karoo at places like Touws River, Hutchison, Calvinia, Carnarvon and Williston. The eastern route took them to East London, Queenstown, Maclear and Umtata. He also preached at some almost unheard of little places like Firgrove, Eagle Station, Kothieskolk, Kalabas, Bitterfontein Paddagat, Moedverloor, Vlermuisklip and Komkans. He firmly believed that “a house-going pastor makes church-going people” so at one place when found a circus parked nearby he went to preach in the ring


On one occasion he was caught in a severe rainstorm while out preaching “along the line” between Indwe and Dordrecht. He had “not a thread” of dry clothing and had to stand dripping on the station waiting for his coach to arrive. On another his bicycle tyres were punctured and he walk from cottage No 19 to sandflats. He arrived drenched in perspiration and dust which had turned to mud only to find his coach had been unhitched in Alicedale. He was a man of God, he believed in the Lord’s will, so he set off for the hotel in the hopes of finding something to eat. There he was told the servants left early and that there was no fire in the stove. Tired and hungry he looked on it as a test of faith and, covered in dust, simply went to bed until the next day. Little did he know more problems lay ahead. In similar rainy conditions he had to carry his bike from Tankatara to Coega Station. At the end of this journey he had a bad bout of flu and only a tin of sardines and dry biscuits for food. He settled in the shade of the water tank to enjoy these. In time, the church bought a motor bike, but this came with its own problems. At times it had a mind on its own and flatly refused to start, so he ended up pushing it from place to place – that was somehow than walking next to his bicycle.


At the age of 42, in 1910, William W Hoy became the first General Manager of the South African Railways. Born in Scotland in a small croft in Kinrosshire he left school at 12 years of age, with the three R’s – Reading, (w)Riting, (a)Rithmatic, but later learned Pitman’s shorthand so as to advance from the ranks of junior clerk for the North British Railways in Edinburgh. He is credited with bringing the first typewriter to South Africa and personally typing the first letter. This made him the first shorthand typist in the country states Heritage Portal.


The building of the beautiful, neo-Gothic-style, sandstone Dutch Reformed Church in Oudtshoorn is a tale steeped in drama. Central to the story are two Englishmen – George Wallis and John Thomas Cooper. George, the architect, was born in Bushy, Hertfordshire, on November 28, 1824, and John, a stonemason, born in Nottingham, on December 3, 1832. Both worked on many other buildings in the Cape and in the Karoo. George, who arrived at the Cape in 1848, worked mainly as a builder and overseer, while John, one of the 3 832 professional men recruited in Britain to help alleviate the shortage of skilled workers in South Africa, arrived with his wife, Elizabeth (nee Gulley – a lass who came from Stowmarket, a small town in Sussex), on June 17, 1859. He and Elizabeth moved to Oudtshoorn in 1860 because he had accepted the job as foreman of the stone masons building the new Dutch Reformed Church designed by George Wallis. Joseph Blake was the clerk of works and building got underway on September 17, 1860.


Work was abandoned on October 5, 1863, after an argument erupted between George Wallis and the church committee. In 1865 work resumed, but was soon halted again due to lack of money – the area was in the grips of a severe drought. When John’s son, John junior, was born in 1867, work on the church was still at a stillstand. In 1875 the church building committee negotiated with Cape Town master builder and architect Otto Hager, (who designed the DRC rectory, which was built in1881) to help see the job through. In September, 1876, John approached the building committee suggesting that they contract five stonemasons and a “sawyer” (a lumberjack) from England to help finish the job. This was done. On arrival the British stonemasons were most impressed with the quality of the sandstone which came from a quarry near the Cango Caves. It was of such high quality that decorative flower embellishments were easily carved out of it. The church was inaugurated on June 7, 1879. Reverend G W Stegman was the first minister As there was no resident architect in Oudtshoorn, John established a stone cutting and building firm. He entered into partnerships with some locals and worked on buildings, such as Barclays Bank, the Courant offices and the DRC church hall. When he died on October 19, 1909, John junior took over the business


George Wallis, a mason by trade, initially worked for M Butler, in Cape Town as a builder. In 1854 he decided to seek his fortune and went off to prospect for copper in Namaqualand. This was not entirely successful, so he returned to Cape Town in 1856 and accepted a post in the Public Works Department. He tried to set himself up as an architect and tendered unsuccessfully for the Congregational Church in Caledon Square. Later joined by a man named Robb he built the churchyard wall and porch of the Holy Trinity Church in Caledon. After that he spent a year working as clerk of works on Cape Town’s new South African library and museum building, In 1859 he moved to George and supervised the erection of the local jail, as well as those in Oudtshoorn, Mossel Bay, and Prince Alfred. His plans for Oudtshoorn’s DRC were accepted in 1860. Architecture professor Dennis Radford once stated that this was ‘the most ambitious piece of church building undertaken in the Western Cape in the late 1850’s … a little too ambitious,” he added. It was started in 1857 and finished in 1879, thus taking 22 years to complete. He also points out that while George Wallis supplied the plans it is probable that these were actually drawn up by W Kohler.


After an altercation with the Oudtshoorn DRC building committee George moved back to Cape Town and accepted a job on the library and museum which, while, formally opened in 1860, was only completed in 1864. During the following year he worked on St Saviour’s Church in Cape Town and then the DRC in Cradock, which design by J T Welchman and C E Read. Its design was based on St Martin’s-in-he-field in London, a frequent model for church buildings the world over. In 1871 George rejoined the PWD and supervised the buildings of jails in Swellendam and Beaufort West. He settled in Oudtshoorn in 1871, but continued to supervise, design and build many buildings in the Cape and Karoo, such as the tiny Anglican church in Klaarstroom. He died in Oudtshoorn on June 5, 1908, and was buried at St Saviour’s Church in Claremont.

Note: Welchman and Read’s partnership began in 1861 when they won the contract for the sailor’s home in Dock Road, Cape Town. They were also responsible for the design of the little DRC in Colesberg in 1866.

A bend in the road, is not the end of the road….unless you fail to make the turn – Helen Keller