The Karoo has helped generate some of the magic in the recently released film, The Dark Tower. Based on eight novels in Stephen King’s fantasy, horror and science fiction series the tale ranges from the Mid-World, created in remote, arid, semi-desert Tankwa Karoo National Park, to modern-day New York. Mesmerising caves and weirdly shaped red rocks in the Cederberg Mountains introduce a dramatic parallel universe and allow audiences across the world to see some captivating and unique local locations. Manni Village, for instance, was built at Rawsonville, near Worcester. Production designer, Christopher Glass, said that the Karoo was the ideal place to create a place such as Mid-World – a weird wasteland and home to a future civilization that had become ancient. “It was almost like being on Mars. The horizon just kept going; I’ve never seen anything like that before.” The area provided romance and a sense of adventure, he added. The film, features Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey and about 30 local actors. It is not the first SF or action film to utilise local venues – others include Mad Max: Fury Road, plus reboots of The Mummy and Tomb Raider.


Richmond is already abuzz with activity as the town gears up to host the 10th Boekbedonnerd Book Town Festival from October 25 to 28. Speakers will cover an interesting range of topics. In addition to these top-class presentations, there will be exhibitions, tours of the Richmond Horse and Ophthalmic Museums, a typical platteland kerkbazaar (church fete), races, kart races, a steel guitar blues session, cheese and wine tasting, historical and architectural walks, plus book binding and restoration workshops. And, that’s not all. A highlight of the festival will be the gala awards banquet for self-published works on Wednesday, October 25, at the Supper Klub. There are 34 finalists and their works cover art, business, medical history, poetry, biographies, humour, travel, botany and novels. Booking is essential.


The first school at the Cape offered a strange attendance award. Pupils (mainly adult slaves) each received a daily glass of brandy and two inches of tobacco, states saheritage.org. This was reported in the diary of Commander Jan van Riebeeck on April 17, 1658. His aim in opening this school was to increase the usefulness of slaves to their owners. Sick-comforter, Pieter van der Stael, was the first teacher. A second school, opened in 1661, was attended by 12 white children, four slaves and one Khoi-Khoi pupil.


Education was a slow starter across the world. Even before the Anglo-Boer War British Army sergeants needed all the help they could get. In 1843 Private Buck Adams reported that education in the 7th Dragoon Guards was very low. “There were six troop sergeant majors, and part of their duty was to keep the accounts, but three of them could but barely write, and almost none could nor add,” he states in Narrative of the 7th (Princess Royal) Dragoon Guards on the Eastern Frontier. In order to overcome this deficiency, a private who could read, write and multiply was found in each troop and excused his duties, so that he could assist the troop sergeant major to add one penny, tuppence, or sixpence per day, per man, per month. “One fellow, well suited to this task, was not fit to be a soldier because he could not sit on a horse without falling off; another went into fractions, like a flash.” Adams reported that the bush in the Eastern Cape was thick and swarming with wolves, jackals and snakes. “The camp was most unhealthy. We could not keep our tents clear of scorpions and, at night, we were worried nearly to death by mosquitoes and sand fleas. Water, obtained from a stagnant pool, was the colour and consistency of cream. There was a spring of clear water, but the quantity it yielded was so small that it was kept exclusively for officers.”

Note: September 22, 2017, is World Rhino Day


A popular British author, best known for her long, loyal friendship with Oscar Wilde, had a link with the Karoo. She was Beatrice May, the daughter of a British army officer, Lt-Col Thomas Bromhead Butt, and Geraldine May (née Sewell. It was said Wilde confided to her that The Picture of Dorian Grey “is rather like my own life – all conversation and no action.” Born in London in June 1853, Beatrice was of Scottish descent. In 1876 she met and married William Hutt Allhusen a sportsman and traveller, who owned several properties in Europe and South Africa. At various times the couple lived on a Karoo farm, in Perthshire, Middelsex and France. In the Karoo Beatrice developed a love for Africa, which is reflected in some of her works. She began writing short stories for Blackwoods Magazine. Most of her work, published anonymously, reflects tender studies of feminine psychology in situations of romantic stress. Her first novel and most enduring work, Miss Molly, tells of a woman’s patient devotion as she waited for five years for her lover to be released from prison. Another, The Laws of Leflo described a lost African colony, isolated for over a century and led to disaster by the precepts of its white founder. Very strict laws had to be followed to the letter. The result was peace, but the negativity outweighed the positive. All girls were required to marry by the time they turned 18. If they choose not to they were forced to wear a distinctive dress and could never marry. At least ten other novels followed. Beatrice also wrote poems. With her younger sister Gerald May Hawthorne (née Butt), she wrote Lads and Lasses. In later life she returned to England and entertained many top literary figures. She died on July 27, 1918. William died in 1923, leaving an estate of £47,163.


Born on April 21, 1814, in Acton, Suffolk, England, Henry Bickersteth, wanted nothing more than to be a doctor. He started studying medicine at St Thomas’s Hospital in London but stopped when offered a job as assistant to Dr Samuel S Bailey, resident surgeon at Cape Town’s Somerset Hospital. He arrived in South Africa in December 1831, aged 17, unqualified and accompanied by his wife, Jane Shuter Boswell. Sadly, the job was not permanent and in 1834, after supporting Henry out of his own pocket for some time, Dr Bailey asked the government to give him a salaried position on the full-time staff. Almost all qualified medical practitioners in Cape Town objected based on Henry’s lack of qualifications, nevertheless, his appointment was finalised in December,1834. Before long Henry volunteered to serve on the eastern frontier as staff assistant surgeon with the Seaforth Highlanders in the 6th Frontier War, which lasted from May 1835 to April 1836. After that he returned to England to complete his studies at St. Thomas’s Hospital. He became first person from South Africa to be admitted, by examination, as a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of London in January 1838. He returned to South Africa in June that year and was licensed to practice as a surgeon and accoucheur.


When Dr. Bailey retired in 1845 Henry succeeded him as resident surgeon at Somerset Hospital. He held this post until he died in 1862. He taught, lectured and conducted students around the wards. He also invited civilian and military doctors to attend his rounds and operations. He was an early user of ether as an anaesthetic and used it performed two amputations in October 1847. In 1852, and 1855, he was appointed to study conditions at the asylum for lunatics and lepers on Robben Island. He went overseas in August 1853, to further his studies at St. Andrews in Scotland.

Note: Ether was first used in South Africa by Cape Town dentist Alfred Raymond in April 1846, it was used again in April 1847 by Henry Anderson Ebden, and in May that year by veterinary surgeon, Jacobus Esterhuyse, to remove a tumour from the eyelid of a horse. William Guybon Atherstone is credited with performing the first fully described major surgical operation in South Africa, using ether, in June 1847.


Henry’s worked hard to improve the quality of service at Somerset Hospital. He established an outpatient section and succeeded in having the mentally ill and lepers transferred to Robben Island. His efforts over many years to have a new hospital erected were eventually approved in 1858. The new hospital was opened shortly after his death on August 6, 1862. Henry was a man of many talents. In addition to medicine, he was a Greek scholar, poet, musician, actor, artist, and elegant writer. He served on the management committee of the South African Literary and Scientific Institution, published a collection of psalm and hymn tunes and set up a pathological collection for the South African Museum.


Prince Albert-born Andrew Murray Neethling made a name for himself in the field of medicine. Born on April 1, 1855, he was the son of the Reverend Johannes Henoch Neethling and his wife, Maria, one of the daughters of Reverend Andrew Murray. (She had 14 siblings). After completing his schooling at the Victoria College, Andrew left for Scotland to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh. He qualified in 1883. While at university he fell in love with Duncan Wilkie Paterson’s lovely daughter, Annie Fleming. He could not leave Scotland without her, so he proposed and was accepted. The couple was married in Edinburgh and in time had two sons and two daughters. Andrew arrived back in South Africa in the middle of the gold rush and set up a practice in Barberton. He later moved to Lydenburg, but the clouds of war were gathering, and unrest was rife in the country.


When it became evident that war was inevitable Andrew sent his beloved wife and children back to Scotland At the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War he joined the Boer Forces as a medical doctor. He wrote regularly to Annie telling her what was happening. These letters were filled with harrowing tales of war and this greatly distressed her. She could not bear to be so far away from him, so she came back to South Africa and settled in Swellendam. Andrew served with the Boers and, attached to General Ben Viljoen’s commando, was in the field throughout the guerilla phase of the war. He remained in the field until the hostilities ended. After the war he returned to the Cape and was elected to the Parliament as the member for Beaufort West, states his obituary in the British Medical Journal of August 19, 1922. The South West Africa Campaign of 1914 saw him back in the army with the rank of colonel and serving under General Louis Botha. His two sons, Johannes Henoch and Duncan, served with him. Johannes was killed in action at the pass outside Kakamas. After the capture of Windhoek, Andrew was appointed chief medical officer for the whole of the then South West African territory. He died in Pretoria on July 6, 1922.


Charles Hudson Grisbrook, who was born in Stony Stratford, Buckinghamshire, England, on May 22, 1799, arrived in the Colony around 1816, to study medicine. This was unusual because most men were going to Europe to do this. He became apprenticed to Dr John Atherstone, but did not obtain any formal qualifications. By the late 1820’s he had developed an interest in geology and palaeontology. In October 1829, he presented some minerals to the newly founded South African Institution (then the only scientific society in the Colony). During the following year he wrote a paper entitled Notes on South African Geology and it was published in the South African Quarterly Journal. This was a follow up to an earlier article on South African geology in the same journal by Reverend George Thom. In his article Charles drew attention to the fossiliferous deposits near Uitenhage, where, in 1828, he and W L von Buchenroder had collected fine specimens on the banks of the Swartkops River. He also detailed shell and plant fossils collected on the banks of the Sondags River by Dr William Gill. He included locations of where various minerals and rock types could be found.


In 1827, on a visit to the home of John Baird, the former magistrate of Beaufort West, Charles Grisbrook saw a large fossil tooth found by a young man named De Klerk. The tooth represented the earliest known fossil of a vertebrate animal found in South Africa. Charles and John visited the site where it had been discovered at the foot of the Nuweveld Mountains. There they found the remains of two large skeletons. In October 1831 Charles, then a corresponding member of the South African Institution, published an account of the finds, in the South African Quarterly Journal in an article entitled Organic remains in the Karroo. Charles was a licensed apothecary and in 1832 he settled in Graaff-Reinet. On September 1, 1833, he married 41-year-old Maria Theodora Bam in Swellendam. Back in Graaff-Reinet he wrote to the Colonial Medical Committee in 1844 to complain that medical practitioners were also practising as apothecaries, to his disadvantage. He suggested a revision of the laws pertaining to the vending of medicines. He represented Graaff-Reinet as a member of the Legislative Assembly from 1855 to 1857. When Maria died Charles married Johanna Elizabeth Magdelena Liesching in Graaff-Reinet. She was the daughter of Frederick Gysbert Arend Leisching and his wife, Johanna Elizabeth, (née Bekker). This marriage produced three children, Frances Lydia, Charlotte Isabella (who later married Francis Guthrie) and Charles Fleetwood Southey. In time a heath, Erica grisbrookii, named in Charles’s honour. He died in Graaff-Reinet on February 2, 1875. He was 75.


Professor William Catton Brandford arrived in the South Africa on October 6, 1876, to take up an appointment as the first colonial veterinary surgeon. He was given a three-year contract and during this time faced formidable challenges. In immensely turbulent political times, he was required to “report on livestock in the Colony, advise the Government of the general livestock health, investigate mortality, ascertain its causes, take steps to remedy it and make suggestions to prevent any recurrence of disease.” William, who was born in 1837, qualified on May 15, 1857. In 1869 he succeeded Thomas Strangeways as professor of anatomy at the Royal (Dick) Veterinary College. By 1876 he was professor of veterinary medicine and surgery and had been elected an honorary Fellow of the Veterinary Medical Association of London. He worked at the college until he decided to come to South Africa. He was a conscientious man, but extremely overworked even by modern-day standards. Within the first year of his appointment he covered over 4 000 miles (6437km) on horseback, by rail, post cart and sometimes by steamer.


William was familiar with diseases such as like lung sickness, tuberculosis, glanders, sheep scab, and mange, but there were many others that were unknown to him, He also encountered several conditions he had never heard of. They had been named by farmers, and very little was known about them. Among these were galsiekte (gall sickness), lamsiekte (botulism), vermeersiekte (vomiting sickness), dikkop (tribulosis), miltziekte (a spleen disease), anthrax, hartwater (heartwater) and slak. Farmers passed on some strange remedies such as the use of gunpowder, vinegar, tar water, oil and Epsom salts, for the treatment of vomiting sickness. In 1877 William served on a Parliamentary Commission set up to enquire into and report on diseases of cattle and sheep in the Colony. He recommended that horses diagnosed as suffering from ganders should be destroyed and buried immediately, that there should be a closed season for bird shooting to protect the Colony’s bird life and that veldt burning be prohibited because destroyed birds and reptiles and upset the balance of nature. In May 1878, he was elected as a member of the South African Philosophical Society. He was the only veterinary surgeon in the country until Duncan Hutch eon arrived on March 2, 1880.


South Africa had several indigenous pests, plagues and diseases, but a number of were imported. Lung sickness, for example, was brought to the Cape Colony by a bull imported from Holland in 1854. There was a large-scale outbreak of lung sickness among Angora goats in 1881. This was traced back to a consignment of animals imported by H David and Co. To eradicate the disease, 6 162 goats with a total value of £2 878 were destroyed. Rabies was brought to South Africa from England by an Airedale terrier in 1892. The disease was quickly transmitted to the local dogs and it spread rapidly to wild animals. In 1892, Dr Duncan Hutcheon, hoped that foot-and-mouth disease, then in Bechuanaland and Griqualand West, would not spread to the Cape, but it did. In 1893 it was brought in by slaughter cattle transported from Bechuanaland by rail. By 1894 it had spread to all four provinces. The rinderpest epidemic of 1896 and East Coast fever of 1902 resulted in the death of thousands of animals, and economically damaged the country.


Sadly, William’s term of office ended with a bitter wrangle over payment. He stayed on in Cape Town for a year after his contract ended in an attempt to get money which he believed was owing to him. He even submitted an unsuccessful petition to Parliament. He returned to England. In 1882 his great contribution to improving animal health and conservation in the Colony were overshadowed when he was arrested for fraud and imprisoned. Charges were based on a public lottery and a racehorse which he owned. A shocking and humiliating court case followed and ended with him being struck off the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeon’s roll. He successfully appealed in 1890 and his name was restored to the register. William married to Ann Kitchen. Their eldest surviving son, Victor Verasis Branford, became a well-known sociologist and businessman. William died in 1891.

It’s not wise to violate rules until you know how to observe them – T S (Thomas Stearns) Eliot