Hanover’s Dutch Reformed Church celebrates its 100th anniversary in October this year. The congregation has great plans to make this a memorable event and hopes to encourage travellers of the N1 to pause and toast this occasion with them. This little town, which prides itself on being exactly half way between Johannesburg and Cape Town, was established on land bought from Farmer Gous in 1854. It was called Hanover in honour of his forebears who came from Germany. The first church, a humble little structure, was built in 1857 and Thomas François Burger, who later became first president of the Transvaal, was its minister. The town’s first magistrate, C R Beere, appointed in 1876, made the church a central feature and laid out all erven around it. He also had trees planted along the roads. When the erven came up for sale prospective home owners were instructed to build their houses directly on and parallel to the edges of the roads. Gardens had to be laid out behind the houses. Years later when residents wanted to add verandas these were allowed to encroach onto the pavement and a tax of one shilling a year was payable. The Dutch Reformed Church in time, like most little country churches of those days, became too small and work started on the building of a beautiful new Gothic cathedral-style church with Art Nouveau interior in 1906. The cost of this building was £8 000 – reasonably high for the time – but it included a superb “English” organ built by Norman and Beard and a magnificent carved pulpit under a dome. The price of this alone came to £330. Hanover is well worth a visit. It has an old-world atmosphere and an interesting history. Its first minister, Burgers, was accused of heresy and run out of town. The ever-controversial Olive Schreiner lived in a little house in Grace Street from 1906 – 1907. Most of its historic homes and its public buildings, like the gracious Court House, built in 1897, are well preserved. The central little koppie, Trappies Kop, so named because Magistrate Beere cut a series of steps right to the top, offers superb views. The main DRC centenary programme takes place from October 14 to 25.


Much of the character of the Karoo is preserved in its traditional flat-topped cottages. Examples of these in various states of repair can be found in virtually every village. Prince Albert has some particularly good examples and with the preservation of these in mind author Helena Marincowitz has produced a booklet entitled Karoostyle – Folk Architecture of Prince Albert and its Environs. It captures and explains the rural vernacular architecture of many houses in the village and district. This well-researched book covers the origin and essence of Karoo cottage design, building materials and construction methods. It includes photographs of houses still standing in 2005. The booklet details various types of walls and bricks, it covers the use of plaster and lime wash, giving “recipes” for present day repairs. It also details roofs, ceilings, floors, doors, windows, stoeps, verandas, kitchens and fireplaces, as well as some of the furnishings of the period. “Literature on Karoo style architecture is extremely scarce,” says Helena. “While researching details for this booklet I was not able to find one definitive book or thesis dealing exclusively with this subject.” The booklet is available from Fransie Pienaar Museum and costs R35 inclusive of packing and postage.


At the end of 1851 Beaufort West’s Dutch Reformed Minister, Rev Colin Fraser, decided to send his sons to Scotland to further their education. They left on April 7, 1852. Colin, 15, was excited, but John George, 11, sagely said he hoped his life would improve, because up to that point it had not been very exciting. He could only recall two “major” experiences. The first was the laying of the foundation stone at the Government School in Beaufort and the procession in which he took part, and the second was a big meeting in the Market Square. “It had to do with Anti-Convict agitation and was attended by almost all Beaufort’s residents and farmers. My father opened it with a prayer. It culminated in a riot,” he writes in Episodes in My Life In later years John’s life certainly got more exciting, particularly towards the time of the Anglo-Boer War.


Early Grahamstown had many interesting residents. Among them was physician Dr William Guybon Atherstone and his neighbour and good friend, Catholic priest (later Bishop) James David Richards. The two had a great deal in common. When Colesberg magistrate, Lorenzo Boyes, sent “a stone which John O’Reilly thinks is of some value” – by ordinary post – to Atherstone to examine, the good doctor who had never before seen a rough diamond, turned to the priest for confirmation, even though he had conducted several tests. Just to make doubly sure Richards used the stone to inscribe his initials on a window of his house. “This pane was treasured by the Catholic Church and exhibited like a religious relic at scientific congresses,” writes Thelma Gutche. Atherstone, who also confirmed the gold deposits of the Swartberg Mountains, in 1847 acquired everlasting fame when he became the first person in South Africa to use ether as an anaesthetic to amputate a leg. He was a born naturalist and recorded everything in one of his little black notebooks. In these he described his patients’ symptoms, as well as the fauna and flora of the veld. Sadly, when he died in 1898 this man, who so loved the beauty of nature, was totally blind. Atherstone’s heart lay in geology and palaeontology, so when Prince Alfred visited in 1860, he presented the Prince with a scientific treasure – a fossilized Dicynodon head. History does not record the Prince’s opinion of this rocky souvenir. Richards arrived from Ireland in 1849. He loved astronomy, physics, chemistry, the classics and modern languages. A forward thinking, energetic and versatile man, he threw himself into tending his flock, editing and publishing newspapers, producing theatricals, teaching and lecturing. “A born raconteur he was hailed as ‘the most able, finished and popular lecturer on common things in the Colony.’ His topics, wide and varied, included “The Water We Drink”, “The Electric Telegraph”, “Telescopes”, “The Philosophy of the Candle” and the lives of men like Thomas Moore and Dickens. He was also an exceptional bishop,” writes Thelma Gutche.


A man from Beaufort West discovered one of South Africa’s most magnificent diamonds at the height of the Diamond Rush, yet no one knows who he is. When diamonds were discovered in 1868, Beaufort West flourished, and many locals joined the rush to the Diamond Fields. In May 1871, one Beaufort Wester struck it rich. He discovered a magnificent stone that weighed over 100 carats and named it The Star of Beaufort in honour of his home town, yet no one recorded his name. The Courier only reported that his discovery lit a flame of diamond fever in town. Within short another Beaufort West resident struck it rich. His name is also a mystery, but he celebrated his success by making “a huge donation to the mission church.” This discovery resulted in The Beaufort West Diamond Mining Company being floated. It is reported to have done well.


When Buks Jacobs of Rietfontein, near Prince Albert, found a long-forgotten grave on his farm, he appealed to Beaufort West researcher Arnold Hutchinson for help. “The grave has a simple marble headstone with the following inscription: “Not gone from memory love/But gone to his father to rest above. In memory of Daniel William John Coghill, born November 13, 1872, killed by lightening on February 15, 1900.” Arnold has not been able to establish whether Coghill was a British soldier out on patrol or simply traveller along a Karoo road when he was struck by lightening? I’d love to hear from anyone who knows more,” he says.


Mozart is going to Victoria West. To celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, senior students of the Vocal Arts Department of the University of Tswane in Pretoria will be giving a concert in the Dutch Reformed Church Hall on September 9. The programme includes many of his earliest piano pieces played by University lecturer Henning Wagner. Well known arias and duets will also be performed in costume.


There is a strong African flavour in the Highlands at present writes Ingrid Paterson from Scotland. Ladysmith Black Mambaso and the Soweto Gospel Choir are performing in Aberdeen and ‘Tsotsi’ is on at the cinemas. This ‘African air’ percolated all the way to the Care Home were Ingrid works. “Every Friday people come to entertain the old folks by singing or playing music. Recently I sat in my office enjoying the lovely old Scottish tunes the latest group were playing and, when request time arrived, I asked if they knew ‘Sarie Marais’? The organist, Anne Henderson, began to play it and the fiddlers joined in. I lost all my shyness and inhibitions and sang along, in Afrikaans! Anne, who grew up in New Zealand, said that while studying at Music College there she included ‘Sarie Marais’ in her repertoire! Recently the husband of one of our nursing sisters gave a concert of old Boer War songs!”


When Sea Point-born Brenda Riontino (nee Smith) went to the United States on a visit in 1960, she felt as if she was completing her great grandmother’s round trip “back home.” Ninety years had passed since young Georgie Holbrook had come to South Africa from the USA and here lost her heart to a man who would keep her in a foreign land forever. “Our great grandmother, a woman we simply knew as ‘Grandma Westgate’s Mom’, seemed to have had such an adventurous life. As children, we always knew that she had come from “America” and that, for some mysterious reason, she had not been able to return. We also knew that she died fairly young, (her children were barely in their 20s) of what my Grandma said was ‘a broken heart for her family, her country, and her church,’” writes Brenda. The story begins way back when Abraham Lincoln was President of the United States and William Seward, his Secretary of State. At that time John Ladd Flanders, of Boston (Mass.) was posted, at his request, to South Africa as US Consul. “John’s father was the captain of a sailing ship and at least once his young son had accompanied him along the Indian Ocean shore. It was a thrilling experience for the young man, and he wrote telling Seward of his experience – today this letter can be seen in the National Archives, in Washington, DC,” says Brenda. John’s request was granted and in 1864 he set sail for South Africa with his wife, Elizabeth and their children. They loved South Africa and it seems that when they returned on “home leave” to attend Elizabeth’s mother’s funeral, they decided to bring Elizabeth’s 18-year-old sister, Georgie Holbrook, back with them. One can only surmise this because Georgie only appears to have joined them in South Africa after her mother’s death in the late 1860s.


After holding office in Port Elizabeth for seven years (1864-1871), John decided to go into private business settle in South Africa. He and Elizabeth remained in this country for the rest of their lives. The fact that they opted to stay meant that Georgie could not return to the United States. “Family lore has it that in those days well-bred young ladies just did not travel on their own, so she also stayed on and, in 1872 met and married a handsome young English immigrant, Thomas Smerdon, who was in the wool business,” says Brenda. “They lived in the Port Elizabeth area for many years and it was in this city that Grandma Westgate did extremely well in subjects such as arithmetic in Miss Peacock’s School in the late 1880’s. Her prowess won her many book prizes. She grew up to be a talented artist and today many of her paintings of game birds are part of the collection at the Kaffrarian Museum in King William’s Town. Georgie and Thomas later moved to Red House. They also had a home beside the Swartkops River, where their five teenage children enjoyed boating at the Swartkops Boat Club. Thomas and Georgie must have been deeply in love all their lives and it seems he did not live for long after she died.” An obituary in a Port Elizabeth newspaper states that Thomas “never recovered from the death of his wife.”


“As it turned out, I was the first Holbrook/Smerdon descendant to wander off and settle in the States,” says Brenda. “My sister and parents later joined me and Grandma Westgate, the only one of Georgie Holbrook’s children to return ‘home’, had a brief visit to Boston in the 1950s. I was 23 when I arrived here aboard a Farrell freight ship, the “African Lightning”. Of course, in those days it was absolutely fine for any young woman to travel alone and I valued this freedom. Later, like Great Grandma, I found a man in this country who stole my heart. We met when he helped me extricate my car from a snowbank! Later when we got married, I had a strange feeling that I had come ‘home’ and completed my great grandmother’s round-trip after 90 years.” Brenda recently visited “John Bray House” in Maine where her great grandmother’s ancestors once lived beside Pepperrell Cove. The house, built in 1662, is next door is to Pepperrell House, a wedding gift to John Bray’s daughter, Margery and William Pepperell. He came to the mainland from the Isles of Shoals to discuss fishing vessels repairs with John Bray, a shipbuilder. He met Margery, fell in love and married her. The ceremony took place in the Bray living room.”


“Celebrate the fact that your Dutch Reformed Church spire is slightly out of vertical,” is Port Elizabeth historian, Richard Tomlinson’s, advice to the people of Aberdeen. “As long as it stays up the good folk of Aberdeen should make this into a selling point for tourism. Bear in mind the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the famous mediaeval church spire at Chesterfield in Derbyshire, England. This has been twisted almost since the day it was constructed. I think this happened because the timbers were not properly seasoned. Nevertheless, it draws tourists to the town from all over the world. Many tourists find such imperfections interesting. So, go for it Aberdeen! I for one will certainly check out your church spire out next time I’m in your town.”


In March 1876, The Cape Times reported that the Albany Museum had “been enriched by a valuable specimen – one of the rarest birds in the Colony.” It was an eagle (Aquila pennata g.mel) that had been “knocked down” near Grahamstown. It was still alive when found, so the curator purchased it. “This eagle is so rare that it does not have a Colonial name,” writes the reporter. “Even the S.A. Museum does not have a specimen and Mr Layard in his Birds of South Africa states that the only specimen he has seen was a young bird shot by Mr Jackson at Nelspoort, near Beaufort West. Jackson also claims never to have seen another. The colouring of this eagle is very striking, consisting of great contrast between dark brown and white. The top of the head is covered with a whitish brown cap, the edges of which are well defined by a broad band of blackish brown passing from one ear to another under the throat. The upper surface of body and wings are brown, diversified by white waved and crenellated lines, formed by the white tips and edges of the brown lace-shaped feathers. The iris is bright yellow. There is a very narrow ring around the eye and the pupil is dark brown. There is every reason to hope that this eagle will continue to live as it seems to have recovered from the blow that stuck it down.” According to Japie Claassen’s birding newsletter, WaxBill, the eagle was later given English and Afrikaans names. It is the “Booted Eagle” or “Dwergarend.”

Note: Edgar Leopold Layard (brother of Sir Henry Austin Layard, the excavator of Nineveh), was a passionate naturalist, with a great love of ornithology. He initially worked in the Colonial Secretary’s office in Cape Town and considered the Cape a paradise of rich natural life. He spent long hours studying specimens in small rooms at the S A Museum, at the time in a back street of Cape Town. In 1857 he supervised its move to upper rooms at the S A Public Library in the Gardens and became its curator at a salary of £100 a year.


“I never met any of the Alports,” writes historian Dr Taffy Shearing, a former Beaufort Wester, who now lives in Sedgefield. “By the time I joined the Shearing clan in the 1960s the Alports had died. Mom Shearing said that they were lovely, gracious people, and that I would have enjoyed having tea in their house at the top of Bird Street. However, we have quite a few “Alport things” that Dad and Mom bought at the “Alport Sale.” Among them are a charming Victorian circular table with a centre leg; a long brass candlestick with a glass bulbed top and some beautiful wine glasses. I still always think of them as ‘the Alport pieces’, so all is not lost. The Alport family live on for me in their beautiful furniture and glass pieces in my home.” Another reader who enjoyed the Alport story was Ingrid Paterson, who lives in Scotland. She writes: “I found the Alport story interesting. There may even be a family link because one of my ‘Christie aunts’ had Alport as a middle name. It is an unusual name, so it would be interesting to find out.”


In 1897 a young Hollander immigrated to South Africa in search of adventure and excitement. Willem, or Wim, as his family knew him, was the 6th son of Daniël Plekker, of Zaandam and he arrived as the clouds of war were gathering. A typesetter and printer by profession he was not able to find a job in that field on arrival, so he joined the railways and was working on a train between Pretoria and Lourenco Marques in 1900 when the British picked him up at Waterval Onder and sent him back to Holland because they feared he would join the Boers. “Back home” he got a job as a steam boat conductor in Alkmaar. After the Anglo-Boer War ended Willem returned to South Africa in 1902 with his 17-year-old brother, Daniël, an experienced nurse, who had worked in several hospitals in Holland. Daniël was immediately absorbed in medical circles and Wim he got a job in a printing works. He later married Nel and they had three sons and two daughters. Their eldest son, also Willem, in time moved to the Karoo where he bought the little pharmacy in Beaufort West from George R Thwaits. Willem then spent quite a few years advising villagers on how best to treat coughs and colds, and other general ailments, before selling his shop to E A Michaels in the 1940s. He then moved on to the Witbank\Nelspruit\Sabie area of in the old Transvaal where he bought a farm, and planted pine and blue gum trees. He built a saw mill on the property and did quite well selling timber. Sadly, the mill was destroyed in a fire. Arson was suspected. Some said a jealous rival may have started the blaze, but this was never proved. Willem was undaunted; he rebuilt the mill and quickly re-established his business. Greet Plekker-van Sante, in Holland, who is now compiling a family history, would love to hear from any one who knows the Plekkers, particularly Wim’s son Jan, who she believes still runs the mill.

“Do not wish to be anything but what you are and try to be that perfectly.”

St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers and journalists, was born into wealthy French family on August 21, 1567. He attended Jesuit colleges, practiced law and, against his father’s wishes, was ordained in 1593. He was said to be a riveting preacher, a staunch defender of the faith, a great friend of the poor, and an exceptional writer. He was canonised in 1665.