A literary festival to honour South African author, Etienne van Heerden, will be held in Cradock from September 22 to 24. Arranged by well-known Karoo festival organizer Darryl David, it is the first event of its kind and promises to be a winner. “Van Heerden’s work is fiction at its best,” says Herman de Coninck, (NRC Handelsblad, Amsterdam), adding that: “You will have to read Van Heerden if you want to know anything about South Africa.” As the winner of two Hertzog prizes, and almost every Afrikaans literary award, Van Heerden, a son of the Karoo, is widely known and internationally respected. His latest book, Die wereld van Charlie Oeng, was launched on July 10, this year. The “veldsoiree”, (his choice of word for the festival) takes place on Buffelshoek, the farm where Olive Schreiner was buried. Van Heerden spent his childhood on a neighbouring farm where his father had a merino stud. In addition to Van Heerden, himself, possible speakers include Coenie de Villiers, Ashwin Desai, Lien Botha, Clinton du Plessis, Tim Huisamen, Godfrey Meintjes, Luthando Lucas, Kirby van der Merwe, Thys Human, Christa du Plessis, Jason Lloyd, Helize van Vuuren, Bernard Odendaal, Erns Grundling, Wilna Adriaanse, Tom Dreyer and Darryl David.


Join Dr Dean Allen, author of Empire War and Cricket, for a tour of Matjiesfontein in August or September. The two-night package costs R3 700 and includes a guided tour of the village, a talk by Dean, a Red Bus Tour, entrance to the museums, star gazing, a self-drive visit to the historic cemetery where James Douglas Logan, his beloved wife, Emma and world-famous cricketer, Edward Lohmann, are buried, as well as one lunch and two dinners. Dates are August 22 – 24, September 8 – 10 or 11 – 15.

Dean will also present Stories from Matjiesfontein with Rand Club chairman, sports journalist and fellow author David Williams, in the Rhodes Room at the Rand Club on August 26. Cost is R250 pp.


Ancient fungi-like fossils have been discovered in the Northern Cape. Dating back 2,4 billion years, they were discovered in the Ongeluk Formation, which was under water at the time the organisms were alive. This suggests that way, way back life inhabited submarine volcanic cavities. The find was made by Professor Birger Rasmussen, from the Western Australian School of Mines, during a routine microscopic study of bubble lava. He was trying to find minerals to date the age of rock when his attention was drawn to a series of vesicles. “I increased the magnification of the microscope and was startled to find what appeared to be exquisitely preserved fossilised microbes,” he said. “It quickly became apparent that cavities within the volcanic rocks were once crawling with life.” The research team was led by Professor Stefan Bengtson, from the Swedish Museum of Natural History. He stated that scientists had previously looked for the oldest fossil fungi on land or in shallow seas, but never in deep sea areas. He hopes that this research will answer fundamental questions about evolution on Earth. “Unless they represent an unknown branch of fungus-like organisms, these fossils imply that the fungal clade is considerably older than previously thought.” states a paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution.


The annual self-publishers’ awards presentations will take place at the Book Bedonnerd Book Fair in Richmond towards the end of October. This is an exciting event and there are several categories to suit various publications, including fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, etc. A panel of judges is being set up to evaluate each book entered.


St. Andrews College in Grahamstown claims to be the first South African school to play rugby. It introduced the game when other schools were playing a form of Winchester Football. When an institute for Xhosa speakers was attached to St Andrew Canon Robert John Mullins introduced black sportsmen to rugby. Robert, the son of George Mullins and his wife, Susannah, nee Gardiner, was born on June 30, 1838, in Box, Wiltshire, England. He attended New College Choir School but dropped out at the age of 15 to join the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. In 1854 he accompanied Bishop John Armstrong’s and his family to Grahamstown. There the bishop sent him out to work among the Xhosas at St Luke’s, St Mark’s and St John the Baptist, in Bolotwa. There he established his own little school, St. Peter’s Gwatyu. Robert moved from hut to hut teaching, preaching, and distributing food. At the time of the Great Cattle Killing he did his best to dissuade the people from carrying out Mhlakaza’s orders. In 1860 he returned to England to be ordained.


Two years later, in 1862, Robert returned to Bolotwa with a 16-year old wife, Jennie Rowe. Their first daughter, Jane Marion, was born in this village in 1864 Robert was appointed headmaster of a school-cum-training college for black students. It operated in a building which his family called The Old Home and it was there that the couple raised their 14 children – eight daughters and six sons. One of their sons, Charles Herbert, was awarded the VC during the Anglo- Boer War. Another, Reginald Cuthbert, became a doctor. Robert had many responsibilities within the Diocese. He acted as Diocesan secretary and treasurer, a member of St. Andrew’s College Council, the hospital board and library committee. In the Albany District he served as curate to Hilton, Middleton and Heatherton Towers and conducted services at Fort Brown, Manley’s Flats and Peddie. In 1883 he was appointed Canon of the Cathedral, and from 1911 to 1912 he served as vicar. Robert died on his 51st wedding anniversary on April 24, 1913. The Synod expressed its appreciation of his great and invaluable service across 60 years. His children donated a window to the cathedral in his memory.


Reginald Cuthbert “Cuth” Mullins interrupted his medical studies to return to South Africa in 1900 to serve at the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital in Pretoria. After finishing school at St Andrew’s, he went on to study medicine at Keble College at Oxford University, however, at the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War he returned to his homeland to attend to the wounded. After the war he went back to England to complete his studies at Guys Hospital. On qualifying Mullins returned to South Africa and worked as a medical officer on the Rand, before setting up in practice with Dr. Drury and settling in Grahamstown. He served as medical officer at St Andrew’s College, and became president of the Grahamstown branch of the British Medical Association. He served with the RAMC during WWI and was mentioned in despatches. In1937 he retired from medicine and moved to his son’s farm, Faber’s Kraal in the highlands outside Grahamstown. He died there in 1938.


Cuth Mullins was a star rugby player. He played as a rugby union forward in South Africa, was selected to play for Oxford University where he won a sporting ‘blue’. Playing in the Oxford team alongside Cuth was Walter Julius Carey, who later became Bishop of Bloemfontein. Cuth was a member of the British international rugby team that toured South Africa in 1896. He played in 13 of the 21 our matches, as well as in two tests. Robert Johnson, who fought alongside his brother Charles, and was awarded a VC for in the same action at Elandslaagte, was also a member of this team. Cuth later captained the Guys Hospital Rugby team.


Captain Charles Herbert Mullins, of the Imperial Light Horse, was awarded the Victoria Cross on October 21, 1899, at Elandslaagte, during the Anglo-Boer War. The London Gazette of February 12, 1901 reported that “at a most critical moment, the advance being momentarily checked by a severe fire at point-blank range, Mullins and Johnson gallantly rushed forward, under heavy fire to rally the men. This enabled a flanking movement to be instituted and this decided the day. Mullins was wounded in this action. Later in the war Charles was literally riddled with bullets. His wounds were so severe that it was feared that he might die. He was treated, by his cousin, Surgeon Alfred Downing Fripp, at the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein, where his pluck and his magnificent physique pulled him through. But, his spine was severely injured, and he remained a cripple and on crutches for the rest of his life.


Victoria West suffered a cataclysmic flood on the night of February 27, 1871. The day had been swelteringly hot, but that was to be expected because it was a time of drought. The Brak River was completely dry. The evening brought cool breezes and here and there a flash of lightning. Thunder rumbled in the distance to the west of the town. Suddenly a severe, torrential cloudburst happened in the upper catchment area of the Brak River, about ten miles south-west of the town. One man witnessed the storm and realising that there was a danger of severe flooding, he raced back towards the village. On the way he passed he passed Patrysfontein farm, the home of the Hugo family. The farm had already been completely destroyed by flood waters. Mrs Hugo and four of her children had been swept away by the flood waters and drowned. Mr Hugo managed to save one of his children. Together they clambered up onto his trek wagon and by fastening the brakes managed to survive the torrents that were sweeping by. A wall of water, about 4 meters high hit the village without warning and destroyed much of the town. It claimed 60 lives – at the time the population of Victoria West was about 1 000 people. There is a special plot for these flood victims in the graveyard.


When the flood hit a young bride-to-be, Reinie Dodds, was trying on her wedding dress. The waters hit the house and it collapsed around her damaging her spine. She was found, still in her wedding dress, but severely injured, when the waters passed. She was taken to Quirk’s Hotel, where she died soon afterwards. In time a stained-glass memorial window was erected in her memory in the local Anglican church. There had been a bit of a party at Quirk’s hotel that night and 22 people had been “dancing the night away.” Only one survived the lethal torrent of water. Thirty houses collapsed. The magistrate’s court was badly damaged, and all public documents were lost. Mrs Jacobsohn turned her featherbed into a raft and she and her children bobbed about on this precarious structure until the waters subsided. Another brave woman a Mrs Kossuth, who was trapped in her living room with the walls collapsing about her, stood in the fireplace to avoid injury. Flood waters rose to the level of her chin. She held her six-year-old child above her head until the waters subsided. The town butcher John McDonald and his wife had just undressed to retire to bed when the flood struck. They saved themselves by climbing a willow tree at their front door. Later that night, after the flood waters had subsided, they were rescued. Both were stark naked. A young Coloured girl was washed out of her cottage at the top end of the village. She managed to go with the flow of the water for some time, then swam for her life and managed to find higher ground. She too found refuge in a tree. Six other people were injured.


The Beaufort West Courier described the village “as a pretty town in ruins, with tales of woe and adventure everywhere.” The Cape Argus reported that in all directions dead people, sheep, cattle, horses and merchandise could be seen lying about. Many of the corpses were naked. Just below the village at A L Devenish’s farm had stood the finest farm dam ever built in the Colony. It had a solid stone wall backing the embankment, yet it was completely destroyed. When Devenish counted his losses he found that five of his shepherds and 1 600 of his merino sheep had drowned. In 1872 a breakwater was built across the river to minimise damage from future floods. Victoria West suffered periodic flooding after 1871 and the breakwater prevented further loss of life. A mass grave for victims of the flood can be visited in the town’s old graveyard. This flood was certainly a tragedy, reported the Queenstown Free Press of March 21, 1871. It also published a list of the victims. The newspaper claimed that it was perhaps the greatest tragedy to hit the colony in human memory. It added that the mayor of Victoria West had issued an appeal for funds to assist those who had lost everything. The appeal arrived in Port Elizabeth with 09:00 post cart and six hours later, when the outgoing mail left, the mayor forwarded £150, which he had collected from some principal merchants.


Sad tidings of the death of William Currie of Somerset reached Graaff-Reinet on Sunday, January 23, 1853. The Graaff Reinet Herald of January 26, 1853 reported that William, a Lieutenant in the Somerset Border Police, had died on Thursday, January 20 after being severely wounded in the thigh by a charge of loopers. This had happened during a skirmish when a “murderous gang of rebels under the notorious Hans Brander raided Slagtkamer in the Zuurberg, area”. J Bouwer, another brave frontiersman, who was also wounded in this incident, died soon after being shot. “Our frontier has thus been deprived of two brave and valuable men. The best that any country perhaps could produce,” concluded the report. Locals agreed, the loss of such brave men on the frontier was a severe loss.


Van Hasselt Farming in Prince Albert has won the prestigious Miyuki Keori grand champion mohair award for the fourth time in five years. This annual trophy, which has been presented since 1980 by Miyuki, a top Japanese fabric weaver, goes to the grower of the most excellent fibre and the farm making the best contribution to the development of the industry. Gay and Jordi Van Hasselt are immensely proud of their achievement. Barries Snyman of Vleikuil, Rietbron, bred the reserve grand champion and runners up in both winter and summer clip sections. The summer clip award went to F E Colborne and Sons from Willowmore, and winter clip winners were Driehoeksfontein Boerdery.


Speaking at the Reform Club in London, on his return from South Africa, surgeon Sir William MacCormac said that the Boer War was one of the best things that could have happened to England, because it brought out the manhood and national character of the men.” In reality, however, the war gave rise to profound concerns about the nation’s “manhood” and about the physical and moral capacities of the British soldier. When the war ended in 1902 it was clear that this conflict had shown up, in horrifying detail, the poor state of health of British soldiers. It was quite apparent that these “insufficiently energetic” men came from poverty stricken, poorly educated backgrounds. The poor physical condition of recruits for the Boer War actually unearthed the scale of poverty in the country and underlined the need for social reform. Without this war revealing the horrors and effects of poverty it is unlikely that reform would have played such a major role in Liberal politics, states the writer of External Reasons for the Liberal Reforms. In 1899, when war broke out between Britain, the most powerful Empire on earth, and the Boer Republics, it was thought that it would not last long, but the Boers proved to be competent horsemen and well led. The war dragged on for three years. Eventually, to quell the Boers Britain had to put 450,000 men into the field, while Boer forces are said to have never totaled more than 35,000 in the field. The war was a great shock to British confidence. In Britain people searched for answers as to why it had taken three years for professional soldiers to defeat a force of farmers. Then details emerged from army recruiting centres which suggested that a high proportion of volunteers had been rejected as being unfit for service.


At the outbreak of the Boer War it was apparent that the British army needed to expand rapidly. At that time the entire British Army numbered 340 000 men. Most were dispersed across the Empire – 12 546 were already in South Africa, so just over 64 000 were left for service. Volunteers rushed to join up. Initially it seemed that at least 25% of recruits were unfit for service. Hyndeman, the Marxist Social Democrat, claimed that the figure could be as high as 50% in urban areas. The public conscience was shocked by the fact that so many recruits failed to meet the army’s standards of height, weight and eyesight. Some writers say the rejection rate was one in three, while others state that nine out of ten men were rejected. In Manchester 8,000 out of the 11,000 men who volunteered for service had to be rejected as physically unsuitable at once; then in the end only 1,200 were eventually accepted. Things had not improved by 1903 when Major-General Sir Frederick Maurice claimed that only two out of five enlisted men remained fit for service after two years. This, he stressed was not a reflection on the hardships of army life but rather an indication of the level of unfitness within the population. These shocking figures prompted people to support reform out of patriotism. It was clear that if Britain was to remain a powerful military force the health of its citizens had to be urgently attended to and quickly improved.


John Parkin, of Graaff-Reinet was an inventor. The Cape Frontier Times of January 1, 1850, reported that he had contrived an apparatus for making bricks by pressure and that after this process had been completed they did not require to be burned or “subjected to the tedious, laborious process of sun-drying.” These bricks, reported the newspaper were much larger than usual bricks. They were similar in size to the freestone or granite blocks, used in home building. “The introduction of such bricks will be of great public benefit as they will enable people to build more rapidly and with greater economy.” This news was greeted with great enthusiasm throughout the Karoo and many people, particularly farmers, wrote to the newspaper requesting more details and the cost of the apparatus. Most felt that it would be an invaluable asset to them.

Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.Anatole France