There is no place quite like the Karoo. It’s hailed as the world’s friendliest arid zone, filled with characters, creative folk, stories, history and ghosts. Now, just as people begin to think of Christmas presents, hinterland photo-journalists Chris Marais and Julie du Toit, are launching a new book, Karoo Roads. In it they share their experiences of travelling the highways and byways of this vast area, taking readers to fascinating places, spaces and breath-taking scenery. Their “roads” pass Marcella de Boom’s uncommissioned statues at Loxton, the lonely, isolated graves near the site of the old Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein, the Anglo-Boer War blockhouses that still guard the rail and through many little villages. They share memories of unforgettable people like Piet Hugo, a WWII Spitfire Ace from Pampoenpoort, near Victoria West, Outa Lappies, the patchwork man of Prince Albert, the Rastafarians of Calvinia, steam train legends of De Aar, diamond diggers of Jagersfontein, as well as some rough, tough, gruff characters and downright crazy dryland critters. They also share the secret of how David Kramer’s guitar ended up at a Norvalspont bar. Karoo Roads is a treasure chest of trips and tales, of research and of rubber-on-the-road experiences. The first edition, an author-signed, limited print run edition, accompanied by a set of five old-time Karoo postcards, will cost R350 with Postnet counter-to-counter service. There will also be an e.book version. More from Julie at julie@karoospace.co.za


Oudtshoorn poet. teacher and leader of the Attakwa people, Poem Moonies, has just published a history of Prince Albert, his birthplace. Written in Afrikaans it is entitled: Stories uit Lap: Die ontstaan van Prins Albert. This 37-chapter book, follows Ons Skilder Met Worde, Kringe Om Die Maan, and Klink Soos‘n Klok. It tells of caves, shelters, and hideaways, pays tribute to beloved residents, teachers and herbalists. It also covers Khoi Khoi adornments, church schools, and much cultural history. Poem, who was named for his grandfather, Gert Petrus Jakobus Balie, a stone mason, honours the town’s thatchers, dressmakers, shoemakers and storytellers. Published by Keativ SA, the book costs R200 and can be ordered from poemmooney11@gmail.com


A new book The Land Wars the Dispossession of the Khoisan and the AmaXhosa of the Cape Colony is now available at a recommended price is R290. It traces the unfolding dramas of hostilities between the Dutch farmers. British authorities, trekboers, settlers, San, Khoi Khoi, Xhosa, Mfengu and Thembu. An epic story, it features well-known historic figures and major events, such as the 1820 Settlers and the Xhosa cattle killing.


Scott Kotzé’s is searching for details of a murder and the man said to have committed it. He is trying to find out more about an 1830 trial held in George, at the end of which Jacobus Ernst Kotzé was found guilty and executed. He has not been able to trace any more details. “I hope a Round-up reader might have a newspaper article or obituary,” he says. If anyone has information you can e,mail Scott at scotthk@gmail.com)


Melvill and Moon’s high end, quality, leather safari-type shoulder bag has its origins in the Karoo. This popular bladsak made by this family-owned business, which traces its history through missionaries, pioneer farmers, surveyors and a soldier who won a VC in 1876, is designed on a bag loaned to them by Graaff Reinet farmer. David Herold. He fashioned the original, which was lost in a fire, out of webbing while serving in Italy during WWII. The bladsak is designed to carry a wide range of personal items – including lunch.


Daantjie Jonker, a groom, made a dramatic escape during the Anglo-Boer War. When gunfire cornered Commandant Johannes Cornelius Jacobus “Hans” Lötter and his men on the farm Paardefontein, in the Camdeboo Mountains, Daantjie raced to a patch of prickly pears intending to hide. He saw an aardvark hole and using his hands frantically dug until he could slip into it. “Of course, the British did not find him. Even when the sound of the gunfire died away, he did not emerge. He hid there for three days, until hunger and thirst drove him out, He was the only member of Lötter’s commando to evade capture.” Said Taffy Shearing. Lötter, a charming young man from Rosmead junction, near Graaff-Reinet, was one of ten children born to Michiel Petrus Lötter and his wife, Maria Catherina (née Buys). He worked as a barman before the war. The British regarded him as “a most nettlesome adversary.” His arch enemy Colonel Harry Jenner Scobell hailed him “as the most astute and dangerous of all Boer leaders”. After entering Colony with Commandant Kritzinger, he gave the British a run for their money. Eventually in a torrential downpour, and hotly pursued by Scobell, he raced through the Bankberg making for the little hamlet of Petersburg. On the night September 4, 1901, exhausted, hungry and weakened by a heart ailment Lötter led his drenched, drained, weary, half-starved commando of 130 young men, some no more than boys, into a 30x15ft (9×4,5m) stone, roofed, sheep kraal. The exhausted men were dressed in rags and their shoes so worn that many only had sheepskins on their feet. Lötter reasoned they would be safe as the entrance to this farm was through a narrow kloof and protected by prickly pears. He did not think that British would risk coming over the mountain in the rain. It was in this kraal that Scobell’s flying column of Lancers and Cape Mounted Riflemen cornered him on the fifth day of a six-day mission.


Scobell doggedly followed Lötter’s spent men and tired horses for 12 hours over 40 miles (64km) “without convoy or cannon”. He had been told of their whereabouts by Cape Mounted Rifles Intelligence Officer, Lieutenant D Hare-Bower. Believing Lötter to be sheltering in the farmhouse, Scobell crossed the mountains at night in conditions so slippery that some of the horses had to be let go. He deployed 1100 men on the ridges. Lewies van Niekerk gave away the commando’s position as the Lancers moved towards the kraal, at the same time their commanding officer, Lord Douglas Compton, dropped his pistol. As he dismounted to pick it up, the Boers opened fire mowing down six men behind him. Instantly a thousand rifles barked from the cliffs. The fearfully outnumbered Boers endured concentrated fire at short range for about an hour before raising a white flag. The Lancer who rode forward to receive this surrender was shot, reported The West Australian of September 10, 1901. Then, Lötter, who was wounded, surrendered. Eleven Boers were killed and 46 wounded. Scobell lost 10 men and 8 were wounded. A British combatant said, “The sight was horrible in the extreme … In fact, the place was like a butcher’s shop, some men making awful noises in their agony.” In his diary Scobell wrote that the butchery was dreadful and wounds so ghastly that what he saw would remain with him for the rest of his life. Lötter was taken prisoner, tried, found guilty and executed along with seven of his men.


Zirk (Sometimes given as Nerk) Daniel Lötter, who had been a student at St Andrews College, Grahamstown, before the war, was at his brother’s side on that fateful day. During the skirmish he was wounded in the eye and captured with the survivors. In Graaff-Reinet he was sentenced to death for high treason, but this was commuted to seven years in prison. After the war he went to Scotland to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh. He returned to South Africa, married Esther, settled and practiced as a doctor in Pearston.

Note: Pearston was named in honour of Reverend John Pears, who arrived to minister to the Dutch Reformed congregation of Somerset East in 1850. He initially held services under a large pear tree on Casparus Jacobus Lötter’s farm, Rustenburg, on the banks of the Voëlrivier. The village was founded on September 21, 1859.


In August 1901, during the Anglo-Boer War, Daan Scheepers of Somerset East stoically evaded capture. “He fell from his horse when it slipped during the fight at Ruiterskraal and landed on a rock that shattered his femur. He managed to get on to his horse, but he was in such pain for days he dared not dismount. Then he lay stoically in the open veld, under a koenie bush, in icy weather, not daring to light a fire or candle because a troop of British soldiers was nearby,” said Taffy Shearing. “After nine days he managed to set his own leg with splints cut from a besembos. Two Van Wyk children found him and secretly brought him food. Years later he paid for their education.”


Henry Fitzroy Maclean Somerset, the grandson of Cape Governor Lord Charles Somerset, spent quite some time in the early Karoo. At one stage was the police chief in Hanover. Born in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, on November1, 1838, he was the son of Frances Sarah, daughter of Sir Henry Heathcote of Hurseley, and Lord Charles’s eldest son, Lieutenant-general Sir Henry Somerset, who died in Gibraltar in 1862, leaving the then 27-year old Fitzroy a monthly allowance of £10. Fitzroy went from school at Sherborne to Oriel College, Oxford. Like his mother he was intensely interested in music so moved to Magdalen where his beautiful and “most melodious” baritone was greatly admired. He spent for four years there as a choral scholar. He played the violin, violincello and piano. He was also a keen horseman and sportsman. He excelled at cricket and got a blue for rowing. He had considered studying for the ministry, but was overcome with rheumatism and so left for the Cape, in the hopes of a cure, well provided with letters of introduction to his family’s official connections, friends and relatives. However, like so many other high-born younger sons of well-to-do English families, who were expected to make a living in “the Colonies”, he was not equipped for any kind of real work.


He initially went to Colesberg to stay with Heathcote cousins from his mother’s side of the family. He was a tall, dark, handsome graceful and exceptionally charming. His beautiful blue eyes caught the eye of many a young maiden and mother with a marriageable daughter. But they hesitated, because while he was fluent in Latin and Greek, he had neither the aptitude nor temperament to earn a daily wage. In Colesberg he met and married the 19-year-old Ellen Amelia Arnot, granddaughter of David Arnot, a devout, Scottish blacksmith from Cupar in Fife, who had come to South Africa with Benjamin Moodie group of settlers, He had gone to work for a Hollander named Frederick Korsten, who had an industrial empire at Cradock Place near the Bethelsdorp Mission outside Uitenhage, at that time only village in the Eastern Cape. states the Colesberg history site http://www.thebarracks.co.za/history.pdf. Korsten’s empire consisted of a tannery, cooperage and sawmill. At the coast he had several ships. While working there David met a local girl, Kaatje der Jeugd, also known as Catherine van Wyk, fell in love with her and received permission to marry her. The ceremony took place on October 2,1819. in Uitenhage. Their son, David, who in time greatly influence the history of Colesberg, was born there on June 26, 1821. The beautiful Ellen was his eldest daughter.


Said to be “the local belle”, Ellen had a fine, slim figure, large violet-blue eyes, retroussé nose and nut-brown hair. She spoke a polished English, did water colour paintings, loved needlework, and was an outstanding soprano and musician. She played the piano and the harp and also taught music to some of the locals. It was the love of music that brought her and Fitzroy together. After they were married in Colesberg on July 18, 1867, they were in great demand at local concerts. They were widely known for a duet “The Brothers Return”. It became known as “The Somerset Song” and they sang it countless times for visitors from Cradock, Richmond, Fauresmith, Philipstown and other distant dorps. After their marriage Fitzroy, even though he was “an Oxford man, strong as a horse, honest as daylight, steady as a rock” showed no sign of competence as a consistent wage-earner and Ellen had no choice but to continue with her music lessons. The couple had 12 children – ten girls and two boys – before she died on December 12, 1911. Fitzroy also served as magistrate at Douglas, but a year-long illness forced his resignation. He attempted farming, but that was curtailed by drought, so “ruined in health and fortune”, he returned to Colesberg to become a piano-tuner and Ellen played the organ in the Anglican church, states Thelma Gutche in The Microcosm. He died on June 29, 1907 at age 67.


A Grahamstown citizen, John Dingle disappeared after being declared insolvent. Rumours did the rounds saying he had gone to England, Mauritius, the Transvaal or even Lower Albany, stated The Grahamstown Journal of September 9, 1878. Then, the Circuit Court booked into Stocks Hotel on a day that one of their guests died. The landlord mentioned this to Advocate Reuben Ayliff, saying that the man, a Mr Herbert, had been a resident for some time before being taken suddenly ill. He said he was not too sure what action to take as the man appeared to be a loner without friends or family. Mr Ayliff and Mrs Advocate Brown decided to take a look at the corpse and to their surprise they had no difficulty in recognising John Dingle as he had appeared before them on several occasions. After he was buried it transpired that Dingle had been insured for £3,000 and, fortunately, said the newspaper, some family members were found who qualified to receive this benefit.


The world’s first stone memorial to a language was unveiled in 1893 in Burgersdorp, the town where the Afrikaner Bond political party was founded in 1881. A slightly chaotic five-day festival, rather like a village fair, marked the erection of this a beautiful five-metre high marble statue of a tall, slender, young woman in a flowing dress. Cradled in her left arm was a tablet with the inscription: “Vrijheid voor de Hollandsche Taal” (Freedom for the Dutch language), states Siegfried Huigen in Reshaping Remembrance. A procession of farmers on horseback rode through the town. Oom Daantjie van der Heever took the salute wearing a helmet of the Free State Artillery. A huge picnic was organised with all sorts of fun activities and traditional races. There was a special race for church ministers and one in which Oom Daantjie raced against the local ladies and lost. The unveiling was attended by politicians, such as ‘Onze Jan’ Hofmeyr and leaders of Afrikaner nationalism. There was also an official dinner with many speeches. By then everyone had forgotten the controversial voorfees (advance festival) which had a largely English programme, with children getting English books as prizes and ending with the singing of “God Save The King”, to the horror of Die Patriot and De Zuid-Afrikaan.


Not everyone was satisfied. Some Afrikaners criticised the statue and the British saw it as an insult, an affront. Quite soon after it was erected, it started being vandalised. First an index finger was broken off, then the nose and later an arm states The Heritage Portal. Finally, during the Anglo Boer War, on Christmas Night, 1901, British troopers are said to have toppled from its plinth. Lord Alfred Milner, then governor of the Cape, ordered the statue to be destroyed. Within days officials reported that it had been “crushed to dust” and “thrown into the sea”, but clearly this did not happen because it reappeared in a badly mutilated state 40 years later. In the meanwhile, in 1907, an English colonial regiment donated a copy of the statue, to the town and this was mounted on the empty pedestal. Then, in 1939, the badly damaged statue appeared in King Williamstown, 300 km away. The head, left arm and right hand were missing, but it was still recognisable. Some say it was discovered in a ditch, others that she was found in a work yard, yet others that it was unearthed by the Department of Public Works during routine excavations, and still others that it emerged on a rubbish dump. Whatever the circumstances of her recovery, no one was ever able to satisfactorily explain where the statue had been found, why it was so far from “home”, how it had been transported with no one seeming to notice, nor why it had remained undiscovered for so long. Plans were, however, instantly made to return her to her original location, but there was a snag, the replacement statue already stood there. After some discussion it was decided to return her to this spot anyway. She now stands behind the copy and the Anglo-Boer War memorial.


Imperial Airways Cape to London flights in the 1930s refuelled in Victoria West in the Great Karoo. This company, the earliest British commercial long-range airline, operated from 1924 to 1939, when it was merged into British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). The company served the Empire with routes to South Africa, India and the Far East, including Australia, Malaya and Hong Kong. Most air craft carried about 20 passengers – businessman or colonial administrators. It was not an accident free service. In the first six years, 32 people died in seven incidents. Passengers flying from the Rand to the Cape lunched at Victoria West. They took off from Rand Airport at 06:00 and landed at Victoria West at 12:25, then took off again at 13:30 to land at Cape Town at 17:40. By 1931, the Victoria West Airport was one of the first of three in South African to have a modern air control towers (the others were George and Cape Town). A waiting room was established in 1939 and a new building was built in 1953. Small planes still land there, particularly during hunting season, but the agreement with Shell to supply Avgas came to an end in February, 1985, after 66 years. The man responsible for the windsock was Bester of Bester’s Garage. He replaced the windsock when it became tattered.


Mrs P Botha, the daughter of S P Henning, of Sterkfontein, near Aliwal North, died on March l, 1866, after eating pricky pears. One of her friends said that shortly after eating the fruit she began to experience fearful pains and that these lasted for about 10 days before she died. Dr Young, who attended her, said that this was the first instance he had seen of prickly pears causing illness and death, stated the Grahamstown Journal of March 8, 1886. He explained that he had tried several treatments, but she did not rally

When you reach the end of your rope tie a knot and hang on – Franklin D Roosevelt

Dr Willem Petrus Steenkamp, Th.D MD MP, called “The Lion of the North-West” by his many admirers, and far less flattering names by a considerable body of political enemies, died at the age of 77 in 1956, but memories of this prominent son of the Hantam live on to this day. His grandson, Major Willem Steenkamp,= pays tribute to him in a superb article which had to be edited for use in Round-up. It appears in full on the Ancestors website (https://www.ancestors.co.za/the-lion-of-the-north-west/)