A journey through the Karoo in 1856 so affected a Dutch traveller that he lapsed into philosophical meditations.  Hendrik Antonie Lodewijk Hamelberg wrote: “I compare this road to the life of man. The potholes are the troubles he often feels cannot be overcome. Stoney places symbolise life’s disasters, while individual stones remind one that in the cup of the greatest earthly happiness there’s a drop of bitter wormwood.”

Hamelberg travelled from Cape Town through Paarl, Bain’s Kloof, Mitchell’s Pass, Ceres, Karoopoort, and “the endless Karoo” via Beaufort West and Colesberg to Bloemfontein.  He stayed at lonely farms and observed many unusual customs.  At one a servant appeared with a basin of water and in Biblical fashion washed the feet of the guests. Hamelberg arrived in Beaufort West at dusk, knocked on the door of a likely lodging house and was shocked “half to death” when the door was flung open by a large, grumpy man clad only in red flannel underpants.

The De Wit and Meiring families invited him to stay and, although Beaufort West, “was not a pretty town” he stayed ten days to rest his horses.  During this time he joined the Dutch Reformed Church’s Scottish minister, the Reverend Colin Fraser, to “take the air” on a walk through the village.  In his diary he wrote: “Fraser spoke Dutch, but not without difficulty.  He is an estimable man, who had 17 children, 13 of whom are still living. His parishioners love him and he mixes easily with all townsfolk.”  Hamelberg also reported that neither MacDermid, who stabled his horses, nor Mijnhardt, who repaired his watch, would accept payment.  He passed many farms with citrus orchards and wrote the Karoo reminded him of  Mignon, by  German poet Goethe, which asks: “Do you know the land where the citrus blooms?”

By Rose Willis