Author Archives: rosewillis

Dump Reveals a Link to Three Wars

Two well known researchers recently made an interesting find in the Karoo.  Dr Johan Loock and Cobus Dreyer, from the University of the Free State, were conducting studies to evaluate the impact of a proposed extension electric power line on artefacts and the ecology in the area of farms such as Leeukloof, Bultfontein and Gansfontein, northwest of Beaufort West.

Archaeologist Cobus Dreyer says many cultural and historic finds were made along the route. “We found were substantial surface scatters of Later Stone Age flakes and pottery, lower and upper grinding stones and fossilised remains of lizard-like reptiles. We also saw many rocks smoothed by animal rubbing.  Then, at a long-forgotten ash heap near the old Bultfontein farmhouse we found three cartridge cases which were really captured out interest.” From inscriptions on their head stamps Cobus and Johan discovered that these cartridges dated back to three different wars. This posed the question of how they got there.

The oldest was an 8×57 Mauser cartridge. Its headstamp 3 99 P revealed it had been manufactured as military ammunition in March, 1899, at a factory in Polte, in Marburg, Germany. “Such cartridges were used during WWI and in the 1915 German South West African Campaign,” says Cobus.  The others were ,303 cartridges. The older, stamped K35 VII, was manufactured by Kynock Witton in Birmingham in the United Kingdom.  “Such cartridges were used for military training and for target shooting.”  The other, also a British cartridge, was manufactured in 1944.  “Its head stamp – U44 VII – indicated it had been manufactured by the SA Mint in Pretoria for the Union Defence Force also for military,  training and target shooting purposes,” said Cobus. Well-known geologist, military historian and expert shottist Dr Johan Loock concluded: “Since the ,303 calibre cartridge cases date from post-World War I and WWII respectively, the ammunition could have been used by members of the Union Defence Force or local Commandos for target shooting practice. The 8mm Mauser cartridge, however, posed somewhat of a mystery. We speculate that the ammunition could have been brought to German South West Africa by the Deutsche Schütz Troops during World War I. How the cartridge case landed up in the Karoo is not clear. The most likely conclusion is that it was collected by a member of the South African Defence Force during the 1915 German South West Africa Campaign and brought here. This just proves that the Karoo is a never ending source of intrigue and that the area still has much to reveal.”

Par For The Course?

Golf was first played at St Andrews in Scotland over 600 years ago, so it is little wonder that this venue is steeped in wonderful stories. According to Sporting Life’s Golf News some of the sand traps have very individualistic names relating to ginger beer, spectacles and the best spot to catch a lassie.  One large bunker and two nearby smaller ones at the 10th hole have a historic link to South Africa and the Anglo-Boer War.  The large one is the Kruger bunker, nearby is Mrs Kruger and Kruger’s mistress.

The story goes that when war broke out Lt. Frederick Guthrie Tait, “the man who could smack a golf ball further than anyone else in the world,” was the darling of St. Andrews. Freddie an officer in Scotland’s most famous regiment, The Black Watch, was the British amateur golf champion in 1896 and 1898. In 1899 he was given a grand send-off at St Andrews when he left for the war in South Africa under the leadership of Major-general Andrew Wauchope, affectionately known to his men as “Red Mick.”  Shortly after they arrived Wauchope was killed and Freddie Tait wounded in Battle of Magersfontein. A few months later, in February, 1900, Tait was killed on a battlefield near Kimberley. When his fans back home heard this news it is said they built an effigy of Kruger and burnt it on this bunker.

Karoo Farming Experience Saves A Baby

Arthur Charles Jackson converted to Christianity in Karoo sheep pasture. In his teens he had high hopes of becoming a farmer and went to help out on a Kuilspoort, a farm belonging to his father’s cousin, Julius Jackson.  While out in the veld one day Charles had an epiphany and gave himself to God “behind a Karoo bush.”

In Manna In The Desert, A de Jager Jackson,  writes: “In 1894 a young cousin, Charles, was so impressed with the shepherds’ forlorn state, the lonely deaths, the rude and summary burials and absence of aid in the hour of trouble – that he shortly threw up farming, qualified as a missionary and went to labour among the poor.”  After being ordained Charles went to Pamushana mission, in Zimbabwe. He married and in 1909 his second child was born prematurely when his wife went into early labour due to malaria medication she was taking.

The weather was bad and,  when this emergency arose,  Charles could not get help. He eventually managed to a neighbour Bob Richards and he asked him to get a message to the doctor at Masvingo, the nearest town. Bob raced off on a bicycle. He had to cross five swollen rivers and carry his cycle across some precarious pedestrian suspension bridges to reach town. By the time he did he was in a state of utter exhaustion and nervous anxiety. The doctor was astonished to see a  wide-eyed, wild-looking man burst into the his rooms announcing that on a far away farm there was a man with a newborn baby in his pocket.

This was in fact true. Charles did not know what to do with the premature baby, so he fell back on his Karoo farming experience and popped it into the deep pocket of his jacket. He knew many Karoo farmers had saved newborn lambs in this way. By the time the doctor arrived three days later after negotiating the swollen rivers by donkey cart, Charles’s wife and child were fine.

The Karoo can become bitterly cold in winter and farmer Pieter Lund, from Bleakhouse at Nelspoort, confirms. “In winter lambing season farmers have been known to place eight to twelve half frozen lambs, already stiff with cold, into a sack, take them home and lay the sack by the fire. Mostly the lambs  thaw and survive.”


One of Piet's paintings

Prince Albert’s Piet Balelie, a colourful person. He is wellknown throughout the village for his bright and colourful clothing and unusual hats. He uses these as a means of communication. “Each hat in itself is a story. Each sums up Piet’s philosophy of life. He is illiterate, yet he has an enviable ability to use words, stories, rhymes, riddles and jokes to share his world with others. He also has an effective way of bringing his philosophies into his paintings,” says artist and SASA Fellow, Christine Thomas, who is presenting a special exhibition of his works, words and world..  Entitled Een Mens Het Baie Name (One Person Has Many Names) it opens  in Prince Albert on April l. 2011  “This exhibition is a multi-dimensional portrait of Piet, his extraordinary clothing and colourful hats, many of which will also be on show,” says Christine.

Christine, who lives in Prince Albert, has long used local inhabitants and their stories as a theme. In the past her exhibitions have recorded the stories of forced removals and the riddles of Gamkaskloof, “The Hel”. So many residents in this area have so many wonderful stories to tell and Christine has captured many in her artworks. She maintains she has the ability to “paint in Afrikaans.”

She and “Outa Piet”. as Piet Balelie is fondly known, have been meeting for several years  “These conversations have always been lively and over the years his clothing, especially his hats, have become more elaborate,” she says.

In Search Of A Swedish Rebel

At the end of the last century a Swede from Gothenburg decided to make the Karoo his home. According to reports, Frederick Toy lived in Beaufort West and Willowmore from about 1870 until the Anglo-Boer War broke out.  He could not help but take up the cause of the Boer people whom he had grown to love.

In the spring of 1901, he is said to have joined the commando of Commandant Gideon Scheepers.   With them Toy galloped across the Karoo plains and through small villages until he was captured on the farm Onbedacht on July 12, 1901. Toy was charged with treason and attempted murder at Graaff Reinet on August 5, 1901.  It was claimed he shot at a British officer after he had surrendered.  Toy denied the charges, but was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged.  This was changed and he was executed by a firing squad on September 4.

This story, which appeared in Rose’s Round-up, caught the attention of  Bertil Haggman, of Helsingborg,  Sweden, is trying to trace  Toy’s time in the Karoo.  “this is a particularly interesting story because Toy is not a Swedish name,” he said.  “It is Anglo-Saxon in origin.”

“Toy is reported to have spoken English quite well at his trial, so Bertil surmises his parents were part of the huge English and Scottish populations of Gothenburg at the time.  This city had extensive links across the North Sea with Britain at the time. The death report gives his name incorrectly as Frederick Toe.  It states that both his age and religion are unknown and gives the cause of death as cardiac failure.  I find this extremely odd because  we know he was executed.  I would love to know more of  about him and his time in South Africa,” says Bertil.

The Rocks Are The Curators Of History In The Karoo

A road snakes through rocks which guard the history of the Karoo

Once a swamp,  now a semi-desert, the Great Karoo fascinates almost all who visit. Many wish H G Wells’s time machine existed to take them back to explore the once vast Gondwana continent. Among the men who has the magic to  bring this ancient world back to life is S A Museum palaeontologist Dr Roger Smith.  While I lived in the Karoo I never missed any talk he might be delivering  

 One evening, at the Karoo National Park, Roger explained the Karoo’s transition from swamp to dryland. “Way back when the earth was young all the land was on the western side of the globe and the sea on the east.  Land bridges joined the great super continent, Gondwana, to another huge landmass in the north, called Pangia,” he said. Then gradually the huge landmass began to break up and the continents drifted apart.

 “The best evidence of continental drift is found in  the Karoo which 200-million years ago was in the centre of a large landmass and closer to the south pole than it is today.  North-flowing rivers, traces  of which can still be seen from the air, fed a huge inland sea.  South Africa as we know it today had no coast. This only began to appear 100 million years ago.  The crack beneath the ocean, which led to continental drift,  began 190 million years ago and continues at a rate of  2cm a year,” said Roger.

 “The rocks of the Karoo are the curators of this fascinating story. Here the earth’s surface is thickest and best preserved.  This is the best place to study the ancient mysteries of  history. Karoo rocks also reveal that the beautiful Cape folded mountain belt of the Swartberg began to be formed 300 million years ago and ended 190 million years ago when the dolerite intrusions began. Today, this dolerite forms distinctive caps on Karoo mountains.”

Odd Honesty Among The Thieves

a typical Murraysburg cottage similar to the one in which the doctor lived

Boer Commando units loved the Murraysburg branch of the Standard Bank. It  was in a far-flung isolated spot and easy to attack, so, for a while during the Anglo-Boer War,  it became most robbed instution of its kind in the Karoo. The first “hit” happened in January, 1901,and the bank had to be closed for a few days. In his diary bank manager, F C Lilford, reported that during March, 1901, the town was attacked three times in 20 days and each time the commando made a bee line for the bank.

 During that month he was captured by the Boers while posting  official letters at Biesiespoort and held captive for over eight hours.  It was a traumatic experience.  Then, under cover of darkness on the night of  June 13, 1901, about 60 men from Commandant Gideon Scheepers’s commando appeared at Lilford’s home and  demanded the keys to the bank’s safe. At first he bravely refused, but in the end after being badly threatened and assaulted, he was forced to hand them over. The Boers rushed straight to the bank where they took £120/7/9d. But, they were honest men, they left a receipt. 

 Shortly after this incident Lieutennant Pijper, who was Scheepers’s second in command, went to see Lilford and apologised for the bad behaviour of his men.  Scheepers also personally apologised for this incident when he arrived in the town.  According to the book  ‘n Baanbrekerbank in ‘n Baanbrekerland,  (A Pioneer bank in a Pioneer Land)  the asssets from   Murraysburg  bank were  transferred to Beaufort-Wes after this incident and the branch was closed down for the further duration of the war.