Stoepstorie 8: Stuart Street Harrismith

Stuart Street Harrismith as Autumn sets in

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We are part of the street as much as we are part of the town.

Our house address is 17A Stuart Street.

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De Oude Huize Yard was built in 1860! You will find it in the little block right on the right hand side.
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First Title Deed of De Oude Huize Yard

The name Stuart relates to two possibilities.
*Major Warden named all his children after the Royal house of Stuart. Rumors were that he was an unofficial grandson of Bonnie Prince Charlie.
* Stuart Jacobus, 1803 – 1878, author, diplomatic agent and advocate of emigration, took part in the Sand River Convention in 1852.

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Stuart Street in 1904 with a Rickshaw left wide sidewalk right and a railway line. Horses pulled the wagons (or coco-pans “coco pans”).

After the Boer War in 1904, the British had a huge camp on Kings Hill. Here they broke many stones, cut and trimmed it to be used for building purposes. To get these stones in the town a track was laid from Kings Hill to the town. Some of these stones were used when the Town hall was built. This information probably also explains the existence of many houses and buildings in Stuart St, which were built of stone. There were also traces of the track in Vowe and Bester streets.

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The first public building in Harrismith was the Court house, serving the community as a venue for the school, public meetings, bazaars and entertainments. All church services were held in the Court house until 1879 when the first church, the Dutch Reformed Church, was built on the site of the present Moederkerk. (Hawkins 1982)
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Stuart street on a peaceful Sunday morning. The trafic light is situated on the corner of Stuart and Piet Retief Streets.

The early magistrates were Bester, Chauvin, Theron, D Cloete, J De Kock, Bramley, (that was accused of high treason), Canisius, J N Boshoff, J Z de Villiers, F W van der Riet, Charles Warden. (Steytler 1932)

Mr. Joseph De Kock resides at De Oude Huize Yard from 23 July 1861 till 23 April 1903 almost 42 years.

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The corner of Stuart and Retief streets. The Court House on the Left. The trees planted in a square at the foot of Platberg were planted by the “konsentrasiekampkinders” and the indication where the Concentration camp was. The people of the Camp were then transferred to “Tin Town” in Ladysmith
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Corner of Stuart and Piet Retief streets today. The Court House made room for the new Post Office. The trees has grown and where the Concentration Camp use to be is now the town goal.

An almost mad Kitchener was tormented by the Concentration Camp women and children when they did not show respect when the funeral procession of Dr Godfrey Reid pass them. Instead a hissing sound was made. Reid was killed during the Groenkop battle on Christmas day. The women and children were then moved to “Tin Town” close to Ladysmith. Some were transported in open train carriages and the luck ones in proper passenger car.

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This picture was taken on the morning of 8 August 1900. A very interesting photo with significant history. On this morning more than 200 burgers of the Harrismith Commando came into town by horse, by “kapkar” and even Spaaiders. They were ready to hand in their weapons and take the consequences. In front of the Court House the Boer’s were ready to sign neutralizing document. The horses were tied to the railings. The name hendsoppers was given to the Commando members. Some came to town in their best Sunday outfits and hard hats while some came in worn out cloths. One of them was the Member of Parlement – Commandant Piet Maree.
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The guns that was handed in was demolished and was loaded onto a “bokwa”. There it was transported to the courtyard of the Court House. Here the 5th Coy Royal Engineers destroyed the weapons with a 16 pond-hammer on a anvil and hit to pieces.
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The house on the left was the home of the Sieberts-family on the corner of Stuart and Mauritz streets. The building on the right was a private school.
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Further down Stuart street is the Harrismith Club. This is still standing but been looted.
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Sandstone curbs in Stuart Street
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Stuart street with 42nd Hill in the back

Thank you to Leon Strachan, Nico Moolman en Biebie de Vos for their contribution

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

De Oude Huize Yard

Stoepstorie 7: Wesley Hall and Anne James alias Mrs Tom James

Our next story comes with a twist as we noticed that the cornerstone of the Wesley Hall was laid by Mrs. Tom James. It left a question mark.

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Who was Mrs. Tom James?

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The Chevy is doing a trip and parked in front of the Wesley Hall next to the Methodist Church.

The Wesley Hall was built in 1906 and the cornerstone was laid by Mrs. Tom James on 17 January 1906. She was the eldest daughter of James Putterill. Her husband was a true supporter of the church and was for many years the Sheriff and Mayor of the town.

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The old Methodist Church was demolished in 1967 – 1968 and the Record Stone of the previous stone was laid by James Putterill on 14 June 1882.

From the time Harrismith was established most of its inhabitants were English-speaking. The British settlers who emigrated to Natal during 1849-50 found the country in the Byrne Valley not suitable for traditional farming practices. Many went to settle in urban areas, while some returned to Britain. Encouraged by Mr Warden, about 1 500 settlers came to Harrismith.

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The story of Anne as shared by Leon Strachan.

Mrs Tom James was Anne Putterill and has a truly sad but remarkable story.
Her father James Putterill was a Byrne settler with a big personality who owned land in Verulam before moving his family up to Harrismith in 1863. His eldest daughter, a tiny but stubborn 25-year-old woman refused bluntly to get married, even though women were in great demand in the Free State (in 1863 the Free State Republic had been in existence for only 9 years and was extremely sparsely populated).
Unfortunately her disinterest did not prevent a man to fall in love with her. Anne didn’t want to have anything to do with him. When Anne’s strong-willed father (a grandchild referred to him as domineering) got wind of this he stepped in to salvage the situation. He instructed the man, a Welshman called Thomas James, to build a suitable house and furnish it. He, on the other hand, bought trousseau and a wedding dress for Anne, and fixed a wedding date.
When Tom James completed his ‘solid cut stone house,’ James Putterill instructed his daughter to prepare for her wedding. Anne refused, she said she didn’t love Mr. James and that was that.
The Putterill’s were a prominent family thanks to the very forceful James Putterill, who was an excellent business man and played a leading role in the Wesleyan (Methodist) church, as he did in town affairs. Whilst guests filled the church in Warden street on Anne’s wedding day, he instructed his womenfolk to dress up the unwilling bride. He then continued to drive her to the chapel in his carriage, where he walked a very unhappy daughter up the isle. He maneuvered the obstructive girl into position next to the groom, while he flanked her on the other side ‒ urging a flabbergasted minister to get started.Don’t think James Putterill had won the battle of wills yet. Anne was unfazed, she declined bluntly to take the marriage vows in front of all the astonished wedding guests. She stood her ground, not unnerved at all. Putterill didn’t despair either, neither did he give up. It would be a battle of wills to the inevitable end.
Every time it was expected of the bride to answer the parson, James pushed his silent daughter’s head slightly down as if she nodded whilst signalling impatiently to an ever more uncomfortable parson to get on with it. The ceremony was thus unceremoniously consummated, and the unlikely couple settled shakily into the solid stone house.
They were childless (3 stillborn). Tom James turned out to be a stalwart who became sheriff and mayor of Harrismith. Both he and his wife loved fishing, they were often seen fishing together whenever an opportunity occurred. The 66-year old Tom died in 1894, after which Anne took in a Miss Dixon to keep her company. According to Beryl Osborn (Anne’s niece who penned the family history) they lived happily together until the British garrison arrived on Kings Hill in 1903, when disaster struck.
A striking and very charming young soldier, conveniently named private James, befriended the two elderly ladies. Young James told them he was an orphan with no home and no family, all alone in the world.
Besotted with him, Anne bought him out of the army and formally adopted him. The young man then gratefully proceeded to squander his adopted mother’s savings. Even when Anne had lost everything she owned, never an unkind word was uttered or anything damaging believed of the young man. He bolted unceremoniously out of the country when there was nothing left to spend.
The Putterill family had to club together to provide the necessary means for Anne and Miss Dixon, and their parrot, to live on. Anne rewarded them by living into her nineties.

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

Stoepstorie 5: Jan Els

Life was not always moonshine and roses that we all know.

We all get motivated to do something that made the community  jaw drop. This was the case of Jan Els when he punched the town clerk.

Leon Strachan we can only send a huge thank you for sharing the wonderful legends with us and putting a smile on our faces. You will find this story in Blafboom 1999 Also thanks to  Cate Lotter for her contribution in the translation of the story of Jan Els.

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“I punched the town clerk,” said Jan Els, bursting into Mayor Nic Duursema’s  VC Cafe.

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In the sixties Annie Bland was the owner of the Central Service Station, Oom At Truscott ran the workshop which was situated between the VC Cafe and the Flamingo Restaurant. Spent many happy times in amongst the grease and old tyres. Loved the smell of new tyres. Barbara Swanepoel Tarr.

Jan Els and Caveman Spies were not the only men who punched Harrismith into the newspapers. There were quite a few, from the earliest years. These were often members of the legal profession.

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When the Free State became independent in 1854, the new government found that there were insufficient funds to run the administration that the English had left behind. They would have to scale down, and Joseph Orpen, a surveyor who was the magistrate of Winburg, was instructed by President Hoffman to close the magistrate’s office in Harrismith. Orpen sent a black man on foot, as was the custom at that time, to Harrismith with a letter to that effect. However, bad weather resulted in Orpen arriving in Harrismith before his letter.

Paul Bester, founder and the first magistrate of Harrismith, was told that he was to be transferred to Bloemfontein.  This did not suit him at all as he owned a lot of land in the district and near Ladysmith where he lived.

The other officials were summarily dismissed, with the exception of  Cauvin, who remained as a special peace officer.   They were now without income, and most unhappy. The townspeople were also very displeased as their nearest magistrate’s office would now be in Winburg.

While Orpen was making an inventory of the books and furniture in office, Bester and the others arrived. A crowd of dissatisfied townspeople had formed outside. Bester hit down hard with his walking stick on a table, and Field-Cornet van Aardt threatened Orpen.    Georg Schmidt, the magistrate’s clerk and the  first postmaster, was also there.

Orpen simply went on with his work, but when he started to carry books outside, Van Aardt blocked his way. He pushed Van Aardt aside, but when he reached the door Schmidt hit him hard against the head. Orpen, a rather small Englishman, regained his balance and hit back. Schmidt punched him so hard on the chin that he fell to the ground.  Schmidt was summarily locked up in the prison behind the office. The crowd outside was getting  riotous, and Orpen took his rifle from the wagon. “If you can shoot, we can shoot too,” shouted one of the townspeople. “Yes”, said Orpen, “that’s true, but keep in mind that I am shooting in the name of the law, while you will be hanged!” He was’t called Do-or-Die Orpen for nothing!

In the calm that followed, Schmidt was summarily put on trial and  sentenced to three days in prison. Orpen however, with his rifle balanced upright against his table, fiddled with the dates on the summons and Schmidt was released immediately.

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In 1875 a town council was elected for the first time. With the first session of the Council a large number of residents arrived, intending to attend the meeting.  Magistrate Boshoff (previous president of the Free State) would not allow them to enter. This resulted in a clash of words between him and Niel McKechnie, one of the new council members. McKechnie thrust a fist under Boshoff’s nose and shouted: “I defy you!” Strong words, but McKechnie  was chosen as mayor at the same meeting, the first of Harrismith.  It seems clear the South Africa was never at any stage a country for cowards!

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In 1938, more than half a century later, Council Member Corkhill remarked at a city council meeting: “Farmers, like lawyers, never agree.  But there is one difference.  Lawyers get paid for disagreeing.”

This was not always true. In fact, it sometimes cost them money, and once, even a person’s life.

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Brand Wepener was another member of the legal profession who was often in the news. On one occasion Brand and Phil Wright, also a lawyer, got into a fight in Stuart Street, right in front of Wright’s office. They rolled around in the dusty street with their neat dark suits until  they were seperated by …….. This while Wepener was on the Council with Corkhill.

Wepener was  not the easiest of men to get along with, but he was a most interesting chap. He came from a line of Free State heroes, being a grandson of Louw Wepener, and named after President Brand.   His father, Louw, was the head of police of Harrismith during the Boer War.

Although Brand had qualified as an advocate, he was eccentric, very eccentric. He was a well-known face in town, strolling along with his walking stick, dressed in his neat dark suit, black hat and dark glasses. He was never without his glasses as he had only one eye. Clients would often approach him on the street.

When a new voter’s role had to be compiled for a municipal election, the typist made a terrible mistake. After the surname and christian name of each resident, the next item was the name of the street where the person lived, followed by the person’s occupation. Alas, in Brand’s case she typed the street name in the wrong block, resulting in the following entry:

Wepener    | Jan Henricus Brand         |   40   Murray                  | Street Advocate

Brand was furious. He accosted Tom Searle, ordering him to  have the municipality summoned for defamation.     “But Brand, isn’t it true?”  asked Tom, with a twinkle in his eye. Brand was the only person who did not find it funny.

He played a role in the burgher monument saga, and on another occasion saved the beautiful trees in Murray Street.  But he was always full of plans, took shortcuts and was constantly in conflict with municipal officials.    At that time Harrismith had a constant shortage of water, which had a very negative effect on the development of the town, until the weir was built in the Wilge River. Water restrictions were nearly always in effect, which Remington, the water-baillif, had to enforce.

Brand had a lovely patch of maize on the big stand on the corner of  Murray and Biddulph streets, which apparently never suffered from a lack of water. Remington was aware of this and went out of his way to catch him out. When the ground became dry Brand would  lead his horses into the mealie land, and leisurely wash them down with a hosepipe until the whole mealie land was thoroughly wet, or until it rained once more.

And then one day Brand Wepener punched another colleague, Henry Helman.

At that time the old court building was situated where the post office stands today.  Wepener and Helman were opposing each other in a civil case. Wepener started to argue with the magistrate over the merits of the case, and Helman responded with sarcastic commentary. This led to a clash of words between the two. Wepener told Helman to keep his mouth shut, and the magistrate told him to calm down. Wepener stormed out of the courtroom shouting: “I’ll get you!” He waited for Helman in the passage, and when he showed, punched him on the nose. The court ordely had to separate them. Helman consequently had Wepener summoned for assault.

Frank Reitz had to deliver medical evidence at the hearing.  He told the court that the complainant’s nose was badly swollen, and also remarked that different faces would swell in different proportions. Helman was of Jewish descent and Wepener immediately countered: “It is logical, Your Honour, that the bigger a person’s nose, the bigger the swelling will be.” After the laughter in court had died down, Reitz had to agree. Brand was found guilty and fined. However, both men were warned to stay out of trouble.

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Nearly half a century later a tragedy took place at the country club. It was early autumn in 1978. Two acquaintances, the lawyer Charles Shadford  and Garth Romeo, a well-known rugby player, were socialising and gambling at the club on that ill-fated evening. An argument ensued over a throw of the dice, and tempers flared, ending in Romeo knocking Shadford off his bar stool. The latter was helped up and sat down again for a while. The argument flared up and when Romeo hit him again, he fell head first to the floor, partly on the footrest of the bar counter. He was out cold and a doctor was called in, who rushed him to Johannesburg. Shadford never regained consciousness and died tragically two weeks later at the age of 48.

Romeo was found guilty of manslaughter and fined. Extenuating circumstances were found to be the fact that Shadford’s skull was thinner than normal – he had a so-called eggshell skull.   His injuries would probably have been less serious if he had had a normal skull.

***

Caveman Spies was in court for assualt one day, as he had apparently slapped his garden boy. During cross-examination Spies differed from the interrogator about the nature of the slap. When the interrogator asked him how he had slapped the complainant, Caveman calmly walked over to the complainant’s bench, and before the stupified court orderly could intervene, gave the poor man a mighty slap. “Like that, Your Honour” he said, “like that did I slap him.”

 

Stoepstorie 4: The abundance of pears

There is a pear tree in our neighbor’s garden but we are fortunate that a couple of branches arched into our driveway. On a windy day the pears would end-up on our driveway and were to bruised to eat or use. Every year we would safe some but end up with a bottle or two chutney or perhaps a starter of blushing poached pears.

This year there was a good crop of little Hood pears hanging over our driveway.

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A little research and we were ready for our harvest. Pears ripen from the inside out. Left to ripen on the tree, they may become mushy. They ripen quite nicely once harvested. The old trick of storing the pears in a cool, dry place and the add of bananas did the trick. I put the bananas on top of the pears—and the more bananas, the faster the pears ripen.

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Yesterday was Mulled Pear day.

We peeled and core the pears and let is sit in a bowl with salt water to prevent the pears to turn brown.

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First the oven needs to be preheat to 150oC.

Then it was time to make the Mulled syrup. I used crab apples to give the syrup a nice pink color. Once there was a nice pink color in the water. The crab apples were removed.

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Then cinnamon, star Aniseeds, gloves and allspice were added to the crab apple water.

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The water was put to a rapid boil and then sugar was added. The sugar was then added and once the sugar dissolved a good bottle of red wine was added. A Merlot is a fruity wine that add to the flavor. The smells from the big pot was divine. It reminded we of my Mom and the many bottles that she filled during the summer months. Her specialty was canned whole peaches. We called it cling peaches because the pip was left inside and when eating the whole peach you really have to cling on to it or it would flew over the dinning table.

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The syrup was then strained through a muslin cloth and I must say the color was looking just right.

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The pears pack into warm, sterilized jars. Pears are very bottom-heavy and I find that you have to fill the bottles with more pears than originally though. Heat the syrup to boil and pour into the jars.

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Cover the jars with lids, but do not tighten it properly. Place the jars about 5cm apart in the oven for about 2 hours. This will also depend on the size of the jars.

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Remove from the oven and seal properly and place on a wooden surface. Leave undisturbed until completely cool and check the seal the following day.

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It will last for about 12 months on the shelf of your canning cupboard.

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Proof is always in the tasting. For an early evening we had mulled pears, with Parma Ham and Goat’s Cheese Salad

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

De Oude Huize Yard

Van Reenen’s Railway Pass

Next time when you travel between Johannesburg and Durban on the N3 and follow the Van Reenens pass – just pause a moment and notice the beauty around you. DSC_0001

This road is often mistakenly called the Old Van Reenen’s Pass, which is incorrect because the original pass mostly followed the course of the present-day N3 route. The road tracks the course of the railway line, which follows a series of contorted loops and tunnels in an effort to keep the gradient to a reasonable level. There does not appear to be an official name for this pass, so it can be confusing to research and to locate. The road, which is mostly gravel, is in a surprisingly good condition and can be driven in any high-clearance vehicle, provided that the weather allows; like Van Reenen’s Pass, the route is subject to both snow in winter and violent thunderstorms in summer. Thanks to Mountain Passes South Africa for the information

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The landscapes around the Van Reenen Pass are stunning and the railway service roads and tunnels top off the adventure. The route is a superb gravel pass but easy going and we duck off the N3 just just after Van Reenen. We traveled on the downhill mode. The scenery is stunning. This is the service road of the railway line and we traveled pass sidings, tunnels and farms. It include a 200m tunnel built in 1925, with a curve.

Watch the video that will take you with us Van Reenen Railroad pass

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Bookmark this pass for a sunny day and get lost in time and space and escape the frenetic traffic off the N3.

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

A blue grayish lamp post in our garden

There were oil lamps in the streets and candles in the churches and it was reported that the ladies complained of the candle grease “falling on their wearing apparel”.

The Council embarked on a scheme for electric lighting, at an estimated cost of 19000 Pounds. The work was carried out by Messrs Morley and Dawbarn of London and Johannesburg. Mrs Caskie, wife of the Mayor of the day, turned on the lights at a banquet in November, 1904. Six beautiful street lamps were donated to the town.

The according to word-of-mouth it was donated by the British Monarchy. These stunning street lamps took poll position in front of the Town Hall.

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A couple of years ago we were driving through town and saw four guys rolling this base of a lamp. After some negotiation we were able to rescue this piece of the lamp post.

In the same year the then museum had to be moved. This was a main . . . main job. There was an old ox-wagon that needs to be removed. Under the ox-wagon a lot of broken pieces of a street lamp, was hidden. The then committee entrusted the broken bits and pieces to us. We learn that it was destroyed by a truck. We managed to get a photo of the original street lamp.

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Original lamp pole on the corner of Warden and Bester streets
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The lamp post clearly visible on the photo

In the words of Mother Teresa

If you want a love message to be heard, it has got to be sent out.

To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.

Then the restoration process started. Hennie painstakingly started to put the pieces together.

He had to make new pieces where pieces were missing.
Painfully he managed to restore it

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The centre pole standing in the garden
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It was time to once again switch on the street lamp.

The details of the street lamp

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After many years the street lamp and Platberg forms part of the Harrismith scene once again. The gardens of De Oude Huize Yard can only be thankful

Till next time

Hennie and Sandra

Platberg the Free State’s own Table Mountain

The Platberg, the Free State’s own “Table Mountain”, overlooks the town of Harrismith. It literally means the flat-mountain; the 2377m high inselberg is a landmark & forms an imposing backdrop to the town.  It is an extension of the eastern foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains. Its western slopes & the summit of the mountain are a nature reserve with a number of endemic/near-endemic alpine plants that are unique to the region. The reserve is also home to eland, black wildebeest, blesbok & mountain reedbuck.

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In October Harrismith welcomes outdoor sports enthusiasts to the town to participate in one of South Africa’s toughest running events: the Platberg Marathon also known as the Platberg Mountain Race. The history of the race is legendary. In 1922 local residents, incensed by a remark from a British Major who disparagingly referred to the Platberg as “that little hill of yours”, challenged a soldier to a race to the summit in less than one hour. Major Belcher accepted, won the challenge & challenge & to this day his floating trophy is awarded to the first person to reach the Platberg’s summit top in what has become a prestigious & grueling cross-country race and is known as the Platberg Mountain Marathon. This arguably is the ‘toughest in the world’ route as it climbs approximately 600m in 5 kilometers to the summit of Platberg (2377m) The race is the oldest in South Africa, older than the Comrades Marathon.

Platberg’s altitude ranges from 1900m to 2394m. The surface area covers approximately 3000ha. The slopes are steep with numerous vegetated gullies and boulder green slopes below vertical cliffs that are 20m to 45m high. Waterfalls cascade down the southern cliffs after rain. A permanent stream arising from the Gibson Dam on the undulating plateau flows off the escarpment and cascades as a waterfall.

From a distance, Platberg appears to have a distinct flat top. However, once on the summit the plateau is found to be undulating, with rolling grass-covered slopes.

Platberg was known “Mount D’Urban” till about 1850. The name then changed to   Taba’Nchu (Tafelberg) but the name Platberg stuck.

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An interesting fact is that the hagiographer who was sending from Platberg during the Anglo-Boer War could be read in Escourt.
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It towers about 2000 feet above the town with a dolerite cape and halfway up its slopes can be seen cave-sandstone beds, with their characteristic incipient caves.
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Above the Alexandra plantation is the only real cave, namely the Zeeland Cave as in the main picture of this collage.  On Spur is running out to the west and is known as Palm Grove see left bottom and a close-up next to it.  The Swiss cave in line with the Khyber Pass cuts aeons ago out of the solid rock by the stream which flows below it, or one might say, between the two halves is shown in the below pictures next to the Spur. The picture on the bottom right is  close-up.
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The picture at the top right is the round Turkey cave, set high in the cliff and entry requires a cool head and strong arms, but success gives a wonderful sense of achievement and a magnificent view of the mountains in that quarter. A close-up is shown under that. .
The Dining cave is a large over-hang with a monkey path running round a good part of it.  It is the recognized resting place before attempting the last part of the climb up the One Man Pass on the right top.
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It has wooded kloofs, filled with ferns and flowers, Agapanthus, Watsonias, Kniphofias, Leonotis, Selago, Phygelius and many others.

Woody patches of Leucosidea, Budleia, Kiggelaria, Polygala, Heteromorpha and Rhus shrubs, as well as the indigenous Mountain Bamboo Thamnocalamus tessellates, grow along the base of the cliffs. The shrub land vegetation is concentrated on the cool side of Platberg on sandstone of the Clarens Formation, in gullies, on screen slopes, mobile boulder beds, and on rocky ridges, Shrubs and trees also occur in a riparian habitat in the south-facing cleft, in which the only road ascends steeply to the summit. An occasional Yellow wood, a sad relic of the many that once flourished here, can be found.

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The Rhodesian Flame Lilly (Littonia Modesta) is a climbing perennial of up to 1 meter. It is found in tall grass on forest margin at 4800feet. It flowers in January and is very rare and is protected in KwaZulu-Natal. What makes this lily so exceptional is that it has also been found on the back slopes of Platberg.
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The waterfalls during the rainy season

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There are a number of passes running through the mountain.

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The most popular pass is called One Mans Pass, so called because from a distance an isolated column of rocks standing out against the skyline presents the appearance of a single person standing upright. Up this Pass lies the route for those taking part in the annual mountain race held each October.
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Zig-Zag Pass holds a romantic tale used to be told of a large rock, roughly four feet square, which could be seen at the foot of the Zig-Zag pass, a little towards the west. On it the words ‘Iris Isabelle” was deeply cut. The story ran that a newcomer in this country climbed up and down the Pass and them, wearied out, fell asleep in the shadow of the rock. As he slept he dreamed of the girl he left behind and on waking he carved her name in the rock. But the Isabelle Rock, as it was called is now no more seen. It was probably crushed for use when the mountain Drive was first made in about 1925.  The Zig Zag pass is visible just right of the Z-shaped rock formation and was utilized to descend from the mountain.

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The longest and the easiest is the Donkey Pass. It was previously known as the Flat Rock Pass which leads up to the huge Robert Gibson Dam, ear the eastern end of the mountain. In the past farmers would hire grazing on the summit and the story is told of a tremendous storm which burst on the summit and caused a herd of some thirty cattle to move before it. As still heavier sheets of rain fell the animals quickened their pace in an effort to escape. Moving blindly towards the edge of the cliff they fell to their death on the rocks 200 feet below. As the leaders felt the irresistible pressure of those behind them.
The Donkey pass which was constructed in the early 1900’s using donkeys – which is where it got its name from, consists of two concrete strips, with a radical 3 km ascent.   From the onset, due to its steepness, the Donkey Pass is only accessible via four-wheel drive vehicles & equipment. When you look back from the top, this pass beautifully frames the glittering Sterkfontein Dam & Drakensberg Mountains.
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Die  Khyber pass reminds of the sight of a gun. It was named after the Khyber pas in India.

The acting Governor, HF Wilson and his sister came to plant the first trees and suggested that the plantation should be called the Alexandra Forest after the Queen. The suggestion was adopted but the name was never in general use it was better known as the Government Forestry. On this occasion tea was served in the area set aside for the nursery and for many years afterwards townspeople were allowed to make fires there and have picnics and move freely about the whole area.

Seeds of the trees came from the Cape, Transvaal Europe and the United State of America, Australia and from Paris, France. 38 varieties were planted. Within 3 years the whole area had been divided into 12 acre blocks with wagon roads between, fences had been put up, pipes or drains laid down and a dam made. By 1920 a quarter of a million trees had been planted in the streets, the Park, the Golf course and the commonage, at the Old Homestead, to the Gymkhana and the polo clubs and to the SA Railways.

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In the early days picnics were very popular. Perhaps because houses were not very comfortable, and had few of the conveniences which today are considered essentials, the early inhabitants of the town found that one of their greatest pleasures was getting out-doors and going for picnics. Picnics were often arranged to the “Flat Rock” and people could climb to the Gibson Dam.   Akkerbos, near the base of Donkey Pass, is a grove of oak trees that provided a picnic site during a Royal Tour by the British monarchy, including Elizabeth II in 1947.

The Gibson Dam and the Water pans on Platberg

Gibson Collage
An improvement by the British Military’s Royal Engineers helped to improve the supply of more water to the town. A dam on Platberg, built by the Royal Engineers, was named the Gibson Dam after Mr. Gibson, a member of the town board. The wall of the dam was subsequently raised three times thereby increasing its capacity to 540 million liters.  The main water reservoirs were constructed in 1904 on the highest point on King’s Hill. Water was pumped from the stream which flows through the then Botanic Gardens. From the reservoir it flowed downhill to the buildings on King’s Hill. The reservoir foundation stone is seen between the two reservoirs. 
The water supply of the town, which is always an important matter, was obtained from springs and surface water collected in the upland basins of the Platberg. The water flowed down the cliff through a deep Krantz and forms a clear mountain stream, which passed through bush and over basalt boulders to the town reservoirs.  The large dam The Platberg dam with a wall 200ft long 9ft high and capable of impounding 120 million gallons of water was built by the Royal Engineers and completed in 1904. An account of 386GBP was presented to the council of Harrismith.
Platberg Hawkins Collage
Hawkins and Von During Dams – The dam was built in 1899 and named after Captain Harlan Hawkins. He was also in command of “Harrismith Volunteer Light Horse” from 1914 to 1918.
In the last years of the century the Council once again took thought for the water supply of the town, and planned a storage dam. This dam is today known as the Von During Dam, after a very popular mayor in office long after its construction, but it was felt desirable for him to have a memorial of some sort.
Mr. Hawkins was responsible for making the dam, and pointed out to the Council that a second dam high up the stream could be built. His suggestion was adopted and the present Hawkins dam came into being

Blockhouse still stands guard over the Dams  Blokhuis Collage

sandsteen curbs
During 1963 water was brought to the town via water furrow. This changed in July 1877 when the the furrow were paved with sandstone.

Thanks to Biebie de Vos for his pictures of our beautiful mountain.

Thanks to Adam Truscott for the painting

Thanks to Dan Wessels for the beautiful fauna pictures.

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

 

The Burgher Monument, Harrismith

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The Chevy pays a visit to the Burgher Monument

The Burgher monument was inaugurated on 8 November 1938.

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On Friday morning 1 March 1940, six months after the beginning of the Second World War, Harrismith awoke with the upsetting news that the Burgher Monument had been damaged: pieces of the kneeling burgher’s hat and rifle had been broken off. Angry people were already gathered around the Monument, more followed out of curiosity, wild threats were made and more than one fiery fist fight had to be stopped.

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Protesters on horseback

Although it could never be proved, persistent rumours had it that it was one of the two MacFadyen brothers who had got to the Monument with a piece of water pipe. They had been socialising in the Central Hotel on that Thursday evening before they were to depart to the front in North Africa the following morning. In die city hall, across the street from the hotel, a function was in full swing. Late that night they departed from the hotel, tipsy and upset with the Afrikaners’ apparent disapproval of the war in which they, as allies, were to place their lives at risk. Lively dance music from the city hall lured them to see what was going on. When they reached the Burgher Monument in front of the city hall, one brother froze, refusing to walk under the Boers’ granite arch. In the heat of the moment he grabbed a nearby piece of water pipe, and with his brother’s help, climbed onto the top of the arch. He aimed a massive blow at the burgher’s head, which he missed, but smashed off a piece of the wide-rimmed hat as well as the barrel of the mauser.

The leadership of the English-speaking community of Harrismith was most upset and immediately began collecting funds to repair the damage. Crankshaw Brothers, the original constructor of the Monument, repaired the barrel free of charge.

One would have thought that this would be the end of the matter. Not so! There was great disagreement about the fortune of the Monument between the followers of the two political parties of that time: The South African Party (SAP), the ruling party of General Jan Smuts, and the National Party (NP). While the SAP was quite satisfied that the Monument be repaired, the NP totally disagreed.

The neatly-repaired barrel was broken off again and hidden by members of the Ossewa Brandwag (OB), an organisation working in close co-operation with the NP. It was decided to make a political martyr of the statue: if would be left incomplete as a remembrance of injustice. The broken-off pieces of the statue were hidden, in great secrecy, in a loose sandstone brick in a wall on a farm in the district.

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The new marble plaque

A new marble plaque was made with an inscription in Afrikaans, stating that the Burgher Monument had been violated on the morning of 1 March 1940 by the enemies of the Boer nation. Its inauguration was accompanied by great ceremony and political fanfare. The guest speaker was Mr. JC van Rooy, chairman of the Afrikaner Broederbond. Advocate Blackie Swart, a future state president, was also a speaker at the ceremony.

As a compromise between the two Afrikaner camps, it was decided to place the Monument in the hands of the Voortrekker Commando of Harrismith. A document was compiled, signed and the necessary stamps applied in order to make it official.

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The broken-off pieces of the statue were put into safekeeping by the firm Cloete and Neveling Attorneys, where it remains to this day.

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The broken of barrel

I think we have the most interesting monument in the country! By far!

Thanks to Leon Strachan and Jeannie Wasserman Cook for the information.

For more information we suggest that you read Leon Strachan’s book

Krygers en Skietpiete

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra