SANS Newsletter – March 2018


Letter from the Chair

The Society is working to improve its website where members and visitors will soon find more information, more about heritage and more information about its activities. Hopefully visitors to the site will find it easier to navigate and find what they are searching out.

As a first step from this month the newsletter will be exactly that with news reflecting what happened during the past month. The program will also be exactly that so members can see the event or events planned for the following month.

Your Society has a healthy data base of people interested in heritage but this is divided so events which are exclusively for members can be sent exclusively to paid up members. We want and need to encourage visitors so the Newsletter will continue to be sent to everyone whilst the program will also go to everyone if it is an open event.

We hope that all of us will benefit from this change and the Society will continue to grow as a result but do remember it is your Society and member feedback is welcomed. Use either of the email addresses below to talk to your committee.

Hardy Wilson Memory Coutts
Libraries, Language Services, Archives and Museums Conference – LLAM

The ICC was the venue for the most stimulating and worthwhile parallel conferences from Tuesday to Thursday 13 – 15 February. Several members from the Society, most being committee or past committee members were there and having to make hard choices as to which sessions should take priority. Adrian Rowe from Highway Heritage, who fortuitously had learned of the conference (and Manager of the Inchanga Railway Museum), along with another HH member, and Society members working as a team managed to learn a great deal.

All credit to the organisers and the KZN Department of Arts, Culture, Sport and Recreation for putting this together and how appropriate that it should precede Ros Devereux from Amafa, who is our guest speaker in March.

Prof M Ngoepe is a leading academic in the field of archiving who lead us through the first session skilfully and entertainingly. Doctrines and statements which were of great moment and clearly understood were to be followed either by Amen or Hallelujah. His message was indeed clear and at times this revivalist presentation had his audience in full song.

We followed the history of Archiving in South Africa from the time of the Dutch, which was understandably somewhat sketchy; and the change which followed a British Act of Parliament that caused the Cape to improve its records; through the final years before 1994 when many records were destroyed; to the present day.

We went on to learn that Archiving as taught in SA has until recently had just four modules but from next year will have sixteen. This will hopefully see the art and practice of archiving raised to a higher level of professionalism and understanding and therefore value to everyone.

The maintenance of archives is a Provincial responsibility and whilst KZN may be a leader in this field there is much to be done to improve and enable people to access our archived records.
The LLAM Conference was advertised as an opportunity for Societies and Institutions to get to know of each other’s activities.
What better way to do this than over coffee and cake – appropriately as this was Valentine’s – with red cupcakes.
Photo shows Friends of the Society being:
Nellie Somers from Killie Campbell Collections, Adrian Rowe wearing his Highway Heritage Hat, (albeit invisible), Kathrine Fenton-May whose camera took the picture and Hardy Wilson.

Steve Kotze lead a Museum Services session entitled, History in Plain Sight – using digital platforms to promote Liberation Heritage in eThekwini Municipality and we should consider asking Steve to talk on this subject later in the year. Another Museum Services session that would have appealed was called, The current state of textile collections in KZN.

The presentation quality and subject relevance was maintained through the last day. The presentation by Reinhardt Hartzenberg entitled, The Heritage Management System was superb. KZN has development a Metadata record system which appears second to none. It’s a system which Museums and organisations holding all types of exhibition material including photographs can use to store and share detailed records; records which others can access thus enabling museums to share items, researchers to find information and of course have a data base that is of immense value.

Attendees have been promised copies of most of the presentations and without doubt you can expect member opportunities to follow. The papers will hopefully be shared as will opportunities for member participation.

Society participants included, Angie St George, Kathrine Fenton-May, Sanabelle Ebrahim, David Hughes, Mikhail Peppas, Hardy Wilson

We love to hear from those to whom we have awarded prizes or bursaries so read on:

Dear Hardy I hope this message finds you well in the New Year, I wanted to reach out and tell you and the SANS members of my plans for this year which are to continue with my full-time studies and pursue my BTech/Honours. And with the momentum I gained from the award I received from the SANS I was able to stay committed to my final year studies last year and I am graduating this April. I just wanted to say thank you for being a part of my journey. Please send my regards to all the members. Best wishes Zane Ngwenya
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REPORT BACK: Mountains Passes and Poorts of SA by Patrick Coyne

Patrick’s presentation contained something for all and was received with much enthusiasm by everyone at this once again large turnout meeting. We started with a Classic Car; travelled the length and breadth of the land or should that be up and down the passes and through the poorts of SA; saw flowers on the brink of extinction; and struggled over roads to Rhodes which should never be contemplated by anyone not in a rugged 4 x 4. We also learned much about the geology of the many areas visited.

Meiringspoort 1885

However Patrick and his wife Helen are obviously imbued with a tough pioneer spirit and thankfully a car that coped equally well with tough.

To quote our speaker, “When my wife and I told friends what we intended to do, their immediate reaction was to advise that our first stop should be an AA recommended psychiatrist. But I had faith in the car, and it was vindicated”. Then to quote many who have known and used what is tantamount to a Fieldguide to the Passes, “It is an essential part of all our explorations and we would not be without it”. So we can all be glad that Patrick took the trouble to research and publish this invaluable work.

Our speaker explained that we had insufficient time to deal with all 50 passes and we soon realised why as he showered us with fascinating information about more than half this number.


Our first poort was Meiringspoort where we looked at a picture of a Cape cart taken in 1885. This poort is indelibly linked with the two Bains; Andrew Geddes Bain and his son, Thomas Bain. The poort was opened in 1858. TV Bulpin said in his book, ‘Discovering Southern Africa’ The Poort is romantically lovely, grand and majestic, with brilliantly coloured sedimentary rocks.

Then we looked at Seven Weeks Poort which has been little changed since built in 1862. The originating engineer was Adam de Smidt. Seven Weeks Poort is where the rare Protea aristata was first found in 1928. It was then not seen for 25 years until 1953 when a clump of 5 was a found near road. To see these flowers, if you’re lucky – visit the poort between March and May.

Seven Weeks Poort

Onto KwaZulu-Natal and our own Sani Pass which is 2874m high (9426 feet) and South Africa’s highest pass. To beer lovers and hungry travellers it fittingly also has the highest pub in Africa sitting it would seem at the top of the World. .

Sani Pass

Two wheel drive vehicles are rightly banned from negotiating this ‘road’ so taking the Rover up Sani Pass was not allowed and they had to go in a Land Rover. To prove Sani Pass is dangerous we saw pictures of a wrecked truck that careered off the road and down the mountainside. With the plan not in only place but now actually started tarring will surely mean it becomes a ‘highway’ in the literal sense.

Sani has a great history so two books are recommended: Sani Pass — Riding the Dragon by David Alexander & The Saga of Sani Pass and Mokhotlong by Michael Clark. Or you can read its history in Patrick’s book.

KwaZulu-Natalian’s sometimes forget the Free State side of the Berg so it was a fitting reminder that Witzieshoek has a picnic site at 2286m (7500 feet) with the Sentinel 3165m (10383feet) in the background. This is presently the highest tarred road in SA and possibly in Africa. No two sources agree on the altitudes of these passes but we used an aircraft altimeter – and later compared results with those in Government survey maps. From the parking place it’s a two hour walk to the famous (notorious) chain ladder leading up to the plateau overlooking Mont-aux-Sources; this being built by Walter Coventry in 1924. TV Bulpin wrote that it was ‘one of the most stunning scenic experiences in South Africa’

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Back to the Western Cape and Sir Lowry’s Pass which is the pass on stilts. In my book I have told its long history. But briefly, it was first crossed in 1655 by an army man – Corporal Muller. “In 1828 the Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir Lowry Cole decided a proper road was feasible. Without informing the British Government he collected some money and told engineer Charles Michell to proceed. The first pass opened 1830. The Colonial Office in London was not amused when news of this fait accompli reached them. They threatened to dock the cost (3000 pounds) from his salary. There was a public outcry, so the Colonial Office relented and paid up. The pass was unchanged for 126 years. The latest improvements, including the great concrete viaduct, were completed in 1983. From the top of the pass one can look over Strand and False Bay with Table Mountain in the distance. There is a plaque giving the history of the pass placed when it was made a National Monument.

Sir Lowry’s Pass


You notice the Bains repeatedly appear in the story with the next being Bain’s Kloof. Dacres Pulpit is a rock overhand in one of the oldest and best known passes in SA. It was first explored by Andrew Geddes Bain (father of Thomas). Construction began in 1849 with opening in 1853. Before the opening Bain was asked to speak. He replied, ‘I would rather make another Bain’s Poort (its original name) than make a speech. I am nothing but a common highwayman and only accustomed to blazing and blasting.’

Bain’s Kloof Pass


SA National Society Program for March 2018


MEETING DATE:          Tuesday 13 March 2018

VENUE:                        KwaMuhle Museum, Bram Fischer Road [Ordnance Road] Durban.

TIME:                           Meeting commences at 1715; Refreshments will be served from 1630.

PARKING:                     Off Bram Fischer/Ordnance road [next to the Museum]; security person is present

Charge which is to cover light refreshments: Members R20 Non-members R30


“How the Heritage Legislation impacts the Built Environment.” Ros Devereux – Amafa  

The Society is delighted that the guest speaker next month will be Ros Devereux from Amafa. Ros will explain how the department assesses the heritage value of buildings; manages their preservation, and the criteria used when evaluating the impact that alterations may have on the conservation worthiness of protected structures.

The preface of her the talk will be a general introduction to what constitutes heritage resources.

For those receiving a hard copy the March Newsletter will be sent separately from this month.

Click to download a PDF copy of the March Program – SANS Program 2018-03 March

SANS Newsletter & Program – February 2018


 THE DATE:        Tuesday 13 February 2018

VENUE:             KwaMuhle Museum, Bram Fischer Road [Ordnance Road] Durban.

TIME:                Meeting commences at 1715; Refreshments will be served from 1630.

PARKING:         Off Bram Fischer/Ordnance road [next to the Museum]; security person is present

FEATURE:         ‘A Rear View Mirror look at our country’s road passes and poorts’

N– Patrick Coyne

Pat Coyne’s book is summed up well in the following statement and we look forward to hearing Pat’s talk about his really useful guide. ‘South Africa’s roads are rich in magnificent mountain passes and poorts, any one of which can turn a journey into a memorable experience. Passes were formidable obstacles for vehicles of the past, but nowadays we can enjoy them without worrying whether we shall be able to make it to the top. Information about passes and poorts is not easily available to travellers. Hence this book, which is compact enough to fit into a bag or car cubby-hole.’

REPORT BACK: Portraits of Colonial Natal by Dr Duncan du Bois

What an excellent start to the Society’s year this was with someone who is master of his subject talking easily about something he is passionate about. Many people have contributed in many ways to the making of KwaZulu-Natal, most in a very positive way and many of course in the sugar industry; an industry whose fortunes were for decades reflected in Colonial Natal’s own successes.

We have drawn on the write up published in the Witness last year to summarise what Duncan du Bois said.

At a time when a leading politician’s future and footprint have been blighted and disparaged because she attempted to make objective remarks about the legacies of colonialism, the publication of Portraits of Colonial Natal by Duncan du Bois spurns the “decolonisers” and without fear or favour provides a wide ranging account of pioneers, places and prejudices.

Comprising 12 chapters, Portraits of Colonial Natal balances settler enterprise, initiatives and hardships with accounts of encroachment on the lands of indigenous peoples and human rights abuses. It also includes a ground-breaking study in the liberalisation of race relations. As stated in its Introduction, all periods of history contain

stains of tragedy and legacies of ill-considered policies. As the repository of knowledge and understanding, history can be reviewed and opinions revised but it cannot be erased.

For residents of the South Coast and those interested in that region, Portraits of Colonial Natal has detailed sketches of life in Umzinto, Umkomaas and Port Shepstone. Anecdotal detail gleaned from colonial newspapers and unpublished correspondence in the Pietermaritzburg Archives revive bygone times and characters.

Dr Duncan du Bois held the attention of his audience as he demonstrated his immense understanding of the history of the South Coast

Portraits of Colonial Natal also features brief biographies of two pioneers of sugar plantation, Michael Jeffels of Isipingo and James Arbuthnot of the Umzinto district, whose lives and contributions to the fledgling years of Natal have hitherto been neglected. While the sugar industry was the engine of economic growth on the coast, the role of indentured Indian labour was crucial to that enterprise. Two chapters focus on the experiences of Indians. One examines the abuse of the indentured labourers while the other charts the evolution of prejudice against Indians as settlers and commercial entrepreneurs.

Of particular relevance to those who brand all colonial figures as irredeemable bigots, the chapter on Midlands agriculturist and politician Joseph Baynes, challenges that view. Portraits of Colonial Natal is a collection of scholarly articles, several of which have been published in academic journals. It features a map and images, and carries endorsements by the former editor of Natalia, – Journal of the Natal Society, Jack Frost, and UKZN professor of history Goolam Vahed. It is published by Reach Publishers of Westville. Duncan du Bois is also the author of Sugar and Settlers: A History of the Natal South Coast 1850-1910 and Labourer or Settler? Colonial Natal’s Indian Dilemma.

As in all things there are also those whose successes could hardly be termed glorious, fortunately they were in the minority. We heard about the growth of the Natal Government Railways as railway was built down the South Coast; of Umzinto’s shock at becoming just a station on a branchline with consequent change of importance and fortunes. We ended with really positive comments about Joseph Baines and his achievements which still benefit people a century later.

One could therefore fully understand why so many members left with a signed copy of Portraits, which promised to add to their knowledge of this remarkable Province.

Newly joined member Sheila Swanepoel wrote an entertaining story about her 8 Passes Trip with Harrismith Heritage Society back in 2014. Enjoy her tale as it seems an excellent appetite whetter for next month’s presentation by Patrick Coyne.

Harrismith Heritage Society Trip – 8 passes in 2 days – November 2014

Last Saturday saw 61 people in 27 vehicles setting off from the Town Hall on a most exciting adventure, superbly organised by the Harrismith Heritage Society.

We started off on the Verkykerskop road, via Mont Pelaan and down Mullers Pass.  Then, just like the men under the Grand Old Duke of York, no sooner were we “down”, than we had to go up again – this time Normandien Pass.  The vast open vistas really are quite breathtaking.  There were times when we drove along what seemed like the top of the world, with not a single sign of civilisation – no fences, no poles, no dwellings, no cattle – just green veld, magnificent valleys with natural bush and iconic Free State sandstone kopjes dotting the horizon.   This obviously worried cattle farmer Elsie Campher a great deal as she kept saying “Waar’s die beeste?”

Lunch was enjoyed overlooking “The Ark” – a sweeping arc of brooding krantzes bordering a deeply wooded valley. Stops were many and varied and we were richly entertained by stories of “die ou dae” and tales of some of the characters of the district.  I suspect that some of these stories may even have been true. Neil Fyvie, Stefan Lombard, Frik Steyn, Jaap van Niekerk, Nick Leslie and Willem & Alta de Jager are all passionate about the history of Harrismith and have some wonderful tales to share.  We were fortunate enough to have the company of author Gillis van Schalkwyk whose knowledge of local history is quite astounding.

Somewhere along the way we drove past “Rietvlei” the beautiful old farm of Manie & Mary Wessels, much loved Harrismith residents.  This brought back many memories of happy tennis days enjoyed in the company of old friends.  And Aunty Mary’s chocolate cake! Remember that cream icing!

I say “somewhere along the way” because for two days, I was utterly “rigtingbedonderd!”  I could never work out where we were headed or from whence we had come. Every time I asked a burly farmer “Waar’s Harrismith?” he would turn around and point in exactly the opposition direction I was facing! Not that it mattered in the slightest. I was having far too much fun to concentrate on anything as trifling as finding my way home!

Then it was down Collings Pass and up de Beers Pass with more beautiful scenery along the way. The stopover for the night was the Green Lantern Inn where we were royally entertained by owners Bill & Gail.  By nightfall the threatened rain had arrived and what a treat to leave the “braai-ing” to young Johan van der Westhuizen who did not disappoint! I’m never going on another “Harrismith Erfenis Stigting” outing without him!

After more stories on Sunday morning we set off down van Reenen’s Pass to Wyford, home of Strat & Sheila Russell, where we heard the fascinating history of this trading store, police post and ox wagon stop-over point.  Pat Borland, a direct descendant of the original owners of the farm, came all the way from Wales to entertain us with stories of her childhood and her forebears’ memories of the role Wyford played in the Anglo Boer War.  Dr Eugene Campher joined us from Nigeria (Ebola-free he assured us) and he made some good contributions too.

Then it was off via Sandspruit to the metropolis of Geluksburg, up Tintwa Pass to Nesshurst, home of Leon & Elsa Strachan where another delicious braai was enjoyed.

At last the “piéce de résistance” was upon us and there was no turning back from the lip of Bezuidenhout’s Pass for about 17 of the hardier drivers who decided to brave this descent back into Natal.  What followed was about two hours of “stop start slip slide skid” down a tortuous, deeply rutted track in howling wind and driving rain.  I was fortunate enough to be in Nick Leslie’s vehicle and what an expert driver he is – competent and utterly calm in the face of some serious challenges. Being right near the back of the line of vehicles, we had no idea of what was going on near the front, but judging by the nervous giggles, congratulatory back slaps and Elsa van der Westhuizen’ s ruined perm at the bottom of the pass, there must have been some interesting moments.  There was definitely some road-building, some mud-wrestling, lots of sage advice (not all of it asked for or taken), plenty of blue air in the vehicles and a few wives who got out and walked down the pass rather than brave their husbands’ driving skills!

Strat & Sheila Russell made it unscathed to the bottom in a bakkie with only two wheels instead of four (or something like that – I’m not really into technical car terms) and were much admired for maintaining grace under pressure!

But the heroes of the day were a diminutive Frenchman and his lady, driving a vehicle that didn’t look suitable to my unpractised eye – and they loved every spine-jarring minute of it.  She kept getting out in frog-strangling sheets of rain to film the descent in spite of the real danger of being taken out permanently by an out-of-control slipping, sliding car! At the bottom of the pass I ventured over to see how she had enjoyed the trip. She didn’t have the English to share her feelings, but her expressive face, arms and hands told their own story.  Talk about Nec aspera terrent! (Difficulties do not deter us)

Being right at the back, we saw plenty of evidence of vehicle contact with local trees, a few destroyed fences and plenty of wild skids, but all that was forgotten when we gathered at the bottom of the pass for a “post mortem” and a group photograph.  What a fantastic adventure with a great bunch of people!

After that it was back up over Tintwa Pass as the Oliviershoek Pass was deemed too dangerous in the fast approaching dusk. Needless to say, after what we’d just been through, we would have sailed over the Khyber Pass on an ox wagon, let alone little old Oliviershoek in a powerful 4×4!

For those of you lucky enough to live in this little piece of heaven, put down your mobiles and your tablets, wrench your children away from their iPods and iPads and get out there to enjoy what is right on your doorstep. You won’t regret it!

Sheila Swanepoel


The Society points out that its Newsletter and Website reports on events. Opinions and viewpoints reflect those of its contributors and are not necessarily official or those of the members. If these opinions result in healthy discussions then for the benefit of history, that is to be encouraged.

SANS Newsletter & Program February 2018


Highway Heritage Society – January 2018 Newsletter

Highway Heritage Society celebrates the start of 2018 with its 100th Newsletter which includes some heritage material about Pinetown and the cover of the first edition of the Highway Mail dated 11 February 1949.

The next meeting of the Society which will be held in the staff lounge at Thomas More College, Sykes Road, Kloof on Saturday 3 February when Dr Jackie Kalley and Hugh Bland will be discussing their recently published and exciting book, Farmhouses of Old Natal. There is a small charge to cover the cost of refreshments.

Click to download a copy of the Newsletter Highway Heritage Society Newsletter 100 – 2018-01 Jan 

Pietermaritzburg Heritage Society January Meeting

Members and friends of Pietermaritzburg Heritage Society are invited to the January meeting which will be held at the KZN Museum on Saturday, January 27 at 10:00.

Please find details in the PDF below of an illustrated talk by Simon Haw; a talk which examines the Normandy Landings.

Simon Haw asks that you please indicate whether you will be attending as this is essential for catering purposes. Please email him at this address:

Click to download details of the meeting Pietermaritzburg Heritage Society January 2018 Talk

Newsletter & Program for January 2018

NEWSLETTER & PROGRAM for January 2018

THE DATE:        Tuesday 9 January 2018

VENUE:             KwaMuhle Museum, Bram Fischer Road [Ordnance Road] Durban.

TIME:                Meeting commences at 1715; Refreshments will be served from 1630.

PARKING:         Off Bram Fischer/Ordnance road [next to the Museum]; security person is present

FEATURE:         Portraits of Colonial Natal by Dr Duncan du Bois

Professor Goolam Vahed, Head of History at UKZN, said this about Dr Du Bois latest publication and the work he will be discussing at the January meeting,

Dr Du Bois has been working on a period and an area about which little new research is currently being done. It is commendable that these essays are now available in this highly readable volume which can be accessed by the wider public. This book makes an important contribution to the regional history of KwaZulu-Natal in the colonial period.”

We know this will make for an excellent first meeting of 2018 and look forward to seeing another record attendance. Dr Du Bois will have copies of his book for sale at R150.00 a copy.


World Ship Society – Port Natal Branch

David Hughes has invited members to attend the WSS Meeting at RNYC, 1700 for 1730 on Tuesday, 23 January 2018, where Dr JOHN BUCHAN, will be presenting an illustrated talk, entitled “A HISTORY OF THE DURBAN FLYING BOAT SERVICE“.

David sent this photo from his own maritime collection, showing a Flying Boat on Durban Bay sometime in the late 1940’s .

He believes the sailing ship to be the Lawhill.

REPORT BACK: HEROD THE GREATa great, and possibly the greatest builder of all time.

Alison Bastable enthralled everyone with her presentation covering so many places in the Near East that are steeped in history. Sadly your scribe was unable to be there so this report has been compiled using an extract from Alison’s PowerPoint presentation and accompanying notes. But rumour has it there was talk that instead of a Ladysmith Tour for members in August 2018 this should be changed to a Tour to the Near East. Can one receive higher praise?

There were three phases to this presentation because it was based on first-hand knowledge gleaned from several visits.  Using the map members ‘visited’ the following places – Petra, Masada, with a quick detour to the Dead Sea and Qumran, Herodium, Caesarea Maritima and Jerusalem.

PETRA is located in southern Jordan not too far from the Gulf of Aqaba.  The first known settlements date back to 8000 BCE. (Before Current Era). In the 13thC BCE a Semite people known in the bible as the Edomites moved into this area and lived there happily for about 500 years.  They were descendants of Esau – the problematic brother of Jacob.  Jacob and Esau were the twin sons of Isaac and grandsons of Abraham and there was NO love lost whatsoever between the descendants of Esau and the descendants of Jacob.

When the Romans occupied Judea and needed someone to rule it, they came up with a cunning plan – the ideal candidate would have to be Jewish enough to understand the Jews and their strange ways, but unflinchingly loyal to Rome.  AND the ideal candidate would have to be RICH.  Rome trusted only wealthy families!

Enter Herod the Edomite!  Mission accomplished!  Herod promptly executed most of the traditional Jewish aristocracy and confiscated their land and wealth – so that he could build an empire worthy of Rome!  And build it he did – building was in his blood.  His ancestors came from Petra!

The Edomites were a prosperous people, but it was the Nabateans who conquered the area in 6th Century BCE who really put the city on the map.  Petra is situated at the very point where the great north-south trade route from Arabia to the Mediterranean intersected with the westward trade route from the Far East.

The ‘Kings Highway’ was in existence by the time of the Exodus – and we travelled on that same road down to Petra!  In many places the paving stones put in place by the Romans are still clearly visible!

Roman Paving stones exist to this day

The main products traded were spices, precious stones, myrrh, incense, and asphalt from the Dead Sea.  Nabatean ceramics, using the local sandstone and organic colours, are still acknowledged as the finest in the world.

Ceramics based on ancient designs

The prosperity of the Nabatean Kingdom reached its peak during the time of the Roman occupation of the Holy Land or Palestine as it was known then.  Thanks to the great wealth it had accumulated through trade, in particular luxury goods bound for Rome, the Nabateans embarked on a massive feat of hydraulic engineering in the desert around the city.  Channels were carved out of the rock and the construction of earthenware pipes, dams and cisterns ensured a never-ending supply of water both for the city and for irrigating the surrounding farmland.

The source of the water was Wadi Musa, the Wadi of Moses, where, according to ancient tradition, Moses struck the rock to supply water for the thirsty Hebrews en route to the Promised Land.

The decline of Petra began in the 3rd century BCE when the major trade routes changed from land to sea. In May 363 CE Petra was devastated by an earthquake and many buildings were destroyed.  After another earthquake in 551, the city sank slowly into oblivion with the exception of a brief period of occupation by the Crusaders in the 12th C when many of the graves were robbed and monuments destroyed.

Petra was “rediscovered” by a Swiss explorer in 1812 but kept “secret” until after his death in 1817.  The irony is that Petra was never actually LOST!  When Burckhardt arrived it was FULL of people happily going about their business!  Lost to the WEST maybe, but certainly not to the EAST!  In 1865 it became the object of scientific study and systematic archaeological excavations began in 1929.

Major source of water – The Wadis

On the day we visited Petra the temperature was a searing 44°.  It was hard to believe that two weeks before it had been SNOWING and, two days before, flash floods had filled the wadis to overflowing, destroying many of the roads in the process.   Someone had an app on his phone that counted the number of footsteps we made – in the space of 11 hours we walked over 32 000 footsteps and climbed 1 087 metres up a mountain to reach the Monastery!

The valley of Wadi Musa, in which the city was built, is part of the Great Rift Valley extending from Israel to Central Africa.  The only access in and out of ancient Petra is through a narrow gorge about 2 km long and in places, 80 m high.

Tombs, niches, carvings and even the fossil of a baby dolphin adorn the walls of the gorge and the ceramic water pipes and channels that weren’t destroyed by the many earthquakes, are still clearly visible.

The valley of the Wadi Musa

The “Treasury of the Pharaoh” is the most famous building in Petra, probably because it’s the first thing you see as you round the final corner of the gorge.

There is a legend that the urn on the top of the facade contained treasure left by a pharaoh, hence its name.  But it is in fact “only” a tomb with a vestibule, inner chambers, dining halls, burial chambers and sacred places.

Sadly the truth had to be found out the hard way when some over-hyped “Raiders of the Lost Ark” “Indiana Jones” wannabees, tried to climb up to reach the urn and couldn’t – so they let rip with a hail of bullets instead, smashing many of the magnificent carvings to smithereens in the process.

If only they had known – you don’t climb UP – you climb DOWN!  All these magnificent monuments were carved by people hanging from the TOP of the cliffs in baskets and working their way steadily downwards until they eventually reached ground level!

Waste not, want not. All the stone excavated from inside the rocks was carefully removed in blocks to be used to build other structures or for powder for their world famous porcelain.

The Bedouin who inhabit the area make a living from tourists.  We were told not to buy things from children.  The Jordanian government is desperately trying to instil in the desert wanderers the need for their children to get an education but the children would much rather sell water to tourists than sit on a hard school bench.

King Herod the Great now comes into his own.  Herod was pronounced King of the Jews by the Romans in 40 BCE when he was about 33 years old.  He died in about 4 BCE of a kidney disease and gangrene that was so painful that he attempted suicide more than once.

Herod was probably one of the greatest visionary builders of all times.  He was responsible for the construction of the first man-made harbour as well as the first man-made mountain, a palace that defied gravity and the largest construction on earth in his time – the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

Herod had clawed his way up from obscurity to fame by a combination of ruthlessness and political cunning so it is no surprise that he was a manic depressive who was paranoid about his safety.  That’s why he built fortresses, as though they were townhouses – or rather, he HAD them built – by hundreds and thousands of slaves and soldiers.  His building frenzy was financed largely through crippling taxes imposed on his Jewish subjects.  No wonder he needed a personal bodyguard of 2000 soldiers!

Back in Israel our next stop was Masada, a mountain fortress built in 37 BCE overlooking the Dead Sea 450 metres below.  Considering the fact that the Dead Sea is 432 metres below sea level, Masada looks like a mountain but its top is actually only 18m above sea level!

This was Herod’s winter palace and his most southern fortress.

Masada’s claim to fame is the Jewish Uprising of 66 CE when a small group of 900 rebel Zealots holed up on top of Masada and held off the might of the Roman army for three years!  Evidence of that siege is still clearly visible today.

The water supply was guaranteed by a network of canals and cisterns capable of storing 200 000 cubic metres of water!  During the winter rains, streams flowed down the sides of the plateau and filled the cisterns that had been hewn into the rock.  Slaves then carried the water up to the top – not only for domestic use but enough to fill an enormous swimming pool as well as the lavish bathhouses! That’s a LOT of buckets … and even more slaves.

Apart from the palaces, there was an administrative centre, storehouses filled with oil, wine, grain, dried fruit and dates, a large bath house/gymnasium and comfortable living quarters for officials and their families.  To keep the buildings cool they had thick walls constructed of layers of dolomite stone covered with plaster.

On the northern edge of the steep cliff Herod ordered the construction of an elegant, intimate, palace-villa. It consisted of three terraces carved into the rock face, to catch the breezes from the Mediterranean.  It was luxuriously built and connected by narrow, rock-cut staircases.  The upper terrace served as the living quarters while the lower two were used for relaxation and entertainment.  Talk about a room with a view! This part of Masada was constructed in much the same way as the buildings of Petra – working from the top down instead of from the bottom up.  In the process, the rock was badly cracked in places making it very unstable.  Four bolts each about 15 – 20 metres in length have been found pushed into the rock face to strengthen it.


The largest building on Masada was the Western Palace covering an acre of ground.  The throne room had a magnificent mosaic floor and the walls were moulded panels of white stucco. There was also plenty of space for the growing of crops and the keeping of sheep and goats … and horses!

Can you believe it – it is highly unlikely that Herod ever visited Masada!!!!   He had it built as a place of refuge but he had the habit of dispatching his enemies before they even knew they WERE his enemies.  When Herod died in about 4 BC his three sons inherited his kingdom and probably never went that far south either.

Qumran – the place of the Essenes – a religious sect who were so horrified by the corruption going on in the Temple in Jerusalem that they retreated to the desert to live an austere lifestyle of prayer and meditation while waiting for the promised Messiah.

Until the first of the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered in 1947, the oldest surviving Hebrew biblical manuscripts dated to the 9th century CE.  The Isaiah scroll written in about 100 BCE, and was almost completely intact – and word for word identical to the Hebrew Scripture still in use today!

Dead Sea Scrolls – Isiah

Now on to Herodian, this being built in 23 BCE some 15 km south of Jerusalem.  At first sight it seems to be the cone of a volcano on the edge of the Judean desert.  Closer inspection shows it to be a natural hill with a manmade top gaining its strength from its conical shape. Its 45° slope is perfect for defence purposes.  How did they build it?  Easy – they simply chopped off the top of a nearby hill and planted it on top of this one!  Herod wanted to build the highest mountain in the Judean desert – so high that he could see Jerusalem from its summit and Jerusalem could see him!   Once it was high enough he started building yet another palace surrounded by casemate walls just like Masada.

As with Masada, there was an elaborate system of tunnels and cisterns inside the mountain to ensure enough water for a swimming pool so large that small boats could be sailed on it.  The enormous courtyard had lush green grass and bushes and the bath complex consisted of a cold and a warm room, a sauna, Turkish bath and plunge pool.  It is here at Herodian that the first domed ceilings known in the western world were built.   This was a HUGE engineering breakthrough and was repeated later in Jerusalem.  It is thought that the stones were laid around mounds of sand and then the sand was removed, leaving perfectly structured domed ceilings.

The complex system of tunnels and cisterns inside the mountain made the perfect hiding place for rebels during the Jewish Revolt.  They ran around in the dark like sewer rats and the Romans in their uniforms and carrying heavy shields and swords simply got lost in the maze of darkness. These tunnels exited on the side of the mountain where a Royal Roman Theatre and Herod’s Tomb were recently discovered.  The frescoes are illustrations of Italian scenes and the river Nile, suggesting that the artists were on loan from Rome.

And so to our next “port of call” just north of Tel Aviv.

Listen to this description of a city and tell me where it is and when it was probably built ….

 A man-made harbour that is one of the largest harbours in the world.  The south breakwater is almost 600 meters long and the north breakwater is 300 meters long.   The base for these breakwaters is built of 12m x 18m concrete blocks that were poured under water at depths of up to 33 metres and are large enough to support huge warehouses.

The lighthouse at the harbour entrance can be seen many kilometres away.

A magnificent palace is designed in such a way that ships can sail right up to it and passengers can alight directly into the reception rooms.  The palace has a freshwater swimming pool, 40m long, 20m wide and 3m deep ….. built in the sea.

There is an enormous stadium large enough to host the opening of the Olympic Games.

An outdoor theatre seating 4000 people is embellished in marble and gold, magnificent mosaics, stonework and frescoes.

Aqueducts bring water in ceramic pipes from 20 kilometres away as there is no closer source of fresh water.

It is ….. Caesarea Maritima built by Herod the Great between 25 and 13 BCE!!

And what is left of it now?  Not much, really, but included in the ruins is a stone with the name of Pontius Pilate clearly visible.  Proof that he really existed!

The Romans in Naples had discovered that volcanic ash would harden under water and so the first underwater “cement” called PORCELANA was invented.  Wooden frames made by Herod’s engineers have been found under the Mediterranean in the vicinity of Caesarea.  These frames were floated out to sea and filled with stones and volcanic ash to build the breakwaters.

Within a few years of completion sand piled up against the walls and created a new stretch of land – much like our Marine Parade only on a MUCH grander scale.  So Herod’s architects designed a full scale Hippodrome with enough seating for 38 000 spectators.  The first Roman Theatre in Judea and an enormous temple in honour of Caesar Augustus were built here too.  And so the most modern city in the Roman world took shape and form – it even had water borne sewerage. The Romans LOVED it – but the Jews were so angered by the temple that Herod feared a massive rebellion.

So to keep them happy, he decided to give Jerusalem a facelift the likes of which had never been seen before or since.  Using all the expertise learnt from Masada, Herodian and Caesarea, Herod set about rebuilding the Temple of Solomon, destroyed by the Babylonians centuries before and desecrated again by the Greeks before the Romans invaded Israel. The site of the temple was originally a threshing floor. According to tradition, it was selected because this was Mount Moriah, where Abraham had been called to sacrifice Isaac on an altar many hundreds of years before. In order to get an area vast enough for his grandiose ideas – 5 soccer fields long and 3 wide – Herod encased the Temple Mount with stone walls 31 metres high.  In so doing, he created the largest manmade platform on planet earth.

To fill up the gaps between the hill slopes and the walls, Herod built a series of vaulted tunnels beneath the platform – many of which are perfectly preserved to this day!  Some of the stones used are of unbelievable size and proportion.  The largest stone is 13.6 metres long, 3 metres high and 3.3 metres thick.  A quick bit of maths tells us that such a stone weighs over 570 tons!

No one knows exactly WHAT is hidden in the vaults under the platform.  How did the Crusader Knights Templar become so suddenly very, very rich?  Were all the Temple treasures stashed away just before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE when not a single stone of the temple was left standing?  Although some of the tunnels have been explored – in boats because they also served as aqueducts bringing water to the Temple for the ritual baths – NO further exploration was permitted after the Moslems claimed the Mount as theirs and barred any Jews from ever setting foot on it again.

The Dome of the Rock – the rock of Abraham – and, by tradition, the rock on which Mohammed ascended into heaven in a dream – has been built right over the place where Herod’s Temple stood.  Or so they thought at the time!  Jewish records show that the original Holy of Holies was on a different part of the platform but it is too late now to move the mosque!

In spite of all Herod’s attempts to make himself the greatest man that ever lived, he was so paranoid that no-one would mourn his passing.  When he realised his end was near, he ordered a host of celebrities and high ranking officials to be brought to Jericho where they were imprisoned.  His instructions were that they were all to be killed the moment he died – to ensure loud weeping and wailing throughout the land by both Jews and Romans!!  We aren’t sure whether these instructions were carried out or not, but we DO know that whatever wailing WAS done, was probably by the poor soldiers and slaves who had to carry Herod’s body on an enormous bier from Jericho to Herodian along dangerously narrow, dusty desert roads in searing heat.

Herod may have been a great builder but he was definitely a not-so-great ruler.  Small wonder he was known by the Jews as Herod the Monstrous – profligate in his spending, brutal in his oppression and psychopathically paranoid to the end.

To end let’s talk about Jeru-salem … salem = shalom – PEACE.  The city of peace may sound like a misnomer given the current political climate, but when I had finished praying at the Wall for the peace of this amazing city, I looked up … and saw … a white dove nestling peacefully on a ledge in the wall, in the shade of a tuft of grass and weeds.  The Dove of Peace.


The Committee extends Seasonal Greetings to all its members and friends. May 2018 indeed be a year of Peace.

Click to download a PDF of the January Newsletter & Program:  SANS Newsletter & Program January 2018


Newsletter & Program for December 2017

THE DATE:       Tuesday 12 December 2017

VENUE:            KwaMuhle Museum, Bram Fischer Road [Ordnance Road] Durban.

TIME:               Meeting commences at 1715; Refreshments will be served from 1630.

CHARGE:         Meeting charge for refreshments; Members R20 – Visitors R30

PARKING:        Off Bram Fischer/Ordnance road [next to the Museum]; security person is present

FEATURE:        HEROD THE GREAT – a great, and possibly the greatest builder of all time. Member Alison Bastable fell in love with the near East in 1983. Her talk, which is a superb follow on to Robin Smith’s October presentation, will take us on a visit to Petra, Masada, Herodium, Caesarea Maritima and Jerusalem to see what an astounding legacy he left behind.


The Society’s AGM was again held at the RNYC but somewhat earlier in the month than usual on Saturday 18 November.

It was an enjoyable gathering of members and friends who celebrated the previous year’s many successes. However it will always be remembered by everyone there because Treasurer Myra Boyes had received splendid news the day previously; news which Myra aptly described as arriving at the eleventh hour. SARS had sent an email at 1600 with an attachment stating that the Society met the requirements of a Public Benefit Organisation and providing our PBO number. Now PBO 930011633 will appear on letterheads, newsletters and the Society website.

The letter states that the Society is exempt from Income Tax as ‘you meet the requirements of a Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) set out in section 30(3) of the Income Tax Act 58 etc…)

The letter goes on to state the following which means donations to the Society are not taxed even if the donation exceeds the current annual limit of R100 000.00 before donations tax applies:

The exemption letter includes the following clause which means donations themselves cannot be deducted from his personal income by the donor:

Welcome news indeed and a good omen for the year ahead. Myra was warmly praised for both her patience and tenacity by President Ian Smith and Chairman Hardy Wilson because they more than anyone knew the hard work and effort Myra had put into gaining this status.

The AGM chaired by President Ian Smith, started at 1300, and following apologies from 43 members, who were listed in the AGM booklet, all stood for a moment in memory of members who had passed on since the previous AGM.

The chairman Hardy Wilson read his report covering major activities during the previous year and thanking the many people, committee members as well as members, plus others including Snothi Thabethe – Director of the DLHM and Lucille Webster Director of Libraries at DUT, both of whom were the Society’s guests, for their support and contribution to our successes.

Myra Boyes read her treasurers report with great enthusiasm which was hardly surprising in view of the Society being granted a PBO only the day before. But members were equally impressed by the sound financial management which has been the case under Myra’s firm guiding hand.

President Ian then read out the names of members nominated to sit on the 2018 committee with Chair Hardy ending with the nomination of our hardworking President for a further year.

Committee members have all agreed to head specific portfolios so your new committee appears in the table below with their respective portfolios.The minutes, chairman’s and treasurer’s report will be found on the SA National Society website – and if you are reading this on our site click this link to download as a PDF.

Following an enjoyable lunch Paul Mikula our guest speaker enthusiastically entertained everyone with a different but pertinent take on art and the way it has changed in the past century. This address resulted in enthusiastic support from those present for a repeat visit to the Phansi Museum.

SA National Society 2017-2018 Committee
President:       Ian Smith Chair:                 Hardy Wilson Secretary:        Memory Coutts
Treasurer:       Myra Boyes Photos:      Sanabelle Ebrahim Website:         Hugh Bland
Publicity:         Mikhail Peppas Events:         Angela St George V-P:                  Naureen Craig
V-P:                  Robert King V-P:                   David Hughes V-P:         Theunis Walter Eloff

Click to download a PDF of the Chairman and Treasurer’s Annual Reports:

Treasurer’s Report 2017

Chairman’s AGM Report 2017

MAZEPPA STREET   by Tony Voss               Presented to SA National Society on 2017-07-11

In July this year members enjoyed a stimulating presentation from Tony Voss, who is a research associate of NMMU (Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth), but due to pressures at the time, Part 3 of the August Newsletter was never finished. So here is more of Tony Voss’s presentation – Mazeppa Street.

Please also note we have exercised some editorial prerogative because the spelling of the ‘heroes’ name appears with one ‘p’ not two in some records.

Ukraine’s Historical Figure strapped naked to the back of a horse

The name “Mazeppa” appears at three places on the map of South Africa. The original toponym is Mazeppa Bay (32°S, 28°E) on the Wild Coast. The second is Mazeppa Street, which runs south from near the eastern end of Smith Street (Anton Lembede Street) in Durban (29°S, 31°E). The Mazeppa triangle is closed at the farm Mazeppa, which lies about forty kilometres south of Middelburg,  Eastern Cape (31°S, 25°E),  on the Graaff-Reinet road.

Mazeppa Street is not marked a Plan of the Town of Durban 1851 (Local History Museum 82/830), but the Durban Corporation “instituted the proper naming of all Streets and Roads in the Borough not already named” at a Council meeting on 10th July 1877 and the name appears on a Plan Drawing of 1881. (Local History Museum, 78/96, 78/97).

The central episode in the life of the legendary (if not mythical) Mazepa (as opposed to the historical) reputedly took place at the court of Jean Casimir, King of Poland, where as a young man he was caught in an intrigue with a nobleman’s wife. Mazepa was punished by being strapped naked to the back of a white horse, which galloped off into its homeland in the vast plains of Eastern Europe. After four days, the horse dies under its burden, who survives to become Hetman, or “General” of the Cossacks of Ukraine. (Ukraina means “‘on the edge’ or ‘the frontier’ ”.) Byron’s Mazeppa, a Poem, published in 1819 caused a sensation.

The hero became a romantic icon and an emblem of speed: at any one time through the 19th century there could be as many as half-a-dozen Mazeppas listed in the Lloyds annual Register of Shipping. (Later on trains took the name.) Our Mazeppa owned and skippered by Captain Tait (also Tate) is one of the ships, “Built at: supposed United States”. “When built” was “Not known” but the surveyor Courtenay further if speculatively filled out her history and description:

This is a shallow vessel, not sharp and is constructed of longer scantling than is usually found in vessels of her description. She appears to have been engaged in the slave trade and captured on the coast of Africa last year and is apparently about 7 years old, I am of opinion she is now fit for the conveyance of perishable cargoes.

The “slaver” was a specialised craft, “every quality being sacrificed for speed”.

To some extent the historical record enables us to see the Mazeppa as coming from this same stable. The early Natal settler Francis Armstrong called her “a fast boat”, and Adulphe Delegorgue judged her “an excellent craft”. John Owen Smith, who became her owner in about 1840, puffed her as “The fine fast-sailing Schooner ‘Mazeppa’” (Eastern Province Herald 21.2.1846). In August 1848 the “good old ‘Mazeppa’” (Kraus, p.57), carrying a cargo of “600 fowls” set a record of 64 hours for the voyage from Port Natal to Algoa Bay (Harradine), a journey that could take a week, as could the passage between Table and Algoa Bays: “an average of seven days” according to J. C. Chase. Early in 1840 our Mazeppa was hailed and boarded by a British corvette of the anti-slavery squadron, the Modeste, which Frans Mathys Wolhuter, who was a passenger on board the Mazeppa at the time, explained by the fact that she “was a slaver before being taken by a British cruiser” (p.4), and still looked like a slaver.

Captain Tate bought from the British Government a slaving schooner, captured by the Royal Navy’s anti-slavery squadron, and, after refitting and repairs, re-named it Mazeppa. We can’t be certain but I think this Esperança (one of the last slavers to be sold on whole rather than cut up or burned) may be Captain Tate’s original, and this is a better image of a schooner than any of those we know for certain to be of our Mazeppa.




Captain Tate sailed his Mazeppa to her new home port, Algoa Bay, and she became a busy trader, sailing along the South African coast and (as we shall see) further afield. We can still see some record of what (and whom) she carried

Mazeppa Bay received its name from the schooner in the 1840s. The Graham’s Town Journal of 4  July, 1844, under the heading “British Enterprize” reported that the Port Elizabeth merchant John Owen Smith, after a “personal examination of the coast from the Buffalo to the Umzimvoobo” had established “a trading station in Hintsa’s territory, and the opening of a communication by sea with that country”. Smith’s vessel was even then “safely anchored in Mazeppa Bay…at the mouth of a river [probably the Nebelele] in Hintza’s country…delivering her cargo at Port Fynn, so named after the first vessel employed in this trade, and of the British resident agent in the country where it is carried on”. (2) The opening of a port on this coast, as the Journal’s report suggests, was both an achievement and an opportunity for colonial merchants, filling a long-felt need. Captain Owen had observed the coast’s “total want of harbours”, acknowledging that “to compensate for this deficiency it has an abundance of rivers”. (Owen: I, 70)

But our Mazeppa played a more dramatic part in Natal history too. In April or May 1835, Louis Trichardt, who had been for some years an exile from the Cape Colony, set out north with his party. On the Cape Argus/Saul Solomon Outline Map of 1877, an eminence just east of Southeyville, south of the Indwe River and north-west of St Mark’s is named Trikarots Hill.  Soon the Trichardt trek party were camping between the Orange and the Caledon: when they set out northwards across the Eastern Free State, they had been joined by some members of the van Rensburg trek, including the Bothas from what is now Middelburg in the Eastern Cape: Hendrik (“wamaker”) and Anna and their five children. On 23rd August, 1837 Trichardt set out for Delagoa Bay, which he reached on 13 April 1838, with “46 Christians and 7 servants”.

By this time John Owen Smith of Algoa Bay was using the Mazeppa in trade with the “emigrant farmers” at Port Natal, to whom he had supplied guns and ammunition, one consignment of which was impounded at Port Elizabeth in 1838.  At about this time Captain Tate (accompanied by the Natal settler Peter Hogg) on the Mazeppa was sent by the Cape Government to plant the British flag on the Island of Inyaka (Inhaca). At Delagoa Bay they visited the survivors of the Trichardt trek. When Hogg returned to Algoa Bay he reported to Smith. Smith had heard of the plight of Trichardt’s party from the Reverend Francis Owen, but his application for permission to send a ship for the trekkers was at first refused. By 19th June 1839, permission had been granted and on 25th June the Mazeppa sailed on its “humane mission” under the command of Captain John Tait: on board was George Christopher Cato, Smith’s representative in Port Natal. (Note Cato’s probable familiarity with the vessel.) They arrived in Delagoa Bay on 3d July, and returned to Port Natal on 19th July with the 25 survivors of the Trichardt trek, including the widow Anna Botha and her two daughters and three sons. The Dutch residents of Port Elizabeth subscribed to charter the Mazeppa: the survivors’ passage had cost ₤180.

By the end of 1839, the “emigrant farmers” had established the Republic of Natalia. On 4th May 1842, Captain Thomas Smith, who had been waiting at the mouth of the Umgazi River, arrived in Port Natal with a detachment of the Royal Artillery, to re-establish Britain’s presence, if not to take possession in the name of the crown. Very soon Smith and his troops, after a disastrous attack on the Boer position at Congella on the night of 23rd May, were besieged in the Old Fort, pinned down by the Republican marksmen. Most English settler civilians were made captive, some to be gaoled in Pietermaritzburg, and some detained at Port Natal, including Allen, the master of the Mazeppa. (Mackeurtan: 275) On 1st June, Pretorius sent the Reverend James Archbell under flag of truce to recommend that women and children should take refuge on board the Mazeppa, which had arrived in the bay on 24th May and whose cargo the Boers had seized. Amongst the women and children on board the Mazeppa, Archbell, James McKenzie, Joseph Cato and Peter Hogg had concealed themselves. On 10th June, under Cato’s command, the Mazeppa slipped her cable, and, with all aboard lying low and protected by mattresses which had been draped over the side as if for airing, ran the gauntlet of the Republican fire from the Point and the Bluff, and sailed for Delagoa Bay in search of British help. When the Mazeppa returned on 27th June, the warship Southampton with a company of troops was off Port Natal, and Britain’s third and final occupation was under way.

But the British troops were there from the efforts not of women and men sailing a schooner, but from those of a man (or two men) whose exploits recall the original Mazeppa in a different way.

During the night of 26th May the Cato brothers, in boats from the schooner, had rowed Dick King across the bay to begin his 10-day ride to Grahamstown for British reinforcements. On the night he left Port Natal, King had been sleeping on board the Mazeppa, who with some other men had managed to hide out on board, escaping detection by the Boers.

Dick King and Ndongeni from the statue in Durban

The Cato brothers rowed King and his young Zulu companion Ndongeni across the bay swimming two horses supplied by Major Smith, and from somewhere near King’s Rest, King and Ndongeni set out for Grahamstown.

Mazeppa Street, then commemorates especially these two episodes: the “humane mission” to bring back the survivors of the Trichardt trek, and the “epic journey” of escape to seek help for the besieged British. In memory, history is aligned with literature, and legend with myth. So Major Hook identifies the fate of King’s horse Somerset with that of Mazeppa’s courser of the steppes, as told by Byron:

In passing through Bathurst Street [in Grahamstown], an old officer – Somerset’s former owner – accosted him [King], but time did not permit the veteran to again stroke his old favourite, and the impatient rider passed on…The news in the military barracks next morning was that King lay in hospital and Somerset was dead.

Major Hook concludes the story with a quotation from Byron’s poem:

A moment staggering, feebly fleet,
A moment with a feint low neigh
He answered, and then fell!
With gasps and glazing eyes he lay
And reeking limbs immovable:
…his last career was done.

(Hook, 177-178: Byron, 123; ll.690-694 )

There had been an earlier connection made between Byron’s poem and the saviour of colonial Natal. In The History of Old Durban and reminiscences of an immigrant of 1850, first published in 1899, George Russell wrote that King “was visiting on board the ‘Mazeppa’” on the night he was asked to undertake the ride to Grahamstown.

He is not known to be of a poetical turn, so his entertainment on board the Mazeppa did not suggest his brief reply, ‘Bring forth the horse’… (quoted in Eyre, 41)

The implication may be that King in fact was “of a poetical turn”: his quotation from Byron’s poem is from the mouth of the cuckolded nobleman who condemns Mazeppa to his ride. (Byron, 112: l.358) King in this account thus commits himself to the mission into the wilderness, conscious of his Romantic precedent.

Fittingly, Dick King is commemorated in Grahamstown too, and in many poems. And one of Natal’s own poets also remembered Byron and identified himself with the hero.

Like the Cape of Good Hope, Mauritius had become a British possession after the Napoleonic Wars.  Auguste Toussaint, the Mauritius historian, wrote that the Mazeppa was “Registered in Mauritius in 1848” until it was “sold abroad in 1857…  Between those years, Mazeppa belonged to the Mauritius Merchant Marine and served on the circuit Madagascar and Dependencies, Mauritius”. Having arrived in Port Louis on 17th October 1848, under the command of Captain Watts, the Mazeppa was examined by the Harbour Master “to report on her qualifications for the packet service”, who referred the matter to a committee including the Master and the Carpenter of H.M.S. Geyser and the Carpenter of H.M.S. Brilliant. They found the “Timber and planking perfectly sound and in good condition” but confirmed the Harbour Master’s judgment and his recommendation. So the Mazeppa, as a jobbing freighter, entered the “Merchant Marine”, rather than the “packet service”.

International Flag Code Sign for Mazeppa

We do not know yet where the Mazeppa “was sold abroad in 1857”.  We do know our Mazeppa led an active life.

The last record we have is The Mercantile Navy List for 1858, which lists “Mazeppa, code QKRG: of Port Louis, 95 tons” assigning it the number 30410. The code QKRG is its sequence of flags, identifying the Mazeppa according to the International Code of Signals, first drafted in 1852. There is no ship name for the number 30410 in the Mercantile Navy List for 1859.

But the South African map hadn’t done with the Mazeppa. Driving South of Middelburg in the Eastern Cape, just north of the Lootsberg Pass on the road to Graaff-Reinet, I saw 20 years ago this white horse painted on a rock-face on the eastern side of the road, with the inscription: “88 jaar oud”.

On a visit to Middelburg in 1995, I learned that the horse is believed to have been there for a long time, and according to Mr. P.F. (“Oom Frikkie”) Aucamp it was painted by a bored road-worker one Sunday afternoon in 1940, when a road engineer, Mr. Wheeler, had a road camp at Ventershoek, just below the Lootsberg Pass, on the Middelburg side. (Mrs Hester du Toit, Curatrix, Middelburg Cultural History Museum: Letter, 25 November 1996)

Across the road from the white horse was a sign simply reading Mazeppa; a road which leads to a beautiful farm.

The farm Mazeppa, which lies about 200 metres west of the road from Graaff-Reinet to Middelburg, seems originally to have formed part of Roodehoogte until sometime after the war of 1899-1902. In 1905 as Roodehoogte A, a farm was granted to Stephanus Coetzee Botha. In 1925 ownership of Roodehoogte A was transferred by Botha to G. F. Smith, but in about 1929 a grand and elegant house (“’n spoghuis”) was built on Botha’s property. When Stephanus Coetzee Botha died in 1931, however, he left “my farm Mazeppa”, which in his will is described as his “usual place of residence” to his son Douglas. Roodehoogte A was a portion of 2,448 morgen: Mazeppa now covers 595 morgen. (Deeds Office, Cape Town: file farm Roodehoogte: Cape Archives, MOOC 6/9/3938, no.30873) Stephanus Coetzee Botha gave the name Mazeppa to his farm.

The farm Mazeppa 20 km S of Middelburg

Whatever the motive of the bored road-worker, his fresco harmonizes with a rural legend, in which Stephanus Coetzee Botha is subjected to a transformation so as to conform to the demands of legend. He becomes Stephen Petrus Botha, who “fought on both sides” during the South African War: perhaps this double allegiance is expressed in the two Christian names, one English and one Afrikaans. (Even, perhaps in the name, Douglas, of Stephanus Coetzee Botha). When his support of the British is discovered by fellow Afrikaners shortly before the peace, he is judged by a commando near Rosmead Junction and punished by being strapped naked to a white horse which is sent galloping back to the family farm. (Interview with Mrs Peggy Torr, Bultfontyn, Middelburg, July, 1994) The name Mazeppa then recalls Botha’s punishment, but also alludes to the original Ukrainian Mazeppa, striving for the integrity of his homeland, and torn between two opposing sides.

Remember that the hero of this story is a Botha, and Mrs Anna Botha, the widow of Hendrik Botha, of Middelburg, “die wamaker”, her two daughters and three sons were among the survivors of the Trichardt trek, brought to Port Natal from Delagoa Bay on board the Mazeppa in 1839. John Owen Smith, who bought the Mazeppa from Captain Tate, owned farms in the Middelburg district in the 1850s.

It is impossible to do justice to a presenter when writing up his story, especially when space forces one to omit large parts of both the story, its links and its well-researched illustrations, but we hope members will enjoy revisiting this most enjoyable and mentally stimulating talk.

As a postscript we often check the internet for additional information and amazingly the farm Mazeppa with its roughly 500 ha of grounds is currently on the market for a few million rand.


Anniversaries provide an opportunity for reflection, without which life becomes a senseless blur of activity. So we shouldn’t allow the 75th milestone of El Alamein, South Africa’s finest military victory, to pass unnoticed. Especially as it was the first nail hammered into the coffin of what until that point appeared to be an impregnable dictatorship.

In November 1942, the 1st South African Division fought alongside comrades from the UK, India, Australia and New Zealand in winning the decisive African campaign of World War Two. After 12 bloody days of action against Rommel’s Afrika Korps, the Allies triumphed in what hindsight showed was the watershed in a war they had been losing.

Britain’s legendary wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill described the battle as the “turning of the hinge of fate.” In volume eight of Churchill’s epic work on the Second World War, he wrote: “Before Alamein, we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat.”

Ian Smith

Click to download a PDF copy of this newsletter SANS Newsletter & Program amended 2017-12-12 December