TOPIC: From outlaws to in-laws: farms and families in the Piketberg District, c1700-c1900
SPEAKER: Dr Antonia Malan
DATE: Tuesday, 18 September 2012
VENUE: The Athenaeum, Boundary Terraces, Newlands – at the intersection of Mariendahl & Campground Roads
A former VASSA chair Antonia is responsible for the Publications Portfolio of our Society.
She directed a significant transcription project capturing archival papers from the VOC period and the first decades of British rule at the Cape, in collaboration with the national archives of the Netherlands.
As a free-lance historical archaeologist and heritage consultant, she works closely with the Archaeology Contracts Office at UCT, teaches part-time in inter-disciplinary programmes, and is actively involved in local heritage issues, sitting on statutory heritage committees.
Antonia’s talk is on the coastal Sandveld and rugged Piketberg mountain passes and valleys that could be regarded as the Wild West of early South African history, which is where we’ll be going on our weekend away this month.
Stories of “rogues, rebels and runaways” (cf Nigel Penn) arose from the harsh and competitive environment as frontiersmen jostled for control of cattle, water and pasturage.
The highway to the north, and its fabled riches, passed this way, attracting adventurers, hunters and robbers. Later, some families leased or bought the land and built simple vernacular farmsteads, others created mission hamlets, several trekked further northwards with their livestock.
Early European explorers in the area include Simon van der Stel who reached Verlorenvlei in 1679 and Olof Bergh who crossed the vlei in 1682.
Bergh crossed the vlei at Wittedrift (Redelinghuys) and it is no doubt in commemoration that the pass from Redelinghuys to Aurora (the MR534) is named after this adventurer.
Carl Thunberg travelled along the eastern side of the Piketberg in 1774, calling in on hospitable farmers en route as many others did before and since.
Traces of 18th and early 19th century routes and settlements, and scattered farmsteads, can still be found, but since the 1960s, when the Vernacs first travelled these roads, there has been almost total loss of the more fragile buildings constructed of reeds and unbaked clay that were typical of the region.
(See VASSA Journal 23 2010).
Familiar T, U and H plans are rarely met with in the Piketberg (cf Hans Fransen). The same simple rectangular buildings continued to be erected from the beginning of the 18th century into the 1980s and it is sometimes difficult to determine the age of a particular building.
J.C. Poortermans lived at theCape from 1833 until his death at Paarl in 1870. He travelled through the area in 1848 and 1849 and left a legacy of naive but informative pictures of the early structures and their surroundings, the veracity of which have been assessed by James Walton.
During the 19th century the key to success for Piketberg farmers was to diversify between livestock, grain farming and fishing as well as trading between the interior and the coast. But most of the few surviving buildings, such as at Verlorenvlei, have been renovated, remodelled, restored or rebuilt and their original fishing/farming context has often been forgotten or disappeared.
Another and perhaps not so well known layer of history is manifested by the presence of several comparatively grand houses built between 1899 and 1905, which were perhaps financed by the profitable supply of mules, horses, fodder and other essentials during the South African war.
Farmsteads often comprise groups of dwellings housing the owner of the farm and employees, and several of his relations. In some instances two or three families occupied separate parts of a single building.
In marginal areas like this, the more land you owned the better, so families consolidated their holdings by repeated intermarriage.
They also spread their dynastic networks widely to incorporate a range of farm types and in-laws, to the Bokkeveld and beyond.
(See VASSA Klipperevier Report 2012).
Fortunately, some descendants of these families still live in the area or own the properties that their ancestors built, and their stories embody a wealth of oral history.
The Outing is the weekend excursion to the Sandveld on 29-30 September.
If you are not taking part in this excursion, another way of celebrating Heritage Day on Sep 24 would be to search out VASSA journals containing architectural ‘guides’ to accessible places – such as Stormsvlei, Paarl, Roodezand Pass, Muratie & Morgenhof, The Gardens,- and take yourself and friends for an outing? See https://www.vassa.org.za/category/publications/journals/
For news about a project to catalogue the archives, architecture and objects in the LutheranChurch, Strand Street, visit the website www.outsiderswithin.co.za
And please indicate your interest in the project.