Stoep Stories No 5
Monday, 5th May 2014
STOEP STORIES - TALES FROM THE KAROO
Published by the Graaff-Reinet Heritage Society
THE TYCOON OF GRAAFF – REINET
By Marj Noel. (With thanks for material to Cornie du Plessis)
Jan Carel Staal Haarhoff (also known as ‘Ryk Jan’and John Haarhoff) was born in the family home in Market Square, Graaff – Reinet in October 1844. Blessed with adaptability and flexibility and later sound business acumen he overcame his schooldays, characterised by frequent changes as well as the frequent changes in his business circumstances. At the age of 13 now ‘ volgeleerd’ or ‘fully schooled ‘ he became a salesman at Nathan and Roselt’s store. Here he learnt the intricacies and mysteries of commercial life. Soon he moved up the business ladder to Mr Green’s store in North Street at 15 he moved to J.H. Roselt in Church Street. Two years later he was a clerk with Messrs Claremont Graham and Co in Market Square. At the age of 18 he was spotted by J.F. Olivier who had a fine business in Caledon Street. Soon afterwards the business and the new clerk were taken over S. J. Meintjies local prominent figure. Auctioneer speculator and later in the words of a judge a refined swindler he decamped hurriedly to in 1862 the still obscure Transvaal, leaving many creditors unable to get payment of out standings. Perhaps Haarhoff was also left looking for his salary!
Aberdeen was his next stop. He accepted a position as bookkeeper with Messrs C and F Heugh. This lasted a year then he was off to Namaqualand on a yearlong trading trip with his partner Charles Spiller Smith. They experienced many hardships. Their cattle died and when on their return they squared up with merchant Wimble they had lost 300 pounds. He was penniless!
Now 24 years old he set up business in Richmond where he was backed by J.N. Luscombe and other suppliers who since he admitted to having no money must have had a great deal of faith in the young man. He said this time “I prospered exceeding well” He also married Alida Meiring who bore seven sons and six daughters.
Seven years later they moved back to Graaff – Reinet where John took over Luscombe’s business as a going concern. Here he prospered so well that five years later he was able to dispose of his stock, lease the premises and retire at the grand old age of 38!
He travelled widely in later years, both in South Africa and overseas. Being a sociable man (also known as “Vrolike Jan” any meeting with other wandering Graaff – Reinters resulted in a celebration!