Historical Guest Farms
About Historical Guest Farms
Damesfontein Guest Farm – history since 1838
Damesfontein Farm is situated in the heart of the Karoo Highlands, just 50km from Graaff-Reinet and 48km from the village of Nieu Bethesda in the Eastern Cape. This is a working Karoo sheep and cattle farm, with a family history dating back to 1838, when their ancestors first settled here. The fifth and sixth generation of the family are still living and working on the farm.
There is an interesting and noteworthy museum in the original farmhouse adjacent to the present modern buildings, with original items from their ancestors displayed authentically. An original collection of family history forms an impressive collection of artifacts of the past. Marguerite Wolfaardt (nee Retief), the fifth generation living on the farm has accumulated a large variety of collectables of the past, from wagons, implements, tools, to kitchen utensils, furniture - right down to newspaper editions as much as 60 years old and even needlework used by Marguerites’ grandmother.
Then there are the fossils on display, which were collected on the farm and the district, an area known for its fossil findings. Even old medicines and livestock medicines are on display. Walking through the original homestead, you get the feeling of how the first settlers lived. How they worked, the hardships they endured, wars they lived through. One can only admire those hard people of the past.
The history of the Retief family is displayed in this old school building, built in 1838.
1. PetrusJacobus Retief 1779 - 1852
He purchased the first section of Damesfontein in 1838. He was a cousin of the well-known Voortrekker leader Piet Retief. Even though there is no available photograph of him, we know that he was buried in Graaff-Reinet in 1852. He was married to FrancinaJacoba Minnaar.
Their ninth child was:
2. Phillipus Johannes Retief 1821 - 1886
His wife was Sophia Maria Groenewald (1834 - 1907). They had 11 children. Three of their sons, Johannes, Francois and Danie were Cape Rebels on the Boers’ side during the Second Freedom War 1899 - 1902. During their 18 months with the Commando, they covered virtually the whole of South Africa on horseback, doing many brave deeds.
Their youngest son was:
3. Francois Jacobus Retief 1875 - 1965
He farmed at Damesfontein and married Maria Magdalena Theron (1894-1955). They had 5 children; Phillipie, Barlo, Fie, Kootie, and Marie. Their eldest son was:
4. Phillipus Johannes Retief 1919 - 1976
He farmed at Damesfontein and married Joan Martens. They had three daughters, Elmarie, Jeanne and Marguerite.
5. Marguerite Retief - 1957
Marguerite married Retief Wolfaardt and are living and farming at Damesfontein. They have four children; Jeanita, Estalet, Marguerite and Phillipie.Phillipie is now the 6th generation farming at Damesfontein.
Ganora Guest Farm – Nieu Bethesda
Ganora was firstly known as Africanderskloof when it was founded in 1797 by the Davel family and is still registered as that. The owner at the time of the Anglo Boer War was Francois Retief Davel and was very well known to be a great leader of the area. Unfortunately, he was Dutch speaking and as we know during the war the British felt very threatened by them and therefore were looking for reasons to lock them up during that time not to influence the English speaking in the area. Some Rebels wanted horses from him on their way through but he did not have any to give them and also did not want to get into trouble. They then went to steal two from Mr Rubidge on the farm Patrysfontein. Because of this they came to fetch the Davel mother and children to take them to the Port Alfred Concentration camp. Mr. Davel they took to the Pearston Jail and later he was transferred to Graaff-Reinet Jail. All the Dutch leaders that they wanted out of the communities were named "Die ongewensdes". It is also the heading on the photo that was taken of the group before taken away. It can be viewed in the museum in Graaff-Reinet and at Ganora Farm.
The son of Mr Davel, realised what was going on and hid in the bushman Shelter. He survived there for 3 months during which time he did some engravings on look-out points. He was captured after 3 months. During this time the British soldiers stole lots of stock from the farm as they knew the owners were not there and needed food for their soldiers. The original house of 1797 was not burnt down as normally the case, but the furniture was all stolen.
When the son returned after a few months he was very depressed and did not know what the future will hold and how long the war will continue. His sister of 18 died in the concentration camp too during this time. He committed suicide.
Mr Davel snr got to court only a year after being captured. He was summoned to another 6 months under house arrest with his wife. They rented the house that lately was known in Graaff-Reinet as Die Kliphuis. After the 6 months, they got back to their farm, which they then had to sell. The family moved to Middelburg. Mr Davel snr was such a good leader that in 1903 he was chosen to become member of Parliament for the region.
We are very grateful to the Davel family that came to visit us about 16 years ago, who shared some of their family history, gave us a diary he kept of his life and also what his family told him about how Africanderkloof was started. We learned so much of the history of this beautiful farm through the eyes of one of the first farmers of Africanderskloof. Gardiner and Nora van Niekerk bought the farm in the 1930's and named it Ganora. Ganora in Hebrew means Garden with Light.
The Granero was the first dwelling on the farm, known back then as Groene Valley. The first owner is unknown but believed to have been a Mr. Viljoen as we have the original title deed in favour of Hercules David JacobusViljoen signed by Sir Benjamin D’urban on the 30th of November 1837.
Groenvlei must have come into existence around the time this original house was built in the 1760’s as the date carved out on the beam above the brandsolder is 1762. The hatch behind glass is the original one that dates back to this era and we tried to keep it as original as possible. The floor the mule wagon stands on, is also original and was discovered purely by chance with the restoration process. Of significance is the door to the bar being made of English pine wood also believed to be the original front (only) door to the little house. Layer upon layer of paint mercifully saved this door and door frame from disintegrating decades ago. The original threshold (yellow wood) is displayed in the glass panel at the fire place.
The wagon (circa 1890) was the mode of “express transport” used around the turn of the previous century. Note the leaf spring suspension on this wagon. These and the axels were made in England and imported by the wagon builders in the Cape of that time. Drawn by mules, it acquired the name Mule wagon, but the Dutch farmer’s called it a “Molwa” and is known as such to this day. This wagon was painfully restored by Andries Smit in Graaff-Reinet, he being a master in this field. The complete set of harnesses behind the wagon also dated back to this era.
Through the years the building was extended with each period noticeable in the extension of the brandsolder. The last date on the beam at the fireplace reads 1919 written by G Grobbelaar (Gilbert Grobbelaar?) The sash-cord windows and doors onto the stoep were probably fitted in the early, to mid 1800 around the time the main homestead was built (1845). Corrugated iron roof presumably came during the 1830’s as the date stamped on the sheets indicates 1834/1837. Of note also, is that the fireplace was rebuilt where the remains of the previous/original one was. At around the time of the Boer war and WW1 the farmer’s wife normally used the same fire for cooking and baking, whilst her husband used it to do the blacksmith jobs at the time, hence the baking oven in the “waenhuis”. The oven door was imported from France and very few examples still exist today. The window in the fire place (herd venster) is very typical of the era to allow light onto the cooking area. Old and redundant wagon wheel rings were straightened and used to make a place for the pots and pans to rest on as on the left hand side of the “herd”. The “es-yster” (frame the pots stand on) is original, so is the Primus paraffin stove and heater elsewhere in the building.
As for the Furniture, the wardrobe is known as a Bormann, as it was hand made by a Mr. Bormann in the late 1800’s. Apparently only 5 were made and 4 are still in existence as far as can be ascertained. The Stink wood chairs come from Lynne’s family and are Africana at its best. The table with collapsible legs was used in the era of the ox wagons, as it could fold up and be transported in the bed of these wagons. In the bigger display panel is a road building instrument identical to the ones used by the famous Bain father and son, road building engineers. The shop counter goes back to the early 1800’s and was also covered in many layers of paint.
Other pieces of interest would be the bicycle hanging (upside down!!) from the beams is believed to have been the second one in Graaff-Reinet. It belonged to a Mr Conradie and dates back to the time just after the Penny-fathering’s. The “toomkas” below it was hand made by John Minnaar (Johann’s Grand dad) in the late 1800’s. The telephone was the first to be used on farms in early 1900’s. The wooden scale was imported in the mid 1800’s and the first form of ascertaining weight by other means then the conventional “counter weight” scales. Of particular interest is the “trekriem” hanging next to the wardrobe. This connected the oxen to the ox wagons and is probably over 200 years old and still intact. The apparatus (“mielieafmaker”) with the handle, at the front door was used to take corn of the cobs.
In 1948 Abie van Heerden (Johann’s grandfather) bought Groenvlei from the Grobbelaars who owned the land for more than 150 years, when this building was divided into 4 rooms to be used as a “ration room” a “store room” a “voerkamer” and a “workshop/garage” (waenhuis) In later years as more outbuildings came into being on the farm, this was nothing more than a storage place for junk, so Johann and Lynne decided to change it into something more significant as the building is loaded with history and heritage.
So work started during November 2010 in the “Granero” (Spanish and Latin for Shed), in time for Johann and Lynne’s eldest daughter, Helene, to get married in on March 19th 2011. The interior walls were removed, as much of the wall facing the hill at the back was retained and the stoep was upgraded. During the restoration process, the original door, window and floor as mentioned, were discovered. The brandsolder is original as is the hatch behind glass where the steam engine’s drive belt ran through to drive the mill. Some of the mill stones are still lying on the stoep. The bulk of the floor was rebuilt the way it looked so many years ago.
Trusting you will enjoy this old building with us as much as we appreciate your visit.
“You can never know where you are going to unless you know where you come from” - Dr Anton Rupert
Langfontein and Westbrook – historic farms of the Camdeboo
Compiled by Andrew McNaughton
These 2 farms are connected to virtually every major political event which has taken place in this country.
The !Xam Bushmen of antiquity have left their title deeds in heaps in the form of artifacts all over the plains and valleys of the Camdeboo. It is estimated that the !Xam were superseded about 2000 years BP by the Khoi – the first farmers of sheep and cattle in the area.
In 1689 Ensign Isaq Schrijver, set off from the Cape on instructions from Governor van der Stel, and so found at the foot of the Camdeboo mountains the famed Chief Hykon of the prosperous tribe, the Inqua, known as ‘Khoebaha’, Lord of all the Khoi rich men and cattle. Schrijver bartered for and returned with 500 cattle. While initially the VOC had trouble subjugating the Khoi and coercing them into the labour force, this changed dramatically after the 1713 smallpox epidemic. From a highly independent Khoi population of up to 200 000 prior to the European colony, the Khoi numbers had been reduced to about 15 000. From the latter half of the second decade of the 1700’s, Khoi indentured labour became a vital component of the farming economy.
In Van Plettenberg’s report to Council to Chamber XVII the Governor testified 1st March 1779, that with the daily increasing number of inhabitants no more suitable lands for pastures could be found near at hand (meaning near to Cape Town) so that the said inhabitants of the Camdeboo had been compelled to go to such a distance that to reach that district it was necessary to pass several tracts of country, here called Karoo lands, some of which were entire deserts, so that in a whole day's journey, not the least grass or other food was to be found for cattle or water for them to drink. While on the other hand, the said Camdeboo district consisted of good grass pastures and consequently that the inhabitants residing there, when all should have been put in proper order, could not only procure a good subsistence for themselves and their families, but would contribute much to the general advantage for the Colony by rearing cattle and producing butter.
However at an earlier date even (Oct 1776) it had been declared by Swellengrebel that in the Camdeboo there are about 30 farms of which, about 25, are inhabited. If they will not begin to conserve artificially the grazing for their cattle, it is to be feared that the luxuriance of the grass that has already started to deteriorate markedly, though settlement in the area only began 7-8 years ago, will not last long, and this veld will become wholly deteriorated just like that which lies nearer the Cape. This has already gone so far that one, Jacobus Botha, has had to move to the Great Fish River because he had no pasture for his cattle here and Abraham van den Berg of (De Plattedrift, registered 26th March 1771) Swartrivier, was planning to do the same.
Swellengrebel noted in 1775 that in the Camdeboo the best grass is found in the thorn bushes where it gets shade – on the banks of the river grows the so-called kweek or broadgrass which is here considered the best.
Col Gordon, who stayed at De Vreede, the following year was equally impressed – “the land hereabouts is the prettiest and best that one can see,” he wrote, “full of luxuriant grass and full of trees, mostly mimosa thorns”, and the plains abounded with game not only Springbok, but Hartebeest, Wildebeest, Buffalo and Quagga. Many early travelers to the Eastern Karoo noted Lions, Hippo and Eland too. Elephant signs still visible at Vreede next door.
The Burgers period
One of the earliest owners seem to have been Barend “Baartman” Burgers and his wife Elizabeth Magdalena (Theron) Burgers, who built the prestigious Langfontein farmhouse and farmed here. Their youngest son was, Thomas Francois Burgers, later 4th President of the ZAR.
In 1853 TF Burgers, accompanied by Gerrit van Niekerk and CT Muller, all of Graaff-Reinet, boarded the sailing vessel the “Rajasthan, bound for Europe where they studied Theology.
Burgers was an ultra liberal theologian and came into conflict with the Dutch Reformed Church on his return. Later as president of the Transvaal Republic, Burgers made himself more unpopular by referring to the backstreeters as “remskoene”.
The Burgers family had owned many prestigious farms in Graaff-Reinet (Rietvlei and Vrede amongst them).
The first coins to come from the ZAR were minted by the President of the time, Thomas Francois Burgers. President Burgers was a very liberal and progressive man (the John F Kennedy of the ZAR). He had a great desire to introduce indigenous coinage into the ZAR. The Presidentwas known to be an impulsive man too.
He purchased some gold and shipped it to Mr JJ Pratt, the Republic’s Consul General in England, in order the have the coins made. He also send his portrait to Pratt, along with sketches of the ZAR’s coat of arms. The coin moulds were …
WA de Klerk bought Langfontein from the Burgers family around 1890 after that family became insolvent. In 1910 the farm passed to the Olivier brothers from Oudtshoorn, then to Johnnie Laubscher of Paardekraal, then Asher and Son and Frank Biggs of Vrede. Finally it was sold to Fred Luscombe.
The front door of the house and all the yellowwood beams, floors and ceilings etc, were made from timber from Knysna bought for 250 pounds, duly delivered by ox wagon. There is no question that the house on Langfontein is one of the most beautiful and prestigious farmhouses in the district.
Stone paving on the front stoep is from Richmond, as are many of the large paving stones used on the Graaff-Reinet pavements. Andre Luscombe senior, told me that this stone had been collected in Richmond and used as ballast on ox wagons returning from the Kimberley diamond fields. Apparently an empty wagon coming down the Ouberg Pass would easily overturn.
Andries Pretorius of Blood River fame, farmed at Letskraal from 1818 to 1838. The homestead has changed very little since his departure.
Following the murder of Piet Retief by Dingaan, SarelCilliers and one Hattingh travelled from Natal to Letskraal in order to persuade Pretorius to assist the Trekkers in Natal.
One assumes that these very urgent discussions were held in the voorkamer of Letskraal over strong coffee or home distilled brandy.
The Grahamstown Journal advertises the auction at Letskraal on 20 February 1838.
Pretorius set off on 1 October 1838 and arrived in Natal on 22 November 1838.
The homestead still has the architectural T-shape that was typical of the development of the pioneer dwelling at the time. The walls are built of mud and straw and taper towards the roof. The Voorkamer boasts with the original mud and reed ceiling. Letskraal is probably unique in that it functions as a home, having changed very little since the original dwelling was built circa 1800.
During the Boer War the owner of the farm buried his guns under the floor of the mill house. The water driven mill house is still in working order and was used until 40 years ago!
The local Magistrate, owner of Weltevreden Farm, used prisoners to work on the farm and so had to build a prison for them to sleep in, hence the prison and solitary confinement cell on the farm. He also had to close the chimney on the fireplace as prisoners escaped that way and rode horses at night, as a result the horses were too tired to work the next day.