Treasure of the Karoo ~ Murraysburg
Discover our part of the great Karoo where man was not allowed to develop at the cost of nature. The Buffelsriver cuts through the mountains and over plains to create an unsurpassed combination of arridness and beauty. The Treasure of the Karoo, Murraysburg, is mainly a farming community where visitors are treated as in days long gone by.
The town is ideally situated only 35 km's from the N1 going north or south and on the R63 route from Namakwaland to East London or Port Elizabeth. It is only the structure of the town that gives you an idea of the centre of the flourishing farming community between 1850 and the middle of the 1900`s.
An old organ still faithfully serves the weekly gatherings being one of 3 such organs in the country. Visitors to the town speak favourably of an atmosphere still hovering of times long ago.
The list of activities caters for bird watchers, hiking enthusiasts, geology inquisitors, culinary investigators, fossil hunters, stargazers, history buffs, spectacular scenery collectors, biking fanatics and rock art explorers. The hunting season is from May to the end of August every year.
Accommodation includes farm stays, B&B, camping, guest houses up to 3 star, self catering near the farmhouse or in the veldt or in a reserve.
The early dwellers
The Xam (Bushmen) hunter-gatherers were the first dwellers of this area. These tiny lords of the plains have left a legacy of rock art that intrigues modern archaeologists. Good examples are found on several farms, but may now only be visited by appointment since vandals damaged many sites.
One of these is a site near town simply known as Murraysburg Cave. The earliest report on its intriguing rock art was published in the Graaff Reinet Herald on December 8, 1860. It stated: "There are some curious Bushman paintings in red and black showing men and animals of various kinds, such as gnu or wildebeest. It may thus be inferred that at one time these animals grazed on the mountain slopes of the Sneeuwbergen."
Upright in his grave - arthritis and all
Early in 1998, heavy rains washed away part of a riverbank on the farm Leeufontein and exposed the skeleton of a tiny man buried in a sitting position.
Investigations by archaeologist David Morris, of the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, revealed he was an early hunter-gatherer who probably had once lived with a group at a nearby natural fountain. While researching this spot, David found a small cave with rock engravings and intriguing finger paintings on its walls.
His investigations were taken a step further by a physical anthropologist Professor Alan Morris and a team of students from the Anatomy and Cell Biology Department at the University of Cape Town. During a practical field trip they excavated the skeleton, which was virtually complete. It was taken to the university for further in-depth analysis and carbon dating. "Our initial inspection showed that this was the skeleton of a very old man, riddled with arthritis," said Professor Morris. We hope to discover more about his lifestyle during studies in 1999."
Magic spring never fails
In this semi-desert region a perennial spring on the farm Toorfontein bubbles out of the ground and runs over the rocks even in the severest drought. For this reason the early dwellers of the area considered it to be magic and it became known as the "Toorfontein".
In time, the farm developed around it and took the same name. To this day the magic spring still delivers its cool, fresh waters, even on the hottest summer days, just like magic. Guests holidaying on the farm never fail to visit it.
Early European settlers and the town's foundation
Even the earlier European settlers in this part of the Karoo found it an isolated area.
The first would-be settlers arrived in the mid-1700s but these pioneers posed a great threat to the /Xam's way of life. So these tiny, primitive people made life so difficult for the newcomers that most left within a short time.
Towards the end of the 18th century, an effort was once again made to begin farming in this area but it took until the mid-1800s before men were able to settle here.
In 1835, the first descriptive farm names began to dot the map. Allemansfontein was granted to H S van der Merwe, Boksfontein to S W Vorster, Brakvallei to W A van Heerden, Driehoeksfontein to P J Malherbe, Elandsfontein to I P van Heerden, Gabrielsbaken to J A Roos, Hartebeesfontein to B J van der Merwe, Houtkloof to C J Lubbe, Loskop to A B Burger, Mordantklaassenskraal to P J Minaar, Phisantkraal to J C C Swarts, Swavelkranz to S W Pienaar, Matjieskloof to A J Burger and Taaiboschfontein to the widow P Engelbrecht. Within just over a year, Aaronskloof, De Kom, Alexanderkraal, Kruis, Poortjie, Misthoek, Stellenboschvlei, Voetpad, Waaihoek and Eenzaamheid were granted to farmers.
Within 20 years, the latter was chosen as the ideal spot for a town. The town was named after Andrew Murray, a Scottish minister of the Dutch Reformed Church and a man revered by the people of the Karoo. Writers of the time praised Andrew Murray for "playing a vital role in the establishment of moral and religious advancement in a howling wilderness." He is said to have "laboured diligently and faithfully in his high vocation for 33 years to keep his flock on the paths of righteousness." His son, also Andrew, became one of the church's most prominent figures and his books enjoyed international fame.
Barend J Burger, "Oom Bêrend", considered the father of the town, laboured almost as mightily in its interests as the Reverend Murray. Many attribute the "burg" part of the town's name to him. His "exertions" were said to have "given impetus to the progressive march of improvement and the establishment of life in the area " when Eenzaamheid was acquired by the church for £3,500.
Amid progress the church clock bites the dust
Once the church had finalised the purchase of Eenzaamheid, erven were marked out. It was then proclaimed that these would be sold by public auction. Interest was enormous. The town was situated in a water-rich, fertile and prosperous area.
The day of the auction saw over 500 people vying for the properties. Within six hours, all the plots were sold for a total of £10 265. The church then decided to use this to build a church and parsonage.
Other property owners started building almost immediately and, as one newspaper reported, "Judging from the number of masons and other tradesmen in the place the village will soon have a pleasant appearance." Within a year the village was thriving. Thirty houses had been built, shops opened and the church consecrated.
But the latter needed a clock tower. The church wardens wrote to C van Grossick in Graaff Reinet informing him that as "a talented watchmaker" he was "the fortunate recipient to perform the stupendous undertaking of installing the clock." Grossick rode into town with great aplomb, but a few metres from his destination a wheel on his carriage collapsed. Both Grossick and clock were flung into the dust. Onlookers stifled their mirth. It is said the clock never worked.
MURRAYSBURG IN THE ANGLO-BOER WAR
A Boer commando haven
Murraysburg played a strange role as a Boer haven for the first six months of 1901 during the guerilla war phase of the Anglo-Boer War in the Cape Colony.
"It all began when a Boer commando under Commandant Pieter Kritzinger defeated Lieut-Col Harold Grenfell's column at Waterfall on the road to Skietkuil on January 16," says researcher Taffy Shearing. "Afterwards, Capt Gideon Scheepers (as he then was) executed two black post office linesmen at Sekretariskraal.
The Colonial Defence Force was then raised across the Colony in order to drive off the Boers and protect the towns." However, each town was only garrisoned by troops from elsewhere if about 20 locals would volunteer to join the local town guard. Murraysburgers refused.
"The Magistrate, W van Rheede van Oudtshoorn, who should have taken the lead, was said to have been a coward. There were only 1 500 whites in town and district which appeared fairly neutral as only 48 men actually became Cape Rebels.
Without a garrison the Boer commandos, principally those under Scheepers, had open access to the village and commandeered stores about 15 or 20 times between January and July, 1901. Scheepers controlled the town and refused to let schoolboys return to school in the Cape that year.
At first Boers only looted the shops and were polite to local people. Then their behaviour deteriorated. On June 14, Standard Bank manager Frank Lilford was beaten up and forced to hand over £120 in bank funds. By the end of June the shops were ransacked and empty."
Murraysburg in flames
Commandant Gideon Scheepers returned to Murraysburg from the Camdeboo on June 27 1901. He told Van Oudtshoorn to inform the military unless they garrisoned Murraysburg within eight days he would burn down all public offices. The military had plans to surround Scheepers in the Camdeboo so they ignored him. Only General Sir John French was keen to send in troops.
On July 6, Scheepers and Lieut J Luyt rode into Murraysburg. By that afternoon the public office, post office, the chief constable's office, Herbert Sharwood's shop and Rose-Innes's house were burning. "It is quite incomprehensible why Scheepers burned buildings in the one village where martial law was weak and from where he could obtain provisions," says Taffy Shearing. She is currently researching and writing a book on Gideon Scheepers.
Boers burn a handsome home
The Boers then threatened to burn down Vleiplaas, a beautiful farmhouse built in 1822. It belonged to Albertus Herholdt, Secretary for Agriculture in the Schreiner Government.
The house, the pride of the district, had been built by the wealthy Burgher family. It had stinkwood beams and yellow-wood ceilings. Herholdt had received warnings of the threat, but hoped the house would be saved. Rebels told him they had pleaded with Scheepers to leave it and "he appeared to be listening." Then, on July 8, Luyt and 25 men arrived, tore down the veranda and set the building alight.
Murraysburgers stood on the koppies and watched the house burn from a distance. The villagers then scattered. Within a fortnight the village was deserted. Shops and houses stood empty. Only a few pensioners remained in the care of the local doctor. Dead horses lay rotting in the streets and a month later the stench was unbearable.
In September, 1901, Hendrik Veenstra, a Hollander, was executed at Colesberg for high treason, marauding and arson, which involved the burning of Vleiplaas. A few months later, when Scheepers was tried at Graaff-Reinet, the burning of Vleiplaas was one of the charges he acknowledged without admitting guilt. Other charges included the burning of Rose-Innes's house as well as Sharwood's house and store.
Brave and beloved doctor buried at sea
During the Anglo-Boer War Murraysburg had a German doctor, an exceptional man who treated Boer and Brit alike during 1901 and 1902. Details on Dr Heydenreich are vague and much research is currently being done to discover his first name or initial and in which house he lived.
This brave doctor stayed on after the village was deserted to care for the elderly and those with nowhere to go. After the war, the townspeople acknowledged his actions at a dinner and paid his passage back to Germany for a holiday. He had an accident boarding the ship for the return voyage. It seems he slipped going up the gangplank and a metal splinter penetrated an arm. The wound turned septic and he died during the voyage. The good doctor was buried at sea.