The Griqua State
Philippolis is the oldest settlement in the Free State, dating from 1823. It was originally established by the London Missionary Society to protect and develop San and Griqua communities. The Griqua Republic stretched from the Orange River in the south to the Riet River, about 50 km south of Bloemfontein. The state was headed by a hereditary monarch (Adam Kok II, succeeded by his nephew, Adam Kok III). They ruled with the assistance of a Council. Over time, many of the Griquas farms were rented or purchased by migrating Voortrekkers, thereby undermining the fragile Griqua kingdom.
In 1861, the remaining Griqua set off on an epic trek to their own state in the Eastern Cape - where they established Kokstad. All the Griqua properties were sold to white farmers, and the little town was incorporated into the Free State Republic.
Between 1861 and 1899, Philippolis developed as a vibrant little town. But it still retains some characteristics of the original Griqua settlement, notably in its lay-out and architectural style.
The Battle of Boomplaats, 1848
During the Griqua era (1826-1861), tensions grew between the Griqua and the increasingly assertive Afrikaner Voortrekker community, based at Winburg. The British colonial forces backed the Griqua, as a semi-autonomous state in the southern Free State. Without consulting the Boers, the British annexed the land between the Vaal and Orange Rivers and Drakensberg on 3 February 1848. The Voortrekkers were outraged, and led by Andries Pretorius, their force came south to challenge the British, and the two forces met at Boomplaats - a formidable mountain that rises steeply from the Free State grassland. The Boers were defeated, and they withdrew back to Winburg.
The British colony, called the Orange River Sovereignty, lasted only six years, because the British did not have the financial resources to maintain it. The British withdrew and recognised the Free State as a Voortrekker Republic (which excluded the Griqua kingdom in the south; this area was only incorporated into the Free State Republic in 1861).
The full battle is described on Wikipedia.
It is also described in two historical articles:
and by Frank Bradlow: "Memorials of the Battle of Boomplaats", Military History Journal, vol 10, no. 5, 1997.
KarooSpace also has an evocative description of the Boomplaats battle.
Boomplaats is located a few metres north of the Trompsburg-Jagersfontein road. There is a small sign indicating the turn-off, and a good gravel road leads to the farmstead at the foot of the mountain. The mountain is high and flat-topped, with a pointed hill on each side; it can be seen from a distance of 40 km. The Boomplaats farm is 31 km from Trompsburg and 30 km from Jagersfontein, on the R704 tarred road.
The Philippolis cemetery
A few British graves are present in the town cemetery. There are also other significant townsfolk buried here. This includes Rev Peter Wright, one of the original missionaries in Philippolis.
Tonkin's Koppie and the Armoury ("kruithuis")
This little hill is named after Mr CH Tonkin, who helped to ward off the Boer attack on Philippolis, in October 1900. As the Boers assaulted Philippolis from the east and the north, the British forces and the pro-British citizens fell back to the koppie on the western side of town. Tonkins was even mentioned by Lord Roberts in his dispatches, for his dedication to duty. The battle is described in more detail under Themes (The Ruin of Philippolis).
The old Armoury ("kruithuis") dates from the Republican era. It was erected in 1871, and cost 25 pounds to build. It was used to store gunpowder.
The best way to access these sites is via Rowelsfontein, the smallholding settlement to the west of Philippolis. At the garage, turn to the west ("School Street"). Travel past the school (on your left); then turn left, up the hill, and across the cattle-grid gate. Travel about 400m, and then the Armoury and Koppie will be on your left.
Kruithuis/Armoury: -30.264906 S, 25.267402 E
Tonkin's koppie: GPS: -30.264292 S, 25.269984 E
The Griqua cannons, the Griqua council house ("Raadsaal") and Adam Kok's house
At the top of a little hill in Voortrekker Street (the main Street), just north of the Museum, are two cannons which, by repute, belonged to the Griqua nation.
GPS: -30.262333 S, 25.272832 E.
Across the road, in Voortrekker Street, is Kom-Ma-In Coffee Shop. Before 1860, this building was the meeting hall of the Griqua Council.
Further down the street is the original home of Kapteyn Adam Kok. It is now a historical monument.
Emily Hobhouse's weaving project in Philippolis, 1905
Philippolis was privileged to serve as Emily's first "test case" in creating development projects, to assist destitute Boer girls to learn spinning and weaving skills. The school was established in March 1905 and lasted several years.
The Philippolis Museum
The Philippolis Museum captures the complex history of this small town. Established in 1823 as a Griqua mission station, it evolved into a farming town in 1861. Dutch and English speakers lived harmoniously in Philippolis, until the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 destroyed its social cohesion.
The museum is situated in the main street and has a small exhibit on the weaving schools that Emily Hobhouse introduced to the Boer women. The house used to belong to Mr ER Grobler, Volksraad representative for Philippolis; he also served as a General in the Anglo-Boer War.
Tourist map of Philippolis
Otterskloof Game Reserve -
De Wet's invasion of the Cape Colony
An important site is located within Otterskloof Game Reserve, on the northern banks of the Orange River, just west of Philippolis. A small monument commemorates Genl De Wet's invasion of the Cape Colony, 10 February 1901. His campaign in the Colony lasted only three weeks, and it was generally disastrous. But he and his bedraggled burghers managed to get back to Free State soil, passing through Philippolis three weeks later - and were never caught by the massive British columns chasing him.
See our Themes page for more history of the Zanddrift crossing.
Visit the Otterskloof Game Reserve page!