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The local people

Stories of loss, sorrow and courage

MRS ALETTA VAN RENSBURG, aged 24

 

Aletta was the wife of Esias Renier van Rensburg, a prisoner-of-war sent to Bermuda.

 

They farmed on Klein Ospoort, owned by her mother-in-law, Mrs Maria Magdalena Janse van Rensburg.

 

Around February 1901, Aletta and her children were forced to flee from her farm. Her farmhouse was burnt to the ground. They hid at the neighbouring farm Groot Ospoort, owned by her brother-in-law Jacob van Rensburg, while her husband, Esias, was on commando. Her fourth child was born at this time. Her husband only saw the little baby for half an hour after the birth, before he hastily departed to join De Wet’s invasion of the Cape Colony.

 

After three months, the remnants of the commando returned, and Esias and Aletta’s little baby was christened in Philippolis by Rev. Colin Fraser.

 

Esias came home, because he was very ill with enteric fever. Because of the presence of the British forces in the area, the family, with other relatives, fled into the mountains, towards Brandkraal. They left their wagons hidden in a ravine. The British found the wagons, burnt them, and continued the search for the fugitives, who hid amongst the rocky outcrops. The family’s hide-out was betrayed by the little baby, who choked while being breast-fed, and the British arrested the whole group. The family resisted and pleaded for clemency. Astonishingly, the captain of the British unit took pity on them, as he also had a wife and little children in England, and he allowed them to return to Waterkloof.

 

Soon they were captured by another British unit. Esias, who was weak from his illness, was forced to walk to Philippolis (5 km) at gun-point; thereafter the captured Burghers were sent to Cape Town and Bermuda. The rest of the family were captured a few days later, at Waterkloof. Fortunately, they were allowed to take as much food and bedding as they could carry.

 

They were taken by rail to Bethulie, in open sheep trucks, where they spent a terrible night in rain and sleet. Aletta arrived in the Bethulie camp on 21 June 1902, with her four children.  

 

Bethulie had with terrible sanitary conditions, and soon epidemics broke out. Her two smallest children, Maria Magdalena (called Duifie, aged 5) and Martha (Bybie, aged 1) died in the camp. The other two children, Johanna Aletta (aged 6) and Esias Renier (3), survived. Aletta and her two surviving children were transferred to Uitenhage camp on 26 April 1902, and returned to the farm on 4 September 1902. Esias was held on Bermuda for 17 months. One day he received a letter from Martha, in which she enclosed a lock of little Duifie’s golden hair. In the same letter, he read of the death of the two babies.

 

(Source: Raath, AWG (1993), “Die oorlogervaringe van twee vroue in die Suid-Vrystaat”, in A Wessels, FJ Jacobs and AWG Raath (eds), Egodokumente:  Persoonlike Ervaringe uit die Anglo-Boereoorlog, 1899-1902, Oorlogsmuseum van die Boererepublieke, Bloemfontein.

See also the British Concentration Camp Directory: Personal BCCCD ID 89585.

Dr John Nunn Eagle of Philippolis

DR JOHN NUNN EAGLE was the first medical practitioner to be registered in the Free State. He was born at Coggeshall, Essex in 1822, and died in Philippolis on 26 March 1900. He completed his medical studies in England and emigrated to South Africa in 1849. From 1862, he worked as a doctor in Philippolis. He did sterling service during the Free State-Basuto Wars of 1865-1867. Mrs Dora Poultney, who lived in Philippolis in her youth, wrote that “Old Dr Eagle showed us the glories of the world’s great literature”.

 

Dr Eagle's house is situated at No. 5 Colin Fraser Street. This house, the "Emily Eagle Cottage", is Eagle's daughter. His other daughter, Mrs Rosa Munro, lived next door - at no. 7 Colin Fraser Street. Eagle’s house and furniture were looted and damaged in the war. His house contained chandeliers, a piano, a harmonium, almost a thousand books, a printing press, a dispensary with medicines, and medical instruments. The damage was done by the British soldiers; the Boers left his house alone as they had great respect for him.

Dr Eagle's daughter - Mrs Rosa Munro of Philippolis

ROSA MUNRO was the daughter of the late Dr John Nunn Eagle, the local medical doctor of Philippolis.  She lived at no. 7 Colin Fraser Street (currently the Karoo Institute). In her house was fine furniture, including two pianos and a large collection of books. Rosa left Philippolis with the British column on 22 December 1900, and went to the Springfontein camp. On several occasions, Mr Gerrit Sem saw British Troops in the house, destroying and looting things. On 24 December, her house was set alight, probably  by Driscoll's Scouts.

 

At the Springfontein Camp, Rosa helped to care for the sick and wounded inmates. Rosa had clear pro-British sympathies. She became President of the pro-British Loyal Women’s Guild.

Dr John Nunn Eagle
Lived at No 5 Colin Fraser Street
Rosa Munro
Dr Eagle's daughter
Rosa and her children ...
... lived at No. 7 Colin Fraser Street
Lieut Bingham's evidence ...
... about the destruction of Rosa's home
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Reverend Colin Fraser of Philippolis

REVEREND and MRS FRASER remained a pillar of strength for the Philippolis community. Dora Poultney wrote glowingly of the Fraser couple: “Mr and Mrs Fraser of the Dutch Church were both highly cultured people and loved by everybody” (Dora Poultney, who lived in Philippolis as a child). During the war, the Frasers lost everything in the parsonage, including their imported furniture, when the house was burnt down.

Dawid Naude, Waterkloof

Dawid Naude of Waterkloof, Philippolis, had been a teacher for many years. He started out as an itinerant rural teacher, and in 1876, opened a ward school on the farm Bankfontein near Philippolis. The opening of the school was an illustrious affair, with speeches by local notables, including Rev Fraser of Philippolis, MR ER Snyman, the Volksraad member, and Mr CWH van der Post (then a teacher on the farm Knapsak River).

 

In 1885, the little community on the farm Waterkloof, just south of Philippolis, agitated for a government school, and Naude was appointed as teacher, with 30 children, which rapidly increased to 44 by 1891. The standard of education was repeatedly praised by the School Inspector. Soon, Naude bought several properties in Waterkloof, and kept sheep, cattle, and horses.

 

When war broke out, Naude was still the  teacher at Waterkloof. He was captured and sent as an "undesirable person" to Greenpoint. The British considered him to be a hardened agitator for the Boer cause.

 

During the war, everything was damaged, destroyed or taken away by the men of Colonel Williams. In 1903, the Claims Administrator dismissed the claim as fraudulent, and disallowed it. Naude never received compensation.