"I really enjoyed reading about the history of the Eastern Cape in your newsletter.I grew up on the farm Rietfontein, outside Fort Beaufort. The buildings on the farm were originally built as a fortified overnight stop between the larger forts in the towns (Grahamstown/Fort Beaufort)
The farm was sold out of the family in 2000, after four generations in the Malan family. Stock theft, drought and extreme interest rates brought the farm to this sad situation. The farm is now part of a larger consortium of wild life hunting & safari.
The town of Fort Beaufort was a wonderful relic of colonial history. The central park (not quite recognisable anymore) was laid out like the British flag. Wide paths lined with shrubs and trees formed the cross and diagonal lines of the flag. Large ponds with bamboo & swans were there. I saw them myself. The old buildings were maintained and well used.
If you ever have a chance, do visit the Museum in central town. The beautiful Military Museum in the old officer's mess next to the Martello Tower is unfortunately no more."
Here is Part 1 of Danie's story:
SHORT HISTORY AND DESCRIPTION OF THE FARM RIETFONTEIN
Rietfontein is situated in the Fort Beaufort district, 20 km S.S. West of the town, on the Gardness Drift road. This is the Koonap Field Cornetcy, or as originally called, The Gonappe.
It is a fact that farming activities in this area were started by the original Trekboers. This farm's name, as well as all the adjoining farm names are Afrikaans. Kopfontein subsequently became Hammonds; Pupkuilsfontein …… Klu - Klu; Nelshoek …… Stoneyfields.
While trying to establish how old Rietfontein is, we must consider the following facts:
In 1812, Lord Charles Somerset established 15 small military posts along the border, and encouraged Trekboers to take up farms near the military posts.
In 1816 the Rev. Joseph Williams established the first Mission station in Black Man's land, "3 miles" north of the present Fort Beaufort, and "15 miles" from Gaikas kraal.
The 1819 attack by 10 0000 Xhosa on Grahamstown, the chief Military Centre, led to the establishment of Lord Charles Somerset Neutral Territory policy. Nobody was to be allowed to live between the Fish and Keiskamma Rivers. Several Forts and fortified farms were established within this area, e.g. Fort Beaufort, Fort Wiltshire, Fort Brown, and many others.
Arrowsmith's map, (1851) has an old fort marked, more or less where Rietfontein is situated. Prof. Colin Coetzee, (Dept. of History) of the University of Fort Hare, has seen documents referring to Fort Riet-Fontein.
After visiting the place, it should be clear that Rietfontein could have been nothing less than a well fortified outpost, with troops, linking the important Military HQ of Grahamstown, with the hinterland forts. The first settlement in and around Fort Beaufort seems to have been somewhere about 1819. By 1822 it was an established Military Post.
Rietfontein was strategically located from Grahamstown to Hermanus Kraal (Fort Brown) the distance was 40 km. - one day's drive for an ox wagon. Another 40 km. brought you to Rietfontein with Fort Beaufort 32 km. further on. This 32 km. stretch went past Kopfontein (later Hammonds).
The Grahamstown - Fort Beaufort road crossed Rietfontein, up till the completion of the Queens Road in 1841. This is the present tarred road that cuts through Dans Hoogte at Stoneyfields. (This is the high ground overlooking the Kat River at the Tower Hill). There we still find remains of one of the chain of signal towers, linking Grahamstown and Fort Beaufort.
Podcast: This week we chat about Part 2 of the Gamkaskloof story and the heartache of a roads engineer who never realised that his hard work would lead to the destruction of the fabric of an entire community. Click to listen.
Pass of the Week
As part of our Frontier history theme this week, we take a cyber drive along the impressive Blinkwater Pass, where ox-wagons once plied the route with supplies to Fort Beaufort.
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Words of Wisdom: "We need to accept that we won’t always make the right decisions, that we’ll mess up royally sometimes – understanding that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success” – Arianna Huffington