Port Elizabeth of Yore: Zwartkopswagendrift

The hallmark of the half decade prior to the arrival of the British Settlers in 1820 was the steady encroachment of the Dutch farmers commonly from the west. In spite of every effort on the part of the Cape Governors to prevent the Trekboers from spreading  eastwards, this ineluctable movement did not abate.

This blog covers the settling of this peripatetic people in the Zwartkops Valley and especially around the Zwartkops wagendrift which was the principal crossing point on the road east or north.

Main picture: Trekboers crossing the Karoo by Charles Davidson Bell

By the middle of the 18th Century, a generation of young farmers was growing up in wide open spaces far beyond the confines of Cape Town. They were like the nomads of the desert who wandered from oasis to oasis, except that the Dutch Colonists always went eastwards, over a pass and down to a river. They  would farm in one district for a few years until the goodness had  been sucked out of the land or until the homestead could no longer contain the large family. One by one the sons, with their brides, would  claim  their  portion of cattle and a wagon and set out to look for a new home.

And so, it was that the first grazing permit to Dutch Colonists who acquired tenure to “Loan Places” in the Swartkops River Valley and beyond, in the district of Uitenhage, one was issued on 1st  February 1772 to Gerrit Scheepers for the farm “de Rietvalley”. The second farm, also called “Rietvalley”, was granted on 22nd  September 1772 to Stephanus Johannes Bekker. This permit was, however, cancelled on 10 February 1773.

An aquatint by Samuel Daniell of Trekboers making camp

On 27 September 1773, a third farm “Ongegund”, was granted to Christoffel Viljoen. This farm was situated in the  Winterhoekberg area, a short distance from Gerrit Scheepers’ farm “de Rietvalley”. Other farms granted were “Chougats (or Kougats) Wagendrift” to Stephanus Scheepers on 20 March 1776; “Rietfontein” to Christoffel Viljoen on 23rd March 1776,   “Papenkuilsfontein” to Thomas Ignatius Ferreira on 9th Apri1  1776, “Doorn Kraal” to Johannes Booysen on 9th November 1776  and “de Leeuwe Fonteyn”, situated along the Klein Zwartkopsrivier, to Pieter Buys on 28th December 1776.

Before the close of 1776, another ten permits were issued authorising  Colonists to occupy and graze cattle on available loan land in the  immediate  vicinity  of  Uitenhage. Among the ten Colonists to receive a permit in 1776 was Gerrit, the eldest son of Cornelis van Rooyen, who  settled  on the  farm  “Zwartkopswagendrift”. All the loan farms were later given as Government Grants to the occupiers as quitrent farms.

Descending from the Sneeuberge, a scene near Graaff-Reinet, by Burchell

Gerrit’s father, Cornelis van Rooyen, arrived at the Cape on the “Drakenstein” in 1713, his place of origin being Gorinchem (or Gorkum), in the Netherlands. Cornelis van Rooyen was married three times:

  • In Drakenstein to Jacomina van Deventer on 27th October 1720,
  • In Drakenstein to Cornelia Botha (widow of Jan Jurgen Potgieter) on 13th April 1738,
  • In Swellendam to Barbara Myburgh (widow of Izaak van Es) on 12 May 1754 .

It is claimed  that  Cornelis  van  Rooyen  also farmed in the Langkloof near the Keurbooms River ,and that he had eleven children. His son Gerrit (baptised on 4th February 1732) married Martha Jakoba, daughter of Thomas Ignatius Ferreira of the loan farm “de Hartebeest Kuyl”, which was situated near the Gouritz River.

Another son of Cornelis van Rooyen, Cornelis Johannes (baptised on 26th March 1758), married Wilhelmina Hermina Roos on 19th March 1780.         Their son, Lucas Martinus (baptised on 16th March 1783) was the first to be granted title on the 1st July 1816 of the farm “Zwartkopswagendrift” after the  British   Occupation. Records  in the  Archives describe the farm as “de Zwartkopsrivier drift geleiget over de  Gamtous Rivier“. It must have been  either adjacent to  or  part  of  the farm known as “Kougats Wagendrift”, later owned by Colonel Jacob Glen Cuyler.

In 1776 “Kougats Wagendrift” was the cause of a quarrel between Gerrit Scheepers’ father and Christiaan Ferreira. Both appeared to have been given loan permits for it and the Governor intervened and took away the permit from Scheepers.

Lichtenstein’s comments in January 1804 are, therefore, of  interest. “We came to the house of the widow van Rooyen, whose husband was killed in the Kaffir War in  an attack which they made upon him at night while  he was resting quietly in the house. The ruins of the buildings which had been burnt, spoke as having been in its prosperity an exceptionally large farm; the mill only was left standing and served now as a dwelling-house. Though the family had been returned but a few months, the great orchard was already in perfect  good order.

We were entertained with delicious grapes and melons. This spot is particularly favourable for breeding cattle, and before  the  disturbances, furnished food for 1000 head of cattle and 3000  sheep. The great Zwartkops River runs very near  the  Widow van Rooyen’s farm. In heavy rains the stream is extremely dangerous, but the water is now scarcely a foot deep“.

From time to time, due to raids by Xhosa warriors, the farms in the district  were abandoned and the cattle and sheep moved away to safety across the Gamtoos. Sometimes the farmers set off on long elephant hunts as far as the Great Fish River where old Pretorius, a legendary elephant-hunter was living in forbidden prosperity. Each time the Xhosa warriors were driven back to their own country across the Fish River, the farmers would return and set to work to rethatch the homesteads. No tribesman could utterly destroy those old homes, built of mud and stone, with walls three feet thick. The historical homestead at Totteridge Park, Perseverance, is proof of this theory. The van Rooyen’s subdivided the farm “Zwartkopswagendrift” in 1820. One  portion was  acquired by  Paul Maree on 21st April 1820 who sold it to Wilhelm Ludwig von Buchenroder on 28th August 1838.

Von Buchenroder subsequently renamed the farm “Perseverance”.

Chronological history of the Zwartkopswagendrift

The importance of this drift in the 1800s cannot be overstated. It was the highest point which the tidal water could reach in the Zwartkops River. For this reason it served as the crossing point until the arrival of the ferries and bridges across the lower reaches of the river. This section of the blog is based upon Margaret Harradine’s article of July 2013.

1752 May: Ensign Beutler’s expedition to this area set up a possessional beacon at the mouth of the Zwartkops and recorded the wildlife they saw. On 13 May they reached the drift.

1776: Cornelis Johannes van Rooyen was granted grazing rights on ZRWD. In 1801, during the frontier war, he was killed and the farmhouse burned.

1778: The map of Friderici and Jones shows van Rooyen at ZRWD.

1804: The traveller Lichtenstein mentions the widow van Rooyen and her orchard, grapes and melons.

1813: the census includes van Rooyen’s son, Lucas Marthinus, at ZRWD. At this time all the farms in the Colony were being re-surveyed and new requests for land being considered. The system of tenure was changed from opgaaf to quitrent. Once van Rooyen’s ownership was confirmed he was able to sell. Dates are not very reliable in this period; an official date of transfer may differ widely from the actual date of sale or occupation.

1814: JG Cuyler buys Booysen’s farm Doornkraal and renames it Cuyler Manor.

1815 September: Wilhelm Ludwig von Buchenröder and Paulus Maré occupied ZRWD.  One old map has both their names on it as a partnership. Von Buchenröder was always to be plagued by insolvency and Maré had to pay for the whole farm. The actual date of sale to Maré is given as 4 September 1815 and 10 April 1818 and to von Buchenröder as 1 April 1820. It is the latter who is credited with giving the farm the name Perseverance. Both men applied for, and were allowed to buy, other land in the area. Maré, also a wagonmaker and fisherman, had twenty children. Von Buchenröder , born in Germany in 1782, came to the Cape with his parents ( his father had the title “Baron”) and his sister lived in Uitenhage with her husband, the surveyor Johann Knobel. In 1805 he is listed as a Lieutenant in the Hottentot Light Infantry. He was also a building contractor, responsible for several of Uitenhage’s buildings .

1817: Maré asks to be allowed to exchange his half of ZRWD, but nothing can have come of this.

1817 October: JG Cuyler acquires Fishwater Flats, also called Horse Place. General Jacob Glen Cuyler was born in Albany, New York in 1775, and came to the Cape in 1806 with the British Army. He became Commandant of Fort Frederick for a time and also Landdrost of Uitenhage.

1820-1834: Cuyler dammed part of the Zwartkops River, affecting the water supply to ZRWD. Von Buchenröder fought him through legal channels, but was ultimately unsuccessful, at great cost.

1830 September 14: Catherine Byrne, about whom nothing is known, but who may simply have been a traveller en route, died at ZRWD and was buried in the veld. An imposing gravestone was later set up to mark the place. It has been suggested that symbolism on the stone indicates that she was Irish. It is still there.

1839 January: Maré advertised for someone to build an inn at the drift.

Zwartkops Wagendrift

1839 March: Advertisement – house to let lately occupied by P Maré, wagon maker, on west bank of  the Zwartkops River a short distance from where the road to Grahamstown crosses over.

1841 October 14: ZRWD and Amsterdam Flats transferred to Eden Baker (died 1877 on St Helena).

1842 June 6: part of ZRWD sold to JG Cuyler and Amsterdam Flats to RL Davies.

1847 August: WC Adcock opens a retail shop in the house at Zwartkops of the late von Buchenröder.

1849: the lists of farms in each Field Cornetcy in the Colony, published in the Government Gazette, has JG Cuyler as the owner of ZRWD, with Edward Adcock owning a part of it.

1850 September: William Newton began operating a pont across the Zwartkops near the village. This may have adversely affected WC Adcock’s trade, because having been granted a liquor licence, in 1854 he opened the Amsterdam Inn on the new Grahamstown Road instead.

1851: Edward Adcock, wheelwright, at Perseverance.

1854 April 14: the death of Jacob Glen Cuyler. His sons were childless so his property was inherited by his daughters: Jane Elizabeth married to William Armstrong and Maria Elizabeth married to Jan Frederik Bernard and then to Johan Hendrik (John Henry) Hitzeroth. Their children inherited in turn. The surname Cuyler continued because JG Armstrong took the name in 1874.

1854 July: William Armstrong lets land ZRWD, 2000 acres, and moves to Cuyler Manor.

1856 June 4: By Act of Parliament Divisional Councils were established to monitor rural areas. Tolls on roads and at bridges were one source of income for the Councils. Every year the lease of each toll was sold by auction. Tolls were abolished on 1 July 1903.

1859: the Zwartkops Inn was established at the “old drift” by Charles Fuller, who was granted a liquor licence in March. By the following year, however, he was keeping an inn in Korsten.

1859 September 24: the Rawson Bridge was opened to traffic. Designed by Matthew Woodifield, this was the first bridge across the Zwartkops River and was built at the site of the pont.

1860: ZRWD to let, lately in occupation of Mr Fuller – apply to Mrs ME Bernard. The Zwartkops Inn continued for a while under William Bruton, who took over in September. The new bridge must have taken away most travellers from the drift, but Bruton advertised for hunting and fishing parties.

1861 February: ZWRD to let. In occupation of Frederick Korsten Damant who is moving up-country.

1866: the formation of the Zwartkops Land, Irrigation and Waterworks Co. Ltd with a capital of £50,000. The provisional directors were JC Chase, Joseph Simpson, Robert D Buchanan, William Fleming and William Hume. The Engineer/Manager was Woodford Pilkington. It seems that the plan was to build several reservoirs from which to irrigate the whole area.

1871 May: the death of Maria Elizabeth, née Cuyler. Her four children and her surviving husband, JH Hitzeroth, inherited portions of Perseverance etc.

1876: A flood. The central pier of the Rawson Bridge sank, making it unsafe. A pontoon was again used until the Wylde Bridge was built. During this time wagons returned to using the Drift – mention is made of salt brought from the Zwartkops Saltpan.

1887 February: The Zwartkops Saltpan Co. bought the Grootpan from Hitzeroth Bros. of Uitenhage.

1894 January: Herman Armstrong (married to his cousin Maria Elizabeth Cuyler Bernard) was insolvent and sold portions of Perseverance with the homestead and the drift.

1897 April 27: At a meeting of the Land Company AW Guthrie proposes that the Syndicate be formed into a limited liability company. HW Hudson wants to make additions to the house. Two rooms were added in 1892 and the roof repaired in 1899.

1899: the lease of Perseverance to  JH Hitzeroth and Hudson ends with the death of the former. Henry William Hudson was married to a Bernard daughter and was leasing land from the Company, presumably through the terms of the original sale by Cuyler’s daughter, who was married to Hitzeroth. The military authorities now lease the farm: Maj. Jack DACG. The outspan at Fishwater Flats was no longer needed because the old Grahamstown road was now impassable.

1902: the Land Company and DACG Major Jack sign an agreement by which the Military lease Perseverance for the grazing of horses.

1903 January 21: Smith and Dewar report that the survey of the farm shows the present title deeds and diagram are not accurate.

1904 March 17: Zwartkops Valley Land Company having been re-structured owns ZRWD, by amended title. The arrangement of leases between the Company and the heirs of Cuyler’s daughters are not clear.

1921 to 1945: Willie James Brister Belt, son of William Belt and nephew of James Brister, owned part of Perseverance and was living there by 1922. Born in Port Elizabeth in 1876, he was sent to school at Totteridge in Hertfordshire (now part of greater London). The manor house nearby was called Totteridge Park. He and his wife returned to Port Elizabeth in 1900. In 1914 he was largely responsible for the resuscitation of the Turf Club and was himself a horse owner. It must be he who added the verandas to the old homestead, and made it a fine home. He kept his horses here and gave his estate a new name, which is still remembered today, Totteridge Park. This part of the original ZRWD has a separate history from the larger extent of the farm.

1922: W Armstrong, JG Cuyler, A Cuyler at Cuyler Manor. WJB Belt, John Martin, Samuel Martin, Roland Martin at Perseverance.

1928: A decision not to sub-divide the farm, but to offer the whole at £5 per morgen with a servitude permitting the owners of adjoining properties to water animals at what is known as “the Drift”.

1946: JB Anderson is living at Totteridge Park and commuting to Port Elizabeth each day. Mention is made of 500 pigs on the farm.

1956 June 12: transfer of Perseverance from CRT to Martin Marie Christian Mai.  Mai, born in Amiens in 1902, was a wool buyer and owned the first private plane in Port Elizabeth.  A newspaper article written in 1960 speaks of “Perseverance where Martin Mai breeds cattle”.  

1962 December: transfer of Totteridge Park from Mai to Totteridge Park Holdings Pty Ltd.

1972 March: transfer to the municipality of Despatch. The municipality initially proposes to build houses on part of the land, before realising that it was at risk from flooding.

1985 July: the old house is transferred to Gerhardus Gouws and the river banks to Quarryman (Pty) Ltd for the removal of gravel and sand, which has given the area the appearance of a moon landscape.

1988: the Gouws family had great plans for their big house and newspaper articles gave it publicity. The house was declared a National Monument. Sadly, unknown problems caused Gouws to kill his family and himself and to set the house on fire. It was completely destroyed.


Pamphlet printed by the Uitenhage Museum in 1964

 Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (2004, Historical Society of Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth) 

Gazetteer of the Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage Divisions of the old Cape Colony, compiled by Bartle Logie and Margaret Harradine (2014, Historical Society of Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth)

Article entitled “The Farm Zwartkopsrivier  Wagendrift” by Margaret Harradine (Looking Back, July 2013)

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