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 from the west. In spite of every effort on the part of the Cape governors to prevent the farming burghers from spreading  eastwards, this ineluctable movement did not abate.

This blog covers the settling of this peripatetic people in the Zwartkops Valley

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 took up loan areas 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  Winter-hoekberg 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 Zwart-kopsrivier, 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, that legendary elephant-hunter was living in forbidden prosperity. Each time the warriors were driven back to their own country, 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”.

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