Top: A Cape cart arriving at Elim Hospital around about 1903. The cart in the photo is similar to the one in which the Reverend Heese was murdered. BOTTOM: Mr Charles Leach in front of the graveyard at Cooksley's farm.

Following the tracks of the skirmishes

Date: 06 August 2004 By: Charles Leach

The far northern region of the old Transvaal – now Limpopo Province – was relatively unscathed by the first year or so of the Anglo Boer War. Only during Kitchener’s attempts at bringing hostilities to a close by means of his “scorched earth” policy, and the gathering of the last few commandos in this region, did the war move into our area.

Ironically, this relatively unknown and unimportant part of the province, the Zoutpansberg, saw events that involved many - if not most – of the British Empire’s forces in a series of skirmishes (or blatant murders) that left a legacy of accusations levelled against Britain by Australia. It is interesting that, as recently as 2002, two more books were published by Australians: Nick Blezinski’s “Shoot straight you bastards” and Bill Woolmore’s “Breaker Morant of the Bushveldt Carbineers”. The classic Australian film produced in 1979 and starring Edward Woodward carries the following text on the cover; “A true story of injustice and the horror of war. One of the most acclaimed Australian movies ever made!”

While Australia and Britain still debate the “injustice” of Australian officers arrested by British troops, court martialled, sentenced to death, executed by a detachment of the Cameron Highlanders and buried in the same grave, we are left with monuments, graves and other evidence of these atrocities committed toward South African and German commando members, civilians and children. Approximately 36 known murders took place in this region during the period.

It is against this background that the Zoutpansberg Skirmishes Route has developed. The tour starts at Lalapanzi Hotel on the N1, south of Louis Trichardt and, following the 1903 map of the Zoutpansberg (by Henri Bertoud), travels about 16 km to the Pioneer Cemetery of the Cooksley, Kleinenberg, Menne and Adendorff families. The old Cooksley homestead still stands and some of the trees that made up Lovedale Park are still there. Tour Guide Charles Leach tells interesting anecdotes of the role played by the Cooksleys and their sons-in-law during the Bushveld Carbineers saga and in the history of the day.

Close to Lovedale Park is the site of the original portable steel Fort Edward, base of both A and B Squadrons of the BVC. Details are told at the iron grave markers of the troopers – including Trooper van Buuren – originally buried there. A most fascinating story, with two stories behind the main story, is told at the monument of constable William Eagle, (died 10 October, 1908) the only North American Indian to serve in the old Transvaal police! Plans are being considered to establish a comprehensive tourism info centre at this very historic site!

The tour then proceeds about two kilometres away to the original Sweetwaters Hotel of Charlie Bristow. Sadly, the hotel is no longer open, because surely there would be no better place than the old saloon in which to be told about the notorious Captain ‘Bulala’ Taylor whose ‘spirit’ may well be the shadow next to you! The old buildings are in remarkably good condition, due to the concern of the present owner, Poog Henning, and quaint signs mark the Saloon, Shop, Capt. Taylor’s Rooms, the Cmdt Beyers Piano Room and others. Delightful stories are told of the wiley Cmdt. Beyers and the Union Jack that Mrs Bristow was sewing and the near disaster (or Interrupted Melody) in the Piano Room!

Next stop is just up the road at the monument to the van Staden family. The father and both his sons – the younger, about 12 years old and dying of fever – were shot by a firing squad of the BVC. It is difficult to understand why Trooper Botha (a ‘Joiner’) actually requested permission to shoot the ailing youngster!

The next stop is about four kilometers further at the Alexis Thomas Hydro Electric mill. Plans are afoot to renovate the building – and its lovely Oregon pine floors – and use it as a Tourism office. It is interesting that Elim Hospital had electricity long before the town of Louis Trichardt! Could the Thomas family rightly claim that they were the longest (50 years!) private suppliers of electricity in South Africa?

The short drive to the house of Col. Adolf Schiel at Rossbach passes through the national monument of Lemana College – established by the Swiss Mission at its present site in 1906 and named after the view of the early morning mist in the nearby Levubu valley that reminded them of the Lake of Geneva. The beautiful stately church at Lemana, built by the expert church builder, Metzenen, is well worth seeing.

The historic home of the Schiel family with its fortified veranda walls, complete with recesses for canons, commands a fine view over the Great Spelonken, which so nearly became the realization of Joao Albasini’s Colony of Santa Luiz! The house is also earmarked for renovation, and a lovelier setting for a weekend getaway could hardly be found! The original Lemana College building, with its amazing architecture, is on this site and also due for renovation before the 2006 centenary. It will certainly be a most amazing sight to see those enormous sliding doors move again! Please note that the cycads around these buildings have all been micro – chipped.

The stories of the Schiel family’s involvement in the Anglo Boer War and the likelihood of Mrs. Schiel’s affair with Handcock of the BVC are all fascinating.

The tour heads back towards Lalapanzi Hotel and the last stop is on the farm Vliegenpan. It is here, we believe, that the Rev. C.A.D. Heese of the Berlin Mission Society was murdered, together with his driver. All logical evidence points to the BVC, and in particular, to Handcock as the murderer. This act was the last straw that led to the arrest and subsequent court martial and execution of Australian officers Morant and Handcock. Kaizer Wilhelm was not impressed by the murder of German citizens in South Africa, and, to quote one commentator; “In the matter of war, it is most important that no one comes who was not invited!” Did Kitchener also read that comment?

The Battle of Vliegenpan took place in the valley just beyond the rocky ridge of the Spelonken, where Cmdt. Beyers had his men so perfectly placed. The superior British Force was certainly not expecting Beyers to be there and they were totally unprepared for the ensuing attack which drove them all the way back to Dwarsrivier. The battle scene is being captured on canvas by a local artist and will soon be on display at the Lalapanzi Hotel Skirmishes Museum.

The tour arrives back at the hotel at about 4:30 just in time for a cup of tea (or a cold one!) and a lot of talk about the emotions played upon during the day. By prior arrangement, the flamboyant Prof. Louis Changuine can be prevailed upon to present a slide show which places yet another cherry on the top of a most interesting and unique tour!

The route can easily be tailored to include other points of interest, such as the Elim Hospital Museum, the Piet Otto Heritage Agricultural Collection and the nearby Valdezia monuments and graves.

For more information the following people can be contacted:

1) Lalapanzi Hotel – Inga or Marius 015 516 5455 / 082 494 1155 or 2) Charles Leach – Tour Guide 083 228 3874 / 015 516 1466 (w) / 015 556 3407 (h).


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Charles Leach


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