Klerksdorp a medium sized town, similar in extend as Potchefstroom. Situated on the banks of the Schoonspruit about 45 kilometer west from Potchefstroom. The main reason for its existence is gold mining, although not the reason why and how Klerksdorp came into exists. GPS coordinates: 26.8667°S 26.665°E elevation: 1315m
Kleksdorp is competing with Potchefstroom about which town was the first north of the Vaal river. Essentially a mining town, gold was discovered near the town in 1887. Gold mining here had a very chaotic history because of a heavily fractured reef.
It was only in the 40th and 50th of the 20th century that enough gold was found at greater depth to make large scale mining possible.
Emil Holub came through the town in 1873 and wrote in his book 'Sieben Jahre in Süd Africa' printed 1881: Klerksdorp consisted in 1873 of a main street in which I counted approximately 25 houses. Since then the town has grown and promises to become in competition with Potchefstroom the most significant town of the southwest Transvaal. Each house had a garden with fruit trees such as Peaches and Oranges, hedges are grown from Quince bushes and Pomegranates.
This main-street is still there, now aptly named Potgieter street. Looking at the picture one can well imagine Emil with his ox-wagon trekking through town counting the houses.
The first houses were built around 1840, this came about through the first occupier of the land around the present Klerksdorp. The basic structure of one of these old houses is still standing in the grounds of the Masereik house. It has been modified over the years and is being modified again. The wall structure is still the original mud bricks. There is a bit of a misunderstanding who the first occupier of the land was. Checking ref 2 and 4 one finds a certain C.M.du Plooy was that person. But this has been shown to be wrong, and in fact it was a Hendrik Groblaar (the exact spelling from an 1841 document) who was the first on the land, claiming 40 000 acres for himself, that was some time before the Potgieter party came over the Vaal.
He invited fellow trekkers to live on his land. For a piece of ground along the Schoonspruit and grazing rights over the farm they had to construct a dam and water furrows. It was 12 families that took up the offer, C.M.du Plooy was one of them and this is most likely where the confusion came from. Looking at Google Earth one can still recognise these original pieces of ground between Potgieter street and the spruit.
An important historical event that took place here was the first peace negotiations at which the Free State and the Transvaal were present, that was March 1902. It was followed by the final talks at Vereeniging in May 1902, which than led to the surrender of the independence of the two republics.
The house shown in the picture is where the delegation from the Free State was quartered. That was most likely a first for General C.de Wet, who always told people that right through the war he never slept under a roof.
The picture on the right shows the Boer delegation on the veranda of this house. People I can recognise in the picture are Steyn, de Wet, Botha, Herzog and Smuts.
Gold was first discovered in the area by MG Janse van Vuuren in 1885 on the farm Ysterspruit, about 18km south west of Klerksdorp. The sample sent to Pretoria assayed at 8 ounces to the ton, a very substantial gold content which should have caused a stampede of diggers to the area. But somehow it didn't, but it caused Thomas Leask (see his story below) to pay attention. Building a house in Klerksdorp he noticed a conglomerate that looked promising. To confirm this he had a few specimen send to him from Johannesburg reef, he had a match. With that knowledge he started taking out options on farms that he thought could be on the reef.
A flood of diggers came and the town grew at an unprecedented rate. The new town was laid out, which is now the central business district. A vast number of mining companies were established and even a stock exchange established, the chairman was Thomas Leask. The initial rush did not last very long, the decline started by 1890. The reason for that was mainly that the gold was there bu very patchy. Relief came later in the 1890th when the MacArthur process of gold recovery was introduced. This process used cyanide (CN-) to dissolve the gold instead of Mercury. It resulted in a much higher yield and thus saved some of the early mines.
What has been left from those early days of mining are some corrugated iron houses, very typical of the period. Have a look at the picture on the right, there are two of them in Klooster street.
The jail in Lombaard street is now a museum and we found it open even on a Saturday, that was August 2011. Some interesting exhibits are on display.
And talking of museums, there is also the open air museum on the left hand side, coming in from Potchefstroom. At the time of our visit it was closed, but the guard was very reasonable during our visit and let us in. The area was the site of a blockhouse manned by the British during the Boer War. They left behind numerous pieces of graffiti hammered into the rock-face. Life must have been boring sitting up there waiting for the Boers to attack. It was also the site of the first goldmine, the entrances to some of the adits still being visible.
p.s.: Feb 2018, this place is now totally closed. The illegal miners have taken over and going there would be dangerous.
A beautiful church situated in the new town. It was build just before the Anglo Boer war, inaugurated by Gen PJ Joubert in 1898. I have yet to find out who the architect was.
The church is not in full use anymore, changing demographics with church members moving out of the central area caused the congregation to merge with Klerksdorp Suid.
I could find no records of the beginning of the NG congregation in the area, the first time it is mentioned is with the breakup of the NH and NG church with a court case in 1893 that divided the properties. Being 'without a home' after that the congregation made use of the Presbyterian church in the Oude Dorp. That church soon became too small and a new church was built, that was the one in the new section of the town.
The beginning of the NH church congregation was actually in Hartebeesfontein, about 15km to the north of Klerksdorp. But Hartebeesfontein as a town didn't exist in these early days, the nucleus of the church congregation was around a few houses on different adjoining farms build close to each other.
The congregation grew from that and in 1880 it was decided that a church should be built. The building committee consisted of Izak Buys, Schalk van der Merwe and Thomas Leask. Construction was delayed by the 1st Boer War which called away many members of the church and it was completed only after the end of hostilities in 1882.
The picture from Ref 7 shows what the building looked like at around 1917, it has changed somewhat since then. Look at the shape of the window frames. But otherwise its still standing as it was in 1882. It is the oldest, still standing building in the Oude Dorp (old town).
The attempted unification of the two churches, NH and NG, came in 1885. It didn't last very long and in 1893 the congregation of the NH was re-established. The separation of the properties was decided by the court and in the case of Klerksdorp the NH got it's church back again. And have kept it since.
With time the church became too small and a new church had to be built at the same site, that was 1944.
There are two in Klerksdorp. The one at the top of Potgieter street appears to be the older one because of its relative position to the old village.. But the second one, which I call the cemetery between the rails is behind the railway station and also contains some very old graves. The between the rails cemetery is well organised, being subdivided into the various religions, there are Catholics, Presbyterian, Anglican, Afrikaans, Jews, Muslims etc. Not sure where they would bury Atheists? Within it is also the concentration camp cemetery and the Boer War graves of the British. A special section of that was a small square for the New Zealanders. The picture shows some of the British graves.
This is not the original memorial. The first one was designed by Gerhard Moerdyk. But that one suffered some damage from the environment and had to be re-gladded. Thus its still the same shape but hasn't got the same looks.
The first rail connection was that from Krugersdorp in 1897, the station was built by the Netherlands South African Railways Company and officially opened by Pres Kruger on the 3 August 1897. Just after the Anglo-Boer War, railway lines were extended to other parts of the country. In 1905 the line was extended to Vierfontein and Kroonstad. In 1906 Veertienstrome line was opened connecting Klerksdorp and Cape Town. In 1928 the link with Hartebeesfontein and Ottosdal followed.
Thomas Leask, one of the local, very successful businessmen. He was born 1839 in Firth and Stenness Paris, Orkney Islands, Scotland and died in 1912 in Dunblane, Perthshire, Scotland.
In his early twenties he decided to see the world and reached Natal in 1862, then began his travels in Mashonaland in 1866, making life as a professional hunter for a time. Accompanied by Dr. Calderley, he went to the Zambesi in 1869, and the two were among the earliest Europeans to see the Victoria Falls. He was a personal friend of both Mzilikazi and his son, Lobengula.
The first shop in Klerksdorp was opened by James A. Taylor in 1865. In 1870 Leask decided to retire from professional hunting and settle in Klerksdorp, becoming Taylor's partner in the shop. He must have done very well for himself because in 1884 he became involved with coal mining. He bought the farm Groenfontein to the south of the Vaal and formed a syndicate with JF de Raedt, who discovered coal there in 1873. Later the syndicate sold Groenfontein and bought Vierfontein and formed a company, Kroonstad Coal Estates. That was his coal business.
The picture on the right shows Thomas Leask among a group of unknown people, he is the smartly dressed one sitting in the centre. What I thought was noteworthy is the fact, when studying the picture in detail, everyone in the picture has a cigarette in his hand. I suppose they all died of a lung desease.
After the first discovery of gold in the Klerksdorp area at the end of 1885, Leask went on to become an important figure in the budding gold industry springing up in Klerksdorp, starting to mine for gold with the help of Apie Roos. Leask went on to being elected the first President of Klerksdorp Chamber of Mines in 1887. In 1888 Thomas Leask had started the Leask Gold Mining Company with capital of £70 000. This mine was developed as Western Reefs Mine and later incorporated into Vaal Reefs Gold Mine (now known as the Vaal River Operations of Anglo Gold).
A few years after the end of the Anglo Boer War, Leask retired and left the business to his two sons (John Robert Leask and Alexander Alfred Siddle Leask) who subsequently sold it. He returned to the Orkney Islands in Scotland where he died in Dunblane, Perthshire on 7 February 1912, aged 72.
He had a house built in a colonial style which is shown in the picture. Unfortunately because of all the trees around it, is not possible to get a clear picture. The house was sold before the Boer war and it became a convent, a catholic school for girls. Now it is a conference centre of the Catholic church. It is situated at the end of Kloster street. The convent played a role in the peace negotiations in April 1902. The furniture in the negotiation tent was supplied by the convent. Some of them are still kept in the museum. And also the tea came from the convent and was ferried across the Schoonspruit to the other side where the tent was situated.
Ref 1.: Emil Holub "Sieben Jahre in Süd-Afrika", subtitle: "Erlebnisse, Forschungen und Jagden auf meinen Reisen von den Diamantenfeldern zum Zambesi (1872-1879)", printed Wien 1881.
Ref 2.: T.V.Bulpin, "Lost Trails of the Transvaal", Nelson 1965
Ref 3.: A.P.Cartwright, "The Gold Miners", Purnell & Sons, 1962
Ref 4.: Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa, 1973
Ref 5.: information supplied by Bert Gaffen from the library in Kleksdorp
Ref 6.: Ds.S,J,Botha, Gemeente Klerksdorp 1866-1966, printed 1966 by N.H.W.-Pers Krugersdorp
Ref 7.: 'Ons Kerk Album van Hollandsche Kerken en Leeraren', publisher: unknown, printed 1917
Ref 8.: Raath, van den Bergh & Hayes, 'Sierad van die Sandveld - Die geskiedenis van Viljoenskroon 1921 - 2001, CLF-Drukkers Bloemfontein, 2002, ISBN 0868866563
Ref 9.: Joseph Kürschner, Die Buren und der Südafrikanische Krieg' Deutscher Kunstverlag, 1902