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Potchefstroom

Potchefstroom, or colloquially called Potch, a large town in the North-West province. It is on the banks of the Mooi River not far from where it enters the Vaal. Geo-position: 26.7147°S, 27.099°E, altitude 1351m. According to Wikipedia it had a population of 43000 in 2007.

History

The town is competing with Klerksdorp to be the oldest white settlement to the north of the Vaal river. Potchefstroom was first established in November 1838 on the banks of the Mooi River, about 11km to the north of the present town. The Voortrekker leader responsible for it was Hendrik Potgieter. The name of the town was derived from this leader. Heavy flooding occurred making the people reconsider the position and they moved downstream onto more solid ground at its present position in 1841.
It was the first place north of the Vaal that in 1864 was declared a municipality, although it took until 1868 before the first council was elected.

MW Pretorius house

Potchefstroom MW Pretorius housePotchefstroom MW Pretorius house insideMarthinus Wessels Pretorius built this house in a Cape Dutch style himself with one assistant, so it's written in the sources. He was the first president of the South African Republic (Zuid Afrikaanse Republik ZAR), appointed in 1857. There was no money available to pay him a salary, instead he received the farm Rietfontein as compensation. It was on this property that he constructed this house, plus some outbuildings. The main-house is believed to have been completed in 1868.
Preceding this must have been the smithy, seen on the picture on the left to the left of the main building. It is not very certain but it fitted un well with his occupation, he was a wagon smith by trade, which involved a fair bit of iron work. I will be coming back to this smithy building later.
His presidency was not an easy one, there was trouble on many frontiers and a lack of money due to the fact that the burghers were reluctant to pay tax. He also occupied himself with trying to re-unify the two Boer republics, the ZAR and the Free State. At one point (1860 to 62) he had the presidency of both republics. He was not very successful in this endeavour, he had a strong opposition to his plans in both republics and it cost him the presidency of the ZAR and later of the Free State. But still he was re-appointed president of the ZAR and held this post until 1871. He had to resign because he was severely criticised for 'loosing' the diamond fields to Britain in the Keate Award.
The house is now a museum known as the MW Pretorius house. It contains some artefacts linked to Pretorius and is furnished in the style of the time. Potchefstroom MW Pretorius smithy insidePotchefstroom MW Pretorius smithy ruin
An other story is that of the smithy, the picture on the right shows the collapsed building. During our visit on the 13 September 2020 Johan noticed some new cracks in the walls and mentioned that he will have to get somebody to inspect and make proposals for stabilising the building. A few days later it collapsed over night. The question now is to rebuild or not. As in Pretorius's time , the state has no money, it will only be possible by a private initiative.
After resigning as president in 1871 he kept a low profile and came into short prominence again at the end of the 1st Boer War in 1881. He was one of the three leading members of the provisional government that led the Transvaal through the negotiations with the British to regain the independence of the ZAR.Potchefstroom M Pretorius gravePotchefstroom M Pretorius grave plaque After that he totally withdrew from politics and lived until his death on 18 May 1901. He stayed in a house in Potchefstroom, put under house arrest by the British. At that time he did play a role in the peace committee set up to convince the Boers to relinquish the struggle.
The monument with the commemorative plaque was erected in 1913 and unveiled by the Prime Minister Louise Botha. The translation of the inscription: Here rests; Marthinus; Wessel Pretorius; born at Pretorius Kloof district; Graaf Reinet 17 September 1819; died at Potchefstroom; 18 May 1901; state president of the South African Republic 1857-2860; of the Orange Free State 1860-1863; and of the South African Republic 1864-1871. The semicolons mark the line breaks.

Old Fort

Potchefstroom fortPotchefstroom fort modelThe fort was the scene of the Potchefstroom siege back in 1880/81 during the 1st Boer War. It started on 16 December 1880 when a group of Boers coming from the meeting at Paardekraal where the republic had been re- declared. They came to Potchefstroom to have the declaration printed by the Borelius printing works. This brought them into conflict with the British troops stationed in the town. The places they, the British, occupied was the magistrate and the telegraph office and the newly prepared fort just outside town. The position in town could not be held by the British and most of them retreated to the fort. The fort was besieged for 95 days, during that siege there were 213 British officers and men in the enclosure. There were also some civilians in the fort, those were British subjects who had been living in Potchefstroom.
The siege was ended on the 21 March 1881, with the garison marching out of the fort and making their way to the Free State.
Potchefstroom fort gravesPotchefstroom plaque in anglican churchThe graveyard at the site of the hostilities contains the remains of the British troops and some civilians who lost their lives. Altogether there were 25 killed in action and 6 died from sickness on the British side. Casualties on the side of the Boers is not known. There is also a plaque in the Anglican Church commemorating the officers and soldiers who died during the siege.
Nothing of the original fort remains. The earth wall at the site indicates where the fort had been, it was put up at a later date.

Old Jail

Potchefstroom jailPotchefstroom jail cellsThe prison was built just before the outbreak of the Boer war in 1899. I am not sure for how long it was used as a prison, it later became the headquarters of the commando.
When we first visited the place in 2011 people were living there, all the cells had been occupied. It seems to be organised, but by whom I don't know. During a later visit we were unable to enter at all, it was all locked and guarded.

Powder magazine

Potchefstroom powder magazineThe first powder house, a place where gun powder is stored, was build between 1854 and 1857. It suffered severe damage when the British forces partially demolished it in 1880 to use the stones for the fort they were building nearby(see above about the old fort).
It was later completely demolished and a new building erected in 1898. It is one of the oldest buildings still standing in Potchefstroom, but not in use anymore to store gun powder.


Post and Telegraph building

Potchefstroom post and telegraphPotchefstroom post bldg corner stoneThis imposing building not only housed the post office and the telegraph station, but also, according to the inscription, the landrost or magistrate.



Railway Station

Potchefstroom stationThe railway station building is no more, it burned down on the night of the 14 September 2020. Cause of the fire is unknown.
The railway came to town back in 1897 when the NZASM company installed the rail link between Johannesburg and Kleksdorp, on which Potchefstroom is situated. NZASM stands for Nederlandsche Zuid-Afrikaanse Spoorwegmaatschappij, it was the company that had most of the rail lines installed in the old Zuid Afrikaanse Republik (ZAR). Their main project had been the railway line from Delagoa Bay (Maputo) to Pretoria.
In 1906 a connection was made from Klerksdorp through to Kimberley, it thus put Potchefstroom on the line to Cape Town. This justified a new station building. Potchefstroom burned stationPotchefstroom burned station insideThe foundation stone states that it was placed on the 1 May 1918.
And now, as stated above it has burned down. The pictures were taken during November 2020.



Churches

Just a word on the history of the three Afrikaans or Dutch churches. There is the Nederduitse Gereformierde Kerk (NGK), the Nederduitsch Herformde Kerk (NHK) (both translated to English are the Dutch reformed church) and the Gereformierde Kerk. The NGK had its beginning in the Cape and came to its shores with Jan van Riebeeck. There was a problem with the Boers that went trekking from the Cape. The NGK did not support the emigration and refused to send theologians to assist the trekkers with church matters. On the other hand the trekkers did not really want the help from the Cape because that church had become part of the British administration. They were initially helped by Missionaries such as David Lindley. Potchefstroom particularly sent a request direct to Holland for support. The Gereformierde Kerk came out of the NHK, there were some differences involving the singing of hymns.

Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk

Potchefstroom NH churchThe oldest still standing church north of the Vaal River. Building started in 1859 and was completed in 1866.
Before that there was a small church that had been build in 1842 after a collection was held amongst the trekkers. During the 1850's a ring-wall was added with loop-holes to serve as a defense in case of trouble.
The foundation stone was laid by MW Pretorius, the president of the ZAR at the time, and Dirk van der Hoff, the minister of the congregation then. There is no information about the architect or the builder. Inauguration was on 24 February 1866. A number of alterations were made over time, the roof was replaced by a corrugated iron roof, the church got a spire and on the inside some galleries were added. A inscription states that the church was renewed in 1893, this may have referred to the alterations and improvements. A pipe organ was purchased, transported from London and installed 1890.

NG church Moeder gemeente

Potchefstroom NG churchIn 1853 the church council decided to break away from the Cape church to become the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk (NHK). A large group with the deacon Wessel Badenhorst refused to join the new church and kept their ties to the Cape NG church. This new congregation initially was served by visiting preachers from the Cape until a full time preacher, JP Jooste, was appointed in 1868. A small church was erected in his time, date is not known.
The corner stone for a new church building was laid in 1893 by president Paul Kruger. It became known as the moeder gemeente from which other congregations spawned off in time.

NG church Mooiriver gemeente

Potchefstroom NG Mooiriver churchPotchefstroom NG Mooiriver church insideThe first congregation that spawned off from the moeder gemeente was that of Mooirivier. It was not a separation because of growing numbers, bur rather political. It went back to the rebellion of 1914. Church members were split into those supporting the rebellion and those that were behind the government. The group that wanted to separate in this case were the government supporters.
The new congregation was officially established on 5 Feb 1917. Very soon they started thinking about building a church. The corner stone was laid on the 6-July-1918 by General L.Botha, the Prime Minister of the Union at the time. The architect was John William Gaisford, a local architect from Potchefstroom. On the 18-April-1919 the church was taken into use.

Methodist Church

Potchefstroom Methodist churchPotchefstroom Methodist church insideThe Methodist church has a long history in the area, pre-dating the establishment of Potchefstroom. The London Mission Society had been sending out missionaries to Southers Africa since the early 19th century. In 1822 David Broadbent was the first to cross the Vaal establishing a mission station at Makwassi (about 130km from Potchefstroom). here the first white child north of the Vaal was born, a son of David Broadbent.
These mission stations also developed some indigenous missionaries, such as David Magatha. He appeared in the early Potchefstroom and started preaching the gospel in the market square, it must have been the late 1850’s. This caused some indignation amongst the village population. They obviously didn't like to see a native preaching to them. He was arrested by order of the landrost (magistrate) and banished from the town, after receiving a few lashes. But later David reappeared with a letter signed by president Pretorius, allowing him to preach and thus he continued his self-appointed task. It could thus be seen as the beginning of the Methodist congregation in Potchefstroom.
Potchefstroom Methodist church oldIt was around 1863 that a small group of people started to worship in the house of Mr.Goetz. The service then was conducted in the English language by the Rev.Andrew Murray, who was the minister of the NH church in Potchefstroom.
The first church building, known as the Union Chapel, was erected in Lombard street. Services were held here from 1864 to 68. I am not sure what happened between 1868 and 1875, it is stated that the congregation used a shop in Kerkstreet for Sunday services.
A bigger church was build in 1875, this was the church as seen in the picture. It is a copy of a framed picture I found in the church. This church served the community until 1905 when a new, larger building was constructed. This is the church still in use today.. The cost was £3800 and the official opening was 13 Jan 1906.

Anglican Church

Potchefstroom Anglican churchThe Anglican Church has a long history in Potchefstroom. A church building was erected already in 1867. It was this building that Emil Holub in his book describes as 'the only significant building of Potchefstroom', he travelled through town in 1872.
Potchefstroom Anglican church insideWith increasing numbers it became necessary to build a new church. The new church was designed by John George Crone and the builder was Augustus Falconer. The foundation stone was laid in 1890. During construction there was a calamity when the newly build chancel arch collapsed, which led to the resignation of the architect. a local architect, JW Gaisford took over to complete the work. The opening service was held on the 14 June 1891.
Something interesting, for me at least, when looking at the old baptism register I noticed a number of Afrikaans surnames. This was explained by Rev Mark, not everyone agreed at the time when the NHK was formed and preferred to have their children christened in the Anglican Church.

Berlin mission church

Potchefstroom Berlin mission church










Cemeteries

Old Cemetery

I am here referring to the cemetery in Alexander Park on the corner of Nelson Mandela drive and Piet Bosman street. It is not the oldest in Potchefstroom. The first cemetery was in the area where the university is, the area is completely build over now , it is not known what happened to the graves. It is generally believed that they are still there.
Potchefstroom grave van der HoffPotchefstroom van der Hoff portraitThe most prominent grave in the Alexander Park cemetery is that of Mathinus Pretorius, already shown higher up. Other graves of interest, there are a number.Dirk van der Hoff, see picture, he was the theologian who had been called from Holland to help establish a church independent from the Cape NG synod. The inscription translated reads as follows, semicolon indicating a line break: in memory; of the very revered and; learned mister Dirk; van der Hoff born at; Dordrech in the Netherlands; in his life teacher of; the Nederduitsch Hervormde; congregation of Potchefstroom; Z.A.Republic; at the age of 67 years; 1 month and 7 days. I had to call on my friend, Frans, to help with some of the difficult words. Very strange in the text is the use of capital letters, I, nor Frans, have any explanation.
Potchefstroom Christian WoiteChristian O.Woite was executed by the Boers during the 1st Boer War. His story is told in Ref 8. He was from Prussia, one of the countries in Germany, had been living in the Cape for a few years before coming to Potchefstroom. Here he practised as a healer and seemed to be fairly successful and had become well known in the area. On the 8th of January 1881 he and his son, Wilhelm, of 19 were brought before the war council of the Boers, being accused of spying for the British. The trial was a secret trial, thus the exact nature of the charge and the evidence lead are not known. Christian was sentenced to be executed and his son acquitted. Only 2 hours were allowed to prepare for the execution. Just enough time to allow his wife to say good bye and for the local pastor of the Berlin Mission church, B.Kohler, to lead him in prayer. He left behind a wife and nine children.
Another source has just come to my attention about the death of Christian Woipe, it appeared in a New Zealand newspaper and is based on a report by the Referent Posselt of New Germany in Natal: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/periodicals/NZT18811111.2.20. That article differs in some of the details, but overall reports the same event. Rev. Posselt was a missionary of the Berlin Mission society active in New Germany in Natal. It is stated in the article that Christian and his family had lived in New Germany thus in Natal before moving to Potchefstroom. The report also revealed why Christian was accused of spying. He had written Potchefstroom Anna Woite as guardiana letter to one of the British officers in Potchefstroom about the plan of the Boers to declare a new republic. This letter was left behind in a hotel room when the British vacated and moved to the fort. It was found by the Boers when they took occupation of some rooms in the hotel.
And now I found another source which tells the story somewhat differently: https://newspapers.library.wales/view/3559740/3559746/33/LIVERPOOL. Here Christian was a tailor and the letter was found with Major Clarke when they surrendered. I give up, history is a very difficult subject. This reference also contains the text of the letter, which I will not repeat here because the authenticity is in question.
I have searched the graveyard for Christian Woipe's grave, to no avail, thus no picture.
Something interesting I found in the Internet was a court document wherein Anna Woite was declared the guardian of her children. I am not sure about the background to this. I think what it means is that women in those days were not automatically guardians of their children, the normal case was that some male relative would be appointed to this role.
The document translated reads as follows (semi colon indicates line break): Orphan Court, Transvaal; Appointment as guardian; with this order; Anna Woite geb Blase; has been appointed as guardian; of: William Woite; Maria Woite; Elizabeth Woite; Anna Woite; Emily Woite; Herman Woite; Heinrich Woite; Pauline Woite; Eliza Woite; all children of her and her late husband's Christian Woite; ZAR 29 September 1881.



Potchefstroom cemetery







die Oude Dorp

Potchefstroom oude dorpThe Oude Dorp (the old town) was situated about 7 miles north along the Moiriver. Apparently nothing is left of the place, anything left standing was demolished after the place was vacated. Nearby is a old farmhouse dating from those days (see picture).
In the literature it is mentioned that there is an old grave yard. I have to visit the area again and explore a bit.
Potchefstroom Anderland storeAnd that we did, no traces of the oude dorp were found. There was an old store on the farm Anderland, dating back to the 2nd half of the 19th century. Inspection showed it to be build of sun-dried mud bricks on a foundation of natural stones.
Potchefstroom Bezuidenhout channel 01Potchefstroom Bezuidenhout channel 02An other interesting 'discovery' on this farm was the irrigation channel coming all the way from Gerhard Minnebron. It was dug by Piet Bezuidenhout (most likely not single handed by himself) between 1895 and 1900. At this point it was 15km in length and finished here. The channel is not in use, it was replaced by a new, concrete-lined channel in 1962. The farmer has cleared some of the channel to be used as a foot path. The start of the channel is shown on the page about Gerhard Minnebron.



Interesting Events in and around Potch

Boer civil war

That was October 1862, an exchange of cannon fire between two opposing Boer forces, the one under the chief commandant Schoeman and the other one under Paul Kruger. The background to this was the confusion caused by president M.Pretorius's leave of absence to be the president of the Freestate in order to achieve unity between the two republics. There wasn't much enthusiasm in the ZAR (Zuid Afrikaanse Republik, basically the Transvaal) and also neither in the Free State. The confusion in the ZAR led to two opposing groups forming, actually its much more complicated than that, best is to read it up in Ref 2.
Schoeman was moving towards Potchefstroom with 350 men and one canon. Paul Kruger was in pursuit and had 850 men under arms (in Ref 3, it mentions 1800) and three canons.
Potchefstroom oude dorpKanon kopSchoeman had taken position in town around Kerk- and Spruit street, Kruger initially placed himself around what is now Cachet park. Realising that he could become encircled by Schoeman's men he moved over to a small hill which is still called Vegkoppies and the street at it Vegkoppies street. From there he could much better observe what was going on around him.
There were a few skirmishes which did not result in any decision. But over night Schoeman and his men made for the Free State. The result of all this was one killed, 8 wounded and the loss of a canon from Schoeman's side and 2 men wounded on Krugers side.
The picture was taken on kanon kop, where Kruger did place his canons. Not much to be seen, it is a very low hill.

References
Ref 1.: Standard Encyclopedia of Southern Africa, Nasou Limited, 1974
Ref 2.: TV Bulpin, Lost Trails of the Transvaal, Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1965
Ref 3.: Herald, Potchefstroom en Ventersburg, 1838-1988 Potchefstroom, commemorative issue,
Ref 4.: Dr.Lennie Gouws, Stories van/of Potchefstroom, 2018
Ref 5.: Eeufees 1917-2017-NG Gemeente Potchefstroom-Mooirivier
Ref 6.: Arie Kuijers, Historiese Geboue in Potchefstroom, 1984
Ref 7.: Geoffrey Jenkins, A Century of History, published by the Potchefstroom Herald, 1938
Ref 8.: The Diary of G.F.Austin, CUM Books, 1981
Ref 9.: Methodists celebrate 127 years in Potchefstroom, article in the Potchefstroom Herald, 3 Oct 95
Ref 10.: "Ons Kerk Album van Hollandsche Kerken en Leeraren", publisher: unknown, printed in the 1920's


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