Early Travellers & Farmers

One of the earliest accounts mentioning the Kleine Rivier is the journal kept in 1707 by Jan Hartog (also Hartogh), head gardener of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). On a barter trip in the Overberg they grazed their cattle at the river then only known by its Hottentot name, the gonuka goggo, the “little river”, or in Afrikaans the “klein rivier”. Another reference is found in the resolutions of the Council of Policy of the Cape of Good Hope (March 1710) when reference was made to the wood that could be obtained in abundance from the forest at Riviersonderend, eight days’ travel from the Cape of Good Hope and one day’s travel from the sea, where there is a bay named “de Klijne Riviersvalleij”.

In January 1723 a salvaging party sent to the wreck of the Dutch Indiaman the Schoonberg (or Schonenberg) travelled over the Hottentots Holland mountains along the “Palmiet Rivier… Onrust Rivier… Mossels Rivier… Uijle Craal… Soetendaals Valleij… to Caab d’ Aguillas where they found the quarter master and twelve sailors alive and well”. On the return journey they encamped at the “Kleijnriviers Valleij”.

In 1758 the grazing rights to “de Kleyne Riviers Valley” were granted to Michiel Rudolph Vlotman (16), married to Martha Hartogh (21), after one Frederik Heijlon had left the land. After Vlotman it was granted to a wealthy landowner, Jeremias Auret. When his wife, Maria Anna Grové, died in 1764 in their house in the Table Valley  the inventory of her possessions included many paintings, sculptures, two diamond rings with three stones each and various other gold and silver jewellery, a silver bugle, much silver cutlery and many slaves. In 1783 Auret abandoned “de Klyne Riviers valley” and his grazing rights were transferred to an acquaintance, Christoffel Brand (1738–1815).

Brand had served as a soldier in the Dutch East India Company from age fifteen and later became VOC bookkeeper and eventually Postholder, then government Resident at Simon’s Bay. His main task was to attend to the Company’s ships, supplying fresh provisions, supervising the ships’ cargoes and recording the arrivals and departures of ships. The Brands led an active social life and entertained many well-known travellers, including Captain James Cook. In 1785 Johannes Henricus, Christoffel Brand’s son, received the loan place “de kleijne riviers Valleij, geleegen onder’t District van Stellenbosch” from the Governor in acknowledgement for the diligent, kind and helpful services rendered by his father to the Company. The British landed at Simon’s Bay (Town) while Brand was the Postholder and he was a signatory to the surrender of the Colony to the British in 1795. A grandson of Brand, Christoffel Joseph Brand became the first speaker of the Cape Parliament in 1854, and his son, Jan Brand, the President of the Orange Free State.

In May 1798 the party of Lady Anne Barnard, wife of the Colonial Secretary to Lord MaCartney, visited the Overberg from Cape Town. Christoffel Brand had lent them his coachman, “the illustrous Gaspar”. After the Houw Hoek pass they “quitted what is called the Great Road… to pursue the path which leads to Mr Brandt’s, – there we intended to pass the night, though he was not at home.”

They stopped about halfway at Mossel Rivier farm of Hendrik Cloete, one of the wealthiest men then in the country and owner of Groot Constantia at the Cape, Nooitgedacht at Stellenbosch and at least seven other farms. He had bought Mossel Rivier, at the present Voëlklip in Hermanus, from the widow Wessels and described it as “good grazing land for my oxen near the sea at Kleine Riviers Mond”. Lady Anne disliked Cloete and, it seems, his house (later known as De Mond), too. She continued: “…he spends three months every summer here – two small rooms is the whole of it, and a nasty little kitchen, inhabited by a very old man slave and a woman, into which we did not much wish to creep… the day was fine, and the stoop which hung over the sea was the pleasantest of all seats. At the mouth of the river, about half a mile distant, we saw a fishing boat that had been successful; the old man put up a signal to bring us the fish… but the fishers made him understand that they were to carry it to Mynheer Brandt’s on the other side of the river…”

Lady Anne pressed her husband to spend the night at Cloete’s in their wagons, but Gaspar, their “chief and governor”, wanted them to “still go on, that we should reach the river we were to ford before it was quite dark…. There happened to be no moon, and very shortly we began to have serious apprehensions from our having to travel still an hour and a half, that we might find the fording of the River a dangerous thing. The road too – Gaspar was ignorant of the side of the river we were on; on t’other side he was at home. I requested him to make Hector walk at the heads of the Horses that we might lessen the chance of an accident, for about half an hour matters went on pretty well, tho’ the shades of night fell fast about us. At last… I felt its wheel sinking on the side I was, and in a moment down we came like a mountain – the wagon was overturned – my head lower than my heels, and every-thing in the world I felt was above me… The foolish old Hector had led us too near the edge of a sloping bank …the wheel of the waggon had tipped over the bank…Gaspar pronounced that the waggon was not broken, though shattered…”

In about an hour the men “had everything replaced” and they could continue with the ladies riding on horseback to the ford, “which was half an hour’s distance, the only house [on the farm Zilvermijnsbosch – today comprising the farms Rocklands, Waterfalls, New Granton and Old Oak] that was near on this side of the river, finding it impossible to accommodate us, the man [Johannes Urbanus Smal whose family first started grazing cattle there in 1771] and his wife being from home, and the yonge vrow was afraid of us. At last we reached the water and followed the guide; the ford was marked only by a stick or two to the right, and even at this time, when no rain had fallen, it was so deep it took us pains to avoid being wet. Safe on the other side we once more got into the waggon, and after three-quarters of an hour drove up to the door of Gasper’s master, whom we had left at the Cape.”

At Brand’s house (today at 14 Church Street, Stanford) they “entered through a kitchen filled with slaves, many of them blessed with a very scanty portion of covering indeed. We had not been long here before we found that the talents of our coachman were by no means confined to driving, he had no sooner given his horses their feed, rubbing down being out of the question here, than he set all hands to work, the sleeping chickens were called up to be broiled, the sheep to be stewed, while the admirable fish which we had wished for in the morning now blessed our eyes in a hamper, and put into the pan, cut in pieces, with a good lump of mutton tail, came forth delicious, a little hot wine and water crowned our repast, and decent beds rendered no trouble in unpacking necessary.”

The following day after “an excellent sleep in one of the tallest beds I ever saw, and a good breakfast – our own tea and sugar, but fine butter, eggs and milk – all the bruises tolerable… we determined to go [to the Drupkelders to the south, near the present Gansbaai], and Gaspar lent us one team of his master’s oxen, and sent another on before, that were more powerful, as a relay – the road being heavy beyond all description, particularly the latter part of it. We set off at eight o’clock, going for some time along the edge of the river… a quantity of game were bolted out on us… On these banks there grows in little bunches the Cokima-cranki [Kukumakranka, Gethyllis afra], or what I call the Hottentot pine-apple: it has the same colour, the same flavour, and is filled with an aromatic juice and seeds – which I do not recommend to be bruised with the teeth, as they taste of garlick… We passed through a low brushwood afterwards, the trees so close that they met over the backs of the oxen… this is a harbour for wild boars, of which there are a quantity here, and some tigers [leopards].

“When we had pierced through this, and travelled a few miles further, we met with our fresh oxen, and soon plunged into a pathless world, sandy, but covered high all over with evergreens of various descriptions.” They followed the same route back and reached Kleine Riviers Valley Farm at eleven that night.

Departing for Swellendam the following day, “Wherever we turned… the bonte-bocks bounded away before us… No tillage, no trees, and but one human being… We passed the Clyne Riviére Kloof, not steep, but stony and dangerous from the frequent slopings of the road; some very marshy passes, to the right, a range of hills… to the left, a long row of mountains…”

For almost thirty years Kleine Riviers Valley farm was the holiday home of the Brand family until in 1813 it was sold to Johannes Andreas Truter (later Sir John) “a new absentee owner, who came from the same social and professional background as the Brands” (Edmund Burrows, Overberg Odyssey). Truter was educated in Cape Town and obtained a doctorate of law at the University of Leyden in 1787. He entered the service of the VOC and was appointed Chief Justice in 1813. Truter, a dignified, able man of sound judgement and exceptional ability, according to Lord Charles Somerset, was devoted to his work and was knighted in 1820 in recognition of his service as Chief Justice – the first South African by birth to receive this honour. Sir John retired in 1828 and settled at Rondebosch, often visiting his farm at the Kleine River.

The Dutchman Marten Douwe Teenstra, who befriended them in Cape Town, wrote in his journal, “Sir John Truter’s wife [Sophia Alida de Wet] owns a farm along the Kleine River, equal in size to four standard farms, which she runs entirely on her own. This farm maintains 150 horses, 500 head of cattle, 200 pigs, 600 goats and 12 000 sheep, and fifty slaves are engaged upon it; yet its cereal crop amounted to only 1 100 muids [± 80 tonnes] last season. Mrs Truter calculated an annual turnover of 400 bags of wheat, 500 bags of barley, 500 bags of oats and 100 bags of dried beans.”

According to Teenstra’s writings he never visited Kleine Riviers Valley farm on his way to and from the Drup Kelders while recuperating at the Caledon Warm Baths in 1825. The route they travelled on both ways bypassed the farmhouse. He nevertheless left an entertaining description of the area and the people, recounting his trip from Caledon through the Hemel and Aarde valley (with a leopard following them!) to what he incorrectly believed to be the “most southern” point of Africa, the Drup Kelders. On reaching the sea, at present day Hermanus, growing darkness impelled them to spend the night at the “seaside house of D R A Cloete [Hendrik’s son]. Inside the house… firmly built upon a rock, we found the Hottentot herd and his wife, who are the sole tenants of the place, warming themselves in the kitchen before the fire in company with several lazy, ever-smiling friends who had come down there to fish. For the river which is transformed into a fresh-water lake by a sandbank across its mouth, abounds with fish. The Hottentot women were puffing at their short-stemmed pipes with evident pleasure. Knowing them also to be very fond of strong liquor (like many seamen!), I utilised a quantity of brandy I had with me to start them dancing. The Hottentots possess a musical instrument of about the size of a guitar, called a ‘rokkie’, made up of a narrow plank with three strings running the length of it and an earthenware pot at one end across which calfskin is tightly drawn. It is played with a bow or like a guitar. To the accompaniment of this instrument the women pranced like sprightly calves…

“Next morning we crossed the river mouth and drove southwards between the sanddunes lining the shore and the tall, barren mountains to the left… The ground on either side of the road was densely covered with brushwood a yard and two high. I also noticed many new kinds of fauna, insects and flora, e.g. the waxbush. After driving along this heavy, exhausting road for some hours, we turned to the right and passed through the dunes to the beach…” They outspanned and spent the night at Strandfontein, visited the Drup Kelders the next day and after “a meal of fried fish we packed up and set off on the return journey, via Baviaansfontein and Uilekraal… From here we crossed the hills to a depression known as the Hell… Crossing the steep mountains [Paardenberg] from there we followed an undulating and difficult road to the farm of Jan Smal, lying to the south of Kleinrivierskloof, where we slept that night.” The following day they travelled back to Caledon along the mountains.

Sir John Truter added six surrounding farms to the estate, including Zilvermijnsbosch, Wolwe Fonteijn, Spring Fonteijn and Middel Berg. In 1831 he sold everything to Major Samuel Parlby, the first Englishman to own a farm in  the Overberg.

Samuel Parlby was one of many Anglo-Indians – British civil and military men serving in the Indian Raj who with their families often rented houses in Wynberg and spent their long or sick leave at the Cape. Eventually, when the Cape became a British colony in 1815, quite a number of these “Indians or Hindoos” as the “Kapenaars” called them, retired to the Cape where they went into business or farming. Six of the known eight who went farming bought farms in the Caledon area. “The arrival of an educated body of farmers with money in their pockets created the first opportunity to raise agriculture above the subsistence level in the Overberg,” states Burrows. “Men such as Samuel Parlby… were genuine experimenters…”

Parlby, born in 1789, was the son of a rector in East Anglia, England. At fifteen he joined the Bengal Artillery and “was two or three months (at the Cape) after the taking of the Colony in January 1806, having served with the army on shore as a cadet on my way to India”. After the British Empire captured Java in 1811 they sent a small corps of Cavalry and Horse Artillery to Java and being in the Horse Artillery at Meurat (Meerut), Parlby volunteered to join the Java Light Cavalry and Horse Volunteers  and was appointed Adjutant and Quartermaster of the Horse Artillery troop. They embarked at Calcutta and arrived at the beginning of July 1813 at Salatiza where there was a small fort erected by the Dutch. “In this Fort in the limited officer’s quarters,” stated Parlby, “I found a young woman living… a half-caste… This woman came to live with me in the middle of the month of July 1813 and remained with me until I left Java… In the early part of the month of April 1814, my son was born…”

In 1814 Java was given back to the Dutch and in 1815 the British Troops and Parlby returned to Bengal. “Before leaving Salatiza I gave the young woman 500 Spanish Dollars and the temporary house that I had erected…” When Parlby heard of the boy’s mother death in 1819, he sent for the boy and had him brought to him in Calcutta where he “immediately put him to school and had him well provided for”. Then in 1830 “having completed my time of service in India – and my wife to whom I was married in 1817 having died at Brighton in February 1828, leaving three children born by her (of whom the daughter [Annie Parlby]… afterwards came to me at the Cape…) …I determined to leave India altogether and return to England… my son wishing to accompany me I took him on board and February 1831 and we sailed to touch the at the Cape of Good Hope. Here the ‘Euphrates’ requiring repairs, I took the advantage of making a short tour in the Colony, which from its climate it had always been in favour with me… In this tour I visited the [8000 hectare] Estate of the late Sir John Truter, Kleyne River Valley, and was so pleased with it that I determined to purchase and settle there. Afterwards sending for my surviving son and daughter accompanied by a faithful servant to live with me at the Cape, having again married [the English-born Hester Vowe (23)].” Parlby apprenticed John to a brewer in Cape Town, but he hated the trade his father had chosen for him and returned home until his father found him another job.

At Kleine Riviers Valley farm the Parlbys entertained numerous visitors from India and Cape Town. Burrows called Parlby “a man with a boiling mind, who continually offered his countrymen ideas and plans for improving their lot. Undoubtedly he possessed talent, but he also risked being treated as a busybody.”

After purchasing the Kleine Riviers Valley Estate Parlby “threw himself into making it a working farm… stocked it with pedigree cattle and wool sheep, and built up a stud of horses for racing and riding at the Cape and for sale as remounts to the British Armies in India”. He also imported crop species “not tried before locally – cotton, flax and millet, as well as hops and various fruit, and wheat, oats and barley. He even planted poppy seeds, and claimed in the Cape press that South Africa could produce a valuable crop of opium for sale in India! …a fellow Anglo-Indian who visited De Kleijne river commented that Parlby tried ‘nearly every species of Indian produce, but I believe without great success’.”

One of Parlby’s unsuccessful plans was a proposal to Overberg farmers to deliver their produce to the Cape market by sea, an idea subsequently successfully implemented by Captain Robert Stanford, to whom Parlby eventually sold his farms.

Hester died in 1835. Samuel was heartbroken and buried her on a slope within sight of his house. His young wife’s death and the financial strain of slave emancipation coupled with unprofitable farming and losses incurred during the 1834 Border War on the Eastern Cape frontier, were the reasons he eventually had to sell his estate to Captain Robert Stanford in 1838. “The whole of the population of the Swellendam and Caledon Districts… were called upon to furnish either personal service, wagons, cattle or money, under orders issued by the Civil Court of the district,” wrote Parlby about the war

After a brief stay in Riversdale, and voyages to England, he moved to Green Point where in 1839 he married Marian Emma Mathew. Parlby, a prolific writer to the press and various high officials, furthered one very interesting complaint to the government regarding the Orphan Chamber Fund – a body with considerable funds at its disposal and known for its maladministration of the funds. Parlby’s claims, it seems, were not all unfounded. “The level of corruption in Cape Town’s administration may be judged from one historian’s account of Sir John Truter who was the President of the Orphan Chamber… and in this capacity he agreed to lend himself and his family some 51 000 rix-dollars [± £20 000] though he must have known that he never could – and, indeed, never did – repay them. Any anxiety which Sir John might have felt on this score was no doubt considerably alleviated by the thought that he was also President of the Court of Justice and thus empowered to deliver the final judgement on any case that he brought against himself!” (J Peires: “The British at the Cape,” in The Shaping of South African Society, 1989)

“I made many improvements to my estate,” Parlby stated, “including the building of a beautiful water mill at great expense, introducing some valuable European stock and machinery, and made extensive plantations, enclosures and irrigations besides additions to the buildings.

“I endeavoured to relieve myself of debt and at the same time introduce partners into my estate who would thus be further beneficial to the colony… in this I was successful, that Colonel Walker, late deputy Advocate General at Ceylon… had sent a portion of the capital to purchase one sixth of the estate for £1000… I can say, however, that individuals [referring to Captain Robert Stanford] would never have had possession of my estate, had he [Stanford] not broken his word, which I was unfortunate enough to trust – that my son should remain as superintendent of the estate with an adequate salary and share in the increase of the stock in future years – which promise he had broken, by only offering my son £60 a year without any share in the stock.

“But, your excellency, surely after the loss sustained by the great national act of emancipating the slaves after having introduced so large a capital into the colony and expended it in improving one of the principal landed estates, I was as much entitled as the present possessor [Robert Stanford] to the assistance of the Orphan Chamber, and I can only account for the present advance by an undue… influence in the disposal of the Orphan Chamber funds, because the present possessor was only enabled to pay for the estate by an advance of £3000 from the New Bank for which Messrs Dickson Burnies & co was security, and which sum has, I have reason to believe, been called in and is thus repaid to the bank through the Orphan Chamber Funds.

“Had the present possessor produced any large capital or effected any great improvement on the estate, or if he was able to produce better security than I could for the payment of the actual interest, then there might be some excuse for the advance, the refusal of which involved me in the loss of all my capital.”

In 1850 Samuel returned to England. Emma died at Rondebosch in 1871. John remained at the Cape and lived on a farm which his father had bought for him in Oudtshoorn. At the time of his death (he committed suicide in 1862) he was a shopkeeper. As he died intestate and without heirs, the government sold his farm for £1000. In 1865 Samuel Parlby, by then apparently “old, blind and poor”, appealed through Sir Thomas Maclear to the government for the remains of his son’s estate. According to R R Langham-Carter’s article “Samuel Parlby: Man of many projects”, a Royal Warrant to remit the amount to England was sent to the Master of the Supreme Court in Cape Town, but the Advocate General raised objections and it seems that Parlby never received the money.

Samuel Parlby died in Bristol in 1878, almost ninety. His dwelling in Stanford and the grave of his wife which has the first inscribed tombstone in Stanford, are the only two visible reminders of this man whom Sir John Herschel had thought to be “a remarkable man… a man of evident mentality, active, enlightened, enterprising… but enthusiastic and over sanguine”. He may have died a poor man, yet he had a full and interesting life!

Next chapter: Robert Stanford

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