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Abstract

A five part series punlished between December 2000 and October 2001. Sub Titles: The Pathfinders (before 1850) The Copper Riders (early road transport, 1850-1876) The Railway Interlude (rail transportation, 1869-1941) The Transport Riders (road transportation, 1927 - today) Floating and Flying (water and air transportation) NB: Because ResearchGate will not accept uploads of more than 10MB, and as these articles have a number of colour photographs and other illustrations, this work is presented in two sections: Parts 1,2 and 3, and secondly Parts 4 and 5. Sorry about that!
NAMAQUALAND TRANSPORTATION SERIES
by
Graham L.D.Ross
A five-part series, which appeared in
S o uth African Transp ort
October & November/December 2000,
and when that was incorporated with
Transport World Africa the series continued in
Transport World Africa
March, July/August & September/October 2001.
Part I: The Pathfinders (the picture before 1850)
Part2; The Copper Riders (early road transportation: 1850-1876)
Part 3: The Railway Interlude (rail transportation: 1869-1941)
Part 4; The Transport Riders (road transportation: 1927-today)
Part 5: Floating and Flying (water and air transportation).
l-
THE STORY 0F TRANSP0RT ll{ I'|AMAOUAIAI'|D
PART I
How pathfinders added
to Namaqualand
Namaqualand, the region
'in the top left-hand
corner' of South Africa,
is a fascinating area,
writes Graham Ross
in the first of a five-part
series on the history of
transport in this area.
ix weeks after rain has fallen, the
strip of veld that was lucky enough
to receive this bounty will burst into
a kaleidoscope of colour, un-
equalled elsewhere in our country. The
highways and byways of the region will
become full of people admiring the show.
Those who are able to look beyond the
flowers will appreciate that the area has an
entirely different basic beauty, which has
no need of gilding to make it attractive.
Most of the year Namaqualand has a stark
beauty and a variety of attractions which
can be realised and appreciated only by
those who are prepared to get off the beaten
track, keep their eyes open, their walking
boots on, their radios turned off, and - lis-
ten to the silence. Once Namaqualand has
grabbed you, you will return time after time
to enjoy the enchantment of the region.
This series of short articles will try to
explain a few of the highlights of this fasci-
nating region's transport history.
It all started when the Dutch East India
Company's refreshment station on the
shores of Table Bay, wanted to acquire
fresh meat for the ships which called there.
They did this by bartering with the local
tribesmen who grazed their cattle and sheep
nearby.
However, these folk were nomads, and
when local grazing became scarce they
trekked off to Berg River, and then much
further, where the grass was greener. Jan
van Riebeeck's men had to follow them,
and this started a continuing series of
explorations, which penetrated progressive-
ly further and further into the interior.
ln 1512 two Jesuit fathers. Da Silveira
and Fernandez, worked inland from Sofala,
south of Beira (Walker, 1928:18,19). Over
the years of their ministry they sent back
tales of the great wealth of gold in the
Kingdom of Monomotapa, which appears
to have been near Mutare in Zimbabwe.
This kingdom was then marked vaguely in
the interior of the southern part of the con-
tinent on rather indefinite maps of that
time.
Expeditions towards Namaqualand start-
ed in 1655, when Jan Wintervogel got as
far as Malmesburg (Becker, 1985:32). In
1661 a small party of intrepid pathfinders
under Corporal Pieter Cruijthoff got as far
north as Graafwater, west of Clanwilliam,
where he learned a lot from Chief Akembie
of the Koperbergen in the north (Burman,
\969:23-25). This, incidentally, was the
first contact between the colonists and the
Namaquas.
Nobody got too excited about this report:
they were more interested in the meat-on-
GRAHAM R0SS was the resident engineer on the Cape Provincial Roads unit which in 1949 and 1950
constructed the first bitumen-surfaced rural road in Namaqualand, between Okiep and Nababeep. He
has returned to Namaqualand many times since then. ln 1996 he published privately Namaqualand: a
transport+elated chronology and Namaqualand: an annotated bibliography, and in 1998 he completed a
PhD (Transport Studies) disseftation on the interactive role of transpon and the economy of Namaqua-
land at the University of Stellenbosch. He is currently working on research into and documentation of the
history of mountain passes, roads and transport in the Cape Colony and the Cape Province.
sArnilSmRT . 00T08ER Anll
18
page of the Trinity
College copy of the
'Dach Register'.
He says: 'On 25
August 1685 at 10
o'clock in the morn-
ing ... we marched
from the Fort of
Good Hope with our
baggage, being in
number 57 whites...
apart from a certain
Dain Mangale, a
Prince of Macassar,
with his servant; and
furthermore three
black servants
belonging to the
Commander. Our
transport consisted
of one carriage with
six horses, and eight
asses, l4 riding hors-
es, two field guns,
eight carts, seven
wagons, one of
which was loaded
with a boat, 289
draught and pack of
oxen; and in convoy
with us were also the
wagons of six free-
men, each drawn by eight oxen, who will
him, intending to shoot; but the blunder-
buss misfired, the rear catch striking the
front one.
And the furious animal, which we other-
wise were sure would have devoured the
commander in our presence, by great for-
tune ran past him brushing against his
body... It ran forth at great speed, away
from us. Several others, who were on
horseback, were also unable to avoid it, and
quit their horses in great consternation,
injuring themselves in various places'.
Another writer says that Van der Stel had
a wheel of his coach carried off on the horn
of the rhino! Never a dull moment!!
When they got to the Kamiesberg, near
Garies, they had difficulty getting guides
from the local Amacquas until the com-
mander had some arrested. He entertained
others 'with food, strong drink and tobac-
co', after which 'one could clearly notice
they became more resolute in answering to
what was asked of them'.
They reached the Koperbergen, east of
Springbok, on 2l October 1685. Caro-
lusber, one of the biggest open-cast copper
mines in South Africa, is now only a
stone's throw from where he sank one of
his prospecting shafts. They collected sam-
ples, also visited Okiep, and departed on 5
November. Retracing their north-bound
track, they noticed that several of the
streamlets had dried up. The Amacquas
Simon van der Stel's joumey
the-hoof which Cruijthoff brought back.
However, skipping a few years and coming
to Simon van der Stel's time, when in 1681
a party of Namaquas arrived at the Cape
with, among other trading wares, some
bright green stones (Becker, 1985:57),
thoughts of Monomotapa surfaced, and the
bartering expeditions were told to look out
for that rich kingdom as well as for meal
Unfortunately for this idea, Mutare is quite
a way beyond Namaqualand!
It was only a year later in 1982 that the
first party reached Namaqualand. Ensign
Olof Bergh (who, incidentally, was a
Swede: the DEIC was full of mercenaries)
did not follow the old route which scram-
bled over Piekeniers Kloof and down the
Olifants River valley, but broke new
ground by travelling west of the mountains
through the Sandveld, stopping at the
famous Heerenlogement cave, and getting
as far north as the Groen River at Garies
(Mossop, l93l).
Three years later Van der Stel, the
Commander at the Cape. got permission to
lead an expedition to the Koperbergen, and
so began an expedition, unique of its kind
and in its time, which will never be
equalled again. There are numerous
descriptions of his party in various chroni-
cles, but I favour Waterhouse (1979), who
included in his book reproductions of each
take leave of us at the
Olifant's river.' There
were also 46 servants, a
number of slaves and
interpreters.
One cannof but
admire the man who
had the audacity to take
his carriage along - and
the ability to bring it
back again !
Eleven days out, near
Piketberg,'a rhinoceros
of unbelievable size
appeared which headed
straight for the middle
of our procession with
great fury and anger; he
ran along it to the rear
where the Hon.
Commander was with
his carriage, on whom
it bore down. The Hon.
Commander barely had
time to leave the car-
riage, but jumped down
from it all the same
with a blunderbuss in
his hand and aimed at
the beast which was
scarcely six yards from
,.i "., F-+-
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SA INAilSPORT . ()CMBER 2ll(lll
19
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'a
.t
\;JAEESFC r' 'r''
,1
., sPnriiGirox".
t..,.
.t -.t1t't t :
A :.'
Namaqualand
told them that the past rainy season was the
lirst 1o wct the area in fbr-rr years - this and
thc conrrnander's fbrtitude ntade the suc-
cess of the expedition possible.
On their way back to the Cape they
callecl at various places along the coast.
looking withor-rt sLlccess fbr a suitable har-
bour site. Thcy were troubled by sofi sand.
lack of water. lack of firewood and lack of
-srazin-q fbr the oxen. On 26 January 1686
Van der Stel led his cavalcade back into thc
Fort. with his carriage. and without the loss
of a sin-cle hr-rnran lif'e - which. if one leads
the accounts of other expeditions at that
time. was a considerable accorrplishnrent.
I want to mention another expedition,
which is nry favourite because of the sheer
nonchalance of the leader. Jacobus Coetse.
Jansz (the son ofJan). a -9razier. got restless
on his 'leenplaas' near Piketbelg. and went
nolth in 1760 to hunt clephant, leaving his
wife to mind the farm. He took no field
gLlns or suchlike with hinr. no soldiels, no
boat. no fellow colonists; only l2
Hottentots of the Gri-eriqua tribe who went
alon-l .just fbr the fun of it. They wandered
r-rp via Koekenaap throush NarraqLtaland
and into Narnibia. and when he crossed the
Oran-9e River rrear Goodhouse he just hap-
pened to be the tirst white man to do so. the
river having until then been the nortlrern
lirnit oi white exploration in the regionl
(Br-rrman, 1969: 1.1:l-1u18: Mossop. 1935)
. {t-r': ,
:,1
By 177 I there wele 20 white stock fhrm-
ers in Namaqualand. ancl that nurrber
steadily increased. The white tlekboers
from the sor-rth lived in pelf'ect halntony
with the black nornadic stock fhrrnels fl'ont
the north: their lif'estyles wcre afier all sim-
i lar.
Most settled in the Kantiesber'-9 or 'rrass
rtrountains' which wele lclatively cool in
sunlnrer. with perrnanent sprinr:s. In winter'
they rroved down into the coastal aleas ol-
the Sandvcld. The unfortunatc sntallpox
epidernics of l7l 3 and 175-5 had attacked
the tribes in the inteliol as well as the fblk
around Cape Town. and there was plenty ol'
roorl fbr everyone.
It took about six weeks to travel by
wzigon florn Cape Town to the Kanties-
ber-q. but this time could be considerably
leduced if part of the trip could be done by
sea. By 1 850 the farnrels had opened up a
L :*
SA TRANSPORT . ()CTOBER 2()OO
20
line of commnnication with the Cape. trav-
elling by ox wa_qon to connect with coast-
in-s ships which callecl at the Hondeklip
Bay anchoraee.
This 'transportation facility' ntade it f'ea-
sible to comnrence nrinin-q the copper ole
that had been lying unclisturbed fbr ntot'e
tharr a century and a half because ol the dif--
ficulty of getting the ploduct to the ntarket.
Thc first shipment was I I tons of copper
ore. carlicd to Hondeklip Bay cln wasons
and loaded into the good ship 'Bosphorus'
on 3l Au-sust 1852.
Thus the provision of trarrsportation
nrade it possible fbl the region to enter the
world of major nrining developntents. lalge
laboLrl furces. and of tradin-g and expolting
to outside nlarkets.
Namriqualand will never be the samc
again. . .
! Ne.i-t ttrottllt; Tlrc coltlter ritler.s
THE STORY OF TRANSPORT IN NAMA(IUALAND
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
BecxrR, Prrrn, 1985. The pathfinders: a saga ol exploration in Southern Alrica. England:
PenguinA/iking.
Bunmnn, Jose. 1969. Who really discovered South Africa? Cape Town: Struik.
Mossop, E E (ed). 1931. Journals 0t the expeditions ol the Honourable Ensign 0lol Gerg
(1682 & 1683) and lsaq Schrijver (1689). Cape Town: Van Riebeeck Society, 1.12.
Mossop, E E (ed.). 1935.The journals ol Hendrik Jaclb Wikar (1799), and of Jacobus Coetse,
Janz (1760) and Willem van Reenen (1791). Cape Town: Van Riebeeck Society, 1.15.
Wnrxrn, Enrc A. 1928. A history ol South Alrica. London: Longman Green.
WnrrRnousr, GrLsrnr. 1979. Simon van der Stel's journey to Namaqualand in 1685. Cape
Town: Howard Timmins.
:_{"
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I\
NAMAOUALAI'|D TRANSP0RT HIST0RY
PART 2
Road transport between 1850 and
1876: the Gopper riders
I n 1850 Messrs Alexander and Peacock
I had a trading store at Alexander Bay.
IMr Grace had one at Hondeklip Bay.
and that was it. Springbokfontein consisted
of one mud hut and a few reed shelters,
while Port Nolloth had only two or three
inhabitants. (Smalber ger, 7 0-7 9)
In 1850 copper mining started, with the
first export of ore shipped from Hondeklip
Bay in 1852. By 1854 annual copper
exports exceeded the 1000-ton mark; by
1856 2000 tons, and by 1860 copper (all
from Namaqualand) had become the Cape
Colony's second most important export.
(Cornelissen; Smalberger, 65-69; Steen-
kamp, 42)
The mines were mainly around
Springbok, and later Okiep and Concordia.
The product was shipped to Britain for
treatment, and the major export anchorage
was Hondeklip Bay. The 'copper riders'
carried it overland 125 km from the mining
area to the port.
Initially these copper riders were the
local farmers, of various ethnic groups, and
they used their trek wagons and trek oxen
for this purpose. It was a great opportunity
to get some cash money, but trek wagons
were really rather light for the job, and
many who set out with 1400 kg of bagged
ore arrived with only 900 kg of freight.
(Dickason, 35-36) They were paid per bag
delivered so there was no pecuniary advan-
tage to losing some of the load.
This copper riding was a hard and rugged
exercise. An ox wagon would take six days
from Okiep to Hondeklip Bay and four
days on the return journey, while a mule
wagon would take eight days for the round
trip.
The rain, what there is of it, falls mainly
in winter and grass follows on but withers
and dies in the summer heat. Water along
the riding routes is scarce and brack. So cli-
matic conditions dictated that there was
only a short riding season, outside which
there was no way for the miners to get their
product to the port. (Hall, 16-14)
When the Cape Copper Mining
Company started operations, cattle were
plentiful in the district, and some farmers
neglected their farms to take up copper rid-
ing. In time, however, the copper riders
came to include in their ranks many who
were dedicated freight riders, and copper
riding was no longer purely a part-time
occupation for farmers.
With this increase in activity, the copper
riders' stock was eating all the agricultural
produce of the region, plus large amounts
of additional supplies imported from
Malmesbury, plus large quantities of grass
$IAHAM R0SS was lhe residenl engineer 0n the Cape Provincial Roads unit which construcled the
litsl bitumen surlaces tutal toad in Namaqualand, belween okiep and Nababeep, in 1949 and 1950.
He has returned to Namaqualand many times since lhen. ln 1996 he published privately
Nanaqualand: a transport related chronology and Nanaqualand: an annotated bibliography, and in
1998, at the age 0l 74, he linilised his PhD (Transport Studies) disseilation The interactive role
trcnspott and the economy ol Nanaqualand at the University ol Stellenbosch. He is curuenlly work-
ing on resealch into and documentation ol the history ol mounlain passes, roads and tlanspoil in the
Cape Colony and lhe Cape Ptovince, ol which inlerim, limited, editions appeared in 1998 and 1999.
Today a national monumenl, this road, built between 1867 and 1871, was known as the Messelpad (masons'road) because ol its dry-stone letaining walls.
$ nilsPoRT . ltwEilmvoEcEfltEn 2rxt0
29
I'|AMAOUAIAI|D TRAIISP0RT HIST0RY
tti:jq,ie..i* 'q ment to wheeled traffic
i until hard roads could
be provided. This
sandy strip varies from
25 to 40 km in width
along the whole coast-
line. Water is very
scarce indeed, and fod-
der for draught animals
ly here than on the Sandveld, as would be
expected, and some places in the
Kamiesberg can receive more than 400 mm
in a year.
East of the Hardeveld is an area of sandy
plains refereed to as Voor-Boesmanland or
Little Bushmanland. In the north, along the
Orange River, a more hilly area has mineral
deposits which are being worked, but in the
main it is sheep-farming country.
The copper riders faced two main obsta-
cles. One was the soft sand adjacent to the
coast, which was sheer hell for them with
their loaded wagons. To build a hard road
for the fifty kilometres from the foot of the
Hondeklip Bay mountains would have been
a monstrous task at that time, and all who
investigated the problem agreed that the
best solution was to build a tramway or
railway, at least over the portions where the
sand was softest. Unfortunately for the cop-
per riders, no one ever got around to doing
anything about this, although the govern-
ment did pass Act 15 0f 1865 authorising
the Cape Copper Mining Company to con-
struct such a railroad - an example of com-
mittees talking about what they should be
doing.
The second major obstacle was the west-
ern escarpment of the Hardeveld. For a dis-
tance of about thirty kilometres the copper
'road' scrambled over precipitous brows
and mountain ridges, with little or no con-
structed formation. Because the high wag-
ons could not angle up a mountainside (to
reduce the gradient) without toppling over,
they had perforce to travel at right angles to
the contours, which meant that they had to
go over the tops of the ranges. Small won-
der that when the possibility of improving
this portion of the route was investigated
the engineer, Richard Thomas Hall,
'formed a decided opinion that nothing can
be done to put it into such repair as would
lead to any practical result to the company I
then turned my attention to see what facili-
ties might be found for making a new road
through the mountains'.
Hall had been appointed by the copper
company to report on the roads and system
of transport from the mines to the coast. I
was lucky enough to get hold of a copy of
his 33-page report, which not only makes
good reading but also compels one's
respect for his ability as an engineer. He
came out from England in June 1865, and
teamed up with Patrick Fletcher, the gov-
ernment surveyor for the district, who had
been one of the many whose voices had
been raised in attempts to get the govern-
ment to do something about the copper
road.
We shall meet Hall again in the article on
the mine railway: at present we are interest-
=/\
llamaqualand
imported from Bushmanland. (C o rne lis sen,
39)
Then came drought years, and this set-
back was compounded by lung sickness,
tiom which hundreds of draught oxen died.
There was a serious suggestion in 1857
from government geologist Andrew Wyley
that camels should be used. as 'three
camels would cany a ton weight from the
mines to Hondeklip Bay or Robbe Bay
(Port Nolloth) in three days - a task now
requiring ten mules'.
Although proven by use in other places,
this suggestion does not appear to have
been followed up in Namaqualand. In time
mules proved more suitable than oxen, par-
ticularly over the mountain sections, and
mules began to replace oxen in the 1860s,
and by 187 I most of the draught animals
were mules. (Burman, 230)
But unsuitable vehicles, lack of forage
and water, lung sickness, drought and the
restrictions of the short riding season were
not the sum of the adversities with which
the copper riders had to cope. There was
also the lack of a constructed and main-
tained road between the mines and the port.
The geology and topography of
Namaqualand is simple, and falls naturally
into three groups.
The most challenging in early transport
history was the Sandveld, that 'beach' of
soft sand. white at the coast but getting red-
der further inland, which proved an impedi-
a
almost non-existent.
Rainfall is very low,
although because of the
cold northward flowing
Benguela cuffent dense
mists occur along the
strip immediately adja-
cent to the sea. Gravel
suitable for road-mak-
ing is in short supply.
Inland of the Sand-
veld is the Hardeveld,
again a north-south
strip, about 50 to 60 km
wide. It is an area of
vast granite domes and
rocky mountains,
rugged but beautiful,
interspersed with the
occasional sandy plain.
' At many places in this
mountainous region, copper and other min-
erals have been found and worked. For
much of its length, the western edge of the
Hardeveld forms an escarpment which was
a daunting barrier to the early travellers.
Topography and exposed rock surfaces are
the main obstacles to providing transport in
this region. Rain falls much more frequent-
0kiep Gopper smelter smokestack.
: -r.- t .
^r,,rttr"Ptr rtagABti u.f '-''
SPPTIJGBOx
(
\
ST IilNPIIIT . IOYEIUODECEIIER 2qN
30
F
F
}IAMAOUATAI{D TRAIISPORT H IST(IRY
ed in the fact that. after six months' con-
centrated work, covering more than 2000
km of country and levelling and measuring
120 km of routes, he confirmed Fletcher's
estimates of construction costs on the
Hardeveld section of the Hondeklip Bay
road, and agreed his choice of a route to be
constructed. (Hall, 1866)
By this time, the inhabitants of
Namaqualand must have been feeling as
frustrated at their lack of success in getting
the road authority to approve funds for the
copper road construction as we are today at
our lack of success in getting the people
who hold the purse strings to approve ade-
quate funds for the maintenance and essen-
tial expansion of the country's roads.
Finally, in January 1867, the government
took some action, but only after the promise
of local assistance. (Cornelissen, 40-45:
Kotzd) The Cape Copper Company under-
took to provide transport and accommoda-
tion for the convicts to be employed on the
proposed road construction and to pay two
annual instalments of 800 pounds each to
cover additional establishment costs.
Fletcher, a qualified civil engineer, geol-
ogist and surveyor, was transferred from
his post as government surveyor for the
district to that of road inspector, falling
under the chief inspector of roads for the
Cape Colony, M R Robinson. He was
placed in charge of the construction of the
deviation of the Hondeklip Bay road,
which is today a national monument and
known as the Messelpad because of the
dramatic dry-stone retaining walls through
Tiger Kloof. I am fortunate in having
obtained a copy of Fletcher's survey plan,
covering the entire route from Springbok to
Hondeklip Bay.
Fletcher started on the project in January
1867, and worked there until March 1871.
The terrain through which he had to drive
his road to avoid the existing steep and haz-
REFERENCE AND FURTHER READING
Bununru, Jose. 1969, Who really discovered
South Africa? Cape Town. Struik.
CoRruelrssen, fuwvr'r. 1965. Namaqualand cop-
per history. Nababeep: The Author.
Drcrnsor,r, GnnHnv Bnrnru. 1978. Cornish immi-
grants to South Africa. Cape Town: A A
Balkema.
Hnt, RrcraRo Tnouns. 1866. Report on the
roads and system of transpoft from the Cape
Copper Company's mines to the coast of
Nanaqualand. Truro, Cornwall.
Korze, Dn Genr J. 1 996. Die bou van die
Messelpadpas: 6 Februarie 1 867-31 Maart
78l1. Springbok: Namakwaland
Streeksdiensteraad.
SMnrseRcen, JoHru M. 1975. A history of cop-
per mining in Namaqualand: 1 846-1931 .
Cape Town: Struik.
Srerruxnup, Wrt-rru. 1975. Land of the Thirst
King. Cape Town: Timmins.
ardous route across the mountain tops was
hard and unfriendly, necessitating much
blasting and manhandling of rock, but soon
after starting construction he managed to
open a track through the pass and the first
cart was able to go over the route on 28
October 1867. which in my opinion was
pretty good going.
In the meantime, however, the position
of transport by ox wagon had steadily dete-
riorated, and it had become apparent that
this mode was unable to keep up with the
increasing mining production. Towards the
end of 1868 the Cape Copper Company
decided that the situation was becoming
critical. and it called Hall back to
Namaqualand to construct the Port Nolloth
to Okiep railroad.
This decision of the copper mines naru-
rally reduced the pressure to complete the
Messelpad deviation, let alone to allocate
finance to construct the remainder of the
Hondeklip Bay road. From then on Fletcher
battled against a shortage of funds, but by
March l87l he succeeded in constructing a
usable road through the worst topography
along the route, when his unit was disband-
ed.
Fletcher had constructed l4 km of 5.5-m-
wide road involving very heavy work
through Tiger Kloof, besides improving a
considerable length of approach roads,
Flelcher's plan ol the Messelpad.
$l nilsP0Rr . ltoYEttER/ltEGil8En ano
31
through some of the toughest country in the
region. His total direct cost was 4025
pounds, but this did not make any
allowance for the average of 150 convicts
engaged on the work. It has been suggested
that these might be costed at two shillings
and six pence per day - which considerably
increased the cost of the road.
The worst mountain section of the
Hondeklip Bay road had finally been
improved. Unfortunately it was a little late
to save the route as a copper riding facility,
but the construction of the Messelpad has
been greatly to the advantage of the local
community and of those who visit the area
in caravans, even to this day.
After June 1870, when Hall had brought
his tramway from Port Nolloth across the
heavy sand to Abbevlaack, the emphasis
tumed from riding copper ore to Hondeklip
Bay to riding it to the railhead. This switch
increased as the railhead advanced further
and further towards Okiep, and when the
steel reached the mines in January 1876 the
era of the copper riders was effectively
over. I
Next month's article in this five-part series
has the title 'The railway interlude: 1869 to
1941'.
CA}E Cf,PPEB ]UINIIi6 COYP,!]IY
li ', l'o li 1'
t \li , '1
Hall's 1866 report.
!
I
South African
TRANSPORT
NannaqualanC's
ra way interl ude
Th" advent of the tramway or railway in
I the nineteenth cenlury was another
I great step forward. The rails enabled
vehicles to travel (comparatively) smoothly,
and they provided a lirm riding surface so that
the vehicles did not sink in when the ground
surface was soft. Also, draught animals
pulling wagons on rails could manage four
times the load that was possible on the roads
of that time. Initially when animal traction
was used these railroads were termed
"tramways", but with the advent of steam
traction they became known as "railways".
The main benefit which accrued to a
region such as Namaqualand where distances
were great and transportation difficult was
the improved ability to move heavy loads over
unfriendly terrain.
In Namaqualand, as elsewhere where rail-
\ /ays were introduced, the popularity of this
new-fangled means of transport resulted in
roads deteriorating as a result of neglect. This
was however, only an interlude in the reliance
on road transportation: roads have now once
again become the dominant transportation
mode.
Thomas Hall, who in 1866 reported to the
Cape Copper Mining Company on the system
of transport between their mines and the
coast, preferred Port Nolloth to Hondehlip Bay
as a loading port, and also the road to the Port
to that to the Bay. He suggested the construc-
tion of a tramway over the wide soft sand strip
inland of the Port. to facilitate movement
here. Unfortunately, he had been briefed too
late for his report to prevent the company
from becoming committed to working with
the Government on the construction of the
Messelpad, so his fine engineering report was
shelved for the time being.
However, the ore transportation situation
went from bad to worse, and finally in the lat-
ter part of 1868 the copper company called
him back to South Africa to carry out the sur-
vey and design for a railroad across the sand
belt. (Moffatt, \972)
Hall commenced construction on 4
September 1869 (Burman, 1984:42-44;
Hall, 1871). He built a tramway with a gauge
of two feet six inches (0,76 metre), with light
18 pounds per yard (9 kilograms per metre)
rails. So rapid was the construction that the
first thirty five kilometres over the really soft
sand to Abbevlaack was brought into opera-
tion on 30 June 1870. the rails reached the
edge of the sandy section at the foot of the
escarpment towards the end of the same year.
This 75 kmO section across the sand, the
really critical part of the new copper riding
route, could be divided into two portions with
differing charact.eristics. Over the first por-
tion, because of Hall's understandable desire
to avoid starting sand drift by making deep
cuttings through the soft sandhills, the line
had a curving and undulating character. In
the second section the line was out of the
coastal sandhills, running along a wide sandy
valley, so that quite long straights were possi-
ble. The maximum grade in the sandhill
section was 1 in 50 and in the valley section 1
in 170.
Hall took a realistic view of drainage struc-
tures. He had to cross the one hundred metre
wide dry bed of the Kama river and decided to
do this at grade, resoning that it would be
cheaper to replace a length of the track were
it washed away than to build a long bridge.
AIso, undoubtedly, the fact that construction
of eagerly awaited rail facility would not be
delayed by building this bridge had an influ-
ence on his decision. At three other rivers he
was able to find crossing points were the
banks were higher and the stream beds nar-
rower: here he built timber girder bridges on
stone piers. As regards culverts, he adopted
the repair-if-washed-away principle, and built
only six in the whole 75 kilometre length.
(Hall was of course faced with the perpetual
design engineer's quandry: does the client
appreciate the possibility of, and will he be
prepared to accept without recrimination and
condemnations, any additional repair costs
which may possibly arise in the future, as a
contra to the assured benefits which he will
initially receive by way of reduced construc-
tion timne and costs?)
The narrow gauge project across the sand
was a great success, and was worked from
AFRICAN
TRANSPORT
HISTORY
tl
i'ill.'i' Uliil l.1l I i
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;l| Il(l( )gr-l
Richard Thomas Hall later
surveyed the diamond
fields for the Cape
Railways and the Pretoria
to Lourenqo Marques
route for President
Burgers, At the time of his
death he had accepted
an appointment as
general manager of the
Free State railways, He
was a great engineer
whose achievements
merit more appreciation
than they have received in
the professional annals of
our country,
.ri
} -,i
Transport World Africa MAFCH zoor 3 33
REFERENCES AND
FURTHER READING
Burman, Jose. 1984 Early
railways at the Cap. Cape
Town: Human & Rousseau.
"H H" 1875. The Cape revisit-
ed: Namaqualand, and: the
railway from Port Nolloth to
0'okiep. Cape Monthly
Magazine. X1 ; August:120-
127 ; and September:1 92.
Hall, Richard Thomas. 1871.
The little railway in
Namaqualand . Cape Monthly
Magazine. New Series, V11;
April:250-256.
Moffatl, Henry Robert. 1972.
The railways and transport in
early Namaqualand.
Monographs, south African
Library reference MSB 356.
Part published in "SASSAR";
August, September and
0ctober, 1974.
0'okiep Gopper Gompany
("OCC"). 1952. Namaqualand
copper: 1 852-1 952. Cape
Town: R.Beerman
Robertson,DGl9TS.Ife
Namaqualand Railways Li ne.
The Civil Engineer in South
Af ri ca. Dece m ber :327 -329.
Simon, Jean Marie. 1959.
Bishop for the Hottentot:
African memories: 1 882-1 909.
New York: Benziger Broithers
lnc.
Smalberger, John M. 1975. 4
history of copper mining in
Namaqualand. 1 846-1 931 .
Cape Town: C.Struik (Pty) Ltd.
ltj7O to 1942, a period of more than seventy
years (Mol'latt, 1 c) 7 2).
ln 1tJ70 12 000 tons of high grade ore
were extracted at the mines but only 7 300
tons of this had reached the export harbours.
With the tramway in operation over the
Sandveld the export figure climbed to 13 24O
tons in 1872 (Smalberger, 7975:127). It is
thus small wonder that the Cape Copper
Mining Company was most appreciative of
the immediate and lasting solution which the
tramway offered to the transportation prob-
lems which had at one time looked like
threatening to force the closure of the mines,
and decided to extend the line further.
The next 20 kilomctre section includes the
Anenous Pass, where the line climbs 405
metre up the escarpment in only 12 kilome-
tres, at an average gradient of 1 in 29.8 and a
maximum grade of 1 in 19. This was a design
and construction feat of some considerable
magnitude as anyone who has studied the
topography will appreciate. ("H.H.", 1875)
fean Marie Simon, later Bishop to the
Hottentots, Ie[t us a record of his impressions
whe n he travelled up the pass in 1882:
"The construction of the railroad on this
mountainside is a masterpiece of engineer-
ing. The grade was calculated with a view to
the locomotive that would some day replace
the mules. The engineer who solved the prob-
lem certainly gave proof of his immense
knowledge. The ascent lasted about two
hours, and at two points bridges had been
thrown over ravines. These bridges were
about sixty five feet high.
'As we approached the summit of the
mountains we were rerninded of the gorges of
Switzerland or the Tyrol. There were drops
over 2 0(X) feet. The road had been hewed out
of the rock, and there was just room enough
for one man between the "Special" and rocks.
When we loolpd over the precipoces we felt
dizzy.The view was grand, but it was hard to
enjoy it because we were terrified when we
looked into the abyss beneath our feet. We
were afrtrid in spite of ourselves. What if the
rotrd should cave in! What if the 'Special'
should be derailed! What ifthe mules should
loose their footing!" (Simon, 19 59)
You will undoubtedly be relieved to hear
that the good Bishop's fears proved foundless,
and that he reached his destination safely!
the line was then extended the further 55
km to the mines at Okiep, 930 metres above
sea level. The formal opening took place,
undoubtedly with an appropriate display of
bunting and encouraging noises from the
local drum and fife band, on New Year's Day,
1876 (Burman, 1984:45,46). This must have
been a great day for all concerned.
The total cost of constructing the 150 kilo-
metres of railway was 1 64 219 pounds (smal-
berger, 1975:1(X)). To put this cost into
perspective, at the time that approval was
given to start construction, a pile of ore to the
value of f,150 000 had accumulated at Okiep
alone because there was not enough transport
to move it to the coast, and the total value of
ore awaiting transportation at all the
Namaqualernd mines was estimated at
f 500 000 (Hall, 1871), The railway made it
possible not only to eliminate this backlog, but
also to cope with increased mining production
(occ, 19s2).
Mules were initially used to pull the rail
wagons, but a number of attempts were made
to introduce steam traction. the first light
steam locomotive started work on 1 February
1871. From the photographs it was an
unusual looking train engine, but it apparent-
ly performed well, according to Hall (1871)
doing daily the work of 500 mules. The great
drawback was that it used a lot of water, and
water being very limited it was necessary to
draw a tender with water sufficient for a 50
kilometre run, a dead weight of three tons.
This consumption of water was in fact such a
problem that when, later, the whole line was
worhed by steam traction, the mines die not
immediately do away with their mule teams,
but kept them for use in severe droughts, as
the mules used less water than the locomo-
tives!
Unfortunately these first little engines
proved prone to expensive mechanical break-
downs and in 1876, at the same time as the
line reached Okiep, they were taken off main
Iine work and mules were used over the whole
length of the track - with the exception of the
down run from Klipontein. The custom there
was to couple the trucks together at
Klipfontein, at the top of Anenous Pass, and
allow them to run down by gravity with
brakemen on each truck checking the speed
on the steeper sections.
In 1886 steam traction was tried again.
These second generation engines were special
condensing type to combat the shortage of
water. Unfortunately, because of the usually
high ambient tcmperatures in Namaqualand
the condensing coils (which relied on atmcls-
pheric cooling) did not work too well!
These engines in turn were replaced by spe-
cial powerful Kitson "mountain" type
Iocomotive which finally provided successful
steam service right through to Okiep from l5
March 1893 (Robertson, 1978). On the steep
section up Anenous Pass adhesion to the rails
was critical. I am told that it was the custom
for a man to sit between the buffers at the
front of the locomotive. armed with a short
handled dish-like scoop. With this he scraped
up sand from the track, which he then drib-
34 e Transport World Africa MARCH 2001
bled onto the rails in front of the driving
wheels to lessen the possibility of wheel spin,
and this apparently worked very well indeed.
The ore (and other goods) wagons were
small, four wheeled trucks, with low centres
gravity, each capable of carrying two and a
half to three tons. The passenger wagons were
hnown as "specials" they had to be specially
requested if one wished to travel as a passen-
ger. Initially they were also four wheeled
boxes, with a canopy and side curtains. In
19O9 a proper three compartment passenger
coach, with a real toilet, was introduced.
Travel in the passenger "specials" has been
described by various people, some sarcastical-
ly. some amusingly, and some with glowing
praise.
The Frenchman Jean Marie Simon (1959)
arrived in Port Nolloth on a cold, foggy day. He
says:
"We were hoping to... jump into a compart-
ment and at least have some shelter. But
nothinh came in sight except some mules with
harnesses on their backs. We wondered what
these beasts were doing in the African sand.
"I cannot describe our amazement when
we saw that the mules were lirmly harnessed
to a few little carriages. Yes, this was the trainl
These rolling boxes were our dining and sleep-
ing cars, these mules were our engines. Each
passenger carriage had three mules, and the
freight cars, which were coupled in groups of
three, were pulled by six mules harnessed in
single file and trotting between the rails. The
whole train consisted of about sixty mules and
thirty cars...
"H.H" ( 1 8 75) was much more appreciative.
He says: "... seated in a most comfortable pas-
senger truck, with every necessity or even
Iuxury of life packed in it for use, we got salong
in a most jolly manner..."
He had not, like His Eminence, come
straight from Paris, but had previously been
travelling in the eastern areas of Colony, and
was comparing this manner of rail travel with
the only alternative available locally at that
time - a horse, a Cape cart or a wagon!
The narrow gauge railway from port
Nolloth to Okiep was a fantastic civil engineer-
ing achievement, for its time, or indeed for any
time. You willl probably only fully appreciate it
once you have seen the old embankments,
cuttings and structures on the ground.
Remember, please, that in 1876, when the
150 kilometres of rail was opened through to
Okiep, the main railway line from Cape Town
was only 72 kilometres long, stretching as far
as Wellington. Small wonder that the Cape
Chamber of Commerce called Hall in when
they wanted someone to find a route along
which the rail could be extended from
Wellington to Worcester!
Moffatt's plan of narrow gauge railway.
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Mules pulling rail wagons
Transport World Africa MARCH 2001 e 35
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.