From: John(e)
Sent: 31 March 2009
To: Neil F
Subject: Keerom recce
 
Dear Kneel and Miz Ellie,
 
Started writing this letter to you, but soon realised that, for peace’s sake, I had 
to broaden its scope, to include other members of the family who made various 
threats and passed snide remarks about the all-male composition of the Recce. 
Therefore there is a lot of background int. that you already know, or personally 
generated.  I have a collection of some300 photos, taken by Keith, Garrick and 
Adam, which I am busy culling through and, when finished, will scan a few on
to you. Any questions of requests you might have, just fire away.
 
KEEROM TRIP
 
Following in the steps of Hugh & Annette some 18 years ago, and then you, 
Elwyn and Clara in 2002, who were unfortunately unable to travel the last 
seven and a half kms to Keerom homestead, the intrepid Fletcher Male Family 
Recce left for Keerom, to seek out our ancestral spooks. If I may remark myself, 
it was a fine-looking body of men left Cape Town and headed up the West 
Coast towards Springbok at 6.30am on Wednesday morning, 4th March, 2009!
 
Keith Garrick, Adam and I comfortably reclined in Keith’s Audi, with air con,
turbo-charger and all-surround sound, plus some other features, which, I am 
sure, Keith the engineer did not fully understand himself; however,  I agreed 
with Keith that the turbo-boosted power was very useful for getting out of tight 
spots.  We both also agreed that these occur more frequently these days, 
with the steady deterioration in the standard of other people’s driving.  It was 
significant that the same 550 km journey, about 150 years ago, in an 
ox-wagon, would have taken Great-Grandfather Patrick aka Peter, a month 
at best, however we were still faced with 6 tough air-conditioned hours.
 
We turned off the national road at Kamieskroon and headed west 22 km into
the granite kopjes to Skilpad, where the HQ for the Namaqualand National Park 
is situated.  On the way we drove up behind a donkey-cart, carrying 2 wizened 
Nama fence-builders, who were very happy to be photographed by Adam and 
Garrick.  Garrick then felt embarrassed by the comparison in our respective 
modes of transport, and so shared his breakfast sarmies with them and added 
a really nice one of mine, which I thought was a little over-the-top.  We arrived 
at Skilpad, where we were expected by Bernard van Lente and his wife Elanza. 
As you know, I had  previously corresponded with them, when we learned that 
Keerom Farm had been incorporated into the Nam. Nat. Park, which is only 
12.5 years old and growing rapidly.  They were particularly helpful and very 
grateful for the copies of photographs of GG Patrick and Jean’s historic photo 
of Keerom homestead in the mid-1860s that she sent out to you. They are 
busily collecting as much cultural history as they can of the old properties that 
the Park now encompasses. Bernard is a qualified marine biologist and keen 
fisherman, but prefers the sea of the east coast. 
 
[Skilpad. Afrikaans = tortoiseTortoise in road near etc
 
By pleasant coincidence, Keerom has been chosen as one of the properties
where the present old stone house is being refurbished for rustic sell-catering 
accommodation for the wild life, birding and botanical enthusiasts.  I have 
promised to let them have further bits and pieces of Keerom history as it 
becomes available. They do not disturb a single stone on any building or ruin 
of a building deemed to be more than 60 years old, so the remaining few walls 
and foundation of GG Patrick’s original house will remain intact.  An interesting
feature at Skilpad HQ was approximately 10 Anatolian Mountain Dogs, which 
resemble very large rangy cream-coloured Labradors.  They are an interesting 
breed, originating in the mountains of Turkey, where they live out permanently 
with the flocks of sheep and goats and protect them from predators.  They are 
fed about twice a week and otherwise left completely alone with their flocks. 
National Parks are placing them locally, accompanied by the requisite training 
programme. So far it is producing very successful results. The old completely 
unselective methods of trapping, which take a heavy toll of many harmless 
species, has ceased where the dogs are located. They are not slim coursing 
dogs, so are physically unsuited to hunt themselves, all they do is herd their 
charges closely together and drive them away from danger. They will attack 
any predator that comes in range. The dogs at Skilpad were all about 9 
months  old and there is a no-contact, no-feeding rule, but they were 
outwardly very friendly and crowded against the wire to greet us. They 
apparently make incredible companions for children, but severely restrict 
access to them! Modern career Moms could probably lose touch with their 
kids.
 
The Van Lentes gave us directions and permission to visit Keerom and so 
we travelled back to Kamieskroon and proceeded north to Springbok.  We 
located Oom Jopie Kotze (pronounced Joopie) and his Springbok Lodge, 
which covers a couple of blocks in the centre of Springbok.  Every time a 
downtown house comes up for sale, he buys it, and paints it yellow and 
white and converts it into one more annexe. I think he has a connection in 
the Roads Department as that yellow paint is very high quality and lasts 
for years in all weathers; very cheery. He remembers Hugh and Annette’s
visit. Oom Jopie is difficult to completely summarize, as something new 
bobs up every 3 minutes.  Here goes……..
    
He is the original town, district, area heavy. He holds or has held every 
position, chaired every committee, sat on every board in Namaqualand.  
He is inn-keeper, local historian, ex-farmer, miner, recognized mineralogical 
authority and noted collector and trader of mineral specimens. He is the 
keeper of the keys of the original Jewish synagogue in Springbok, so his roots
and the history of those of his faith, who helped colonise the region, are 
preserved by this large, bluff old man.
 
Walking into the reception area of the Springbok Hotel, is a little bewildering, 
as it combines a packed souvenir shop, alongside beautiful mineralogical 
displays and tubs of thousands of brightly-tumbled stones, which sell by the 
kg. This swings around onto packed bookshelves of every map, brochure 
and book covering Namaqualand, its people and especially the famous 
Spring flowers. This large room is split by a partition with tables and slip-in 
benches for meals, etc.  Every single foot of wall space in the entire room is 
covered from floor to ceiling by historic photographs of early Springbok and
Namaqualand history. It would take a whole day to fully examine Oom Jopie’s 
reception domain! 
 
Commanding this area, along one end wall, is his reception counter behind 
which he sits, like a captain on the bridge of a battleship, complete with a 
microphone in his hand.  Below the counter level is a bank of CCTV screens 
which beam back every nook and cranny of the area, plus the whole of the
kitchen, there is no hiding place from Oom Jop, “Hoor my, hoor my, Sannie!  
Bring meer koffie taffel nommer drie, gou, gou, asseblief! ............"
When I checked in with the rest of the team, he slid the guest register over
to me, which normally takes 5 minutes to fill, as one has to search for passport
and ID numbers, etc. He was very relaxed. “Ag just fill in one name for everyone
and don’t worry about that other rubbish.”  Oom Jop steadily grew on us.  I had
previously emailed his daughter Annelise Erasmus, so they were expecting us
(Kneel has corresponded with her over GG Patrick’s history). I also gave
Oom Jop photos of GG Patrick plus the 1860 photo of Keerom homestead.
He was delighted as he said the burghers had never had a picture of the
Engelsman who originally surveyed the town of Springbok, and as far as he
knew, no photo of the original Keerom homestead had existed and no man
living had seen it!  He was a fund of information about Namaqualand and its history.
 
Garrick and Adam located a subterranean night spot/restaurant, where we 
had a pleasant supper, apart from a small wait of 1½ hours, while it was 
cooked. Maybe the builders went underground like Namaqua lizards to 
escape the summer heat; I can think of no other cogent reason to go 
underground in Springbok.  Garrick defended their choice of venue by 
saying the other place they recce’d had the feel that the next Hottentot Baster
rebellion could break out there after 10 pm, which I thought ironic as Garrick 
jolls every day with the Joburg jetsam.
 
We left early on Thursday morning in our hired 4 x 4.  Adam had assumed 
the task of driver shortly after we left Cape Town the day before, which 
comforted me as I had taught him to drive and we have already discussed 
Keith’s need for sudden power earlier. Fourteen kms south of Springbok, 
we turned off SSW onto the start of the Messelpad, Keerom and eventually 
Honderklipbaai.
 
As you know, the whole area is very rough and rolling with massive granite 
outcrops and boulder-strewn kopjes. Some of the vistas are very similar to 
the Matopos, but with less trees.  However, the region is covered with a large 
variety of unusual succulents, which can vary from slope to slope. It definitely
has its own strange beauty, that turns into a rolling sea of colour in the Spring. 
We descended down long winding roads, to the bed of the Buffels River,
which the road parallels for a few kms, where we found the first dry stone 
walling, which GG engineered and had built with convict labour. The road then 
crosses the river onto the south bank and gradually winds up kms of the steep 
hillside. This is where major dry stone walling occurs. It is quite unbelievable 
that thousands of ox wagons made their way loaded with copper ore up those 
gradients, which were built entirely by hand and animal draught power, plus 
the help of some explosive.  On the down slope edge of the wall, huge boulders 
weighing a tonne or more were placed at regular intervals to keep the wagons 
back from the edge.  Today’s replacement would be a small white concrete 
pillar, with a reflective square on it!  We all stood there and marvelled at how 
many hands and crowbars it took to emplace just one stone.  We eventually 
swung up out of the river gorge, past the ruins of the old stone jail below, 
which used to house the prison labour, who built the road. Approximately 6 
kms beyond this a road forked off to the left of the Messelpad, with a battered 
sign saying “Kanariesfontein”.
 
We travelled 2½ kms along the Kanariesfontein Road and then another left 
fork, which took us the last 4½ kms down to Keerom in the hollow. As we 
crested the last hill and looked down to the SE on Keerom, backed by large 
granite dwalas, it was all so familiar because of Hugh’s and Jean’s 
photographs.  We found the stone-walled ruins of GG’s old house, with the 
old ox-wagon parked under the shade of the pepper-trees on what was the 
front verandah.  You can clearly make out the extent of the SE foundations
and the original walls still exist on the western end.  We were greeted by a 
large troop of rowdy baboons on the surrounding dwalas.  There is a 
coloured building crew working on the main house renovations, but they 
were not present the day we spent there.  Adam and Garrickwalked up the 
big dwalas behind the house and Adam decided not to go down into the
bush ravine between them, as Karl Van Lente said a female leopard and 
two cubs had taken up residence locally!
 
Keith and I located the old threshing floor in front of the house and Keith acted 
out the part of the 1860 photographer and endeavoured to place himself and 
me in exactly the same spot as the photographer and GG all those years ago! 
You can see the result in the accompanying photo.
 
We located the “put” or well, where GG obtained his water. There were about 
200 bright green beautiful frogs living in it, but I moved them aside and tasted 
a handful of water.  It was very clear, cool and sweet.  We all sat down in the 
shade for lunch and mused about our GG.  This country, 150 years later, is still 
a very isolated, harsh, rugged semi-desert.  When he settled down in those 
far-off days, it was even more remote and time was governed by the pace of the 
ox. He then brought [*] out his diminutive wife Agnes from Paisley in Scotland, 
and by all accounts she got on happily with her life and produced our 
grandfathers, RA and Pater, among those granite walls.  There is a good case
to be made for Keith and Garrick’s grandfather Tom to have been born at 
Keerom also.  Lionel says Tom’s birth was registered at Port Nolloth, north of 
Springbok.  That could have been purely administrative, as RA and Pater’s 
births were registered in Springbok Town. Yes, our forebears were very 
strong, determined people and Namaqualand was as tough as it could get.
 
Stock farming in that whole area is now hardly commercially viable, thus 
government is becoming the land purchaser of last resort. Fortunately they 
are converting the area into a huge National Park, which is wonderful, as it is
a botanical treasure trove. It has grown from 5000 hectares to 350,000 
hectares in just 10 years and they cannot move the game fences fast enough.
 
At midday we decided to continue on to Honderklipbaai to see where the copper 
was finally loaded onto the sailing ships.We had heard at Skilpad that it had very 
few attractions, but that an artist lived there, who sometimes hung pictures 
of naked women on his fence.  Adam and Garrick immediately red-flagged 
Honderklipbaai as a must-see on our tour.
 
We rejoined the Messelpad and travelled SW over some more extensive sections 
of stone-walled road until at last we crested an escarpment and looked down over 
a vast expanse of flat sand veld that stretched away to the coast.  We drove down 
into a curtain of totally unseasonal rain which left pools on the road and provoked 
an invasion of tortoises from the low scrub either side of it.  We passed 14 of them 
on the way to the coast, plus some gemsbok.  We arrived in Honderklipbaai where 
all roads led to the harbour, such as it was.  There is one small café, which had no 
electricity, but the young proprietor got the primus going.  Next door was the bottle 
store, where big Koos sat wedged in a heavily barred cage, “Cause these donners 
like their dop and jus’ moer my door broken.”  The water temperature was 13 
degrees compared to Simonstown’s 22 degrees.  We drove around the block and 
Garrick discovered the pony-tailed artist’s caravan and one-room house, where he
lives with his tattooed girlfriend.......  He goes by the name of Villain, ... a  very
engaging guy, who trotted out dozens of oil paintings, plus a host of very funny 
stories .....  His paintings were mostly of the Namaqualand spring flower explosion
and some were good.  Adam bought a small one for R300, which brightened Villain’s
day.  When I asked him why, of all places, he settled in Honderklipbaai, he replied,
“When you are down on your luck, in Joeys, you just eat plain pap, day after day,
but when you are down on your luck in Honderklipbaai, one day you eat pap and
perlemoen, the next day pap and stockfish, the following day pap and crayfish. At
least there is variety here, ou pel, but nothing else!”
 
We were invited through into their one-room house and given tea.  We also viewed
the nude gallery of paintings, which were Playboy centrefold-type copies. .....  He
was the sort of person we could have had an hilarious lunch with.  Cousin Garrick
was tempted by one or two of the more flamboyant non-botanical works, but I feel
was a little inhibited by his older boet’s presence. 
 
We left Honderklipbaai and Mr and Mrs Villain and headed north up the coast to 
Kolingnaas, where we passed through a heavily-gated entrance into the De Beers
Diamond Concession.  You are meant to produce all sorts of identification, etc.  
We were headed about 20km north to a place called Noup, which is not even a 
spot on the map, but we had been given the owners’ names to drop.  We were 
all Fletchers, which confused the be-medalled security woman even further, I 
became one of Garrick’s cards and the boom went up. We travelled past miles 
of great open-cast dumps, where they had removed the over-burden until they 
reached the original ocean bedrock, which in turn was overlain by layers of washed
sea gravel, that contained the diamonds.  The road was beautiful, tarred and 
heavily fenced with all sorts of dire warnings about staying in your vehicle.  We 
eventually swung back a few kms to the coast and found Noup.  Noup is a series 
of very unusual quaint self-catering cottages, originally built by divers, who used to 
free-dive off the coast for diamonds.  They managed to dive an average of one day 
out of every 8.  It’s a very rugged rocky coast, with the odd little beach, but I don’t 
know who would want to swim in that icy water?  I remarked to Keith that this only 
spot would be the ideal place to chill out for a while.  Keith looked at me quizzically 
and asked, “Yes, but what would you do after the first day?”  It’s embarrassing to 
say, “Well nothing, actually” to my cousin, whose white fang blackberry continuously 
rang in the middle of the Namaqua Desert, in the centre of the road opposite the 
Spoegrivier turnoff.  Kneel, I’m convinced that sibling rivalry still exists between our 
cousins; he and Garrick appear to have a quiet competition to see whose phone
rings the most in the Hinterland.  Adam was quickly outgunned by his older relations.  
Over the millennia, man has always devised tests of courage and I strongly believe
that the ultimate test now for a modern yuppie would be for him to switch his cell 
phone off for 24 hours.  Spear-chucking is over.  I complained, and all they did 
was to turn the ring volume up.  Referring to our geriatric cousins as “yuppies” 
is probably ripping it slightly.
 
It was getting late and we had one more stop to make on the way back to Springbok,
so we set off back over the flatlands and up the Messelpad.  When we reached the 
old prison, we turned downhill and Adam really had to engage the 4-wheel drive, as
the track was just a donga wash.  We got down and tried to duplicate the positions
that Elwyn and Clara occupied when you photographed them on your trip.  We finally 
reached Springbok well after dark ........... On Friday we drove up the road to Okiep, 
which is another rough dusty dorp, surrounded by massive mine dumps.  We decided
to give Nababeep a miss.  We went back to Springbok and visited the local museum
which was well-kept and full of interesting artefacts that covered the whole of the 
colonial history.  We had said goodbye to Annelise the previous evening and, as you 
requested, I did present her with a thank-you present for the help she has extended 
to you.  Very nice hand-embroidered pillow cover and candles, chosen by Phee .  
Oom Jopie had telephoned two local historians, who were anxious to meet us, but
we had to take a rain check.  We left for Cape Town, as Garrick was riding in the
Argus on Sunday, and need time to loosen up!!  Adam had also entered, but had
 to cancel because of some chest bug.........
Well this is a long rambling letter, but I feel I owe it to you, as you have kept the family 
spook story running and really should have been along with us. The onus is now
firmly on your shoulders to do the follow-up.  It was a good trip, with great company.
 
Your travel-worn, but ever-tolerant cousin,
 
John(e)
 
=============
 

 
 
                                   Adam, Johne,  Annelize, Keith, Jopie


 


 
 
	 Recently discovered photograph of Keerom homestead 
	    in the 1860's survives in Angus' family and sent by 
                    	 Peter Fletcher from Florida.
 
 
 
 
 
Keerom Regained
 
	

Hugh's letters to Peter & Neil (1990/1997)
 
 

Typical dry stone walling of the Messelpad
 
 

 Approach road to the old Keerom homestead 
 
 

Original homestead ruin partly hidden in trees to the left
 
 

The view in the old Keerom photo from Florida as seen today  
 
 
satellite view
 
 

The view over the farmyard from the granite dwala
 
 

An old ox wagon at Keerom of the type that would have
 transported copper ore on the Messelpad
 (Keith, Adam, Johne)
 
 

 "Put" is Afrikaans for well or pit.   
 
 
For further photographs of the farmyard link to Hugh's his letters above.
 
 
 
Namaqualand flowers. Photos from Annelize Erasmus.

10  11  12  13  14  15 

 
 

Unseasonal rainfall
 
 

Skilpad (tortoise) 
 
 

Honderklipbaai slipway 
 
 

 Honderkipbaai looking south
 
 

Coastal flats looking inland from the bay
 
 

 Wildeperdhoek (Afrikaans for "wild horse bend")  
  western end of the Messelpad
 
 
 
Messelpad labour prison and roadworks. 
 
 

Inmates
 
 

 Sunset in Namaqualand
 
 

 Sunset in Namaqualand

Annotated satellite image of Keerom farmyard.

Filename = "/pages/keerom_recce.html" Last modified 22 April 2009
This F-J-A abridged version 23 May 2017 Copyright © Johne Fletcher 2009.