Information and history

ID #1136

Culture and History of Volksrust, Vryheid, Newcastle and Utrecht, Battlefields, Kwa-Zulu Natal.

o    Vryheid: The picturesque town of Vryheid was once the capital of the “Nieuwe Republiek” in 1884, later becoming part of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek. This modern and progressive town has many reminders of a bygone era. In Landdrost Street, the old “Raadzaal” old fort and gaol and the Landdrostkantoor form a façade of national monuments. Many buildings built in Tudor and Edwardian styles still stand today.
o    Volksrust: This town, which lies on the border of Natal, Mpumalanga and the Free State forms the northern gateway to the Battlefields Route. Dorrie de Jager, sister of Dirk Uys, gave the town its name (the people rest) when battle-weary Boer soldiers came to rest at Rooibult during the signing of the peace treaty that followed the First War of Independence. Volksrust also has a rich railway history. Majuba Mountain, the final point of conflict between Boers and British during the First Anglo-Boer War, forms an imposing backdrop to the town.
o    Utrecht: The museum in the old parsonage depicts the relationship between the Zulu and the ZAR from the time of the Great Trek and the part played by the local congregation of the Dutch Reformed Church in its establishment in the Transvaal.
o    Newcastle: Situated midway between Durban and the Transvaal, this tiny settlement was earlier known as Post Halt Two. It was a popular stopover point for wagons and post chaises. The town also formed a transport junction to the Transvaal and the Free State. Canteens and hotels sprung up along the routes to cater for travellers. It is known as a town where one can mix business with pleasure, and combines unspoilt country living with the benefits and amenities of city life.
o    Paulpietersburg. This picturesque little town lies in the foothills of Dumbe Mountain. On the bank of the Egode River stands a monument erected to commemorate the place where Louis Botha met his troops to sign the peace treaty to end the Boer War. Nearby dams ensure plentiful fishing and the surrounding hills offer beautiful hikes.

Features of the area include:

•    Utrecht Museum. This museum housed in the old parsonage depicts life in Utrecht and also the history of the Dutch Reformed Church.
•    Fort Amiel. This was an important military base from 1867 to 1902. During the Anglo Zulu and Boer Wars it was used as a transit camp hospital and commissariat store. Today it houses a historical and military museum.
•    Uys Memorial. Petrus Lafras Uys was one of the original settlers in the Utrecht area in 1847. He was the first landdrost appointed after Utrecht was incorporated into the Transvaal. He was killed in the Battle of Hlobane, fighting for the British.
•    The Old Cemetery. British soldiers are buried in the old cemetery in Utrecht. One of these graves is of Steven Thorton Philimore, deputy commissioner of the British Army during the Anglo Zulu War. Voor Street on the road to Wakkerstroom.
•    Pokorowsky Memorial. A marble slate commemorating Captain Leo Pokorowsky, a Pole who was an officer in the Russian Army. He fought with the Boer forces during the Anglo Boer War and was killed in a skirmish on Christmas Day 1900 when he and his men attacked the British garrison in Utrecht. Wall of Remembrance. In a cemetery and in the centre of Volksrust are walls of remembrance to the women and children who died in the concentration camp in Volksrust.
•    Carnegie Art Museum. The museum in Newcastle houses a collection of traditional and contemporary landscape paintings by South African artists. In addition it has a good display of Zulu beadwork, an interesting collection of works from the ELC Arts and Crafts Centre at Rorke’s Drift and beautiful ceramics made by Zulu women at the Ardemore Studio. The building is a national monument and was built in 1915.
•    Laing’s Neck Battlefield. The British attempt to break through the Boer forces into the Transvaal outside Newcastle on January 28 1881 was unsuccessful. The N11 from Volksrust to Newcastle takes one through the Laing’s Neck Pass.
•    Schuinshoogte Battlefield. Boers surrounded the British forces under General Colley on February 8 1881 on the top of Schuinshoogte, in the Newcastle Volksrust area.
•    Majuba Battlefield. This was the decisive battle of the first Anglo Boer War and has become a legend in British military history. On the N11 from Volksrust to Newcastle.
•    O’Neil's Cottage. Originally the home of Eugene O’Neill, this cottage was used as a makeshift hospital for British soldiers during the Battle of Majuba and many of their graves are here.  The peace treaty ending the war was signed in this cottage. On the N11 from Volksrust to Newcastle.
•    Nuwe Republiek Museum. This museum in Vryheid housed the council chamber and government offices of the Nuwe Republiek. Displays can also be found in the Carnegie Library and Lucas Meyer house.
•    Taleni Battlefield. In this battle in April 1848, Piet and Dirkie Uys were killed in the Vryheid area. The rest of the commando, which managed to escape the ambush, was called the Vlugkommando. It is also the southernmost point reached by Boer forces during the second invasion of Natal by Louis Botha’s Boer forces.
•    Scheepersnek Battlefield. A commando of 75 Swaziland police and a few Vryheid burgers were stationed at Scheepersnek. In the middle of a church service a company of Bethune’s Mounted Infantry arrived unexpectedly. After a short sharp fight the British were forced to withdraw. 10-km from Vryheid on the R33.
•    Lancaster Hill. Part of the Vryheid Nature Reserve, Lancaster Hill is known for its flora and fauna. On the hilltop are fortifications gun points and a monument to Lt Col Gawne.
•    Blood River Poort Battlefield. Fought on September 17 to prevent Louis Botha’s attempt to invade Natal, the British were outflanked and in the 10 minute action lost 16 officers, 273 men and 3 guns. On the D251. Follow the signs. After 8-km turn into Goedgeloof farm. Graves 1-km on the right side of the road.
•    Fort Prospect. The outpost in the Vryheid area was manned by 80 British soldiers and was attacked by 400 Boers on September 24 1900. It lasted most of the day but eventually the Boers were forced to withdraw after the Zululand Native Police reinforced the British troops.
•    Alleman’s Nek. In the Volksrust area, this was where the British forces finally broke through into the Transvaal.
•    Holkrans Battlefield. On this site in the Vryheid area 56 Burgers were killed on May 6 1902 in a surprise attack by a Zulu impi on Zuinguin Mountain. 22-km from Vryheid on the Paulpietersburg road.
•    Hlobane Battlefield. British forces were defeated by a Zulu impi on Hlobane Mountain in the Vryheid area on March 28 1879. 20-km from Vryheid on the Hlobane road. 
•    Kambula Battlefield. Some 25000 Zulu warriors attacked a fortified British position on March 29 1879. The battle ended when the Zulu were driven off pursued by horsemen until after dark. 10-km from Vryheid on the Paulpietersburg road.
•    Prince Imperial Memorial. The last hopes of a Napoleonic dynasty ended here in the Vryheid area on June 1 1879 when Prince Louis Napoleon was stabbed to death. Ntombe Battlefield. At Ntombe drift in the Paulpietersburg area, Capt. Moriarty and his men were attacked on March 12 1879 and defended themselves against a superior Zulu force.

Vryheid is on the R33 south of Piet Retief, which is on the N2 southeast of Ermelo, which is at the intersection of the N2 with the N11 and the N17. ABCult

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Last update: 2014-02-28 15:57
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.2

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