HISTORY OF DE RUST - GATEWAY TO THE GREAT KAROO

At the southern end of one of the most magnificent passes in South Africa, De Rust is a small village at the gateway to the Klein Karoo, South Africa. It is located at the foot of the Swartberg Mountain Range between Oudtshoorn and Beaufort West.

De Rust in the Morning

Long before the village of De Rust was established the area had already been a favourite place to “outspan” near a mountain spring and rest before tackling the challenging route through the gorge. Thus De Rust (literally translated as “The Rest “) was established in 1900 on a portion of the farm belonging to a certain Meiring (more about that later). Today it is a quaint and serene village that boasts quite a few historical buildings and various tourism related establishments.

Although it is small, De Rust is a surprisingly convenient travel base. From here you can do all manner of day trips to places like Prince Albert, Oudtshoorn, the Cango Caves, Klaarstroom, Swartbergpass, Meiringspoort and beyond.

View Swartberg Mountains

It will also be well worth your while to visit De Rustica Olive Estate, Doornkraal Padstal and 2 Doorn Equine, Excelsior, Vlakteplaas, Domein Doornkraal and various walking and cycling trials through the mountains and surrounding farmlands.

So if you would like to have an exceptional experience stay for at least 2-3 nights visiting all the interesting places. In town there are various restaurants, coffee shops and accommodation to choose from and to make your stay a pleasurable one. De Rust is the home of the Meiringspoort Challenge, a 19,5 km, 31 km and 61 km mountain bike race. Also a 9,5 km and 20 km trial run. This event takes place in the beautiful surroundings and farms around De Rust in May of each year.  This is not the end. In October there is the Meiringspoort 21km and 12,5 km run that takes place in the beautiful Meiringspoort. This should definitely be on your bucket list.

Each 1st Saturday of the month there is the De Rust Country Market at the Sunset Caravan Park. Organic vegetables, pancakes, coffee, clothing, books, hand- made crafts, antiques, jams and home smoked bacon.

De Rust has a koppie: The habitat of this koppie is unique. One can spend a whole day strolling along the koppie and find up to 300 different plant species. Almost one for every day of the year.

View from the Hill
View from a hill just outside De Rust. This view is of the Stomptdrift Dam and Doornkraal.
Petrus Johannes Meiring Grave
The grave of Petrus Johannes Meiring. Died 2nd January 1876.

History:

Where did it all begin?

In 1765 Johannes H. Schoeman was given a farm De Rust “Aan d’ Olyphants rivier. This same farm was later in 1775 given again to the same J.H Schoeman,1779 – 1787 and R. Van Jaarsveld in 1787. This farm was probably one of the so called “leningsplase” that was given to farmers by the then Colonial authorities. It is safe to say that in the vicinity of De Rust other farms were also allocated but this is the first mention of De Rust as a farm.

In all probability, although in the hands of Mr. Van Jaarsveld in 1809, the farm was already occupied during the latter part of the 18th century.

After Mr. Van Jaarsveld the farm became the property of Marthinus Bekker that got the ownership of the farm in 1812. He was a wealthy and big property owner. The well-known Petrus Johannes Meiring (Meiringspoort was named after him) came to De Rust with two friends, Marincowitz and Benecke on horseback from Worcester. He got work as Foreman with Marthinus Bekker and when Marthinus died he married the widow Bekker and in 1832 became owner of De Rust and neighbouring farms.

 

After the widow Bekker died he married Catherina Helena Geldenhuys. They had 10 children. This was the days of the true “Voortrekker “life. The nearest town was George and they had to eke out an existence with transport and livestock. Wild dogs and wolves (probably brown hyenas) were plentiful and predators dangerous. He was however a precise and enterprising farmer. The so called “bridle path” through Meringspoort was one of his undertakings. With Joseph Anthony he was responsible for the old Watermill and he was also responsible for the road through Blomnek, so named because his nickname was “Blom”.

After his death in 1876 the children from the two marriages” Widow Bekker and C. H. Geldenhuys” had differences and therefore a big auction was held where all of the movables and the farm De Rust west of the Meirings River (Groot River) was rented to a Mr. O.P. Hoole. He became the owner shortly thereafter while the portion east of the river namely Meiringsriver (Varkenskraal) and De Hoop respectively became the property of Maurice Meiring and P.W. de Vos.

On the 8th of March 1899 Mr. James A. Foster of Oudtshoorn, instructed by Mr Hoole, auctioned the farm De Rust and sold it to Johannes Jurgens Schoeman and Stephanus D.P. le Roux. The advert in “Die Oudthoorn Courant” have the following interesting description of De Rust at that stage.

“De Plaats, DE RUST, is 1550 morgen, 402 vierkanten roede groot, 100 morgen benat, terwyl groote uitgestrektheid op dit eigendom nog kan bebouwd worden. De Plaats “De Rust” met haren nimmer ophoudende stroom water is een der beste zoo al niet de allerbeste zaaiplaats in die Zuid Westeliken Distrikten. Zy ligt aan den ingang der Meiringspoort, en uit een commercieel oogpunt beschouwd, zal zy een allerkosbaarst eigendom worden, daar zy voorzeker de verzendingstatie zal worden van al de goederen voor de groote uitgestrektheid lands aan den anderen kant der Meiringspoort”

Grave of Catharina Helena Meiring Ne Geldenhuys
Grave of Catharina Helena Meiring Born Geldenhuys

Futhermore it was mentioned that on the farm there was a farmhouse (later the house of S. D. P. le Roux) outbuildings, a blacksmith’s shop along the highway, a profitable store on the hill next to Kleinen Meiringsriver and a watermill that milled 50 bags of wheat in 24 hours.

This description shows that there was no rumour or talk of the existence of a town. The two owners were however very eager to make De Rust the centre of a new congregation. No stone was left unturned and already in April 1899 permission was granted for secession from the Church Council in Oudtshoorn, and shortly after that from the Government to start a new town. Also in the course of 1899 Mr. Adley, surveyor from Oudtshoorn, surveyed 100 water plots and 200 dry plots. The sale of the plots by auctioneer B. J. Keyter took place on 19 April 1900. This in effect was the birth date of the youngest town in the Little Karoo.

Interestingly enough most of the plots were sold on that Friday in the new town De Rust. The water plots were sold for £40 to £85 each, mostly to farmers from around. One allotment of 6 plots in the middle of town was set aside for a parsonage, church and plain.

One of the terms and conditions of sale was that on 24 plots mainly in the vicinity of the church properties no sale of wine and stronger liquor was allowed. No entertaining or exercises were allowed without the permission of the Church Council of the Hollandsch Gereformeerde Kerk of De Rust.

In the meantime, Maurice Meiring and P.W. de Vos would have liked a share of the development of the new town. In The Oudtshoorn Courant of 30 April 1900 there was an advert of a new town, Meiringspoort East that offered 400 water plots and any number of ordinary plots. In the subsequent advert the water plots were decreased to only 200.The prospective developers also offer the Church Council a plot on which a church had to be built without delay.

This whole undertaking failed mainly because no approval was given by the government but also according to tradition because certain conditions regarding water rights namely that the relevant property could not be sub-divided. The two gentlemen therefore could not guarantee sufficient water for town demands.

Grave of Philip De Vos De Hoop
Grave of Philip De Vos of De Hoop
Grave of SDP Le Roux
Grave of SDP Le Roux. Died 1935

Timeline

  • November 1906. Because most of the owners were farmers that stayed on their farms this was the date the first Town Management was constituted. They had to look into roads, water capacity, sanitation and the building of new houses. The house’s rooms must be no less than 8ft by 8ft by 8ft and windows no less than 2 by 3ft.
  • 1907 – property hired for £2 per month was obtained from Mrs. J.J. Schoeman and S.D.P. le Roux for the housing of coloured people where they could build their own houses. This was at the old location. The first Management had their first problems with the relocation of local people when Reverend Blazey from the Independent church in Dysselsdorp, who owned several plots in town, allowed several families to stay in small huts on the property. It was only in 1907 when the Management were able to move the families through the strict implementation of building regulations.
  • 1912 – Development speeded up and almost 8o plots were built on. Town Management decided that the boundaries of the town be extended to include a portion of the farms Meiringspoort and De Hoop. Because of reasons not mentioned in the minutes and that could not be explained according to tradition, this effort failed.
  • 1949 – Water was still obtained from furrows causing illness and fever. Town Council started to talk to the owners of the farms to build a dam from a pipeline could be built.
  • Heavy traffic in the main road caused dust problems and in 1949 the Divisional Council of Oudtshoorn helped with tarring of the road.
  • No electricity was available.
  • May 1968 – new office buildings were obtained for a new bakery.
  • September 1965 – water was made available, through a pipeline, 65 years after the founding of the town.
  • March 1971 – Electricity at last.

Bibliography:

“Centenary Brochure” of the Dutch Reformed Church in De Rust, translated into English by Willie Immelman – @willielovesderust. 

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