Monthly Archives: September 2014

Napier’s forgotten gold mine

Hansiesrivier Gold Mine

Hansiesrivier Gold Mine

Hansiesrivier gold mine

Hansiesrivier gold mine

In the early 1870’s, considerable deposits of alluvial gold were panned by prospectors in the Eastern Transvaal (Mpumalanga). Small amounts were also found on the Witwatersrand before the discovery of the main reef in 1886. In 1880 gold fever ran high throughout Southern Africa and sure enough two ambitious Englishmen thought they had found their El Dorado on the farm Hansiesrivier, presently owned by Mr Kosie van Zyl, in the Napier district. Following the vein of gold bearing quartz, for almost nine years they dug a 85 meter long tunnel, removing between 200 and 300 tons of gold-bearing rock by hand.

Hansiesrivier gold mine

Hansiesrivier gold mine

These enterprising men built themselves a small, stone cottage and planted some fruit trees and a vegetable garden. The foundation of the house is still there, as well as some of the fruit trees.

By 1889 they floated a company with the name of The Napier Gold Searching Company and sold one pound sterling shares at ten shillings.To a degree the share selling must have taken off, because written evidence exists that a certain Mr P.H.Giliomee from the farm Soutkuil held shares number 232 to 236. The share was signed by a Mr G. Herbert. The descendants of the Giliomees are still living on Soutkuil and one wonders if they are aware that they are shareholders in a gold searching company!

Share certificate

Share certificate

One can only speculate as to whether this was premeditated fraud or an honest way to seek further investment for the development of the mine. What we do know, is that they sailed off to England with the money presumably to buy mining equipment for the processing of the ore, and never returned. It is believed that one partner died while in England and the other was too weak to return. Nothing was ever heard of them again, but that there is gold-bearing rock on Hansiesrivier seems to be true, although not a viable amount. Mr Henk Swart, the previous owner of Hansiesrivier, had a sample of the quartz assayed. The result – 0,3 grams per ton. Compare it to the average yield of 15 grams of gold per ton of rock in the Witwatersrand reef.

It was not only at Hansiesrivier that men were mining for gold. A certain Dr Thompson, and later also Mr G. Herbert got permission from the Dutch Reformed Church Council to prospect not only for gold, but also for other precious metals and stones on ground belonging to the church. No one knows if they had better luck than the two Englishmen.

Article by Alan Maree

Article by Alan Maree

After publication of this article in Village Life magazine, we received the following letter from Jean Malan, Chief geologist, PetroSA, Cape Town:

I enjoyed the article “Napier’s forgotten gold mine” which took me back to my time as geologist working for the Geological Survey. In 1984 I visited several seemingly gold prospecting sites in the Overberg. These are on Klein Zandrif (west of Bredasdorp), Bloemfontein (south of Napier), Fairfield and the one on Hansiesrivier. The latter remains the best example of how the fortune hunters followed quartz veins in search of unfound richness. On Hansiesrivier a 0,8 metre wide fractured quartz vein was mined out over a distance of some 120 m. The vein contains some ferruginous and magnesium oxides and traces of pyrite (fool’s gold). The Hansiesriver mine is situated on a prominent northeast- southwest striking fault that can be followed as far as Papiesvlei. I agree with the very low grade of less than 0,5 gram/ton of gold.

In the Cape Town geological map sheet explanation by JN Theron (1984) the following is written: “Reports of reputed gold finds have appeared in local newspapers since 1859 spurred on by events up in the Transvaal. The only local recorded discovery was from a shaft sunk on the slopes of Lion’s Head which assayed 21,7 to 27,4 gram/ton. The Lion’s Head Gold Mining Company was formed but no further promising indications of economic proportions was found and the venture came to an end. Sad for them, but how would Table Mountain have looked today with mines all along its lower slopes!”

Only localised spots of gold, silver and tin were ever found scattered throughout the Western Cape and none of any commercial size. The only mineral deposit of size is manganese of which an example is the occurrence on the major fault at the Caledon spa, some 100m in diameter around the original spring. High grade manganese ore is interlayered with ferruginous and siliceous layers.

De Villiers (1964) estimated that with selective mining there could be 250 000 tons of ore at an average grade of 40% manganese – again far too small for any commercial mine. Thus the only present known “mines” in the Cape are the casinos!

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Tesselaar’s tangled tale!

Johannes Jacobus Tesselaar, the son of a lowly cook’s mate, became the first land baron in the Overberg after Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel. And, although he officially died childless, he probably fathered both a “White” and a “Coloured” family line. He left a progeny and legacy which to this day are being untangled in court and by various researchers.



Teslaarsdal (now Tesselaarsdal), nestled against the northern slopes of the Klein River Mountains, hardly looks like the setting for so much intrigue, but a mystery writer may feel as much at home here as filmmaker Fellini. There is no actual village, simply houses and small farms strung out amongst pastures and trees. Many of the inhabitants are related, whatever the colour of their skin.

Local resident Mrs Simons loves her richly decorated rented house.

Local resident Mrs Simons loves her richly decorated rented house.

Its name was changed from Hartebeesrivier to Teslaarsdal by the post office to rule out confusion between this and another Hartebeesrivier. In the early 1900’s it got two churches and a primary school. Except for goods brought by itinerant traders, everything else had to be brought from Caledon by horse cart or wagon. Nowadays, there are two small shops.

The story of Teslaarsdal started in 1832 when the farm Hartebees-rivier and movables were left by Aaltje van der Heyde, the widow of Tesselaar, to nine servants and their descendants. Amongst them were Barend and Jan Frederik Bredenkamp, twins, whose parents, according to the baptismal certificate, were Jan Frederik Bredenkamp and Maria (Heysenberg), “bastard unbaptized Hottentottin”, the daughter of Antonie Heysenberg and Helena of the Cape. The other beneficiaries were Joggom Koert, Gert and Jan Gertse and the Heysenbergs, Alida, Christina, Elizabeth and Aletta. To this day, the offspring of these people maintain that they were all the illegitimate children of old Tesselaar himself.

There is almost no written proof of this, only verbal accounts passed on from generation to generation. And then also not so far back; three to four generations at most. There are, however, some other interesting facts to consider.

Tesselaar and his wife Aaltje were witnesses at the baptisms of all these children and also of the mother, Maria Heysenberg. Tesselaar also changed his testament a couple of times. In 1804 he bequeathed the farm Hartebeesrivier to the Bredenkamp brothers and Heysenberg sisters. Specific mention was made of the fact that the Tesselaar couple was still childless after thirty years. Then in 1809 he added the names of Jan and Gert Gertse and Joggom Koert.

Johannes Jacobus Tesselaar died in 1810. His wife, Aaltje was left with a vast estate, fantastic jewels, 38 servants, 150 horses and many earthly goods. How he came to such riches from nothing remains a mystery. It is known that as a lieutenant in the Cape Cavalry he received the farms Steenboksrivier and Hartebeesrivier as payment from Van der Stel. Hartebeesrivier was a loan farm and he subsequently received another five farms. He was also one of the officials involved in the salvaging of the Nicobar which stranded near Quoin Point in 1783. The wreck was looted by local farmers, and it is on record that several wagonloads of salvaged goods were off-loaded at Tesselaar’s farm.

After Tesselaar’s death his widow continued farming on Steenboksrivier till her death in 1832. She produced wheat and barley and also had 15 000 vines, 38 servants, 148 horses, 10 wagons, 70 cattle, 300 sheep and 100 goats. Old man Tesselaar’s estate then went to his nephew, also Johannes Jacobus Tesselaar, except for Hartebeesrivier which went to the servants. The younger Tesselaar eventually became known in the Overberg as “The Capitalist”. He sold the farm Steenboksrivier to a Scot, Dr James Ross Hutchinson, who renamed it Dunghye Park. Tesselaar, like his uncle, also died childless (in Cape Town in 1869). Some of the descendants of the above mentioned servants are still living at Teslaarsdal.

The Bredenkamp brothers and their children were assimilated into the “White” community and they also legally transferred their shares to their children. The Gertses, Koerts and Heysenbergs became “Coloureds”. Joggom Koert and Alida Heysenberg got married and they had by far the largest family on the farm. From them descended the Julies and Carelse families who still own part of the farm.

Land was informally used, exchanged and transferred between the family members and their descendants. Boundaries were movable and very informal. These arrangements or transferrals were not registered through the proper channels. Things just sort of happened and were left to take their natural course. Many families came to occupy land through marriage – the Groenewalds, Fouries, Tiers, Gardeners and numerous others. In the end relations and living arrangements became very complicated and entangled and hard to explain. They also ran into difficulty when having to pay tax or trying to sell “their land”, which more and more of them wanted to do because at that stage, Coloured farmers did not qualify for state agricultural subsidies and they were struggling financially. There were no official records of deeds of transfer even though some had deeds of sale to the land they purchased. Some acquired their land through superannuation. The fight over who owns what has been going on for many years now.

In 1971 the Overberg Divisional Council, who had collected taxes on these farms, requested the Supreme Court to deal with the matter and to determine legal ownership. It was a sticky case and two years later the court ruled that the Council had no right to make such a case and things would be left to continue as in the past. It would remain a mixed area and those who assumed inherited rights would pay tax. A total of 128 people, 87 Coloured and 41 Whites, claimed rights to the land. The Land Organising Committee was formed in 1982 to settle the rights of ownership and the dispute between the Coloureds and Whites of Hartebeesrivier. Many court cases ensued from this unhappy state of affairs and some are still pending.

The late Clemens Reynolds

The late Clemens Reynolds (Photo by Maré Mouton)

One successful claimant was the late Mr Clemens Reynolds. His maternal grandmother was a granddaughter of Jan Frederik Bredenkamp, one of the twins. His father, Jan Nigrini, was the local miller and was also Clemens’ mother’s stepfather. His mother, unwed when Clemens was born, later married a Van Dyk of Hermanus. Entangled, indeed.

Clemens’ mother, Hester Reynolds (second from left), expecting Clemens. Third from left is his father, Jan Nigrini, who was married to Hester’s mother (fourth from left).

Clemens’ mother, Hester Reynolds (second from left) and her husband, Coena van Dyk next to her (far left). Third from left is his father, Jan Nigrini, who was married to Hester’s mother (fourth from left) and Clemens (17 years old at the time) is standing in the middle (sixth from left).

A many-talented man, Clemens was a farmer and blacksmith. He knew the veld and the indigenous plants and their culinary and medicinal uses. And when they all got together for celebrations, partying and dances, he was part of the band, playing concertina, banjo or guitar.

For these get-togethers they shod their normal working gear and dressed up. A horse-drawn wagon was sent around to fetch the people from the neighbouring farms and bring them to the threshing-floor in summer. In winter they gathered in the old stone shed where they would sit on long benches along the walls. Tables were laden with whatever foodstuffs people had brought. For a moment poverty and hard work were forgotten, and moonshine and song raised the spirits. When they had eaten their fill, the tables were removed and the music and dancing started.

There was one old toothless aunt who never, but never, wore shoes. For these gettogethers

she would put on shoes, but she could barely walk with them. Once seated, knees apart, she would stare and stare at her shod feet glued to the floor, while all the time chewing with lips sucked in over toothless gums. But, when the dancing started, she would get rid of the damnable weights and dance till the wee hours!

Looking at yesteryear’s pictures, visiting the old haunts and listening to the oft-told stories, the old people come alive. With legal ownership enabling people to sell their land to more and more buyers from the cities, one can only hope that something of the old Teslaarsdal will remain

For more photos of Clemens and his smithy, please visit:

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