Grahamstown’s Bible Monument

Depicting an open bible, the monument faces the direction the Voortrekkers departed in

Grahamstown has some very well known monuments and historic buildings. The 1820 Settlers Monument on the hill, the Cathedral of St Michael and St George, the Angel Statue, Observatory Museum with it’s camera obscura and many more. One I didn’t know about was the Bible Monument on the outskirts of town and I would never have known of it if it wasn’t that I went in search of a Geocache at the site.

The story of the monument is one of Brits and Boers coming together at this spot. In April 1837, a Voortrekker party led by Jakobus Uys was encamped just outside Grahamstown on their way into the interior. At this spot they were met by a group of British settlers from the town who presented them with a Dutch bible. The monument represents an oversized open bible and is said to face in the direction which the Voortrekkers departed. The monument itself was unveiled by the State President C R Swart on 17 December 1962. The bible is now kept at the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria.

Edited – Pete Wentworth commented on Facebook – The bible is displayed in glass case in the lower floor of the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria. Also in the glass case is the local press article describing the event (I think the newspaper may have been the Graham’s Town Journal).

Plaques on the monument depicting the story

By Ralph Goldswain: ‘DID YOU KNOW that relations between the frontier Boers and the British settlers were excellent in spite of marked differences in their ways of life? The Settlers never forgot the ‘roughly kind carriers’ who had taken them to their locations. After the 1835 war, during which frontier Boers and British were particularly close, the Settlers became increasingly alarmed as they heard the word ‘trek’ on the tongues of their neighbours. They were particularly shocked and concerned to see one of Grahamstown’s most distinguished, respected and popular citizens, Pieter Retief, getting ready to lead the Boers out of Albany.

As a building contractor, Retief had played a central role in developing the settler town, and had distinguished himself as northern commandant through the difficult time of the 1835 war. So distinguished had his service been that the governor himself named the main defence point in the Winterberg ‘Post Retief.’

The Boers had too many grievances to outline here but more than enough to make them determined to leave the jurisdiction of the Cape and British governments. The Settlers were concerned because the absence of the Boers was going to create a dangerous vacuum on the frontier. Many of them, too, were going to lose close friends. Led by two prominent surgeons, the Atherstones – father and son – they tried to dissuade Retief, but could not.

On the day the Boers left the trekkers and Settlers gathered on the northern outskirts of Grahamstown to hold a farewell ceremony. Thomas Phillipps presented the Boer leader, Jacobus Uys, with a bible and W.R.Thompson made a speech. He said: ‘We regret, for many reasons, that circumstances should have risen to separate us; for ever since we, the British settlers, arrived in this colony, now a period of 17 years, the greatest cordiality has continued to be maintained by us and our nearest Dutch neighbours; and we must always acknowledge the general and unbounded hospitality with which we have been welcomed in every portion of the colony….’

And then the Settlers watched for a second time as the Dutch wagons trundled away from them, into the distance, leaving only a cloud of dust….. ‘

Unfortunately three of the bronze plaques on the monument were stolen in 2017 with the fourth one being removed for safe keeping. The plaques were replaced in 2018 with stone one and the inscriptions were lazer cut onto them.

Aloes growing around the monument

It’s easy to bypass the monument as it blends in quite nicely with the countryside, but it’s really worth a stop at this spot that is linked to both the Afrikaner (Voortrekker) and English (British settlers) heritage in South Africa.

EDITED:

I have received a number of comments that contained additional information that I would like to add to the post for reference purposes:

Marion Mangod(Bowker) commented the following – The bible monument was erected at the behest of my grandfather Dr Tom Bowker. I attended the unveiling with my parents and descendants of the Voortrekker leader and of Phillips who handed over the bible, were presented to CRSwart.

John Turner commented on Facebook – Hockly’s book “The story of the British Settlers of 1820 in South Africa” has two plates opposite p129 with reference to presenting this Bible to Jacobus Uys in 1837.
Poor copies are attached for purposes of reference.

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Rob Smith posted the following as a comment on Facebook – THE PRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL BIBLE

In April 1837 patriarch Jacobus Uys was found with his followers camped near Grahamstown making tracks out of the colony, heading north. This profoundly affected the British settlers who, knowing Uys, could not be dissuaded, thought they should mark the event in some way. They commissioned an extremely large leather bound Bible, paid for by public subscription, and, en masse, proceeded to the temporary Boer encampment to make a ceremonial presentation. The following inscription was printed inside the front cover:

‘This Sacred Volume is presented to Mr. Jacobus Uys and his departing fellow-countrymen by the inhabitants of Grahamstown and its vicinity, as a farewell token of their esteem and heartfelt regret at their departure. The anxiety they have evinced of an endeavour to obtain a Minister of Religion and their strict observance of its ordinances are evident proofs that in their wanderings in search of another land they will be guided by the precepts contained in this Sacred Volume and will steadfastly adhere to its solemn dictates—the stern decrees of the Creator of the universe, the God of all Nations and peoples.’

Prominent settlers handed over the book with a full explanation expressed by William Richie Thompson:

‘We offer this book to you as a proof of our regard and with expressions of sorrow that you are going so far from us. We regret for many reasons that circumstances should have arisen to separate us, for ever since we, the British Settlers, arrived in this Colony, now a period of seventeen years, the greatest cordiality has continued to be maintained between us and our Dutch neighbours; and we must always acknowledge the general and unbounded hospitality with which we have been welcomed in every portion of the Colony. We trust therefore that although widely separated, you will hold us in remembrance, and we wish that all will retain for each other the warmest sentiments of friendship.’

In response Uys said:

‘I thank you gentlemen, most heartily for the gift you have presented to us and still more for the very good wishes with which the present has been accompanied…’

and his formidable and popular eldest son, Pieter:

‘…begged to thank the deputation for the very kind manner in which they had expressed themselves. He felt the deep regret at parting with so many kind friends, but he hoped that as long as they all remain united in heart.’

The Prester John cross figures


Following on the post about the Cross of Prester John and the Portuguese Explorers between City Hall and the old Post Office building, I decided to post a more closeup picture of the two figures sitting inside the cross.  The figures represent Prester John on the one side and a Portuguese explorer on the other side.  There is a whole lot more symbolism on the cross, but I’m going to have to do a little more research before posting about that.

The cross of Prester John and the Portuguese Explorers

Wedged in between City Hall and the Old Post Office building with the Feather Market Centre on the other side of the right is the Cross of Prester John.  The monument has no significant link to Port Elizabeth other than the fact that it was a stop en route to the East for Portuguese explorers who, in addition to looking for a way around Africa to the East, were also hoping to make contact with Prester John as a Christian ally.  A local philanthropist paid for the monument which was unveiled by the Portuguese Ambassador to South Africa in 1986. 
The story of Prester John is a mysterious one.  In some circles he was believed to be a descendant of the Three Wise Men, some believed he was a crusader-era Christian king based in Ethiopia or possibly a high-born Mongol from the time of Genghis Khan.  Then there were those who said that he watched over the Holy Grail, never growing old but wiser and wiser as the years went by.  Whoever this mythical king-priest Prester John was, it was the quest of the Portuguese explorers not just to find a sea route around Africa to the East, but to also find and make contact with Prester John as a Christian ally. 
Prester John (Latin: Presbyter Johannes) is a legendary Christian patriarch and king popular in European chronicles and tradition from the 12th through the 17th centuries. He was said to rule over a Nestorian (Church of the East) Christian nation lost amid the Muslims and pagans of the Orient, in which the Patriarch of the Saint Thomas Christians resided. The accounts are varied collections of medieval popular fantasy, depicting Prester John as a descendant of the Three Magi, ruling a kingdom full of riches, marvels, and strange creatures.

At first, Prester John was imagined to reside in India; tales of the Nestorian Christians’ evangelistic success there and of Thomas the Apostle’s subcontinental travels as documented in works like the Acts of Thomas probably provided the first seeds of the legend. After the coming of the Mongols to the Western world, accounts placed the king in Central Asia, and eventually Portuguese explorers convinced themselves that they had found him in Ethiopia.

You can read more about Prester John on Wikipedia where I got the above information.

Uitenhage Concentration Camp site

A few weeks ago we took part in an Amazing Race in and around Uitenhage, organised by one of the local churches as a fundraiser.  The race started at the old festival grounds on the outskirts of town.  While waiting for everybody to arrive I took a walk over to the Concentration Camp Memorial with my camera.
Not a lot of people know that Uitenhage had a concentration camp right on their doorstep during the Anglo-Boer War between 1899 and 1902.  The concentration camp used to be situated on 10 hectares of land on the outskirts of town where the festival grounds can be found.  During the war a large number of women and children were dying in a Bloemfontein camp because of extreme temperatures.  It was decided to establish a new camp which had to be somewhere near water and a train line.  Uitenhage was ideal for that and a camp was built for 2000 people, although only 1800 stayed there.  At first the residents looked down on the people in the camp but then realised that they were their own people.  The locals started to go to the camp to talk to those held there and even played records for the women and children.  All the houses were built of zinc and wood as opposed to the tents of the other camps. Today, only the house that is believed to have been the commander’s stand on the site. The rest of the houses were broken down and rebuilt in Port Elizabeth’s Red Location.  In front of the house visitors will find a memorial statue as well as a monument made out of high cement walls and pillars in memory of the eight adults and children who died in the camp.

Port Elizabeth Concentration Camp Memorial

Today’s post basically is a report of a post I did in 2014.  It’s one of those little pieces of Port Elizabeth information that very few know about and is worth reposting.
When you mention the word concentration camp most people would probably associate it with the Germans during the second World War.  Few know that concentration camps were first implemented in South Africa by the British to hold Boer women and children during the Anglo Boer War (1899 and 1902).
There were two concentrations camps in what is today known as Nelson Mandela Bay.  One in Uitenhage and one at Kemsley Park in Port Elizabeth.  The concentration camp in Port Elizabeth operated from December 1900 until approximately November 1902.  It held an average of 230 children and 86 women housed in corrugated iron huts encircled by a high barbed wire fence.  There was also a separately fenced camp for 32 men in tents.  There were very few deaths in this so-called “model camp” compared to the thousands that died in the other camps.  Only 12 deaths were recorded over the period it was in existence.  This camp housed mainly Boers from the Free State from Jagersfontein and Fauresmith, among them General, and later Prime Minister, JBM Hertzog ‘s mother, wife, three sisters in-law and their children.  The camp was closed in November 1902, and subsequently, a monument was erected at the Kemsley Park site.  A monument and plaque at North End Cemetery have the names of the 14 people who died in the camp on it.

Queen Victoria and the library

It’s really sad that the magnificent historic Public Library in the city centre is still closed with no indication on when the necessary work will be done or at what stage budget will be available to do it.  The building was built in 1901 with the façade constructed in England and shipped to Port Elizabeth in numbered blocks to be reassembled in front of the building.  The statue of Queen Victoria was added in 1903 to celebrate the queen’s Diamond Jubilee that took place in 1897. 

Lister Memorial – reposted


During my weekly tourism slot on LuisterFM 90.6 last week the Lister Memorial in Summerstrand came up in the conversation.  Even though the presenter had seen the stone monument before he had never knew what it was for.  I just realised again that there aren’t many people who did know about it and even if you had seen it you wouldn’t know who Joseph Storr Lister was.  So I decided to report a post I did about it in January 2011.  Please excuse the recycled picture as I didn’t have a chance today to swing past there to take a new photo.

The area along Port Elizabeth’s southern coastline which is reached via Marine Drive is where the Driftsands area can be found.  In the late 1800’s the movement of sand dunes towards the town was very worrying to the town council and plans were devised to stop the sand from “invading” and overrunning Port Elizabeth.  One of the things done was a railway line that was built along the dunes and all the town’s garbage was taken out there by train and dumped on the dunes.  In the late 1880’s Josep Storr Lister came up with an idea to stabilise the dunes by planting Port Jackson trees and exotic grasses.  He commenced his work in 1890 and was successful in stabilising the dunes both in Port Elizabeth as well as on the Cape Flats in Cape Town.  Only problem though is that the exotic species have today become a problem in the area and we now work towards eradicating them and allowing indigenous coastal bush to take its place.  A small stone monument stands in Summerstrand next to Marine Drive as a memorial to the work Lister did.  Unfortunately the plaque that told the story on the memorial got wings and disappeared many years ago.

British Settler John Parkin’s farm

This morning a quick Geocaching outing took me to a small park in Fernglen where I found an equally small monument located to the one side of the park.  The monument stated:
IN MEMORY OF 
JOHN PARKIN
1787 – 1856
LEADER OF A PARTY OF SETTLERS
FROM DEVON TO SOUTH AFRICA IN 1820,
AND PROMINENT IN THE EARLY 
DEVELOPMENT OF PORT ELIZABETH
THE SUBURBS IN THIS AREA
STAND ON WHAT WAS ONCE
JOHN PARKIN’S FARM OF 1421 H.A.
WHICH HE ACQUIRED IN 1826.
I never knew this little monument was here not that the suburbs in the area (probably Fernglen, Sunridge Park and Framesby) is located on what was once a Settler farm.  Just shows once again that there are still things in Port Elizabeth even I haven’t discovered and how big a role Geocaching can play in discovering these places.
You can see how dry it is in Port Elizabeth at the moment by looking at the grass.  Brown and dry.