ELIZABETH RUSSELL CAMERON:
AN EIGHTY YEAR OLD
by Win de Vos
Mrs. Cameron lives at Fair View.
After the mill had been sold, Mrs. Cameron, having bought a light wagon and a span of oxen, hired a European youth as touleier and a native boy as driver, as she intended going to her brother, Harry, and her sister, Ellen, who then lived at Barberton. The touleier turned back when they reached Heidelberg so she and the children continued the journey with only the native driver to help them.
When they reached Middelburg, where many people were engaged in digging coal, she sent Rod to buy bread at a homestead some little distance away from the spot where they had outspanned. He returned with two beautiful, fresh loaves and a large quantity of beskuit, and informed his mother that the lady who had given him these had refused to take any money in payment but had said that she would be very glad if his mother could let her have a few books to read.
Mrs. Cameron thought she would go along and thank the generous giver personally. She had a plentiful supply of reading-matter in the wagon so she sorted out a number of books to take with her. When she knocked at the door, the summons was answered by a small woman to whom she extended a friendly greeting, but, to her amazement, she got the astounding reply: "Good---hee-haw---morning." Hiding her surprise as best she could, she introduced herself by saying, "I am Mrs. Cameron."
"I am ---hee-haw---Mrs. Lloyd," was the response.
Greatly puzzled and ill at ease, Mrs. Cameron did not know what to make of the situation and proceeded to say: "I am on my way to my brother at Barberton."
"Oh---hee-haw---yes," said Mrs. Lloyd interestedly and added: "I---hee-haw---live here and---hee-haw---I find it---hee-haw---very lonely. I am always---hee-haw---glad---hee-haw---to get books to read. My husband---hee-haw--- works in a ---hee-haw---coal mine ---hee-haw---here."
It was a most ghastly, ridiculous and painful impediment in her speech. Mrs. Cameron remained chatting for some time. She felt dreadfully sorry for the little woman because of her terrible affliction. If it had not been so utterly heart-rending to hear her, it would have been almost impossible not to laugh, it sounded so absurd.
After the oxen had rested the usual length of time, the travellers resumed their journey and all went well until they outspanned again when the kaffir driver disappeared and they had to go on without him, so Mrs. Cameron took the whip and drove, while Rod, then a lad of nine, acted as touleier.
They had not been over the road to Barberton before so did not know when they would reach the next farm-house. They went on and on but no dwelling came into sight. After travelling for what seemed to them an interminable time, they met a small party of natives, one of whom, on payment of a warm coat, agreed to guide them to the nearest homestead.
This house was owned by a Boer farmer named Engelbrecht. When he opened the door he stared so intently at Mrs. Cameron that she began to feel quite uncomfortable, and then he exclaimed: "Aren't you a daughter of old Russell of Pretoria?" It turned out that her father and this farmer had been great friends so, needless to say, the latter and his wife were very good and kind to her and the children. On hearing of the difficulties she had had with her touleier and driver, they wanted her to stay at the farm for several days so as to enable them to get her two trustworthy boys. She, however, was in too great a hurry to continue her journey so she hired a couple of natives who were newcomers to the farm. Her host was very worried about the matter, as he did not deem it safe for her, a woman, to travel along the lonely road through practically wild country with these unknown boys.
About four miles away from the farm, one of the new hands informed her that he wanted a blanket that he had forgotten at home and went off back along the road. She decided to go on without him but the other boy refused to continue the journey before his mate returned. Feeling intensely annoyed, she snatched up the whip and called to the oxen to start, while Rod acted as voorloper again. When the boy saw this he decamped.
After proceeding in this way for a long distance they reached another house, the owner of which recognized Mrs. Cameron as he had known her in her girlhood. She and the children stayed here for a day or two. The farmer and his wife were truly hospitable. The former provided her with two reliable boys and advised her to make a very early start so that she need not outspan at a certain store as the owners were rather questionable characters.
She followed his advice and went to Klipstapel where she outspanned at the wayside hotel. From here the two natives were to return to the farm. At the hotel she found out that a Mr. Behrens, accompanied by his two sons aged fourteen and sixteen, was going to Barberton by wagon. She travelled along in their company, with Rod holding the tou and she herself doing the driving.
From Klipstapel she wrote to her brother, Harry, and explained the state of affairs. On receipt of this letter he sent two trustworthy boys to her aid. They joined the wagons at the Komati Baths. He also sent letters to people he knew at intervals along the way, asking them to help her as she passed. In this way she met with much friendliness and hospitality during the rest of her journey.
Shortly after the party left the Komati Baths, they were going downhill when her wagon ran into a huge boulder and the disselboom, as well as other parts, was broken. While they stood examining the damage and wondering, what to do, some wagons with loads of hides from Harry, who did a brisk trade in these, came up to them. The man in charge cut up one of the skins into riems with which he fixed up the damaged vehicle so that it was possible for the travellers to continue their journey. On account of this accident they had to travel very slowly lest the patched up wagon should come to grief.
Next day they arrived at Barberton, which had been named after two brothers called Barber who had gone there prospecting and had discovered the reef up in Reimer's Creek. Some time later on Mrs. Cameron met one of them.
Ellen (Mrs. Crawford), who had no children and Harry were delighted with their little nephews and nieces. This was the first time that they had seen them.
After staying with the Crawfords for a few weeks Mrs. Cameron went to Sheba and Eureka to look for a suitable plot or a small farm so that she could earn a living for herself and her children. She reckoned that poultry and dairy farming near these gold mines would bring in a sufficient income to keep her home going, so she decided to live at Fair View. This was a little hamlet not far from the mines and from which Barberton could been seen. The road to the latter place, however, followed such a roundabout course on account of the mountains that it took about eight days to complete the journey by wagon, while by taking a short cut on horseback over the mountains the dorp could be reached in a few hours.
There was only a small number of European families at Fair View. Mr. Pitt, a Justice of the Peace, had a large store, another man had a mineral water factory, Mr. Marais owned a butchery - these with a few other families made up the entire population.
She invested in a wood-and-iron house and had it erected at the foot of a mountain, some little distance away from the other houses in the hamlet.
Her brother, who owned a large herd of cattle in Swaziland, sent her twenty milch cows at a time, and when these started to dry up they were exchanged for others. She supplied from sixty to seventy bottles of milk, at sixpence each, per day to the miners. This was done only in the mornings as the distance was too great to make a delivery twice a day possible. The milk was sent to the miners furthest away by donkey-cart, while native boys on foot delivered the supply to those close to her house.
She also kept fowls and sent eggs to the market in Barberton. At one of the first markets held in this village tomatoes were sold at a shilling each, and cats, which were very scarce in the newly-founded dorp, went at a pound apiece. It seems strange to think of tomatoes ever fetching that price seeing that at present they grow almost wild there.
She used to send a native off on horseback with supplies for the early market in knapsacks at three o'clock in the morning, and by taking the short cut over the mountains he was able to reach Barberton in time. Eggs usually fetched 6/- a dozen and butter 6/- a pound. If the eggs were bought at her door so that she did not have the trouble of transport she sold them at 5/- a dozen. This sounds as though she made a small fortune from her fowls and cows, but it must be remembered that mealies to feed the fowls cost £3-l0/- a bag then, and a boy could not be hired for less than £3 a month. However, she managed to make quite a comfortable living for herself and her children.
She made a garden round her house, but, as there was no possibility of irrigation, everything had to be watered with a can. The soil, however, was extremely fertile so plants throve easily. In season she always had plenty of green mealies in the garden as both she and the children were very fond of them.
One morning on awakening, she reached for her slippers and was surprised to find her hand go down into a pool of water. There had been a terrific storm during the night but she had slept soundly through it all, and when she awoke at dawn the water was rushing through the house. She sent for Mr. Marais, who in turn sent for some natives, with whose aid all the furniture was carried out and a big furrow was opened up at the back of the house to lead the water away. It was four o'clock that afternoon before the house and the furniture were dry enough for the latter to be put back.
The roof of the Criterion Hotel at Eureka was blown off on the night of the storm.
While she was living at Fair View her eldest daughter, Annie, went to boarding-school at the Loreto Convent in Pretoria. Her Uncle Harry paid for her schooling.
Mrs. Marais gave a children's party one evening. Rod and Bessie attended this, so only Lionel and little Nellie were at home with their mother. When the two little ones had been put to bed and had gone to sleep, Mrs. Cameron sat reading as she rested after her hard day's work. She was absorbed in her story when a sudden loud knock at the front door made her start. She laid down her book reluctantly to answer the summons. When she opened the door she almost dropped with astonishment for before her stood a kaffir armed to the teeth with assegaais and knopkieries. Quick as lightning she banged the door shut and locked it. She rushed to get her revolver, lit a lantern, then quietly opened the door, and there the boy was still standing in a threatening attitude. She called out to him in his own tongue that if he did not depart immediately she would shoot. He did not move but just stared at her insolently. She put the lantern on the door-step and fired twice but both times the revolver missed fire. He naturally thought she was bluffing and took a step nearer while he raised an assegaai in a menacing manner. In desperation she fired again and this time the revolver worked and the bullet just grazed his leg. The startled native backed a few steps until he was out of the light of the lantern but he did not depart.
Mr. Pitt, who had always felt worried about her living so far away from the other houses, heard the shot and sent two police-boys full tilt over to her house. They arrested the native and put him in the stocks for the night. Next morning he was tried and sentenced to a certain number of lashes. He begged and pleaded to be let off and finally offered to pay five pounds to escape the lashes, but Mr. Pitt was adamant.
The only other time that she had trouble of this kind was when one evening she went to the kitchen, which was detached from the house, and found a drunk kaffir lying at the door. She grabbed a broom and belaboured him with it. He got up mumbling threats but luckily for her just then one of her native servants came along and escorted him off the premises.
On one occasion a boy looking for work came to her house and upon enquiry informed her that he could milk so she hired him. At sundown she showed him where the buckets were kept and sent him off to the kraal. She followed him to see how he worked. Much to her surprise he sat on his haunches behind the cow and proceeded to milk her from between her hind-legs. It was quite evident that he knew absolutely nothing about milking. The cow, unused to this novel method, lashed out and the kaffir with the bucket went sprawling in the dust. He was not at all hurt but dreadfully annoyed and seemed to think that Mrs. Carneron was in some way or other responsible for the incident. He became most insolent. How she wished she were a man so that she could punish him with her fists.
She wrote a note to Mr. Marais explaining what had happened and asked him to sjambok the boy. She gave the latter a plate and the note and told him to go to the butchery. He went off, naturally concluding, that the note was an order for some meat. She was determined that he should be punished for his behaviour and could think of no other plan to bring it to pass. On reading the note, Mr. Marais gave the boy a good "dressing down" and warned him to be respectful to his missus in future.
When the end of the month came she paid him and informed him that his time was up and he could go. He, however, begged to be allowed to stay and work for her but she refused to have him in her employ.
Besides the Sheba there were several other mines in the neighbourhood. At all of these she had many friends and often went over to visit them.
Mr. Hill was the manager of the Sheba and Mr. Osteloh was the mine captain. The latter and his wife were very good to the miners and as a consequence were extremely popular among them. Mrs. Osteloh was a really good woman with an outstandingly fine character. Her husband started work at the Sheba at five shillings a day and worked himself up until he became mine captain. Later on he obtained the post of manager of the Western Langlaagte Mine at a salary of two thousand pounds per annum, with a free house and other privileges. He held this position until the Anglo-Boer War started when he joined the Boer forces.
When the Ostelohs left the Sheba to take up their new work at Langlaagte, the miners presented her with a silver tea and coffee service and a plush table-cloth, while they gave him a gold watch with a very long chain which consisted of nuggets connected by links.
Mr. Hall was the manager of the Oriental Sheba. His wife and Mrs. Cameron became intimate friends and often went out for rides together.
On one occasion these two women decided to have a picnic for their children at Queen's River. Mr. Hall and the older children went on in advance, while his wife, with her youngest child behind her, and Mrs. Cameron, with Nellie in front of her, followed on horseback. The descent to the valley was extremely steep and rough. They proceeded thus for a good part of the way and then completed the journey on a steam-truck which belonged to the mill at Queen's River. This truck closely resembled a modern lorry in appearance for it was just a flat platform on wheels, but it was drawn by a steam-engine and ran on rails. The picnickers could not dangle their feet because of the huge rocks alongside the line.
The scenery was very picturesque. Along the way the party passed over a deep donga, and, as there were no side-palings to the narrow bridge, it made them all feel very giddy to look down into the depths below.
When at the river, they were informed by some natives there that all the cows turned out to graze in a certain direction would come home quite dry in the evenings. These kaffirs said the likkewane, which infested the banks of the river, curled their tails round the hind-legs of the cows and drank out all the milk. There was a great number of baboons in the mountains in the vicinity.
The picnickers enjoyed their day thoroughly, and on the return journey the ladies of the party put up their sunshades to prevent the sparks from the engine from falling on the children and themselves. Their sunshades were quite ruined as innumerable little holes were burnt in them by the flying sparks.
Later on an aerial tram took the place of the steam-truck. This tram consisted of large barrel-shaped apartments of which there were two sets, and when the one lot went up the incline the other set descended.
Mrs. Hall left Sheba before Mrs. Cameron left Fair View. Twenty-nine years later they met again on the latter's farm, Sebensa, in the Standerton district. Mrs. Hall went out to the farm to see her old friend, and, although her visit was quite unexpected, Mrs. Cameron recognized her visitor immediately in spite of the fact that almost thirty years had passed since they had last seen each other.
Many of the mines did not pay and most of the companies floated proved to be worthless so by the middle of 1887 the town of Barberton, which had sprung up as if by magic, was already on the downward grade and many of the miners left to try their luck at the Rand Gold Fields. When Mrs. Cameron had been in residence at Fair View for about three and a half years, so many of the miners had left to seek their fortunes elsewhere that her milk and egg trade fell off very considerably she decided to try pastures new.
Copyright Win de Vos.
Put onto the web by Joan Marsh(2002) a great-grand-daughter of ERCameron