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Open Features: The Ivory Maid And The Boeresun

...“Hey, sit close!” shouted Andrew. Then, with a loud crash the wagon overturned and hit a large boulder. The impending darkness added to the confusion.

“Anne, where are you? Are you hurt?” Andrew had been thrown clear...

Marianne Hall weaves a tale from true events set in what is now South Africa more than 200 years ago.

Jane sat pensively at the Castle window gazing at the wide expanse of the South Atlantic. A southwest gale came thundering in from the deep waters and lashed and pounded the surf crashing on the long Cape beach, foam billowing and drifting up to the doors of the reed thatched, white-washed brick houses, then receding to leave gleaming white sands.

Her attention wandered to the courtyard below where a group of Burghers, well-fed rosy-cheeked men, powdered and dressed in black, walked in pairs, each one followed by a Hottentot servant carrying his master’s umbrella. Behind them came the Boers, some of whom had travelled two days by oxwagon to Cape Town. They were fine well-built men, in blue cloth jackets and trousers and wore very high flat hats which they removed before entering the Castle.

The slow procession made it’s way up the curved steps of the decorous balcony of De Kat from where a Proclamation had been made on the seventh day of that year of 1795 that Burghers and Boers were to take the Oath of Fealty to the British Crown. The British Governor, Lord Macartney had deemed this a necessary precaution whilst he was in control of the Cape on behalf of Holland, as he suspected possible intervention by the French and displaced loyalties.

One very fair head stood out. To Jane’s utter dismay the face turned upwards and a cheerful broad smile and wink followed. She withdrew quickly, blushing in hot confusion, but, when she returned to the window, the boer had gone.

“Not ready yet?” Her aunt, Lady Anne Barnard stood at the bedroom door. “Colonel Craufurd will be here soon.”

Jane turned away reluctantly from the window and followed her aunt down to the elegant drawing room where a fine tea had been laid out for an assortment of guests. Life at the Cape was a grand affair. Known a the “Gateway to the East”, numerous ships put in to port. Eminent viitors sat down regularly to the good and ample suppers to exchange news and gossip. Lady Anne held dinner parties and balls and did all she could to carry out the wishes of her government to conciliate the Dutch as much as possible.

The young men of the garrison were anxious to make love to Jane, the “fair ivory maid”, but she had eyes only for Colonel James Craufurd. However, her love was unrequited as he seemed to have no serious views on the subject, flirted gaily with all the young ladies at the ball that evening and ignored her completely.

After supper, a song was proposed. Colonel Craufurd edged his way towards Jane, took her arm and firmly led her to the balcony.

“Will you marry me?” he asked, somewhat condenscendingly.

Jane felt her anger rising. Piqued, because he had not asked her for a single dance all evening, she drew herself up and looked him steely in the eyes.

“Certainly not,” she answered haughtily, withdrew his arm, and, head held high, walked quickly back to the drawing room.

She retired early and fell sobbing on the bed. What had she done and how could she have been so foolish? To add to her dismay she learnt the following morning that the Colonel had left for a trip into the Interior.

Shortly afterwards, her uncle, Andrew Barnard, who was Secretary of the Colony, received a summons from the Governor.

“I want you to go to Swellendam,” said Lord Macartney, “to try and induce those stubborn burghers to take the oath, they must be made to see reason.”

The arrangements admirably suited the Barnards, as they were concerned about Jane and her continued apathy.

“We are to take a trip into the country,” announced Andrew. “And this”, he continued turning to Jane, “should bring some colour back into your cheeks.”

They finally set off in a long and narrow travelling wagon drawn by eight horses, which laboured through the heavy sand on to Rondebosch. That night they stopped off at Meerlust, the house of Mijnheer Johannes Myburgh. Their journey continued to Somerset West, to “Overwacht”, the home of the Morkel family. What bliss it was to sleep in featherbeds that night!

The next morning a span of oxen was hired. The slopes of the Hottentots Kloof were so steep that it was necessary to lash the wheels of the wagon and slide them over the bare rocks. There were no brakes and there was nothing to check the wagon but an old skid which was slipped under a rear wheel. The oxen were bellowing and kicking and it took hours of tortuous climbing to reach the summit.

Suddenly, the wagon rocked, the wheel sinking on the left side on the edge of a sloping bank.

“Hey, sit close!” shouted Andrew. Then, with a loud crash the wagon overturned and hit a large boulder. The impending darkness added to the confusion.

“Anne, where are you? Are you hurt?” Andrew had been thrown clear.

“No. Are you?” Anne’s arm was wedged between the bars of the wagon and she felt suffocated with the entire luggage on top of her. She slowly pulled herself free and crawled out from under the wagon, every bone in her body aching.

“Over here!” shouted Jane.

They finally got her out. She was shocked, sore, hot, sticky and very irritated. A cask of ginger had emptied all it’s contents all over her. The cold water from a nearby stream did nothing to improve her temper as an attempt was made to clean up the sticky mess. Her white marble arms were badly bruised and her ankle had twisted and was swelling badly. She was wrapped in a blanket and laid on a mattress whilst the party endeavoured to right the wagon.

In view of the fact that it was too late to effect the necessary repairs, they decided to move on to the home of Jacob van Reenen. Jane was running a fever and Lady Anne and Andrew were much concerned. Side saddles were put on the horses and Jane was carefully eased on to one of them.

Mevrouw van Reenan cordially welcomed the weary, dusty and hungry travellers.

“Kom,” she commanded, picked up the delirious Jane in her strong arms and carried her into the house, barking orders at a Hottentot servant. Jane was soon stripped and washed, a hot poultice put around the ankle and a herbal tea prepared. As she dozed off her last memory was of a buxom woman dressed in a blue stiff petticoat, wearing a cotton bedgown with long sleeves, a double mock shawl handkerchief and a round morning cap on her head.

Jane awoke at dawn feeling very weak. The severe pain in her ankle had eased somewhat but the foot was still very tender. Lady Anne sat on the side of her bed.

“Jane,” she said to her niece, “I have discussed this with Andrew and we have decided to leave you here for a few days. The jolting on the wagon will not auger well for your ankle. We will finish our business and come back for you.”

Jane was aghast. “You can’t do that!” she protested. “Leave me here with these uncivilized savages and all these children and dirty Hottentots!” She burst into tears.

Mevrouw van Reenan came into the room followed by a young man. “My son, Jan,” she said.

Jane looked up into a pair of smiling blue eyes. He looked strangely familiar.

“I saw you at the Castle”, he said, by way of introduction.

Jane blushed furiously, remembering the incident and suddenly feeling very shy and unsure of herself.

“Ye-e-es,” she acknowledged, wishing the earth would swallow her up. Had he heard her comments?

“Where did you learn to speak such impeccable English?” she asked, amazed.

“Once a week the Meneer comes up from the Cape to teach us the Uitlander’s taal,” came the cheeky reply.

“Well,” said Lady Anne with a twinkle, “you are obviously in very good hands and I am sure you will not lack for company.”

Within two days Jane was up, hobbling around on a crutch that Jan had made for her, He spent as much time as his duties would allow to be with her. However, she felt desperately lonely and her ankle still ached. Thoroughly dejected, she made her way to the stables to the horses she loved. It was cool and comforting inside. Then the tears came, unabated.

There was a slight movement behind her and a comforting arm reached over her shoulders. Anxious blue eyes met hers.

“Toe maar.”

It was Jan. He put down his rake and led her to a bale of hay. She threw herself into his arms and wept uncontrollably. Gradually her sobs subsided and they sat hand in hand in silence.

“Jan! Jan! Waar is jy?” The stable door flung open and Mevrouw van Reenan stopped dead at the sight of the two young people. She stormed over to Jane and with a look of withering disgust grabbed her by the arm.

“Go to your room!” she barked, As Jane ran to the house she could hear the high pitched screams directed at Jan. She felt thoroughly embarrassed and ashamed. Matters could not be worse as she had insulted her hostess and could only surmise what her aunt and uncle would think of her unseemly conduct.

Supper was brought up to her room that evening and at daybreak the Hottentot maid came in and packed her clothes in silence. Mevrouw van Reenan informed her in no uncertain terms that she was no longer welcome in their house and that it had been decided to send her back to Cape Town. The rest of the family totally ignored her.

Meneer van Reenan came over to the wagon as it was leaving.

“Please excuse my wife and family. You did nothing wrong,” he said gruffly, doffing his hat in farewell.

Jane sat as stone next to the driver. The wagon started on it’s long journey back to Cape Town. The oxen trudged slowly along the sandy road. She felt utterly depressed and dejected, She was so wrapped up in her own misery that she did not at once see the rider come galloping towards them.

As he came closer the rider waved his hat in greeting and a fair head with a cheeky smile came into view.

“Jan!” shouted Jane, in total amazement and delight.

“Father sent me to see you safely to Cape Town,” he said, his horse trotting alongside the wagon.

Jane blushed as a surge of warmth flooded through her, His blue eyes reached out to her. Melting, the fair ivory maid responded, knowing that somehow her destiny lay with this young boer from Swellendam.


Note: The background is taken from the memoirs of “Lady Anne Barnard”. The incidents surrounding the overturning of the wagon actually happened, but subsequent events are fictitious. Lady Anne’s niece was also named “Anne” but she refers to her as “Jane” in her letters and memoirs*


Published in the “Write Stuff” Issue 67 November/December 1999

(Copyright @ 1999 by Marianne Hall. All rights reserved)


Marianne Hall brings this fascinating background information which explains how she came to write this story:

The first time I walked up the steps of De Kat, I experienced a sense of deja vu.

Now, when I visit the Castle of Good Hope, my feet lead me to a small portrait hanging on the wall of the entrance hall. It is of Lady Anne Barnard. She looks at me with those big beautiful blue eyes and I seem to hear her say: "You here ......AGAIN!"

My acquaintance with the Lady began many years ago. My sister, Henny Prince, who stays in Kalk Bay, belongs to the Van Riebeeck Society, It was founded in 1918 'to print or reprint for distribution among the members, and for sale to the public, rare and valuable books, pamphlets and documents relating to the history of South Africa'. One volume is published annually.

Henny sent me 'The Cape Diaries of Lady Anne Barnard 1799-1800. Vol 1.' A year later Vol 2 arrived. Both books are edited by Prof Margaret Lenta and Basil Le Cordeur.

At the time Ute Zeeman was working on a thesis 'The British Military Occupation of the Cape 1795-1815' towards the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Cape Town. She approached me to do some research at the Brenthurst Library.

Diana Madden, Manuscript Librarian, was extremely helpful. Each page is preserved in special plastic cover. Whilst I was there I came across the Almanacs - a record of every citizen, their address and occupation. From year to year I followed their change of fortunes and subsequent new addresses.

Transported back in time it was with a jolt that I emerged outside - back into the present!

Lady Anne Barnard painted a panoramic view of the area surrounding the Castle. Henny, Ute and myself took photos of this view. When they were developed an interesting fact came to light. Table Mountain had definitely corroded over the past 200 years! The photos were taken to the Brenthurst Library.

Months later I was invited to a talk by Prof Margaret Lenta. I had already written the article 'Knowing more about Lady Anne Barnard" and the story 'The Ivory Maid and the Boereseun'. I gave both to her, then waited anxiously for her comments. When none came I knew that I had presented the correct facts.

'The Ivory Maid and the Boereseun" is the story of Lady Anne's niece. It is, to a certain extent fictitious, but the background is authentic and part of South African history.


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