The brothers of Broederstroom

The gate at the entrance to Grootplaats is a historical monument. Photograph by Willie Meyer

by Willie Meyer – from his book “Magaliesberg Kaleidoscope”

Broederstroom was established in the early 1840s when the Pretorius brothers, Piet, Bart and Wynand settled on the banks of the Crocodile River – hence the name Broederstroom.

Piet (Henning Petrus Nicolas), Wynand (Johannes Lodewyk Wynand) and Bart (Hercules Albertus) Pretorius were the brothers of the Voortrekker hero, Andries Wilhelmus Jacobus Pretorius. Andries established himself a little later than his brothers, in 1848, in the Magalies Moot where he started farming on Grootplaats De Rust (or Oude Rust) at the confluence of the Magalies and Crocodile Rivers and where he died five years later in 1853. His eldest son, Marthinus Wessel, established the farm Kalkheuvel adjacent to Broederstroom but he was so involved in politics that he didn’t spend too much time on the farm.

After the death of his father, Marthinus Wessel was appointed Commandant General of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek and his duties often took him to Rustenburg and Potchefstroom. It was during this time that he campaigned for the establishment of a town where Pretoria later arose and for which purpose he bought the farms Elandspoort and Daspoort.[2] In 1855 the town was indeed proclaimed and he proposed the name Pretoria Philadelphia in honour of his father and uncles. The name has been abbreviated to Pretoria and five years later the town became the capital of Transvaal, replacing Potchefstroom.

While MW Pretorius was the Commandant General he lived at Kalkheuvel, but after he became president in 1857 he spent most of his time at Potchefstroom. He was endeavouring to establish closer relations between the Transvaal and the Republic of the Orange Free State and in 1860 accepted the presidency of the Free State too. It caused so much tension in Transvaal, however, that he resigned. After the brief civil war which, amongst others, claimed the life of his cousin, also Marthinus Wessel (Swart Martiens) he was re-elected as president of the ZAR in 1864. Even then he spent most of his time in Potchefstroom and only visited Pretoria on government business[3].

The members of the Pretorius clan who probably had the greatest impact on the region of the present day Hartbeespoort Dam were those who lived at Broederstroom, Grootplaats and Welgegund. Piet Pretorius, Bart’s older brother, was murdered at Moorddraai, near Harrismith in 1865. He was the father of Swart Martiens of Welgegund who fell in the civil war of 1864. Martiens was married to Deborah, the daughter of Piet Retief, and their son, Henning, was the Commander of the ZAR Staatsartillerie before he died in 1897.

His house at Welgegund is the one in which his son, Lood, whose own competence as a gunner gave birth to the Afrikaans expression, “Skote Petoors”, lived when the well-known Afrikaans author and poet, Eugene Marais, came to borrow a rifle to commit suicide.

The entrance to Grootplaats is a gate which today is a historical monument. The house in which Dries Pretorius, a direct descendant of the Boer hero, lives is not the one in which he spent the last years of his life. The original homestead disappeared under the water of the Hartbeespoort Dam but some of the wall and foundation stones were used in a monument at the Skeerpoort primary school.

Also at Skeerpoort on Dodona, a portion of Grootplaats (the original farm which was a full 76 800 hectares in extent), lived Beres Jobling, grandson of the remarkable Vida Beynon, first matron of what was then the Meerhof School for the Crippled. Beres (who was christened Charles Beresford Pretorius Jobling) said his grandmother always said he spoke Afrikaans with an Oxford accent.

Vida and her first husband, Ampie (Abraham) Pretorius, great grandson of Andries Pretorius, spent their weekends in a tent on that portion of Grootplaats until they built a rondavel in the 1930s. The name Dodona refers to a Greek oracle devoted to the mother goddess. After Ampie’s death Vida built the little chapel in his honour and in gratitude for all the soldiers who safely returned after a war. Later, after she married John Beynon, she was the driving force behind the building of the Meerhof chapel which was completed shortly before her retirement in 1968.

After the Anglo Boer War Abraham Pretorius went to study in England and on his return became deputy inspector of mines. His children also had an English education and his son, Nicholas, served with distinction in the Union Defence Force.

ME Pretorius quotes an episode that is typical of the dissension in the ranks of the Afrikaner in the early part of the twentieth century. He relates the story of the rebel, Jopie Fourie, who was captured by government forces on the 16th December 1914. His mother’s maiden name was Pretorius and he took part in the rebellion under direction of his cousin, Willem Francois Pretorius of the Heidelberg commando. The government forces were commanded by Colonel Nicholas Pretorius, another cousin. Fourie, who was a commissioned officer in the Union Defence Force when the rebellion broke out, was the only rebel that was executed.

A very resourceful Pretorius was Andries’s younger brother Bart who established the first school at Broederstroom in the attic of his house and later founded the school which was known as the “curtain school”.

He was also his older brother’s adjutant when he was commandant general and was one of the five Boers who charged out of the laager to entice the Zulus to attack again at the Battle of Blood River. His house at Broederstroom is still standing.

The house currently occupied by his great-great grandson, Johan, is that of Piet, the first Pretorius to settle at Broederstroom. This house is probably the first to have been built on the farm but had been substantially modified and extended over the years.

Johan says that it is not true that a gold mine was operated at Broederstroom. Bart did in fact prospect for gold and other minerals, but never actually mined. He also referred to the fact that although Broederstroom, Welgegund and Grootplaats were originally very large farms belonging to the Pretorius family, the large families caused the farms to be subdivided in smaller and smaller portions so that all the children and in-laws could be accommodated. Eventually the portions became so small that descendants had to look elsewhere to earn a living.

Johan was a property developer but returned to Broederstroom after his retirement, not to farm but to walk again on the trails of his ancestors and rediscover his roots.

A copy of the book by Willie Meyer is available at the Kormorant office.