William Anderson's Griquatown / Griekwastad, South Africa

In 1801 William Anderson and Cornelius Kramer, of the London Missionary Society, established a station among the Griqua at Leeuwenkuil. The site proved to be too arid for cultivation, and in about 1805 they moved the station to another spring further up the valley and called it Klaarwater. Regrettably their second choice was little better than their first, and for many years a lack of water prevented any further development.

William Burchell visited here in October 1811 and reported that:

"The trees of my imagination vanished, leaving nothing in reality but a few which the missionaries themselves had planted; the church sunk to a barn-like building of reeds and mud; the village was merely a row of half a dozen reed cottages; the river was but a rill; and the situation an open, bare, and exposed place, without any appearance of a garden, excepting that of the missionaries."

GRIQUATOWN (in the Northern Cape, just west of Kimberley) was the capital of an independent state, and a sanctuary for all kinds of adventurers, thieves and liquor traders. The wide streets are much emptier now, but it is easy to imagine the old days when the town was half full of horsemen, wagons, and rugged-looking characters. A tree where law-breakers were hanged still grows in the town. The Griquas were a Khoikhoi people who lived near Piketberg in the western Cape. Led by a freed slave known as Adam KOK, they wandered northwards and in 1800 settled in the foothills of the Asbesberge (Asbestos Mountains) at a place called Klaarwater ('clear water').


In 1802 the London Missionary Society established a station around which grew Griquatown - the first town north of the Orange River. "In 1804 A large group of Khoikhoi, deserting slaves, San, people of mixed ancestry and some who have problems integrating into the Cape colonial society trek from the Cape and settle at Klaarwater north of the Orange River. They are called 'Basters' by the colonial authorities but name themselves Griqua, a name which has its possible origins in an old Khoikhoi clan, the Guriqua and which is recommended to them by the missionaries of the London Missionary Society who work amongst them".

The Griquas became a people of some consequence on the frontier and their country, Griqualand West, had its own flag and coinage (!). Missionaries notwithstanding, Griquatown was a wild and woolly place. It was a staging post on the route to the interior, and many travelers and explorers passed through on their way north. Among them was David LIVINGSTONE, whose wife, Mary MOFFAT, was born in the Griquatown mission.

Moffat Museum

The Griquas eventually split into two sections. One section under the Kok family wandered eastwards, first to Philippolis (in 1826), and then across the Drakensberg to Griqualand East. The rest of the Griquas remained around Griquatown and were absorbed into the British empire when diamonds were discovered in their country. In 1861 most of the inhabitants of Griquatown collectively sold off their land holdings in the region and migrated to Griqualand East.

Thereafter Griquatown began to be developed by Dutch colonists, and in 1891 the census indicated that the village had a population of 401. By 1904 this number had risen to 1,244. On 17 November 1899 Griquatown was captured by Boer forces and probably remained in their hands intermittently until 7 June 1900 when British forces under Lt-Gen Sir Charles Warren entered the village. On 27 October Boer forces returned to Griquatown and ransacked its post office, inflicting extensive damage upon its establishment in the process.


GRIQUATOWN, Cape: LMS 1802. Originally known as KLAARWATER, the name was changed to GRIQUATOWN in 1813 by the Rev John Campbell. It was visited in October 1811 by William Burchell, who reported extensively upon the village and its inhabitants:

"Not far from here, is the spot where these missionaries first established themselves in 1801, at a place called Aakaap by the Hottentots, or Rietfontein (Reed Fountain) in Dutch. They afterwards removed to The Kloof, but finally fixed their head-quarters at Klaarwater, as being a situation more central with respect to the different out-posts, or kraals, occupied by this race of Hottentots.
"I accompanied the three missionaries round the village, to take a cursory view of the different parts of it; the huts of the Hottentots, their own dwellings; the house for religious meeting and school instruction1; their storehouse, and their garden. When I considered that this little community, and the spot on which I stood, were nearly eight hundred miles deep in the interior of Africa, I could not but look upon every object of their labors with double interest; and received, at that moment a pleasure, unalloyed by the knowledge of a single untoward circumstance. The Hottentots peeped out of their huts to have a look at me; and I fancied they appeared glad at having one more white man amongst them.
" The above engraving is a view of the Church. The furthest building is the dwelling-house of one of the missionaries; and the intermediate hut is a storehouse. Beyond these is shown a part of the ridge, which is represented at the head of Chapter 20.
"From the moment when I decided on making Klaarwater in my way to the Interior, I naturally endeavured to form, in my own mind, some picture of it; and I know not by what mistake it arose, that I should conceive the idea of its being a picturesque spot surrounded by trees and gardens, with a river running through a neat village, where a tall church stood, a distant beacon to mark that Christianity had advanced thus far into the wilds of Africa. But the first glance now convinced me how false may oftentimes be the notions which men form of what they have not seen. The trees of my imagination vanished, leaving nothing in reality but a few which the missionaries themselves had planted; the church sunk to a barn-like building of reeds and mud; the village was merely a row of half a dozen reed cottages; the river was but a rill; and the situation an open, bare, and exposed place, without any appearance of a garden, excepting that of the missionaries.
"It would be very unfair towards those who have devoted themselves to a residence in a country, where they are cut off from communication with civilized society, and deprived of all its comforts, to attribute this low state of civilization and outward improvement, to a want of solicitude on their part. Their continual complaint, indeed, was of the laziness of the Hottentots, and of the great difficulty there had always been in persuading them to work, either on the buildings or in the garden; and in this complaint there was too much truth.
"A small channel, conducting from a spring in the upper part of the mead to some huts and corn-land below, supplied us with plenty of good water. The station, like every one in the vicinity, was open and exposed; but it had a pleasant prospect of the whole of the village, to which a narrow path led across the mead.
"The neighbourhood was first reconnoitered, to ascertain where firewood was to be found; but this article had been every where consumed by the inhabitants of the kraal, and was to be procured only at a great distance.
"This being Sunday, I attended the service in the church, or meeting-house. The building which they call so was rudely built of rough unhewn timber and reeds, covered with a thatched roof, and having a smooth, hard earthen floor, kept in order by being frequently smeared with cow-dung, in the manner practised by the colonists. Within, the sides were plastered with mud; and, being whitewashed with a kind of clay, which is found near the river, they looked tolerably clean; but the rafters and thatch constituted the only ceiling. The eaves were about six feet from the ground. The upright posts, the beams and rafters, were either of Acacia or Willow, and tied together with strips of Acacia-bark. The space within the building was a long parallelogram, which, when quite filled, might perhaps contain a congregation of three hundred persons, in the way in which them Hottentots squat on the ground; for there were no seats, excepting about a dozen, which some of the more civilized of the auditors had provided themselves with. On one of the longer sides the door-way was placed, and opposite to it, a pulpit raised a step above the floor.
"This is the ordinary routine of the business of the mission as I observed it during the four months which, at different times, I spent at Klaarwater. And, with respect to its effects in forwarding the object of it, I cannot say that they appeared to me very evident: certainly, I saw nothing that would sanction me in making such favorable reports as have been laid before the public.
"The village itself is situated close on the eastern side of a low rocky ridge, composed of an argillaceous slate or stone, divisible into thin lamina like that of the Asbestos mountains; between which, however, no asbestos has hitherto been observed. On one side is a long grassy mead of irregular shape, and containing above a hundred acres. This, being the lowest ground, receives the drainings and springs of the whole valley, and is, in some places, of a boggy nature. It is covered with coarse grass, and, by a little trouble and management, might be converted into gardens for the Hottentots, in the same manner as at Genadendal, and seems excellently suited for the purpose. The soil is a dark mould; and springs, rising in different parts of it, yield a never-failing stream of water during the whole year. I found this water clear and wholesome at all times: it is, however, of a calcareous nature, as is evident by the substance deposited on the roots and stems of the reeds and sedge along its course. All these springs, collected into a small rill, take their course through the mountains southward, by an outpost called Leeuwenkuil (Lion's-den), and passing by Grootedoorn (Great-thorn), another outpost, join the Great River, after running a distance of forty miles. The whole substratum of this part of the country, for many leagues northward and eastward, is a hard limestone rock of primitive formation; and on this, rest the laminated argillaceous mountains. This limestone rock in no place rises into mountains, but often forms the surface of a great extent of country. I never saw in it any marks of extraneous fossils. The soil on the higher grounds surrounding the valley, is remarkably red, being a mixture of sand and clay, which produces bushes and a variety of plants; but is subject to great drought during the summer.
"The number of (Khoikhoi) houses immediately round the church, is not greater than twenty-five; but at a distance, within the same valley, nearly as many more are scattered about; and there are three or four at Leeuwenkuil, a place between the mountains, and about a mile and a half distant. Within fifty miles, in various directions, are nearly a dozen other out-posts; but they are not always inhabited: of these, the largest is the Kloof.
"The aggregate number of inhabitants at Klaarwater and the out-stations, amounted in the year 1809, as I was informed, to seven hundred and eighty-four souls; and it was supposed that at this time it had not decreased: for, although some had left them and returned into the Cape colony, others had been added from that quarter in an equal proportion. The Koras and (San) living within the Klaarwater district, cannot be considered as belonging to the establishment, since they show no desire to receive the least instruction from the missionaries, nor do they attend their meetings, but continue to remove from place to place, a wild independent people.
"The tribe of (Khoikhoi) now at Klaarwater, had its origin from the two families of the Mixed Race, of the name of Kok and Berends, who, about forty years ago, preferring their freedom on the banks of the Great River to a residence within the Cape colony, where they had acquired a few sheep in the service of the farmers, emigrated thither from the Kamiesberg with all their cattle and friends. These were, from time to time, joined by others of the same race, who found their life under the boors not so agreeable as they wished. Thus, their increasing numbers rendered them an object worth the attention of the missionaries; whose station amongst the Bushmen at Zak River, happened to break up about the year 1800. These Hottentots appearing to offer an easier and more promising soil for their labors, the missionaries attached themselves to them, and followed them in all their wanderings along the river, till they were at last persuaded to remain stationary at Aakapp, and finally at Klaarwater; which, at the time they took possession of it, was a (San) kraal.
"The existence of this little community of (Khoikhoi), was well known to the colonists under the name of the Bastaards, because the whole of them were at that time, of the Mixed Race. They had always professed, among themselves, the Christian religion; and at one time were the dupes of a religious impostor, named Stephanus.
"The dwellings of the missionaries stand close together in a line with the meeting-house, forming, with two others in a parallel line, a kind of street, in the middle of which stood, at this time, a stuffed camelopard, which, being much weather-beaten and decayed, was soon afterwards taken down. This object, reminding me that I was in the country where these animals were to be beheld alive, added a pleasing and very interesting feature to this little village.
"The only piece of masonry was the foundations of a large building, intended to comprise under one roof a meeting-house and the dwellings of the missionaries; but its only use is to prove that a plan of rendering the mission respectable in its appearance was once entertained. It was commenced, I believe, about seven years before my visit to Klaarwater, and was carried on with spirit by the united labor of the whole community, until the walls reached the height of five or six feet; and in this state it has remained ever since, and still continues, without any prospect of being completed. This neglect is attributed to the temper of the (Khoikhoi), who, like children pleased with a new toy, which is soon thrown aside, at first laboured readily at the work, and would not have deserted it if three or four months could have brought it to a conclusion; but finding, after the novelty of the job had worn off, that nothing was left but hard labor, their little stock of exertion and patience became exhausted, and the thing was given up as an undertaking of too great a magnitude. There was no want of materials; since their mortar was obtained close at hand, being merely mud, and the adjoining hill supplied the stone, which was formed by nature of shapes the best adapted for masonry: while timber might easily be procured from the banks of the Gariep, or even much nearer. The business of sawing planks has not yet been introduced here; but two or three people work as blacksmiths, although in a very bungling manner.
"The only means of rendering this mission permanent, is to induce these people to acquire property in immoveable buildings, and in gardens well stocked with fruit-trees. These they would be unwilling to desert, on account of the labor and time that would be required to procure the same advantages on another spot. To persuade them to erect such buildings, had been, as Mr Anderson informed me, his constant endeavour; and it was not without reason that he complained of the laziness of the people, and of their unwillingness to regulate their conduct by his instructions and advice. It is certainly not an easy task to change the customs and prejudices of any people; but still, however, it may in many cases be done; and, whenever improvements more conducive to their happiness can be substituted in the place of their own rude notions, the attempt may conscientiously be made, and, to a certain extent, persevered in".

Burchell also described Captain Dam's homestead as follows:

"We also visited Captain Dam, as he is called, the (Khoikhoi) chief of Klaarwater, who holds a sort of authority over one-half of this tribe (of Mixwed Khoikhoi); while Captain Berends is, in like manner, the regulator and commander of the other half. His name was Adam Kok: he appeared to be under the middle age, with a countenance indicative of a quiet disposition. My visit to him required no explanations, as the missionaries had already made him acquainted with every thing respecting me. His hut, which was close behind the missionary's, was not better than those of other Hottentots; but was made of mats, in the usual hemispherical form.
"The vignette at the head of Chapter 20 is a representation of Captain Dam's hut, and of his wagon of which mention is made in the following chapter. Behind them are seen some of the trees of the missionary's garden, enclosed by a hedge of dry bushes. The trunk of a tree is fixed up near the hut, for the purpose of preparing (or, as they call it, breyen) leathern reims, and for hanging game and various other things upon. Such an apparatus is called by them, and by the colonists, who also make use of it, a Brey-paal. On the ridge in the distance may be seen, just above the Brey-paal, a part of the road leading to Ongeluk's Fontein".

Upon a subsequent visit, in 1812, Burchell commented upon the increase in size of the settlement at Klaarwater.

"At my former visit to this village, the number of mat-huts was twenty, it was now twenty-five. This increase of population was occasioned by the return home of those families who had been residing with their cattle on the banks of the Gariep during the dry season".

In 1812 William Burchell also noted fluctuations in the Khoikhoi population of Klaarwater.

"On our road this afternoon, we met a party of men, women, and children, with their huts and all their goods, removing from Klaarwater to the Asbestos mountains. The whole family, with mats, sticks, utensils, and skins, packed all together on the backs of the oxen, and moving along with a steady pace, presented a curious group, which might have been fancied to bear some resemblance to the journeyings of the people of patriarchal days, notwithstanding the dignity, and splendid robes, with which modern painters have thought proper to invest them. At least, their bringing to recollection, a party of Gypsies in England, removing from one county to another, is an idea less fanciful and speculative. We stopped a few minutes to answer each other's questions as to the whence, the whither, the when, and the wherefore of our journeys; nor did I forget to ask the men if they would like a trip to Graafreynet.

The next visitor of note to visit the Mission was John Campbell in June 1813 when Klaarwater changed its name to Griquatown.

"The whole people likewise resolved that henceforth they should be called Griquas, instead of Bastard (Khoikhoi), and the place called Griqua-town, instead of Klaar Water".

Two months later, in August 1813, John Campbell also commented on local craft skills.

"Trades can scarcely be said to exist in Griqualand. There are some who may be termed bambus-makers, or makers of vessels of wood for holding milk or water. Some can do a little at smith's-work, in repairing waggons, and one man (Fortuyn at Hardcastle) can construct a waggon. From the appearance of the new meeting-house they are building, which stands unfinished, there must be tolerably good masons among them. The women make mats of rushes. Upon the whole, I believe this mission has been a great blessing to this part of Africa".

John Campbell returned to Griquatown in March 1820 when he recorded the following:

"I walked with Mr Helm to call upon some of the people in their own houses. Among others we visited a little cluster of huts about a quarter of a mile from the town. They have many dwellings, which are called round-houses, in the town; one such is at this little village, it is built of stone about the height of five feet, and fifteen feet diameter, with a conical roof, a door, and one window. The same Griqua who inhabited the round-house was also building a square one of stone, about thirty feet by twelve, with a door and three windows. The walls were well built and nearly finished. When completed, he meant to use the round-house as a store. Three Griqua women, dressed in the European fashion, were sewing some cotton articles; three or four others came from the huts dressed in the same manner; to all of whom I made presents of needles, thread, thimbles, etc".

In about 1836 Arbousset and Daumas commented upon the condition of the Khoikhoi population of Griquatown:

"They now live at Griqua Town and Campbell's Dorp. They have given up their miserable huts for houses more healthy, and more commodious; and their sheepskin cloaks for European clothing.

Griquatown was subsequently visited by James Backhouse in September 1839 when he recorded the following:

"Griqua Town is situated on the edge of an extensive, limestone plain, and at the foot of a range of low hills of silicious schistus, producing yellow asbestos. Its original name was Klaarwater, "Clearwater", taken form its clear and copious spring, which not only supplied the town, but watered the vale extending toward the Orange River. At the time of our visit, a drought which had lasted about six years, had reduced this spring to a standing pool; the water did not reach the surface by a foot and a half, notwithstanding that a few smaller springs, which were more superficial, within two or three miles, continued to flow. The gardens and adjacent lands were desolate; a solitary peach-tree and a few fig-trees were all that survived in the former; and few of the Griquas remained upon the place. Many of the houses, that had been forsaken in consequence of the drought, were in ruins. The occupied houses were those of the Chief, the Missionaries, the school-teachers and a few others. But in the vicinity there were some Basutu villages, inhabited by people who were rescued by the Chief, Andries Waterboer, from the Bergenaars, who were a horde of banditti that separated from the Griquas of this place.
"In the annexed etching of Griqua Town, the houses of the missionaries and teachers, with the schools, the chapel, and some other buildings, form the irregular line on the left, and that of the chief, with two mat huts at the end, is at a distance, in front. Those at the foot of the bushy, schistose hill in the foreground were in ruins.
"Many of the houses of Griqua Town were of raw brick, plastered with clay and cow-dung. Lime entered largely into the composition of the clay, and consequently, the brick would not stand when burnt; in the raw state it endured the weather well".

Twenty years later, in about 1859, John MacKenzie was to paint a somewhat different picture.

"But some years before my first visit, the once prosperous villages of Gruiqua Town and Campbell had been ruined by the drying up of the fountains – the apparent strength of which had been the chief reason for their selection as sites for villages. At Griqua Town everything bore the evidence of former prosperity. But the gardens and fields were now parched up and quite uncultivated, while many of the houses were deserted and in ruins. The impression produced on our minds was one of sadness and disappointment. But when we had visited some of the neighbouring homesteads, and saw the manner in which the people were living, our feelings were considerably changed. Both in Griqua Town district and Philippolis we found some of the people in possession of houses, waggons, and clothing quite equal to those of many Dutch farmers".

By the time Frederick Selous visited it in November 1871 Griquatown had fallen upon distinctly hard times:

"On November 9th we trekked, and reached Griqua Town the following day. This place, like Campbell's-dorp, must have seen better days, but was now almost deserted".