Kendrew’s Forgotten Past

Kendrew, settlers

Kendrew: today there are only old trees and ruins.

By Andrew McNaughton and Julienne du Toit

Roughly south of Graaff-Reinet is a little railway siding called Kendrew.

Drive through the area today and you’ll see little sign of life. But in 1926, nearly 150 people lived here, most of them with absolutely nothing to do but look forward to a monster drinking binge.

When the train passed through they’d invade the dining car, downing double and triple brandies and whiskeys, and if they still hadn’t drunk enough, they’d often delay departure by sneakily uncoupling the last carriage.

They were mostly newly-arrived British citizens and the reason they had nothing to do is because they had been duped by one of the most cynical pieces of false advertising this country has ever seen.

Behind it all was an American insurance mogul Isadore William Schlesinger.

He had persuaded the Government to allow him to sell an irrigation scheme south of the proposed Van Ryneveld Dam (now Nqweba Dam).

The railway through Kendrew hasn't seen a train for decades now.

The railway through Kendrew hasn’t seen a train for decades now.

Kendrew was theoretically all set to become a thriving little town attached to citrus orchards. There was going to be a movie house, bacon and cheese factories, a lucerne mill, a fruit drying plant, and a sports centre.

Schlesinger advertised a scheme in a brochure to British citizens, using pictures of Graaff-Reinet’s feather palace Avondrust (with the caption “A Typical Residence”). There were also pictures of vineyards, lovely gardens and livestock on lush pastures, all taken on farms elsewhere that had taken many years to establish.

The Britons, many of them investing their war veterans’ remittances, were assured that the 30 acres plus an additional 200 for grazing would be more than adequate for a thriving Karoo farm.

They were also told that even in a severe drought, imported sheep kept their condition, “where native springboks have succumbed”, and that the climate was so healthy that “vets have tried in vain to earn a living here”.

But no farming could happen before the just-built dam north of Graaff-Reinet filled up. So these newcomers to Karoo life slept in a temporary hotel, spent their days in the Club, and invaded the passing trains for more alcohol as a diversion from boredom.

Eventually the dam filled up, the canals brought water and the newcomers set about creating farms. At its height, Kendrew had a bioscope (that doubled as a church on Sundays), a Sports Club, tennis courts and even a golf course.

The New Years’ parties at the Club were legendary.

Camdeboo

Camdeboo mountains in the distance.

But the Karoo’s climate and a string of bad luck prevailed. The Great Depression combined with one of the worst droughts in 90 years. A noxious weed called Satansbos was accidentally imported with pig feed from South America, spread rapidly and affected grazing. Some say that 60 000 sheep perished in the Kendrew area.

The area was eventually abandoned, and the orchards died. Only the Satansbos, a few bluegums and ruins were left to tell the story.

And Schlesinger? He thrived. He went on to become the major player in cinemas and theatres in South Africa and was eventually chairman of more than eighty companies involved in various concerns – from hotels to canning to diamond cutting and newspapers.

  • Popular Graaff-Reinet historian Andrew McNaughton wrote a far more detailed version of this story for his newsletter Karoo Connections, December 2007.

, , , ,

18 Responses to Kendrew’s Forgotten Past

  1. Andrew Wallis August 23, 2013 at 9:16 am #

    The stomping ground of my youth, used to cycle to Kendrew from our farm 12 kays away to buy sweets even went by go kart towed behind a donkey cart once but that took so long that my dad came to tow me back by motorbike.
    Many days spent there on bank of Sundays river “fishing” and the club’s Xmas parties were legendary also loading wool on to the train to be transported to PE, fetching drought emergency feed….those were the days.

  2. Brendon Willows April 9, 2014 at 9:01 am #

    I remember fetching our sheep shearers from Kendrew. By then just the telephone exchange and one general store remained. My father always had a story about the various ruins where he had spent time in his youth in the then thriving village.I remember the fishing trips Mr Wallis, good times.

  3. Anita August 24, 2015 at 3:03 pm #

    Do you have any information and photographs about the train that stopped in 1947 when the Royals visited South Africa?

    • Dave Glenister September 6, 2015 at 6:49 pm #

      Anita … There are some coaches of that train in the Transnet Museum in George – worth a visit. I also have a pic. of the Royal family alighting from the train at Bethesda Road, north of G-R. Would like to know why you are interested. Regards … Dave

    • Martin Hatchuel November 6, 2015 at 9:32 am #

      You can actually see that train – it was called the White Train – in the Outeniqua Transport Museum in George http://www.outeniquachootjoe.co.za/museum.htm

      The Museum also houses the train from which Kruger ran the Transvaal Republic at the end of the South African War.

    • Jackie Gant nee Charles November 16, 2016 at 7:03 pm #

      The main farm Kendrew Estates now owned by Garth Charles may have more to add to the history of Kendrew PLUS pics of when Queen Elizabeth II turned 21.

      Our grandfather H I Charles owned Kendrew Estates, Hotel Charles in Klipplaat etc.

      On a side note the founder of the Bantu Church of Christ came from Kendrew. The Church spent R1 million on erecting a bust in his honour.

      Please would you consider including the full spectrum of Kendrew’s history? What The Wallaces and Brandon Willows may recall was the legendary Christmas parties hosted at the golf club.

      Long John Silver came down the Sundays river with treasure. All the kids from far and wide came to this Xmas party. We would hop onto a 5 ton truck and be taken down to the Sundays River to await the arrival of Long John Silver.

      Guy Fawkes was also a magnificent experience at the Kendrew Golf Club.

  4. Etienne"Kudu" October 20, 2015 at 5:56 pm #

    Hi. I grew up in Kendrew and went to school at Hoer Volkskool. I left 1995. My grandfather Boet van Vuuren had the local shop called Karoo Winkel which my mother Estelle took over later.

    I have a lot of memories and miss the Karoo and farming and hunting so much. I would do anything to just have a small labourer’s cottage in the area and look after a farm.

    I remember Oom Brian Charles and his son Garth. The Hobsons and Tiffany who were in the army. Oom Jock and Tannie Eva and my favourite farm Doorskraal belonged to Oom Billy Monks. There was Tannie Kate with all her cats at Kendrew. There are so much ghost stories to tell.

    Kendrew even had the most beautiful little church. We used too shoot bos duiwe there. We caught fish at Oom Brian’s weir at Kendrew Estate. Barber and Karp. The train did came past which we got on sometimes till 198o something. I remember Oom Torr I think at Koningsrus.

    He was murdered I believe. At Kendrew we played rugby over weekends as a youngster with local farm workers. Oh, and there was no grass played on gravel. Eina…. I have a lot of photos still.

    I am only 39 today but without Kendrew my life is meaningless. We had a post office with 2 pay phones even. The golf course greens were not grass but some sort of gravel.

    Not far from Kendrew and the farm Willows is a farm called Wheatlands were Oom Arthur Short used to live which has the most beautiful cricket field. I remember their house, wow it was like royalty.

    The mountain in your article looks more like Tandjiesberg to me which lies Pearston direction. I might be wrong? Rooiberg, Brandkraal, Doorskraal, Klein Duikerdoorns, Herbou, Stapleford, Charwood, Bloukrans are all farms I loved. Even kendrew estate.

    I once saw the most beautiful girl on a farm when I took groceries for pocket money…. I think she was Reinette Murray or I can’t remember. They had horses on their farm. There was a farm called Tandjies view also.

    Regards Etienne

    • Julienne du Toit October 22, 2015 at 1:58 pm #

      Thanks for these lovely memories, Etienne. On the subject of Wheatlands, have a look at the latest Country Life magazine (November 2015). There’s an article on that stunning farm with its feather palace guesthouse – and a picture of Arthur and Di Short. Going strong!

      • Kevin Clark November 15, 2015 at 2:41 am #

        Hi All, greetings from New Zealand. (Left SA in 1963). Have been researching my family history—and some of it goes back to Kendrew. I was born and schooled in Uitenhage, and as a kid -from about 8 to 14? –in the late 40s early 50s, –had regular farm holidays at Kendrew with the Cawood family—relatives of ours. I have vivid memories of life on the farmstead just out of “town”—New Years Eve shindigs in the country club, and playing golf on that weird course, tee’d off a concrete pad using a short piece of hose as a tee, and at the putting “green” –all sand, having long wooden screeds for smoothing a path from the ball to the hole!!!

        I took my Kiwi wife on a pilgrimage to SA in 1980, had trouble finding Kendrew, and eventually the Cawood house–now just ruins. The outlines of the succulent gardens were still visible. Gut wrenching. The old house had a wind charger on the roof with a bank of car batteries inside, the obligatory windpump, a coolbox contraption outside under the trees made of chicken mesh walls filled with gravel, and a galvanised iron drip tray on the roof fed by a pump so the water continually dripped through the gravel, evaporation keeping the on-site hand-churned butter and other stuff cool.

        Clem and Chloris Cawood had two daughters, Jean and Jocelyn. Jocelyn married a Henry McNaughton and I notice there are McNaughtons involved with this website. Have tried to make contact but to no avail.

        Sixty years on I still have scars on my hands after being attacked by a wildcat on the veld near the homestead. I thought it was a domestic cat but it went for me–must have had kittens in it’s lair.

        Any other memories of Kendrew to share??

    • Jade March 15, 2017 at 11:28 am #

      Hi Ettienne,

      Would you mind providing some information with regards to the location of the little church you mentioned? Do you know if its a ruin now?

      Regards,

      Jade

  5. Norman van den Berg (Basie's son) December 5, 2015 at 8:56 am #

    We farmed at Brandkraal. My farther Basie sold the farm to Brian Hobson who is still alive .

    Basie passed away at age 76 in 1982.
    I also went back to look at Kendrew and the tennis club many years later. Not a good sight.

    Norman v d Berg
    Now living in Australia

  6. Brian Hobson November 16, 2016 at 11:56 am #

    Yes, I am still alive — 90 something. The accounts above are basically accurate. We will not quarrel over minor details.

    Many of the British settlers were bad eggs. People who had not managed to settle down to civilian life after WW1. My father said the wise ones had left again by the next train.

    But there were worthy people too. MacArthur became mayor of Port Elizabeth, and Barrie later owned a garage in Rondebosch. There were also wealthy people who came for various reasons. Grieg was a tea-planter in India, and he said to my father, “Oh no, you can’t make money in Kendrew, but it is the best place in the world for rheumatism”.

    He built the gabled house just down the road to Graaff-Reinet. His daughter, Mina, married Victor van den Berg.

    Then there were the Wartzes. Wilhelm Wartze’s father was an officer in Bismarck’s army, and he took part in the war against France in 1870. He married a Scottish woman, whose brother started an engineering business in Moscow. Young Wartze then trained as an engineer and joined his uncle in Moscow.

    When WW1 broke out, as a German, he was interned and sent to a camp somewhere near the Caspian Sea. He told me that, if he had not had money to bribe the guards, he would not have survived the journey. At every stop they threw dead bodies off the train. After the war, he managed to get out of Russia, and drifted around Europe for a while, and married an English woman, who had been teaching English in Poland, and had also been interned.

    To escape the chaos in Europe, they came to South Africa and settled at Kendrew. They lived at Duikerdoorns, and grew fruit. They were obviously wealthy people, and had many fine possessions.

    Then there was Admiral Sir Charles Pollard, whose wife’s escapades don’t bear repeating…

    • Charlotte November 25, 2016 at 3:27 pm #

      Is there anyone at all who could tell me about the original founders of Kendrew as am researching my family history & it circles around Kendrew at it’s very beginning. They were English & (although possible) I’m hoping they weren’t quite like the drunks described here.

      • Carol [Kendrew] MAJOR January 19, 2017 at 8:06 am #

        I too am a Kendrew descendant (i.e. family name KENDREW). My grandfather – Henry Thomas Jobling KENDREW – left County Durham in May 1902 in the employ of Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Co (Darlington, England) to work on the construction of the Victoria Falls Bridge. After returning briefly to Yorkshire to marry his sweetheart, the two sailed in the SS “Gothic” to New Zealand where Henry continued in the employ of Cleveland Engineering, working on the construction of the Staircase rail viaduct on the South Island’s pioneering road & rail known then as the Midland Line.

        Having simply googled “KENDREW” I have been fascinated to discover the existence of KENDREW the town and Kendrew Estates. I have since contacted Kevin Clark who also is living in New Zealand.

        So…Charlotte, I’ll be delighted to read responses to your request for info about the original founders of KENDREW!

        I

    • Jade March 15, 2017 at 12:02 pm #

      Hi Brian,

      Could you provide any information on the development of Kendrew and the first buildings that were constructed there? Perhaps the small church and it’s location and if it resulted in the development of the area. I am a masters of architecture student completing my treatise and this info would be a great help.

      Thanks,

      Jade

  7. Vanessa Anderson January 3, 2017 at 10:10 am #

    I am extremely excited at finding this information about Kendrew. My late mother, Elizabeth Mary Hyde (1921- 2000) and her sister, Phyllis Hyde (1919- 1996) spent their childhood there. We were never quite sure how they ended up in a place like Kendrew because Phyllis was born in Durban and my mother was born in Standerton. Now, after reading about this con man, it all makes sense. My mother always used to go on about “Old man Schlesinger”. After their stint in the Karroo, they were extremely poor and landed up being taken in by the Salvation Army.
    My mother’s father, Norman Hyde, was from a very wealthy family in Yorkshire and he’d originally come out to fight in the Anglo-Boer War. His family washed their hands of him after the Kendrew incident although his sisters did offer to educate my mother and her sister at Roedean, Brighton. Both my grandfather’s sisters, Lillian and Annie Hyde, were founding teachers and housemistresses at the school.. Neither of the girls took up the offer. My grandfather died in the 1930’s and my grandmother in 1960.
    My mother always spoke fondly of her time in Kendrew – donkey carts and trapdoor spiders and trips into Graaff-Reinet to have the knots cut out of her hair. Apparently, my grandfather, who was very dapper, was very popular among the folk of the area and for that reason my grandmother didn’t speak much to the locals!
    Thanks to your article, I have now pieced together another piece of my past. I am very grateful. If anyone knows of any of the names I have mentioned, I would appreciate it if they would reply.
    Kind Regards,
    Vanessa Anderson( nee Rieker)

  8. Dave Glenister January 15, 2017 at 10:48 am #

    This is all very interesting – thank you so much all of you. It’s wonderful to see you still at it, Brian … you know so much about the people and farms around Graaff-Reinet! Re the photos of the Royal family in 1947 … I made a mistake and I’m surprised nobody picked me out. As far as I can see, the ‘Royal train’ went as far as Graaff-Reinet but no further i.e. the photos I have couldn’t have been taken at Bethesda Road which is to the north near the Lootsberg … they must have been taken at Koningsrus! If anyone is still interested, please let me know … the Royal family were welcomed by Pannell Kingwill, May Bremner and a host of farmers and their wives.

    Best to you all … Dave

  9. Jade March 15, 2017 at 12:17 pm #

    Hi there,

    Could someone please provide me with information regarding the bio scope mentioned in the article (the article mentions it doubled up as a church on sundays). In particular, its location and time of construction.

    Regards,

    Jade

Leave a Reply