The first time you see Matjiesfontein, it should be at midday at the height of a Karoo summer, so it appears like a shimmering mirage of an old Victorian hamlet in the distance.
As you draw closer, your mind’s ear can conjure up the sound of a carousel, the clink of fluted champagne glasses and the laughter of people who passed through here long ago. Also, the incongruous crack of willow on leather, resounding through the vast flatness of the Karoo. Many a remarkable game of cricket took place in these parts.
The Sultan of Zanzibar came here. Winston Churchill’s daddy stopped over and borrowed the laird’s dog for a hunt. The Duke of Hamilton signed the visitors’ book. But the most important – really significant – people to grace the Karoo health oasis of Matjiesfontein were Cecil John Rhodes and his arch-enemy, Olive Schreiner.
All these famous folk were hosted by the enterprising Jimmy Logan, who established the railway village from scratch and built the Milner Hotel here in 1899. The Second Anglo-Boer War happened shortly thereafter and the hotel became a hospital for wounded Tommies.
Logan established a lush cricket ground at Matjiesfontein – and completely financed early South African cricket tours of England.
In 1968, after many years of decline, the village was purchased by hotelier David Rawdon. The hotel was renamed The Lord Milner and a major refurbishment brought Matjiesfontein back to its feet. The legendary David Rawdon has since passed, but the village has once again become one of the prime overland stops anywhere in the Karoo.
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