After travelling for about an hour we reached Vaal Frans Conradieâ€™s farm near Robertson. I was taken inside and a messenger was dispatched to fetch Dr Hamf from Robertson. Unfortunately the doctor was not at home, so it took several hours more before he arrived to examine me.
The doctor had little hope that I would recover; my left cheek was gone, my left jaw and cheekbone were shattered, my left eye was hanging where my cheek had once been and my left ear â€“ dangling from a thin piece of skin â€“ was on my shoulder. Half my scalp was also torn loose.
Strangely enough I felt no pain; probably because of the shock, my wounds and the severe blood loss, I had no feeling in my head. While Dr Hamf was treating me I kept on falling asleep, so he had to keep calling my name to make sure that I was still alive. Despite the fact that he did not expect me to survive, he removed the soil and gravel from my wounds, replaced my eye â€“ though not at quite the right angle â€“ into my half-shattered eye socket and re-attached my ear.
My parents were visiting friends in Montagu at the time and only received the news of my accident after midnight. At four oâ€™clock the next morning they arrived at what was presumed to be my deathbed.
My condition remained unchanged for several days and although I suffered little pain I was very weak. With great difficulty I could manage to swallow a sip of milk or other liquid food. My condition did not improve and after about one week the wounds became inflamed and the pain I suffered was indescribable. I could not bear the touch of anything on my wounds and felt as if my head was on fire. My throbbing brains were visible through the seams on my head. At this point the doctor stopped visiting as he was convinced that there was nothing more he could do for me. It was clear that there was no hope that I would recover and I was left to die.
My mother and some women from the district applied traditional remedies, but nothing could ease the pain. Despite the unbearable suffering, I never lost consciousness and during that time I recalled how, about a year earlier, I had successfully used a goatsâ€™ dung poultice to heal an inflamed foot injury. I mentioned this to my mother, who wasted no time and managed to get some dung from a neighbour who kept a goat for milking. A poultice was prepared by mixing the dung with vinegar and it was applied to my wounds. I experienced immediate relief! The treatment was regularly repeated, the fire in my head disappeared and I was on the road to recovery. When Dr Hamf was informed the next day that, contrary to all expectations, I was still alive, he resumed his visits and started treating me again. I still needed his help as there were bone fragments and flesh that had to be removed.
My condition continued to improve and three months after the accident I was able to walk about in the garden with the aid of a walking stick. Unfortunately the accident had further consequences: because of the bruising in my throat and the dried blood that had remained behind, my throat became infected. The dried blood had to be removed and I spent another month in bed.
During that time an epidemic of measles and fever caused devastation among the people of Robertson. My whole family contracted measles and had to stay in bed. Sadly my dear mother did not recover. This was a harrowing time for me, but it is true that even the worst tribulations and the deepest sorrow eventually pass. As time went by my wounds healed, but I could never again chew food normally and I used to wrap my head in bandages to hide my disfigured face and keep my shattered jaw in position.
Some months after my motherâ€™s death my father married a widow, Mrs Cloete, and we moved to her farm. I attended the farm school, where I had my first English lessons. At that stage I was able to read Dutch and could manage basic writing. During those years a good education was not easily come by. Six months after I had started attending the farm school our teacher left and I was sent to the school in Robertson.
Owing to my poor physical condition, I was not able to do farm work and my father decided that I should become a teacher. Unfortunately he had little understanding of the type of knowledge that a prospective teacher was required to have. He was of the opinion that I should be able to become â€˜fully qualifiedâ€™ within three years, after which I would then be able to support myself.
During that time Reverend McGregor was the minister of religion in Robertson and I am extremely grateful for the help that I received from him and his worthy wife. After school hours he tried to broaden my knowledge by teaching me the things that we were not taught at school. Since I enjoyed music and showed a talent for it, Mrs McGregor taught me the principles of music and eventually I was able to play the harmonium. I also learnt to play the violin, which later enabled me to accompany my students when they sang. Now, in my old age, this knowledge of music is a source of great enjoyment.
My three years at school passed quickly and all too soon I had to go out to teach. Needless to say, I felt totally unqualified and unsuited to the profession, but Reverend McGregor once again came to the rescue. My stepmotherâ€™s farm, where I started my teaching career, was a journey of an hour and a half from Robertson and twice a week I would set off with a stack of books to visit Rev McGregor for extra lessons. At that stage I earned a monthly salary of one pound and ten shillings and had no expenses.
After eighteen months at the farm school, I secured a post at a school near Lady Grey (currently known as McGregor and named after Rev McGregor), which belonged to Mr S Malherbe, and sadly had to terminate my visits to the McGregors and the extra lessons. I shall always be grateful to my dear Father in Heaven for the life He has given me and for the blessings I received through my association with that precious man of God. Rev McGregor helped me to become the man I am today. He taught me most of what I know and encouraged me to improve myself, which eventually led to my appointment as the principal of a second-class school. I thank my loyal friend for this and much more. I pray that God will bless him abundantly for what he did for me.
Later Rev McGregor showed the same interest in my eldest son, Johannes. His influence on our lives will never be forgotten, and I am convinced that we are not the only two people who can attest to the value of his friendship.
After I had been teaching on Mr Malherbeâ€™s farm for a year my father, who had meanwhile moved to the Little Swartberg, insisted that I join them there as there was a great need for a school.
In 1867 I started working as an itinerant teacher on the farm Buffelsrivier, which belonged to Mr Hans Nel. The three neighbouring farms were Rietvlei, Baartmansfontein and Floriskraal. Every six months the whole school, ie the desks, the books and the teacher, had to be moved to other premises. Dr Dale, the then Superintendent of Education, was very lenient and there were no unreasonable stipulations. There was no shortage of children â€“ little ones, big ones and even married children who were not yet members of the church â€“ attended school for some time. We did not pay much attention to English as only the most basic education was required: reading, writing, arithmetic, Bible history and catechism. I travelled from farm to farm for three years, after which a permanent school was established on the farm Rietvlei, where I taught for a further six years.
In 1870, when I was twenty-five years old, I married one of my brightest and most capable pupils, Gertruida Jacoba Koorts, who was the daughter of Johannes Marthinus Koorts and Dorothea Carolina Ruthven. Gertruida was born on 18 February 1852 and passed away in 1904. I was happily married to her for 36 years, during which time seven daughters and five sons were born to us. One son and one daughter died during infancy.
It stands to reason that, as a result of the accident I had as a young boy, I was never physically strong and often struggled to get through my work. However, God gave me the strength to continue teaching for almost thirty years.
In 1876 we settled in Calitzdorp, where we lived for approximately 14 years. During that time I taught first in the town and later at Janfourieskraal. Rev Barry, who was the minister at Calitzdorp at the time, took the education of his parishioners seriously and was a friend and counsellor to the teachers. I received a glowing testimonial from him and his Church Council when we left for Christiana in the Transvaal in 1889.
I spent only two years in Christiana. I missed the Swartberg and it soon became apparent to me that an old tree should not be uprooted. In 1892 I accepted a post at the A III school in Laingsburg, where I taught until 1896. My salary amounted to ninety pounds per year. To this the Church Council added a further eighteen pounds per year as compensation for the work I did as the church secretary and sexton of the Laingsburg Dutch Reformed Church. Later on I did earn slightly more. At that time our three eldest children had finished school, but there were still seven attending school, which meant that I had to pay their school fees as well as the monthly rent for the house we lived in.
Financially my life was never easy. The highest salary I ever earned was the one hundred and fifty pounds a year I received while teaching in Calitzdorp. I made many of the pieces of furniture in our home myself and my dear wife, who passed away in 1906, was a careful and frugal woman. In Laingsburg I, together with my son Johannes and some friends, managed to purchase a few plots of land on which we started a dairy to supplement our earnings.
My children, of whom I am immensely proud, have also often helped me. They all have good jobs and are spread all over the country.
The children born from my marriage to Christina are:
Johannes Hendrik, the eldest, born on 5 December 1870, died in infancy.
Johannes Hendrik (Johannes), our second son, was born on 10 February 1872 on the farm Rietvlei in the district of Prince Albert. He also became a teacher and was only 24years old when he was appointed as the principal of Grey College in Bloemfontein. During the Anglo-Boer War he was captured by the British, but was released on parole after some time and then settled in Stellenbosch. Following the declaration of peace in 1902, he enrolled as an attorneyâ€™s clerk and completed his training in 1905. From 1905 to 1912 he served as the Financial Secretary of the Dutch Reformed Church, and in 1912 he became the Superintendent of the Dutch Reformed Churchâ€™s labour colony at Kakamas. In 1920, and again in 1924, he was elected as the Member of Parliament for the Prieska constituency, and in 1929 he was appointed as the Administrator of the Cape Province. He held this post for 10 years. He died on 21 January 1940. His wife, Johanna Elizabeth Brink, whom he had married on 19 June 1906, worked tirelessly to promote the welfare of the physically disabled from 1929 onward. At a conference held in Cape Town on 25 February 1937, the organisation Cape Province Cripple Care was established and she became its lifelong president. The National Council for Cripple Care was established in 1939 and in 1948 she was elected to serve as its president. In 1953 she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Stellenbosch, and on 1 April 1955 the Department of National Education decided to name the now famous school in Kimberley after Dr Elizabeth Conradie.
Dorothea Carolina, born on 13 November 1874, also died during infancy.
Dawid Gideon (Dawie), (Johan and Dawidâ€™s grandfather) was born on 11 August 1876. He also chose education as his profession and taught at inter alia Hopefield and Carnarvon before he was appointed as the headmaster of a school in Laingsburg, where he later retired. He married Margaretha Johanna Viljoen, who originally came from Caledon and was one of his colleagues while he taught in Carnarvon. He died in 1939.
Christina Johanna (Tinie), born on 25 December 1878. She also joined the teaching profession and later became the headmistress of the Oranje School for Girls in Bloemfontein. Her first husband was Johann Orlando Walter. She later married Francois Pieter Stephanus le Roux. She died in 1946.
Wilhelmus Ruthven (Willie), born on 18 Augustus 1882. He moved to the Transvaal and worked as a shop assistant in Bethal. He was married to Maria Bedeker.
Margaretha Elizabeth (Mollie), born on 16 January 1885. She worked as an assistant at the Girlsâ€™ School in Riversdale and was never married. She died in 1933.
Dorothea Carolina (Dollie), born on 19 February 1887. She taught in the Strand and was married to Lyn Lycett.
Gertruida Elizabeth (Lily), born on 24 July 1889. She was a teacher in Stellenbosch and was married to Abraham Julius van Velden, the owner of the well-known wine estate Overgaauw, where the Van Veldens are still producing wine.
Anna Susanna (Anna), born on 15 June 1892. She taught in the Transkei and was married to Pieter Melt van der Spuy, who later became the headmaster of the reformatory in Tokai.
Louis Harmans (Louis), born 15 June 1892. He was employed on the railways in Beaufort West and was married to Frances Smith.
Martha Jacomina Catharina (Mattie), born on 5 October 1893. She was a teacher in Boshoff and was married to Jacobus Ignatius Heyns.
For the last few years of my life I lived in Paarl. I spent six months of each year with my daughter Tinie, who married Francois le Roux of the farm Sorgvliet, and the other six months with my daughter Lily and her husband, Abraham van Velden, on their farm Overgaauw near Vlottenburg. I therefore had the privilege of getting to know my grandchildren and great-grandchildren very well and feel that I was blessed to be able to spend my last years close to them.
I died in Paarl in 1929 and was buried next to my wife in the graveyard at Laingsburg, fortunately in the part that was not destroyed by the flood in 1981. Our gravestones are unharmed.
If you want to learn more about me, my life story was published with the caption â€˜â€˜n Boereskoolmeester van die ou daeâ€™ (A Boere schoolteacher from the old days) in the newspaper Die Burger on Wednesday 8 September 1915 and subsequently in the little book Sketse uit die Boerelewe by Rev WJ Conradie.
May you as members of the Genealogical Society enjoy a very blessed Christmas with your families and may 2014 which is the Societyâ€™s centenary year be filled with joy and new discoveries about your forefathers.
Thank you for allowing me to share my story and I would like to invite you to equally invite your ancestors to share their life stories with us. Be assured that us old fogies are keen to be asked to share our life stories and histories with you - just say the word.
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