The Xhosa people of the Tyumie valley called it Bhukazana as described by Basil Holt: “The glories of the Tyhumie region in scenery and story could be described adequately only in a book of poetry. Here the great curve of the Amatole Range holds in its embrace a valley of grace and beauty, equaled in few other places and excelled in none in South Africa.
Across the valley was the strange mountain the Xhosa called “Bhukazana”, with its three peaks of serrated ridges; and, between these and the Juanasberg, the Hogsback, but which the Xhosa called “Belekazana”, from its fancied resemblance, when seen from the Mnyameni valley, to a woman with a child on her back.” AJT Cook wrote a tourist brochure and poignantly expressed what all who have been to Hogsback feel:
“ There is a magic about Hogsback which cannot be reduced to cold print; but which steals away the hearts of those who visit it so that they come back year after year to recapture their first love”.
In this short history I hope to give you a bird’s eye view of this rare treasure: its value as a lovely mountain village; as a magical holiday resort; as the caretaker of the Amatola forests and their natural biodiversity; as one of the sources of the rivers of the Amatola region; as the historic frontier of the clash between the British military forces and the Xhosa tribesmen; and as the terrain of the missionaries whose spiritual and intellectual influence was pivotal in the unfolding history of South Africa. History is an ever-changing conversation with the past so that what one thinks is the true picture of the past changes with other perspectives and future times so, too, will this version change in due course.
The climate is affected by its height above sea level which varies from the Shepton Mallet farm of 1471m, to Arminel in the centre of the village of 1273m, to Hunterstoun at the “bottom” of 1166m. The rise from the valley to the village is 419 m and a further 663 m to the top of the First Hogsback mountain (1936 m, although Nqgika’s Kop is the highest peak at 1963m). The eco-region echoes the Knysna forests and is of inestimable value to the biodiversity of the Ciskei. The forests are the second-richest per unit area in South Africa with a disproportionate percentage of forest species being rare or endangered. Indigenous forests, with pockets of Afromontane rain forests, cover vast areas.
The famed Big Tree is a Yellow-wood. It is the biggest tree in the Eastern Cape, named the Eastern Monarch. It is a natural wonder, being about 2 000 years old, 36.6 m high and has a girth of 9.3m. Red clay used for Xhosa face-painting is collected from here, those who paint their faces red are called Qabimbola.
Because of the precipitous nature of the mountains and the abundance of rain there are many waterfalls: the Kettlespout is a natural wonder too and dams up its water on a windy day and can spout up to 9m high, the Madonna and Child, is the largest of the waterfalls. Some others are Robinson Falls, the Swallowtail, and the 39 Steps. The Amatola and Winterberg mountains play a pivotal role in creating rivers to fill the dams and cultivate the fields of the Amatola region. There were large numbers of animals in the past, including animals like elephant, lion, buck. The number of monkeys has increased considerably with the disappearance of their enemy, the leopard, and they are now a menace. So, too, are the invasive exotic plants like wattle.
Writers and artists are entranced by this magical, misty place and intrigued by the way Africa and Europe mingle, giving Hogsback an enchantment that awakens the imagination. This can be seen in the writings of two poets: FC Slater (1876 – 1958); and Mzi Mahola (b1949. They both long for Hogsback in their poetry: Mahola in Return to my Birthplace wishes for the recognition from the spirits of his ancestors and is assured that the spirits do indeed “dwell here” (in Hogsback). Slater in In the Mist can’t see the view because of the mist (very common in Hogsback) but is aware of the spiritual dimension behind his experience and longs to see “the heaven (Hogsback) that here around me lies”.
Carolyn Parker wrote a novel set in Hogsback and used the setting of the Oak Avenue and the 39 Steps waterfall. She lived in Hogsback and felt “entranced by the place. The mountains, forests, steep-running streams and waterfalls seemed to me to hold an ancient magic that was just beyond my reach.”
John Dover Wilson, one of the best-known Shakespearean scholars, edited his book on sonnets in 1962 while staying with his daughter-in-law, Prof Monica Wilson, at Hunterstoun (Monica (1908-98), herself, born and educated at Lovedale, was a major social scientist and wrote Reaction to Conquest when studying the Pondo peoples.
The romance of Hogsback, is recognised by reading The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien (1892-1973) which seems to capture the special atmosphere of the unspoilt Hogsback forests and of a time when peace will rule the world. He, however, did not visit Hogsback although he was born in Bloemfontein. Some properties have “Tolkien” names: Away with the Fairies, Middle Earth and Hobbiton. Today popular attractions like the Eco-shrine which gained the Green Dove Award from the USA in 1998, and the Labyrinth echo these romantic sentiments. John McKinnell and Ken Harvey have taken beautiful photographs of Hogsback scenes. Felicity Wood, a resident, wrote the biography of the herbalist, Extraordinary Khotso.
There are many artists, sculptors like Anton vd Merwe and the Mafika Potters, poets like the Ecca poets and musicians who live on the Hogsback who, from time to time, present their work, especially at the Annual Arts Festival, organized by Gwyneth Lloyd. The Xhosa youth create quaint clay cattle and other items, which they sell on the roadside. FC Slater captured the spirit of the pathos and innocence of the impoverished rural Xhosa youth in his poem, Clay Cattle: “Shaping in dull, dead earth their dreams of riches and beauty”. The most poignant and unappreciated art are the rock paintings of the San nearby.
The earliest inhabitants were the nomadic San peoples. Their paintings captured the events of their lives and their spiritual awareness. The paintings on Lowestoffe farm and further afield indicate that they were in this area. Tribes of the Amaxhosa moved into the region from the 16th to the 18th century. The San peoples were absorbed into the Xhosa culture or driven into Namaqualand. In the middle of the 19th century English travellers passed through, mission stations opened and, during and after the frontier wars, burgers and settlers farmed.
The village is situated high on the plateau with four routes to it: from Keiskammahoek and Alice via just below the First Hogsback – the earliest route; from Alice via Woburn – the current route; from Seymour up Michel’s Pass; and across from Cathcart via Happy Valley. All these towns were established before Hogsback came into being. It was the coming of the British Settlers in 1820 that led to the increased opening up of the Eastern Cape, the conflict with the Xhosa peoples, the consequent military conquest, and then the establishment of farms and towns.
Missions established from 1820; later the missionaries set up homes in Hogsback
The missionaries pioneered these areas. The first to settle in this area was Rev. John Brownlee who established a mission station in 1820 at Gwali off the Tyumie river near Ngqika’s Kraal. At that time the area between the Fish and the Keiskamma was Neutral Territory except for Fort Willshire where trading between white and black was allowed. Brownlee was aided by the interpreter, Jan Tshathu. Within a year there were 200 inhabitants with wattle and daub houses, an irrigation canal, trees, a church and a school. Within three years John Bennie had brought a Ruthuen printing press and translated portions of the Bible into Xhosa! In a letter written to the Glasgow Missionary Society on 20 December 1823 from Gwali he wrote: “On the 16th we arrived and assembled (the printing press) in Mr Brownlee’s house, and thanked God for His mercy … On the 17th we got our Press in order; on the 18th the alphabet was set up, and yesterday we threw off 50 copies. Rejoice Sir, rejoice dear Society. Through your instrumentality a new era has commenced in the history of the …. nation.” So the first printed words in the Xhosa language appeared at the Gwali Mission just below Hogsback in 1823. The missionary education and conversion to Christianity helped give confidence and produce leaders of South Africa, both in the struggle and in the establishment of democracy in 1994. Miss Jessie Brown was the teacher in charge of the “Native” primary School, attached to St Mungo’s, in Auckland. She was the grand-daughter of William Chalmers who came to the Gwali Mission in 1827. When the War of the Axe (1846) broke out the family fled to Fort Armstrong for refuge, again during the 8th Frontier War (1850-53) all the white males were killed, and the family sought refuge in Fort White. After the war Rev. Brown, disillusioned by the destruction and brutality, gave up mission work and farmed at St Mungos to provide for a family of 9. He planted the first orange grove and made marmalade. Another mission close by at Keiskammahoek was St Matthew’s mission school started in 1855.
The Eastern Cape is the site of one of the greatest military sagas in South Africa where the British troops and the Xhosa warriors tenaciously fought for 100 years, from 1779 to 1879. Hogsback was mainly unaffected by the fighting but three wars did take place close by and Fort Michel was built near Nqgika’s Kop as the end of a chain of forts into the frontier from Fort Beaufort and Fort Hare to Fort Michel. The fort and Michel’s Pass to Seymour were named after Colonel Michel who was in charge of the troops in Fort Beaufort. In 1834-5 the Great Trek took place and Piet Retief, who lived close by at Post Retief, led one of the parties. In 1846-7 the 7th Frontier War broke out with Col. Sir Henry Somerset leading troops against the Xhosa under Sandile. He declared British Kaffaria to be between Keiskamma and Kei Rivers and settled military villages in the Tyumie valley in 1848. In 1854 the Woburn barracks (still evident from the road) were built. Later the area was farmed and Ballantyne became a very successful orange farmer until his farm was taken over by the Ciskei Government in 1983.
In the 8th Frontier War, 1850-3, Maqoma, a brilliant strategist, led the Xhosa. This war was the closest to Hogsback. A British military column was attacked along the Boomah Pass near Keiskammahoek in December 1850, a valuable victory for the Xhosa, and then the military villages of Auckland, Woburn and Juanasburg in the valley were attacked on Christmas Day 1850. Thus the war was started. All the men were killed; women and children, as was the Xhosa custom, were spared and they made their way to Fort White. At the end of the War, Sir George Cathcart opened up the districts of Victoria East (Alice), Cathcart and Queenstown for white occupation. Farmers trekked over the Hogsback to these areas. Thomas Bowker’s son, William Monkhouse Bowker, gained the farm Gaika’s Kop which was left to his son who re-named it Dunskye. He left it to his son, Meyrick who also owned the farm Hogsback Plateau which was sold in plots and is lower Hogsback to the west of the road. The Bowker family still farm on their original farm in the Happy Valley, with Andrew Bowker, of the 6th generation, taking over from John. Hogsback, before the wars was the frontier; afterwards the frontier moved to the Kei River.
The Hogsback Hotel, later named the Hydro, and then the Hogsback Inn. The early road to Hogsback was across the eastern side, much the same route as that taken by the brigade of General Somerset in 1851. There is a description in the Journal of Thomas Philipps of a lion hunting party in the Winterberg returning via this route in 1825. He is one of the earliest recorded travelers in this area. Rev. Lister first visited Hogsback in 1919 when he became the Presbyterian Minister at Alice. At that stage there were only 6 houses on the Hogsback: the hotel, the Forest Reserve and two small farms: Summerton’s and Odendaal’s. Major Stocks owned the Coolin Farm which supplied Hogsback with meat and produce. Along the route there was an outspan where Hobbiton now stands, nearby was Mike’s Path up the First Hogsback (named after Mike Booysen). In 1932 the present pass was completed on the western side, which led to rapid growth of the settlement. The new road made access easier, land increase in value and farmers sold 4 morgen plots, later 2 morgen. RH Hoskyn (whose grand-daughter, Carol Nieth, lives on Hogsback) came up from East London before the First World War and bought land on which the Summerton sons built his unlicensed hotel, Arminel. He built a trading store, the Handy Log Cabin, on his property, which became a popular gathering place. The shopkeepers, Joe and Anne Kingsley, made it the social centre. S. Galbraith built Ambleside, later to become King’s Lodge, in the 1960’s.
The Hotel (later named the Hydro and then Hogsback Inn) was established in the 1880’s by Mr Collins. Mr WG Wiles, the artist, bought the dilapidated hotel in 1925 from Holshausen, gave up the licence, and re-named it the Hydro. He improved the place and built the first swimming pool on the Hogsback. AE Burton in Cape Colony Today 1907 describes how a post cart went from Alice to Fort Beaufort in a four-in-hand Cape cart. He speaks of the magnificent view as they descended the ridge where they could survey the Tyumie valley and the Amatola basin: “The only hotel and its precincts constitute at once the store, the market place and the Post Office…. We were in time to pluck from the orchard trees the apples, pears, peaches and plums of the season. Never since we were in Devonshire did we taste and see apples to excel these at Hogsback. The growers send great quantities of fresh fruit, especially apples, to the neighbouring colonies and towns. The hotel tariff is 10/- per day.” The hotel had no baths or indoor toilets, guests would bath in the stream.
There were happy gatherings of farmers and guests especially at Christmas and New Year with the Gymkhana and horse races at the spot where the Village Green now is. Campers from Lovedale, Alice and Cathcart would come in their ox-wagons and set up camp at the old Police Camp opposite the hotel and at the present Arboretum and sometimes under the old yellow-wood in the Kettlespout forest. The hotel has kept up this tradition of hospitality under the present owner, Mark Andersen, a son of the Hogsback property owner, Daneswold. The hotel had a general dealers store. MMS Ballantyne describes life on the Hogsback: “Life was very simple and satisfying as we were able to live close to Nature, free from restriction.” The day would start early with a bath in the stream and then they would sit under the single wattle tree in Hunterstoun for meals and the day would end with prayers
Thomas Summerton and his wife, Sarah, came from Oxfordshire, England, and were the first to settle in Hogsback, in 1880. He was the pioneer of Hogsback. He was a skilled market gardener who farmed Cherrie Orchard which was covered in apple, cherry, pear, peach, almond, hazel nut and raspberry orchards. His orchards stretched right out to the cliff edge, beautifully laid out and irrigible, but too far from the market for deciduous fruit by ox-wagon. He would market his produce and trees, which he grafted in his nursery, by donkey wagon as far as Bloemfontein and even further. His ingenuity led him to tap the stream coming from Tor Doone and lead the water by furrow to his house. His sons, John and Albert, were tall handsome men seen as patriarchal figures with long drooping moustaches.
The Forest Station was started in1884 and in about 1897 a forester was stationed at the end of the Oak Avenue. Exotic trees including the famous Californian Redwoods were planted in the arboretum. The forests today are under the control of SAFCOL with Hamish Whyle in charge.
David Hunter of Lovedale was another pioneer and was the first to buy a holiday home in 1910 from Mr Collins of the Hydro. He bought a large tract of land, which he called Hunterstoun and his daughter Prof. Monica Wilson did some of her academic research there. His grandsons, Francis and Tim Wilson, still holiday on the property and have just sold the manor house to Fort Hare for academic research and meditation.
Mike Booysen farmed Plaatjies Kraal and used to rescue stuck cars with his span of oxen and to lead search parties for lost souls. Tom Nicholls built a fine house of local stone and thatch and his son, John, and daughters established beautiful English country gardens in Hurry, Malingwe and Mistlea. Tom Atkinson sold land to Healdtown teachers and others on the Arminel hillside whereas most of the Lovedale teachers had bought nearer Tor Doone. Many famous missionaries built holiday homes in the Hogsback so it was easy to get a preacher on a Sunday, especially for what has become famous, the Oak Avenue Christmas service. Ministers like: Dr Henderson, Principal of Lovedale, (one of the first to come up to Hogsback by car), Hobart-Houghton, James Chalmers, Charles Pilson, Dr Alexander Kerr, Principal of Fort Hare University, Rev. AJCook, Rev. AA Wellington, Grant and others had holiday homes on the Hogsback. There was a touch of greatness among many at Hogsback; often they’d have international connections and were impressive leaders in their field. Another popular custom was climbing the First Hogsback to watch the sun rise at Easter. Life was simple: wood fire and candle-light made for early nights. Mrs Whyle, whose family farm in Happy Valley, ran Nutwoods.
Azaleas in bloom among the yellow-wood trees in the Mistlea garden Applegarth, the holiday home of the Wilsons of East London, gained an international name as a garden and nursery. There has always been a friendly spirit among Hogsback residents and a good relationship between employers and employees, much more intimate than a mere work relationship. Kenneth Hobart Houghton bought land, Innisfree, in the 1920’s, and built St Patrick-on-the-hill in 1935. He donated this lovely chapel to the Anglican Diocese of Graham’s Town in 1963, although it has always been available for worship to all Christians, and gave the Diocese Innisfree for clergy holidays. A fine feature is that its door is always open. It is a popular destination for visitors and weddings. Hogsback climate is similar to that of England and there are many “English” gardens that have become famous and are visited from all over the country. The blind Presbyterian Minister, Rev. Joe Lister, a remarkable man, preached in the Chapel often, and wrote: “In that little thatched shrine the sense of worship was often deepened by the loveliness of its setting.” Homes were mainly wattle and daub huts with thatched roofs, the thatch being brought from the valley. Saw mills would be set up when a particular forest was to be cut down. Today the Schenk brothers have a sawmill in the valley. Ox-wagons were used on the Hogsback and Xhosa men would ride up from the valley by horse. In 1946 Hobbiton was started as a holiday home for needy children. Visitors flocked to Hogsback for picnics, some came to gather mushrooms, make jam from the berries, to climb and walk or to see the snow.
The building of the Municipal Dam at Plaatjies Kraal in 2000 helped stabilize occupancy although many residents still use water piped from streams in the mountain. The number of residents has increased and they have organized events like the Xmas in July, Arts Festival and the Garden Club’s Spring Festival. The tourist trade has increased with names like Granny Mouse House, Maylodge, Never Daunted, The Edge, Back o’ the Moon, Hog and Hobbit, Hog and Hornbill, Enchanted Treehouse, Swallowtail Country Estate, offering accommodation, shops and catering; hotels have been upgraded, especially the Arminel and The Hogsback Inn, and campsites opened. The Amatola Trail along the back of the Hogsback mountains through the forests and waterfalls is regarded by some as the best in the country.
Those who are privileged to reside in this heavenly citadel, are aware of their responsibility to care for this natural realm. Although the village has grown there is a permanance about the place that makes it unique. Many try to protect the streams, the indigenous forests, the simple style of life and nature in all its abundance and beauty. Hogsback is so beautiful that one can forget the other perspective of the paradox of the place. Major poverty and inequality are challenges for the future. There is a huge contrast between the forested mountain and the grassland valley. Hogsback is a mountain citadel with restorative powers that draws out the good in people through its simple, natural way of life, the outdoor exercise, the joy of growing plants, the freedom of having time; all these help to capture its timelessness.
Written by Trevor Webster: 14 September 2008
(This is a summarized version of The Story of Hogsback by Trevor Webster which is available from the Hogsback Information Centre)