19 May 2011

How little they owned...

Johanna Dorothea Muller and Coenraad Willem De Buys were married at St. Mary's Church, Barkly West on 28 January 1882.  Johanna was already pregnant with their first child, Petrus which could be why they got married in an Anglican church instead of in the Dutch Reformed Church.  Coenraad was listed as a member of the Dutch Reformed Church in Griquastad in 1882.  The marriage certificate shows that Johanna could not write as she signed her name with a cross, Coenraad, however, could write.

Johanna and Coenraad's 1882 marriage certificate
When Johanna died on 16 October 1892 at the tender age of 29 years old her estate listed only the following possessions:
  • Bed (complete)
  • cupboard
  • Stoel
  • 2 pots
  • tin kettle and 1 blanket
  • 2 plates, 2 kommetjies (?), 2 cups and saucers
  • 2 knives, 2 forks and two spoons
  • 1 bread pan
  • 1 grid
Dutch inventory of Johanna Dorothea

She had given birth to three children: Petrus who was 10 years old; Coenraad Willem, who was 8 years old and Susara Gesina, who was 6 years old when Johanna died.  Coenraad died several years later, in 1901. Coenraad and Johanna are my great-great-grandparents.

08 May 2011

Killer in the family

When Coenraad De Buys was around 7 years old, in September of 1769, he saw his father sitting on a chair "with his legs drawn up as stiff as planks". He was clutching his stomach and screaming. All that night he writhed in pain and died the next day.

Coenraad walked to his half sister, Geertruy Minnie's house and told her about the death.  Geertruy told Coenraad that she had seen another man die in same way - her father, Christina's first husband, Dirk Minnie.

It is widely believed that Christina had poisoned them both. Coenraad decided not to go back home and lived with Geertruy and her husband, David Senekal, raising the livestock he received from his father's estate.  Christina married David's brother, Jacob Senekal within six months.

Dr Muller, a toxicology expert, and Cherylynn Wium, Medical Scientist, both from the Tygerberg Poison Information Centre feel that the only poison available in sufficient quantities which would cause the symptoms mentioned in the documents of the time would be Strychnine.  Christina could possibly also have used arsenic although the symptoms described don't quite match those of arsenic poisoning.

The plant in which Strychnine is found

Strychnine is a poisonous, colorless, crystalline, alkaloid that is obtained from seeds of the nux vomica tree (S. nux-vomica) and related plants of the genus Strychnos. Strychnine is one of the most bitter substances known. Strychnos, named by Linnaeus in 1753, is a genus of trees and climbing shrubs of the gentian order. The genus contains 196 various species and is distributed throughout the warm regions of Asia (58 species), America (64 species), and Africa (75 species).

Daisy De Melker (Source: Ancestry24.com)

South Africa's first serial killer, Daisy Louisa C. De Melker (1 June 1886 - 30 December 1932), (nee Hancorn-Smith), who was a trained nurse, poisoned two husbands with Strychnine for their life insurance while living in Germiston in the central Transvaal (now Gauteng), and then poisoned her only son with arsenic for reasons which are still unclear.

The state, however, could not prove that she had murdered her husbands, so Daisy de Melker was hanged for the murder of her son alone on Friday, December 30th, 1932, at Pretoria Central Prison. She is historically the second woman to have been hanged in South Africa.

Interestingly enough Sarah Gertrude Millin wrote a book on Coenraad De Buys, King of the Bastards, in which she describes Coenraad's fathers poisoning and on book on Daisy De Melker, Three Men Died, in which she describes her murders.

Wikipedia: Daisy de Melker
Crime Magazine: Daisy de Melker
TrueCrime Library - Execution by hanging: Daisy de Melker
Encyclopedia Britannica: Strychnine
Wikipedia: Strychnine
Top 10 Source: 10 Most dangerous poisons around the world
King of the Bastards - Sarah Gertrude Millin
Dr Muller/Cherylynn Wium, Tygerberg Poison Information Centre, Faculty of Health Sciences

03 May 2011

The Massacre at Zuurberg

Following the re-establishment of British authority at the Cape in 1806, the British found themselves increasingly drawn into the conflict between the indigenous peoples and the Boers. By 1810, the major confrontation was with the Xhosa on the Eastern Frontier due to the westward intrusion of the Xhosa who were still settled in the Suurveld.

In October, 1811, the new Governor, John Cradock, resolved to clear the Zuurveld of the Xhosa, and to drive them back to east of the Fish River.  He appointed Colonel John Graham to this task. By December, Graham had raised three forces. The southernmost was near the mouth of the Sundays River, while a second was in the area of Coerney near Addo. The third was a Commando from Graaff-Reinet, led by the Landdrost, Anders Stockenstrom. They were stationed north of the Zuurberg, to protect Bruintjeshoogte and Graaff-Reinet against Xhosa intrusions from the south and east.

The commandos gathered at the mouth of the Sundays river crossed after Christmas in order to expel the enemy from the Addo bush. On 27 December Graham sent orders to Stockenstrom to join the other soldiers and burghers at Cuyler's camp at Coerney. Stockenstrom responded with about 24 of his men, who left their camp at sunrise on 28 December 1811 to travel south over the Zuurberg.

Near the peak of the Zuurberg, Stockenstrom's party encountered a group of Xhosa of the Imidange clan, under Kasa, on Doringnek, the watershed between the White and Coerney rivers, in the Suurberg.

View from Zuurberg (Suurberg)

The burghers wished to ignore them and proceed, but Stockenstrom, relying on his popularity as the friend and benefactor of both whites and Bantu, reined in, dismounted and went to meet them unarmed. In the course of a long conversation he spent half-an-hour endeavouring to persuade them to return to their country without bloodshed. During the conversation about a hundred of the Imidange surrounded the white men unnoticed, and when Stockenstrom remounted to proceed they were attacked from all sides. Stockenstrom, eight burghers and a half-caste interpreter were killed, and four men were wounded, although they managed to escape. Among the dead was Jan Christiaan Greyling, whose widow married Piet Retief, the future Voortrekker leader, in 1814; and Philip Buys who is believed to be "a Baster Hottentot" son of Coenraad De Buys and Elizabeth.  Philip was, more than likely, acting as a guide and/or half-caste interpreter for the group.

When the news of the murder of the landdrost and his companions reached the camp at Bruintjieshoogte; his son, Ensign Andries Stockenstrom, together with eighteen mounted burghers, hastened to Doringnek, where they surprised a number of the murderers, shot thirteen dead, and recaptured eight horses.

Keith Meintjes - The Massacre at Zuurberg
A. H. Tromp - Anders Stockenstrom

Photo: View from Zuurberg (Suurberg)