History of Bonniedale


As can be seen from the numerous rock art sites, Attaquaskloof was first inhabited by the bushmen or Khoi San, who were present until the 1700’s as there are paintings of persons riding horses with rifles and hats on their heads. They inhabited the valley with the Attaqua Khoi-Khoi, (who arrived in the Southern Cape after the Bushmen) hence the name Attaquaskloof.

The first European to set foot on Bonniedale would have been Ensign Isaac Schrijwer in February 1689. He led an expedition of 21 men and two ox wagons, sent by Simon van der Stel, to barter for cattle and sheep with the Inca Khoi-Khoi near Aberdeen. On their return with numerous cattle and sheep, they overnighted near the present nature conservation hut and were attacked by the Attaqua Khoi-Khoi, who took all the cattle and sheep into Grootkloof on Bonniedale. The following morning Schrijwer followed the spoor and killed 41 Khoi-Khoi in Grootkloof. They returned to Cape Town with the animals they had bartered from the Incas, and the Attaqua’s cattle and sheep that they took after the attack. This pleased the other Khoi-Khoi tribes, such as the Gourikwa, Hessekwa and Inca, as they regularly had come under attack from the Attaqua. (There are Bushman paintings on Bonniedale illustrating these attacks.)

The first European to settle on Bonniedale was a Scotsman in 1860. (Hence the Scottish name of Bonniedale.) He supplied produce, mules and oxen to the travelers passing though the Attaquaskloof, he also had the toll concession to maintain the Attaquas pass from Bonniedale to the summit of the Attaquas mountains, and to look after the trail though Grootkloof, over Fouriesberg, which led to Calitzdorp. By 1869, when the Ruiterbosch pad (Robinson Pass) was completed this concession was no longer viable. During 1880 he returned to Scotland on holiday and never came back. When a local farmer, Mr Muller, (the grandfather of the late Oom Sep Muller) bought Bonniedale for 12 pounds in 1890, he discovered a four-year old coloured boy in one of the shepherd’s huts on the farm. There was no trace of the boy’s parents. He had survived on grapes and chicken eggs. They raised the boy, who lived until 1968. Mr Muller started building the Bonniedale farmhouse in 1892 but only finished it 10 years later due to the outbreak of the Anglo Boer War. During 1890 the government surveyed a railway line from Albertinia, through the Langeberg following the Gouritz River and up the Attaquaskloof. Due the war this railway line was never constructed.

Myths and Legends of Bonniedale

The ghosts of Grootkloof. Grootkloof is a major canyon, which crosses virtually the entire length of Bonniedale. A previous labourer on the farm refused to walk or ride through Grootkloof as he was convinced that there were ghosts at a certain place in the canyon. Even the horses still today become nervous and agitated at this point. Two years after this labourer had left the farm, members of the University of Cape Town archaeological department discovered the remains of a Khoi-Khoi village at this point, and that the horse trail went directly over a Khoi-Khoi grave. The labourer had no knowledge of this fact, nor did the horses.

The legend of “Bloubaard” Bloubaard (Bluebeard) Swanepoel’s claim to fame was the fact that he was the last person to be publicly hanged in South Africa (on the town square in George). He was convicted on numerous counts of murder of persons who had bought cattle from him. After the sale he would ride over the Attaquas Mountains and ambush them on their way out with the cattle, kill them and take the cattle back . He did this on four occasions but on the fifth occasion he did not see one of his potential victims who had gone to the bush to relieve himself.

He is also believed to have killed numerous labourers who took out honey for him on the cliff faces of the upper Gouritz River. After having retrieved the honey from them he would push them off the cliff into a maalgat or whirlpool in the Gouritz. As their bodies could never be recovered he could not be convicted on these charges.

Bloubaard Swanepoel’s grave is the unmarked grave in the small graveyard behind the large gum tree at the Attaquas hiking trail hut. As the Bloubaard myth goes, it is believed that if a sudden gust of wind comes up on a wind-less night, it is only Bloubaard on his way to his killing fields. It is also believed that the Attaquas Mountains are riddled with the skeletons of Bloubaard’s victims.

The Bushmen had a different myth for this gust of wind. They say that this wind was once a person like themselves until by some mischance he sprouted feathers and in a short while began to fly like a bird. He was a hunter and now, like a hawk, he could fly to seek his prey. He flew into the mountains and found a good, dry cave high up on the cliff face. Now one can feel him coming and going searching for food. He seems to be afflicted with an extremely short temper, as he flies into a rage over the slightest thing and throws himself down like a naughty child, kicking and raging. When he stands up again, peace returns.

History of the Attaquas Ox Wagon Trail

The Attaquas pass was the ‘N1’ for ox wagons traveling north and east and was used by thousands of ox wagons from 1689 until 1869 when the nearby Robinson Pass was completed. The first ox wagons to use this route was an expedition of 21 men and two ox wagons sent out by Simon van der Stel, under the leadership of Ensign Isaac Schrijwer In January 1689. Gouriqua Khoi-Khoi pointed out the old elephant route to them. It took Schrijwer seven days to cross over the Attaquas Mountains from the farm Haelkraal on the southern side to the Moeras River on the northern side.

A list of travelers passing through the Attaquas pass is a who’s who of celebrated early explorers and boasts names such as Thunberg (1772 – 1773), Sparrman (1775 – 1776), Swellengrebel (1776), van Plettenberg (1778), Patterson (1777 and 1779), Gordon (1786) and Van Reenen (1790). In the early 1800’s came Borrow and a host of other travelers. It became known as “the gateway to the Karoo and East Cape”. Although other passes into the little Karoo were established before the end of the 18th century, eg Plattekloof pass through the Langeberg and Duiwelskop through the Outeniquas, they did not pose a serious threat to the Attaquas pass.

The establishment of George in the early 19th century, the Cradock (1812) and Montagu (1847) passes, brought about the beginning of the end of the Attaquas pass. But, finally the Ruiterbosch pass (1869) now known as Robinson Pass, provided a new and shorter route between Oudtshoorn and Mossel Bay, and this finally ended the 180-year reign of what must be one of the most attractive passes over either the Langeberg or Outeniqua Mountains.

During the Anglo Boer war the Mossel Bay town guard built a series of small blockhouses along the Outeniqua Mountains. One of these well-preserved blockhouses is situated near the top of the Attaquas pass overlooking that part of the old wagon road leading to Oudtshoorn.

As far as we know, none of these forts guarding entry from the little Karoo to the coastal villages ever saw any action even though two large groups of Boer commandos did cross these ranges under the command of Commandant Jan Theron. He crossed the mountain at Ruiterbos. At Brandwacht they skirmished with the English under the command of Major Cavanagh. On the 14th of September 1901 the Boers attacked the headquarters of the West Yorkshire Regiment at the Masonic Hotel in Heidelberg under the command of Colonel Bourke. The Boers fled through the Plattekloof pass back to the Karoo.

For today’s traveler the Attaquas pass, which has recently been declared a national monument, offers spectacular scenery, fynbos, natural rock pools and relics of blockhouses, tool houses and remains of ox wagons alongside the road. Furthermore Cape Nature Conservation has an overnight hut for hikers on the three-day Attaquas hiking trail.

Recommended Reading

Jose Burman describes the passes in three of his books: So high the road, towards the far horizon, and The little Karoo (Human&Rousseau, Cape Town). The work of Thomas Bain is recorded in Patricia Storrar’s A colossus of roads (Murray & Roberts, South Africa) and in the recordings of early travelers are detailed in VS Forbes (1965) Pioneer travelers of South Africa (AA Balkema, Cape Town / Amsterdam). The Bartholomeu Diaz Museum has also published a brochure on the subject titled Drives trough the historical places in the Mossel Bay district.