Talana Museum South Africa  


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Talana Cemetary

Talana CemetaryThe first battle of the Anglo Boer War on 20 October 1899 was fought across the present day tranquil and spacious gardens. The cemetery is a reminder of the men who died here and is also a tribute to the founding families of Dundee and the hardy pioneers of the Biggarsberg area.

The graveyard is in three sections.

The oldest, the east facing section, has the graves of the Smith family. Thomas Smith was the bachelor brother of Peter Smith. He had left Scotland to find his fortune in Ballarat (Australia) on the gold fields. With the failure of this venture he sailed for South Africa and eventually settled in the valley of the Sterkstroom. Along the banks of this river he found good quality clay and started producing bricks and set up as a builder. Together with Peter he built the Smith cottage, old barn, old workshop and the coachhouse. Peter and Ann Smith Peter was middle-aged when he settled here with his family in 1864.

Peter found coal on Talana hillside and by the 1870's was transporting coal for sale to Pietermaritzburg and farming on his farm "Dundee". He was known as the "father of Dundee" and his wife, Ann (born Craighead) as the "mother" of the mining metropolis. Thomas Patterson Smith was the eldest son of Peter and Ann. He built the main house on the slopes of Talana hill just before the Anglo Boer war. Many distinguished visitors (including British royalty), who visited this site, signed the visitors book which first his father and then he kept.

William Craighead and Janet Smith were part of the Smith dynasty. They owned and mined coal on "Balgray". The gracious stone mansion was built in 1894 on the slopes of Mpati Mountain. Janet was the sister of James Gray, daughter of the frontiersman, David Gray an ex Paisley weaver. James Gray, of "Gartmore", in the Biggarsberg, was a son-in-law to Peter Smith. He served with distinction as Chief Guide to General Sir Redvers Buller during the Natal Campaign of 1899-1900. He died before the end of the war, due to privations suffered in the field.

Dugald MacPhail , lived to the age of 101 years. He was famous as being one of the last survivors of the battle of Isandlwana in 1879, where he had served in the Buffalo Border Guard as the quartermaster. He served in the Anglo Boer War, the Bambatha Rebellion, the First World War and when he tried to enlist for the Second World War was turned down as he was considered to be too old. He lived in a fine mansion 'Craigside" on the slopes of Mpati Mountain and founded a very successful coal mining business.

The Thorrolds and Elliots are part of the later Smith dynasty. Paterson and Craighead are both family names on the maternal side. Peter Paterson and John Brown Craighead being Scottish relations who came to join Peter Smith in the 1870's.

Dr Prideaux Selby M.D. J.P. is the only non-family member buried in the Smith section of the cemetery. This remarkable pioneer was the first doctor and Justice of the Peace to the Voortrekker families who settled in the Biggarsberg, “ so well loved that his names "Prideaux" and "Selby" continue to be used in long established Boer families. John Sneddon Dobie in his "Journal" of 1863 likens him to a "pegtop" clad in flapping white ducks and riding off on horseback under an umbrella to tackle an epidemic of measles in the scattered farmhouses. Selby gave a home to and trained the first itinerant teachers to the Voortrekkers, James Edwin Twyman and Richard Bodien. His British patriotism was sorely tried by the disasters of Isandlwana (1879), his sufferings in Fort Pine (1879) and Majuba (1881). Local rumour said he died of a broken heart.

Pioneer Graves

Many of the headstones in this part of the cemetery have been rescued from neglected or vandalised graves from farms throughout the region. Some have also been moved here at the request of descendants of the family to protect and preserve them. Some of these headstones were saved from the old town cemetery between Browning Street and the Steenkoolspruit. In moving of the headstones no remains were exhumed but careful records were kept of which headstones were moved.

Mrs Augusta and John Erick Carlgren. This young woman and her infant son were of Scandinavian missionary stock. The Carlgrens become traders in Zululand. One was a carpenter in Dundee.(Headstone from Old Town cemetery, Browning St)

John Craig, Diena Maria Craig. The Craig family, especially William Craig, were prominent early Scottish settlers. Some of the family became traders in Zululand. Mrs Craig left Dundee a few days after her husband's funeral. (Headstone from Old Town cemetery, Browning St)

A M Cronje. This homemade stone was submerged in 1965 by a dam on the farm "Gartmore" in the Biggarsberg. Abraham Martinus was the baby grandson of the veteran of the Battle of Blood River, Abraham Martinus Cronje. His grave still remains of the farm "Dwarsrivier, the farm originally granted to the family in Voortrekker times. Hundreds of descendants of this man have carried the same family name and the family is of French Huguenot origin. (Headstone from "Gartmore", Biggarsberg)

Louis Pierre Cronje. This remarkably preserved homemade stone from "Gartmore" is but one of many tragic deaths of newborn infants before medical care was available. (Headstone from "Gartmore", Biggarsberg)

Alvah Dalzell. She was the infant son of Dr Jack Dalzell M.D. who founded the Gordon Memorial Mission in the Msinga in 1870. He was also chaplain to the Buffalo Border Guard in 1879. (Headstone from Old Town cemetery, Browning St)

Hendrik Johannes de Jager Lucas Hermanus de Jager Elizabetha Cathrina de Jager born Davel. Mr Gregory de Jager and Mr George Buntting rescued these abandoned settler headstones from a plot of land near the stream on "Craigieburn" on the slopes of Mpati Mountain. It is probable that they are the last of the graves from the first church in the Biggarsberg, the Ermelo Church built in 1863 by the Rev Dr Lionel Cachet. The area in which the church was known to have been built is not far from where these graves were found. In the 1930's unknown persons removed many of the early headstones from this cemetery and took them to Pretoria. They have never been found, nor any records of them. (Headstones from "Craigieburn")

Louis Phillipe Du Bois. He was a member of the renowned family of elephant hunters who farmed at "Giba", Helpmekaar, where the old Dutch hunting road from Pietermaritzburg crossed the Biggarsberg. The Du Bois' hunted as far north as the Zambezi. In the 1860's they helped Vincent St. Erskine map the Limpopo River for the Royal Geographic Society in London. In 1879 they assisted the British army as interpreters and guides. Louis Phillippe reluctantly agreed to act as a conductor of wagons on 22 January 1879. He fought his way out of the massacre at Isandlwana, galloped to the Buffalo river and was within safety on the Natal bank of the river when a shot aimed at Wally Erskine of the Natal Carbineers, who was riding alongside him, struck him in the temple. A month later his brothers rescued his remains and interred them on "Giba" beside the stone fort they had erected for the defence of the Biggarsberg. (Headstone from "Giba" Helpmekaar district)

Fanny Du Bois. She was the mother of the four great ivory hunters of Helpmekaar, Robert, Edmund Ormond Lionel, Conrad and Louis Phillippe. She came from an aristocratic Hampshire family and her husband's French ancestry was distinguished. Her sons were cultivated gentlemen and men of note along the frontier. Conrad William Du Bois. He acted as an interpreter in Dutch, English and Zulu to the Boundary Commission of 1878 that sat at Rorkes drift and awarded the Disputed Territory between the Blood and Buffalo rivers to the Zulu kingdom.(Headstone from "Giba" Helpmekaar district)

Robert James Du Bois. An 1850 settler who hunted and traded from his home near Helpmekaar to Delagoa Bay, Mhambane, Barotse-Mashonoland and Sofala. He bought the farm "Giba" in 1862 and turned to stock farming. Lung sickness, rinderpest and war ruined his fortunes but his fine homestead "Vergelegen" near Job's Kop was a legend for hospitality. He was a rigorous and highly respected personality and a Justice of the Peace. (Headstone from "Giba" Helpmekaar district)

Cresstina Johanna Suvia Fourie. This headstone of a 3 month old infant was found in 1967, on the farm "Gartmore". It had been cracked by tree roots in a wattle plantation. Descendants of the Fourie family, one of the original Voortrekker families and veterans of the battle of Blood River still farm at "Besiesfontein" in the Biggarsberg. (Headstone from "Gartmore" farm)

"Lizzie Gordon". She was the wife of James Cumming, a British cavalry officer, known for his smart attire and his devotion to the Royal Hotel bar. Lizzie died in 1899 leaving a daughter, Lilian. (Headstone from Old Town cemetery, Browning St)

James Jacob Gregory of Wales. Research in the Cape Archives has reflected that in the 1820's he was the proprietor of the Grand Cape Bazaar, opposite the Groote Kerk on the Heerengracht. He was organist of the Groote Kerk and later of St George's Cathedral. A prominent member of the Cape Commercial Exchange, he was one of many Cape speculators who forged trade links with the Voortrekkers settlements in Northern Natal. In the 1850's and 1860's he became a great landowner in the area and a pioneer of coal mining at Job's Kop. His son, James Jenkins Gregory, married a Miss Kemp. Her family had been involved in the Karel Landman trek and had settled at Weenen and then later in the Biggarsberg. His son, James Jenkins Gregory II, was a leading frontiersman and played an important role in the defence of the frontier during the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879. He was a founder member of the Victoria Club in Pietermaritzburg. Jacob Davies' grave came from the farm "Lennox" when open cast mining put it at risk. Catherine Elizabeth Gregory (nee Kemp). She was the widow of James Jenkins Gregory I. She is mentioned in John Moreland's tour of the Biggarsberg in 1854. Marie Antoinette Lambert. She was the wife of Charles George Willson, one of the founders of Dundee and the first Mayor and member of the Legislative Council. Her early death at the age of 28 affected him very deeply. (Headstone from Old Town cemetery, Browning St)

Charles W H Matthews. Nothing is known of this 19 year old young man. Many young men came into the town in the early days as tradesmen, miners or as workers on the roads or railways. They often succumbed to enteric, consumption, malaria or pneumonia. Many were buried on farms. (Headstone from Old Town cemetery, Browning St)

James McConnachie. Two engineer brothers from their native Dundee in Scotland were brought out to Dundee South Africa by peter Smith and his associates to develop new shafts fort he Dundee Coal Company and to build a railway line from Glencoe to Dundee, in the 1890's. The Natal Government Railways purchased this "free enterprise" line in 1896. The brothers were highly respected and the tragic early death of James stunned the town. (Headstone from Old Town cemetery, Browning St)

Charles Edward Nurse. This is one of the earliest headstones from the old town cemetery in Browning St. He died at the age of 15½ from a gunshot wound. Whether or not this was an accident or suicide is not known, but his parents believed him to have been murdered by unknown assailants. (Headstone from Old Town cemetery, Browning St)

Francis George Pearce and baby boy. This tragic headstone is a reminder of a dreadful smallpox scourge in 1897 in Dundee. (Headstone from Old Town cemetery, Browning St)

Jack Ralfe. He was from the 1850 settler family from "Heavitree" in the Estcourt district. His family was related by marriage to the Du Bois family. He was tragically killed in a shooting accident at "Vergelegen" in 1908. (Headstone from Old Town cemetery, Browning St)

Jocelyn Mary Shekleton. She was another child victim of the 1897 smallpox epidemics. (Headstone from Old Town cemetery, Browning St) Jemiman Margaret Shekelton. (Headstone from Old Town cemetery, Browning St)

James White, Samuel Baker, John Costie. These pre Anglo-Boer war headstones were removed from the old town cemetery in Browning St. Nothing is known of these persons. (Headstone from Old Town cemetery, Browning St)

Military Graves. Talana Hill, fought in the misty morning of 20 October 1899, was the first battle of the Anglo-Boer War.

British casualties were five times heavier than Boer losses. Sheltering in the gum tree plantations and behind the farm stone walls and buildings of the Smith farm-steading, the troops made a frontal assault on the steep, terraced hillside which cost the British heavily. 200 metres behind the coachhouse is a stone cairn marking where General Sir William Penn Symons was mortally wounded. His grave is in the grounds of St James Anglican Church in town.

Other British casualties were buried in the Betania Mission Hospital grounds (behind the Wesleyan Church in Mackenzie St) and in the town cemetery.

Boer casualties, originally buried on the top of Talana hill, were reinterred under the Clock Tower of the Dutch reformed Church in 1929 (Corner Wilson and Beaconsfield St)

Capt. GA Weldon (of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers), aged 33, was the first officer to die in the war. His body was recovered from the donga, where he had been shot and killed while placing a wounded soldier under cover. Along with him fell ten NCOs and privates of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers 2nd battalion. He was buried a day after the battle in the 'old' cemetery which overlooked the battlefield. His remains were transferred to the Smith family cemetery on 13 October 1960. The headstone of Capt. Weldon stands amongst those of the other officers who were killed on Talana Hill.

All have been buried in the Smith family cemetery.

Here lie buried Lt. Col. J Sherston (of the Rifle Brigade who was killed while climbing over a wall), Lt. Col. RH Gunning (who led a gallant attack up the hill. He led his men over the open ground from the Sterkstroomspruit into the plantation of gum trees, but was killed at the top of the donga), Capt. MHK Pechell, Lts. RC Barnett(who were cut down by Boer rifle fire as they climbed over the stone wall), and AJ Taylor (all of the 1st Bn. King's Royal Rifles), and 2nd_Lt. AHM Hill (of the 2nd Bn. Royal Irish Fusiliers). Capt Adjutant F H B Connor (Royal Irish Fusiliers) led a scramble up the hill. He was shot in the stomach as he leapt from the stone wall onto the first terrace. Col Sherston DSO (Rifle Brigade) was also killed as he climbed over one of the walls. Lt Hambro survived two wounds and made it to the crest of the hill, only to be cut down by the British artillery shrapnel. The British guns shelled their own men before an order could be given to "Stop firing".

The headstones were moved to the Smith family cemetery, from the original position on the slopes of Talana hill. Monuments in the cemetery commemorate all three regiments, which fought at Talana. To the memory of the King's Royal Rifles appear 22 names of non - officers; 16 names (including those of 2 officers) represent the Royal Irish Fusiliers, while mention is made of 12 men (including 2 officers) of the 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers.