The history of Murraysburg
Like all parts of the Karoo this region has a large wealth of fossils. On many farms fossils are found and many specimens were removed and taken to museums where they can be studied by paleontologists. A visit to the district can be worthwhile for somebody interested in the creation of the earth as it is today.
After the extinction of plant and animal life like the giant reptiles in the Central Karoo through changes in the temperature, ice age, volcanic eruptions and even the collision with the meteorites, a new natural life slowly developed over several millennia. The Karoo was now able to support human life. Those were the San (the Bushman).
Thrinaxodon - Brookfield
San and Khoi
The San were nomadic and roamed the whole of Southern Africa. They stayed in caves and built shelters when necessary hunters/gatherers par excellence. Today most of the descendants of the San are to be found in the Kalahari, Namibia and Botswana.
Because the San were hunters, game was important to them. So when the first white “Trekboere” moved into the Murraysburg area with their animals, the San felt threatened. The flocks of sheep and the cattle of the farmers replaced the abundant wild animals. The San wanted meat. So they began to hunt the sheep or cattle. The farmers retaliated and killed some of the San. For years in the late 18th century a bloody and vicious war of revenge and retaliation raged between the San and the farmers. Farms were attached, houses set alight, herdsmen murdered. Farmers went out on punitive missions and killed many of the San. This went on for several years. At the beginning of the 19th century the San began to move towards the Kalahari.
The San people have a unique language – a series of clicks – which is still used by the descendants of the original inhabitants of this region. They had a cultural life of their own: made paintings of the hunt and their lives on the rock faces and the walls of caves. They made music and loved to dance. They dances around the fires and prayed to a “Higher Entity”, but also revered the heavenly bodies like the sun, moon and stars.
The San left traces of their sojourn in this area. On many farms rock paintings and artifacts are found and may be visited.
The Khoi originally stayed mainly in the coastal regions but moved to the interior with the Trekboere (farmers looking for grazing). They became farm labourers and even joined the farmers on expeditions against the San.
San rock art - Kareebosch
The history of any city or town is always closely linked to by what is happening in the country and the world in general.
Because a refreshment station was started at the Cape, the region came under, at first, the control of the Dutch Indian Company. Later, control was taken over by the Dutch Government and then subsequently by the British.
Initially the Cape was governed by a Political Council with the highest authority the Council of 17 in Amsterdam. With the development of the Cape into a colony, government was adapted to suit the new situation. As the stock farmers moved further into the interior, new districts were formed. The Political Council appointed a magistrate (landdros) in each district. He was assisted by heemraden, chosen from the white community.
During the latter part of the 18t century roaming stock farmers settled in the region of the Sneeubergen. Water and grazing were plentiful, ideal for stock farming. This region was outside any of the then existing districts. Loan farms were allocated to farmers. These farms could be used for grazing for a stipulated period. The region was very unsettled with stock theft, murders and reprisal expeditions against the San. In 1778 governor van Plettenberg met the Sneeuberg farmers at the site of the present Graaff-Reinet. They requested that a magistrate (landdros) be appointed and that they should get a church and school. In October 1786 landdros Maritz Woeke was appointed. The new town was named Graaff-Reinet after the then governor Cornelis Jacobus Van de Graaff and his wife, Reinette. Murraysburg was part of this new district. (Before this development, people in this area had to go to Tulbagh or Stellenbosch for registration of births and deaths)
When the congregation of Richmond was formed in 1843 a large portion of Murraysburg district formed part of this new congregation and town. Because of the distance from Richmond to Graaff-Reinet, people felt that a new town should be founded. Initially the farm Toverfontein was considered, but negotiations fell through.
Eventually the farm Eenzaamhied was bought from Mr Kootjie Burger. This farm became the town Murraysburg. It was a “church town”, meaning that the DRC exercised full control over the town and its inhabitants. The new town was named after the Rev. Andrew Murray, minister of the DRC in Graaff-Reinet. The “burg” part comes from the Dutch meaning “place of safety”.
Two names are closely connected to the founding of Murraysburg.
Andrew Murray, a Scottish minister, came to South Africa in 1822. He was appointed to the congregation to Graaff-Reinet by the colonial authority as was customary at the time. He worked hard in his widespread congregation. Today this area has eight congregations, namely Murraysburg, Aberdeen, Richmond, Middelburg, Colesberg and Graaff-Reinet.Murray played an important role in the Church. He was active in the administration of the Church, and did much for missionary work.
Five of Andrew Murray’s sons become ministers of the DRC and four of his daughters married ministers of the church. So the Murray family played an important part in the development of the DRC in South Africa.
The Murray family stayed in the parsonage, today the Reinet House Museum. All 16 of the children were born in this house. Andrew Murray died on 24 June 1866 in Graaff-Reinet. He served the Church of Graaff-Reinet for 44 years.
(Source: Murraysburg Honderd jaar oud)
Barend Jacobus Johannes Burger
The name of Barend Jacobus Johannes Burger is synonymous with Murraysburg. He was the leader in the negotiations to buy a farm to found a new congregation and town. He was involved in the development of the new town. He set an example to the other farmers by building a house in town and moving there. He paid attention to all aspects of life in town. Every morning he rode on horseback through town, discussing issues, giving advice and looking after the welfare of people.
Barend Burger came from a prominent Graaff-Reinet family. His father bought the farm Vleiplaats in the Murraysburg district. Periodically Barend Burger came to Vleiplaats to tend their flocks. Later he and his wife settled at Vleiplaats. Remains of the original dwelling and kraals are still to be seen near the present house. Barend bought the farm from his father. He became wealthy and eventually owned several farms in the district.
He had a forceful personality and served his community in various ways. He was a member of committees and councils, an excellent farmer, a wise counsellor. At one stage he even was the only “bank” in Murraysburg and lent money to people at reasonable rates.
He was in reality the uncrowned king of Murraysburg, but the town wasn’t named after him. The graves of “Bêrend Vleiplaats”, as he was fondly known, and his wife are in the local cemetery.
The first magistrate Alix Henderson was appointed in Murraysburg in 1859. At that time there were already a court, a house for the police, as well as a temporary jail. The first magistrate’s office was built on the same plot where the present magistrate’s office is.
At that stage there was no municipal offices or divisional council to look after the everyday needs of the community. In Murraysburg the first Divisional council was constituted in 1895. The Council was responsible for the upkeep of roads. This was later extended to various aspects of daily life like health and the prevention of infectious diseases, issuing of trade licenses, subdivisions of land/farms.
The town was still under the control of the Church, but Barend Burger, who managed the town on behalf of the Church, found the task too onerous. Meetings were held and discussions took place with the Colonial Government. In April 1860 the first members of the new Municipal Council were chosen with Barend Burger the first chairman. Thus Barend Burger became the first mayor of Murraysburg.
Laws of the country affected life in Murraysburg. After 1948 various laws upset the daily lives of the inhabitants of Murraysburg. According to the Group Areas Act, coloured people had to move from their original houses in town to the township (“location”) at the southern side of town. Separate amenities had to be provided for all racial groups. After the 1994 elections things changed and Murraysburg had a democratically elected Municipal Council.
Mr B.J.J Burger and his wife
(Source: Murraysburg Honderd jaar oud)
Anglo Boer War
In October 1899 the South African War (Anglo Boer War) broke out. Although the Murraysburgers were British subjects, the sympathy of most of them lay with the two Boer Republics. The government formed “Town Guards” to protect towns from threats by Boer commandoes.
Murraysburg was the only town in the whole of the Cape Colony where not enough men could be found to form a town guard. General Wynand Malan, a son of Murraysburg, said that Murraysburg would always be known as a rebel town.
The British military force ignored Murraysburg because there was no town guard. Thus Murraysburg became the source for goods, weapons, information and medical assistance from dr. Martin Heinrich, the local medical practitioner.
During the first six months of 1901 Boer commandos moved freely through the district. The most famous name in this respect is Gideon Scheepers. He and his commando burned down the magistrate’s offices, the post office, police station and other buildings used by the police. Private dwellings belonging to English speaking inhabitants were also burnt down. That was on 6 July 1901. Two days later Scheepers and his men burned down the magnificent homestead of Vleiplaats, the pride of Murraysburg.
Scheepers was at one stage the virtual ruler of Murraysburg. People even referred to the town as “Scheepersburg”. He had the temerity to proclaim Murraysburg as Free State territory!
The burnings were done in reprisal for the burning of farms in the two republics. Scheepers was eventually caught and controversially executed.
(Source: Murraysburg Honderd jaar oud)
Farming is the main source of income of the people of Murraysburg.
The original farmers who came to this area were herdsmen who roamed with their flocks of sheep and some cattle looking for grazing. They obtained grazing rights and later loan farms were granted. Many farms were later allocated to farmers, according to the quit-rent tenure system by Sir Benjamin D’Urban on 31 December 1835. A farm which has been in the same family for more than eight generations is Doornbosch, farm of Mr Roche van Heerden.
The growing of wool has been for a long time the most important branch of agriculture in the Murraysburg district. In 1795 the grandfather of Barend Burger founder of the town bought his first merinos. Through the years better breeding rams were imported. Farmers united to form cooperatives to help with the marketing of their clips. Shearers were trained and attention was given to the improvement of the quality of the wool produced.
Mohair is another product of the district. The first sale of angora goats in South Africa was held in Graaff-Reinet on 2 february 1857 by the Mosenthals.
One of Barend Burger’s sons bought a ram at the sale (Willem of Rooipoort). Much attention was paid to the development and improvement of the product. Marketing also received attention. Farmers from Murraysburg regularly receive awards for the good quality mohair produced.
Through the years farmers diversified and ostriches, game and cattle also became important.
Murraysburg 150 years (Privately Published in 2011)