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n 1884, young immigrant Scot, James Logan, purchased land at "a place called Matjesfontein", an insignificant railway halt in the depths of the Karoo. The Cape Government Railways had, by then, reached the Kimberley diamond fields, and - following Cecil Rhodes' vision of the "road to the North", his dream of a Cape to Cairo line - was extending into the Zambezi hinterland. Logan, whose meteoric rise was based on an energetic and meticulous efficiency, had been awarded the government catering contract at Touws River, which lies within the vast spaces of the Karoo.

n those early days, dining cars were unheard of, and - aware that travellers needed sustenance on those interminable journeys to the interior - Logan saw the potential of this remote Matjesfontein halt. He had already found the Karoo air beneficial for his weak chest; and, entranced by the lunar majesty of the landscape, resigned his post and set about creating a village, seemingly in the depths of nowhere, which would make his fortune and become for many what John Buchan (remember "Prester John" and "The 39 Steps"?) would have recognised as a "Temenos" - a special place of the spirit.


ogan purchased the farm Matjesfontein and, with his thoroughly commercial instincts, three others which possessed plentiful water. He created what an enthusiast describes as an "Oasis"; planted trees (inevitably including the ubiquitous pepper) and a garden; built his own still-surviving residence, Tweedside Lodge; and established the famous Hotel Milner which was conveniently completed in 1899, and shortly thereafter served as the Headquarters of the Cape Western Command.

Back to Topy early 1899, Matjiesfontein had become a fashionable watering place, attracting those who could afford to seek relief for chest complaints in the clear, bright air, entertaining distinguished visitors, some of whom were more parasite than patron. Lord Randolph Churchill is still remembered for "borrowing" a hunting dog which he never returned.


Olive Schreiner lived in a simple cottage here for five years and published the book "Story of an African Farm", which brought her instant fame and an income to last her a lifetime. Olive later became one of the first voices of feminism in South Africa. Today her small three-roomed cottage is a landmark in the village; Logan, a cricket fanatic, entertained most of the famous early teams visiting the Colony. Rudyard Kipling, on his first call at the Cape, made a special journey inland specifically to visit her. During the Boer War, Matjesfontein supported a base hospital, and Logan offered five of his villas as convalescent homes for soldiers.



Virtually all the British Army commanders - Lord Roberts, Douglas Haig, after his post as Commander-in-Chief of the BEF in France, and Edmund Ironside (Chief of the Imperial General Staff, 1940) - stayed or were entertained in the Village. Edgar Wallace - ex-trooper, war correspondent, thriller writer - sent his superb "Unofficial Despatches" from there.

All celebrated in their time and, even now, some are still remembered.

ut why, a century on, does this little village still retain its strange magnetism? It lies in what, to the superficial traveller, must be a wilderness; so remote, apparently so insignificant. And yet, it retains its own unique, very civilised mystique. It is at the very core of this country's history, holding a personality, an integrity and a sense of the past, which even the most transitory visitor may perceive, however dimly.



Kipling, celebrating the romance of the Empire, saw the essence, challenge and romance of southern Africa. In "The Native Born" (1894), he speaks for those who left Britain for the perilous experience of the New Dominions:

"To the home of the floods and the thunder,
To her pale dry healing blue -
To the lift of the great Cape combers,
And the smell of the baked Karoo
To the growl of the sleucing stamp-head -
To the reef and the water-gold,
To the last and the largest Empire,
Back to TopTo the map that is half unrolled!"

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