The Voortrekkers
The settlers reconnoitre possible destinations.
The Voorste Mense ('Pioneers')
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Louis Tregardt

Louis Tregardt was the grandson of a Swedish employee of the Dutch East India Company born on the 10th August 1783 in Oudtshoorn. When old enough he became a farmer and settled in the country of the Xhosa. He was said to have received stolen cattle and to have even incited the frontier war of 1834/35. At one stage had a price of five hundred cattle on his head. However he found that he had become the de facto leader of a group of emigrant Boers and had both Potgieter and van Rensburg as neighbours.

voortrekkersSo, early in 1836 at the age of 53, he and his little party set off northwards into unknown country. Tregardt's brief was to find out all he could about the country he crossed and report back. He was also to rendezvous with the Buys family in the Zoutpansberg and await Potgieter's main party whilst sending parties to blaze a trail to one of the Portuguese ports. Tregardt's party consisted of seven poor farmers, their wives and thirty four children.

Van Rensburg was a 56-year-old hunter who intended to pioneer the trail to Delagoa Bay and sell ivory and was accompanied by nine hunter friends and their respective families. Both treks set off independently but met up possibly between the Orange and Vaal rivers.

Other Members of the Trek

Another member of the team was one Jan Pretorius who provided Tregardt with a perpetual headache. Pretorius wished to buy gunpowder from Delagoa Bay. Finally there was the most unlikely pioneer - Daniel Pfeffer - an old man of 87 who was to act as teacher to the children. He was the only member who had a map of the Portuguese coast - with an impressive blank space that marked the interior. Despite the constant squabbling in the group, Tregardt was never to fail them during the next three years.

In addition to the above were almost a thousand cattle, fifty horses and six thousand sheep and goats, all of which took several hours to round up each day. The whole group cut such a swathe through the countryside that its tracks could be followed several years later. Surprisingly, only nine men were able to bear arms and even these were poor shots, repeatedly failing to bring down game. Van Rensburg had approximately half the number of beasts of Tregardt and consequently was able to move ahead more quickly.

The trek moved out due north from the Orange River, sometimes with van Rensburg's party or separately when grazing did not prove sufficient. The distance travelled each day was approximately five to ten miles depending on the terrain and on whether any animals were giving birth.

Next . . . The Zoutpansberg is reached.

More on the van Rensburg trek from Geocities.

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Commencement of Great Trek A mass migration by means of ox-wagons, known as the Great Trek, occurred in the late eighteen thirties from the Cape Colony. One of the first recognized leaders who led a party away from British control was Johannes Jacobus Janse van Rensburg. See commemorative stamp of the Great Trek including the Van Rensburg Trek. Within a period of 10 years about 14,000 people left the Cape Colony. They saw their departure in terms of the Biblical Exodus. Van Rensburg was known as 'Lang Hans', he must have been rather tall, as this descriptive name suggests. He was the child of b1 c2 d3 Johannes Janse van Rensburg and Martha POTGIETER. It is significant to point out that his mother and the father of Andries Hendrik POTGIETER, another trek leader, were brother and sister. In other words 'Lang Hans" and Andries Hendrik Potgieter were first cousins. Thus when Potgieter went looking for Van Rensburg there was a close familial bond. Lang Hans was born 12 August 1779 on the Sundays river. He was baptised on the 25 December 1779.

Lang Hans van Rensburg married at Cape Town on 28 November 1802 Sara BRONKHORST,she was baptised 21 October 1787.

Children f1 Martha *19 Apr 1806, = Graaff-Reinet 29 May 1808, died July 1836, X Beaufort West 4 Jan 1824 Petrus Johannes VILJOEN (s.o. Henning Johannes Viljoen and Elizabeth Johanna Liebenberg) f2 Sophia Susara *28 Nov 1811, = Graaff-Reinet 26 Dec 1811. This may be the only child who did not accompany the trek and thus survived. f3 Maria Aletta *30 Aug 1815, baptised George 2 Nov 1815, died Jul 1836, X Cradock 4 Jul 1831 Frederik Hermanus VAN WYK f4 Sara Geertruyda *20 Jan 1818, = Paarl 11 Oct 1818. Died July 1836 f5 Johannes Jacobus * 21 Jul 1820, = Beaufort West 1 Apr 1821, died young f6 Gysbert Sybrand Johannes *7 Aug 1824, baptised Beaufort West 6 Feb 1825. Died Jul 1836 f7 Alida Magdalena Petronella *24 Sep 1828, baptised Beaufort West 31 May 1829. Died Jul 1836 f8 Jacobus Johannes *25 Sep 1830, *baptised Cradock 4 Jul 1831. Died Jul 1836

Up and until 1815 they lived in the Graaff-Reinet district, at Khoup also know as Nieuweveld. During the eighteen twenties they lived in the Nieuweveld, Beaufort district. In 1830 he trekked to Zevenfontein, on the Caledon river (later the Paris Evangelical Society was to set up their mission station Beersheba here). There they sowed and planted crops. During this time they had their children baptized at the Cradock church. After the Sixth Frontier War late in 1835 they set out for the Gariep river (Orange river). There were about 49 whites in this group led by Van Rensburg. Van Rensburg party had 450 cattle, 3,000 sheep and 30 horses. At the same time Louis TRICHARDT also left with a group of Voortrekkers, the TRICHARDT party had 925 head of cattle, 50 horses, and 6,000 sheep. The two parties kept in touch with one another. One can understand why the Van Rensburg Trek would have been able to trek faster due to the smaller number of animals.

Stamp depicting Great Trek routes including Van Rensburg

The Van Rensburg Trek consisted of: Lang Hans van Rensburg, his wife, Sara BRONKHORST and four children. The children according to J. Visagie, Voortrekkerstamouers: 1835 - 1845, p. 257, 258 were: Sara Geertruyda baptised 11 Oct 1818; Gysbert Sybrand Johannes baptised 6 Feb 1825; Alida Magdalena Petronella baptised 31 May 1829; Jacobus Johannes baptised 4 Jul 1831. All murdered.

Gijsbert BRONKHORST (his father-in-law) baptised 7 Apr 1765, his wife Sophia VAN DYK, and one child. All murdered

Gijsbert Sybrand BRONKHORST (brother-in-law) baptised 18 Jan 1795, his wife Johanna Maria BOTHA and six children: Johanna Maria Catharina baptised 16 April 1823; Theunis Johannes baptised 9 Apr 1826; Johannes Rudolph baptised 4 May 1828; Willem Andries Reynier baptised 15 May 1832; Wilhelmina Susara baptised 14 May 1833; Hendrik Lambert baptised 22 Nov 1835. All murdered.

Petrus Johannes VILJOEN (son-in-law) born 7 Jul 1802 (s.o. Henning Johannes Viljoen and Elisabeth Liebenberg), his wife (married 4 Jan 1824) Martha VAN RENSBURG baptised 29 May 1808 (eldest child of Lang Hans) and six children: Hendrik Johannes Viljoen b. 19 Jan 1825; Johannes Jacobus b. 30 Jul 1826; Jan Hendrik b. 12 Jan 1831; Susara Sophia b. 23 Aug 1832; Gysbert Sybrand b. 27 Jul 1834 (names of children from Prof Christo Viljoen, there must have been one more child. See also J. Visagie, Voortrekkerstamouers: 1835 - 1845, p. 257). All murdered

Frederik Hermanus VAN WYK (son-in-law), his wife Maria Aletta VAN RENSBURG baptised 2 Nov 1815 (third child of Lang Hans) and two children. (See J. Visagie, Voortrekkerstamouers: 1835 - 1845, p. 257). All murdered. Dr Punt, p. 218 states that the 4 year old girl and six year old Van Wyk child survived the attack, when a Zulu warrior hid them under his shield.

Gijsbert Sybrand BRONKHORST (his wife's nephew) baptised 12 May 1818 and wife X 7 Sep 1834, Elsie Susanna Elizabeth PRETORIUS (daughter of b5c3d7e3 Willem Pretorius and Petronella Christina Botha). Both were murdered

Jacobus Ignatius DE WET and his wife

Hendrik Jacobus KROUKAMP baptised 5 Dec 1802, and his wife Susanna Elizabeth STRYDOM and three children. SAG, Vol IV, p. 477 gives two childrens names: Magdalena Catharina baptised 2 Jul 1832; Maria Elizabeth baptised 17 May 1835. All murdered

Nicolaas Balthasar PRINSLOO baptised 1 Jun 1794 (son of Willem Frederik and Dalina Johanna Potgieter). He was a Slagtersnek rebel. His wife (married 3 Oct 1819) Petronella Maria KRUGEL (she was the daughter of Slagternek rebel Willem Frederik Krugel and Elizabeth Petronella Bergh), and eight children: Willem Frederik baptised 27 Sep 1822; Nicolaas Balthasar baptised 20 Aug 1824; Hilletje Maria baptised 19 Sep 1826; Petrus Christoffel Johannes *2 Oct 1826, baptised 10 May 1829; Maria Magdalena Elisabeth *26 Sep 1828, baptised 10 May 1829; (See SAG, Vol VIII, p. 485, it does not mention the other children). Between 1828 and 1836 they must have had another three children, which also were murdered with the whole family.

Marthinus Prins(Prinsloo?) a bachelor. Murdered

There were thirty children.

Originally Gerhardus (Gert) Stephanus SCHEEPERS and wife Anna Susanna Scheepers, Hendrik BOTHA and his wife, Izak ALBACH (he had a coloured wife Magdalena Maria [Leentje] LUCAS / Helena van de Kaap, daughter of Barend Lucas) and Hans STRYDOM (married to Alida BRONKHORST, a sister of Lang Hans' wife) was part of the Van Rensburg trek but later joined Trichardt's party.

Strife between Van Rensburg and Trichardt trek The two treks passed present day Standerton and Middelburg, Tvl. There was some animosity between the two parties and more so between the two leaders. In April 1836 Van Rensburg and his party were hunting elephants and obtained ivory for future trade. Van Rensburg and his trek were a little trigger happy when it came to shooting elephants, and freely used their ammunition. Near the Gompies and Olifants rivers Tregardt had words with Van Rensburg regarding the excessive use of ammunition, and warned him to be more sparingly. Van Rensburg quick tempered by nature responded that he was man enough to take care of his party, and thus the two groups split. The place is still called Strydpoort (literally strife/quarrel pass). Van Rensburg trekked to the Soutpansberg mountains and arrived there at the end of May. By the end of June Van Rensburg started to trek towards Delagoa Bay, where he wanted to trade with his ivory. He took a route along an old footpath going east, just south of Ysterberg, on the left bank of the klein Letaba river.

Wiped out by break away group from Shaka There were nine wagons and on their way they were massacred by blacks, at the end of July 1836. Dr W.H.J. Punt did extensive research on the route of the Van Rensburg trek and the place of massacre.

One needs to know about Chief Sakana, also recorded as Sogana, which is an abbreviation for Shoshogana. His Zulu name was Manukosi. He became the leader of the Shangaan Empire, also known as Gaza Empire. Manukosi was a general in the Ndwandwe clan who fought against Shaka, they suffered defeat by Shaka's warriors, Soshongane fled to the North in 1820 or 1821 (An account of his defeat at the hands of Shaka is recorded in Peter Becker, p. 18-20, Path of Blood: The rise and conquest of Mizilikazi founder of the Matabele. Soshongane conquered one tribe after another in Mozambique, eventually he settled at Mosappa far north of Pafuri. Soshangane was the son of Zikode, son of Gaza, son of Manukuza. Not only did he conquer the local natives and drove the Portuguese in to the sea but also murdered the Van Rensburg Trek, refer to E.A. Ritter Shaka Zulu, p. 169. Earlier Manukosi/Sakana had a village on the Limpopo river. When the Van Rensburg trek came from the west, they would have come to a fork in the path near the Limpopo river. One path went north, the other path went East to the Sakana village, and a third path went south. Van Rensburg headed south. Approximately three miles south of this village, the Van Rensburg trek camped with their wagons like a string of beads amidst the shadows of giant baobab trees, on both sides of the Djindi tributary. See a drawing of Baines who camped under a similar tree in Botswana (30k). Four wagons on the north and five wagons on the south side of Djindi. They must have arrived late since they did not camp in a laager formation. Late that night they were attacked by the impi's under the command of Malitel. See painting that depicts an attack on a party of Voortrekkers (71k). The attack came from a southerly direction, the first wagons were quickly overrun. In the dark the Boers retreated to the other wagons. The whites were then divided into four separate groups, most likely near each of the wagons. Three groups were crushed but the fourth group gave heavy resistance. By early morning their ammunition started to run out, and the Shangaan's herded the cattle towards the whites and used the cattle as cover and eventually murdered everyone apart from two Van Wyk children, a six year old boy and a four year old girl that they spared. About thirty of the African attackers were shot and the leader Malitel was wounded.

The Africans do not have cattle or sheep because of the tsetse fly, they only had goats. Seeing the whites with cattle and sheep gave them a reason and motive to want and kill the whites. Ransford provides another reason why the Van Rensburgs were murdered, p. 54 suggests that "He (Soshangane) coveted the iron work in Van Rensburg's wagons", he thus gave " instructions to destroy the white people."

While searching for the Van Rensburg Voortrekkers, they came across an African tribe and they recognised a binoculars and mirror which belonged to Van Rensburg, they feared that Van Rensburg must have been murdered. Johannes (Jan) Petrus Pretorius (born 1809 married to Gebrecht Elizabeth Maria Alberts) in late 1836 went to the murder scene, he heard the cries of these two children in the village. (The cries of African children and white children are distinct.) We have this photo of Breggie Pretorius the wife of Jan Pretorius (39k), the photo includes her second husband Hans Aucamp. Breggie and her husband and Antjie Scheepers went to the Sakana village and concluded that the van Rensburg's were murdered. However the two children died shortly afterwards from fever, mentioned in G. Preller: Dagboek van Louis Trichardt, p. 28. Karel Trichardt was shown the graves of these children in the mid 1838. Karel came across the skeletons of the Van Rensburg Voortrekkers who were murdered and he buried them. Karel also was shown the metal rims of the wagon wheels and some guns by the natives.

In Search of the Van Rensburg Trek

1. AH Potgieter arrived met Trichardt on 24 June 1836. A few days later eleven men under the leadership of AH Potgieter and JGS Bronkhorst went searching for the Van Rensburgs. They searched along the route to Sofala. By the end of July they had returned

2. Louis Trichardt, Karel Trichardt, JGS Bronkhorst, J Robbertse and A Swanepoel went searching between 1 - 16 August, 1836

3. A few days after the return of Trichardt's search party, Jan Pretorius, Gert Scheepers, Hendrik Botha and Izak Albach, with there wives and children went looking for the Van Rensburgs. By the end of September 1836 they reached the river near the murder scene. They met Sakana. It was then that he heard the cry of white children. See G.G. Rousseau, "Die Huisgenoot", 26 July 1929. Another African captain confirmed that Sakana held two white children captive. By the end of January 1837 they had returned and met with Trichardt. Gert Scheepers had died from malaria and many of them were suffering from malaria.

4. When Karel Trichardt arrived at the murder scene in the winter months of 1838. he was shown by the Africans the two graves of the white children. The Africans also showed him the the iron rims of the wagon wheels and the Boer guns. Karel Trichardt also the buried the remains of the bones of those who were murdered.

5. SW Burger of Lydenburg in May 1848 with an expedition went to Inhambane. They came across the murder scene.

6. An Erasmus in 1889 told WH Brown that he had followed the Van Rensburg trek route, right to the murder scene.

7. Senator Wannenburg also records that a certain Snyman heard from the African captain Sakana about the murder of Van Rensburg trek.

8. In 1872 the Natal surveyor, St Vincent Erskine were mapping the the Limpopo river. The map that was produced in 1875 by the Royal Geographic Society, London from this survey, indicate the Djindi river and next to it is written "Battleground between Trek Boers and Shoshongans Army

9. In 1917 Gustaf Preller asked missionary C Hoffman to make enquiries regarding the Van Rensburg murder. His research confirmed the place and manner of the Van Rensburg murder.

10. Breggie Pretorius the wife of Jan Pretorius, recollection was recorded by her second husband Hans Aucamp and it confirmed the murder. See G.G. Rousseau, "Jan en Breggie Pretorius van die Trichardt trek', Die Huisgenoot, 26 July, 1929.

11. Dr W Punt's National Park expedition 17 - 27 September 1959. During this expedition they obtained an anvil from the Africans. The Africans mentioned that it was about 100 years old. Medamo Bolois the grandson of the person who discovered the anvil went and showed them were it was originally found near a baobab tree, 100 meters from the Limpopo river. The Africans shared the oral history of the anvil: The anvil use to belong many years ago to whites. The whites came in cars with four wheels, with horses, cattle and servants. They were murdered near the baobab trees, for their cattle. Captain Masambo also shared that the anvil was always hidden or buried in the ground when Boers of the Transvaal arrived. The expedition was able to purchase the anvil from the tribe. The also told them about a small rim of a wagon wheel that was discovered and that they had made spear heads out of it. The Africans then explained to them the oral history of how the attack against the Van Rensburg took place. The expedition was also taken 3 - 4 miles north of the murder scene and the remains of the village of Sakana was identified. The new village was 6 miles north of the old village.

Dr Punt and his expedition made a valuable contribution to the location and events in relation to the Van Rensburg Trek. The location of the murder scene occurred 38 miles to the north of the joining of the Olifants and the Limpopo rivers. The research and expedition by Punt in 1959 help resolve the real cluedo of the Van Rensburg Trek and their massacre. See Map by Punt on the Van Rensburg trek route (113k), see Map of massacre area (57k) and detail Map of Van Rensburg massacre (41k).

In 1966 the historical monuments commission erected a bronze plague to commemorate the Van Rensburg Trek on the farm Gevonden, twenty miles east of present Louis Trichardt.