LEADER OF BOER TREK TO KENYA 1908

b1c1d4e12f1 JAN A. JANSE VAN RENSBURG 

Author: A.M. van Rensburg (b4 c2 d1 e6 f5 g5 h3 i2)

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Commandant Jan Janse van Rensburg was born in the Western Transvaal on the 7 October 1849. He got married at Rustenburg to Aletta Potgieter. They had 13 children, 6 of whom accompanied them to Kenya. Three of the daughters who went to Kenya were married to: Piet Steenkamp, Koos Smith en Faan Smith. Their eldest daughter were married to the Magistrate of Bethal and she did not Trek. Photo of the family (61k). Jan died at the age of 89 years in 1938. Oom Jannie van Rensburg sailed on an exploratory trip leaving Loureco Marques on 2 December 1906 to have a look at Kenya, their is a photo of him on the ship while on this exploratory visit. He was accompanied by Piet Klopper, Christiaan Joubert, Dennewick, H. Gleeman (private secrertary and he could speak English fairly well) Jan Viljoen is also mention with reference to this expedition. At this occasion he obtained some guarantees for farming land from Sir James Hayes-Sadler. While there they also met and made contact with Abraham Joubert and his people who moved there already. Van Rensburg returned to get his people but Piet Klopper and Christiaan Joubert decided to stay in Kenya there and then.

Preparing for the Trek
Van Rensburg's farm was named Bankpan. Van Rensburg held meetings, in the major towns in the Eastern Transvaal, recruiting persons of interest wanting to trek to Kenya. Jan van Rensburg assembled 47 families including two pastors (Memories of Kenya refers to 47 families plus three single men, Riek van Rensburg refers to 59 families). They were tired of the Transvaal and looking for a new home. The Anglo Boer War was not long finished and they heard from the Boer's van Breda brothers and Frans Arnoldi, who trekked earlier all the way to East Africa, that there was beautiful country in that part of the world. They were excited by a dream of freedom and a land where there were still open spaces. The Transvaal was becoming saturated and the farms were decreasing in size. Groen p 49 makes mention that van Rensburg wanted to trek after land and game which was plentiful in Kenya. Groen makes mention that some considered van Rensburg to be a Rooikop, pp 48, 50 (Someone who worked during the war with the rooineks, which were the English) They assembled at three stations on the Pretoria-Delgoa line. Most of them came from Ermelo/Carolina district. Van Rensburg chartered a ship in 1908 and forty seven families set sail, with their 42 wagons and 72 horses. The cost was 10 pounds per wagon and 6 pounds per person and 4 pounds per horse. Apparently they were mostly "bywoners" those who co-lived on another's property and could not posses their own land, and "hensoppers" those who surrendered to the British during the war, who now found life unbearable in the Transvaal. (In 1911, another group of 60 families, under leadership of C.J. Cloete, left the Orange Free State via Durban for Kenya in the ship S.S. Skramstad.)

Sailing for Nairobi
Van Rensburg with the assistance of the German Consul hired the ship Windhoek (A German ship called SS Windhuk) for 1,750 pounds and the party left Lourenco Marques on the 9 July 1908 sailed seven days (Riek van Rensburg mentions two weeks) before arriving at Mombasa on Saturday 16th July 1908. Photo of them sailing on the ship. (29k) On arriving at Mombasa they loaded their goods on the train heading for Nairobi. They needed five trains to transport them and their belongings. They arrived late in July 1908 during the wet season, the wagons struggling in the deep mud of the streets. Nairobi was still a small town made out of sheet metal (photo from early 1900's from Memories of Kenya (22k)). Camping at first, at one of the ministers homes (photo of encampment from Memories of Kenya (23k)). It was with interest that the local saw the Boer women walking through the mud holding their long dresses in the air to avoid them getting filthy.

Trekking to the Escarpment
The group of 252 men, women and children, took five trains that was organised to Nakuru a few families got off at Athi River (the de Beer family was there already) the rest traveled on and arrived at Nakuru on 18 July 1908. They stayed on the farm of Arnoldi five miles away (today there is an airfield). Here they bought oxen from the local natives and spent the next few weeks training these beast to pull the wagons. In the meantime some scouts went and checked the land. They came back with reports of some beautiful country that abounded with wild life. The van Rensburg Trek then headed off in two columns the first consisting of ten wagons , with no roads, making their way through the wild, across an escarpment as daunting as the Drakensberg Mountains. They trekked 3 or 4 days and rested two. Because the ground was wet those at the back of the convoy faced a mud churned mess, and took 4 days to cover 7 miles. The trek went through swamps, for which they had to cut bamboo to build a causeway for the wagons. On the trek they had the tragedy of a two year old girl dying from pneumonia. After coming to an area they called Sugar Vlei, reminding them of Natal, they came to another swampy area. After building another causeway fifteen wagons slipped off and sunk into the bog up to the rails. Only the top of the wagon wheels were visible. Using 3 teams of oxen, which numbers 48, they eventually pulled out the wagons. They arrived at Sergoit on the 22nd October. After camping beside Sosieni River they came to what they called Rooidrift, here they split up and each one claimed their portion of the Promised Land. This area was not inhabited by any native tribe. An English women settler, observing from the top of a hill thought she could see a river meandering through the bush, then she thought it must be smoke. It only then dawned upon this woman that it was the convoy of Boers wagons she heard were coming.

A New Home
Each of the new settlers had a farm measuring 900 acres, 1,400 acres, 2,600 acres or 5,000 acres. They received it on condition that they developed it within five years. Originally this area was considered for a Zionist scheme. These Afrikaners were use to harsh conditions. They "fashioned harrows out of branches and thorns bound with thongs, and burnt bricks for houses, and made veldshoen from giraffe hide and soap from the fat of eland" quoted in p 55, A New Earth: An Experiment in Colonialism. Some photos of the early pioneers, photo 1 (14k), photo 2 (49k), photo 3 (37k). The first year they had a total failure with their crops, but they persevered. The Afrikaner influence in this Uasin Gishu region remained strong. In Memories of Kenya there is a display of needle work (28k), one commemorates the Afrikaner trekker, Klaprott. There are a number of photos of the Klaprott family dating back to the early days of these settlers in Kenya. Photo of Klaprott with another boer trader (86k), photo of Klaprott's wife and children (71k), photo of Klaprott wagon carting timber (56k), photo of Klaprott trek wagon (56k), photo rear view of Klaprott wagon (52k). Groen on p 64 makes mention that van Rensburg build a substantial stone house.

Spiritual Life in Kenya
The farms were later officially registered and each were given a number. Number sixty-four was later allotted as the place were the town center would be. This town was at first known as Sixty-Four and only later did it receive the name Eldoret. This little village was like an Afrikaner dorp in the Transvaal. Two religious factions developed which resulted in two separate churches with separate ministers. One of the ministers were Ds. Hoffie Louw. Anne Lehmkuhl states: "The first Dutch Reformed (NGK) church in Kenya, was founded in 29 August 1908, in the Arnoldi's house, the minister performing the duties were J.M. Louw. The Arnoldi family lived at the foot of the Menengai Crater, just outside Nakuru. They called their church the Vergenoeg (meaning far enough!) congregation. In 1916 the church had 200 members. The NHK and the Gereformeerde Kerk also started their own congregations. Gereformeerde Church was established 13 August 1909 it had 104 members. In 1941 the Gereformeerde Kerk Rift Valley congregation had 34 members. The NHK had 2 congregations in East Africa: Arusha and Rensburg-Rust". On Friday 11 August 1909 some of the young men planted poles and erected a sacred site with canvass on the farm Rensburgrus, and they have a weekend of spiritual get together. The Hervormde Kerk Rensburgrust, see photo (33k) was established on 10 Dec 1910 on the Oom Jannie van Rensburg's farm by the minister J.J. Kuhn from Krugersdorp, and the congregation was know as Rensburgrust. A church building was build. Jan served as the first elder of this congregation. This church was closed down in 1963, but the building still functions today as a Presbyterian Church in Eldoret. Groen p 69 makes mention that the NHK was a haven for the rooikops. Lehmkuhl continues: "In 1945, a second NGK congregation was started at Thomson's Falls. It was named Loubser congregation, after the first minister, Ds. MP Loubser. In the late 1950s, there were 1 336 members in the Meru, Vergenoeg and Loubser congregations. An Afrikaans school was started at Thomson's Falls, called Van Riebeeck Skool. The Afrikaner has this trait of breaking away and not maintaining unity."

Even during the Great Trek one group of trekkers wore braces and sang hymns, where as the 'doppers' (A.H. Potgieter was a dopper) would wear a girdle to keep up their trousers, they also wore straw hats and they would only sing Psalms ( p 110, 111 Gustaf Preller Piet Retief). The doppers were fundamentalist.

"In 1911, the Boers made up 24% of the 1 878 South African citizens in Kenya. By 1921, the figure was 10%. The Boers were known as "kaburu" by the locals." A photo of the van Rensburg family descendants (41k). One of van Rensburg's daughters married Steenkamp, here is a photo of him (29k).

Information from the book: Bethal 1880 - 1980" - GREPE UIT BETHAL SE GESKIEDENIS
Die trek na Brits Oos Afrika:1908. Met die herinneringe van die Anglo-Boereoorlog en die verwoesting en skade van die oorlog nog vars in die geheue maak n groot groep mense in Bethal en omgewing hulle gereed om weer verder noordwaarts te trek. Die Britse gesag, wat nou weer geldig was, en die opbou wat deur die oorlog vernietig is, was grootliks daarvoor verantwoordelik vir die trek. Reeds in 1905 vertrek 'n groepie mense, onder leiding van Oom Martiens Engelbrecht, per wa na Rhodesie (Zimbabwe) vanwaar hulle weer na Beira vertrek. Hier haal hulle 'n boot tot in Dar es Salaam, waar vandaan dit hulle nege maande neem om na Arusha, ongeveer 500 km noord-oos van Dar es Salaam, te trek. (Destyds Tanganjika en tans Tanzanie). Later sluit hulle by die Van Rensburg groep te Eldoret aan. Die groot groep trekkers, onder leiding van oom Jan van Rensburg en met reelings deur magistraat Bang-ley, 'n skoonseun van Van Rensburg, vertrek hulle in 1908 uit Bethal. Hierdie geselskap bestaan uit meer as 50 gesinne met ongeveer 200 lede en bykans 40 ossewaens vol besittings. Hulle trek na Lourenco Marques (vandag Maputo). Hier huur hulle n boot en vaar langs die Oos -Afrikaanse kus tot in Mambassa, waarvandaan die geselskap per trein oor Nairobi na Nakuru tot in Londiani vorder. Van Londiani vertrek hulle na 'Poste 64' (die ou naam van Eldoret), ongeveer 100 km verder. Eldoret is op die 'Uasin Gishu' gelee, die sogenaamde 'Highlands van Kenia'. Oom Hermanus Engelbrecht, sy seun Jochemus Engelbrecht, Jan Fourie, die Van Rensburg en Van Vuurens trek tot op Uasin Gishu. Hulle vestig hulle hier op die Hoeveldse gebied. Plase het hulle op aanvraag van die regering van die tyd ontvang. Aanvanklik bou hulle bamboeshuise wat later met kliphuise vervang is. Die huise word deur Jochemus Engelbrecht en Jan Fourie gebou. Na drie maande gewaar die Suid-Afrikaners die eerste swartmense, van wie n koei en n kalf, vir 30 rupees gekoop is. In 1912 keer Jachemus Engelbrecht, sy vrou, dogter en twee seuns na Suid-Afrika terug. Onderweg word Jochemus Engelbrecht 'n slagoffer van malaria en sterf kort na sy aankoms in Bethal daarvan. Kort hierna vertrek sy weduwee en drie kinders, vergesel van haar vader, mnr du Plessis en drie kinders terug na Kenia. Die Afrikaners woon vir baie jaar op die hooglande, waar hulle leer lees uit die Bybel, en sodoende Afrikaans bewaar. Ondertussen bekwaam Annatjie Engelbrecht haar as onderwyseres. Op Eldoret begin sy onderwys gee (vir 34 jaar) voordat sy in Mei 1963 met die Mau-Mau bedreiginge en ander probleme finaal na Suid-Afrika terugkeer. Meeste van hul besittings het hulle vir n appel en ei van die hand gesit en met baie min hierheen terugkeer. Die terugtog na Suid-Afrika was geen georganieseerde onderneming nie - die gesinne het op hul eie deur die daaropvolgende jare teruggekeer. So eindig nog n era in die Afrikaner se geskiedenis. Vir interessantheidshalwe word die volgende lys van mense, wat in 1908 na die Uasin Gishu getrek het, hier geplaas. Die lys is opgestel deur ene Piet Jordaan, een van die trekkers wat die trek meegemaak het en is aan die redaksie beskikbaar gestel deur mev. Smit . Die aantal lede in elke groep word in hakies aangedui. Jan van Rensburg (oue) met sy skoonseuns Piet Steenkamp; Koos Smith en Faan Smith (23), Izak Smit, sy seun Jaap Smit en skoonseun Elbert Steyn (15), Freek van Niekerk, Swart Hans Roets en Vaal Hans Roets was neefs (22), Nicolaas Smith (2), Jan van Rensburg (Jan Duim so bekend omdat hy aan een hand 'n duim verloor het) (4); Laasgenoemde was egter geen familie van die leier van die groep, Ou Jan van Rensburg, nie. Zagarius Enslin, sy seun M Enslin, Dick Wheeler en skoonseun en Piet van Rensburg, 'n swaer (24); Piet en Koos van Dyk (5). Ene Gleman 'die enigste Engelssprekende in die groep' het hoofsaaklik opgetree as tolk en invuller van dokumente. Hy was n soort sekretaris van die groep. Jaap Steyn (7) het later weer teruggekom. Koos Prinsloo (12), George Emslie (8), June Potgieter (6), Abel Erasmus (Snr) en sy seun (6), Tam Steenkamp, n broer van Piet Steenkamp (4), Piet Joubert (4), Tom en Jim Davies (15), Jan Mouton (5), Piet Jordaan (3). Hermanus Engelbrecht, vader van Jochemus Engelbrecht en oom Jan Fourie (13). Annatjie Engelbrecht (later Smit) was ook lid van die groep. Gert van Vuuren en sy seun Stephaans (6), Danie Roux (3), Hans Nel (4), Piet du Plooy (5) keer terug. Jan Nel (6) keer terug, Andries Nel (4) keer terug; Piet Botes (1), Christiaan Joubert (3), Koos Engelbrecht, bekend as oom Oenan (7); Hendrik v.d. Merwe (6). Piet Potgieter (7); Andries Korf (2) en Rooi Piet Kruger (1). Genoemde persone het elk met een wa getrek, terwyl A Erasmus en die Nels met 2 waens getrek het.

Oom Jannie gives the account of the Trek according to d'Assonville p 10 twenty five years after the event as: 39 Bokwaens, 4 Horsecarts, and 69 horses were taken by ship.

The following van Rensburg appear in the baptismal records of the Gereformeerde Church, as given in book by d'Assonville:

Anna Elisabeth born 19 Oct 1915, baptised 7 Jul 1918, place - Bessiesfontein, Uasin Gishu, parents Hendrik Sephanus Jansen van Rensburg and Cecilia Johanna Potgieter

Willem Hendrik born 15 March 1936, baptised 28 Jun 1936, place - Eldoret, parents Gideon Janse van Rensburg and Susanna Abigail Enslin

Marthinus Josephus born 30 May 1937, baptised 17 Apr 1938, place Eldoret, parents Gideon Janse van Rensburg and Susanna Abigail Enslin

Johanna Catharina born 13 Aug 1938, baptised 16 Dec 1938, place broederstroom Eldoret, parents Gideon Janse van Rensburg and Susanna Abigail Enslin

Alida Ellizabeth born 5 Sept 1939, baptised 15 Oct 1939, place - Eldoret, parents Gideon Janse van Rensburg and Susanna Abigail Enslin

Susanna Lucea born 27 Jun 1943, baptised 23 Jul 1944, place - Eldoret, parents Petrus Wilhelmus Janse van Rensburg and Maria Elizabeth Klopper

Frederik Stephanus born 20 Nov 1943, baptised 23 Jul 1944, place - Eldoret, parents Johan Antona Daniel Janse van Rensburg and Elizabeth Johanna Bothma

Marthinus Johannes Christoffel born 3 Nov 1943, baptised 24 Sept 1944, place - Eldoret, Parents Willem Cornelius Christoffel Jansen van Rensburg and Hester Magdalena Maria Jacoba Fourie.

by d'Assonville on p 12 also gives the following family names who accompanied the trek as belonging to the Gereformeerde Church:

Du Plessis, Pieter Theunis Christiaan, senior

Du Plessis, Pieter Theunis Christiaan, junior

Engelbrecht, Hermanus (Manie)

Enslin, Christoffel Bernardus

Enslin, Martiens

Enslin, Zacharias

Nel, J.P. (Jan)

Postma, S

Roets, Johannes Jacobus

Russel, D

Smith, Nicolaas

Van Niekerk, Frederik Rudolf

Van Vuuren, Gert Johannes Jansen

Van Vuuren, Stefanus Petrus Jansen

Wheeler, Richard (Dick)

Amongst this group there were about 60 children.

Hannes van Rensburg has done the following research and also identified the genealogy of Jan Janse van Rensburg:
Ek was gretig om uit te vind hoe hierdie Jan Janse van Rensburg wat die trekleier was, aan ons verwant was, aangesien oupagrootjie op die plaas Vlaklaagte langsaan Bankpan oorlede is in 1909. Rick van Rensburg, argivaris van die Hervormde Kerk se Argief in Pretoria vertel toe vir my dat dit s oupagrootjie was - maar hy is nie gretig om oor die oupa te praat nie en ek het afgelei dat hy n Joiner was. Rick is in Kenia gebore maar het aan UK studeer. Dit is moontlik dat die leier en sommige van die ander "Joiners" was, veral gesien dat Kenia onder Britse bewind was, maar Changuion noem nie die leier as n moontlike Joiner nie. Rick s daar was altyd n ongemaklikheid as hy vrae oor die voorouers gevra het. Jan Janse van Rensburg se oudste dogter was getroud met Bangley, die Assistent Magistraat van Bethal, en het dus nie die trek meegemaak nie - is dit dalk n aanduiding van Engelse affiliasies ? Ek en Rick kon nie Jan Janse van Rensburg se doop opspoor in die Potchefstroom / Rustenburg doopboeke nie. Toevallig het ek na ou sterfkennisse uit die vorige eeu gekyk en hier sien ek toe di van Stefanus Hendrik van die plaas Bankpan, distrik Middelburg van 1888. Hy was b1c1d4e12, die broer van President WC en LW b1c1d4e6, maw oupagrootjie GJ se pa (HN Buffelsfontein) se oom (sien my opmerking in die gedeelte voor die Groot Trek). Sy oudste seun word aangegee as Jan en daar het ek die verband! Die sterfkennis is opgestel en onderteken deur Veldkornet J Janse van Rensburg, waarskynlik sy seun. Jan Janse van Rensburg was ten tyde van die trek 59 jaar oud en is op 11 Junie 1938 in die ouderdom van 89 jaar op Eldoret, Kenia, oorlede. Hy was in Kenia altyd aangespreek as Kommandant. en In Julie 1908 is oupagrootjie GJ se twee jongste seuns Lucas Willem en Jacobus Christoffel (Koot) saam met die van Rensburgtrek na Kenia. Koot was toe nog nie eers 16 jr oud nie - wat kan n pa laat besluit om so n jong kind op so n avontuur te laat gaan? Tannie Issie vertel dat een van die twee vreeslik gehakkel het - selfs in sy briewe! Met n ander seun wat deur die Engelse doodgeskiet is, laat dit my twyfel dat oupagrootjie GJ sy twee jongste seuns onder die leiding van n Joiner (dis die storie oor Jan van Rensburg, die leier van die Kenia-trek. Sy broerskind Jan Duim was wel n Joiner) sou laat wegtrek na n ver land, met min hoop om hulle weer te sien.

 

References:

Elspeth Huxley: White Man's Country

Elspeth Huxley: The Flame Trees of Thika

Elspeth Huxley: A New Earth: An Experiment in Colonialism

Elspeth Huxley: Nine Faces of Kenya

M.P.K. Sorrenson: Origins of European Settlement in Kenya, Oxford Uni Press, 1968

Brian M du Toit: The Boers in East Africa: Ethnicity and Identity,. The author can be contacted at: Brian M du Toit Department of Anthropology University of Florida Gainsville FL 32611 USA

Arnold Curtis ed. Memories of Kenya: Stories of the Pioneers

V.E. d'Assonville: Kerk op die Wit Hooglande

Gerrit Groen: Afrikaners in Kenya 1903 - 1969

C.J.S. Strydom: Afrikaners in die Vreemde

"Historiese Kalender Kommandant Jan Janse van Rensburg" p 4 December 15, 1998, Die Hervormer

Riek van Rensburg; Extract regarding the Afrikaners and their church in Eldoret.

Personal correspondence with Mrs Marietjie Smit, born van Rensburg in Kenya in 1919 her grandparents were part of this Trek to Kenya and she and her family returned to South Africa in 1962/63. She maintains that things are now worse in South Africa, than at the height of the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya.

Personal correspondence with Hannes van Rensburg oom64@xsinet.co.za

Anne Lehmkuhl provided me with some information regarding the Boer churches and schools in Kenya.

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