Cape 'Rebel' in Anglo-Boer War

Author: A.M. van Rensburg (b4 c2 d1 e6 f5 g5 h3 i2)
Webmaster: M.A. van Rensburg (b4 c2 d1 e6 f5 g5 h3 i2 j1)

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During the Anglo Boer war those people who lived in the Cape Colony were British subjects. There were a great amount of sympathy amongst the Dutch speaking farmers in the Cape with their kinsmen in the two Boer republics who were fighting a war with the British empire. Those persons who who lived in the Cape Colony and was caught fighting on the Boer's side, faced a trial of treason and many were executed by these military courts. On 19th August 1901 PJ Fourie, JBL van Rensburg, LFS Pfeiffer at Graaf-Reinett faced the firing squad for this very reason. See photo of Fourie, Pfeiffer and Van Rensburg.

Jan BL van Rensburg, joined Commandant Gideon Scheepers' commando on 10th May 1901, he was 22 years old and from the farm Elandskloof, Aberdeen (Shearing). According to the research by JA Smith, Ek Rebelleer, the majority of rebels were under 21, Jacques Malan described van Rensburg as "nog 'n seun", still a boy.

See map where Aberdeen is situated.

He is referred to as Johan in a group photo in the book by Jooste and Oosthuizen, So het Hulle gesterf. This writer suspects that his name was Johannes and wonders whether the third initial "L" could have been mistaken for a "J" since these two letters in the old script looks very similar. The Van Rensburg family more frequently has a "J" which stands for "Janse".

The locality and description of the farm Elandskloof was shared in personal correspondence with Jean le Roux - "The farms around Elandskloof was Bassonshoek (west); Middelfontein (south); Die Plate (east) and Walplaas (north). There does not exist roads that go to any other place, roads from Aberdeen to this part all end up against the mountains. Some other farm names in this area is Sneeu, Bergplaas, Kapoksplaas and Waaihoek the names given confirms the isolation of this area".

Jean le Roux also states that there are more than one Palmietfontein in the Camdeboo, one east of Aberdeen near Sondagsrivier and one north of Aberdeen this one is close to Elandskloof. Bordering this last latter Palmietfontein is a farm with the gruesome name of Moorddal.

The writer contacted Roelfie Pienaar the owner of Palmietfontein by phone (Elandskloof use to form part of their farm), and according to him the farm Elandskloof during the ABO belonged to a Mr Landman. He has not heard of any Van Rensburg who were associated with this farm.

Map of farms date back to early 1800's - Die kontrei waarna ek verwys verskyn op die derde van die bladsye (daar is 'n syfer 3 links bo ingeskryf, en die woord "Karoo" verskyn bo-aan. Die plase se name is baie verander van dit wat op die kaart verskyn. As ek reg onthou dateer die kaart uit ongeveer die jaar 1830. Palmietfontein lê noord van Aberdeen op wat as "Moordendal" en 'n deel van "Onbedacht & Klipfontein" aangedui word. Die naasliggende plaas "Paardefontein" heet deesdae "Mount Pleasant" en die naasliggende "Elandspoort" ook as "Elandskloof". Die plaas "Middelplaats" net suid van (die huidige) Palmietfontein

Minnaar gives the following description of Scheepers commando:
On 6 July Scheepers made another raid on Murraysburg (which was mockingly renamed Scheepersburg) and overwhelmed the town guard. There he burnt down the public buildings as well as some houses of loyalists. His commando also stopped at Vleiplaats, the farm of the local MP, A J Herholdt, where they burnt down the homestead. During July 1901 Cmdts Scheepers and Schalk Pypers had made their base in the most rugged part of the Camdeboo Mountains. One camp was on the farm Langfontein and the other on Middelplaas. (It was known from an intercepted letter that Scheepers at this stage had 240 men with him, of whom 40 were Free Staters, the rest being Cape rebels.) Frequent raids were being made from these two camps by small Boer patrols on the neighbouring farmers whom they compelled to bring wagonloads of grain and lucerne to the laagers. When the military authorities were informed of these activities they organized a big drive. On 14 July Gen French ordered four columns under Sir Charles P Crewe, G Wyndham, Col Beauchamp Doran and Scobell into the Camdeboo Mountains to try to trap Scheepers. Scheepers was, however, able to escape with the bulk of his commando up the steep sides of a small kloof. Only 28 of his men were captured of whom 8 were later executed. A further 6 OFS men were sent to POW camps while the remaining 14 captured rebels were sentenced to imprisonment.

Source:H.J.C. Pieterse, "Oorlogsavonture van Genl. Wynand Malan", (Nasionale pers, 1941)
PJ van Eck (1), D Olewage (2), GJ Esterhuizen (3), F Toy (4), FS Pfeiffer (5), J Rensburg (6), CH Kocks (7), I Nel (8),
L Esterhuizen (9), J Erasmus (10) , BJ Pienaar (11), JD Momberg (12), Izak Liebenberg (13), F Gouws (14), H Feenstra (15),
CJ Kemp (16), M du Preez (17), G Erasmus (18), G Strydsman (19), P Fourie (20), JP Hough (21).
Photo, KAB, AG Collection, Ref AG2462

Colonel Harry Scobell was the one who captured them. Early morning Scheepers commando was cornered on the farm Onbedacht. 35 were captured, of which 27 were Cape rebels (So het Hulle Gesterf, p. 58). One British soldier was killed in the clash. Scheepers and some others however got away. The Free Staters were banished, the Cape rebels. Five were executed at Graaff-Reinet, three at Colesberg, and the ninth one was a Free Stater who was hung at Aliwal Noord. A few months later their leader Gideon Scheepers were also captured and he was executed at Graaff-Reinet.

Most probably members of Izak Liebenberg's group who were captured
no 9 HP van Vuuren
Photo: KAB, AG Collection, 2461

Another Photo still to get
(1) R Marais, (2) JJ Marais, (3) H Loots, (4) Germishuizen, (5) CSP Vorster, (6) PW Marais, (7) H Pelser, (8) CW van der Vyver, (9) J van der Merwe, (10) PP Botha Jun., (11) JV Oosthuizen, (12) DP Marais, (13) P Retief.
Photo AG Collection, 2460 has 13 persons

Those who were part of Izak Liebenberg party who were caught and subsequently executed:

Petrus Jacobus Fourie, 40 years old. In court 30 Jul. Sentenced 17 Aug. Executed at Graaff-Reinet 19 August 1901.
Jan van Rensburg, 22 years old. In court 30 Jul. Sentenced 17 Aug. Executed at Graaff-Reinet 19 August 1901.
Lodewyk Francois Stephanus Pheiffer. In court 30 Jul. Sentenced 17 Aug. Executed at Graaff-Reinet 19 August 1901.

Ignatius W Nel, 17 years old. Sentenced 26 August, Graaff-Reinet. Executed at Graaff-Reinet 26 August 1901.
Daniel F Olwagen, 18 yearsl old. Sentenced 26 August, Graaff-Reinet. Executed at Graaff-Reinet 26 August 1901.

Hendrik Petrus van Vuuren, 27 years old. In court 5 Aug. Sentenced 3 Sept Graaff-Reinet. Executed at Colesberg 4 September 1901.
Fredrick Toy. In court 5 August. Sentenced 3 Sept. Executed at Colesberg 4 September 1901.
Hendrik Veenstra, 22 years old. In court 5 Aug. Sentenced 3 Sept. Executed at Colesberg 4 Sept 1901.

Izaak Bartholomeus Liebenberg, 18 years old. Executed at Aliwal North 11 January 1902.

Jan D Momberg was sentenced to death but then he turned crown witness to save his own life.

There is a photo of 9 rebels at Graaff-Reinet receiving their sentence in Wilson, After Pretoria.

Colonel Harry Scobell

According to Shearing, `Commandant Gideon Scheepers and the Search for his Grave' Jan BL van Rensburg was from Elandskloof, Aberdeen. He was 22 years old when he joined Scheepers' commando on 10 May 1901. Rodney Constantine suggest that he may have been a bywoner.

Evidence was given that he took part in a fight at Oudeplaas where he wore a bandoleer and carried a riffle. Sharwood gave evidence that the prisoner helped to burn down houses in Murraysburg, where he also stole Police boots.

On the 30 July 1901 charges was laid against him at the Graaff-Reinet Court. The court consisted of Colonel Doran, captain Mullins en luit. Dawson. Fourie and Van Rensburg appeared at this military court. Van Rensburg pleaded guilt only to treason. The court met on 29 and 30 July 1901.

Jan D Momberg who also was from Aberdeen and a member of Scheepers commando was sentenced to be executed with his involvement with the Rebels. Momberg turned crown witness and testified against Van Rensburg and also later against Scheepers. The group photo above also features JD Momberg (no 12). He testified against his mates to save himself. It was stated that Van Rensburg took part in the raid and fought on the farm Oudeplaats at the end of May. The witness testified that he heard them say that an Englishman was shot dead. He also testified that he saw Van Rensburg with a gun and bandolier at this skirmish. He said the Boers occupied a hill behind the Oudeplaas homestead, shot from the koppie and killed the officer. "Die Boere het die koppie vlak agter die huis op Oudeplaats die dag beset. Ek het hulle na die koppie sien ry terwyl ek voor die deur gestaan het. Die Boere het 'n Britse patrollie daar geskiet en een soldaat is gedood."

Jan Momberg who testified against
Jan van Rensburg & Gideon Scheepers

Luit. Winn, of the 9th Lansiers, testified that Van Rensburg were one of the men captured at Onbedacht.

A. Shaarwood (Junior) from Murraysburg declared that he knew the prisoner and had seen him numerous times at Murraysburg. He was there on 6 July when the disturbance occurred at the Magistrates Court. Further testimony was given that Van Rensburg was part of the commando who burned down the house of the Magistrate. He also stated that Van Rensburg was armed. It was also declared that he saw van Rensburg and Veenstra stole some police boots there, prior to the Court being burned down. This was property of the government, since it was police boots.

The accused, Van Rensburg stated that the boots which he was wearing at the Court was taken by Scheepers' commando. Van Rensburg further stated that this occurred prior to him being captured by the 'enemy' and being forced to join them. He also stated that they said that if he did not join them, the British would arrest him. Van Rensburg said that he was told so many lies that he eventually took up arms against his own government. According to Baartman, Fourie declared that he did not really want to join the Cape rebels, but his "kwaai en oordonderende vrou het hom gedwing om by die boeremagte aan te sluit", his angry and bedeviled wife forced him to join the Boers. The handing down of verdict were postponed.


On 17th August 1901, thirteen rebels (including Pfeiffer, Jan van Rensburg and Petrus J Fourie) appeared in church square at Graaff-Reinet te receive their sentence, see photo This photo has 9 accused burghers and on the photo is scribbled, "Martial law passing sentence Sep 29th 1901, this date does not coincide with date of execution. There was a big gathering, amongst the crowd were a number of people 'undesirables' forced to be present. Major H Shute read out the death sentence. Kitchener validated this sentence. Van Rensburg were found guilty of murder, theft and arson. These men full of courage received their sentence and they displayed no sign of fear.

The person who visited them in prison prior to the execution was most likely the Dutch Reformed minister Charles Murray. The execution took place early Monday morning 19th Aug, 1901 (the pass states it was for 18th August). They were taken by ambulance waggon up to Semelpoorthoogte, this is on the northerly side of town on the Middelburg road. About 40 citizens were given permission to attend. The Coldstream military band escorted the procession half way. Members of the Town Guards of Graaff-Reinet and Port Elizabeth were appointed as guards.

At the place of execution they were taken off the waggon and the three of them were escorted to their final place of rest. Pfeiffer walked in front and gazed into the distance, he then looked bravely at his grave and went and sat on the chair. Twenty two soldiers faced them as they were tied down on to chairs next to their allotted grave. The Medical Korps were ready to issue a death certificate. On the command "Fire" all three fell backwards, and they were instantly killed. The firing squad consisted of Coldstream Guards.

W.H. Harrison of the Coldsteam Guards gives a slightly different account of the execution in his book, A Socialist in South Africa : "A particularly revolting incident happened in the execution of the three who were shot. This was, that the firing parties were a body of ten men, five with ball, and five with blank cartridges. After the word "present" which brings the rifle to the shoulder, one of them ‘pulled off" before the command "fire" was given, and the bullet blew off the top of one man’s head."

After they were shot they were rolled up in a blanket and the corpses were thrown into the grave. Calcium was thrown over the corpses. The band then from a distance started to play a triumphant tune.

Monument in honour of these "Rebels", it features the likeness of Christiaan de Wet
holding a gun and the dying Gideon Scheepers holding a flag
to represent these men who were shot dead by firing squad of the Coldstream Guards

On the monument is engraved:

Ter nagedachtenis
aan de gevallen in den strijd
voor Vrijheid en Recht.
Dulce est pro patria mori.

On the side of the monument are the names of eight Afrikaners who were executed by the British:
Van Rensburg, Fourie, Pheiffer, Olwage, Nel, Roux, Scheepers and Geldenhuys.

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