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Information obtained from http://www.kestell.co.za/history.html visited October 17, 2010
Kestell also played a part in South Africa's history .... Many famous names have passed through the area .... We would love to hear from you If you have old photos or stories to add to the history page. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
History of the area:
By 1800 the area north of the Orange River was already known to farmers, travelers, and runaway slaves who had gone there to live. Some of these early travelers would return to the Cape Colony with stories about the areas they had found. In 1834 the emigrant Boers began their first plans to leave the Cape Colony. The first Voortrekkers traveled through what we today call the Orange Free State and headed across the Vaal River. Another group of Voortrekkers set off for the northern Free State. In 1837 Piet Retief and Gert Maritz trekked eastwards. Retief's route passed near to the present-day main road linking Bethlehem, Kestell and the district that is now known as Harrismith. Retief and Maritz wanted to meet with Dingaan, the King of the Zulus and negotiate for land where the Voortrekkers could settle away from the British rule of the Cape Colony. Both Retief and Maritz were dead within the year but the Voortrekkers persevered and by the end of the decade it would seem that they would have their Republic of Natalia. However it was not to be, Natal was annexed to the British Crown in 1843 without the independence of the republic ever being recognized.
When British reinforcements arrived many of the Boers decided to trek back across the Drakensberg to the Transvaal (Gauteng). In 1848 the Orange Free State was annexed by Governor Sir Harry Smith as the Orange River Sovereignty. Bloemfontein, Smithfield and Winburg constituted the Sovereignty. The Boers revolted, and led by Gen W J Pretorius, a short battle ensued against the troops of Sir Harry at Boomplaats. The Boers were defeated and Sir Harry felt that his proclamation was now valid. Another district between the Sand and Vaal rivers was also proclaimed. Sir Harry sent PM Bester to establish a town close to the passes of Natal. Sir Harry wanted to name the town Vrededorp but Bester decided on Harrismith. About 1500 British settlers came to the town and for the next 60 odd years it was mainly an English speaking town, while the rural areas surrounding it were predominantly Dutch speaking. The rural areas were good for farming as the climate was not too hot in the summer, had good rainfall and the winters were crisp and cold. The entire area thrived particularly as it was on the main route from Natal and the diamond fields in Kimberley. By 1898 it was apparent that a war between Great Britain and the Transvaal was inevitable and the Orange Free State was caught in the middle. The Orange Free State decided to assist the Transvaal and in 1899 all Boers aged 16 to 60 were called up under the leadership of Commandant CJ de Villiers. According to the law of the time all British residents automatically became citizens after three years' residence in the Free State, and were therefore eligible to be called up for military service! Many were opposed to fighting against Britain and chose to leave the country, but significant numbers joined the Boer forces. Intense clashes were to follow. From 1899 to 1901 some of the fiercest battles of the Anglo Boer war took place in the Harrismith area. “Four days of incessant skirmishing, which cost 18 casualties brought the force from Harrismith to Bethlehem. Using Maj Gen B B D Campbell's 16th Brigade and the garrison at Bethlehem (all told 2 200 infantry with 8 guns and 500 Yeomanry), Rundle left Bethlehem on 29 April and entered Retief's Nek the same evening. Fouriesburg was reached three days later. En route a quantity of Boer supplies was destroyed.
The operations within the basin lasted until the end of May. In early June, Rundle's force, having destroyed all that could be located, evacuated Fouriesburg and headed eastward towards the Rooiberge. Campbell's men and the 17th Brigade under Col G E Harley proceeded eastward, the former group issuing from the mountains at Witsieshoek, the other via Golden Gate, both converging towards Elands River Drift where they united on 8 June. Their joint booty amounted to 6 000 head of cattle, 41 vehicles, ammunition and 320 tons of foodstuffs. The British casualties amounted to 12 killed and wounded.” S A Military History Society The Anglo-Boer War officially ended shortly after 23:00 on 31 May 1902 in Pretoria with the signing of the Treaty of Peace by both sides. Rev JD Kestell would later write about the signing of the peace treaty: "The Peace Negotiations between the Governments of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, and the Representatives of the British Government, which terminated in the peace concluded at Vereeniging on the 31st May 1902", by JD Kestell and DE van Velden. It was later translated into Afrikaans by JF le Roux and DJ van Zyl. The Reverend John Daniel Kestell The town of Kestell is named after the Reverend JD Kestell. Kestell was a descendant from 1820 settler stock, and was born in Pietermaritzburg. After completing his studies in Stellenbosch he took up several posts until in 1893, he came to the Harrismith district. Dr Kestell was the minister of the N G Congregation at Harrismith. Kestell was then part of his congregation. In 1905 it became an own congregation. By 1900 the Boer War had started, and Kestell served with the Harrismith Commando as a chaplain for men serving with the various volunteer corps.
Many were foreign nationals and their own churches were discouraged from offering services to them by their home governments' policies of neutrality and the vigilance of the British who ensured that this prohibition was not broken. Similarly, those Boers who changed sides and joined the National Scouts also found themselves without the support of their churches. In January 1900 JD Kestell again found himself in the middle of a fierce battle during General Botha’s Spioenkop Campaign. On the Sunday morning of 21st January, General Warren resumed the attack on the Boers with heavy artillery support. Botha's burghers were beginning to show signs of wavering as more shells hit the entrenchments, killing and maiming many of them. Kestell would later write about this day in his memoirs. "I visited the battlefield when the bombardment was at its fiercest", wrote Kestell. "I found that it had often been so intolerable that the burghers were driven out of the earthworks and compelled to seek shelter behind the hill slopes. But they had always returned and kept up a continuous fire on the advancing soldiers. The direction of affairs was, however, in the hands of General Louis Botha, than whom there was no man better qualified to encourage the burghers.
Just as at Colenso, so here he rode from position to position, and whenever burghers - as I have related - were losing heart and on the point of giving way under the awful bombardment, he would appear as if from nowhere and contrive to get them back into the positions by 'gentle persuasion', as he expressed it, or by other means." By the 25th of January the British had abandoned Spioenkop and 650 lay dead with many more wounded still lying on the battlefield. The Boer casualties were 59 killed in action, nine died of wounds and 134 wounded.” At the Battle of Wagon Hill in January 1900 Kestell found himself caught in a running battle between the British and the Boers. The opposing troops were only metres apart and casualties on both sides were high. Kestell proved both his bravery and deep faith by providing assistance to casualties from both sides The Reverend JD Kestell would be kept very busy seeing to the spiritual needs of the men. Some months later the Groenkop Battle took place on the 24th and 25th December 1901 when General Christiaan de Wet led an attack on General Rundle's Yeomanry.
The Groenkop Battle site is only 20 kms southeast of the village of Kestell. JD Kestell would become a well known author after the war and wrote several books about his experiences during this time – most notably “Through Shot and Flame” the English translation of “Met die Boere-kommando’s”. JD Kestell's influence on the history of South Africa extended far beyond the little village of Kestell. In 1902 he sailed with General Christian de Wet to Europe where they were to raise funds for the widows and orphans that were left impoverished by the war. During the long trip he helped De Wet to write his memoirs of the war "De Strijd Tusschen Boer en Brit". The book would become a best seller and was translated into six languages. Kestell and De Wet would be life long friends. In 1919 he became the Chairman of a committee tasked with the enormous job of translating the Bible into Afrikaans. A year later he was appointed as the Rector of the Grey Univeriteits Kollege University of the Orange Free State. In 1927 he was granted Honorary membership of the Suid Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns for his outstanding services to the country, the Afrikaan language and the Academy. Finally in 1933 after Dr JD du Toit and Dr HCM Fourie had worked full time with him to finish the translation, the Afrikaans Bible was completed. He received his second award from the Academy in the same year.
By the late 1930's the Reverend Kestell had became increasingly concerned by the plight of poor Afrikaners. The after affects of the Boer War, the devastating Rinderpest plague, and the 'inheritance' system that saw large farms cut up into ever decreasing pieces had forced many to leave their land and seek employment in the towns. In 1938 he founded the "Reddingsdaadbond" with the aim of rehabilitating impoverished Afrikaners and promoting Afikaner business enterprises. By the mid 1940's there were over 400 branches and 700,000 members but it It quickly became a politicised organization which was not what the Reverend had intended. "Die Vader van die Volk" as he would come to be known passed away on the 9th of February 1941 and was buried at the Vrouemonument in Bloenfontein. His funeral service was held at the "Tweetoringkerk" and he was laid to rest next to President Steyn, General de Wet and the ashes of Emily Hobhouse.
In 2000 a stamp was issued in his honour Tweetoring Kerk & Vrouemonument - photos by Ina Cochrane Dutch Reformed Church - Kestell Almost in the centre of the village, and definitely the largest building in Kestell is a magnificent church. The beautiful old church is situated in a large park and can be seen from almost every corner of the village. It is the second largest church in the Orange Free State. It was designed by Gerard Moerdijk. He is best known for his design of the Voortrekker Monument situated just outside of Pretoria. He designed over 80 churches, city halls, hospitals and several banks (particularly the Reserve Bank in Bloemfontein) and the Merensky Library at the University of Pretoria. View of the Church from the top of Piet Retief Street (photo by Kalyco Stobart) Retief Boekwinkel turned 70 in January 2009 The Retief Boekwinkel turned 70 years old in January 2009. It first opened its doors to sell school books in 1939 and was managed by Mrs Rita Ramage. Her son, Johan Ramage is still involved with the school. At the same time the local high school was renamed Hoerskool Retief; it had previously been called “Die Goewernmentskool” as was the case with most schools in little towns throughout the country – they were simply known as "the Government school"!