Louis Gustav jr.son
Petrus Frederik 'Pieta'son
About Louis Tregardt (Trichardt), b2c4
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.
So, 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.
The journey proved to be surprisingly without event. The small group was lucky to pass between the armies of Dingane and Mzilikazi which had just fought a major battle. However, in April 1836 before reaching the Zoutpansberg a quarrel arose between Tregardt and van Rensburg.
The latter had been using a lot of gunpowder and wished to replenish his stock quickly in Delagoa Bay, therefore within seventy miles of their destination, van Rensburg took off eastwards, camped for a few weeks and then in June set off again eastwards. He was however to find that the lowland diseases were to decimate his stock.
Tregardt camped for a few weeks and set off north to complete the trek, camping under the Zoutpansberg. Like van Rensburg, he also found that the scourge of the tsetse fly was cutting a swathe through his stock.
Worse, if he was to find a way to Inhambane, he was to traverse fly country for three-quarters of the way. If, however he struck out for Delagoa Bay, he would encounter the fly for only a third of the distance - provided he could find a way over the Drakensberg.
At this point, Potgieter with eleven companions rode in. He had started his trek with two hundred people who he left camped at the Sand River near Winburg. Potgieter and Tregardt were becoming worried as to fate of the van Rensburg party and Potgieter set off north to see whether he would cross his path. He did not and determined the dreaded fly would preclude all traffic through this area (Southern Zimbabwe).
By this time, rumours were being received that the van Rensburg party had been massacred so Tregardt set off and found that the whole party of 49 had perished. Apparently having crossed what is now the Kruger National Park and the Lubombo mountains his party camped on the Limpopo River and was set upon by a local chief called Sakana. The attack lasted all night but by morning all ammunition was spent and the warriors ended the fight by driving a herd of cattle through the laager.
Tregardt did not find the massacre site but found Sakana. Not trusting Sakana and believing him to be implicated in the disaster Tregardt cannily told him that he couldn't stay but would return with all his wagons which he would leave in his care while he continued the search.
Tregardt returned to Potgieter at the Zoutpansberg and informed him of his suspicions. Potgieter then rode South to bring up the main body of the trekkers. Tregardt was to wait for more than a year.
Pretorius Strikes Out Alone
As soon as Potgieter departed, the prickly Jan Pretorius left with several families, believing now to be within striking distance of Delagoa Bay. He encountered trouble immediately as his trek oxen were struck down by the tsetse fly and he had to call on Tregardt for help. After six months, the party (minus one who had died of malaria) returned resentfully to Tregardt at a new camp called de Doorns (the thorns) near the current town of Louis Trichardt.
August 1836 changed to April 1837. Tregardt's party was succumbing one by one to malaria and his cattle were dying of nagana. To compound matters, he had heard disturbing rumours of an encounter between Potgieter and the Matabele. He couldn't thus move back South, nor could he move north to follow the van Rensburg route but instead wrote several letters to the Portuguese at Delagoa Bay who responded by sending two soldiers to escort the party there.
Tregardt Treks to Delagoa Bay (Maputo)
Consequently on 23rd August 1837, the party headed South for a hundred miles and then east, leaving their little settlement and its graves. Illness continued to dog the party with the third of Tregardt's children being left buried in the veld. Ahead rose the massif of the mighty Drakensberg.
On 30th November 1837, after three months of arduous backbreaking effort, fording and refording rivers, hacking rough paths and double yoking spans of oxen together - and coping with arguments in his party as to the best route - Tregardt stood finally on the summit of the Drakensberg. The descent was as difficult as the ascent with the rear wheels removed from the wagons and replaced by trees acting as brakes.
Eventually the men despaired of finding a way down and the women undertook a reconnaissance of their own and found a comparatively easy descent so that two days before Christmas 1837, the worst was over. Coincidentally, Maritz was leading his trek over the Drakensberg into Natal some two hundred miles away at almost exactly the same time.
Their path now took them across what is now the Kruger National Park. Finally, they plodded into the fort at Delagoa Bay.
Tregardt Arrives in Delagoa Bay
After two years away from any sort of civilization their joy was short lived. One by one the party came down with malaria and died. Mrs. Tregardt died on May 1st 1838. By October, Louis Tregardt was also dead of malaria. Almost a year later the remaining 25 of the party were taken to Port Natal (Durban). All except Tregardt's son Carolus who was charged with finding a less pestilential home for his people and dispatched in June 1838.
The Travels of Carolus Tregardt
Thus began a second epic adventure. Carolus first travelled up the Mozambique coast to Sofala, then 350 miles inland to what is now Zimbabwe. He ascended the Zambezi possible as far as Victoria Falls then sailed further north to Abyssinia. After exploring this area, he visited Madagascar before returning to Delagoa Bay - only to find that his companions had been evacuated to Port Natal.
He then travelled more than 500 miles on foot to meet them there, passing the site of the van Rensburg massacre where he buried their bones.
In February 1836, Potgieter's trek party of two hundred souls in sixty wagons crossed the Orange River in Tregardt's tracks. Potgieter was 42 at the time, a tall, thin man who married four times (all widows), bearing 17 children. He was sparse with words, a hard driver, pugnacious and a fearful fighting man. He was bold but also knew when not to take a risk - a quality that was to cause trouble in the future. Potgieter became widely regarded as the foremost of all the trekkers. He was held in very high regard by many African chiefs who came to pay their respects before his death in 1852.
Potgieter was a Dopper - a strict sect of the Dutch Reformed Church - and wore the characteristic Dopper clothes of short jackets and short trousers. Another Dopper member of the Potgieter trek was Sarel Cilliers - eloquent and much given to preaching and psalm singing and of whom it has been said that was just as likely to fall on his foes as fall on his knees.
It had been agreed some time before that a convenient Trek rendezvous would be the unmistakable mountain of Blesberg (Thaba Nchu) so named because its summit was white from the droppings of vultures. After some weeks here with the friendly chief Moroka, the party set off again and crossed the Sand River and spread out to settle. On May 25th 1836, Potgieter meanwhile rode ahead to make contact with his voorste mense Tregardt and his cousin van Rensburg. Tregardt's camp was reached at the end of June but he tarried but a short while and set off north to ascertain the nearest Portuguese port and to ascertain the fate of the van Rensburg party. Because of the fly country he travelled through, he was back under the Zoutpansberg by the end of July.
In the middle of August 1836, he bid farewell to Tregardt and set off South to bring his people up to the Zoutpansberg. However disastrous news awaited him.
Returning, they came upon the camp of a trek party that had crossed the Vaal (dark) River against instructions. All had been massacred. There was further bad news - a hunting party had been attacked by the Matabele and had fared badly.
The Matabele territory extended over 30,000 sq. kms and while Mzilikazi did not dislike white men, all who entered his kingdom were expected to enter through Kuruman where missionary Robert Moffat could screen them. Further, he was exceedingly sensitive about his Southern border, the traditional route of invading Zulu armies.
Survivors from the attack on the hunting party had warned the settler camp but were not believed. Riding on, they warned the next camp which took appropriate action by forming a laager at the bend on the Vaal River. 35 men succeeded in driving off 500 Matabele warriors who eventually retired to Mzilikazi's military kraal at Kapain with assorted wagons, stock and two white girls.
As Potgieter returned to his base on the Sand River, the Voortrekkers were retreating from their land as fast as their stock would allow and some were retiring still further, back to Blesberg where the second wave of the Great Trek had arrived.
Potgieter realized that he would have to break the power of Mzilikazi if the trek was to proceed and he took a party to a defensible site and formed the wagons into a laager. Here, forty men were to face the might of the Matabele nation under a small promontory that was to be called Vegkop - Fight Hill.
Fighting from a laager had yet to be proven and yet the forty wagons were pushed with the disselboom (draught pole) of one pushed under the other. They were then chained together and the spaces between the wagons filled with thorn branches tied to the wheels. Seven wagons in the centre of the laager were used as a hospital and the grass around the laager was crushed by driving cattle over it.
Two openings, each just the width of a wagon were left, but these could easily be closed if necessary. By forming the wagons into a square with makeshift blockhouses at each corner to enfilade each side of the laager, it became an effective defensive position.
There was finally a total of 33 men and seven boys (one of whom was just eleven and named Paul Kruger) and sixty women and children. Despite using the heavy smooth bored flintlocks, each man, with the help of the women, could fire his musket six times each minute. Another problem also faced the Voortrekkers - their stock. Thousands of animals were scattered over the veld and would be taken by the Matabele regardless of whether they would prevail or die.
It was on 16th October 1836 that the party received news of a Matabele army approaching. Potgieter rode out with his men hoping to negotiate with them but were attacked in the traditional Zulu-type chest and horns fashion. The trekkers then employed a known successful tactic - charging up to just outside assegai range, loosing off a volley, retreating whilst reloading in the saddle and then repeating the maneuver.
The 5,000 Matabele warriors surrounded the laager and then sat and waited for several hours. Potgieter eventually tied a red rag to a whip that had the effect of goading the warriors into action and they rushed the laager. The trekker's guns eventually became too hot to hold and were recharged by spitting the slugs down the barrels from the trekker's mouth where they were stored and tamping down the charge by banging the butt of the gun on the ground. There was no time for anything else.
As the range shortened, there was hand to hand fighting until eventually the Matabele withdrew - the very first time they had failed in battle. Guns were then cleaned in the respite and powder replenished. Then came a second attack that was barely beaten off.
After the Battle
Thirty-three men and seven boys had defeated five thousand determined, trained Matabele warriors killing more than five hundred. The Matabele retired with all the trekker stock. Two trekkers had been killed, including Potgieter's brother. After the fight 1,137 assegais were collected from inside the laager.
The Voortrekkers then felt truly that they really were on a mission from God. They were however not yet out of danger - they were alone in the veld, tired, hungry and with no stock. Because of the hundreds of rotting corpses surrounding the laager, the wagons were pulled by horses to a site some short distance away. Potgieter's brother was then sent to Blesberg for help and returned with oxen and food some two weeks later.
Potgieter's thoughts turned to revenge and the recovery of his cattle.
At Blesberg, the trek wagons continued to pour in, including one hundred wagons under Gert Maritz, not a farmer but an accomplished administrator and artisan. On 7th December 1836, a meeting was held that elected Potgieter as military commander of the trek and Maritz - now a rival to Potgieter - as administrative head.
On January 2nd 1837, a small commando of 107 men set out from Blesberg, travelling past the site of the present Pretoria and then west to within range of Mosega, the complex of kraals that formed the Matabele capital, a total distance of some 320 miles.
-------------------- Voortrekkerleier. Gebore Kango Distrik Swellendam 10 Augustus 1783. Oorlede Delagoabaai 25/10/1838.
Louis Tregardt, b2c4's Timeline
August 10, 1783
Oudtshoorn, Cape Colony, South Africa
November 4, 1810
Graaf-reinet, Eastern Cape, South Africa
September 3, 1811
Graaff-Reinet, Western District, Eastern Cape, South Africa
May 26, 1830
Eastern Cape, South Africa
May 1, 1838
30 oct 1819
Oudsthoorn, Suid Afrika, Kaap