About Robert Ruben Hart, II SV/PROG
Robert Ruben Hart
Robert Ruben Hart, Lieutenant, was born 1 Jan 1777 in Strathaven, Avondale, Lanarkshire, Scotland. He died 14 Sep 1867 in 'Glen Avon' Farm, Somerset East, Cape Colony, South Africa and was buried in 'Glen Avon' Farm, Somerset East, Cape Colony, South Africa. Robert married Hannah Tamplin on 10 Apr 1804 in Somerset East, Cape Of Good Hope.
Robert served in the military 98th/91st Argyllshire Highlanders 1795 in India with Wellington's forces. He served in the military Commissioned Liasion Officer 1806 in South Africa. He served in the military Adjutant Cape Regiment 1807 - 1817 in Grahamstown, South Africa. He was Merino Sheep Farmer 1825 in 'Glen Avon' Farm.
Publication 1971 - John Bond - "They Were South Africans"
[http://www.1820settlers.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=Genealogy&file=getperson&personID=I540&tree=1 Notes on British 1820 Settlers to South Africa) although not an 1820 Settler
From the Series 'They Were South Africans' a broadcast on the English Transmission by the well-known South African Journalist and Historian, John Bond. The following article was published in the SABC magazine on the 19th July, 1954.
"The name of Robert Hart must be unknown to almost everyone who is listening to me tonight. That is strange, because Hart, as far as I can discover, was the first English-speaking South African. He was a founder of that new race whose arrival in South Africa tipped the scale the right way when it wavered in the balance between civilisation and barbarism.
Robert Hart would have asserted to that. He came to South Africa in its darkest period when the Dutch East India Company's rule was breaking down completely. His whole life, from the day he landed in 1795, was devoted one way or another to shoring up the shaky structure of Cape civilisation as tribal Africa surged against it.
That very crises in the rise of our country was a result of the Afrikaans colonists' success, with precious little assistance from their rulers, in crossing the desert zone which had insulated the Cape from the Bantu for almost 140 years after Van Riebeeck.
Naturally they clashed when they met and it so happened that the Boers were the losers. They were driven out of the Zuurveld where Albany and Alexandria now stand in the Eastern Province. Just six years after that retreat, Robert Hart landed in Simon's Bay with the British Expeditionary Force. You can picture him as a tall, raw lad of 17 wearing the green and black-striped kilt of the newly founded Argyllshire Highlanders.
Robert had run away from his home near Glasgow to join the colours a year before, when all Britain was arming to fight the French Revolutionary armies.
On the 4th September, 1795, his troopship sailed into False Bay with 13 others to relieve the tiny British force which had captured Muizenberg. Within a week of the Argyllshire Highlanders were marching into Cape Town in the name of King George III and his Serene Highness the Prince of Orange whom the French had expelled from the Netherlands.
I do not know if any of Hart's numerous descendants all over South Africa retain the diaries or letters he wrote during the following seven years. The family tradition is that he fought in all the campaigns that were going and if he was a member of the light Grenadier company of his regiment that is exactly what he would have done.
If so, he must have been present at the troubles in Graaff-Reinet, which was then the outside edge of civilisation in Southern Africa, and he must have fought right through the third Kaffir War. The third Kaffir War means nothing to our generation. But in the terrible years from 1799 to 1802 it looked as though Cape Town itself might be in danger. The Amaxhosa impis plunged westward almost to Swellendam, killing and pillaging everywhere.
Those years of hard and hungry campaigning in dense bush where you never knew when to expect a shower of assegais, were Hart's apprenticeship to his new country. Fighting side by side with the frontier Boers, he came to appreciate their courage and kindness and learned their language. He found a way, too, to understand the feckless, cheerful Hottentots who often fought alongside the British Redcoats.
He became accustomed to the huge herds of elephants that roamed the forests of the Eastern Cape and to the lions and the swarming game in the more open country. He probably helped to erect the first permanent building in the Eastern Province, Fort Frederick, nucleus of the future Port Elizabeth.
In about 1802 Hart left for India. Peace was dawning in Europe and the officers of his regiment had a hard struggle to find volunteers for the East. Every man was dying to get home again. But Hart volunteered. It was typical of the man.
He called at the Cape again on his way back from India. We next find him, a full-fledged warrant-officer, taking a decisive step in London in 1804. He married a girl from Jersey, Hannah Tamplin. War marriages are supposed to be unstable, but stability was in Hart's bones and in other spheres it was to be the supreme gift, perhaps of his race to South Africa. I suspect Hanna found Robert's stories of the wild Cape frontier as fascinating and strange as Desdemona found Othelo's recital of his narrow escapes in Africa.
Africa was often in his thoughts. The famous Sir John Moore was training the Argyllshire Highlanders and other regiments to go into action against Napoleon when a British fleet slipped south in 1805 to recapture the Cape. Almost immediately afterwards the occupying force sent word to England to fetch out Sergeant-Major Hart.
I think Hart had always hoped, and in fact schemed to go back. The lad who had run away from home to join the army found something in the free, adventurous life of South Africa that he preferred to all others. By 1807 Robert was back in Cape Town as a junior commissioned officer of the Cape Regiment, with its British officers and Hottentot rank and file. He and Hannah had the chance now to meet nearly all the founders of the oldest English-speaking families - Tennants, Duckitts, Rexes, Andersons, Murrays, Galdwelis and others who landed before 1803.
Four years later Lieutenant Hart set out with his regiment on the most decisive campaign perhaps, in South African history - the recapture of the Zuurveld. Their orders were to make the Great Fish River once again the effective boundary of the Cape Colony, instead of Algoa Bay. They did it.
The Amaxhosa tribes which had defied ejection for 20 years were driven back across the Great Fish River. Whatever else one may say about the campaign, it turned the tide. It provided the English-speaking South African with his cradleland in Albany and Bathurst and gave the future Voortrekkers their secure civilised base with its port, garrison, wagonmakers and traders.
To consolidate this victory Colonel John Graham founded a military headquarter near the Fish River which has ever since borne his name. Hart was one of the very first landowners in Grahamstown and there he grew vegetables in his spare time for the Cape Regiment.
That was in 1812. Five years later the Harts trekked away with a posse of children on their wagons to a new life on the Somerset Farm. This frontier establishment 60 miles north-west of Grahamstown had been designed by Lord Charles Somerset for an agricultural research station, but its first manager found the task beyond him and recommended Hart, the farming major of the Grahamstown garrison to succeed him.
From 1817 to 1825 Hart reigned over the Somerset Farm. He made it a model for the whole Cape frontier. He brought 600 acres under cultivation - a vast area in those days. He demonstrated the first up-to-date farm machinery ever seen in that wild region, only a dozen miles from Kaffirland.
On the Government's behalf he supplied rations to the entire frontier garrison from the sea to Cradock, buying large additional stocks of wheat and slaughter animals from the frontier Boers. He thus gave them the first orderly, convenient marketing they had ever enjoyed. Since money was meaningless on the frontier he secured shipments twice a year through Algoa Bay of the goods the Boers wanted most. Travellers remarked with amazement that on this bustling farm the very Hottentots seemed to acquire the energy of tireless Robert Hart.
The first big test for the Somerset Farm came in 1819, when the Amaxhosa tribes stormed down on Grahamstown itself in a desperate attempt to recapture the Zuurveld. A still bigger test was to come a year later when Hart had to start supplying the 1820 settlers with rations as well as the troops. Without Somerset Farm many of the settlers might have perished of hunger in their first disastrous years of blight and flood. The organising skill, energy and integrity of Robert Hart saved his countrymen.
Do you remember Thomas Pringle, the first South African poet, who led the only party of Scots among the 1820 settlers? They had to pass the Somerset Farm on the way to their holdings in the wild Adelaid mountains. Hart gave them a royal welcome. Pringle tells us that when the rugged pioneer heard the Scottish voices of the womenfolk he all but broke down, in spite of his iron nerve and rigid look. There swept over him then the long-buried recollection of his Scottish mother from whom he had run away so long before.
Hart in person led the Pringles to their destination. He gave them their first fruit trees. He guided Thomas Pringle through the mosshung elephant haunted forests of the frontier which still live in Pringle's poems. Eventually he appointed young John Pringle, Thomas's brother, as his assistant manager, and presently welcomed him as a son-in-law. For Robert and Hannah Hart's six daughters were in great demand among lonely young Englishmen and Scotsmen on the frontier.
Once the 1820 Settlers had made the Zuurveld the most intensively settled part of white South Africa instead of the wildest, the Somerset Farm had fulfilled its function. In January 1825 Hart heard the great Government farm he had built up proclaimed a new town with the name of Somerset East which has ever since honoured him as its founder.
It is not easy to start life all over. After 30 years in the service. Fortunately Hart had been granted land a few miles away in 1822. With the help of a small pension he was now able to farm for himself. He named his land 'Glen Robert Hart (1776-1867) came from Strathavon in Lanarkshire, and as a young man joined the 78th Highland Regiment. The newly formed National Convention of the French Republic had just declared war on Great Britain and Holland, and was preparing to take possession of the Cape. So the British decided to take it first and immediately despatched Admiral Elphinstone with a fleet, which anchored in Simon's Bay in 1795. Robert Hart's regiment under General Craig was sent out with the troops that were to occupy the Cape. At this time the Cape was torn asunder by political intrigues and revolt against the bankrupt and despotic Dutch East India Company, and Graaf-Reinet and Swellendam had declared themselves Republics, but agreed to come under British rule. In 1799 the Third Frontier War broke out and Chief Ndhlambi invaded the Zuurveld and Lieut Hart served with his regiment in the fighting on the frontier, which ended up in a patched peace leaving the Xhosa in possession of the ground that they ahd occupied. In 1802, by the Treaty of Amiens peace was ratified between great Britain and the french Republic, and the Cape of Good Hope was given back to the Batavian Republic. British troops were withdrawn, and Robert Hart left with his Regiment for India. From here he returned to Scotland and married Hannah Tamplin. When the English retook the Cape in 1806, Robert Hart was again in the army of occupation under General Baird. In the following year Hart's regiment retook the Zuurveld, and pushed the Xhosa back over the Great Fish River, thus reclaiming the Albany and Bathurst areas where the bulk of the Settlers were located in 1820. Grahamstown was founded in 1811, and Lt. Hart with his wife and family were stationed there until 1817, when he was put in charge of Somerset Farm which supplied wheat and fodder to the Military in the Eastern Province. When Somerset farm in 1825 became the town of Somerset East, Robert Hart, for his long and faithfull service to the Government, was given the farm Glen Avon, which he extended by purchasing additional land. Robert was Heemraad for the area, and he was responsible for the building of the Dutch Reformed Church in Somerset East. Some years later he contributed Â£1300 to the building of the Presbyterian Church.
Death date of 14 September 1867 is listed in=== "British Families in South Africa" by C Pama pub by Human & Rosseau 1992 on Page 87===. Also on that page are: Robert Hart I born Scotland married to Mary Fleming parents of Robert Hart II born 1777 in Stathavon, Lanark, Scotland.
More about Glen Avon from Country life, March 2000;
When Robert Hart stepped off a boat at the Cape of Good Hope in 1795, he did not look like an important future figure. At the time he was 18 years old, a private in the Argyllshire Highlanders and penniless. Yet this young Scottish lad was destined to play a major role in taming the old Cape colony's wild eastern flank. After surviving the dangers of being a soldier on the turbulent eastern frontier, he took a short break in England before returning in 1807 to SA as a commissioned officer in Colonel Graham's newly formed Cape Regiment. By now he was also married to Hannah Tamplin, and the couple settled at the military base that later became Garhamstown. After a while, Robert took over Somerset farm, established in the Zuurveld by the government to supply the army. While there the Harts welcomed the Scottish party of 1820 settlers who ventured inland to the Baviaans River valley. Those were tough times for the Scots, but luckily they had a helpful friend in Robert. In 1825 Somerset Farm was shut down and the land set aside for the new town of Somerset East. Left with a small state pension, Robert Hart moved with his family to land he'd acquired a short distance away in a fertile valley below the Bosberg, a beautiful place he named Glen Avon.
Through hard work and great insight he soon made his farm a landmark in the region. He bred top merino sheep, a breed introduced to SA by Colonel Graham, and so contributed greatly to what became an important industry. His orchards produced a fantastic bounty of fruits, especially citrus, and his flood-irrigated fields delivered huge harvests of grain that soon justified a private mill.
The machinery for this was shipped out from Scotland and then transported by ox wagon from Algoa Bay over the Zuurberg Pass. The mill could produce two tons of meal a day and soon Robert was grinding all the wheat grown between Pearston, Ann's Villa and Zwagershoek.
....the amazing legacy of Robert Hart, who died in 1867 at the ripe old age of 90, is remarkable because everything has been so well looked after by his direct descendants. Their dedication preserved the old mill and the two homesteads...Although idle since 1991, Glen Avon's historic mill could be made to run again if it rained enough...
Newspaper cuttings from the Eastern Cape.
EP Herald, Oct 1967
The charming homestead on Glen Avon which was built by Robert HART round about 1825 and which is now occupied by his direct descendant, Mr. R.C. BROWN, his wife and family. The house was built of stone and roofed with imported Welsh slate. It has been restored under the supervision of a well-known Port Elizabeth architect and furnished with antiques appropriate to the period. A wing has been added to the house but is perfectly in keeping with the original structure. The veranda railings are those put up by Robert HART. They are of iron and are set in lead.
The old mill at Glen Avon, Somerset East, must be one of the very few mills of its type left in South Africa. It is still in working order and is used for grinding wheat and stock food. The wheat incidentally, which is grown on Glen Avon is used for baking the family bread. The mill machinery, which was made in Leeds, England in 1861 and the grinding stone, which came from Scotland and is of Aberdeen granite, were transported to Glen Avon from Algoa Bay and over the Zuurberg Mountains by ox wagon some time in the 1800's. The wheel is 20 feet in diameter.
The grave of Robert HART is on the estate and a Presbyterian church, erected in 1850, which is now used as a coloured school. The estate is about three miles out of Somerset East.
Avon', no doubt from the river Avon which runs through his native Lanarkshire in Scotland. The farm remains in the possession of his descendants to this day.
The last phase of Hart's long life - he lived to be 90 - was immensely constructive. He had hundreds of friends amongst the Boers, not least Piet Retief, for whom he stood surety in Grahamstown. He probably knew all the leaders of the coming Great Trek. One of his first actions on gaining his freedom was to join with his Afrikaans neighbours in establishing a Dutch Reformed Church as a centre of civilisation and Christianity on the frontier. He held his post as a foundation elder of the Somerset East Church until he was 70 and fought a bonny battle for the Kirk and its independence.
Another of his earliest actions as a free citizen was to found the Agricultural Show of Somerset East - a prodigious novelty on the Cape frontier in 1826. Nominally his friend Landdrost Mackay was president but it is almost certain that Hart was the driving force in this move for better farming.
In his later years the austere, God-fearing old man became a legend on the frontier which he had done as much as any single individual to establish and civilise. One of his descendants, the late Sir James Rose Innes, Chief Justice of the Union, recalled the old man's intense practicalness. When neighbours borrowed his coffin which had been kept ready in the loft according to farming custom, they found Hart had not left it idle. It was packed with dried peaches.
He and his son had much trouble to face on 'Glen Avon' as the Colonial wars surged again and again around them. Just after the 1835 war he had 200 cattle stolen and spirited into Kaffirland. Despite his Scottish persistence, even Hart could recover only 23. In the War of the Ax, ten years later, he suffered considerable loss through helping the Government to the best of his powers with cash and grain when everyone else held back.
When the last, worst war of all broke out in 1850, farmers of both language groups in Somerset East felt they could stick it no longer. They met, elected Hart, who was then in his seventies, to the chair, and passed a resolution warning the Government that they would have to trek west to some safer region. Not long afterwards that westward trek began. But Hart himself, our first English-speaking South-African, was made of sterner stuff. Others could trek if they wished.
The old man, a great pioneer, a great farmer and a great gentleman remained to the end of his days in the district which he himself had put upon the map of civilised South Africa.
From: "THEY WERE SOUTH AFRICANS" by John Bond.
"When the austere, God-fearing laird of 'Glen Avon' passed away in 1867 his tale was not yet done.
The Eastern Province is peopled with his descendants.
Sir Gordon SPRIGG, who was four times Prime Minister of the Cape Colony married one of the grand-daughters of Robert and Hannah Hart and paid a memorable tribute to the patriarch.
Sir James ROSE INNES, twice a Minister in the Old Cape Parliament and Eventually Chief Justice of the Union was a great-grandson of HART.
And in 1937 a great great great grandson, Count Helmuth James VON MOLTKE came from Germany to visit his mother's native land and his grandparents Sir James and Lady ROSE INNES...."
(Talk by Mrs. Doris Craib at the Somerset East Museum's Annual General Meeting in March 1977).
Mr. Chairman, Trustees of the Museum. Ladies and Gentlemen, It gives me great pleasure to be here this afternoon and I feel honoured to have been asked to speak about Robert Hart, who was born exactly 200 years ago. This will not be an historical treatise, nor yet a study in any real depth. Dates and the like can be very dreary, so rather have I tried to paint a picture of the man to whom we in the Eastern Province and particularly in Somerset owe so much.
But first let' me acknowledge the help I have received from our Curatrix, Miss Sannie Erasmus. She has done all in her power co assist me with references and the loan of relevant books and papers, whilst Mr. and Mrs. R.C. Brown of Glen Avon have answered my many questions with admirable patience. 1 would like to thank them all most sincerely.
Those of you who have attempted any historical research will know that it is just about impossible to ascertain exact dates and the correct spelling of names of people and places: To illustrate this point I found that certain so-called authorities have given Strathavon, or Strathmore in Scotland as Hart's birthplace, whilst yet another suggested that he first saw the light of day in Ireland.
Two hundred years ago, in January 1777. Robert Hart was born at Avondale in Lanarkshire, Scotland. He was the elder of two sons and suffered a harsh upbringing at the hands of his father who was a strict military disciplinarian. Home life after the death of his mother, when Robert was 14, became well-nigh unbearable. He first ran away at the age of 17, without money or possessions. His freedom, alas, was short-lived and he was brought home to face, no doubt, the full force of his father’s wrath. On the second occasion his plans to escape were successful and he enlisted in the army. He joined the Argyllshire Highlanders. donning the green and black kilt and red tunic of that famous regiment.
This was a time of great unrest at the Cape, with the French, Dutch, and British struggling for possession of the southernmost point of the African Continent. The Argyllshire Highlanders were ordered to the trouble spot, After four months at sea, enduring the usual appalling conditions of that time, the regiment stepped ashore in September, 1795, and eventually occupied Cape T own in the name of King George III of England, on behalf of the Prince of Orange. Little did the lad from Scotland dream that the day would come when he would call South Africa his home.
For some years the regiment was engaged in various expeditions, mainly to settle differences in the vast and sparsely populated hinterland. In 1799 Hart and his regiment were sent by sea to Algoa Bay. On arrival they proceeded across country to Graaff-Reinet in an effort to quash revolutionary influences that had erupted there. The journey from the Bay took them through wild country, abounding in animals of all sorts, including lions and great herds of elephant. Wandering Bushmen and hostile natives were also an ever present hazard. Hart, with his love of flora and fauna. was keenly aware both of the profusion of flowers that carpeted much of the ground. and of the strangely different bushes and trees that covered the countryside. When marching beyond Bruintjies Hoogte to Agter Bruintjies Hoogte, as this part of the country was then called, he eventually beheld the beautiful Boschberg mountain which he was never to forget.
After some seven years in South Africa the Argyllshires were ordered to sail for India where trouble had broken out. At the end of a spell of two years the men were sent back to England, via the Cape. The story is told of how, soon after Hart's arrival, he was bestman at a friend's wedding. Turning to another friend he remarked, "The man's a fool, I'd rather have the bridesmaid." Robert must have been a fast worker because he married the bridesmaid, a certain Hannah Tamplin, that same year, a young lady who was to be the perfect 'wife and helpmate until her death 49 years later. The newly-wed couple enjoyed some two years of peaceful army life in England, until, receiving his commission, Sergeant-major Hart was sent back to. South Africa, to. join Colonel John Graham in the recently formed Cape Regiment. This time he was accompanied by his wife and baby daughter as he returned to the land where he was to live until his death in 1867, at the age of 90
Remaining with the regiment until it was disbanded, he served mostly along the borders of the Eastern Cape. and having come to know that part of the country well, Colonel Graham asked Hart to select a suitable place for the establishment of the Military Headquarters. Hart chose the site where Grahamstown now stands and built one of the first houses there for himself and his family. In his spare time he indulged his life-long interest in agriculture. Working his plot in a small way he soon had a flourishing garden and was able to supplement his army pay by the sale of vegetables.
At about this time, in I815, Lord Charles Somerset, Governor of the Cape. established an agricultural farm at Somerset for the supply of produce to the troops in the area. A certain Dr. Joseph Mackrill was appointed as Superintendent. Unfortunately tension mounted between the soldiers detailed to work on the farm and the Hottentot labourers and after little more than two years Dr. Mackrill decided to resign. He suggested Captain Hart as his successor. Thus did Robert Hart return to the Boschberg whose beauties had-fascinated him sixteen years previously.
With strict supervision and improved farming methods Hart soon obtained excellent results and was able to supply food, fodder and horses for the troops guarding the Eastern Frontier. Later it was he who saved many a British settler from hunger and despair after their first disastrous years of crop failures. Their ignorance of conditions in a strange land and their lack of agricultural skills were a constant worry to him.
During the next ten years both Boer farmers as well as 1820 Settlers were justifiably and increasingly angered by a government subsidized farm which could, and did. undercut their own prices, thus threatening their very livelihood. Eventually the Governor. Lord Charles Somerset, obviously saw the writing on the wall and decided to close the farm. Early in 1825,Hart received a letter from the Colonial Secretary giving him barely a month in which to dismiss staff and workers alike, the Governor having decided to found a new town on the farm site to be called Somerset. Mr. W.M. Mackay was appointed as the first Magistrate. and Robert Hart nominated one of the first members of the Court, later to be made Justice of the Peace.
During his years as Superintendent Hart had turned Somerset Farm into a most impressive agricultural project. He was indefatigable in his efforts to make it an all round success, and he had the full co-operation of the Governor when it came to improving stock and importing the finest horses. It was after a tour with Sir Rufane Donkin, then acting- Governor. to assess the needs of the Settlers that Donkin wrote in his report. 'I cannot close this paper without bearing the strongest testimony to Mr. Hart's diligence, activity and scrupulous honesty in controlling the affairs of this establishment'. (Somerset Farm), 'Should it be broken up I think that Mr. Hart has a strong claim on the Government for an extensive grant of land. His establishment in that way would not only be beneficial to himself but advantageous to the Colony'.
Later Hart was granted. on part payment, a large tract of land on the Naude's River at the foot of the Boschberg. which included much of the mountain itself. He named his property Glen Avon, probably because the River Avon flowed through his home county of Lanarkshire. With the help of his military pension he turned Glen Avon into one of the most outstanding farms in the district. His orange orchards flourished and he soon established himself as one of the first successful breeders of Merino sheep in the Cape. An ever present danger were attacks by marauding Xhosas bent on stealing cattle. plundering the homesteads and murdering and maiming the owners. These raiders derived from the tribes alluded to by Dr. John Phillip of the London Missionary Society, a man distinctly hostile to both Dutch and English colonists, as 'the noble savage'. One of Hart's friends wrote to him during the 3rd Kaffir War. 'At every farmer's house we found sad vestiges of murder and desolation. Whole families had been wantonly massacred ..... Dogs, horses and oxen left to die in agony ..... The savage Kaffir exults in such appalling sights'. (Surely reminiscent of the terrorism in Africa today.)
It was during these "Kaffir Wars" that Robert Hart came to recognise the fortitude and strength of the Boers, who repeatedly fought side by side with the British. He often spoke of their kindness and courage and endeavoured to learn their•language.
During subsequent border wars Glen Avon became a haven of refuge for the destitute and bereaved. Many a sorrowing family whose homes had been burnt and lands devastated by the Xhosas were comforted and cared for by Robert and his wife, Hannah. Indeed Glen Avon became famous for its hospitality, a tradition carried on to this day by his great-great-grandson and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. R. C.Brown. The original cottage built by Hart to house his family. Whilst a larger residence was under construction, has been beautifully renovated and preserved, as has yet another dwelling known as The Retreat, in front of which stand three tall cypress trees planted by Hart himself who brought the slips from Cape Town in match-boxes. Match-boxes in those days often measured at least 5 inches long.
Robert and Hannah had 6 surviving children; 4 daughters and 2 sons. Once again historians differ; and he has been credited with 7. 8. and even 14 offspring. Pity the poor research worker who strives for exactitude. The hearts of many a home-sick soldier, lonely settler and young Boer farmer were broken by Hart's attractive daughters and among his descendents today there are both English and Afrikaans speaking South Africans, To mention such distinguished citizens as Sir Gordon Sprigg, one time Prime Minister of the Cape Colony; Sir James Rose-Innes, who became Chief Justice of the Union of South Africa; and Robert Bowker who was Member of Parliament for Somerset East for 30 years is to name but a few of the Hart clan who stood out among their fellow men, helping to strengthen the Eastern Cape and causing it to prosper. Guide, philosopher and friend to the 1820 Settlers Hart himself rode out to meet the Scottish party when they arrived in the area to claim their allotted land along the Baviaans River Valley. It is said that this stern old man was moved to tears when he heard the accents of his homeland after so many years of absence. He gave their first fruit trees and in time of great need saw that they and other settlers did not lack grain or other necessary rations. The poet, Thomas Pringle, became his friend and wrote, "The friendship of this able and active man proved indeed both on this and subsequent occasions of great advantage to our party.”
Hart had installed a mill at Somerset Farm when he was Superintendent and one of the first tasks he set himself when he moved to Glen Avon was the erection of a similar mill there. Some years later he had the old wooden model changed for a more modern one which is still in use today. Anyone who has sampled the home grown and ground grain will know how really delicious bread can be. Robert Hart was practical and thrifty/as two small incidents will illustrate. When visiting settlers in the Albany district he saw that many were building their houses on low lying ground. He strongly recommended that they change to higher sites as the valleys were apt to be flooded after heavy rains and their homes might well be washed out to sea. Just another example of the settlers' ignorance of local conditions in their new homeland. On another occasion someone sought to borrow a coffin. He was taken up to the loft where many kept theirs against sudden and untimely death and was amused to find that Robert was using his to store dried peaches.
Hart was a sincerely religious man who always had the welfare of the Presbyterian Church in mind. Incidentally he lent money to help build the first Presbyterian Church in Port Elizabeth. He was usually host to visiting missionaries who toured the country on horseback and would ask them to hold services in his house or garden, services which his Hottentot labourers and domestic servants could attend. He then had a small church built at Glen Avon which is today used as a school for children of the farm workers. The present owner, Mr. R.C. Brown, has had a school erected nearby which takes the older children. Robert Hart also had a family vault constructed which holds the mortal remains of various members of the family, including those of his wife, Hannah. After the death and burial of Robert himself at the age of 90. in 1867, the vault was sealed.
Today when visiting the Museum you can see the original Deed of Sale. 'ceding and transferring certain Erven in Somerset to Robert Hart'. It is signed by Lord Charles Somerset in 1825 and together with other Hart documents is of interest to many.. As a Presbyterian Robert Hart shared the same Calvinist religious principles as the Dutch settlers and it distressed him to find that the latter had no church of their own. He helped found the first Dutch Reformed Church in this town and laid the foundation stone. Later he became a senior Elder in the congregation. In his Will Hart left £1.300 sterling for the support and maintenance of a Presbyterian Minister in Somerset. A beautiful stained glass window has been erected by the congregation in grateful recognition of his foundation bequest in the local church, a church, alas, he never lived to see completed. Robert Hart was well known for his generosity. No deserving appeal went unanswered. He helped to establish a Leper settlement; Lovedale Institution owed much to his help and encouragement, and he was always interested in the religious life of the community, irrespective of colour, race or creed. In 1832, in collaboration with his friends Dr. Gill. the Rev: George Morgan, and the Magistrate, Mr. Marillier, he helped to found the first library in this town, under the name of the Somerset Reading Society. With his love of the land and wish to encourage farmers in every way it was Robert Hart who was instrumental in founding the first Agricultural Show in Somerset, a Society which flourishes today and which has been an annual event since its inception. Many of you may have wondered, as I have, just why the present airstrip was once known as the Race Course. When I first visited Somerset some 40 years ago, we used to talk of 'taking the dog for a walk on the race course', although I never saw a sign of a horse. It was Robert Hart, with his enthusiasm for horses, and for friendly gatherings of all kinds, who was one of the first to arrange race meetings, which became a tremendous social event. Families came from afar and camped for the day. Wagons were drawn up in a half circle to make a grandstand for the ladies who naturally took the opportunity of showing off the latest fashions.
It is particularly relevant on this occasion to tell you that it was Robert Hart who gave all the timber, much of it yellow wood and in all probability from his farm, for the roof of the original Wesleyan Chapel built on this site. This chapel was later converted into the Dutch Reformed Parsonage and is today, our own Musuem. So you will realise that we of Somerset have much for which to thank the good Robert Hart. There was nothing small or petty about the man. He hated meanness of any sort; no bribes could sway him and his word was his bond, something all too rare in the world of today. It was said of him. 'Thanks be to God that He does raise men of such outstanding Godliness. and uprightness. Though they pass from us their works follows them. They leave to their descendants a heritage and inspiration, service to God and humanity, characteristics for which the world is richer and which will bear fruit through generations' .
This then is a small but sincere tribute to Robert Hart, 'the first English-speaking South African' and 'father of the Settlers' as he came to be called. May his example stir us to strive for the betterment of mankind, a cause for which he worked all his life.
“Philipps. 1820 Settler”: Edited by Arthur Keppel-Jones
“Narrative of a Residence in South Africa”: Thomas Pringle (Published by Struik.)
“When Boys were Men”: Edited by Guy Butler,
“The 1820 Settlers.” Edited by Guy Butler.
“They were South Africans.” By John Bond.
“Plantagenet in South Africa.” By Anthony Kendal Millar
-------------------- Robert Hart 1777 - 1867 Robert Hart was born in January 1777 at Avondale in Lanarkshire, Scotland. At the age of 17 he ran away from home and joined the Argyllshire Highlanders. In September 1799 he landed in Cape Town. His good doings in South Africa are recorded in their history, He served under Colonel Hraham who asked him to select a suitable place for the establishment of the Military Headquarters. Robert Hart chose the site where Grahamstown now stands and built one of the first houses there for himself and his family.
Robert Hart, II SV/PROG's Timeline
January 5, 1777
South Lanarkshire, Scotland
April 10, 1804
St Peter Port, Guernsey, United Kingdom
August 7, 1805
Wheeley, Essex, England
July 19, 1807
Cape Town, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa
May 22, 1809
Cape Town, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa
July 11, 1810
Cape Town, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa
November 21, 1811
Cape Town, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa
Cape Town, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa
November 30, 1815
Grahamstown, Albany District, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa