Merinos Make Their Mark

By 1830 experts considered the teething stages of the Cape Merino industry to be over. F W Reitz, the man destined to become president of the Free State, believed that 1830 was the turning point for the South African wool industry. He was proved right, states Edmund H Burrows in Overberg Outspan.  In 1830 the Colony exported 30 000 pounds of wool; 20 years later the figure stood at nearly six million pounds and, in 1872, the boom reached 48 million pounds. The Merino had made its mark and George Greig, the scholarly, 23-year old partner of Michiel van Breda visualized the future accurately when he wrote a pamphlet entitled Observations on the Merino in 1834. By then Overberg farmers were selling sheep in the Karoo. Burrows states that “sheep from historic studs, belonging to Reitz, Van Breda and Joubert, were already being shipped and transported overland to start the industry in the Karoo”.  The Handbook of the Cape of Good Hope of 1885 states that among the hinterland men who came to the Overberg as “Jasons in search of golden fleece” were Willem Burger from Calvinia, William Kinnear from Beaufort West and Dirk de Wet from Victoria West.


South Africa was the first country outside Europe to own Merinos. This history stretches back to 1789, when the Dutch Government donated two Spanish Merino Rams and four Spanish Merino Ewes, to the House of Orange. The sheep came from the King’s famous Escoriale Merino Stud, but they did not do well in the damp conditions of Holland, so they were sent to the Cape and given into the care of Col. Jacob Gordon, the military commander. At the time, the King of Spain had the sole right to export Merinos and when he heard they had been sent to South Africa, he asked for them to be returned. Col. Gordon had realized the potential of the little flock and had sent them to Groenkloof, the Company farm, 55km from Cape Town. When the King asked for his gift be returned, they sent back the original sheep and kept the progeny.


In 1855 M J Adendorff  started washing wool on his Karoo farm, The Erf, as a service to farmers and buyers. He advertised this in The Graaff-Reinet Herald of May 5, 1855, stating farmers in Richmond, Colesberg, Middelburg and Graaff-Reinet, would be charged only 3/8ths of a penny per pound for this service. He also offered a free collection and delivery service to any Graaff-Reinet store and stated he was prepared to load wool for direct transport to Port Elizabeth, so saving farmers storage costs. “A constant stream of clear water runs through the washing dams so the wool is cleaner than any product washed at any other establishment,” he said.  Adendorff stated he had already washed upwards of two hundred bales, and given the highest satisfaction. “Every care and precaution is taken to ensure no wool escapes out of the dams,” he said.


Rose’s Roundup, Nov 2011 (No 214)

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