…a Snippet and a Poem or two from Percy Fitzpatrick during his Barberton Days

A “Barbertonian” is a special sort of person who sees himself as a member of a close-knit clan. The other members of this clan are people who live, or used to live in the finest place in South Africa, if not in the world -

Stamp Image of Fitzpatrick

It was to a prosperous Barberton that FitzPatrick came with his wagons in 1885.

Bray's Quarry

Bray’s Golden Quarry had been discovered and the ore was tiding five to seven ounces of gold to the ton. More than a hundred mining companies, representing some 4-million shares, were quoted on the Barberton Stock Exchange. The shares of the Sheba Company stood at 105 pounds. There was an extraordinary gathering in the camp of company promoters, mining engineers, capitalists from Kimberley and enterprising Kiel-proprietors. While the various companies waited for their batteries and steam engines to be delivered, their shares were being talked up to fantastic levels.

Tented Town Old Barberton

All this excitement, and the orders that flowed from it, made a transporter’s heaven. Every square inch of wagon space was sold and any goods a wagoner had purchased “on spec” were snapped up even before they could be unloaded. Machinery, picks and shovels, canned foods and bottles were the principal items in the cargoes the wagons carried. Of the three, the bottles -

Barberton Square Face Gin Bottle

cases and cases of squareface gin, whisky, brandy and beer outweighed everything else. Barberton was a thirsty place – and there was the fever to be kept at bay.

Horse Racing at Eureka City

The wagons were not always on the road. In high summer it was dangerous for both man and beast to travel in the Lowveld and then trips to Lourenco Marques were few and far between and supplies were carted from Lydenburg. So FitzPatrick had time to hang about in Barberton, to attend the dances and become hail-fellow-well-met with most of the inhabitants. He had a tremendous gift for picking up friends wherever he went.

Cockney Liz

It must have been at this time that he wrote his amusing little poem about the transport rider’s life which was published in the Barberton Herald. It was a poem in two sections, designed to show what were erroneously supposed to be the joys of the wagoneer’s life and then, in the second part, what it was really like. A couple of stanzas reveal his thoughts.

Grazing Cattle

Barberton Mountains

Ideal :
He loves the smiling valleys wide.
Green, and broad, and fair,
And he loves the rugged mountainside
And the bracing mountain air;
And the whistling wind that swells and sinks.
And the tints that autumn tell,
And the torrent’s roar, are only links
In Nature’s subtle spell.
For roads are good and rates are high
His cattle are fat and strong
And the cares of the world all pass him by
As his wagons roll along.
Little he racks of Nature’s strife -
Away from the world is he
Without a care is the carrier’s life -
Roving, gay and free.

Dying Cattle

River Flood Damage

And now for the Reality :
The valley’s velvet carpet green
Hides but the deep morass;
And many a bullock’s bones have been
Left on the mountain pass.
The cold winds freeze the cattle’s blood
In autumn dies the grass
And rain comes with every flood
When wagons cannot pass.
For roads are bad and rates are low
And rivers oft in flood;
And wagons stick in the mud.
The cattle – in this world his all -
Begin to sicken and die
Of red-water, lung sick, “melt” or gall
Tulip, fever or fly.

Apart from attending to the affairs of Cohen and Graumann, FitzPatrick found time to encourage tree planting in Barberton, to help to organise dances, to found a political association that presented the case of the English and colonial inhabitants of the Transvaal who thought they ought to have the vote and to write for the Barberton Herald, is worth quoting :then edited by R. J. Pakeman. One of his poems about Barberton entitled:

Steam Train Barberton Station

Shop Keeping Barberton

“As Others See Us”

…The stranger comes.
He finds — no need of search —
Some shops, a jail, two canteens, a church
Some private ‘shanties’ and a market square
And oh! – the public buildings, too, are there.
What now for courthouse and post office passes
Was once a stable built for other asses.
And if it wasn’t – well to call the place
a decent stable
’twere a rank disgrace
Knock-kneed walls, old doors and rotten thatch
and some officials made express to match.
Pretentious streets (of room there is no lack),
With, down the middle, perhaps a wagon track.
The rest is verdant neath the stranger’s gaze
And there for choice the village cattle graze….
And so on for another twenty-six lines,
Dolly ( Fitzpatrick’s nom de plume)

from ‘The First South African” by A.P.Cartwright and other Sources.

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Contact our Dream Merchants for a stunning Jock of the Bushveld and General History group tour through the Lowveld and Kruger, in either Kombis, Sprinters or big coaches. Our number is 013 764 1177

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