THE WATERS THAT ONCE PASSED DOWN GLEN AVON
The old Eastern Cape frontier, known as the Zuurveld by the early pioneers, was a territory of few luxuries. Meal and flour was scarce and were carefully hoarded because they had to be transported literally at the pace of the ox over many kilometers of uninhabited country.
A British Settler family – Appliqué by Willy(Source: Panorama)
When plans for large-scale immigration were being made in 1819, one of the useful articles each party was advised to take was a hand-mill or quern.
Probably the first mill to be seen by the 1820 Settlers on their arrival was a windmill at Cradock Place, the estate of Frederick Korsten, about 16 kilometers from the landing beach at Algoa Bay. Korsten had started a trading centre there in 1812 and it included a salting works, cooperage, tannery and windmill. And the thriving trade that quickly developed at Cradock Place could well have inspired Piet Retief to try his luck in the provisioning trade, for in 1814 we find him asking colonel Cuyler, magistrate of Uitenhage, for “the assistance of eight or ten soldiers in erecting a mill” on the land granted to him in Grahamstown. Retief sold his windmill in 1823.
Inside the Glen Avon Mill(Source: Panorama)
One of only two surviving watermills still in operation is the one on the farm, Glen Avon, near Somerset East. Now own by the Brown family, direct descendants of Robert Hart, who was granted the farm in 1821 in recognition of the services he had rendered in helping to solve the frontier problems. Robert Hart erected his mill in 1823 and at that time it had a large wooden waterwheel. In 1861, six years before his death, this wheel was replaced by an iron one. The machinery and equipment was made at Leeds in England, shipped to Algoa Bay, transported by bullock wagon to Glen Avon via the Zuurberg Pass and assembled on the spot. The 10 horsepower overshot wheel is now fed by an aqueduct from a mill dam some distance away. One enters the stone mill-house and immediately the dim light, solid old yellow-wood timbering and large-tooth gears create a mid-nineteenth century atmosphere. On the floor above are large wooden bins for collecting the meal from the rotary sieve which is fed by a long chute coming from the topmost floor. Climbing the ladder-like steps one emerges on this floor and realises how a mill works from the top floor down, for here is the mill hoist door through which the sacks of grain are hauled up from the outside, so that the grain can be fed through the hopper to the rotating stones and so through the floor, down the chute, to the sieve below.
These were the processes that William Prisk James, great grandfather of my wife, Estelle, performed on a daily basis during the 1860’s at this very mill, Glen Avon. This was also the place where his first wife, Mary Ann Faby died on 31 May 1861. William and his wife, both from Cornwall, England, arrived in South Africa between 1849-1861.
Hart cottage. Erected c. 1817(source: http://www.glenavonfarm.co.za/history.htm)
In 1873 there were 125 mills operating in the Eastern Cape but the advent of the roller mill put an end to the old processes using rotating millstones. The sound of water falling out of a creaking wheel, or the sight of a picturesque windmill on the skyline is lost to our present way of life…
Directions to Glen Avon(Source: http://www.glenavonfarm.co.za/history.htm)
© Johann H Claassen 2012