Tourism, Accommodation and Historical Attractions in Natal, South Africa

The Natal Battlefields

The Voortrekkers - the Voorste Mense

The Dutch settlers decide to trek into the almost unknown interior after having despatched two pioneer trek parties.

The Great Trek Starts

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Eventually, one Hendrik Potgieter decided it was time for action. He and several other families decided it was time to pack wagons, sell farms and write letters to family. The Great Trek was to start with just a few families moving out on their own, only later to rendezvous.

Before this was to happen however, Potgieter decided to send out two parties of voorste mense (people in front) whose job it was to scout for suitable land and make contact with the Portuguese in either Delagoa Bay or Inhambane.

To command the two parties he chose his cousin Johannes van Rensburg and one Louis Tregardt, a neighbour.a year.housands of animals were scattered over the veld and would be taken by the Matabele regardless of whether they would prevail or die.

Louis Tregardt and the Voorste Mense

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 Voortrekkers move north to hardship and death.

Next: the Zoutpansberg

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