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In the 1890s a desperate race for trade began between the three major city ports of Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth. The objective was to complete a railway link to the treasured gold fields of Johannesburg. The railway from Durban reached the Transvaal border first, but President Paul Kruger refused permission to continue until his railway from Pretoria to Lourenco Marques in Mozambique , was completed. The town which grew around this junction at the Transvaal border was named Charlestown in honour of Sir Charles Mitchell, Governor of Natal. The railway was finally completed in 1895 and Charlestown lost the significance of its earlier days as a busy rail junction.

In 1888 the Transvaal government decided to establish a town on the edge of the Drakensburg escarpment, on the border of Natal. A place was chosen near where the Boers won a decisive battle in February 1881, to regain their independence from the British. Several farms were bought for the purpose and named Volksrust (People's Rest) presumably because the Transvaal forces rested there after the Battle of Majuba. Today the town is a commercial centre of which the main products are maize, wool, sorghum, sunflower seed, beef and dairy. The town is the junction for the main Johannesburg-Durban railway line with other towns in the Eastern Transvaal.

Government School Charlestown - 1916

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The school property has been purchased by Mr Petrus Schoeman of Charlestown and the building is in the process of being restored.

Section of the above photograph

Charlestown circa 1916 - Larsen brothers - LR: Victor, Clarence, Sivert and Cyril

A Charlestown Family - Names not known

Charlestown - Sivert Larsen and friend

Charlestown - Cyril and Sivert Larsen (RHS) and friend

Charlestown - Majuba Monument

Charlestown - 1919


Volksrust, situated on the Transvaal-Natal border, about 280km from Johannesburg and some 493km from Durban, was proclaimed a town by President Paul Kruger of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republic, on 27 March 1889.

Dorie de Jager, sister of Dirk Uys who fell in battle on 28 January 1881 at the Battle of Laingsnek, was approached by the Volksraad to provide a name for the to be established town. The name is derived from the fact that the Boer forces after the Battle of Amajuba, camped out on Rooibult to rest, while the officers were signing the peace negotiations of the First War of Independence.

She refers to the nation resting after the battle and in 1889 the name Volksrust was officially accepted by President Kruger. In that year there were approximately 150 Whites. In 1904, when the first census was undertaken, the population figures were as follows:

1 342 Whites, 906 Blacks, 135 Asians and 32 Coloureds.

After the annexation of the Republic of Natalia in 1845 by the Cape government, a large number of Boers who some years back had fought against the Zulu impis at Blood River, again packed their wagons to look for freedom across the Drakensberg. Among them were the Uys family who took possession of the area which today is known as the districts of Wakkerstroom, Vrede and Harrismith.

The Volksrust district has its origins from various farms, namely Zandfontein, Verkijk, Boschpaddrift and Llanwarne. After the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886, Volksrust became an important junction between the goldfields of Barberton, The Witwatersrand and Durban.

The first little wood and corrugated iron shop in Volksrust, was that of Towland Meek; and the shop and a house was erected at Llanwarne. The Boers used both these buildings during the First War of Independence as a hospital. This was in fact the first hospital.

Since than a variety of buildings and houses in the town as well as in Rooibult served this purpose, but after 1905 serious thought was given to a hospital because the need for one became increasingly more urgent as the population increased. In 1933 two corner stones for the new hospital were laid. In 1938 an isolation ward was added to the hospital.

In 1901 the first health committee for Volksrust was appointed and three years later it received the elevated status of town council. In May 1904 the new municipal offices were inaugurated. In 1951 this building made way for a new, modern building to meet the needs of a growing Volksrust.

Volksrust is an important railway centre. In 1889 the Natal Government decided to extend the railway line from Newcastle to the Transvaal border in October 1891 the official opening of the Laingnek tunnel took place.

In 1937 the electrification of the railway line between Durban and Volksrust was completed.

Steeped in history

Volksrust has always stood at the focal point of the history of Natal and Transvaal and even today, monuments, graves and other historic beacons still stand as symbols of the purification of and growth of a nation. So many of these historic monuments came about as a result of the two Wars of Independence of the Afrikaner.

Majuba (Mountain of the Doves), before that time also known as Spitskop, to the west of the main road to Newcastle, has become a national asset and in 1941 was declared a national monument.

The Zuid-Afrikaansche Republic was annexed on 12 April 1877 by Sir Theophilus Shepstone, with 25 mounted police. The Transvaal burghers rebelled and in 1880 the First War of Independence broke out. Commandant-General Piet Joubert, with 800 burghers, marched to the Natal border to cut off General Sir George Colley who was approaching with a force of 1 400 men. The boers took up positions on Laings Neck, while General Colley's troops pitched camp at Mount Prospect.

General Colley twice attacked the Boer forces: the first time on 28 January 1881 - at Laings Neck and the second time 0n 8 February 1881 at Schuinshoogte or Igogo as it was also known.

The night of 26 February 1881 General Colley with 693 men and 35 officers, scaled Amajuba Mountain form the south side, with the aim of taking possession of the main road over the neck. At daybreak on 27 February 1881 the Transvaal burghers spotted the British troops at the crest of the mountain of 150 volunteers under the leadership of D Malan,

S Roos and J Ferreira, attacked the British.

The Boers won the battle early that afternoon, with 92 dead on the British side, including General Colley.

O'Neil's Cottage, 11 kilometres from Charlestown is an historical monument where the peace negotiations between Sir Evelyn Wood on the British side and on the Boer side the triumvirate of Paul Kruger, Piet Joubert and M W Pretorius, with President Brand of the Free State as mediator, were signed.

Just outside Volksrust are the remnants of the Convention Bridge, which at the time linked the ZAR with Natal. Between 6 and 10 November 1894, important negotiations between Pre. Paul Kruger and Sir Henry Loch, governor of the Cape Colony and British High Commissioner for South Africa, took place here. Both the British High Commissioner and the ZAR President refused to cross the respective borders and the negotiations took place ia a railway coach parked exactly in the middle of the bridge.

Approximately two kilometres east of the main road between Amersfoort and Volksrust, is the last resting-place of Dirk Uys who fell at Laings Neck on 28 January 1881. He was a son of "Black" Dirk Uys who took part in the Battle of Blood River.

On the main road to Vrede, lies Rustfontein, formerly the farm of Commandant-General Piet Pretorius. He bought the farm on 6 June 1859. The original homestead is still on the farm and is still in the possession of the general's descendants.

Market Square in Volksrust was renamed Voortrekker Square in 1938 by the leader of the symbolic oxwagon trek, Mr Henning Klopper. At the northern corner of the square is the 1881 Burgher Monument to commemorate the burghers who fought for the freedom of the ZAR.

Situated at Grens Spruit, which forms the border between Transvaal and Natal, is the Volksrust Concentration Camp, erected in April 1901. This camp was one of the biggest concentration camps after those of Potchefstroom, Irene and Middelburg. A total of 772 people died in the camp, the majority of the children. Emily Hobhouse found at her visit to the camp that it was hopelessly overcrowded.

The British memorial at the north side of the town, laid out in the form of a cross, is a reminder of the British soldiers who died in various battles in the area.

But at the foothill of Amajuba there is an extremely interesting sight which has nothing to do with war. A large number of Bushman paintings are to be found under an overhanging rock, about two kilometres from O'Neil's Cottage. There are about 70 paintings.

In the final stop-press edition of the Johannesburg Star on Friday, 6 May, 1927, the following news story appeared:
A well-known farmer in the Charlestown district named S.A.J. Swarf, this morning ran amok and killed 8 Europeans and a native, wounded 3 other Europeans and then shot himself. Among those killed was his wife and the officer commanding the posse of police who went to arrest Swart.

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