Mrs Rina Wiid (formerly Coreejes) was a schoolteacher born and raised in the Carnarvon district who married a farmer originally from Hopetown. The couple and spent much of their earlier married life farming near Carnarvon. After many years, husband Lemmer decided that he would like to return to his home district, and they bought Alfalfa, part of Doornbult, an irrigation farm on the banks of the Orange River close to Hopetown, in 1994.
In the course of gradually exploring their new farm, Rina and Lemmer were amazed to find one portion of it strewn with metal artefacts of all kinds – old galvanised iron buckets, driepoot pots, old sun-bleached Lennon’s bottles, rusty bully beef and condensed milk tins, scissor blades, and buttons. They asked their neighbours whether or not there had at one time been a squatter camp there, and were surprised to find that nobody had ever seen any settlement on the site, clearly visible from the road. The previous owners had also told them nothing about a settlement. This was in 1996.
As things turned out, the ‘blikkieskamp’ turned out to be the most intact, well-preserved and artefact- rich Boer War Concentration camp site known. Rina wisely left everything where found and did not try to remove anything. She located the upturned and carefully-packed condensed milk tins used as boot scrapers (see photo) still in place at the entrance to where the mess tent stood, and from the types of artefact remaining and concentrated, where the officers had had their camp on a low hillock, and where hundreds of Boer women occupied bell tents on the open veld. The evidence is here in the form of pot stirrers, corset lacings, bell tent door hooks, pots, scissor blades, buttons, and a host of other poignant trinkets, as the attached pictures show.
Single-handedly, and often to the concern of Lemmer, Rina spent every moment of her spare time researching the camp terrain, carefully noting the distribution of artefacts. She eventually discovered the camp cemetery (see photo) and with her gardener, cleared the grass and weeds from the site. She and Lemmer located the remainder of the concentration camp administration area closer to the river, and they restored the blockhouse and took pains to preserve as much as possible of the original technology of the old Orange River Station.
After 3 years of hard work, Protea Books in 1999 published (in Afrikaans) the story of her discoveries, close on 100 years after the camp was established – a camp and its story that had lain forgotten in the waving grass of the veld. This is the only publication that was in any way available about this important site – now out of print. Since then, she has self-published 5 or 6 spiral bound booklets on the artefacts found, the story of the camp and its inhabitants, many of whose descendants she tracked down and corresponded with, established a site museum, kept the graveyard clean – all this almost exclusively with their own funds and on her own initiative. The fact that fewer people know of the Orange River camp and all its details is that her publications were initially all in Afrikaans and not widely distributed, being self-published.
Thanks to Rina, there remains for future generations to see an and experience, a well-preserved historical archaeological site which, because of its authenticity, provides an extremely powerful historical experience. Not only this, she has written up and recorded as much and as well as she was able, the significance of every aspect of the site. Now fairly elderly, she still does personally guided tours of the very extensive camp and administrative areas. Personally, I feel that now is the time to give her something back – the recognition that she so richly deserves for a generous service to preserving the heritage of this country.
The attached photos show some of the artefacts and the camp cemetary.
By the way, the terrain should be formally declared a National Heritage Site, in order to afford it some nationally recognised heritage protection.
J M MAGUIRE