History of Caversham Mill

(Sub86 (of 5) of the farm Boschfontein no 901)

Boschfontein no 901, the original farm 6208 acres in extent, was given to Christoffel Botha on a free grant in 1850. In the same year, Botha sold the farm to Gerrit Jacobus Naudé, who built the original homestead Boschfontein, which is still in use today.

Naudé sold off 2 208 acres to John Lidgett, through his Natal agent, J E Menthley.

Still in 1850, Lidgett acquired 10 000 acres for his settlement scheme. This comprised:

  1. the farm Rietvallei (from W S Pretorius),

  2. Houtbosch – on which the settlement of Lidgett Town was established, and

  3. “a number of farming plots in the area” – this must have included a portion (2 208 acres) of Boschfontein because when Mr Hutchinson bought Boschfontein in 1857, it was 4 000 acres in extend, “except for some portions Naudé had already sold”.

Lidgett divided the land up into 20 acre allotments for sale to immigrants.

Richard Gower Hodson (17) and James Jefferies Hodson (15), sailed from London aboard Lidgett’s ship, the “Nile”, on 14 June 1850. They traveled under the care of their uncle and aunt, Dr and Mrs Gower, and their four daughters.

On the same ship were Mr and Mrs G Franklin, their two sons and four daughters, one of which, Jane, was later to marry James Hodson.

The journey took four months, arriving off D’Urban on 15th September 1850.

After a fortnight spent in D’Urban, purchasing supplies and acquiring transport, the party set off for Lidgett Town. Apparently James left a week before the others, and this could account for the discrepancy in sources as to whom the transport was hired from. Three different transport owners are given:

  1. Mr Lello

  2. Mr Edward Few

  3. Mr Karnish’s wagon and Mr Jee’s cart

It could be that James proceeded with Mr Few’s wagon, while Richard and the Franklins followed a week later in Karnish’s wagon and Jee’s cart. No mention of Mr Lello is made in the primary sources.

James would have left D’Urban on the 30th or 31st September 1850, with the rest of them following on the 5th November and arriving on the 11th or 12th November 1850.

The Hodson brothers had secured three plots (60 acres), one of which was on the Mpofana River. They named it “Caversham”.

At this stage the river was called Mpofana. It was only some time after 1860, when the last Lion in the district was shot in a deep ravine on the farm Weltevreden (now St Ives), that the river was renamed the Lions River.

The Hodsons later purchased a further 21 plots from settlers who left, making the final size of Caversham Farm 480 acres.

It would seem that James and Richard built the mill between 1852 and 1853. Richard was 17 to 18 years old and James 15 to 16 years old. (Some sources say that the mill was erected in 1858.) They made the wheel buckets out of yellow wood and sneeze wood, which had been cut in the local bush. These trees they then cut into planks, no mean achievement for amateurs. Using a stone foundation they then placed the beams and used corrugated iron for the walls. They used yellow wood for the rafters as well as the floor. The millstones were purchased in Pietermaritzburg and the workings were originally made of wood. It was the first water driven mill to be erected in Natal.

The Franklins did not stay long, leaving for Melbourne in 1852 to return only four years later. This must have been a very sad time for young James as he and Jane Franklin had fallen in love on the journey over from London.

Richard operated the mill, while James joined a fellow “Nile” passenger, Peter Girault, in cutting timber in the surrounding forests.

The Franklins returned in 1856 and James and Jane, now both 20 years old, were married on the 14th January 1857. The moved into the little “Slab House” built by James at Caversham. One source says that James built and lived in the “Slab House” and built the homestead at Caversham when he married Jane. No matter, they subsequently went on to have 7 sons and 4 daughters.

After James’ marriage, Richard sold out his share to James and went to join Girault in the timber business. He was also a piano tuner in the district.

In 1888 James bought the iron machinery for the mill workings from Van Der Plank’s Mill on the Umsindusi in Pietermaritzburg since the original mill was “about worn out”. The wheel and cogs were of metal while the millstones were made of Scottish granite.

The combination of the heavy metal pitch back wheel, with its slow, ponderous turning and the quality of the millstones, resulted in Caversham ground meal being much sought after. The slow speed of grinding meant that the grain retained its flavour well. The mill became widely popular for its grinding and farmers from as far afield as the Transvaal and Orange Free State came to have their maize and wheat milled. A number of single quarters were built behind the farmstead to house the drivers while the load was being milled. A wagon load took about one week to process.

On September 6th 1887, high winds caused a huge veld fire that raged down the Balgowan Valley and jumped the Lions River, completely destroying the little settlement at Caversham. Only the church (now Caversham Press) was left standing. The Hodsons’ lost virtually everything except the clothes they were wearing.

During his lifetime, James Hodson held various government positions: Postmaster at Caversham, Field Cornet (he served in the Langalibilele Rebellion), Sheep Inspector (from Drakensberg Gardens in the west to Table Mountain in the east) and Justice of the Peace. In addition, he owned a store in Pietermaritzburg around 1864.

Jane died on the 28th February 1928 and James died 18 months later on the 29th August 1929, aged 84 and 85 respectively. They lie buried in the Caversham churchyard at Caversham Press.

Richard, son of James, continued to operate the mill until it was closed down in 1935 by the Mealie Act.

For many years the mill stood abandoned and in disuse and served only as a farm storeroom. It fell into disrepair. Much of the yellow wood and iron was plundered.

Potter David Walters, a keen conservationist, bought the Mill in 1978. He and his father restored much of the old mill to its former glory and used it as a pottery studio.

It is interesting to note that potters David Walters and Ian Glenny, and artists Vim and Tina du Roubaix conceived the idea of the Midlands Meander at Caversham Mill.

On the 28th and 29th September 1987 the flooding Lions River destroyed the mill. This was the result of floodwaters damming up against the stone bridge that had become choked by debris from upstream. Heartbroken at the mill being washed away, David sold the property.

Dr John Buckle then bought Caversham Mill in 1987. John, a chemical engineer from England, established a paper and art restoration business in the studio overlooking the waterfall.

The mill changed hands again in 1994. Two years later, the owners Peter and Faye Cooper started Caversham Mill Restaurant. The restaurant only operated over weekends.

In July 2001, Mark and Marian Macaskill bought the Caversham Mill Restaurant and cottages. They ran a very successful Mediterranean style restaurant from Wednesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner.

And finally in July 2004, Terry and Diana Acres who were already owners of the neighboring property, Impafana Country Cottages, purchased Caversham Mill. They have continued the restaurant on a theme of “Country cuisine with an international flavor: fine dining in an environment of distinction”.

Diana and Terry have also created the Caversham Mill Manor House below the restaurant. The Manor House was designed by top Durban architect Robert Brusse and is approximately 25 years old. It is a spacious 300 sq m and made of stone, wood and glass. Yellow wood front doors open into a gallery with a baronial central fireplace. The mosaic tiling on the floor in this gallery is unique turn-of-the-century and came out of the old Pietermaritzburg Post Office. Three private, luxury suites Lead off from the central gallery and library areas. The elegant lounge has yellow wood beams and a Victorian fireplace.

Thanks to various sources including:

David Walters

The Hodsons: A Family History by Jacquie Yallup

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