Southern Africa Jewish Genealogy SA-SIG
South African Jewish Communities
Editor: Dr Saul Issroff
Copyright © 2003 Saul Issroff, Mike Getz, SAfrica SIG
and Jewishgen Inc.
Date: 8 June 2001
The following text, which was discovered by John Kramer, is copied with permission from
"Cape Colony To-day Illustrated," written by A.R.E. Burton and published in 1907. The book is in the South African Museum Library.
THE FISCAL DIVISION contains 1,653 square miles, and the census division a population of 15,211 white, and 15,187 Coloured. The principal products are wheat, barley, mealies, tobacco, oats, hay, raisins, fruits, hotter, ostrich feathers, horned cattle, ostriches. The annual average rainfall is 864 inches, and the wettest month, March.
Oudtshoorn, lat. S. 33 deg., 85 min., long. E. 22 deg., 13 min, height 1,090 feet. Railway Station and town situated on the Grobbelaar's River. Population white 4145, coloured 4,704. Civil Commissioner and Resident Magistracy. P.O., T.O , and MO.O.
Calitzdorp (Alt. 750 feet.)-Village 34 miles W .N.W. Population white 358, coloured 151. Assistant Resident Magistracy. P0., T.O., and MO.O. Hotels and Churches.
Laingsburg Station 95 miles W.N.W. of Calitzdorp and 213 miles from Cape Town.
Meiring's Poort, P.O., T.O., and M 0.0. at the foot of Meirings Poort Pass over the Zwartberg Range, 24 miles EN.E. of Oudtshoorn.
Schoenian's Hoek, h T.O, and M.O.O., 15 miles N.
The district of Oudtshoorn lies in an expansive valley. The chief feature of the district is the Olifants River, which crosses it from its north-east corner to the south-west. The Divisional town of Oudtshoorn was founded about sixty years ago, and was so called by Mr. I Bergh, then Magistrate of George, of which district Oudtshoorn was a field cornetcy. Mr.Bergh was a descendant of Governor Van Rheede van Oudtshoorn. [The area] is considered the most fertile district in Cape Colony, the soil being known as broken Karoo, which is wonderfully productive when it can be watered. The principal products are ostrich feathers, horses and cattle.
At the auction sales of feathers in 1904, £79,669 was paid for feathers in the district out of a total for the whole Colony of £357 408. Besides ostriches the chief agricultural products are lucerne (which is extensively baled as hay and exported), tobacco, brandy, whipsticks, oranges and other fruit. Deciduous and citrus fruits alike thrive well in the district.
The town contains the usual churches, two synagogues and a Masonic Temple. The Dutch Reformed Church is considered to be one of the finest in the country. The Jewish community is an extensive one, chiefly employed in the feather trade. Among the public institutions are the Farmers' and Fruit Growers' Associations, a Racing Club, cricket, football, tennis and croquet clubs. There is a fine municipal recreation ground. Two newspapers, the Oudtshoorn Courant and the Zuid-Westen. The former, established in May, 1897, is a bilingual organ, and the Zuid-Westen is entirely Dutch.
Oudtshoorn in the olden days, sixty years ago, when the Dutch church was at the lower end of the village near the river, was called Veldschoendorp, and the Oudtshoorn people were looked upon scornfully by the superior Georgians. Oudtshoorn at that time being merely a field cornetcy of George. Before the completion of the Klipplaat railway the outlets northwardly were through the wonderful Meirings Poort Gorge and the Zwartberg Pass, which is one of the finest examples of road construction in the world, leading directly over to the village of Prince Albert. Besides the town of Oudtshoorn, there are in the district the villages of Calitzdorp, on the west, and Dysseldorp on the east, the former is a seat of the sub-Magistracy, and the latter the mission station of the Independent Church.
Excellent marble is found in many parts of the district, several large outcrops being visible in the neighbourhood of Meirings Poort. There is also a large deposit of saltpetre in the neighbourhood of Hazenjacht.
A warm spring near the vicinity, called "The Warm Water," is supposed to be highly mineralised, and to have certain curative properties.
The Oliphants River, near the town, is spanned by an iron bridge, called the Sivewright Bridge, named after the former Commissioner of Public Works. The Grobbelaars River, on the banks of which the town stands, is spanned by the Juta and Olivier Bridge, which connects the east and west banks. On the west bank is the Royal South Western Hospital, an institution of very great usefulness to the surrounding districts, and supported liberally by Government grant, by contributions from the town and Divisional Councils, and by private subscriptions and endowments.
The Oudtshoorn Volunteer Rifle Corps was honoured by a presentation of the King's colours on the occasion of the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York. Oudtshoorn is represented in Parliament by three members. There are several tobacco factories in the town and district, the principal among them being the Cango Tobacco Factory, Messrs. Schanks', Spies Bros. Schoeman Bros., and Prince, Vintcent and Co., and Mr. W. de Jong.
Through the use of irrigation, which has so greatly increased the growth of lucerne and other suitable crops, Oudtshoorn is first on the list of ostrich rearing districts, the total number of local birds being between 80,000 and 90,000. The income from ostrich feathers and birds as a farming business is nearly double that of sheep farming. Ostrich farming has always suited the taste of the Dutch farmers. On nearly all the farms of the Midland and Western Provinces, ostriches are to be found as much or more part or parcel of the stock as horses, cattle, sheep and poultry. Many Cape ostrich farmers have obtained notoriety for the skill and energy they have exhibited in this method of supplying a fashionable demand, and the industry has grown into an important national asset.
Forty years ago systematic ostrich farming was unknown; the wild birds were hunted and killed, and were rapidly becoming extinct; like the golden eggs of the fable, the bird was sacrificed for the sake of the sport it afforded. To the student of gastronomy, the ostrich is an interesting object. His wonderful stomach seems capable of digesting anything he can get down his gullet. You may feed him on crushed maize or bones, chopped lucerne and clover, or broken stones. He does not disdain a 'bonne bouche' of a couple of pocket knives, while a handful of tenpenny nails is a positive delicacy to him. Don't go too near him if you want to retain your glittering diamond breastpin, for he will pluck it out if you give his neck reaching distance, and if he is engaged in assisting his better-half in the process of hatching, which he most thoughtfully does, we should consider he is safest about a quarter of a mile distant. with a good stiff fence between us.
During the time of incubation, the birds are placed in "camps" fenced in. At this time, as indicated, the male bird becomes fierce, and cannot be approached without serious danger. A blow from his double toe has been known to rip a man's body completely open, and at one time the Cape newspapers reported deaths resulting from attacks of ostriches every season. The merest rap on the head will kill the birds, whose feathers and eyes are their only claim to beauty, the latter being extremely beautiful.
The young ostrich chicks grow very quickly, and begin to feed exactly like their parents the minute they emerge from their shells. They are usually put on the veld with the older birds almost immediately, and instinctively keel) very near to their parents for protection against birds of prey who often swoop off with unwary chicks. Nothing is more novel and edifying to a traveller than his first visit to a large ostrich farm.
The farm is divided up into breeding, rearing and farming camps. We came across a pair of parent birds, in a breeding camp, who were taking turns to sit upon a nest of eggs. The hen bird was sitting, and we had been warned to look out for the watchful cock. The hen sat with her long neck stretched on the ground, making herself look as much as possible like one of the great ant heaps that abound in the country. In view of a possible attack by a male ostrich we carried a clump of thorn bush, so that if he charged us, we would hold it to his protruding eyes, which would deter him. "Here he comes, baas," called out Mokoi, and we just had time to put up our bush when the cock came upon us like a racehorse, roaring with fury. His instinct, however, tells him he must not risk his great eyes against the thorns, so he stops, but as we approach the nest, he tries us from side to side. Should he get his head past the bush, we would be quickly knocked down by his foot, and probably maimed with the great toe nail. Accompanied by the farmer, who also had a thorn bush, we remained at a little distance to see what would happen. The cock stalked majestically up to his mate, keeping a backward eye on us all the time. The pair seemed to confer; she rose from the eggs, shook herself well together, dabbed her beak viciously in the ground a few times, and strode away towards a distant camp "to pay afternoon calls," said the farmer. The male bird immediately took her place (setting his face towards us), although his proper time for sitting is at night. We left him in admiration of his devotion. Returning a few hours later, we found he had risen, and was walking about impatiently, craning his neck in every direction, and now and then uttering an irritable cry that seemed very much like ostrich language for "Where is that woman?"
We came to a large yard where the birds are plucked : they were packed so closely that they had no room to kick, and a small bag, or stocking is placed over the bird's head to keep it quiet. The plucking began and the tails and long black and drab feathers were pulled out. The white feathers were cut off and the stumps left for two months, till the quill should be ripe, this being done to get the feather before it was damaged, and the quill left in so as not to injure the socket by pulling it before it was ready to be shed.
The camps vary in size. Those for breeding purposes are but small-from about 25 acres each-larger camps of about 100 acres are reserved for rearing young birds, and large areas from 1,000 to 2,500 acres for farming from 50 to 150 birds respectively.
The conduct of a feather auction sale is very interesting. There are features about it different to ordinary auctions. For instance, a sale we attended was composed entirely of buyers. The feathers had been entrusted to the auctioneer as broker, and he represented most of the owners. Although the audience was most orderly, it was the keenest gathering imaginable. Jewish buyers in force, with a few slim farmers in opposition, and the cutest possible auctioneer in command. There were probably £8,000 worth of feathers for sale, so it was a fairly big sale. The first regulation read out was that there should be a reserve price on all feathers, and that they should be sold to the highest bidder above that price. The decision of the auctioneer was always to be final in case of dispute, and all sales were for spot cash (nobody trusts anybody in the feather business). The attendance at a sale can only be secured by the introduction of an auctioneer and broker, a compound avocation, and from a local bank, and any person, other than the owner or the buyer, who wishes to attend must first be properly introduced by the broker or a responsible buyer. There were only three English firms represented.
Most of the feathers in the district are sold out of hand, while they are on the bird- sometimes three months in advance. The broker whose sale we attended informed us that his sales averaged over £60,000 a year. The profits made by individual farmers are enormous. One farmer lately contracted to sell to a local buyer the whole of his stock of feathers representing the plucking of 2,000 ostriches, at £6 per bird. This was only one of several interests that he had. His tenants pay him £3,000 a year. Besides all this he has a large vineyard and orchard, and makes a lot of money out of dried fruit.
In SAFRICA Digest for Sunday 26 November 2000, E. Goldstein firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
OUDTSHOORN AND THE OSTRICH FEATHER INDUSTRY
I found the following information at the site mentioned below:
"Oudtshoorn is located in an arid region relieved by flowing rivers and irrigated agriculture, called the Little Karoo. During the Victorian Era, Oudtshoorn was the center of the ostrich feather industry for the world's fashion markets. The women of Europe and America adored elaborate hats decorated with prime ostrich feathers. This generated vast wealth for the ostrich barons and the revenue that poured into this region helped build 'feather palaces,' several of which survive.
After World War I, with the popularity of the automobile, the demand for large feathery hats disappeared. Because of the low head room in hard tops, and the impossible combinations of convertibles and feathered hats, high fashion gave way to sensibility. The ostrich traders went bankrupt.
Today, demand for ostrich feathers comes from the theatrical world (boas) and house cleaners (feather dusters). Ostrich skins are used for expensive shoes, hand bags and purses, commanding prices comparable to the highly prized (in some circles!) skins of baby crocs. Ostrich steaks are in demand in Europe. Ostrich meat is red meat, but leaner than chicken. The massive hollow ostrich eggs (with a capacity equivalent to 27 hen eggs) provide 'canvasses' on which local artists paint, everything from 'cave drawings' to Mickey Mouse."
Prior to 2003, a related text was available at www.mgmtconsult.com/journal__page_9.htm.]
In SAFRICA Digest for Sunday 26 November 2000,
Len Yodaiken email@example.com wrote:
About Oudtshoorn -
I have come into this discussion in the middle so I do not know if the 100th anniversary booklet issued by the Jewish Community has been mentioned. This is a 50 page booklet whose value to genealogists is mainly in its lists of community members and office holders,
There was one branch of my family, the Issermans who farmed Ostrich Feathers and exported them to a brother in Philadelphia, who did the marketing, other than that I know precious little about the place.