Monday, July 22, 2013

My De Beer side of the family.

My De Beer side of the family .

Star of Africa Diamond.

Johannes Nicolaas de Beer

The de Beer name is internationally know because of the De Beer Mining Company of South Africa.
Diamonds were first discovered in the mid 1860's on the farm "Vooruitzicht" near Kimberly South Africa .The farm belonged to two de Beer brothers Diederick Arnoldus de Beer  and Johannes Nicolaas de Beer. In  October 1871  they sold the farm for 6,800.00 British Pounds not realizing the wealth that was buried beneath the earth. Nine years later on the first of April 1880 the 28 year old Cecil John Rhodes formed the De Beer Mining Company that today produces more than two thirds of the world's diamond. The de Beer brothers disappeared from history but not  their name .
The first  de Beer who arrived in South Africa was Matys Andres de Beer . He landed in the Cape of Good Hope in 1698.

My  Great -Grandmother Wilhelmina Christina (Hattingh) de Beer
1/21/1855 -10/4 /1940.Here she is photographed with her son Christian (Chrisjan) Petrus de Beer.

Zack ( my grandfather) and his bother Dicky de Beer.

My Grandfather Zach de Beer on the left and his brother Dicky de Beer on the right.
This photo was taken in Colesburg 1914 a year before he married my grandmother Kitty Vorster.

 My Grandfather  Zacharias Andreas de Beer was born on the farm "Kareebosch" near Murraysburg in the Cape Province .His father ,also Zacharias Andreas, died at the age of 42  in 1890, when my grandfather was four years old. They were six children and his mother had to take care of her family as a single parent .My Grandfather ended up in Colesberg where he and his brother Dicky worked as mechanics .

 My Great- Grandfather  Zacharias Andreas de Beer

My  Great Grandparents  parents on the other side were Charel Jakob Vorster 1863-1933 and Margaretha Johanna Du Plessis 1864-1910. They were married May 23 1887.


My Grandmother Kitty on the left, photographed after the Boer War in Colesberg  ,with her sister's Nellie and Miemie.

The Australian  Regiment

The Boers
During the Boer War of 1899-1902  one of the first battles of the war was fought at Rensburg Station in the Colesberg district ,between the Australian Regiment and the Boers.
 Colesburg is located in  the Cape Provence and was not part of the two Boer Republics ,the Transvaal and the Orange Free State , that were at war with Britain. My  Great-Grandfather Charel Vorster supplied the Boer Commandos with horses but had to leave his farm "Kleinfontein" when the British troupes commandeered it for their headquarters. They were told that they could use a few rooms to lock up their belongings...
The family then moved to a neighboring farm "Brandwag" where the rented a house from the farmer Johannes van Rensburg.  A while later my Great Grandfather was arrested by the British but set free after a while as they could not get enough evidence against him for a conviction.  As my Great- Grandfather was a British subject he would be a traitor if he fought on the Boer side, or helped the Boer Commandos against the British Army and be sentenced to death.( After the war, 10 Boers were shot by the British Government for treason ,one in Colesberg and nine in Graaf Reinet.)
My Great Grandmother went back to their farm one day to look for some corn and found that the rooms that they stored their stuff were broken into and that her harmonium stood under a tree in the garden. While her mother and older sisters were looking for things to salvage, my Grandmother's sister Miemie started playing "My Bonnie lies over the ocean" on the harmonium Soon the British soldiers gathered around her and  paid her sixpence every time to keep on playing the same tune over and over. Being far from home these boys were homesick, fighting a war in a far away land.
Soon rumors of the horrid conditions in the concentration camps and farms being destroyed by the British Army reached their ears and the Vorster family decided to move north  into the Boer Territories.
The family arrived in  Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State on March 2 1900 in two horse driven spiders.As the British Army soon after advanced onto  Bloemfontein ,they moved on to Pretoria.
My Great Grandfather joined the Boer Commando in Bloemfontein  and my great Grandmother with the children continued onto Pretoria alone .They spent the night in one of the open cattle cars and they train left after midnight .They arrived in Pretoria on March 14th 1901.
In Pretoria they started going to school again and hoped that life would return to normal.
My grandmother Kitty ,who was about 9 years old  remembered walking past Paul Kruger's home in Pretoria to school and seeing the old President sitting on the porch .She was more impressed with the guards in front of the house that the dour old guy on the porch.

President Paul Kruger sitting on the stoep.. 

After three months in Pretoria they had to pack once again and joined by several other Boer families, they went by ox wagon to the border of Mozambique and there boarded a train to take them to Lourenco Marques.
By this time my Great Grandfather had joined up with his family again as the Boers found him unfit for service. As he was deaf they almost shot him one night after he did not hear the guard ask for the password. The family was thrilled  having their father back with them moving into a foreign land.

President Paul Kruger.

 Rickshaw -Lourenco Marques -Mozambique 1900
 On the 23 of September 1900 they arrived with several hundred other refugees but got separated from the rest of the party at the train station in Lourenco Marques. My Great-Grandfather, Charel was deaf and missed the announcement of where they should meet up with the rest of the party. .A South African Afrikaans speaking lady Mrs. Doris Maria d'Anzinhoes who was married to a wealthy Portuguese business man ,was passing in a rickshaw. She heard of their plight and invited the Vorster family to stay in her house where she gave them rooms in their mansion. They rented  several rooms that had doors onto a porch. Some of the young Portuguese men would throw pebbles with love notes attached onto the porch to get the attention of my Grandmother's two older stepsisters, Sannie and Johanna .
In 1901  at the age of 37 my Great- Grandmother gave birth to a  little girl in Mozambique that they named after their benefactor Doris Maria d'Anzinhoes . They stayed there for five months .
 By this time the British Government was pressurizing the Portuguese to deliver the Boer refugees to them. As this war was not  popular in the eyes of the rest of the world , the Portuguese refused, and send the refugees to Portugal  at great expense. They were supplied with warm shoes and clothes for the trip into the European winter.

On September 11 1900 , the previous year , President Paul Kruger arrived in Lourenco Marques .After a stay of a few weeks he left for Europe on a ship of the Dutch Royal Navy sent by the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina. He died in Clarens Switzerland on 14 July 1904. His body was embalmed and first buried in The Hague Netherlands. He was reburied on the 16th of December 1904 in the Heroes' Acre of the Church Street cemetery in Pretoria.

The corvette "Alfonso de Albuquerque "
One of the three ships that transported the Boer families to Portugal.

 Boer families waiting on the Lourenco Marques harbor, to board the ships to Portugal 1901.

Play in Portuguese about the war between Boer and Brit.

"Undesirables" were men and women of the Cape Colony who sympathized  with the two Boer Republics at war with Britain and who were therefore considered undesirable by the British. These internees were burghers and their families who had withdrawn across the frontier to Lourenco Marques before that advancing British Forces and had finally arrived in Lisbon where they were  interned. On March 27 1901 650 Boer soldiers arrived on the on the ship "Benguela". A week later came the "Zaire" with a group of 56 women and 172 children. On the following day the Portuguese corvette "Alfonso de Albuquerque" disimbarqued 10 Boers. In total 1260 adults and 173 children came to Lisbon to detention in custody?
My grandmother and her family traveled on the "Zaire" to Lisbon. According to reports the ship was not very clean and the  Portuguese food  was too oily for  the Boer's palette. They traveled up the east coast of Africa through the Suez Canal .My grandmother remembers  seeing Mount Vesuvius in the distance.
Both their parents were very ill on the voyage and my Great Grandmother could not nurse her baby .A week before they reached Lisbon ,on March 28 1901 ,their two month old baby girl Doris died. The little body was buried at sea early in the morning.
My Great Grandfather was in a semi coma and one of the Portuguese ship men would sit with him during the nigh saying "Ja Oom" (Yes Uncle) to my Great Grandfather's delirium .It was most probably the only Afrikaans words he knew. The journey  must have been a nightmare for the family. 

Queen Leonor's statue in Caldas da Rainha Portugal

Arriving in Portugal they were send to Caldas da Rainha a town about 50 miles north of Lisbon, close to  the Atlantic  ocean. It was founded in the 15th century by Queen Leonor who established a hospital on the site of some therapeutic hot springs. The Hospital Termal Rainha D. Leonor is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in the world with five centuries of history .
The city's name means "Queen's Hot Springs" or "Queen's Spa".

Caldas da Rainha Spa Hospital and barracks.

Praca D Republica - Caldas da Rainha

Praca D Maria Pia - Caldas da Rainha

Park and lake in Caldas da Rainha.

Monastery of Alcobaca

380 Boers were housed in a old fort in Peniche and another 376 men in a monastery in Alcobaca . 320 men, women and children stayed in Caldas da Rainha. They were welcomed by the locals shouting  "Long live the Boers" and pelted  them with flower petals. The Boer families  were given shelter in the spa to start with .My Great Grandfather was treated there until he was well again.
When summer came they had to vacate the spa as the tourists were coming to "take the waters" .The families were then  moved to the nearby barracks and the spa hospital. Most families, as well as the Vorster by then had rented private houses and lived  there .They were allowed freedom of movement and could change housing ,if desired. The Boers were seen as prisoners of war, but were not kept , nor confined to their camps but had to report to their guards twice a day. The Boer internees did not organize many leisure time activities although a few concerts were presented and religious festivals were observed. As they enjoyed considerable freedom , long walks and excursions were popular .They often played cricket and football while target shooting was a popular as pastime. In Caldas da Rainha the Boers could frequent attend bull fights as well. The relationship between the Boers and the Portuguese were very cordial so it was only natural that close friendships were formed, and three young Boers married Portuguese women.

Avellino Belo Ceramic Art.

Caldas da Rainha was well know for it ceramics and there were several designers working in this medium. A very talented artist Avellino Belo admired the Boers and their plight very much and honored them with his work .He designed water pitchers and one was sent to President Paul Kruger in Clarens Switzerland - somebody he admired very much. For Christmas of 1901 he manufactured several terracotta medals honoring the Boers. It had the face of President Paul Kruger on the front as well as the emblems of Caldas da Rainha, Portugal ,the Orange  Free State and the Transvaal  on each of the four corners. They were sold to collect money to help some of the Boer families.
One of them are in the Paul Kruger Home Museum in Pretoria  today.

Kruger Honor Medal. Caldas da Rainha "Natale de 1901"

During the Vorster's stay in Caldas da Rainha another tragedy struck .Their seven year old son Charel Jacob Vorster died of the fever he caught in Lourenco Marques . They lost two children in one year .Here is a photo of the body, as well as the key of his coffin.

The grieving Vorster family photographed in Caldas da Rainha Portugal after the death of their son.
My Grandmother Kitty center - photographed with her parents, sister Miemie above and her brother Wiekus below .Her two stepsisters Sannie and Johanna are beside her .
My Great- Grandmother is pregnant with their daughter Nellie and would have another daughter Anna , after they returned to South Africa.
The children went to school daily and their education was not neglected. They had two Dutch teachers .Here is a photo of the  School children of Boer Families in Caldas da Rainha. My grandmother and her two sister are on this photo as well .

Photo taken in Caldas da Rainha  Portugal 1901-1902
My Great- Grandfather Charel  Jakob Vorster on the left (x marks the spot)

Boers arrival in Caldas da Rainha .

Boer families photographed in Caldas da Rainha.

Reception for Boers in Caldas da Rainha ."Tot Wederziens"

Boer families rented houses or stayed in hotels.

Statue of a  "black amour".

Mrs.. Doris d'Azinhoes came from Mozambique to visit them while they were in Portugal and my grandmother told us that she was a sensation with her little "black amour" who walked behind her and carried the train of her dress. She invited them to dinner at the hotel.

Dining room of the Grand Hotel  

Letter sent to the Grand Hotel in Caldas da Rainha addressed to a South African prisoner of war.

The younger kids learned some  Portuguese , and my grandmother's sister Miemie, at the ripe age of 80 + could still tell you that she would kick you in the ass in Portuguese!
Shortly after the peace treaty was signed , May 31 1902 ,between the British and the Boers , these prisoners and interned civilians were allowed to return home on the British War Ship " Bavaria " after hey signed a document of allegiance  to the British Crown.. By August of 1902 the majority returned to South Africa.

 In 1913 the government of the Union of South Africa had a central monument erected in the English cemetery in Lisbon for those internees who were laid to rest in Portugal. My grandmother's little brother, Charel Jakob Vorster's name is also on that monument.

Boer War Monument. St George's Cemetery. Lisbon. Portugal.

The British War Ship "The "Bavaria"

Algoa Bay- Port Elizabeth


The ship left Lisbon on the July 19 1902  and they traveled down the west coast of Africa .The trip back home was fun and less stressful than  leaving home .Reaching Cape Town on  the 4th of August the men were taken prison and sent to Simon's Town .The women stayed on the ship and reached Algoa Bay or Port Elizabeth on August 7  1902.  "The Bavaria" could not enter the harbor so the women and children had to climb down rope ladders into the little row boats .They were taken  to a concentration camp and housed there for 20 days.
On the 27 of August my Great Grandmother and the children boarded the train for Colesburg. Arriving there they were welcomed by my great Grandfather's sister with a warm meal and comfortable beds.She told them that my Great Grandfathers had arrived in Colesberg but he was in prison. The next day my grandmother and her sister took him food and they were thrilled to see each other again. After a few months he was set free and after three years away and minus two children lost , the family returned to their home and had to start from scratch.

 My Great- Grandmother died in 1910 at the age of 44 .She was still a young woman but the sorrow of her two kid's deaths hastened her passing .This is a photo taken of the family after her death .
Kitty ( My Grandmother) ,Miemie, Nellie, Wiekus, Great Grandfather and Anna.

My Great Grandfather Vorster with his daughters Miemie and Anna.

Anna Vorster  (Robinson) at her wedding 1933 .
Her sister Miemie's daughter, Rita van der Walt was bridesmaid.

A couple of years later my grandmother Kitty attended the Teachers College in Graaf Reinet. While there she started loosing her hearing like her father. Deafness was in the family, but one night when she had ear ache a fellow student poured some warm oil into her ear and she felt that was the beginning of her hearing loss. The students lived in Reinet House that is a museum today .
Around this time she met Zack de Beer who with his brother Dicky worked in a Colesburg garage as mechanics. They fell in love and got married in a double celebration when my Grandfather's brother Dicky ,married my Grandmother's stepsister Lettie Lombard . After my Great- Grandmother died in 1910  my Great- Grandfather had married the widow Lombard.

 A postcard my grandfather Zach sent to his betrothed , Kitty my grandmother .
Zack and Kitty de Beer on their wedding day
 with Dicky de Beer  and Lettie Lombard at the back..
December 27 1915  Colesburg.
My grandparents had 8  living children within 14 years. Zackie born in 1918. Charel, Willa, Rina ( my mother) Miemie ,Meyer ,Koos and Hanna the youngest in 1932.
Their first child, a daughter named after my Grandmother's mother as the custom was, died in Rhodesia at the age of 2 months of spina bifida. Miemie was a twin but her twin sister died at birth. Between Koos and Hanna a little boy, Wiekus named after his uncle, died at 8 months of bronchitis.

Zackie, Koos, Rina, Miemie ,Willa, Meyer, Boet.
Oupa Zack , Hanna ,Ouma Kitty.

Zackie, Meyer, Koos + Boet  (Charel) Christmas 1948.

 Rina (my mother) Willa, Hanna, Miemie with my grandmother taken in Pankhurst Johannesburg July 1951.

My Grandparents with their first six grandchildren,
Oupa Zack with Charline, Henry (me) , Rina ,Ouma Kitty with Andre.
Shani and Neil at the back.
This photo was taken in 1950 when they lived on the farm Welgegund near Potchefstroom.
My grandfather built this house.

Welgegund house plan.

My mother ,center of the photo. in her final  year at Hugenote High School Springs 1940.

Miemie and Rina
 My mother Rina (Catharina Magdalena after her mother) is the second eldest daughter and their fourth child. She was born 12 March 1924 in Krugersdorp  .
The family moved around from Colesburg,  Rhodesia, Krugersdorp to Springs and Potchefstroom.

Ouma Kitty holding my mother Rina ,with Boet, Zackie, Willa 1924

Ouma Kitty, Willa, Zackie ,Rina .
Three friends in the middle row.
 Meyer, Koos and Hanna.

Zackie, Rina, Meyer, Koos and Hanna with  their cousin Chrissie Minnie in white on the left.

Willa ,Hanna, Rina, Miemie 1935

Boet  (Charel) giving his fist pay check to my grandparents .
He started working as an intern in woodwork at the age of fifteen.

Zackie,Boet, Willa, Rina, Hanna, Meyer en Koos.

Willa ,Ouma, Miemie ? Boet Koos Hanna Meyer.

The De Beer Family around 1960.
I am standing to my grandmother's right wearing a white shirt and tie.

Ouma Kitty and some of her grandchildren.


My 92 year old Grandmother Kitty with her 8 children taken at my sister Carin's wedding in 1981.
Meyer, Zackie ,Koos ,Charel (Boet)
Willa, Rina. Miemie + Hanna.

My grandparents lived with I us when I was around 12 years .Hanna was unmarried then and lived with them as well .After my grandfather passed on my grandmother lived with us for several years. I got to know her very well .By the time I knew her she could hear better using a hearing aid and was more talkative. My mother said they grew up in a silent house as my grandmother only spoke when necessary but could read their lips. She was a great reader and had a great general knowledge .People that did not know her thought she was snobbish and unfriendly, but her deafness set her apart for so many years that it was difficult for her to communicate once she had a hearing aid.
I remember her pronouncing  the play "Faust" as"  Fost" .I used to pronounce it the German way and could never understand why she said Fost and not Faust .Later I realized that was the way the French pronounced it. She never made light conversation. One always learn something when sitting down with her. She was the eternal teacher.
I remember being in the living room with the family when my grandmother walked into the room .All of her children ,sons as well as daughters and in laws ,got up from their chairs and waited for her to sit before they sat down again. They had great respect for her. The de Beer family could very easily be with each other without talking - sitting together in total silence .Even today I notice it when they are around. When I call , and my mother has a her sister Willa and brothers Koos and Meyer visiting her , I jokingly ask if they are speaking or just sitting there  gazing into space. More than not my mother will say "oh we are just sitting and talking a little....."
Both my grandparents were very religious and led pious lives. Ouma Kitty  would talk to me about her love for Christ and pushed me to take my religion serious. When my parents went to church on  Sunday evenings she would play the piano and we would all sing religious songs.

Me and my Grandmother Kitty .

I have a letter that she wrote me after she saw a outfit that I designed in a newspaper. She told me how disappointed she was that I showed too much of the woman's body. She said I must realize I will influence many people in the way they dress but I must remember that my action will be judged one day. My poor mother had to draw the necklines higher on some of the dresses or make the longer before she showed them to her......She was very serious but had a good sense of humor and she had a belly laugh that would send the tears streaming down her face if she found something funny. All her daughters inherited that and I will see my mother, and her sister Willa ( both in their 90's ) laugh about something stupid until the tears are running down their cheeks. Miemie was the same, and Hanna-  before her amnesia, as well.


My grandfather Zack was a quite and a gentle soul .He could get very cross if you misbehaved but he was a very kind and lovable man. Both my grandmothers, as well as my mother, married men who were less educated than them but who had smarts and did well.
Oupa Zack would cut his food into small pieces and take his time eating. When he was done his plate was as clean as a whistle . He could work with his hands and made us a beautiful bird cage as well as a chair for my mother .He could fix anything! All four of his sons loved carpentry and two of them made their living doing it. At night he would listen to the news on the radio and then to the church service. In their bedroom was an embroidered framed verse from the Bible.
" God ken alleen die regte pad ,wat uitloop op die Hemelstad ".
(God alone knows the way to the Heavenly City )
They lived their lives accordingly.

 Before I left for the USA in 1983 , I went to visit my Grandmother in Springs where she was living in the same retirement community where my mother lives now. It is run by the Dutch Reformed Church and my mother owns her apartment there. I took my Grandmother a mohair blanket for her knees and we had a nice visit. She teased me when we both became tearful at saying goodbye. I saw her once again in1987 when I returned to South Africa for my first visit. By this time she had been in a coma for three year , but came out of it .She passed on a year later.


My Grandmother Kitty lived to the ripe old age of 96 and my Grandfather Zack to 74
They where buried together in Springs.

My Grandmother Kitty with her sisters .
Anna, Nellie, Kitty ,Miemie and Johanna.
This was taken the day of my Grandfather's funeral  June 9 1962

Ouma Kitty's 80th birthday June 28 1971 .Her younger sister Nellie is next to her.

This an article that appeared in the newspaper about the de Beer family
This was photo was taken the day of my father's funeral .
My mother surrounded by her brothers and sister.
Since then Zackie, Boet and Miemie has passed away.
(Double click on the photo to read)


  1. This is great! Thank you! Petr

  2. Hank, a truly amazing family story, thank you for this testimonial with details and photos. I keep a blog on Mozambique (where I grew up) and came across the odissey of the Boer families in Portugal in 1900-1902 and wrote (in portuguese) about it a few years ago. But your account far surpasses it. What a story! You must be proud of the overcoming of so many adversities by your family. Thanks, Antonio

    1. Dear Antonio. Thanks for your kind words.It is good to know where we come from .I live in New York now and far from South Africa.Is your blog all in Portuguese? I would love to read it.

  3. Afternoon... Was wondering if you that created this story online can contact me please... I have a few quick questions

  4. Hello Petr, len de Beer here, thank you for keeping a record. I live and teach in Venezuela but come from the same family line as you. Matys Andries. Sterkte broer! Ons het nog steeds n huis in Nelspruit en verlang baie huis toe. len