Norval's Pont Concentration Camp & Cemetery in Gariep Rural, Eastern Cape
If there was a model camp in the ORC (Orange River Colony) system, it was Norval's Pont. It was located on the banks of the Orange River, South Africa’s longest river, which ensured an ample water supply and plenty of wood from the bush on the river banks. As the name suggests, Norval's Pont was a crossing on the Orange River but the camp, although on the railway line, was isolated from any towns.
- People in this camp 5192
- People who died in this camp 494
Lieutenant St John Cole Bowen
If anyone could be described as the hero of the camps, it was Lieutenant St John Cole Bowen, the first civilian superintendent. Norval's Pont was one of those camps, like Aliwal North, Kimberley and Orange River Station which was in the Cape Colony, although it formed part of the ORC complex.
- Norval's Pont was probably established about November 1900, in order to relieve the overcrowded Bloemfontein camp with its dire shortage of water.
- The first superintendents, both military men, seem to have been capable people; Lieutenant Wynne of the Imperial Yeomanry was described as the ‘Father of the Camp’ and he was succeeded in January 1901 by Major du Plat Taylor of the Grenadier Guards, who instilled ‘firm military discipline’.
- At the end of February 1901 when the camp passed into civilian control, Cole Bowen was appointed. He was of Irish extraction, a fact which may have given him some sympathy for the Boers. His ability ensured that he did not remain at Norval's Pont and Cole Bowen was later appointed as a travelling inspector. Almost everyone who encountered him commented on his calm efficiency. Emily Hobhouse wrote later that Cole Bowen possessed ‘marked administrative powers; his rule was firm, just and kind and he seemed possessed of unlimited resources’.
- After the war Cole Bowen became a resident magistrate in the Free State, spending his life amongst the Boers whom he had served in the camps.
It was not that Norval's Pont lacked the problems of the other camps. On the contrary, the measles epidemic struck early and was followed by scarlet fever and diphtheria. Families poured in without warning and tents and blankets ran out. And, with all these struggles, Cole Bowen had to contend with an unpleasant medical officer. Some people deserted and Cole Bowen was forced to fence in those who were a ‘bad influence’. Nor did Cole Bowen show overt sympathy for the Boers. When Miss Malherbe was sent to run the hospital, he considered her a troublemaker.
‘Immediately on her arrival, she at once took up the cudgels on behalf of the refugees, and insisted on the fact that they were most cruelly treated in all Refugee Camps and went out of her way to go down the lines to persuade them of this fact. She used her influence to persuade people not to allow their children to come to hospital, and to have no confidence in the Medical Officer. She even informed Dr Scarlett upon her arrival that she had better take great care of how she treated her (Miss Malherbe), as she said that she (Miss Malherbe) had power to make the people love her or hate her (Dr Scarlett) at will. Further, she did everything in her power to insult and annoy Miss Broers, and I felt that some strong decisive measure was necessary.’
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