By the early 1800’s, the 10 000 Boer farmers who had settled on the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony, where becoming increasingly disenchanted with the British Colonial Government. Appeals to address, among other things, were the continual interference in their affairs by the Colonial Government, the ongoing raids on their farms by the Xhosa and the long delay in being granted self-government. When these appeals continued to fall on deaf ears, the Boer leaders decided that the only option open to them was move inland, as far away from British influence as possible.
One of the Boer leaders, a farmer/businessman by the name of Piet Retief was given the task of compiling the “trekkers manifesto.” The document stressed the Boers desire for freedom, their desire to lead a more peaceful life and their pledge to avoid depriving anyone of their land. So, in late 1836, Retief led the main party of ‘trekkers’ out of Grahamstown and into an unknown and uncertain future.
The trekker party that assembled in the Beaufort West area and which eventually joined the main trekker group at Colesburg, comprised of most of the farmers from the area. Among this group was the Marais family. Led by their father G.S. Marais, the party also included his sons, Sarel and Jan. At that stage, Sarel was 22 years old. Also in the group where the Schmidt family and their two daughters, one of whom was named Hemien.
As far as can be established, the family stayed with the main trekker group until Retief decided to settle in Natal. By this time Sarel had married Hermien Schmidt and Jan had married the other Scmidt daughter. The brothers and their families decided to trek into the Transvaal arriving there in the mid-1800’s. After spending some time in the Potchefstroom area they eventually moved to the Witwatersrand. Jan Bought the farm Doornkloof, the site of the present day Suikerboschrand Nature Reserve and Sarel bought the western portion of the farm Rietvlei. Today this farm forms a large portion of the area comprising the Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve.
Like the Tswana who had previously lived in the area, Sarel Marais had acquired a veritable Garden of Eden. Ample grazing, fertile soil, plenty of water and an abundance of game. The site that Sarel and his wife selected for their homestead, faced west and had an unobstructed view of the Bloubossspruit. The back of the homestead snuggled into the base of a ‘koppie.’ While the ground to the south, being lush grassland, was ideal for cultivation and grazing.
Sarel constructed the farm house, ruins of the house can still be seen in the southern part of the reserve, from bricks made from clay that was found locally. The roof was thatched and supported by yellow wood timbers and the ceiling was also constructed of wood. The floors were made of the traditional mixture of mud and cow dung. After finishing the house, Sarel started building a wagon shed. The construction of the shed differed from that used on the house, in that the walls were built from rocks to a level of about a metre, with large clay blocks being laid on the rocks, to roof height. The roof of the wagon shed was also thatched and supported by yellow wood beams. The remains of the wagon shed can also be seen in the south of the reserve.
Near the wagon shed are two large rocks that have been placed vertically into the ground. They indicate the entrance to the walled orchard. Most of the trees in the orchard were peach trees. Apart from the fruit that was either dried or preserved a large portion was also used to produce Sarels’ excellent peach brandy. The orchard was irrigated from a weir that was erected across the spruit. Water was channeled to an earth dam and then into the orchard.
Sarel and Hermien had 13 children and as they prospered they were able to employ a teacher, who lived on the farm. Children from the area also attended classes at the Marais farm. Hermien Marais died in the early 1800’s and Sarel died in 1893 age 79. About 500 metres north of the farm house is the Marais family cemetery. Seventeen members of the Marais family are buried in the stone walled area. There are a further 56 unmarked graves, on the northern side of the cemetery, outside the wall. These graves are thought to be those of farm labourers.
After Sarel’s death the farm was taken over by the Marais's eighth child, Jakob. He continued farming until 1914 when he sold the farm to the Quilliam family. Stories have it that Jakob remained on the farm as a “bywoner.” Quilliam built a large milking shed and a cooling shed. At one stage there were reputed to be over 10 000 pigs on the property. The farm remained in the Quilliam family until 1939 when it was sold to the Johannesburg City Council.
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