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History of the Hot Springs



Article 1 | Article 2 | Article 3 | Article 4

The discovery of these thermal springs dates back to the early history of the Colony, when the first trekkers spread out to locate the easiest gradients for their lumbering wagons over the mountains to the first plateau beyond. Naturally they sought the river routes, and naturally, too, the most accessible of these passes found favour. Cogman's Kloof, as it is now known, is about the easiest of them all in the West, until midway in the pass a most formidable barrier is encountered, in the shape of a tall rock that juts out from the regular formation on the right bank. This rock, which has been tunnelled through, has been found of the utmost strategic value of late years, the blockhouse still remaining on top to overlook the road through the pass, as it does up and down, for 1000 yards. The quart size formation imparts to the descending river a sharp double twist, and in flood times dams back the stream by the severe curtailment of the outlet, producing a "boiling pot" below almost as awe-inspiring as that in the Zambezi under the Falls. A mile or so above this barrier the gorge opens out on the plain on which Montagu now stands, and away to the left of the village the gorge closes in again in the manner described in Article 1.

It stands among local tradition that one of the earliest trekkers injured his hand whilst extricating his wagon that had become jammed in between rocks in the bed of the river whilst negotiating that natural barrier. So much was it hurt that it festered, and the party outspanned on the first expanse of the veld they reached - now the Montagu Commonage. The water had a most unusual taste, and all who drank of it found it was strangely invigorating even to the hardy set of men. Our invalid noting too, that the water was warm, followed it up to its source, not far off ; and where the fountain bubbled out of the rock he inserted his hand, and hey! Presto! he quickly withdrew it again - it was hot! He carried the news back to the moveable camp, which was consequently shifted on the site of Mr. Burger's farm. Dipping his wounded hand again and again, the trekker rejoiced in having his wound quickly healed, and the fame of the fountain was established. It appears to have been known to, and visited by, the Hottentots and Bushmen for a long period before the advent of the white man, as the countless spoors in the soft sand and mud testified ; and to this day a special carving in the rock where the spring overflows has been reserved for the natives in which to have their rheumatic limbs or neuralgic heads. They come from all parts within a radius of fifty miles ; and what has so long been found most beneficial to the aborigines is now being suitable recognised by their civilised superiors.

The first grant of land made hereabout by Government to the trekkers, who settled beside this wonderful stream, was given - according to the original deed of gift - the common but appropriate name of Uitvlucht, and to almost countless numbers it has been a "Retreat" - to the jaded and broken down in health, who have gone away to bless it and it's discoverer. We next are able to trace that it became possessed of the Kerkraad of Swellendam, who bought it for a mere song - not the fiftieth part of the value that its new owners attach to it as a property to be placed at the disposal of suffering humanity in the five Colonies. The Swellendam Kerkraad made a free gift of the property to the Dutch Reformed church with a view to the laying out of a township, and Montagu, with Government authority, in course of time became and established community, the bulk of the land being devoted to Commonage, with grazing rights for the householders. The small estate of 7 morgen 485 square roods, in which the baths are situated, was later sold by the D.R. Church, and the first transfer of which any legal record has been kept is dated 1855 - more than 50 years ago, but it changed hands many times before and since that time, the reputation of the healing properties of the waters spreading as time proceeded, although the news travelled slowly, owning either to the want of capital or the energy on the part of the successive owners.

Analytical reports whenever obtained, always pointed to the very high medicinal and curative value of the waters, some pronouncing them unequaled anywhere in South Africa, even by those of Caledon. Next the authentic records show that a Rev. Keets, Dutch Reformed Minister, after visiting the fountain, had such a liking for it that he bought it in order that he might send his much afflicted mother there to cure her of her rheumatism. And she was cured very speedily! Having obtained his object Rev. Keets sold the property again to a man called Miller from Robertson, who in turn transferred it to Mr. P.B. Moller of Robertson, who enhanced the value of the springs, and is said to have cleared a good round sum over the transaction. Next a Mr. Gregan acquired it, and raised the price of the property ; crowds meanwhile in the course of the year making it the Mecca of their pilgrimages from all parts, specially from the coast, where dwellers by the sea became susceptible to all the rheum's resulting from the prevalence of South-Easters - and high living!

All this while the Baths remained very much what Nature had made them, the crudest receptacles or hollows in rock and sand being deemed sufficient to collect the hot water for the use of the sick. The first to do something to make the bathing operations more tolerable to the invalids was the famous Mr. J.H. Marais, of Stellenbosch, who spent some money in building the Bathhouse and baths. From him Mr. J. O'Connor of Ashton Railway Hotel purchased it, and he invested a great deal more capital to make the property an attraction to the village, and remunerative to himself. But the fates were against him ; and after holding it for nine years the syndicate he formed to develop the baths fell through, and the financial strain proved to be more than he could bear. Here then was the opportunity which Mr. Fred Dawson, General Manager, seized on behalf of the NCCR Company and during his recent visit to England the directors of the company and others interested were interviewed, the necessary capital was raised to purchased the property, and remodel the baths and the boardinghouse, and to endeavour to conquer the difficulties arising out of the situation of the springs and their contiguity to the river bed, which former owners had been unable to cope with. What the company are doing will form the subject of another article.