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History of the Hot Springs



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From the evidence I have been able to gather it would seem that not half a dozen articles would exhaust the record of cures brought about by immersions in Montagu hot baths - cures in some instances simply miraculous. Of these the whole of the residents of the village are witnesses, and the facts are indisputable. They have seen men, women, children brought up those dusty roads from Ashton Station, or across the Karoo ; and the helpless cripples have thrown away their crutches, or disposed of conveyances, and in evident supreme delight! But first the testimony of the leading scientist of the Colony as to the curative properties of these springs. I have before me the report of Dr. Marloth, Ph.D., M.A., Professor of Chemistry, who visited this modern Pool of Siloam in 1903, for the purpose of thoroughly satisfying himself upon all points. In his report the learned gentleman asserts that from his personal observation and analysis he has come to the conclusion that all the springs at Montagu gorge are merely separate outlets of one main springs. The water he found to have a temperature of 112.3 degs. above blood heat. It is beautifully clear and colourless, quite inodourous, and although hot, of a pleasant and refreshing taste. This is due to the fact the it is over saturated with gas, for as the experiments have shown, the water holds 20% more gas in solution than corresponds to its temperature, while a further excess of gas constantly escapes together with the water at the springs. This super-saturation is a special feature of this spring which renders its use for bathing particularly pleasant and useful.

The composition of the water places this spring in the group in which Buxton in Derbyshire, Pfaffers in Switzerland, and Gastin in Austria belong. These watering places are much frequented in cases of rheumatism, chronic gout, paralysis of the body or limbs, mental overexertion, and general nervous exhaustion ; and it is in such cases that the Montagu Baths have proved themselves so efficient. But the water could be used not only on the spot, but also bottled and sent to any distance. When charged with carbonic acid gas it would be as pleasant as table water and as wholesome as Apollonaris or other famous waters, which are at present imported from Europe. Being favoured by Nature in so many respects, Dr. Marloth thinks this to be an ideal locality for a modern sanatorium and health resort, and he adds: "When proper accommodation is provided for visitors (as is now being done) it should soon become the Gastein of South Africa." To his report the Professor appends the result of his analysis of the water, samples of which he took from the springs, and of the gases which arose to the surface in bubbles, that he captured in a specially prepared outfit. Of the gas he found the composition to be:

As an outcome of Dr. Marloth's suggestion the New Cape Central Railway Co, are working out the cost of the plant and stock, with a view to the erection, at an early date, of a bottling establishment and so promote a table-water industry to compete in cost and quality with the imported articles, so expensive and so limited in point of supply. Concerning the beneficial use of the Baths a rather remarkable and original entry is made in the visitor's book at the boardinghouse - a fitting introduction to many pages of personal testimony. It is worth reproducing here:

"Where doctors fail a cure to bring Nature provides the Montagu Springs. When nauseous drugs you cease to buy, Come here and give the baths a try. Tho' pains and aches your frame may rack, You'll feel quite frisky when you go back!"

This was the experience of the mother of the Rev. Mr. Keets who, I mentioned in a former article, purchased the property and sold it again after his "frisky" Mother had gone back. There was no visitor book in those days (it was only opened on 28th March 1900), but something more indelible than erasable ink on perishable paper are those deeply cut initials and dates on the rocks about the springs. The earliest record I could trace was that close down to the cavity for the natives. It was " I H G, 1818".

These may not have been the initials of the first sufferer seeking balm ; but it appears to be the impression left of the first man or woman who knew how to write, and who wished to leave some trace behind of a visit to those healing springs. I am inclined to give this rock-record first place, because among many others appears this one: "A.J. de Wit" with an imperfect date that may be taken to be either 1812 0r 1872 ; but as it certainly is fresher than that of I.G.H. I am inclined to think the latter date is correct. This A.J. de Wit may have been afflicted with what is termed "cacoethes scribendi" as he or she has left initials in many places about the property, specially on the trees.

One of the best tributes of praise to the curative effects of immersion in the Montagu Baths is offered by Mr. Cadby, who was General Manager of the NCCR before Mr. Fred Dawson. Owing to exposure to weather whilst in the discharge of his duties Mr. Cadby contracted a severe attack of seratica - so severe indeed, that he was totally incapacitated for a time from pursuing his duties actively. Medical treatment did not afford him much relief from excruciating pains, nor did five weeks at Caledon Baths subsequently. He marveled afterwards that he should have gone to Caledon when the remedy lay almost next door to his own railway system. His attention was drawn to Montagu Springs, and not with much heart he though to repeat his Caledon experiences. But he was delightfully mistaken - he left all his pains behind in the water within a month.

Mr. J O'Connor, of Ashton, who owned the springs property for nine years, informs me of many more striking cures whilst he was in charge. One farmer brought his wife there, because through physical weakness she was not even able to crawl about on hands and knees. The hopeful husband carried her to the springs in his arms. In fourteen days after the first dips she could walk alone to the water from the boardinghouse, and in another week she left with her overjoyed partner completely cured! She had no occasion to return. Another case of cure absolute is that of a young man who excited the pity of the whole of the inhabitants of Montagu by reason of the state of extreme helplessness with which he came there from the Transvaal, and was carried about. Twenty-six years before that (when a mere child) he had had a severe attack of rheumatic fever, and was never able to stand upright. His parents carried him down to the baths night and morning. Within a month he was walking about the village, and like the parallel case in the scripture the people in wonderment asked: "Can this be?". The fine upright young man was only too delighted to tell every inquirer of his experiences, as vigour and vitality crept into his muscles and veins. He went so far as to call on the resident J. P., and left in his hands an affidavit concerning his marvelous cure. And Montagu people still talk of it today.

Rheumatic and neuralgic patients and those suffering from nervous exhaustion, step out of the train at Ashton and drive over here to the Baths almost every day, the dust laden roads (which should receive better attention from the Divisional Council) bearing testimony to the growing traffic. These all advertise the Baths more than perhaps wall posters or railway notices ; yet something more is needed to place this Sanatorium within the reach of all colonists suffering pain or physical weaknesses. The visitor's book contains hundreds of names, but it is doubtful whether many of these are of anything more than picnickers or sightseers. The places of residence of these visitors are as widespread as the universe ; and it is surprising to note how many of them were tourists of distinction and others from England, America, from far Vancouver (British Columbia), New Zealand, Australia, and the furthermost parts, who came this way immediately after peace was declared. Officers of regiments were very numerous, and on one Sunday it would seem that a whole battalion invaded that romantic spot, and left a note of the circumstance with names sufficient for a roll-call from that book! The Baths should be widely known throughout South Africa, as the names include many who would be obliged to spread its virtues abroad as they went back to their homes in the Transvaal, Natal, O.R.C., and various parts of this colony. All that is needed to provide accommodation for visitors and their afflicted relatives and friends is now being carried out on a scale never before attempted. With acetylene gas installed to add to the night attractions, and a hotel license obtained for the premises, the new owners anticipate that it will enhance the trade and residential value of the village, as well as make for the relief of suffering humanity about us.