a village in the Prince Albert municipal district.
This small village straddles the railway line and the N1 between Laingsburg and Beaufort West. The last of the now extinct Cape Lion, was shot here in 1857 and Private Schultz, said to be the tallest man in the British army, died here from wounds received in combat during the Anglo-Boer War.
What to see and do
Imagine the scenes at the dressed stone railway station in Victorian days when famous men trod the platform, including President Paul Kruger, Cecil John Rhodes, President Jan Brand of the Orange Free State, President Marthinus Theunis Steyn of the Transvaal and Lord Alfred Milner.
Visit the grave of the tallest soldier in the British Army and the first Australian to die in the Anglo-Boer War. Private Schultz, of the 3rd Battalion, Grenadier Guards, stood almost 7ft tall.
See the ruins of an Anglo-Boer War blockhouse near the bridge over the river.
Buildings of interest include the tiny post office, the original Dutch Reformed Church and the Dutch Reformed Mission Church on the opposite side of the N1.
Rietfontein Plaas Stalletjie, south of town Tel: 02082 ask for 1812
Alongside N1, sells farm produce, preserves, olives, fruit and snacks. Cool drinks. Wine Shop. Big Screen TV. Information centre. Contact: Marietjie Marais.
Where the Cape lion once roamed – a history of Leeu Gamka
by Rose Willis
Leeu Gamka began as a pleasant outspan on the Karoo plains where travellers paused to rest and refresh. It was a favoured spot because there was drinkable water. First been named Bitter Water by road builders Thomas and Andrew Geddes Bain, because the underground water is hydrogenous (brack), it soon became the choice stop of adventurers, explorers, missionaries, settlers, “trekboere” (migrant farmers) and even outlaws. They all camped near a grove of indigenous sweet thorn trees where the Leeu and Gama rivers meet. It was cool and there was grazing. But it was far from idyllic. Constant watch had to be kept for wild animals and roaming bands of Bushmen, also in search of food and water.
This outspan was officially namedFraserburg Roadwhen the railway line reached it in 1879. The railway, planned by engineer W Brounger, followed the old “Wapad” or Wagon Route. With the rail came stone station buildings, railway single quarters and an hotel. The final shift in naming came in 1950 when Leeu Gamka was adopted. These are the names of the rivers, and both mean “lion”.
Early travellers often wrote of lions here. In 1776 explorer Hendrik Swellengrebel reported finding the body of a Bushman woman mauled to death here by a lion. By 1803 German explorer Heinrich Lichtenstein mentions three lion species and the Cape lion as “most magnificent”. George Thompson camped here in 1823 on his way to Beaufort and mentions having to build a huge fire “to keep off lions which infest this path.” On his way through here in 1839, the old Quaker gospel preacher and explorer, James Backhouse, also took precautions against lions. The Cape lion is now extinct. The last one is thought to have been shot at Leeu Gamka in 1842. A specimen is on display in the Natural History section of the Cape Town Museum. The Cape lion was smaller and slighter than the common African lion and had a fuller, darker mane.
The bitter, flat-tasting water is caused by seepage of salts, mineral and trace elements into underground sources. These give the water a sulphurous odour, but have led to Leeu Gamka now producing what is claimed to be the best lucerne available inSouth Africa. First introduced in 1870 as a feed for ostriches, lucerne is now grown under irrigation.
The history of Leeu Gamka starts with the earliest farmers who moved into this area of the Karoo, known as the Koup. It is flat and barren and was not highly thought of as farmland. Grazing was poor and not easy to find, the rivers were mostly dry, underground water brack and drinking water scarce. The first farmers to apply for land, however, were taken aback when the Dutch Government was not keen to allocate farms between the Gamka and Dwyka rivers. They wanted to preserve what little grazing there was for “trekboere and cattle speculators.” Settlement of the area was thus slow.
The discovery of diamonds at Hopetown in 1867 and at Kimberleyin 1868, benefited Leeu Gamka as traffic on the road increased vastly. Hoards of fortune hunters camped at Bitter Water as diamond fever gripped locals and foreigners. The discovery of gold in the Transvaal in 1886 brought a fresh rush of fortune hunters to Leeu Gamka’s small railway station. Many important men of the day strutted along the platform. Among them were President Paul Kruger, Cecil John Rhodes, President Jan Brand of the OrangeFree State, President Marthinus Theunis Steyn of the Transvaal and Lord Alfred Milner.
In 1880, a telegraph line was laid alongside the railway line and communications with the outside world improved. Late in the 1880s, a road was built to join up with the Fraserburg road, and at the same time the Oukloof Pass, between Leeu Gamka and Fraserburg was completed.
Excitement spread through the village like a veld fire when gold was discovered only about 60 km away at Prince Albertin 1889. Leeu Gamka blossomed as diggers rushed to Klein Waterval and Spreeufontein farms. A small town, Gilbertsville, mushroomed up nearby, but vanished almost as quickly. Many local farmers registered claims and many are held to this day, but insufficient quantity gold was ever found
When the Anglo Boer War broke out in 1899, troop trains and wounded soldiers almost immediately began passing through Leeu Gamka. The hotel and the railwaymen’s single quarters, the picturesque little stone cottages still standing next to the railway line, were used as a hospital and convalescent wing. The first Australian to die in the war, and the man who was also the tallest soldier in the British Army, is buried near the station. He was Private Schultz, of the 3rd Battalion, Grenadier Guards, and he stood almost 7ft tall. He was a favourite at Royal functions, but obviously also an easy target for the Boers. He and Private J Lynn, of the first Scots Guards, were wounded at the Battle of Belmont on November 23, 1899. They share a grave and headstone erected by their comrades. It bears the inscription “and there was no more war.” Sgt P Fallon, 3rd Battalion Royal Lancaster Regiment, who was accidentally killed at Luttig station on November 2, 1901, is buried in the same little cemetery.
In 1901, the British forces built a blockhouse on the banks of the Leeu River. Its purpose was to guard the railway line and the bridge over the river. The ruins of this stone blockhouse can still be seen.