Talana Museum South Africa  

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Mountain Names & Meanings

Biggarsberg Mountains




Some of the passes through this range of mountains.



This was a main thoroughfare for some fifty years, linking the Boer community of Klip River with their Transvaal kin in the Utrecht, Blood River and Vryheid areas.


It was used as a military highway by the British.


1.        In 1853 the Sherwood Foresteers came this way. CAPTAIN GARDEN whose diary and paintings of the BIGGERBERG are in the KILLIE CAMPBELL MUSEUM, MUCKLENEUK, MARRIOT RD, DURBAN painted the view from the Telapi Rigde across the WASBANK valley INDUMENI mountain and Van Tonder’s pass. It might be worthy seeing the diary to find out if there is a mention of Van Tonder.


2.        In 1879 ZULU WAR after the defeat of ISANDLWANA Lord Chemsford the C.IC. with Colonel DARTNELL of the NATAL MOUNTED POLICE with twelve troopers accompanying them fled down the pass towards the Wasbank to carry  word of  the disaster to Ladysmith. They were lost in the mist and wandered for 24 hours before being rescued by a band of Elandslaagte Volunteers, Carbutt’s Troopers, led by Thomas Munro Carbutt of Zaaifontein, Klip River. The medal Chelmsford awarded him for this deed is in Ladysmith museum.


Thereafter all the troop movements until ULUNDI July1879 were via Van Tonder’s pass. JOHN CHARD and the other casualties from RORKES’DRIFT were brought this way by the heroic Doctor James Hyde Ladysmith, who accompanied by a single transport rider, rode to their rescue.

(SEE;Donald Morris-“Washing of the Spears’

                                    Annals of Klip River-Ladysmith Museum

                                    The story of Thomas Munro Carbutt

                                    The history of the Natal Mounted Police.)


3.         1881 ANGLO -BOER WAR


I have no direct evidence that the pass was used by the military, but imagine as there were forts right along the line of the Biggersberg e.g. Fort Melville, Fort Mkupe, Fort Eagle’s Nest etc and as there was trouble at Utrecht, Van Tonder’s pass which led directly from Ladysmith to Utrecht would be in use. British records show that there was much disquiet about the intentions of the Dutch families in the Biggersberg. Indeed there was a suspicion that they planned to hold the line of the Biggersberg and to add the northern half of Klip River Republic’s territory of 1852 to the Transvaal.

(SEE:”A narrative of the Boer war” by T.P. Carter(LONDON1900) relating to Utrecht and Biggersberg.)


4.         1899-1900 Anglo-Boer war.March-May1900.

After the relief of Ladysmith the Boer forces entrenched themselves on the line to the Biggersberg. Both expected that the British attack might come via Van Tonder’s pass and it was heavily fortified. However General Dundonald turned the flank of the Biggersberg by attacking further east via Britte’s pass near Helpmekaar. For an excellent account of life in the Boer camp and the retreat from the Biggersberg see ”Commandoes courageous” by Roland Schkikkerling.


5.         Transport riding

I have been told by the descendents of some of the early transport riders of the district, the collings (Collings Pass into the Free State was built by them in diamond running days) the Carbutts, the Dubois, that Van Tonder’s pass was much used by the irlik, being the direct route from the Klip River to the Utrecht and Vryheid areas. Many of the gold hunters making for the Komati diggings used to this route via Paulpiietersburg and Piet Retief. Also hunters and graziers for Swaziland used this road.





It leads up through a rocky aloe-covered defile from the vast plains of the Wasbank, dominated by the mighty Job’s Kop, to the level plateau of the Helpmekaar heights. Andries Pretorious and the Commandoes of 1838(The Wen Kommando) and of 1840 (The Boer Kommando) used this route, which was the most direct for the invasion of Zululand.


If you want an excellent impression of the superb prospect from the ridge see ”The road to Ulundi”).The water colour drawings of John North Crealock (The Zulu War of 1879) Nos 8 and 9.Looking west into the Natal you see the