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What ever happened to Drooge Vlei?

Along the dry and dusty road between Cape Town and Malmesbury lies a stretch of the Swartland known – certainly in the 1800s – as Groote Drooge Vlei (or, alternatively, Droge Vallei). It’s an area I stumbled across searching for the origins of my great-great-grandparents, and one whose history remains elusive.

( click on pic to enlarge, plus more pics )

What we know, it seems, is that it fell within the field-cornetcy of Paardeberg in the District of Malmesbury, part of the quitrent farm having been granted to a C Esterhuysen in 1715 and another to W Proctor on 15 January 1822. Significantly for my own personal research, the section known as Doordrift was granted to Misters WH and JT Eaton on 4 February 1862, as it is this section that came to be known simply as Drooge Vlei.

It is mentioned by the Bishop of Cape Town in the April 1875 edition of The Mission Field, and his description offers some fascinating insight into a place that appears to be a thriving community of its own:

“At Drooge Vlei, a small private station, which I visited on my road, I confirmed five persons. The place, containing about 140 inhabitants, is the property of Mr Eaton, who has built on his farm a school-chapel, where he holds the church service every Sunday, once in English and once in Dutch – Mr Clulee [the Reverend Charles Clulee (1837–1892), born Birmingham] visiting it from Malmesbury and holding service as often as he can … It is a wonderfully complete little town, with it’s smith’s, shoemaker’s, haberdasher’s, grocer’s, butcher’s and baker’s shops, its carpenter’s shed, its wheelwright, machine maker, and brickfields – Mr Eaton being proprietor of the whole and the employer of all the labour at the place.”

 Bishop West gives a similar account his diary:

“Left Durban [Durbanville?] early on November 21st by Mr. John Eaton’s cart, and … Arrived at Mr. Eaton’s, Drooge [t.e. Dry) Vlei, about 12, and met with a hearty reception from him and his sister-in-law, Miss Musgrave. It is a really wonderful place, a complete village in itself, containing 140 souls, and is entirely his own property. He has large carpenter’s, blacksmith’s, painter’s, brickmaking, and miller’s works; keeps butcher’s, baker’s, grocer’s, shoemaker’s, and haber-dasher’s shops; and employs the whole population. His farm, too, is very extensive. He is a thorough Churchman and Christian gentleman. He has built a School-Chapel, in which he himself conducts two Services each Sunday, one in English and one in Dutch, and has always singing classes, and generally a Confirmation class, and a class of Catechumens.”

These are the astonishing descriptions I came across when searching for Charles and Magdalena MORTLOCK, my great-great-grandparents, of whom I know next to nothing.

My first encounter of Drooge Vlei came when I unearthed a death announcement for Magdalena (born either Pietersen or Davids/e) in the Cape Times in 1881, indicating that this is where she died. Although Charles (1821?–1890) and Magdalena (1824?–1881) marry on 26 May 1851 in the Dutch Reformed Church in Malmesbury (he listed as from Groenfontein(?) and she from Paardeberg), as farm labourers (presumably) they moved at some point to Drooge Vlei, and it very likely that this is where their four children were baptised: Louisa Henrietta (my great-grandmother), Henry, Sarah and Elizabeth. I have never found baptisms for them – many records of the Saldanha Diocese of the Church of England were apparently lost in a fire, presumably these too – but we do encounter the name Drooge Vlei in at least two other Mortlock family records.

This is where their daughter Sarah marries (in the farm chapel on 28 October 1872) Dirk Johannes van Dyk, both resident at Drooge Vlei at the time. The marriage is officiated by Charles Clulee, Rector of Malmesbury, and witnessed by a Mr Eaton. Drooge Vlei is also listed, at her death at the age of 24 in 1891, as the birthplace of youngest daughter Elizabeth.

Clearly the history and origins of the Mortlocks are closely intertwined with that of what appears to have been a thriving farm-cum-village. Where are those records now? Do they still exist? (Given the irregularity of church visits to the region and what seems to be a shared responsibility between the DRC and “English Church”, they could lie with either of these denominations.) And what ever happened to Drooge Vlei in the 100+ years since? What saw its demise? Or does it still exist in some other guise?

Mission Field, 1875 (PDF), University of Toronto
Death Notice (Elizabeth Mortlock Brink): 
Marriage (Sarah Mortlock and Dirk Johannes van Dyk)
Death Announcement (Cape Times, 1881) – eGGSA Newspaper Archives
• Map: Courtesy Colin Mohr

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