Thursday, December 31, 2009

Molen Rivier

I am , actually, a Langkloofer. My family, the Tautes, come from the Langkloof, having been granted Molen Rivier in the 1700's. My grandfather was born there, and my father told me many stories, when I was growing up, of him spending time under the old homesteads yellow wood ceilings in the 1950's when he working for a canning company ,and was well known in the Kloof as 'die Engelsman' that came in and bought fruit.

There are stories of a branch of the family who suffered from haemophilia and so there was a single spinster (she never married through fear of carrying the bleeder gene) called Babette who lived for many years in the old homestead in Molen Rivier.

My father has asked me many times if I have visited the homestead, and up to last week I had not, but had swished past on my way down the R62. Not much is visible from the road, but I had glimpsed a few whitewashed buildings beyond a grove of trees, an overgrown river and a church.

It was an extremely hot day, and we were on our way to an even hotter Oudshoorn when Lex and I decided to drive in and explore. I have two wonderful old photographs of my ancestors taken at Molen River. One shows a group of rather attractive ladies, mostly dressed in black, gathered in front of a window. I have always liked it, the women seeming rather less severe than most, in old pictures of a hundred years ago. Some look at the camera and some away, but they are relaxed, informal.
My favourite photograph, however, is the other one, showing a group of happy picnickers, down on the river banks, most dressed in white, some with palm fronds and bulrush leaves ringed round their straw hats. Some faces are blurred ( I guess they moved) others half smile into the lens. The subjects lean against each other, languishing in the shade of what was probably a very hot day. As a child I fancied I was one of them, a young girl, tendrils of hair escaping a large loose ribbon, a straw hat tossed back around my neck.

So, as we turned off onto the gravel I gazed down to the left, through the grove of cool trees to the river, fancying for a moment, I glimpsed them all there.

Before I left Cape Town I read a wonderful book in the rather special bookclub I used to belong to there. It was 'The Beadle" by Pauline Smith. I had somehow managed to get to this ripe old age without reading this South African classic, but I, together with many other ladies in the bookclub, adored it. When I arrived in the Langkloof I visited the Book Exchange ( what a lifesaver - the Joubertina Library is a sad affair!) and there, on a shelf, was a copy of 'The Beadle', which I promptly bought and re read.

When I next visited my parents they handed to me all the Taute family papers, seeing as I had, as it were, returned to my roots. They make very fascinating reading, as does the section in a book about the Langkloof written recently. However, the most glorious aspect of all this, in my opinion, was the information contained in a little yellowed newspaper article . In it was the wonderful fact that Pauline Smith had, in fact, written 'The Beadle' whilst staying for a few months at the Taute homestead in Molen Rivier.

Now I know that the setting for the book is the Karoo, but as I wondered around the little church and graveyard in Molen Rivier, I beleived that this was the churchyard Pauline Smith had gazed upon, when she wrote the book. Be that as it may, the graves were sad and unattended, just about all Tautes, and I stood and gazed upon them for a long while, and Lex wondered aloud if they had all been tall! Apparently yes, I have always been told that we have the genes of giants!

We eventually found the old homestead, but I had expected to find it unoccupied, having heard that Babette had died, and all the wonderful 18th century furniture had been auctioned off. Lex said, hopefully, that perhaps we could put in a land claim, seeing as how, it would appear, there are no more Tautes in the Kloof, except, that is, me! The house was, however, obviously occupied, with a mown lawn, some washing flapping on the line, and a gardener eyeing us over his spade.

I proudly announced that I was in fact a 'Taute,' and that I would like to walk around the old homestead. He informed us that the 'Meneer is daar bo by die stoor'. ( the owner is in the barn) - and so we set off to meet him.

We found the barn, rather empty, with one lonely man sitting tying up bunches of dried flowers. He looked like a labourer, and we could hear rather loud shouting coming from within. I sent Lex forward to ask about the 'Meneer' - thinking that maybe we had caught him at a bad time, shouting at his labour force!

Lex speaks perfect Afrikaans and as the 'boere' (farmers) here are traditionally conservative (read rascist) we thought we would tread carefully. I was determined to see the homestead. Lex walked ahead, me a few steps behind, into the barn, asking the man if we could see 'die meneer." At this, up stood the man, tilting back his red cap, and told us that he was, in fact, the owner!

It was at about the same moment that I realized that the 'shouting' was in fact loud reading from the Koran! Interesting.

He was very friendly and invited us to immediately return to the house, walk around as much as we liked, and to even step inside if we so wished. He assured us that Sanna, the domestic worker, would show us around.

We returned to the homestead, rather embarassed, but still determined to do the tour. The building has National Monument status, and so is completely unaltered. It is a little forlorn, and I looked for sign of Babettes award winning roses, but there were none, although the garden was neat and tidy. There were a few old men leaning on rakes and spades, watching us from the shade. I did wander what they were thinking when I cheerily introduced myself as 'family of Babette" and they nodded and smiled.

Lex thought we shouldn't go inside, but I wanted too, announcing that my Grandfather had been born in one of these rooms, and so on. The interior was dim and just about completely bare. The lovely wide yellow wood floors still gleamed. the low ceiling was still made from the solid yellowood beams, the windows still set deep in the thick walls, with broad wooden windowledges. All the fixtures and fittings are all still there. But, the walls were bare, except for endless Koranic scripture, some laminated, some framed, hung around on every wall. In amongst them was a photo of a lady, shrouded in black against the backdrop of Mecca.

We left, walking across the long dry lawn in silence. I suppose I felt the same way I always feel when I visit the famous homes (museums) of Shakespeare, Austen, the Brontes. Disappointed. I wanted, of cause, to find them all still there, the ladies of the photograph, or the picnic children. Maybe to glimpse my grandfather, young, jodhpurred, hitting his riding crop against muddy boots.... Even my own father, in his twenties, tall and dark haired, dressing for dinner, in the style of the 50's, with a cravat, a tweed jacket...

There were, naturally, none of them there, but it was worse than that. Every memory was erased, and I felt no hope of ever finding even a shadow of the past.
We were even more silent as we drove away. Stunned, to be honest, even disorientated.
After a while, we left the gravel again, turning back onto the tar, and drove away.
"Oh well," said Lex," there goes our land claim!" and then, I laughed.

Happy New Year!


  1. Anonymous5:47 pm

    Greetings from London. Pauline Smith is almost forgotten in England now but she still has a few eager readers. I was aware of her connection with Molenrivier and found the church in January this year, only a few weeks after your own visit, although I didn't go down to the house -- I would have if I had known it was the Taute house. There is quite a lot about the Tautes in her diaries, which have been published. Thys Taute was a keen storyteller and Pauline used some of his tales in her book The Little Karoo. I can send you further details if you are interested. Kind regards -- Stephen Hargrave (

    1. Anonymous9:05 am

      I am compiling the Taute family tree and family history in Afrikaans. Anne Taute in London is doing it in English. I am currently updating the tree and hope to print the third edition by the end of the year. I would love to get hold of as much of this history (and the photos) as possible. I can translate it all into Afrikaans. My email address is

  2. Hey, very interesting blog. I'm a Taute. Living in the Eastern Cape. We would also like to go and visit someday- I'm struggling to find Molen Rivier on google maps. Could you help me?

    1. Hi Willem, I can gladly help you, because its my family who now owns the farm.

      Rashied Adams
      076 584 7409

  3. Hi Alex. My mother, Joan Rauch always mentioned Babette Taute when whe passed the gate leading to her house. We travelled for years from Gauteng to Knysna and she visited Babette before we were born. I dont know the link - maybe they studied together at UP. My mother always mentioned that Babette suffered slightly from a fear of persecution. That makes sense to me now as she stayed alone for so many years. Regards Augusta Van Heerden