A KAROO TOWN – DR DAWN GOULD

Beaufort West, a Karoo town, was named after Henry Somerset 5th duke of Beaufort, father of Lord Charles Somerset the then governor of the Cape Colony. It is the centre of a sheep farming and agricultural area and became the first municipality in the country on 3 February 1837.  When the railway reached the town in 1889 its importance grew with a railway marshalling yard. What also drew attention to the town was the finding of fossils in 1847, by David Baird, son of the then local magistrate, now part of the present Karoo National Park. Medical Science was made when the late Professor Christian Barnard, who was born in Beaufort West, performed the first successful human heart transplant at the Groote Schuur Hospital in Observatory, Cape Town on the 3 December 1967.

 

The town founded in1818 was able by 1837 having become a Municipality to encourage the citizens to plant trees along the streets even going to the length of making this compulsory.  Permission had to be obtained as to the choice of the trees. If the house owner/ business man who had failed to gain the permission and had planted a less suitable tree, that individual would be fined one shilling.  For those not caring for older or damaged trees the fine could rise to pounds. For example one person had a mulberry tree chopped down and was fined five pounds

 

The reason for such attention to tree planting was because it was hoped that they would offer shade, would beautify the town and keep down the dust. This was a time when the roads were used by horse riders, horse drawn carts and ox wagons.  Years later pear, almond and the karee Rhus lancea, were  still being planted. Residents had the right to fruit from trees grown in front of their homes but it was unlawful to take fruit from a tree in front of a different home.  The rules for planting trees was never allowed to be forgotten and neither were the fines.

Later overhead electricity and telephone cables, trenches that had to be dug or pavements tarred would cause many trees to be either trimmed or, as happened, badly damaged.

 

Time has gone by and human lifestyles have changed considerably but recently talking to a gentleman who lives in the town, the planting of trees is still encouraged .