History of Irene

Stone arrowheads and tools, discovered in the Hennops river bed and dating back many years prove that people have been living in the area for a very long time.

The earliest historical writings of the period record that the Bakwena tribe, known as the Crocodile people, lived in the area in the early 1800's. When Mzilikazi (whose people became known as the Matabele) came to the area in 1825, he killed many of the Crocodile people and drove the rest away.

One of the Boer Voortrekkers, Daniel Elardus Erasmus, who left the Cape Colony in the 1830's to seek economic and political independence in the hinterland, settled in the area on a farm that became known as Doornkloof. Doornkloof became known as the "kerkplaas" of the district. When Daniel died in 1875 he left the farm to his three sons.

Fourteen years later Alois Hugo Nellmapius - a businessman who established a transport business between Lorenzo Marques and Pilgrims Rest, as well as a Gin and Whisky factory, the first gun powder factory in South Africa and the Irene Lime works - bought two thirds of the Doornkloof farm. Nellmapius often entertained in a grand style on the farm and a frequent guest was Transvaal president, Paul Kruger.

Nellmapius employed experts on his farm, one of whom was dr. Arnold Theiler who later established the Onderstepoort Research and Veterinary College. Another was Mr Fuchs to lay out the farmhouse gardens.

Irene was first proclaimed a township in 1902 by Johannes Albertus van der Byl  better know as Bertie  who bought the Irene Estate in 1896. The Doornkloof farm had been renamed Irene Estate by Nellmapius after his daughter Irene. Today it is officially part of the municipality of Centurion, and even though the population has grown considerably, neighbours still know each other and find time to chat, all in an extremely relaxed and safe environment.

Bertie was first in the line of the Irene-born van der Byls who are now in their fifth generation. The family have been responsible for building up the herd of dairy cows on the farm, as well as planting many hundreds of trees, at a time long before environmental consciousness.

Irene was the site of one of the Burgher refugee camps or Concentration camps where the British housed the Boer women and children, whose homes had been destroyed in the Anglo Boer war, in tents.

General Jan Smuts bought a third of the original Doornkloof farm in 1908 and needing a home for his growing family, bought for 300, the wood and iron building which had served as the Officers Mess of the British Forces in Middelburg during the Anglo-Boer War, and transported it to the site at Doornkloof.

The Smuts House Museum illustrates the life-style and multi-faceted carreer of one of South Africas greatest sons. It is set in beautiful tranquil surroundings and there is a tea garden and caravan park on the property.

City dwellers are amazed to find the meadow-like environment and uncomplicated lifestyle in Irene.


History of Doornkloof and Irene

Fossils discovered at the Sterkfontein Caves show that homonids lived in the vicinity of Centurion between 2 to 3 million years ago. The Sterkfontein Caves, a World Heritage Site, is less than 50 km from Centurion.

However, the earliest evidence of modern human habitation in the Centurion area does not go this far back. It dates back to 1200 AD when black communities settled in this area. They cultivated lands, grazed their cattle, made earthenware containers and smelted iron.

From 1825 to 1826 the Matabele defeated the Bakwena tribe and settled along the banks of the Magalies River under the leadership of Umzilikazi.

In 1841 the Erasmus family arrived and settled in the area that would later become Centurion. Daniel Jacobus Erasmus settled on the farm Zwartkop, Daniel Elardus Erasmus on the farm Doornkloof and Rasmus Elardus Erasmus developed the farm Brakfontein. Several of the suburbs like Erasmia, Elardus Park, Zwartkop and Doornkloof were named after the original owners of the land and their properties.

In 1849 Rev Andrew Murray visited the farm Doornkloof and christened 129 babies, heard the confession of their faith of 29 new members of the Reformed Church and the next day, 29 December 1849, celebrated Holy Communion.

In the battle for Rooihuiskraal took place in 1881 at the place where the existing historical terrain is situated. A commando under the leadership of DJ Erasmus Jnr. defeated Col Gildea, the Officer Commanding of the Pretoria Garrison.

Eight years later Alois Hugo Nelmapius bought the northern and north-eastern portions of the farm Doorkloof and named it after his daughter Irene, who died 1961.

During the Anglo-South African War the Irene Concentration Camp was established in 1901 on the farm Doornkloof, north of the Hennops River. The Irene Primary School was also established in the camp. The town of Irene was established in 1902 when Van der Bijl laid out 337 erven on the farm. Dr E G Jansen, later Governor General of South Africa, bought the house in which he lived. The farm also has a close relationship with a former Prime Minister of South Africa, Gen. J C Smuts.

Centurion developed from the initial Lyttelton Township that was marked out on the farm Droogegrond in 1904. Lyttelton Manor Extension 1 was established in 1942. These two townships initially resorted under the Peri Urban Board in Pretoria. They acquired a Health Committee consisting of six members in 1950 and in 1955 a town committee was elected. City Council status was awarded to the town in 1962 and this council had control over an area of 777 ha.

After the inclusion of a number of townships and farming areas, the area over which the city council exerted legal control grew to 6 220 ha and in 1973 this area was enlarged to 20 000 ha.

Lyttelton was renamed after the former Prime Minister, Hendrik Verwoerd to become the City of Verwoerdburg in 1967. After the elections of 1994 the Verwoerdburg City Council and the Rantesig local area committee were disbanded and a new local authority consisting of Verwoerdburg, Rantesig, Erasmia, Laudium, Christoburgh and Claudius came into being. The name Centurion was accepted in 1995 by the City Council.

After the country wide local elections on 5 December 2000 the city was incorporated, with the retention of its name, into the Metropolitan Council of Tshwane. Eight ward councillors and a number of proportionally elected councillors represent Centurion.

A local administrative unit remains responsible for certain tasks in the Centurion area.


Centurion Stadsraad Dienstegids
Brochures: Centurion-Oos Erfenisroete and Centurion-Wes Erfenisroete ( CULTMATRIX), created by the Division: Culture, Recreation and Community Empowerment Centurion City Council with contributions by various people including mr. Hannes Hattingh, members of the Hennops Valley Conservation Area and people of Laudium

Air Force Memorial

The Air Force Memorial on Bays Hill overlooks the Swartkop Air Force Base, where the South African Air Force came about during 1922. The monument, symbolising flight, was erected in memory of the approximately 3000 members of the Air Force who died over the years during war and peace. The building has the shape of a triangular star and consists of three wings, one of which is a chapel for family services. The wings enfold a central memorial hall, which contains a cenotaph on a scarlet star, a list of the deceased and illuminated documents.

The monument is as high as a six-storey building and was erected on a raised platform pedestal with fountains underneath the point of each wing. A garden of remembrance and an amphitheater with a seating capacity of 5000 people form a part of the surrounding grounds. The cast-iron entrance gates were previously used at the old South African Air Force memorial in Waterkloof. The memorial was opened on 1963.


Irene Camp Cemetery

The battle of Pretoria in June 1900 started with a skirmish near Irene, upon which Lord Roberts decided to outmaneuver the defending Boers south of Pretoria by following the course of the Hennops River to approach Pretoria from the west. After this a fort was built on Irene's highest koppie, now known at Cornwall Hill, by the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry. The guerrilla tactics of the Boers frustrated the British to the extent that they decided to destroy the farms of the Boers in an effort to end the war. This left many families destitute and forced the British to take care of them. Concentration camps were established, one of which was a tent near Irene where the first refugees arrived during June 1901

Conditions in the camp deteriorated rapidly and by the end of 1901, 800 people had already died. The camp was later extended to the other side of the river - the second camp was known as Nylstroom. During 1902 the two camps housed and average of 4 500 men, women and children. Although peace was declared on 31 May 1902, the camps were only officially closed during 1903.

More than 2000 people were allegedly buried at the camp, although the cemetery's name list only mentions 1 149 names. A name plate with a number of 2 156 was found later, but only 850 graves could be found. For this reason all 1 149 names have been inscribed on the 80 memorial tablets.



The Animal Improvement Institute of the Agriculture Research Council is situated just outside Irene and houses among others the world's only (as far as is known) pig museum or porcinarium. The museum's displays were arranged with the help of the Transvaal Museum and offer an interesting review of the origin and development of pig species in South Africa. The museum was opened in August 1996 to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of the National Pig Performance Testing Scheme. Since its opening the porcinarium has received many visitors, especially from abroad. The museum is open during the week (office hours) and for weekend visits arrangements can be made at Tel: 672 9235.


Rooihuiskraal Historical Site

The battle of Rooihuiskraal, which took place near the Rooihuiskraal Historical site, is viewed as one of the most crucial battles of the First Anglo Boer War. In spite of this only one British soldier was killed and 15 wounded. One of the wounded was Lieutenant Colonel Gildea, or that "Damned Colonel" as he was called by the Boers.

By the end of 1880 the Transvaal Boer Forces, had surrounded important towns, which had been occupied by the British, in order to prevent the soldiers in these towns joining General George Colley's troops from Natal. The British in Pretoria were also trapped in this way and their efforts to escape were checked twice before they decided on a large exodus through Rooihuiskraal.

The Boers got wind of this and took up positions behind the stone wall of the farms massive kraal. When the British arrived in large numbers the Boers started to shoot, causing great consternation. Colonel Gildea stood upright in his stirrups to motivate his men and was hit in the buttocks. The British retreated. The Boer's victory at Rooihuiskraal had a demoralising effect on the British. They could not join the Natal troops of General Colley and after these were conquered at Amajuba, the Transvaal regained its independence.

The old stone kraal at Rooihuiskraal is somewhat dilapidated today, but serves as a reminder of the historical victory and was declared a national monument. A recent addition to the site is the Centurion Battle Tank which was among others used by the British in Korea in 1944. It was later acquired by South Africa, upgraded several times but is now old enough to serve as a museum piece.


SA Mint

The history of the SA Mint dates back to 1892 when Paul Kruger, president of the then South African Republic, ordered a mint press from Germany. This press, which moved with the mint from Church Square to Visagie street, is still in working order and can be seen at the museum of the SA Mint in Gateway Centurion. The Mint's very modern factory was opened in October 1992 and is still regarded as one of the most modern mints in the world. The Mint became a private company in 1988 and produces not only South African coins, but also coins for other countries such as New Zealand, Argentina and Switzerland. A museum, known as Coin World, was opened to the public during 1996 and offers an overview of the history of the Mint. It also houses a jewelry shop and is open from 09h00 to 15h30, seven days a week. Guided tours are also available, which last approximately two hours and cost R20 per person. More information may be obtained at Tel: 667 2342.


Smuts House

Although Smuts House is situated just beyond Centurion's borders, the inhabitants view it as part of Centurion. Smuts House was the dwelling of General Jan Christiaan Smuts, twice the prime minister of South Africa, soldier, philosopher, botanist and grass expert and known internationally, among others for the creation of the term "holism". Previously a mess for British officers in Middelburg, Smuts bought the house for 300 pounds in 1908 and had it transported to Irene, where it was re-erected on the farm Doornkloof. The structure was initially meant as a temporary home until a new house could be built on the koppie behind the house. The Smuts family however grew so attached to the house that they stayed there until the death of General Smuts on 11 September 1950.

Today it is a museum to commemorate the life of Smuts. The museum and surrounding grounds are open to the public seven days a week. On weekdays the museum can be visited from 9h30 to 13h00 and from 13h30 to 16h30. Guided tours can be arranged by appointment. A walking trail starts from behind the house and leads to a koppie where the monument was erected to commemorate certain members of the Smuts family. Guided bird and botanic walks are arranged on a regular basis. More information may be obtained at Tel: 671 1176.


Peace reigns in the generals Tin Palace

Irene is a quaint and tranquil village near Centurion, south of Pretoria. CHANTELLE BENJAMIN took a tour of the historic place, which was once home to one of South Africas leaders, General Jan Smuts. STUART CLOETE took the pictures

26 September 2004 Print friendly Send to a friend

His children remembered how he would clear his throat several times when he was ready to go to sleep as a signal that he wanted them to switch off their bedroom lights  whether they were ready to go to sleep or not

BELOVED HOME: The entrance to General Jan Smutss house. He bought it from the British army, who had used it as an officers mess and had it transported to Doornkloof. Originally Smuts, a dedicated botanist, wanted the veld to come right up to the house but he was persuaded to allow a small lawn for the children

WARM RECEPTION: The living room, where royalty and diplomats were received at the Tin Palace, as it was called

BOOKWORM: General Smutss pride and joy, his library, has been carefully restored

A BIT OF AFRICA: This gong, made from elephant tusks and cartridge cases from a warship, was presented to Smuts by his imperial staff in the East African Campaign of World War 2

BACK TO BASICS: On hot summer nights, General Smuts slept on this iron bed on an enclosed stoep

SAD REMINDER: The chapel, left, at the 102-year-old Irene Primary School, was built in memory of children from the two nearby concentration camps who were taught at the school. Many children died of malnutrition in the camps and the headstones above are from their graves. Camp inmates used pieces of tin to carve decorations on the dolomite slabs

YEARS OF SERVICE: Cheese and milk from the 112-year-old Irene dairy farm are still sold at this shop

WHEN General Jan Smuts bought a third of the Doornkloof farm to build his family home, it was the tranquillity of the area that first attracted him.

Renamed Irene, it remains a picturesque village with oak-lined country lanes and cows grazing in deep green meadows, making it strangely out of place on the industrialised Highveld.

But underlying the beauty of the town is a rich and turbulent history.

Doornkloof, established by one of the Voortrekkers, Daniel Elardus Erasmus, was the site of two concentration camps where the British housed Boer families whose homes had been destroyed in the Anglo-Boer war.

A cemetery containing the graves of some 850 people, mostly children who died of malnutrition, is silent testimony to the suffering of the inmates at the camp.

What makes the site unique is the hand-crafted headstones made from the local dolomite.

Other camps did not have a ready supply of stone, so graves were not marked with stones and accurate figures of the number of people buried there are hard to ascertain.

Unfortunately, the camp cemetery became so overgrown that in 1958 the South African Council on War Graves was unable to distinguish which headstones belonged to which graves, or where half of the graves were situated.

At the request of the SA Vroue Federasie, it established a garden of remembrance with symbolic headstones bearing the names of 10 people.

The original, hand-crafted headstones have been mounted on a wall at the site to protect them from the elements.

Each was painstakingly carved using whatever tools were available. In many cases, the base of a food can was used to create the flower motifs seen on many of the headstones.

By the end of 1902, two camps situated in the area contained more than 5 400 people.

A weekly ration to camp inmates consisted of 7lb of flour; 4oz of salt; 6oz of coffee and 12oz of sugar. Children received half of this ration.

Milk, fresh fruit and vegetables, soap, candles and toiletries were scarce and were only provided when the camp doctor prescribed them as medical comfort.

It is estimated that the rations represented 29% of the calorific requirements of an adult and only 15% of that of a child.

The Irene Primary School, next to the cemetery, was founded in September 1901 for the children of the concentration camp and consisted of some tents and a tool shed. Correspondence gathered from teachers at the time described the children as very clean, decidedly docile and very amiable to discipline.

By January 1902 the school had 1 161 pupils, and its teachers were among the 200 imported from Britain by Lord Alfred Milner, high commissioner to South Africa, to teach at the various camps.

The first concert was held in the same year, a tradition the school continues to this day.

The plight of those kept in the concentration camps was a matter of great concern to Smutss wife, Sybella Margaretha  Isie, as she was better known. She visited every one of the camps in South Africa and retained her involvement with the school.

She often sent oranges to the pupils and in later years would take pupils into town to see the movies.

It was at her home, Doornkloof, now called the Smuts House Museum, that she died at the age of 83.

The Tin Palace, as the family fondly referred to it, was the place where Smuts and his wife were most at home. Here the visitor gets a glimpse into the heart of a soldier and statesman.

The modest wood and iron farmhouse, with its high ceilings, is surprising in its unpretentiousness.

In its simple rooms with their austere furnishing, royalty once dined and had tea, as did important historical figures.

The farmhouse looks like it has always been there, but it is actually a prefabricated structure which was first erected in Middelburg, where it was an officers mess. It is believed to have been first used in India.

Smuts bought the house from the British in 1909 and had it transported to Doornkloof. Although he paid 300 for the structure, he had to pay another 1 000 to have it re-erected.

The house, although modest, contains 11 bedrooms.

The wing which contained the bedrooms of Smutss daughters and Isie, or Ouma as she was called, was referred to as the harem.

Smuts and his son occupied another wing. The bedrooms of both Smuts and his wife are very simple, containing little more than a single bed and pictures of their children.

Smuts in fact preferred to sleep on an iron bed in the enclosed balcony which the bedrooms opened on to.

His children remembered how he would clear his throat several times when he was ready to go to sleep as a signal that he wanted them to switch off their bedroom lights  whether they were ready to go to sleep or not.

Over the years, many mementos, which were scattered around the country in various museums, have slowly been restored to the house.

Smutss library, with its books on philosophy, science and international affairs, has been faithfully recreated.

There are also a number of interesting objects that still remain. One of them is a rather gaudy gong that sits on a table in the entrance hall.

Made from elephant tusks and cartridge cases from a warship, the gong was presented to Smuts by his imperial staff in the East African Campaign.

Bamboo curtain rods in this room, originally from their home in Bourke Street, Pretoria, also have an interesting history and are testimony to Ouma Smutss resourcefulness.

When British forces entered the city in 1900, during the Anglo-Boer War, Ouma hid documents given to her by Smuts in the hollow rods.

The house was searched but the papers were never recovered.

The living room contains one of the few valuable pieces of furniture, a Cape stinkwood armoire made in 1840 by Smutss grandfather.

It also contains a display cabinet with Oumas embroidered linen, medals won for cooking and an autograph book containing the signatures of those who visited the house including Olive Schreiner and Emily Hobhouse, who campaigned against the camps.

Not far from the house is another historic site, also situated on the site of the original Doornkloof farm  the 112-year-old Irene Dairy, where locals still arrive with old-fashioned gallon pails to collect fresh milk.

Named after Irene Nellmapius, daughter of a famous pre-Boer War financier, Alois Hugo Nellmapius, the dairy also gave the area its name.

Nelmapius, who made his money from a transport business between Lourenco Marques and Pilgrims Rest and a gin factory, employed a number of experts to work on the farm.

One of them was Dr Arnold Theiler, who later established the Onder- stepoort Research and Veterinary College.

The farm contains a functioning dairy and a shop selling milk, yoghurt and cheeses. Its situated near the original shop, which was built under the farms staff quarters.

Built out of dolomite, the original shop had two entrances  one for whites and one for blacks  although they would meet in the middle and form the same queue.

The second door has since been closed in with dolomite rock.

The farm is still run by the Van der Byl family, who bought the Irene estate in 1896.

It was proclaimed a township in 1902 by Johannes Albertus van der Byl.

It now falls under the municipality of Centurion.


The "Hennops River" Controversy

The first known reference to the Hennops River in the Transvaal was in one of the very earliest transfer deeds, that of land transferred by the Government in 1841 to the widow Helena Hennop. This piece of land was described as "Hennops Rivier", and the river, which flowed through it, thereafter became known on either side of the farm as Hennops Rivier.

The farm is roughly halfway between Irene and Hartebeestpoort Dam and there is an attractive picnic spot on its river banks. As the years went by, the use of the name was extended in both directions.

In 1880 at a crossing point between Pretoria and Heidelberg which was roughly six miles from Pretoria, the name Six Mile Spruit appeared and was followed in the next decade by "Zes Myl Spruit", "Sesmilj spruit", "Sesmijienspruit" or "Sesmylspruit", all of which were from time to time used to de- scribe the river from that original crossing point at_today's_Wierda Bridge eastwards_to_ Rietvlei Dam.

That specific portion of the same river as it flows through Irene was called "Sterkstroom", however, in the 1889 Nellmapius koopbrief,* but in the following year the Railways Administration referred to it on their map of the proposed railway line as "Hennopsrivier". In the same year the surveyors Watermeyer and Loveday in sketch maps of Irene referred to the "Hennops River or Six Mile Spruit".

This ambiguity persisted and in fact in some quarters continues to persist to this day. So far as the present Verwoerdburg Municipality is concerned, however, the matter was settled in 1929 when Act of Parliament No. 15 was passed. The Title to the Act reads as follows: "To providejor a supply of water from the Hennops River for the Town Council of Pretoria"; and the relevant sentence of its Clause 2 states that "the Council is empowered to construct and maintain upon certain portions of the farm Rietvlei a dam across the bed and valley of the Hennops River and may impound and store behind such dam such water as can thereby be contained".

This was the beginning of the Rietvlei Dam, which lies immediately to the east of Irene. David van der adds the following: "The farming community from 1895, J. A. van der Byl and after him A. H. van der Byl and ]. H. van der Byl and the Smuts family, including Colonel Andries Weyers who farmed on Doornkloof, always knew and referred to the river as the Hennops River and there were no other fanners on the farm Doornkloof until the comparatively recent sub-division of the Smuts sector and the arrival of the Government Agricultural Research station.

In other words the community never referred to the river as anything other than the Hennops River, which reference is also to be found in the Title Deeds and in certain Deeds of Servitude, e.g. No.210/1931.S. Proof of the custom is found in the Pretoria Waterworks Act No. 15 of 1929 which authorised the construction of a dam across the channel of the Hennops River. That is where the dam is - across the Hennops River on the eastern boundary of the farm Doornkloof. Accordingly the river on the farm Doornkloof and on the farm Hennops River is the Hennops River. At Wierda Bridge it is probably correctly known as the Six Mile Spruit and the Hennops River."
(Source of information - David vd Byl)