A Short Biography of Abel Erasmus

Abel Erasmus

ERASMUS Jacobus Abel: Born in Weenen, Natal, on 8 February 1845 to the voortrekker family of Jacobus Johannes Petrus Erasmus and his wife, Maria Margaredia Cadierina (nee Jordaan). His father died shortly after his birth and his mother decided to trek with a party led by Commandant General A.H. Potgieter and settled at Ohrigstad in the eastern Transvaal where she later remarried to J. de Klerk. Abel Erasmus worked on the family property until he was 19 years old when he married Gertruida Kruger. By then he was a man experienced in farming and familiar with survival and hunting in the Lowveld.

The young couple moved to Krugerspos where Erasmus earned the respect of both whites and blacks for his approach to farming and for his hunting prowess. He acquired an option on die farm ‘Geelhoutboom’ (which was later renamed ‘Macmac’ by President Burgers).

President Burgers

When gold was discovered the value of the property escalated and he sold his option at a big profit. Gold was also found on a farm he owned at Graskop which he sold to President Burgers for £1000, an enormous sum at that time. In February 1876 at the age of 31 years, and now quite wealthy, he was elected to serve on the Lydenburg Council.

Chief Sekukhuni of the Pedi tribe was becoming troublesome and, in 1876, Veldkornet Henry De Villiers gave warning that a strong Pedi “Impi” was heading towards their area. A laager was quickly formed around a store wherein the Boers took refuge. The initial stages of the defence were not well handled and Veldkornet De Villiers was forced to hand command over to Abel Erasmus who was temporarily appointed Veldkornet in his place.

Chief Sekukhuni

The laager, which contained only 33 white men and 25 blacks, was attacked by a 5000 strong “Impi”. The defenders managed to hold off the Pedi warriors who retired, making off with 2000 head of cattle belonging to the Boers. A further attack was made against Erasmus by one of Sekukhuni’s indunas who was supported by a Swazi “Impi” of 5000 warriors led by the chief, Matsafeni Mdhluli.

Erasmus was officially appointed Veldkornet and led a commando to the Blyde river valley to recover their cattle. Burgers attacked Sekukhuni’s mountain stronghold but, due to dissention amongst the Boers over his leadership, he was forced to withdraw and ultimately to abandon the campaign.

Pedi Warriors

Fortunately, a peace agreement was arranged by a missionary but the debacle was one of the factors which led to the British taking over the administration of  the Transvaal in 1877. The British brought the Pedi under control and finally, in 1879, had their chief, Sekukhuni, imprisoned in Pretoria and fined him 2000 head of cattle.

While being held in detention the Pedi chief made accusations against Abel Erasmus which the British believed. They took Erasmus into custody but he was later released without being charged. Following the First Anglo-Boer War of 1881 the victorious Boers released Sekukhuni who was promptly murdered by his half-brother.

Selati Line

The new Boer government appointed Abel Erasmus as Native Commissioner for the Lydenburg district and with his invaluable knowledge of the natives and their languages he acted as guide and interpreter for many government expeditions such as those which estab­lished the borders between the South African Republic (Transvaal), Portuguese East Africa and Swaziland. In 1892 he was able to mobilize 3000 native workers to construct the Eastern railway line between Komatipoort and Nelspruit. He was well respected by the blacks and put much effort into countering gun smuggling and the arming of the natives.

He was an outstanding hunter and was known by the blacks as ‘DUBULA DUZE’ (he who shoots from close up). He became concerned about the diminishing wildlife in the Lowveld and in November 1880 he made a submission to government calling for the establishment of a game reserve between the Crocodile and the Sabie rivers. His request was initially unsuccessful.

Brown Cattle with Yellow Muzzles

Erasmus purchased the farm ‘Orinoco’ and there he developed a unique herd of prize cattle which were uniformly brown in colour with yellow muzzles.

During the 1890s Erasmus was approached, in his role as Native Commissioner, by a Shangaan chief, Mpisane Nxumalo, for permission to settle his tribe in the Transvaal Lowveld. These people were living in Portuguese East Africa where conditions had become unsettled due to wars and disruption. In 1896 they were settled on ‘Orinoco’ and ‘New Forest’.

Erasmus on Commando

When the war broke out in 1899 Erasmus, with his commando, was sent to the Natal front.

In 1901 Steinaecker’s Horse built a fort (Fort Mpisane) on the farm, ‘New Forest’, which abutted the eastern boundary of Erasmus’ property, ‘Orinoco’.

A patrol from the outpost at Sabie Bridge ‘rustled’ his prize herd of brown cattle on ‘Orinoco’ and drove them back to Sabie Bridge. However the Fort Mpisane garrison did not appear to have much, if any, involvement in the affair.

Gen. Ben Viljoen

When Erasmus discovered that his herd had gone missing he was furious. He approached the Boer General, Ben Viljoen, (who maintained that the Mpisane garrison was nothing more than a nest of troublemakers and scoundrels). He requested that Fort Mpisane be attacked and the menace removed.

The attack occurred on 7 August 1901 and the Boers were victorious in the engage­ment although Commandant Piet Moll was severely wounded, having had his jaw shot off.

Commando that attacked Fort Mpisane








Gleaned from various sources
including “Steinaecker’s Horsemen” by Bill Woolmore

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4 Responses to A Short Biography of Abel Erasmus

  1. Jaco Erasmus says:

    Good day,
    I’m a direct decendant of Jacobus Abel Erasmus, and would like to obtain more history facts about the Erasmus family in the Lowveld.
    Thanks for assisting

    • tourism marketer says:

      Hi Jaco,

      Thanks for the comment !

      I have friends who are also direct descendents of Abel Erasmus.

      I informed them of your request and let them have your email address.

      I’m sure you will be in touch with them soon.

      John Theunissen.

  2. Stephen Hannan says:

    I too am a direct descendent of Abel Erasmus. His grandaughter (GZM) Ada De Beer got married to a James Hannan (my grandfather). The family farm at Krugerspost, where Abel is buried, was sold out of the family in 2002. It was a sad day for us all. The homestead has so much history and I lived there for some years up to the day it was sold. Here is a link to the archives that will show you photos of the family cemetery as well as Abel’s grave: http://www.eggsa.org/library/main.php?

    Anyone is welcome to get in touch with me for further info if needed.



    • tourism marketer says:

      Thank you so much for your interesting piece of information. So few people take the trouble to comment on our precious historical heritage which is in danger of going lost.

      John T.
      Trips ZA

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