Chapter 2 - Wartime Worries
As early as May 11, 1900, a step was taken, which profoundly affected not only the history of Milnerton, but that of Cape Town as a whole. To appreciate this it must again be stressed that the original township included the entire stretch of ground from the vicinity of the present-day Salt River Power Station to the boundary of present-day Milnerton, in other words the big industrial area of Paarden Island.
One of the directors, William Hare, conveyed to the Milnerton Estates a request from the South African Cold Storage Company Limited - forerunner of the Imperial Cold Storage & Supply Company - for "the letting of a small portion, about 30 lots, of land at the north-western corner of Paarden Island. . . at a rental of £25 per month. . ." Despite considerable hesitation, the transaction not only went through but marked the beginning of the island's industrial development, and of the process which culminated in the separation of that area from Milnerton proper.
Wartime congestion was the main reason for this request by the South African Cold Storage, of which other signs were to follow. Explaining to shareholders the reason for the slow progress on the building of the railway during 1900, Carl Jeppe, as Acting Chairman, made reference to the viaduct over the Salt River marshes and to the Diep River Bridge. "The arrival of the timber was much delayed owing to the number of vessels waiting discharge in Table Bay. . . But for the kindness of the Government in lending the Company some timber pending the receipt of the Company's consignment, the railway would not now be, as it is, practically completed." Although Esdon, the engineer, had already completed a survey of the proposed extension from the original terminus at Jan Biesjes Kraal to Duiker Vlei, involving an extra three miles and another £9 821, no decision as to whether to go ahead had been made. However, with so much extra money needed, steps were taken immediately to borrow £30000, setting a precedent henceforth followed fairly frequently. In contrast to these substantial transactions were such minor details as the authority formally given to Mr Esdon, who "had no further use for the horse belonging to the Company", to sell it for a sum of £25! Another unusual deal involved the borrowing of Jarrah logs by the C.G.R., pending arrival of a shipment from Australia.
And so the Boer War years ran on, with the Milnerton Estates spending money and receiving very little in return. Indeed extra ground had to be purchased at Woodstock, on the suggestion of Mr Hare, that an area near Paarden Island Beach be used for recreation grounds. Floods of the Diep River and the vested rights of people, mostly Coloured, who made their living by gathering shells for lime burners, were the subject (')f frequent arguments. Then there was the Village Management Board of Maitland, which, learning about the proposed establishment of a Black Location, asked for the co-operation of the Company in opposing the scheme. In this connection an alternative suggestion brought to mind a calamity still fresh in the memories of that generation, when E. F. H. Mellish and H. Hands were deputed to "give evidence before the Committee on the subject, recommending the Rinderpest abattoirs as a suitable site". As recently as 1897 the whole of Southern Africa had been smitten by this gigantic plague, which had swept away over 4 500 000 head of cattle. In a despairing and fruitless attempt to stem the calamity, livestock had been slaughtered everywhere - hence the establishment of this installation outside Cape Town, now fortunately no longer needed.
So too the Uitlander Council is another forgotten institution which, curiously enough, figured in the proceedings of Milnerton Estates at this time. Set up for the purpose of providing employment in Cape Town for refugees from the Rand, this body had put in a tender for constructing the first road to Milnerton, but on November 16, 1900, confessed its inability, owing to shortage of funds, to carry out the work. Unfortunately history is silent as to how the job was undertaken, but we do know a bridge was built by the Uitlander Council across the Salt River mouth at a cost of £200.
This and other crises eventually convinced the Milnerton directors that the scale of the Company's operations was inadequate and that it required drastic reconstruction. So Major Johnson was deputed to go overseas and investigate the prospects of financial support in the City of London. The result was disclosed on November 20, 1900, in the form of a cable: "Telegraph authority to enable me to arrange formation of a Company to purchase Milnerton on the following terms: Capital £340 000, vendors £226 000, promotion £24 000, reserve £90 000, purpose ultimate conversion £120000 debentures. Arrange with Standard Bank of South Africa Limited. Telegraph immediately London Branch to this effect that Milnerton titles in perfect order in freehold. Send at once Power of Attorney to be made in name of Sivewright to enable us to arrange register new company. Copies, Titles, Trustees, Acts of Parliament. Shall do my best in your interests. Send full authority."
Back went the Board's reply: "Your telegram to hand yesterday. Scheme meets with approval, but must have the consent of members. A meeting of the shareholders will be held on the 28th November. We have no doubt they will consent. Board controls majority. . ."
Sure enough authority for the reconstruction of the Milnerton Estates was forthcoming, the final negotiations being left in the hands of Sir James Sivewright. Early in February 1901 came a communication from the Commissioner of Railways, confirming that the Government had no objection to the transfer of any Parliamentary powers held by the original company and that it would give support. Sure enough, W. P. Schreiner, the Prime Minister, put through a Private Act of Parliament.
The new Company was duly registered, but alas, according to an official statement "a slump in the Money Market, together with a continuation of the War beyond the expected period brought further progress to a halt".
More encouraging happenings followed including promises of a Railway loan of rolling stock and other facilities, but there were still signs of abnormal times. Thus on February 1, 1901, a letter arrived from Captain C. M. Stevens, O.C. of the Civil Service Company of the Town Guard, "asking permission to use the Estate for field operations". With Boer raiders, particularly those under the command of General J. C. Smuts, penetrating so far into Cape Colony that they were at one stage in sight of Table Mountain, the need for local defence grew urgent. Hence the Milnerton directors gave the permission, though warning that the troops would be without facilities for reaching the ground by train, "as we have as yet no rolling stock".
Despite the War, the first steps were taken in March 1901 for the beautification of the township through tree-planting, while negotiations began with Cape Town on the possibility of drawing water supplies from the Municipal reservoirs on Table Mountain.
Quite suddenly, in April 1901, something of a crisis arose, through the announcement of its intentions by the Maitland Village Management Board. Not only did it propose becoming a Municipality but of changing its name to Milnerton and of having the Company's land included in its area. Led by a Mr Day an urgent deputation waited upon Mr (afterwards Sir) John Graham, the Colonial Secretary - corresponding to the Minister of the Interior - who however expressed neutrality on the issue. Fortunately the proposal did not come off and a year later on February 28, 1902, the Secretary reported that, though the grant of Municipal status to Maitland had been approved, only a small portion of the Company's territory was involved, and there was no question of taking over the name. Nonetheless one can only marvel what the position would be today if this ambitious scheme at the commencement of the present century had materialised - there would certainly not have been a Milnerton Municipality in the present-day sense.
Some idea of the rural character of the area was furnished when, again in 1901, repeated action against trespassers was taken against members of the public who went shooting on the land earmarked for development.
How frustrated the pioneers of Milnerton were at this stage is indicated by the report of Carl Jeppe as Chairman when he emphasised the extent to which development had been "retarded by the effects of the War". Although the Railway had been completed, it could still not be worked owing to "dearth of trucks and suitable rolling stock". For this reason the Company had confined itself to "carrying out such minor work such as the reconstruction of the bridge leading to Paarden Island, development of gravel pits and the commencement of tree-planting in the streets".
The most cheering note struck by Jeppe was in regard to the prevailing boom in real estate. "Notwithstanding the disturbed conditions in South Africa, property in and about Cape Town continues to rise in value, such increase being most pronounced in the suburbs adjoining the Company's estate, and also at the seaside resorts. . ." Hence he and his colleagues had "the brightest anticipation as to the future of the Company".
One firm still in existence figured in the proceedings of the Milnerton Estates at that remote stage - namely the Salt River Cement Works, whose request, however, for leave to gather material from the Paarden Eiland Beach "could not be entertained".
Undeterred by this refusal, the Salt River Cement Works Limited made its first attempt to purchase land for industrial purposes from the Milnerton Estates - five acres at £100 per acre near the seashore and £50 for the remainder near the Vlei. "Such an inadequate offer cannot be entertained", was the reply.
Although he had dealt satisfactorily with a difficult situation, Carl Jeppe now resigned his chairmanship, under the plea that he was going overseas for at least a year. His place was taken by William Hare, to whom fell the duty of supervising the arrangements for a debenture issue in London, involving a welcome injection of new capital. Indeed the position suddenly began to improve, with the end of the Anglo-Boer War obviously approaching.
Further encouragement was received when the redoubtable Sammy Marks in Pretoria indicated his willingness to participate financially in the expansion of operations, and, following the signing of the Treaty of
Vereeniging in May 1902, hopes soared that better times lay ahead. Unfortunately it proved a false dawn. "The money market", William Hare confessed ". . . has never recovered sufficiently to allow debentures to be issued with any hope of success."