Jade Munslow Ong
The Reinternment of Olive Schreiner on Buffelskop: A Centenary Tribute
13th August 2021 marks the centenary of the reinternment of Olive Schreiner on Buffelskop. We have chosen to commemorate this occasion by collating images, memories and creative responses by visitors to the mountain.
Olive Schreiner climbed Buffelskop only once in her lifetime, in May 1894, with her husband, Samuel Cron Cronwright-Schreiner. Schreiner recalled this trip in an 1899 letter to close friend, Betty Molteno:
I like to think you & Miss Greene look at my mountains & love them. I have loved them so all my life ^since I was a child.^ It is on the top of that highest point you see from Cradock that I have bought my two acres of ground & where Cron & I & my baby are going to be buried.
I know you won’t quite understand it, because you have got a point further on than me, & don’t mind where you lie; but its such unchanging joy& rest to me to think of that mountain top. Oh the peace the beauty of it up there. You can see far far away right down to the sea ^mountains^ one way & away to the Katberg the other. Often since I have been in Johannesburg, there has seemed nothing else on earth beautiful to me personally but that mountain top. The last time Cron & I were up there we counted over 100 butterflies sitting on the flower spike of one aloe!
- Olive Schreiner to Betty Molteno (Monday 18th July 1899), available at the Olive Schreiner Letters Online.
[Photograph of aloe on Buffelskop by Matthew Whittle]
Samuel Cron Cronwright-Schreiner described the same trip in his 1924 biography of his wife, The Life of Olive Schreiner:
The principal walk we had was the ascent of the highest peak of Buffels Hoek […] Eventually we stood on the very summit of Buffels Kop. […] Olive had never stood there before and never stood there again, for her asthma grew rapidly worse and soon we had to leave the farm for ever. I suppose the world cannot give better weather than that of the mountain tops of the Karoo in May. There is an unearthly beauty over everything; the sun is warm, there is no wind, the air is cool and seems to glitter and sparkle with an effulgent light of its own, and its clearness is incredible; mile after mile, till they are lost in the illimitable distances, not growing hazy but at last just disappearing, the mountains and koppies stand with clear edges against the sky, as though cut with a diamond. Olive stood and gazed at it all in an ecstasy. She was silent; her great eyes, glowing with intensity of feeling and showing it with a depth and absorption that made you still, seemed not so much to look at the scene as to absorb it. […] I have never, I think, seen her so rapt. In that state she hardly ever spoke. I watched her intently till the strain became almost intolerable, for it was all in her face, a soft infinite yearning which was yet a happiness. Her large luminous eyes softly and slowly travelled from point to point. She stood all the time. At last, as her glance passed along the top where we stood, she said very gently yet with a deep thrill: “Oh, Cron, look at that aloe!” I had been watching her and her glance over the great distances, but at once turned to the aloe, a few of which grow on the top. This flower of the aloe – a long yellow-red, poker-like rod of glowing flame – was almost covered with butterflies, sucking at its honeyed juices, a few fluttering on and off at times, the others sitting busily drinking, opening and shutting their wings. It was a unique sight. […] We stayed up there some time; she must have known that she would never stand there again and was looking on that superb panorama, and the aloe with its butterflies, for the last time. I am glad she stood there. If ever a mortal had a perfect holy bliss, she had it that day. Before we went down she said: “We must be buried here, you and I, Cron. I shall buy one morgen of this top and we must be buried here.” It jumped with my own desire, and so it came to be decided.
- Samuel Cron Cronwright-Schreiner, The Life of Olive Schreiner (London: T Fisher Unwin, 1924), pp.266-8.
[Photograph of view from Buffelskop by Matthew Whittle]
The nearest town to Buffelskop is Cradock, which plays host to the annual Schreiner Karoo Writers Festival. Cradock and the surrounding landscape is described in Schreiner’s novel, From Man to Man (1926):
Up-country, in the red karroo, was the town* where Aunt Mary-Anna lived, red karroo to right of it, red karroo to left. A river-bed** ran below the town, in winter full of dried mud banks and reaches of gravel and bare stone, but, in the summer rains, coming down red and full, the dark sand-laden water lying level with the banks and bearing on its waves trees and stumps, the carcasses of drowned animals, and even sometimes at long intervals a human corpse.
All round the plain were flat-topped mountains, some broken into jagged points, but still bearing the marks, in their flat structure, of what had been the shores of seas and lakes, the remains of whose mammoth amphibious beasts lay still within the stratified shale, turned in the course of the ages to stone themselves.
There were three churches in the town and a great square full of sand with shops and houses round it, where, in the early morning, buck wagons drawn by long teams of oxen rolled slowly in, laden with produce from the country, skins and pumpkins and firewood, bags of meal or mealies and sometimes butter and garden growths; and the little market master held the morning market. There the townsmen gathered to hear the latest news and send round the latest gossip, till by eight o’clock they had all gone home to their breakfasts, the wagons had rolled out and the square was left empty and silent enough all day, crossed occasionally by customers making way to the different shops and businessmen going home to their meals, and, at eleven o’clock, by streams of men coming to the hotel*** at the corner where they went to have their morning drink of soda and brandy and to smoke and chat for a while on the hotel stoep.
- Olive Schreiner, From Man to Man or Perhaps Only -, ed. by Dorothy Driver (Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2015), pp.266-7
[Photographs of the Victoria Hotel and die Tuishuise taken by Jade Munslow Ong]
Olive Schreiner died in her sleep on the night of 10th/11th December 1920, and was originally buried in the Schreiner family plot in Maitland Cemetery. In honour of his wife’s wishes, Samuel Cron Cronwright-Schreiner arranged for her reinterment on Buffelskop, along with the bodies of their unnamed daughter, ‘Baby’, who had died shortly after birth on the 30th of April 1895, and dog, Nita, the first of many of Schreiner’s pets to bear that name. On the morning of the 13th of August, a burial party comprising over 30 people (including 10 coffin bearers) ascended the mountain. Cronwright-Schreiner wrote of the day:
It is a year ago since I bade goodbye to the poor little woman at Waterloo; I can still see that weary, strained, dark and sad face as the train steamed out of Waterloo that dull morning and the little hand sadly waving adieu. I never saw her again. She and I were together on Buffelskop in about May 1894; we were there again today, and our baby was there for the first time; poor little baby. The grave looks like a small oval hut in shape. It is very strongly built of cut iron-stone. It stands about four feet above the ground and the floor is about one foot below the ground. I wish it could have been only half as high above ground, but the “ground” – the floor – is all a solid ironstone layer (“blad”), which steel will hardly penetrate, and so the sarcophagus had to be built mostly above the ground. […] Well up, on the arch of the eastern end if the coffin plate (fastened with brass bolts) I had engraved in Johannesburg. It contains four lines, one above the other; nothing but this: “Olive Schreiner, Cronwright-Schreiner, Baby and ‘Nita’”.
- Samuel Cron Cronwright-Schreiner, Diary II (13th August 1921) in Paul Walters and Jeremy Fogg, Olive Schreiner: Her Reinternment on Buffelskop Commemorative Edition (Grahamstown: National English Literary Museum, 2005)
[Photograph of the engraving by Matthew Whittle]
Paul Walters and Jeremy Fogg’s 2005 re-edited commemorative issue of Guy Butler’s Olive Schreiner: Her Reinternment on Buffelskop (1983), publishes extracts from Cronwright-Schreiner’s 1921 diaries alongside additional archival materials. The book contains numerous photographs of Schreiner, Cronwright-Schreiner, and their homes, as well as images of the funeral party before and during the ascent, and atop the mountain. Most of these sources come from the Olive Schreiner photograph collection and the SC Cronwright-Schreiner collection at the Amazwi South African Museum of Literature (formerly the National English Literary Museum) in Grahamstown, South Africa.
Amazwi also holds photographs of a number of leading South African writers and critics on Buffelskop, including Athol Fugard, Richard Rive, Stephen Gray, Guy Butler and Don Maclennan. All of these figures engaged with Schreiner and her works in both direct and indirect ways. Rive wrote his doctoral thesis on Schreiner, and worked towards an edited collection of her letters; Butler, Gray and Maclennan published research on Schreiner's oeuvre, and introduced her fiction to university classrooms; and Butler, Gray and Fugard took inspiration and intertextual referents from Schreiner's work for their own creative outputs, including Gray’s Schreiner: A One-Woman Play (1983), and Fugard’s stage memoir, The Captain’s Tiger (1997).
In more recent years, creative homages to Schreiner have appeared in the forms of Leontia Flynn’s poem, ‘Olive Schreiner’ (2008), and the 2015 film, Suffragette (dir. Sarah Gavron). Schreiner’s most famous novel, The Story of an African Farm (1883), has also been adapted for radio, stage and film. For example, Marion Baraitser’s The Story of an African Farm was performed at the Royal National Theatre Studio in 1995, produced for BBC Radio in 1997, and ran for three weeks at the Young Vic Studio in 2000; and film adaptations include Lindiwe Dovey’s Perfect Darkness (2001) and David Lister’s Bustin’ Bonaparte: The Story of an African Farm (2004).
[Photograph of sarcophagus by Matthew Whittle]
It is not only Schreiner, but also her final resting place, that provides a source of inspiration for creative writers. An early example is provided by Anna Purcell, and appears as appendix in Walters and Fogg's book. Her poem, 'Olive Schreiner's Grave in the Karroo', opens with the lines:
Within the great Karroo she loved so well
She lies at rest upon a lonely peak
Whose summit seems to meet the radiant skies –
Clear-cut against the dome of azure hue.
- Anna Purcell, 'Olive Schreiner's Grave in the Karroo', The Cape (2nd Sept 1921), repr. in Walters and Fogg, p.184
Purcell was a close friend of Schreiner’s and member of the Cape Women’s Enfranchisement League, who later supported Cronwright-Schreiner in editing and typing his wife’s manuscripts for publication. A November 1922 photograph of Purcell at Schreiner’s tomb is also held by Amazwi, and published in Walters and Fogg (p.26).
A more well-known tribute to Schreiner and the mountain is provided by major South African poet, Roy Campbell, in his 'Buffel's Kop (Olive Schreiner's Grave)' from the 1930 collection, Adamastor:
In after times when strength or courage fail,
May I recall this lonely hour: the gloom
Moving one way: all heaven in the gale
Roaring: and high above the insulted tomb
An eagle anchored on full spread of sail
That from its wings let fall a silver plume.
- Roy Campbell, 'Buffel's Kop (Olive Schreiner's Grave)', Adamastor (London: Faber & Faber, 1930), p.27
More recently, celebrated Afrikaans writer, Etienne van Heerden, produced the short story, 'The Resurrection of Olive' (1991) [later reprinted in Mad Dog and Other Stories (1992) and Kikuyu (2008)], in which the narrator encounters photographs of Buffelskop in Cradock library. This sparks 'all the disagreeableness of unassimilated recollection' of a 'sad summer':
Oh, the wide open winds of Buffelskop! With the rock kestrels swooping over the stone ledges, tumbling down into the valley, as you stand high on the roof of the world, among hot ironstone and spekboom shrubs: nothing round you, just wisps of fleecy cloud and Joe Mann's* stone paunch!
- Etienne van Heerden, 'The Resurrection of Olive', The Iowa Review 21.2 (1991), pp.15-16
*Joe Mann was the local stonemason who built the sarcophagus.
Buffelskop continues to inspire writers today. Look out for 'Striking Rocks' in Caitlin Stobie's forthcoming 2022 poetry collection, Thin Slices.
Marike Beyers, Curator at the Amazwi South African Museum of Literature kindly provided the following personal reflections and photographs from the museum holdings. The photographs are of Amazwi (then the National English Literary Museum) staff excursions to Buffelskop. The final five photographs were taken in 2007, following the restoration of the sarcophagus in 2006.
It seems that honouring Olive Schreiner by visiting her grave on top of Buffelskop becomes a pilgrimage in itself, not just for the purpose, but for the sense of obstacles and difficulties in getting there, so that the journey and the landscape becomes the day, the memory. Our journey there included an unfortunate encounter with a kudu in the early morning mist along the road, the winding long walk up, the steep rocky way of Buffelskop down. But then there's the sky to hold it all.
– Marike Beyers
2016. 334. 18. 24 NELM photographer. Photograph of NELM excursion : on top of Buffelskop at the Schreiner sarcophagus / NELM photographer.-- n.d. [Photographs]. b&w ; 150 x 200 mm. [FORM: Printed].
2016_443_6_4_7 ANON. Participants of an undated excursion up Buffelskop, burial place of Olive Schreiner. Includes Jeremy Fogg, Ann Dry, Jeanette Eve and Desmond Eve / photographer unknown. -- [n.d.] [Print-outs of Photographs]. -- 1 photo : b&w ; 147 x 102 mm. [FORM: Printed].
Marike Beyers (and unknown person in background)
Lynne Grant, Malcolm Hacksley
From left to right: Malcolm Hacksley, Lynne Grant, Marike Beyers, Basil Mills
2016_443_6_4_4 MILLS, Basil (photographer) NELM staff Malcolm Hacksley, Lynne Grant, Marike Beyers and Basil Mills in front of the restored sarcophagus on top of Buffelskop, burial place of Olive Schreiner. -- 2006. [Print-outs of Photographs]. -- 1 leaf : col. ; 298 x 210 mm. [FORM: Printed].
See Amazwi South African Museum of Literature and Amazwi on facebook for more information about the museum, exhibitions and holdings.
Beth Wyrill and Lauren O’Brien remember climbing Buffelskop as part of an annual “pilgrimage” made by English Honours students at Rhodes University. Photographs kindly provided by Lauren O'Brien, with captions by Beth Wyrill.
A snack break on the way up the mountain.
Amazwi’s Basil Mills, holding forth.
The ancient Amazwi Condor – still going! – and some expectant pilgrims at the base of the mountain.
Matthew Whittle and I visited Buffelskop in July 2018. This trip was organised through the present custodians of the land at Buffelshoek Dirosie Lodge.
After a winding, bumpy ride up the Karoo hills on the back of a Jeep, spotting giraffes along the way, I walked with Jade up to Olive Schreiner’s sarcophagus on Buffelskop in July 2018. ‘Gardens of Pleasure’, Schreiner’s allegorical tale of self-sacrifice set in a “lonely desert”, was ideal reading to appreciate why the landscape of the Karoo was so important to her literary and political vision.
– Matthew Whittle
Once more he stood before her with his still, white, death-like face. And she knew what he had come for; she unbent the fingers, and let the flowers drop out, the flowers she had loved so, and walked on without them, with dry, aching eyes. Then for the last time he came. And she showed him her empty hands, the hands that held nothing now. But still he looked. Then at length she opened her bosom and took out of it one small flower she had hidden there, and laid it on the sand. She had nothing more to give now, and she wandered away, and the grey sand whirled about her.
– Olive Schreiner, ‘The Gardens of Pleasure’ in Dreams (London: T Fisher Unwin, 1890), pp.54-5
And so it comes to pass at last, that whereas the sky was at first a small blue rag stretched out over us, and so low that our hands might touch it, pressing down on us, it raises itself into an immeasurable blue arch over our heads, and we begin to live again.
– Olive Schreiner, The Story of an African Farm (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p.118
Thank you to our contributors for sharing their memories and photographs of Buffelskop.
Marion Baraitser, The Story of an African Farm: A Dramatisation of Olive Schreiner’s Novel (London: Oberon Books, 2000)
Roy Campbell, Adamastor (London: Faber & Faber, 1930)
Samuel Cron Cronwright-Schreiner, The Life of Olive Schreiner (London: T Fisher Unwin, 1924)
Leontia Flynn, Drives (London: Jonathan Cape, 2008)
Athol Fugard, The Captain’s Tiger: A Memoir for the Stage (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1999)
Stephen Gray, Schreiner: A One-Woman Play (Claremont: David Philip, 1987)
Olive Schreiner, Dreams (London: T Fisher Unwin, 1890)
---, From Man to Man Or Perhaps Only -, edited by Dorothy Driver (Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2015)
---, The Story of an African Farm (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998)
Caitlin Stobie, Thin Slices (Birmingham: Verve Poetry Press, forthcoming 2022)
Etienne van Heerden, 'The Resurrection of Olive', The Iowa Review 21.2 (1991), 15-29
---, Mad Dog and Other Stories, trans. by Catherine Knox (Claremont: David Philip, 1992)
---, Kikuyu, trans. by Catherine Knox (Cape Town: Kikuyu Books, 2008)
Paul Walters and Jeremy Fogg, Olive Schreiner: Her Reinternment on Buffelskop, Commemorative Edition (Grahamstown: National English Literary Museum, 2005)
Bustin’ Bonaparte: The Story of an African Farm, dir. David Lister (2004)
Perfect Darkness, dir. Lindiwe Dovey (2008)
Suffragette, dir. Sarah Gavron (2015)
Olive Schreiner Letters Online
Amazwi South African Museum of Literature / Amazwi on Facebook
Key Places and Events
Schreiner Karoo Writer’s Festival