The story of SA’s first stock fence
There is a modest white gravestone in the old cemetery of the Eastern Cape town of Middelburg. This is the resting place of John Sweet Distin Esquire, formerly of Tafelberg Hall, a farm with its own distinctive “table mountain” on the outskirts of Middelburg.
Few speak of Distin anymore, but his name is significant to farming in South Africa – he is widely credited with erecting the first stock fences in our country, pioneering a revolution in livestock management. It’s hard to believe there was a time when no one even knew how to erect the stock fences that are now intrinsic to our national landscape.
Distin’s tale of fortune and fences began with a splash when he arrived in South Africa in 1846. He and his parents were returning to England from New Zealand when their ship docked at Algoa Bay. As they departed, the 20-year-old made up his mind to try his luck in South Africa and jumped overboard. Distin joined the British Army for a while, made a bit of cash fighting in the Frontier Wars, and subsequently established his trading business in the Eastern Cape, which financed his love of farming and the purchase of his farm Tafelberg Hall in the mid-1800s.
So firmly did he advocate the need to divide livestock farms into fenced-off stock camps for veld rejuvenation and animal health that, in the 1860s, he put it before parliament. Defeated there, Distin headed back to his farm and set about fencing his own farm. With no local skills available, Distin had to bring in a man from Australia to do it.
At the time, no one wanted to concede that the vast funds required for fencing were a necessity, until overgrazing and disease forced the government’s hand many years later, resulting in the act regulating the erection and maintenance of dividing fences in 1883.
Distin’s first fence, now a national monument, is still standing taught and strong, tethered to the original sneezewood fencing poles at the foot of the table-shaped mountain.
You can’t miss Tafelberg should you find yourself travelling on the road between Middelberg and Cradock. This was the setting for the tale of a remarkable man of energy and enterprise, alternately described as “a most progressive farmer” and “rather eccentric with vivid blue eyes, a red face and a temper to match”.
Source – https://www.farmersweekly.co.za/rural-insight/the-story-of-sas-first-stock-fence/
By Heather Dugmore |12 April 2010 |