Jock of the Bushveld, written by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, is a unique story woven about the life and times of a young transport-rider and his dog in the Lowveld and the adjacent berglands between the pioneering years 1885 to 1887. Supplies for the early gold-mining diggings at Macmac, Pilgrim’s Rest and later Barberton were hauled by ox-wagon from Delagoa Bay only during the winter months. During the summer the risk of malaria to people and tsetse fly, which affected the oxen, was too great and no transportation undertaken.
The route used was pioneered by the early diggers of 1873, probably guided along the old Joao (Jiwawa) Albasini trade route as far as the present Pretoriuskop in the Kruger National Park. This direct overland route from Delagoa Bay was considerably shorter than the safer overland routes via Durban or the Cape. In 1875 A H Nellmapius, a popular and enterprising Pilgrim’s Rest digger, obtained a concession from the Volksraad, of the old South African Republic, to construct the road between the Diggings and Delagoa Bay. In payment for which he was granted five farms on which he established rest or trading stations for his transport organisation consisting of Black carriers, mule and donkey-wagons. Private transport-riders were initially required to pay a toll for using the road. Unfortunately for Nellmapius his transport organisation collapsed within a year when his carriers deserted because of the Sekhukhune-Bapedi uprising.
The subsequent discovery of gold in the Barberton area necessitated the addition of two links to the original road. One from Furley’s Drift, south of Komatipoort, over high ground through northern Swaziland, and the second from Nellmapius Drift, north of Hectorspruit in the Crocodile River, directly up the Crocodile and Kaap Valleys via the present Kaapmuiden, Low’s Creek and Noordkaap. The latter was a less arduous but more dangerous route because of the tsetse-fly danger, and was pioneered by Bob Pettigrew.
The story of Jock of the Bushveld originally titled The Life, the Man and the Dog, tells of the land and the transport riders. Before the coming of the railways they provided food and clothing for the people in the interior. From the ports they came with wagonloads of supplies, toiling up passes sometimes losing a whole span of oxen to the tsetse fly. Sir Percy first told his children the stories of his early life in the transport business and centred his tales on the life of a dog, which he called Jock.
Friends and visitors heard the stories and between 1901-3, at their urging, Sir Percy began to marshal them into a book. He met the artist Edmund Caldwell, whom he persuaded to come to South Africa to follow the trails so that he could illustrate the book more accurately. The illustrations remain part of the charm of the book.
Roadside ‘marker’ rocks embossed with ‘Jock Trek 1885’ plaques, known as Way-marks, have been erected to define where modern tarred Provincial Roads crossed some of the old transport roads.