Elandsberg Farms comprises four adjoining farms, almost 6000 hectares in total, of which Bartholomeus Klip is the oldest. Early records show that a piece of freehold land was named “Bartholomeus Klip” in commemoration of the St Bartholomews Day massacre of the Huguenots in France in 1572, was granted to Franz van der Lubbstadt, a settler from Holland in 1705.
Successive transfers brought the property into the Parker family in 1937. Most of the land was still uncultivated and much the same as Franz Joosten had seen when he first inspected his land grant at the beginning of the 18th century. The farm has had its fair share of mystery and intrigue over the years. For instance, Maria, the wife of Franz Joosten, was the first white woman in the Cape to be condemned to the death penalty for her part in the gruesome murder of her husband at Bartholomeus Klip in 1714. Another interesting fact is that during the Boer war one of the farm houses was used as staging post by a unit of the British cavalry. One night after a fair amount of carousing had taken place in the house, a group of Boers stole the 40 kraaled horses, drove them to Cape Town overnight and sold them back to the mystified British.
In line with the pioneer’s mindset of that time, over the years agriculture expanded to the detriment of the veld, and the desire to “tame the land” resulted in the erection of kilometres of fencing that divided the veld into livestock camps. As there were no naturally occurring shade trees, copses of Australian blue gum trees were planted to provide shade for the stock. As with the early settlers, the hardships of livestock farming were ever present and on occasion a leopard strike could result in the loss of up to 30 sheep in a single night attack. Calves would go missing in the mountains and it was an endless battle for shepherds on horseback to kraal the sheep and cattle at night.
With the purchase of more arable land in the early 70’s the emphasis on farming changed, from predominantly sheep farming to that of grain cultivation. The stock were withdrawn from the veld and the fencing removed. The Mediterranean climate of hot dry summers and cool moist winters makes the area well suited for winter grain farming. In addition, the soils of the area, derived from shells belonging to the Malmesbury Shales group of sedimentary rock, are considered fertile, in comparison with the more sandy and acidic soil typical of the Western Cape. Before planting began in late autumn, entire fields were burnt to prevent potential diseases that may have been present to carry over to the newly planted crop. Fields were also contoured to ensure good drainage, and then ploughed and fertilised in preparation for the onset of the first winter rains. Seed irrigated by the winter rains is harvested in spring as it changes from green to golden with the onset of warmer weather. Although, until today, wheat forms the bulk of grain produced on the farms, other feed crops such as oats, barley and rye are also grown, to support the 5000 plus merino sheep flock.
Although historically the area has supported a wide diversity of animal and plant species, including elephant and black rhino, years of farming began to exact its toll on their survival in the natural veld that had managed to escape cultivation. In 1977 the areas of the farm which had not been ploughed up and those that had recovered from the years of sheep farming, were proclaimed a “Private Nature Reserve”, and antelope species typical of those that had disappeared as a result of the pressures of farming began to be re-introduced. Between 1974 and 1981 springbok, bontebok, eland, blue and black wildebeest, red hartebeest, gemsbok and zebra were successfully reintroduced to the Elandsberg Private Nature Reserve.
Coastal Renosterveld, which usually occurs on soils derived from shales, making it ideal for wheat farming, has all but been ploughed up except for that which is now conserved at Elandsberg. Endemic populations of Protea Mucronifolia, thought to be extinct since 1841, were re-discovered when the Reserve was proclaimed, as well as the largest and last genetically viable population of the endangered geometric tortoise. With Elandsberg conserving one of the last remaining areas of coastal Renosterveld, there are many plants that occur here and not anywhere else.
Although farming is not as labour intensive as it used to be, Elandsberg still employs 25 full time farm workers who live on the property with their wives and families. In many instances retired workers still live on the farm whilst their sons now work the land and sheep. The fact that the farm only provides employment for the men had been of concern for a number of years, and to alleviate this problem it was decided that the old farmhouse at Bartholomeus Klip should be renovated and developed as a guest house to provide employment for the women on the farm. At present 14 women are employed in all aspects of running the business providing them with employment, training and the opportunity to develop skills.