14 December 2005

Slagtersnek Rebellion beam in museum

Emile Badenhorst is also curator of the Somerset East Museum and was responsible for bringing the Slagtersnek Rebellion beam back to the Eastern Cape earlier this year. The beam was used as a gallows on 09 March 1816 to hang five Boer leaders after the Slagtersnek Rebellion in 1815. Emile discovered the beam in the storage rooms of the South African Museum (now Iziko Museum) in Cape Town. It took 5 years of phoning and organising to bring it to Somerset East. The beam was offered to the museum in the 1980s but the former curator turned it down because it was too sensitive.

The beam still bears the bolt holes which secured it to a wooden structure and turned it into a gallows. The leather riempie rope snapped in mid execution and another had to be found to complete the hanging. Normally prisoners would be set free if the rope snapped but not in this case and the men’s wives and children who were forced to attend the hanging had to watch them being hanged again.

The rebellion started in 1815 after Cornelius Freek Bezuidenhout was gunned down by Khoi soldiers led by the British near Cookhouse. Bezuidenhout was on the run in the mountains after failing to appear in court for the maltreatment of a labourer. This led to a rising of frontier Boers. Forty-six men stood trial in Uitenhage. Some were fined, others lost their farms, but 5 leaders were sentenced to death. The rebellion was one of the reasons for the Great Trek.

After the hangings the beam was returned to its original purpose which was as a ceiling support in a farm’s pigsty. It was eventually removed and became an icon of Afrikaner nationalism. In 1949, it was transported to the opening of the completed Voortrekker Monument outside Pretoria, after being paraded through Middelburg, Colesburg, Bloemfortein, Winburg, Ventersburg and Parys en route. It ended up at the Cape Town Historical Museum in 1989.