The whispers of men begging for their lives.
Suppose you are driving along in a northerly direction through the Karoo Heartland on the N10. The main drag between Port Elizabeth and Cradock. Slow down a bit after you pass the first turnoff to Somerset East and keep a lookout on the right-hand side of the road for a cenotaph. ( A monument. )
According to newspaper reports, On 9 March 1916, five frontier men were hanged to death on the very spot where this monument was erected 100 years later. Before dawn on 18 March 1816, five men were lead to their death for acts of rebellion against the British authorities. It all began when Frederik Bezuidenhout was guilty of mistreating his labourer; this was a regular occurrence. He was summoned to court for a hearing, but he would never arrive. Fredrik fled to a nearby cave, where he defended himself against the British soldiers sent to capture him. Frederik was met with a bullet to his temple and died instantly. His tragic death would lead to one of his brothers seeking revenge on the British powers. The Boer joined forces marching to Landrost (magistrate) in Slachters Nek to bring justice to the murder of his brother and the farmers. They were “attacked” by the government.
Hans Bezuidenhout and his neighbour Hendrik Prinsloo carried the dead body of Frederick to meet with Jacob Cuyker, the military commander. They hoped his body would evoke some kind of change. Sadly, the negotiations failed, and the farmers, known as rebels to the British authorities, walked back to their farms with Fredricks dead body. Still burning with revenge, Hans continued to plot to kill Jacob Cuyker and as many British officers as he could. The British powers heard wind of this and silenced the rebels by demanding that they hand themselves over for the uprising they had tried to start. Otherwise, there would be war. Inciting violence and disagreement with the British authorities were not taken lightly. Many of the rebels handed themselves over, but the few that did not would suffer terribly. On 18 November 1815, the rebels were attacked by colonial troops, and Hans Bezuidenhout, like his brother, died while resisting arrest.
The rebels were then imprisoned or banished from the Karoo, and six men sentenced to death. One of the men, Barend Vouree fell in good favour and was pardoned by the Governor Still, the other five were immediately taken to the public hanging place at Van Aardtspos.
It was in the middle of the day, the hot karoo sun pounding down on the unforgiving blood-drenched land. The five men lined up one next to another with their nooses hanging loosely around their necks. Their arms tied behind their backs and their eyes fixed on the crowd of onlookers staring at them with fear and horror. A rebels wife holding the hands of her two children collapsed to the floor, begging the authorities to pardon her husband. The coldness grew, and the police ignored the wailing woman as the hangman stepped up to the platform where he went from one man to the next man ensuring their ropes were correct. When he was sure all was in order, he looked across the crowd to Jacob Cyker, who nodded. The hangman released the trap doors, the ground opened below the men, and they slipped into their death in unison. However, something unexplained happened, something one would think was a gift from God. As the men dropped to their deaths, four of the five nooses broke, and four men fell with a thud to their knees below them on the gravelly dusty ground. One remained hanging on the noose by his neck, wriggling like a fish until he jerked one last time. The young woman with her two children ran towards their father, one of the lucky ones escaping death. Instantly the townspeople gasped, and the four men begged and cried for their lives. A man’s voice was heard from the crowd, the voice of the doomany from the church, God has shown mercy.
The four remaining men believed that they would be given a second chance. While the crowd grew louder, the authorities spoke to the hangman, demanding an explanation for the failed hanging. It is said that the hangman did not realise that there would be five executions that day and had only brought one new rope; the other four were old and had been used too many times.
According to the authorities, this was not an act of God; they demanded that each man be hanged a second time with the new noose. One by one they would watch their fellow man hanged waiting for their turn. They watched each man ascend the scaffold the second time and drop to their deaths till their body jerked one last time. Then the noose removed from his snapped neck and slowly with precision put on the next man to ascend the scaffold and be hanged to death. The crowds stood in silence. Some had tears streaming down their cheeks, others a smile of revenge.
In the middle of the day, it is said during the hours when the sun is at its highest. The whispers of the begging men can still be heard, and the children’s screams pierce through the deadly Karoo air where this monument has been laid. And if you listen carefully to the gravel beneath your feet, sometimes you can hear the thud of the four men collapsing to the ground, and the silence.
The history of Cookhouse and the surrounding area is known for many dark apparitions and sinister whispers. It is a bloodthirsty piece of land where many deaths and unhappy souls wander the plains. You can stop off on the side of the road to view the monument and read the names of the men who were hanged twice in one day.