Boer en Veldkornet van die Riversdal-distrik
Jan fulfilled a dream popular amongst boys his age during the era of Twain and Kipling, he ran away to sea. As he told it he happened to be on the old pier just admiring the tall sailing ships when a
sailor called out to him. 'Hey sonny, would like to come on board and have a closer look?' He claimed that the next thing he remembered was waking up at sea to find that he was now a cabin Boy. That w
as unlikely, as he was known to be an energetic, enterprising lad, and a little pig headed beside. Only sixteen at the time, his time before the mast took him to the United States, the Far East, to Eu
rope, around the Horn twice and left him shipwrecked on an a South Sea island for a while.
It was four years before he saw his home and family again. As he approached the house his father chanced to gallop up on his horse. Stephanus threw the rains at him and said, 'here kid, please hold on
to these for a moment.' Then he turned and strode up the steps. Confused, and with his throat constricted by tears, Jan walked the horse around to the stables which knew were at the back of the house
. There his mother happened to be busy with washing. She however, as a mother would, recognized him immediately and took him inside for a plate of food
Initially his parents sent him to farm in the Transvaal. At a stage, in addition to his own farm, he held options on several other farms in the region, all bought at two pounds apiece. This land would
later develop into one of the richest goldfields in the world but no one knew of it back them. Instead he chose to sell up and come to farm in Riversdale where he met and married his wife, Christina
de Waal van Zyl, in 1859.
As he spoke English quite well he was an interpreter at several court cases during the Boer Was and, being field cornet, eventually a registrar at the special Tribunals Court between 1900 and 1902. De
spite the opportunities he'd missed he ultimately owned three farms in the district where, amongst other things, he became well known as a horse breeder. Two sons, Willie and Johannes, operated on one
of them, Melkhoudfontein, a farm that stretches to the sea and today includes a section of Stilbaai. Two others, Stephanus and Pieter, were eminent municipal officers, and Gys went on to become the A
dministrator of South West Africa. However in his later life Jan suffered a considerable setback. Despite, or possibly because of the exciting life he'd lead, he eventually got religious, and lost everything.
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