Did you know?
The Somerset East Museum houses the original hanging beam used to execute the Slagtersnek rebels.
As you drive south on the N10 highway between Cradock and Port Elizabeth, you will pass a tall memorial on your left in the vicinity of Cookhouse.
Marked 'Slagtersnek Monument', it is dedicated to an incident that is said to have been a reason behind one of the most significant settler migrations in Africa: the Great Trek.
It all began with a tough frontier farmer called Cornelis Frederik Bezuidenhout, who lived in the Baviaans River area, and a 20-year-old deputy magistrate called Andries Stockenstrom, who was trying to keep the peace from his base in the newly founded town of Cradock.
By the early 1800s, there was already great friction between the Afrikaner farmers in the area and the mainly Khoikhoi soldiers in the service of the British authorities.
In 1813, a Khoikhoi man named Booi lodged a series of complaints against his employer, Bezuidenhout. Booi said he had been beaten and his salary withheld.
Stockenstrom sent Bezuidenhout a summons to answer the charges in a Graaff-Reinet court. Bezuidenhout did not react to the summons – some say his gout had flared up and he could not make the journey into town – so he was sentenced in absentia to a month of prison for contempt of court.
In October 1815, two British officers and a dozen Khoikhoi troopers were sent to bring him in. After a short gunfight, Bezuidenhout was killed in a cave on his farm.
To an outsider at the time, this incident would seem no more than everyday frontier justice: harsh, but certainly not rare.
However, at the funeral, his brother, Hans, cried for vengeance. He called for an uprising against the British, and managed to raise a party of 60 to join him.
The oath of vengeance was made at a place called Slagter’s Nek ('Butcher’s Neck'), and one of the group’s first political attempts was to try to turn a local Xhosa leader, Ngika, into their ally.
On November 18 that year, the British took most of the rebels into custody. Hans Bezuidenhout – the instigator – was killed in a skirmish. Of the rebels, five were sentenced to death.
The legend of the Slagtersnek Rebellion hanging was firmly cemented in the annals of South African history when four of the nooses broke. Tradition has it that when a hangman’s noose breaks, the person being hanged goes free.
The local authorities did not see it that way, and more rope was obtained.
This public execution of the rebels on the spot where they made their original pact was seen as one of the triggers for the mass movement of Boers to the interior, away from British rule, which came to be known as the Great Trek.
Today the Slagtersnek Monument recalls these incidents.