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Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae

versão On-line ISSN 2412-4265
versão impressa ISSN 1017-0499

Studia Hist. Ecc. vol.41 no.1 Pretoria  2015 



Hymnal record of a missionary structure at Thabantšho (Gerlachshoop) of the Bakopa of Kgošhi Boleu



Richard Peter Wade

Department of Geology, University of Pretoria.




This research sets out to answer a problem involving whether or not the first church was established across the Vaal River in the 1860s at Gerlachshoop (Maleoskop). An incidental And of an unknown publication may corroborate an answer to the problem. Anecdotal notes in a hymnal songbook record the first inauguration of a bell of one of the earliest Berlin Missionaries north of the Vaal River. This may clarify the location within the landscape and whether the structure of a church at Gerlachshoop or Thabantsho was erected, as opposed to being a deception or a historical figment of imagination by a subsequent director of the Berlin Missionary Society. The national heritage value of such rare early documentation of European/African literature and the built environment is of great significance and serves as one of the earliest records of German translations into the Sekopa language almost 150 years ago, with several early hymns set to musical notation, that marked the occasion when the actual Sekopa hymns were sung at the event of the inauguration of an early church and its bell.

Key words: Thabantsho; Gerlachshoop; hymnal record; Berlin Missionary Society; Bakopa; Kgoshi Boleu; Herrmann Sachtleben




In order to ascertain that a church was established at Gerlachshoop Mission station in the 1860s, this research has brought to light a new source that may provide corroborative evidence that such a building was established and that an inauguration ceremony for a bell had indeed occurred.

Together with other similar diary notes from the Berlin Missionary Society, mention is made of an inauguration but confusion reigns as to whether the actual church building was established. One source, namely Wangemann (1992) in particular stresses that the church was established and even provides a sketch of the building.

Later archaeological research has however contested this view and lack of discovering the building can either imply that Wangemann was in a state of subterfuge of some sort, or that the later church building was rebuilt or extended over the previous church, or that the building has not yet been located, and finally, that it never existed in the first place.

There is sufficient evidence in the literature, including this new source, to suggest that a church was established and that its precise location has yet to be determined.


Gerlachshoop location

A certain Anina du Plessis drew attention to the site and ever since it would appear that the exact location of the settlement called Gerlachshoop seems to have been in dissension. Boshoff illuminates how Bergh (1990):

...refers to several factors concerning the Ba-Kopa, which are vague. One of these is the fact that the exact location of the Ba-Kopa settlement is not correctly described and indicated. He [Bergh] criticises previous historiographers (Van Rooyen and Van Jaarsveld) for their imprecise interpretation of sources...[and] has drawn a map, with the farms Weltevrede, Rietkloof and Blaauwbank indicated, and situated the Ba-Kopa settlement in the southeastern corner of the farm Rietkloof. This indication is in line with the hilltop indicated as Maleoskop on modern maps (and it is a prominent hill, towering over much of the surrounding landscape), but I believe it is a misidentification. (Boshoff 2007a)

Reasons for the adoption of the present site are vague and yet Wangemann (1992) is used to corroborate the location of the settlement of Gerlachshoop, even though at a later stage Wangemann is described by Boshoff as 'delusionary'. Boshoff (2007a) however further elucidates:

.. .December 1861 saw the construction of the dower house as well as a water-furrow, which are still visible today. According to Wangemann, the house was 42 ft long and 18 ft wide and built with mud bricks. The foundation was laid out with the unusual black manganiferous boulders from Thabantsho. A church was constructed with the help of the local Christians and the first sermons were heard on the 20th of September 1863.

In May 1862, two new missionaries, Endeman and Albert Nachtigal, joined Grutzner and Merensky. It was decided that Endeman and Grutzner would continue working with the tribe while Merensky and Nachtigal explore greener pastures. The latter two eventually established the mission station Botshabelo, which later would play an important role in the Ba-Kopa history. (Boshoff 2007a)


Church location

This recent research, together with archaeological excavations and survey, has therefore alluded to the possibility that no church was ever 'completed' at Gerlachshoop during the 1860s and that this remains a mystery. Archaeological work to locate any structures has shown extensive devastation but no concrete evidence has surfaced in this regard, However, Boshoff (2007a) rather confusingly concludes that by September 1862, Kgoshi Boleu ceded an area between Thabantsho and Gerlachshoop for the erection of a school that could also function as church and that even though a bell tower was erected, animosity broke out and war between the Bakopa and Boers saw a vacation and destruction later by a Swazi-Boer force by late 1863.

A short while after the destruction and death of Kgoshi Boleu, Wangemann made detailed sketches of the structures and their positions in the landscape during the periods 1866-1867 and 1884-1885 (Wangemann 1868; 1992). The naming of the king was also detailed and the specific location defined (Boshoff and Leonard 2004-2005), with certain discrepancies Bergh (1990, 5-9; Map 6.4) that located the settlement in the south-eastern corner of the farm Rietkloof 166JS (Van Jaarsveld 1986, 147-156).

Boshoff (2007a), however doubts Wangemann's drawings (1868, 64) and criticises his observations and notes (dated 16 May 1867 - that were done three years after the battle at Thabantsho, and two and a half years after Gerlachshoop was vacated), specifically where Wangemann made the following observation about drawing No. 3. Gerlachshoop: 'In der Mitte die Kirche...' [In the centre, the church] (Boshoff, Kruger and Kruger 2007; Wangemann 1868).

Boshoff (2007a) sees that from plans drawn up by the middle of 1863, the following note accompanies the sketch: 'GrundriB der so Gott will in Gerlachshoop zu erbauende Kirche' [Plan of the church that will, God willing, be erected at Gerlachshoop - own translation] (Acta Gerlachshoop 1860-1866 Abt III Fach 4 No 1 Dok 138, 138a, 139: 4). He questions the validity that a bell tower was inaugurated on 20 September 1863, as the mission station was temporarily vacated shortly thereafter for a few months and the ensuing battle suspended almost all activities at Gerlachshoop after 10 May 1864. Boshoff states that the 'missionaries hoped for an opportunity to build a school and a church (in that order) shortly before the battle':

Noch ist freilich nicht abzusehen, wann wir unser Gerlachshoop als eine vollstandige station uns werden vorstellen konnen: denn ganz fertig ist ein Missionsplatz doch nur dann erst, wenn eine Kirche da ist, und der Altar aufgerichtet werden kann, und vorher tragt alles doch nur den Stempel des Nothwerkes an sich [Still it is not clear when we will be able to imagine our Gerlachshoop as a complete station because a mission place is only truly complete when it has a church and when an altar can be erected. Until then the whole endeavour carries a preparatory stamp - own translation] (BMB 1863d: 390-391). (Boshoff 2007a)

Boshoff further elucidates that Wangemann possibly wishfully depicted the establishment of the Mission either due to incorrect information from Alexander Merensky and Heinrich Adam Kobolt (1834-1874; cf. Zollner and Heese 1984, 197198) or that Wangemann had lied (Boshoff 2007a).


Archaeological problem

An archaeological mystery begins to unfold as Gerlachshoop appears to have been deserted without being destroyed and so may have less to show in the stratigraphical record. Johannes Sander returned to Gerlachshoop in 1904 after the mission was evacuated in 1865 (Boshoff et al. 2007).

The Maleoskop Archaeological Project researchers determined through a surface survey from the outset where houses and a church were located from the scatter of bricks and hewn stone foundations. However, oral testimony confirmed that the located church was the one built between 1904 and 1906 by Sander and which was demolished in 1963.

No mention is made of excavations to determine the possible continuity context of the church building, which is assumed to have no relationship with an earlier construction, nor is any relationship drawn in locating verifiable chronological exactitude for the statements made. The surface survey has no ecological indicator species markers to act as verification by any means, specifically aerial. Boshoff reveals that further excavations may shed light on the earlier period and admits that the information from the excavations are negative. The assumptions concerning Wangemann are therefore premature, specifically in light of excavations done (cf. Boshoff 2007a; Boshoff et al. 2007).


Notes in hymnal records

A relatively unknown missionary - Herrmann Sachtleben, born in 1829 in Quedlinburg, Germany - appears to bring light to this mystery in his records as revealed by notes written in his songbook/hymnal written at the time. Sachtleben also translates several of the earliest hymns into an African dialect from the German language. He is known to have entered the country in 1859 and to have died unmarried on the 6th of August 1913. The book is therefore part of the rarest literature in Africa and its heritage as well as providing an eyewitness account of the first church to be built north of the Vaal River. He worked at Gerlachshoop with Karl Heinrich Julius Endemann 'K.E.', Theodore Wangemann, Carl Heinrich Theodore Grützner 'H.G.' or H.Gr.', Johannes Carl August Sander, Alexander Merensky, Albert Nachtigal 'A.N.', Heinrich Kobolt and died as a missionary at Botshabelo near Middleburg (Poewe and Van der Heyden 1999).


Description of hymnal

Dimension: 175mm x 110mm x 7mm. Ownership - author.

A hard cover with bluish-green cloth spine with black paper pasted on cardboard paper cover. Intact spine with exterior signs of deterioration. Internal good condition with slight yellowing from age. Front inscription in gold leaf print: 'Herrmann Sachtleben'.


Book Title:

'Klánge des Claubens und der Liebe' Eine Sammlung geistlicher Lieder mit Melodieen zur Erbauung in haus und Schule herausgegeben von W. Irmer. Zweite, vermehrte auflage. Berlin, 1854. Berlag von Bethge. Sparwaldsbrude Nr 16, 70 pages.































Andries Sekoto

It would appear that the language of Sekopa was introduced to the mission station of Gerlachshoop by Andries Sekoto and it is interesting to note that in the Mission 21 files (Switzerland) an unknown photograph exists which portrays Andries Sekoto. (See Figure 16 Andries Sekoto.) This could therefore be evidence of the progenitor of the earliest documented linguistic or literal innovation in Southern Africa? An aspect which propounds volumes in the vicissitudes of an unknown shared heritage of the Bakopa; a bell, a few songs, cataclysm and the scribbles of a missionary in reverence to God:



From the outset they acquired the services of an interpreter, Andries Sekoto, who was able to speak Dutch. He taught the missionaries Sekopa, the variant of Northern Sotho spoken by the Bakopa. Grutzner proved to be a fine language student and, on 22 November 1862, he was able to conduct a full service in Sekopa. However, his younger contemporary Karl Endemann, who joined Grutzner at Gerlachshoop, turned out to be a most remarkable student of the Sotho languages. Endemann's most enduring contributions to the study of the Sotho languages were his books Versuch einer Grammatik des Sotho (Berlin, 1876) and Worterbuch der Sotho-Sprache (Hamburg, 1911). The latter is still in use...

Sekoto was also the first student to attend catechism classes to be baptised. He and two of his children were the first of the Bakopa to be baptised on Christmas day 1861, and two years later he knew enough German to commence with his own translation of the Small Catechism into Sekopa (BMB 1864c: 116). The reading and writing classes, held at the mission station, gradually attracted more people. (Boshoff 2007b, Zollner and Heese 1984)



In light of the songbook diary it can be ascertained the inauguration of the church bell did occur with specific hymns that were sung and that a structure was erected which did not require the congregation to occupy the house as is suggested.

This publication specifically provides a record of the earliest translations into Sekopa and shows the kind of grammar utilised in Africa's foremost church establishment north of the Vaal River.

Andries Sekoto is seemingly the key progenitor of the means the missionaries had to formally document and characterise the formation of mission stations and churches in the region. Remarkably a photograph was found to further extend detail to the songbook diary of Herrmann Sachtleben.


List of references

Bergh, J.S.1990. Kopa-nedersetting van Boleu (Maleo) in Oos-Transvaal.         [ Links ]

Boshoff, W.S. 2007a.        [ Links ]

Boshoff, W.S. 2007b. Space and spatiality at Gerlachshoop and Thabantsho (1860-1864): Relationships between the missionaries and the Bakopa Missionalia 36: 1 (April 2007) 98-120. Extracted from pages 107-115.         [ Links ]

Boshoff, W.S., D.J. Krüger and E. Krüger. 2007. Maleoskop Archaeological Project. Third interim report: 2004-2005 seasons. (Unpublished report to the South African Heritage Resources Agency).         [ Links ]

Boshoff, W.S., D.J. Krüger and M.M. Leonard. 2004-2005. The Bakopa of Thabantsho: Historical background, site description and initial excavations as part of the Maleoskop archaeological project. Southern African Field Archaeology 13 and 14: 3-12.         [ Links ]

Poewe, K. and U. van der Heyden.1999. 'The Berlin Mission Society and its Theology: The Bapedi Mission Church and the independent Bapedi Lutheran Church'. South African Historical Journal 40 May, 1999: 21-50.         [ Links ]

Van Jaarsveld, A. 1986. Die Kopa van Maleo en die Blankes in die Transvaal 1845 - 1864, SAHJ 18: 147-156.         [ Links ]

Wangemann, H.T. 1868. Ein Reise-jahr in Süd-Afrika. Ausführliches Tagebuch über eine in den Jahren 1866 und 1867 ausgeführte Inspectionsreise durch die Missions-Stationen der berliner Missions-Gesellschaft. Berlin: Verlag des Missionshauses.         [ Links ]

Wangemann, H.T. 1992. Drawings of two mission journeys to South Africa. Pretoria: National Cultural History Museum.         [ Links ]

Zöllner, L. and J.A. Heese. 1984. Die Berlynse Sendelinge in Suid-Afrika Pretoria: RGN (Instituut vir Geskiedenisnavorsing).         [ Links ]




This section includes all articles and reports from the Berliner Missionsberichte (BMB) with references to Gerlachshoop and the founding of the mission in Transvaal for the period of 1860 to 1911. Those articles referred to in the current article are marked with an asterisk. Note that the author is often not mentioned.

BMB. 1860a. Die Evangelische Bund und die Bauern der Südafrikanischen Republik, 18: 315- 332.

BMB. 1860b. Die Evangelische Bund und die Bauern der Südafrikanischen Republik (Schluss), 19: 333-335.

BMB. 1860c. Die Eingeborenen in der Südafrikanischen Republik, 19: 335-342. BMB. 1860d. Nachrichten, 22: 393-395.

BMB. 1861a. Die Mission in der Südafrikanischen Republik, 2: 26-31

BMB. 1861b. Die neue Station Rietkloof, 7: 98-106.

BMB. 1861c. Die neue Station Rietkloof (Schluss), 8: 113-120.

BMB. 1861d. Tagebuch der Reise Merensky's und Grützner's von Leidenburg zu den Swazi, 9: 129-152.

BMB. 1861e. Tagebuch der Reise Merensky's und Grützner's von Leidenburg zu den Swazi (SchluB), 10: 153-172.

BMB. 1861f. Siebenunddreissigster Jahresbericht unserer Gesellschaft, 11: 173-232.

BMB. 1861g. Gründung von Gerlachshoop, 13: 253-263.

BMB. 1861h. Gerlachshoop, 18: 334-341.

BMB. 1861i. Wie ein Missionar seine erste Predigt halt, 20: 369-372.

BMB. 1861j. Der Stand unserer Mission gegen Ende des Jahres 1861, 24: 451-455.

BMB. 1862a. Wie geht's in Magdeburg? 1: 11-16. Space and spatiality at Gerlachshoop and Thabantsho (1860-1864): 119.

BMB. 1862b. Bericht über Gerlachshoop aus dem zweiten Halbjahr 1861, 7: 107-112.

BMB. 1862c. Unsere Bassuto-Mission, 9: 133-143.

BMB. 1862d. Achtunddreissigster Jahresbericht unserer Gesellschaft: Gerlachshoop, 10/11: 172-4.

BMB. 1862e. Beitrage zur Geschichte der Bapeli, 21: 353-358.

BMB. 1862f. Der Hauptling Maleo und die Mission auf Gerlachshoop, 23: 377-387.

BMB. 1862g. Beitrage zur Geschichte der Bapeli (SchluB), 21: 358. BMB. 1863a. Tagebuch der Station Gerlachshoop, 2: 19-32. BMB. 1863b. Gerlachshoop (Schluss), 3: 36-43.

BMB. 1863c. Neununddreissigster Jahresbericht unserer Gesellschaft: Gerlachshoop, 9/10: 160-161.

*BMB. 1863d. Gerlachshoop, 23: 383-391.

BMB. 1864a. Allerlei Leid und Freud aus Gerlachshoop, 2: 19-31.

BMB. 1864b. Schmerzliche Botschaft über Gerlachshoop, 7: 99-104.

*BMB. 1864c. Die schmerzliche Botschaft über Gerlachshoop, 8: 114-127.

BMB. 1864d. Vierzigster Jahresbericht unserer Gesellschaft: Gerlachshoop, 9/10: 151-153.

BMB. 1864e. Die neueste über Gerlachshoop, 11: 196-198.

BMB. 1864f. Der neue Anfang auf Gerlachshoop, 15: 256-264.

BMB. 1864g. Der neue Anfang auf Gerlachshoop (Schluss), 16: 267-269.

BMB. 1864h. Neue schmerzliche Botschaft über Gerlachshoop, 17: 282-3.

BMB. 1864i. Der Zerstörung der Stadt Maleos, 20: 332-42.

BMB. 1864j. Der Zerstörung der Stadt Maleos (Schluss), 21: 348-53.

BMB. 1864k. Die Lage der Dinge auf Gerlachshoop, 23: 381-387.

BMB. 1865a. Die letzten Lebensjahre des Hauptlings Maleo, 4: 51-64.

BMB. 1865b. Die letzten Lebensjahre des Hauptlings Maleo (Schluss), 5: 67-76.

BMB. 1865c. Die Sammlung zum Loskauf der gefangenen Christenkinder von Gerlachshooop, 5: 76-80.

BMB. 1865d. Einundvierzigster Jahresbericht unserer Gesellschaft: Gerlachshoop, 12/13: 207209.

BMB. 1865e. Das Ende von Gerlachshoop, 16: 276-284

BMB. 1865f. Das Ende von Gerlachshoop (Schluss), 17: 297-299.

BMB. 1866a. Botschabelo, 1: 9-13.

BMB. 1866b. Zwei und vierzigster Jahresbericht unserer Gesellschaft: Fünfter Konferenzkreis. Die südafrikanische Republik (Leidenburger Distrikt), 9-12: 197-223.

BMB. 1879. Tagebuch von Botschabelo vom 1. August 1877 bis zum 1. August 1878, 13-14: 272-273.

BMB. 1885. Inspektionsreise des Mission Direktor D Wangemann, 7-8: 98-110.

BMB. 1903. Neueste Nachrichten: Süd-Transvaal. August 1903: 455-456.

BMB. 1904. Mitteilungen aus den Verhandlungen des Komitees am Dienstag, dem 5. Juli 1904. August: 290-294.

BMB. 1905. Nachrichten aus dem Ephoralkreis Südtransvaal: Gerlachshoop. Februar: 89-90. BMB. 1906. Nachrichten aus der Synode Süd-Transvaal. Gerlachshoop (1904 bis 1905). April: 198-199.

BMB. 1907. Süd-Transvaal: Kurze Chronik. August: 338-343.

BMB. 1910a. Gerlachshoop. Sechsundachstigster Jahresbericht der Berliner Missionsgesellschaft für das Jahr 1909: 63. BMB. 1910b. Neueste Nachrichten: Süd-Transvaal, 1: 4.

BMB. 1910c. Erbauliche Züge aus unserer Missionsarbeit: Bruder Jan Secotos Einführung in das Amt eines Stationsvorstehers in Gerlachshoop, 2: 47.

BMB. 1910d. Sup. Heinrich Grützners Heimgang und Begrabnis, 5: 97-100.

BMB. 1910e. Jahresfest und Generalversammlung, 6: 113-144.

BMB. 1911. Gerlachshoop. Siebenundachstigster Jahresbericht der Berliner Missionsgesellschaft für das Jahr 1910: 59-60.

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