Philippolis is the Free State’s oldest settlement, dating back to 1823, when Dr John Philip of the London Missionary Society established a mission station here. Three years later, the Griqua leader, Adam Kok II, took up residence with his people at Philippolis and was made the protector of the mission. They remained on the site until 1862, when the land was sold, whereafter they moved off to the Drakensberg (under Adam Kok III) to settle in Kokstad.
Traces of earlier forms of life have, however, been found at Philippolis. Two famous fossils have been located in the area – one is a fish, about 280-million years old and believed to have been covered with enamel-like scales and to have lived in streams; the second is a reptile with tusks.
Befitting its historical significance, Philippolis, found in the Xhariep region of the province, has a large number of national monuments, many of them located in the pine-lined Upper Voortrekker Street.
The Transgariep Museum, temporally closed as it undergoes renovation, offers a fascinating record of the groups, personalities and events that make Philippolis so interesting. Its displays on Adam Kok II replicate the Griqua leader’s living quarters, while in the backyard one can view the Griqua captain’s still-functioning horse-drawn mill. Also in use is a stookketel (distilling kettle) in which witblits (spirits distilled from fruit) is made in time-honoured tradition.
Two rooms of the museum are furnished to resemble the spin-and-weave school set up after the Anglo Boer War by Emily Hobhouse, an English woman intent on uplifting young Afrikaner women by passing on a skill.
In more recent times, academic and author Sir Laurens van der Post was born in Philippolis, the 11th child of 13.
Philippolis today is a centre of sheep farming and horse-breeding. Nearby are the water sports meccas of the Gariep and Vanderkloof Dams, as well as the Orange River with its angling opportunities.
A new facet to a Philippolis visit has lately been introduced by conservationist John Varty. He has established a tiger-breeding programme 25 kilometres outside town at a property called Tiger Canyons.
Look out for
A memorial commemorates Emily Hobhouse, who fought to improve conditions for Afrikaans women and children held in British concentration camps during the second Anglo-Boer War.
Adam Kok II’s house with its 650mm-thick walls could well be the oldest surviving building in town.
Headstones at the local cemetery reveal it is the resting place of Griquas, English soldiers, a Free State president and members of an old Jewish community.
The Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk was first opened in 1871. The pulpit is carved of wild olive and was erected without nails or screws.
Oom Japie se Huis, a Victorian structure, won the South African Institute of Architects award in 1997 for the best restored vernacular home in South Africa.
Two of three cannons presented to Adam Kok II by the governor of the Cape Colony remain on top of a small hill overlooking the town, in working order.
Take a specially adapted 4x4 into the bush to view the tigers at Tiger Canyons. The vehicle is barred, much like a cage, for guest safety and maximum enjoyment.
Photography: Chris Marais/Mainline Media