Summerhill CEOAnyone with even the slightest interest in the history of the Midlands, knows the name “Moor”. The Moors are scattered across the length and breadth of the neighbourhood, and most students connect them with the former Prime Minister of the colony, Sir Frederick Moor, the only man besides the Lord Chief Justice De Villiers to emerge from the Union talks in Durban with a knighthood. Yet, if you were measuring the Moors by their contributions to the enterprise and development of the region, that accolade would surely fall on the shoulders of brother John William Moor, himself a senator in the first Union government, but remembered more for the fact that he was the founding father of both the Natal Creamery (modernly styled as NCD Dairies, the biggest dairy business on the continent), and Eskort Bacon Factory (one of the biggest meat-processing plants in Africa).
While Frederick was hard at the business of politics, John was responsible for most of what you saw around you at Hartford House in those days, and was one of the initiates of the family habit of giving one to the other on wedding anniversaries, of a piece of garden statuary or ornamentation. The old Wisteria pergola and the grand gazebo from whence many a traditional dance routine has been applauded, are signs of this prosperous ritual dating back to the mid-1870s, while the Ellis family, who acquired the property in 1939, perpetuated this extravagance with bronzes gleaned from hard-up Italian municipalities after World War II. That things have changed, is evident from the time we arrived (1989,) where anniversaries are commemorated with “softer” installations like rare trees and shrubs or recycled metal sculptures from Zimbabwe. The pocket does not quite stretch as far as the works of Verrocchio these days, I’m afraid!
We don’t know whether it was a matter of genetics, upbringing or education that spurred John Moor to become the adventurous man he grew up to be, but we do know that at one time, he and his prime minister brother attended the Hermannsburg Junior School, where in a student body of just ten pupils, their number included yet another Prime Minister in General Louis Botha; the latter was to assume his first command of the Boer forces on a hill at the foot of our property, at the confluence of the land that joins Summerhill, Hartford and our farm on the Giant’s Castle road, Mvumvu.
There’s a quaint story attached to this episode. If you chance to read Thomas Packenham’s famous tome, The Boer War, fairly early in the piece you will find a map charting the progress of the Boer forces in the closing months of 1899. The southernmost point depicted in that map is Nthabo Nqumo, the flattened hillock that separates the best land on our farms from the hillside property Cheryl and I live on, Mvumvu. As the Boer brigade swept relentlessly through the colony from Talana at Dundee, through Ladysmith and Estcourt, to the cavalry battle a few hills from us at Willow Grange, they rendezvoused at Bray Hill, a few miles from the Summerhill stallion barn. On the way, they commandeered Fred Moor’s favourite horse in the vicinity of Estcourt, something akin to seizing a farmer’s Toyota bakkie these days. Bereft of his best means of conveyance, and somewhat broken at the thought of never finding his equal, the future prime minister cabled his brother, the future senator, beseeching him to recover the animal should the Boers pass his way. On a given Sunday, the day after they unleashed a unholy barrage from Ntaba Nqumo upon the British encampment at Mooi River, John Moor set out from the manor house at Hartford with his walking stick, his bowler hat and his Staffordshire terrier at his side, in search of the sacred creature. Remember, war was a chivalrous business in those days, and Sundays were still revered for worship, cricket and the washing of clothes.
Still, imagine our man’s surprise when he summited the hill to find his former schoolmate assuming command of this hostile force from General Piet Joubert, one-time hero of the Battle of Majuba (which ended the first Anglo-Boer War). The aging Joubert, was retiring from the fray, following a horrific fall from his horse amidst the thunder of Willow Grange.
The two generals were reportedly seated on hay bales sparring over their next tactical deployment, the elder arguing for a retreat to Pretoria and a suit for peace in the wake of their victories over the British; his successor was insisting they press for Durban, where a small contingent of British soldiers were protecting the harbour for the arrival of General Redvers Buller V.C and his reinforcements.
“You don’t take a man’s horse: it’’s not cricket, you know” demanded Moor of the two generals, whereupon in a moment of conciliatory recognition of the innocence of junior school, Botha restored John Moor in his possession not only of Frederick’s horse, but of one to spare as well.
Great cavalryman and master tactician that General Botha was, he also ran a successful dairy from his “home” farm in Greytown, and together with the Moor brothers, the Simmons family of Bray Hill and Colonel George Richards of Summerhill, they founded the first creamery in Mooi River in 1898, eleven months before hostilities commenced between the Boers and the British for the second time in a dozen years.
At the tender age of 26, John Moor abandoned his life as a speculator in the diamond fields of Kimberley, and in what was a decisive moment for agriculture in Natal, he settled for life as a dairy farmer at Hartford, serving for 24 years as chairman of the Natal Creamery. In 1914, he presided over the establishment of SACCA (the South Africa Co-operative Creameries Association) as the central sales organisation for butter and cheese, as well the founding of the Federal Farmers’ Co-Operative Society. That the boundaries of his endeavours were never going to be determined by where he lived alone, is apparent in his establishment of the Overseas Co-Operative Sales Agency, which represented the Natal Creamery on the London market, followed by the founding of the Eskort Bacon Factoryin 1917, the board of which he chaired until 1933.
It is a sign of their influence in the affairs of the colony of Natal of our two farms, Summerhill and Hartford, that the managing director of the creamery during part of John Moor’s tenure as chairman, was none other than Summerhill’s owner, Col George Richards, and that the same Col Richards once served in Sir Frederick Moor’s government as Colonial Secretary. In our understanding, that job included standing in as prime minister when the latter was absent.
The legacy of these men of such obvious vision, not to mention their fortitude in establishing these enterprises in a century of unabated warfare between Brit, Zulu and Afrikaner, is everywhere to be seen on these properties: everyday, we count ourselves privileged to be the custodians of this history, remembering that it is our lot to ensure that when our times arrives, we leave it in better shape still than it was when we came here, and that our own little story is worth the next generation’s while, in its preservation.