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Robinson Watermill
Rustenburg district, North West



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25°51'32.04" S 27°17'30.23" E Alt: 1260m

Blown up by the British forces during the Anglo Boer War on December 24 1901. The top millstone from the defunct mill is now part of a beautiful garden display on a nearby farm.

During the Anglo-Boer War when after the fall of Pretoria the battle scenes had shifted to the Eastern and Western Transvaal it happened that two British units moved Westwards towards Rustenburg - one to the North, the other to the South of the Magaliesberg range. At Rustenburg a Boer force of about 600 men stood in readiness. But since they could not tell which of the two British columns would arrive on the scene first they split up. One half of the Boer force stood watch to the North of Olifantsnek the other to the South. This the latter group was "stationed...under Commandant Steenkamp in the hills above Robinson's Mill". [See below]

...But I was now left with only about 600 men of the Rustenburg Commando and with this force to oppose the advance of two columns, either of which far outnumbered ours, was simply out of the question. However, something had to be done; and I therefore divided the Rustenburgers into two portions and stationed the one under Commandant Steenkamp in the hills above Robinson's Mill, and sent the other under Commandant Rieckert over Olifantsnek in order to intercept the enemy at night at a very favourable place along the Pretoria road. I myself remained at Olifantsnek in order to join whichever force would be first engaged with the enemy....
Ref: Smuts Papers: Volume 1, June 1886 - May 1902. - Submitted by Konrad Voges

Konrad Voges has been researching the whereabouts of the Mill and after visits to the local library and conversations with people in the area he has narrowed down the possible whereabouts of the mill. [see the two maps top right]

After further research Konrad Voges writes:

I had written that I was 'virtually' sure of the site of the 'Robinson Mill' and can now say that I was not far off the mark.

Later on I managed to get hold of Staples' book and found that he gives a very detailed description of the mill-site which is at the very spot where Heyne later had built the Olifantsdrif bridge. My opinion is that in his [Staples] longitudinal reading he is near enough. His latitudinal one is to be found about 2km from the actual site [a typing error, perhaps?].

The position of the mill-site was well chosen - at the ford of the Hex River on the road from Rustenburg to Krugersdorp.

Smuts' siting of his men for an ambush was equally well selected. An army would certainly march along the made road, would have to slow down at the drift, and on the slopes of the hill rising on the left bank of the river the Boers were well positioned.

So at the earliest opportunity I managed a visit to the site [again]. What I found I am summing up in the descriptions to the photos I took.

No. 1 -Is a panoramic view of the area. In the far distance to the right the Olifantsnek Dam can be seen [if you enlarge the pic considerably]. The mill-site cannot accurately be pointed out as it lies hidden in the valley ahead. The boer position cannot be overlooked.

No. 2 -Contains a number of features:
  • right in front are some traces of footings,
  • to the immediate left the concrete structure of the new bridge mentioned by Staples as the spot where the millstone was found [built in the early 1960s],
  • further on on the left the stone abutment of the old bridge built by Heyne in about 1906
  • and through the growth in the background one discovers further evidence.
No.3 -sluice, dam wall, furrow - evidence that the mill might have been water driven at some time.

No.4 -map showing the site.

No.5 -shows where Staples and I differ.

(Konrad Voges, October 2016)


The Robinson Mill at the Olifantsdrif on the farm Olifantshoek.

The mill on the farm Olifantshoek - south-east of the Olifantsnek - had belonged to one William Peter Robinson. Born in 1851 he was a descendant of one of the families of the 1820 settlers. It is worth mentioning that this family had its roots in Ireland. William Peter died on the fifth of April 1925 at Olifantshoek.

His father was William Robinson who had come to the Zuid-Afrikaansche-Republiek in the middle of the nineteenth century as a teacher. Later he had gone into business becoming prosperous. For almost a decade he acted as magistrate for Rustenburg. In 1872 he stood as presidential candidate in contest with Thomas Francois Burgers, who won the election overwhelmingly. A younger brother of William senior was the famous Randlord Sir Benjamin Robinson.

In a small measure the 'Robinson Mill' found its way into the annals of the Anglo-Boer War.

During the months of August to December 1900 after the Boers had begun their guerilla tactics in the western districts of the Republic the little mill at the Olifantsdrif was mentioned a few times.

At the end of August, when the Boers had turned to guerilla tactics, after the battle at the Slypsteenkop near Boons, the Boer forces retired westwards and occupied the line of koppies above Robinson's Mill. This mill was situated on the banks of the Hex River where the Krugersdorp - Rustenburg main road crosses the river. The British, however, must have got wind of Boer reinforcements being brought in and decided to leave the area.

A month later the British renewed their efforts to reach Rustenburg. One unit proceeded to the north of the Magaliesberg westwards, while a second one did so likewise to the south of the mountain range.

Jan Smuts who was in command of about six-hundred men of the Rustenburg Commando split the group into two. Three-hundred of them moved to the north in order to intercept the advancing British column there. The other half was strategically placed in the hills above the Robinson mill where the British would have to ford the Hex River.

All these precautions came to naught. The northern British brigade reached Rustenburg without any hindrance. The southern one veered off the the road to occupy themselves elsewhere.

Two month later during a renewed effort by the British to bring the entire region under their control a skirmish took place at the Olifantsdrif. During this action the mill was destroyed.

Wulfsohn, Lionel. 1987
South African Journal of Cultural History - Boschdal, Robinson, and Schoch: A triad out of Rustenburg

(Submitted by Konrad Voges, November 2016)

Writings about this entry

Staples, Chester O. 2006. Mills of Southern Africa : water, wind and horse. Pretoria: Umdaus. pg 160
Wulfsohn, Lionel. 1987. Rustenburg at war : the story of Rustenburg and its citizens in the first and second Anglo-Boer wars. Rustenburg: L.M. Wulfsohn. pg