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Cave House
Masitise, Lesotho



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30°24'18.46" S 27°38'35.65" E Alt: 1562m

Transcript of photographed history:


Ellenberger Flees from Maphutseng and Settles at Masitise in 1866

The Masitise Cave House came into being after a young printer turned missionary, Rev. David Frédéric Ellenberger, was forced by circumstances of war to leave Maphutseng where he had initially been placed and settle [in] the Masitise area as a result of Chief Moorosi’s generous offer. Ellenberger was given freedom to choose a place to settle and he chose Masitise for its abundant water supply and land. The Basotho Christians who fled with him to Quthing at the beginning of the war built him three small huts to live in. The huts, however, seemed too small for his family, and this meant that he had to look for a more adequate dwelling.

The Cave Becomes a Home

Ellenberger had noticed an enormous rock located on the premises of his huts, about half way up the hill, under which some Bushmen had lived many years before which had also served as a cattle post for Moorosi. Because this rock extended deep into the hill, it was possible and safe to excavate a great deal of loose stone from under it. He decided to transform this cave into a dwelling house. He excavated a length of 80 feet (24.4 m) and a breadth of 15 feet (4.5 m) after which the first brick wall of the Cave House was built by himself with various kinds of assistance from the local Baphuthi and Basotho in 1866. The excavation material became the terrace in front of the Cave House. The bricks were raw and therefore not very durable, but they were to last for over twenty years, during most of which the Ellenbergers lived rather comfortably. Of their twelve children, five were born there, and all but two lived in the house for a greater or lesser period of time. Their fifth child, Edmund, was called Masitise because he was the first to be born there.

By the time Ellenberger took leave to Europe in 1875, eight of his first nine children were still alive, and it was clear that the house was simply too small. Because of the limited space, it is possible that some of the elder children slept in outbuildings. While in Europe, the Ellenberger’s seven year old daughter passed away. Before returning to Lesotho, they bid farewell to four of the eldest children who were left to attend schools there. The rest of the family returned to Lesotho in 1876. A new period of turbulence began in 1879 with the so-called Moorosi Rebellion, followed by the Gun War (1881). It was afterwards that Ellenberger was able to give proper attention to building a new manse, which was completed in 1884.

The Cave House after 1884

As has been mentioned before, the original wall of the Cave House was made of unbaked brick, and these bricks began to rapidly lose their strength from 1884. This situation was observed by Victor Ellenberger, the next to last child born in 1879, in the first of his unpublished five volume autobiography entitled Souvenirs d'enfance (Childhood Memories). He noted that the exhausted section of the wall was cracking and bending towards the outside.

In order to preserve the Cave House, which no doubt was already considered something of a monument, major repairs were carried out in 1888/89.

These notes were last edited on 2021 04 28