Drought in the Northern Cape

Attempts to overcome the effects of drought in the Northern Cape

Can history about local inventions ever be forgotten and lost? In our daily lives where parts of our country are suffering from major droughts, there were already early attempts to overcome the effects of drought in the Northern Cape.

Revd. Peter Wright and his colleague and friend Revd. Isaac Hughes were both practical and enterprising men who had been sent to this country from Lancashire as artisan missionaries in the early 1820’s and had subsequently been ordained.

In the surviving letters and reports of these good men illustrate that in order to teach their people Christianity, they considered that an essential duty was to aid them in the path of civilization by improving living conditions, ensuring so far as was possible that their fields produced good crops and that cattle, sheep, and goats could find good grazing.

Lacking proper tools, equipment, and material, the missionaries undertook an experiment as far back as 1832. When they constructed a pump of 6 inches bore, the barrel cast of lead, and, as they had no boring tools, their pipes were made from logs of wood sawn down the middle, hollowed out and bound together again with iron hoops.  Although not entirely successful as the pipes were not thoroughly watered tight, sufficient water was lifted from the Orange River to irrigate a small area of arable land.

Between 1833 and 1835 Mr. Wright had to travel twice to Cape Town and back, a wagon journey of more than three months each way.  He made purchases of iron pipes, tools, and pumps for transportation by wagon to Griquatown.

Andries Waterboer whose full co-operation the missionaries enjoyed, was keenly interested in a scheme devised by Wright and Hughes.  In February 1836 he and Hughes undertook a survey of the Vaal and Orange rivers in their vicinity to locate a suitable site.

Read’s Drift some 30 miles south of Griquatown on the Orange River was selected and on March 15th work on the project “to lead water out for agricultural purposes” was commenced.  Read’s Drift is across the Orange River on the “Old Mission Road to the North” almost due south of Griquatown.  Named after the Revd. James Read (Snr.) of the London Missionary Society, one of the first missionaries at Kuruman.  Afterward at Kat River.

Mr. Wright transferred himself to Philippolis where his presence was badly needed owing to the inefficiency of the resident missionary, Gottlieb Schreiner. After two years of most admirable work, Revd. Peter Wright died in the 1843 typhus epidemic.

The flourishing town of Douglas has to-day grown up around what was the mission.  Revd. Isaac Hughes, after laboring for 45 years among the Griquas, died in June 1870 and appropriately, lies buried on the farm ‘Backhouse’ at Douglas.


The Reverend is an honorific style most often placed before the names of Christian clergy and ministers.

Inch: A unit of linear measure equal to one-twelfth of a foot (2.54 cm). 1 inch = 2,54 cm

A mile is an English unit length of linear measure equal to 5,280 feet or 1,760 yards

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