In 1851, two of Hermanus Nikolas Ras’s sons, Hermanus Nikolas and Willem Adriaan, arrived at Bokfontein, near Wolhuterskop, on the northern side of the Magaliesberg. They started building thatch-roofed pioneer houses with walls made of clay. This signalled the wish (of probably the women!) to start living a more established life and to stop roaming around.

They recognised the agricultural potential of this water-rich area with fertile soil and favourable climate immediately. The oldest son, also called “Kanonmaker Ras”, planted large fruit orchards and brought citrus to the attention of the mountain farmers. All the excess fruit that could not be marketed, was used to distil brandy on a large scale. The First Boer War broke out in 1881. “Kanonmaker Ras” offered to make a large canon, after General Piet Cronjé had given permission for this. Wagon wheels were purchased, and blacksmith’s fires were stoked. After two weeks the first canon was ready. It was 1,5m in length with a barrel of 89mm, made from four welded wagon wheel hoops in the centre and strengthened with a number of heated wagon wheel hoops forged around it. Cmdt. Sarel Eloff fetched this canon, afterwards named “Martienie”, and started firing at the English in the fort, from a distance of 2 000m. The distance was, however, too great, and the canon was brought closer to a distance of 600m. The shots were not sufficient to make the English surrender, and the canon became hot after a few shots – then it had to cool down before it could fire again.

The Ras brothers then decided to build an even bigger and better canon, later named “Ras”. This canon was a real master piece: 2m in length with oblong shaped bullets, 50mm in diameter and 100mm in length. However, the canon was only completed after the battle of Amajuba and was therefore never used during the war. After the war, the Ras brothers received £100 in compensation, with which, after having deducted their costs, they could buy themselves each a pair of velvet trousers! A small replica of the first canon was erected on the farm as a monument. There are also remainders of the old buildings, among others, part of the forge furnace and the distillery. Both canons have been preserved. “Martienie’s” resting places is at Denel in Erasmuskloof, and “Ras” is on exhibition at Fort Klapperkop, Pretoria.

From an article in Kormorant, 6-13 November 2014