The History of the Irene Dairy Farm
Stone arrowheads and tools dating back many years discovered in the Hennops River bed are proof that people have been living in the Irene area for a very long time. The earliest historical writings of the period record that the Bakwena tribe, known as the Crocodile people, lived here in the early 1800’s. When Mzilikazi (whose people later became known as the Matabele) came here in 1825, he killed many of the Crocodile people and drove the rest away.
In the 1830’s Daniel Elardus Erasmus, a Boer Voortrekker, left the Cape Colony to seek economic and political independence in the hinterland and settled in the area on a farm that later became known as Doornkloof. Doornkloof was nicknamed the ‘’kerkplaas’’ of the district and when Daniel passed away in 1875, he left it to his three sons.
Fourteen years later Alois Hugo Nellmapius, a businessman who established a transport business between Larenzo Marques and Pilgrims Rest as well as a Gin and Whisky factory, the first gun powder factory in South Africa and the Irene Lime works, purchased two thirds of the Doornkloof farm. Nellmapius often entertained in grand style on the farm and a frequent guest was the then Transvaal President, Paul Kruger.
Nellmapius employed experts on the farm, one of whom was Dr Arnold Theiler who later established the Onderstepoort Research and Veterinary College. He also employed Mr Fuchs to design the farmhouse gardens.
Nellmapius renamed Doornkloof farm to Irene Estate, after his daughter, Irene.
In 1902 Irene was proclaimed a township by Johannes Albertus van der Byl, better known as ‘Bertie’. Bertie had purchased the Irene Estate in 1895. Today it is officially part of the municipality of Centurion and even though the population has grown considerably, neighbours still know one another and find time to chat.
Bertie was first in line of the Irene-born van der Byls who are now in their fifth generation. The family have been responsible for building up the herd of Friesland dairy cows on the farm as well as planting hundreds of trees at a time long before environmental consciousness became important.
Irene was the site of one of the Burgher Refugee or Concentration Camps where the British housed the Boer women and children whose homes had been destroyed in the Anglo Boer War, in tents. The Concentration Camp Cemetery is in Bruce Road as is the Irene Primary School which began as a school for the Boer children in the camp in 1901.
General Jan Christian Smuts bought a third of the original Doornkloof farm in 1895 and transported the wood and iron building which had served as the Officers Mess of the British Forces in Middelburg during the Anglo-Boer War to the farm as a home for his growing family.
The Irene Golf Course, situated between Irene Estate Dairy Farm and Smuts House was originally laid out and started by Bertie van der Byl in approximately 1902. It remains one of the few golf courses in Gauteng where playing golf is like a walk in the country.
Irene Dairy Farm offers visitors the same peaceful and relaxed atmosphere that it exudes to its inhabitants – a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the big city life.