Stone arrowheads and tools, discovered in the Hennops
river bed and dating back many years, prove that people
have been living in the area for a very long time. The
earliest historical writings of the period record that the
Bakwena tribe, known as the Crocodile people, lived
in the area in the early 1800’s. When Mzilikazi (whose
people later became known as the Matabele) came to
the area in 1825, he killed many of the Crocodile people
and drove the rest away.
One of the Boer Voortrekkers, Daniel Elardus Erasmus,
who left the Cape Colony in the 1830’s to seek economic
and political independence in the hinterland, settled in
the area on a farm that became known as Doornkloof.
Doornkloof became known as the “kerkplaas” of the
district. When Daniel died in 1875 he left the farm to
his three sons.
Fourteen years later Alois Hugo Nellmapius – a
businessman who established a transport business
between Lorenzo Marques and Pilgrims Rest, as well as
a Gin & Whisky factory, the first gun powder factory
in South Africa and the Irene Lime works – two thirds
of the Doornkloof farm. Nellmapius often entertained
in a grand style on the farm and a frequent guest was
Transvaal president, Paul Kruger.
Nellmapius employed experts on his farm, one of
whom was Dr Arnold Theiler who later established the
Onderstepoort Research & Veterinary College. Another
was Mr. Fuchs to lay out the farmhouse gardens.
Irene was first proclaimed a township in 1902 by
Johannes Albertus van der Byl – better known as Bertie
who bought the Irene Estate in 1896. The Doornkloof
farm had been renamed Irene Estate by Nellmapius
after his daughter Irene. 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, all in an
extremely relaxed and safe environment.
Berti 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 dairy cows on
the farm, as well as planting many hundreds of trees, at
a time long before environmental consciousness.
Irene was the site of one of the Burgher Refugee or
Concentration Camps where the British housed, the
tents the Boer women and children whose homes
had been destroyed in the Anglo Boer War. The
Concentration Camp Cemetery is in Bruce Road, as
is the Irene Primary School, which began in 1901 as a
school for the Boer children in the camp.
General Jan Christian Smuts bought a third of the
original Doornkloof farm in 1908 and needing a home
for his growing family, bought for £300, the wood and
iron building which had served as the Officers Mess
of the British Forces in Middelburg during the Anglo-
Boer War, and transported it to the site at Doornkloof.
The Irene golf course , between Irene Estate Dairy Farm
and Smuts House, was originally laid out and started by
Bertie van der Byl in approximately 1902, and remains
one of the few golf courses in Gauteng where playing
golf is still like a walk in the country.
A visit to the Irene Estate Dairy owned and managed by the van der Byls is a must, with its wonderful farm stall and delicious fresh milk. This is where the locals often carrying the old fashioned gallon pails, purchase their supplies. The shop is licensed to sell certified milk – raw or untreated milk, complying with the same standards as pasteurized milk. Cheeses and other fresh fare are also on sale in Irene Farm Shop, but best of all is the rich, fresh cream resembling clotted cream.
The “Barn” tea garden is situated in one of the original
farm barns, built in approximately 1890 and used as a
farm barn for over 100 years. The Barn looks out onto
the dairy stable, also built in 1890. It is still used today
to feed the cows of the Irene Estate milking herd, as it
has been every day for over 100 years.
From the dairy farm, one can walk across to the Irene
Country Lodge to enjoy fine cuisine at its Meadow
Green Restaurant overlooking a large tranquil dam
rich in bird life. Spending a weekend at the lodge will
afford you the opportunity of visiting the dairy farm,
the Smuts House Museum, the Rietvlei Nature Reserve
and playing golf at Irene and Centurion Golf course.
Irene Offers the Visitor the same peaceful and relaxed
atmosphere it exudes to its inhabitants – a far cry from
the hustle and bustle of the big city life.
Irene Farm Stables – Irene Farm Stables from 1889 by
Wilhelm Johannes de Zwaan
The Irene Farm Stables from 1889 by Wilhelm Johannes
de Zwaan are a good example of the agricultural
architecture of the time. The stables and farm house
were designed for Alois Hugo Nellmapius (a man of
many ventures, including a transport route, a gin and
whisky factory, the first gunpowder factory in South
Africa and the Irene Lime Works) who bought two
thirds of the farm Doornkloof which he then divided
into three parts, naming the central portion “Irene”,
after his daughter.