Gerrit Maritz was the leader of the Trek that Hieronymus's sons and grandchildren joined in 1836 from Graaff Reinett to Winburg.  To understand more about their journey and the man that lead them here is some information from an article in the Getaway Magazine: 

Overshadowed in most historical accounts by the likes of Louis Trichardt, Piet Retief and Hendrik Potgieter, Gerrit Maritz is generally the most unrecognised Great Trek leader. 

Conventional wisdom states it was the imminent threat of British rule that forced Gerrit to uproot. Other theories hold it was the abolishment of slavery and the subsequent loss of labour which drove this rich and politically connected man (he was ward master and acting field cornet in the Graaff-Reinet district) to grudgingly pack his wagon and go in search of a new life. In truth, it was most likely a combination of the two plus a third factor that bonded all trekkers: the search for a new, free, holy land. The new Canaan – land of plenty.  

The seven wagons he trekked with were customised.  They were painted blue and topped with tents that were flatter and squarer than the usual rounded kakebeenwa models. Besides looking different, they also carried a diverse load.  Along with the usual supply of biltong, coffee, sugar, rusks, gun powder, pots, furniture, linen, family heirlooms and the like, the Maritz family’s wagons also had two primitive cannons and books. Loads of books. Not just the Statebybel (the large leather-bound Bible most trek leaders carried) – Gerrit had various theological works, a couple of dictionaries and numerous volumes on law.  Maritz was forward thinking, prepared, precise, neat. That he packed all those law books shows he felt that even in the wilderness it was necessary to keep proper administration. Imagine a group of people out there in the wilderness with no administrative structure.

From Graaff-Reinet they headed inland, north by east. Trekking was slow. What roads there were, were rocky trails at best and, being such a big party (700 people and numerous flocks of livestock, according to some reports), it took a long time to negotiate a single obstacle.  They moved in a line three or four wagons wide and organised themselves into single file when they came upon serious obstacles.

They weaved through the Sneeuberg in the Eastern Cape interior along the existing wagon route, through Pretoriuskloof to the top of the Fish River.  The first aim was to leave the Colony, to cross the Groot Rivier (we know it as the Orange River) into an area the trekkers called Transgariep. This route took them through the Suurberg and Bamboesberg, past Hofmeyr and Steynsburg, through the western section of what today is the Burgersdorp district.  The lands from Burgersdorp to the Orange River are spread plain-like, wide and open, where Karoo meets Highveld. It was the same in 1836 – the trekkers could scout far ahead and there were good pastures for their livestock.

They finally crossed the Groot Rivier a few kilometres east of the confluence of the Stormbergspruit and the Orange at a ford they named Sanddrif. It is about 20 kilometres west of the bridge at Aliwal North, which modern trekkers use to move between the Free State and the Eastern Cape. Little remains to mark Sanddrif today – except a farm called Zanddrif and a pump house.

Standing among the willow trees on the Free State bank, staring back across the mighty Orange River into what used to be the Cape Colony, one can only imagine what it must have taken for the Voortrekkers to get across South Africa’s largest waterway: fording the wagons without bogging, building rafts for the women and children and taking a couple of days to swim the flocks over.  The far river bank represented the Colony boundary, although on paper the British still had jurisdiction (in terms of the Cape of Good Hope Punishment Act of 1836, they could be prosecuted for crimes committed south of 25 degree latitude, which falls just below the present-day Bela-Bela). The trekkers believed they wouldn’t be bothered on this side of the river. At least not by the British.

From the Orange River they headed for Thaba Nchu, a prominent flat-topped hill which was the meeting place for trekking parties in the domain of Chief Moroka. They had difficulty finding wood along this stretch, so they struggled with fuel which meant no warm food, no coffee and less security.  
If you roughly traced the route today, it would take you from Aliwal North to Rouxville along the N6. Then up the lonely R26 to Wepener and Ladybrand. You’d be travelling through fertile farming country. The abundant plains game and predators the trekkers might have encountered have been replaced by corn fields, sunflowers and cattle. But then, as now, the land was flat and so they travelled fast.  
The trekkers saw Thaba Nchu as the strategic centre of the Transgariep area. It was within relatively easy reach of Natal, the Vaal River area and the Colony. There was good pasture, permanent water and the local Barolong chief, Moroka, was initially friendly towards them. 

The Bornmans on the Maritz trek went as far as Winburg and from there spread in all directions.

Maritz’s party remained in the area for a few months and was later joined from the north by Hendrik Potgieter (after the battle of Vegkop – where, under Potgieter’s leadership, 40 trekkers defeated 6 000 Matabele) and Piet Retief. It was here that he first showed signs of an illness that would cause his death less than two years later.

Natal had always been Gerrit’s aim. So at Suikerbosrand, just north of the Vaal River, he turned east and south towards the mighty Drakensberg. The Berg was a formidable barrier, but ‘n boer maak ‘n plan, so they removed the wagons’ back wheels, attached large logs to the undercarriage and eased down the slope.  After crossing the Drakensberg, Gerrit’s party travelled another 130 kilometres to the Bushmans River, a tributary of the Thukela near present-day Estcourt, where he joined up with Piet Retief’s trek.

Gerrit Maritz called the Bushmans River camp Saailaer (‘sowing laager’) because it was there he started to farm and where he planned to settle. It was also there that Gerrit and his family were during the Bloukrans Massacre. The Zulus weren't aware there were so many trekkers and initially didn't know Gerrit was camped there.
When his laager was eventually discovered, Gerrit and his men had prepared their defences and, aided by a flooding Bushmans River, managed to drive the battle-weary impis into retreat. It was after Bloukrans that Gerrit set about planning the retaliation attack (the battle of Blood River) against Dingaan.

Gerrit had become increasingly ill in Natal (reports suggest it was due to complications from gall stones) and was emotionally strong during this time. He comforted the mourning survivors and encouraged the remaining men with his plans for revenge. But Gerrit would never see those plans fulfilled. He died on 23 September 1838, three months before the Battle of Blood River took place, in his laager, Sooilaer (‘sooi’ after the mudwalls he used as water furrows and fortifications), on the banks of the Little Thukela River. 

The remains of the Bloukrans victims were exhumed from their scattered graves and reburied in a communal grave on 16 December 1895. The remains of Gerrit Maritz were also transferred there from Sooilaer. A monument was erected in 1897 and stands there still.



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