Ramsay Daly (1837-1904) and Catharina Rocher (1841-1904)

Ramsay Daly was born in 1837 in Malmesbury, the second son of William Daly and Barbara Croeser. The family moved to St Helena Bay in the 1840s. A recent assessment of St Helena Bay paints a very negative picture of its history. It was a place for  “… a rural underclass of failed or dispossessed farmers, the dispossessed of the indigenous population, runaway slaves, deserters, maroons and other cast offs from the maritime trades …[1]

At the same time, St Helena Bay is near the mouth of the Berg River which was navigable and served a lively shipping industry taking agricultural produce from inland areas down the coast to Cape Town. Family mythology describes Ramsay Daly as a big red-bearded man who piloted ships on the Bay and the Berg River. His life changed when he married Catharina Maria Cornelia Rocher, the daughter of a local well-off family who farmed on St Helenafontein near the Bay. They married in 1861. Ramsay and Catharina’s life was about to change course.

Catharina’s grandfather was Pierre Rocher, a remarkable man. In 1803, aged 27, Pierre Rocher came to the Cape from France as a veterinarian employed by the Dutch East India Company. He became an expansionist farmer, rapidly acquiring large tracts of the Cape. He mastered the Dutch language, joined the Dutch Reformed Church and bought slaves. His second son, Jean Pierre Francois Rocher, married Catharina Maria Louisa Landsberg cementing a family connection with another landowning family that was to endure into the future. Catharina Maria Cornelia Rocher, their first child, was born in 1841.

The Rocher family seems to have had an appreciation of the area around St Helena Bay known as the Sandveld, an area now celebrated for its rich biodiversity. Controversially, in 1839, Pierre Rocher closed off the mouth to the Papkuils River to flood an area behind the sand dunes, providing better summer grazing for their livestock. This is now Rocherpan, created as a nature reserve in 1967. Its shallow water makes it a perfect habitat for birds.[2]

But Jean Pierre Francois Rocher, Catharina’s father was not satisfied. Perhaps his reasons were like those of the Trekkers who, in 1836, moved inland to escape British rule. The British government freed slaves in 1835 and Cape farmers were heavily dependent on slave labour. A desire to preserve the Dutch language, culture and religion also contributed. Despite having to wage wars to wrench farming land from the indigenous African people, reports were that the interior of the country was good for stock farming. JPF Rocher sent 17-year old Charles Guillaume Corneille on horseback to survey Potchefstroom, the new capital of the Transvaal. His report must have been positive. In 1862 the family moved with oxwagons and a large quantity of stock. Ramsay Daly and Catharina Rocher, newly married, went with them.

By John George Bartholomew (1860-1920) [Public domain], found on Wikimedia Commons

The journey to Potchefstroom was long and challenging, as recorded by Charles Rocher, son of CGC Rocher. [3] From St Helena Bay they headed East through the Karoo which was in the grip of a bad drought. They stopped at Beaufort West (about one-third of the way there) and counted their losses of hundreds of cattle. Here, near Beaufort West, in July 1961, “Willie Daly” was born, first child of Ramsay and Cathaerina. Then they carried on, arriving in Potchefstroom in October 1862. Not long after the paterfamilias, JPF Rocher, died aged only 49 years, leaving a wife and young sons to manage on their own. The challenge was taken up by CGC Rocher who became a somewhat opportunistic entrepreneur. Ramsay Daly opened a trading store. He and Catharina, known to the family as Tant Nou, seem to have taken on the role of family elders for the next generation. Ramsay took on further positions of community responsibility, including election to the Heemraad.

Potchefstroom was established by Trekkers whose values derived from the Dutch bible. The new arrivals brought more of a polyglot society. Most families spoke Dutch, at home increasingly changing to Afrikaans but commerce was often conducted in English. In 1846, Cornelius Landsberg, descendant of German immigrants, moved to Potchefstroom. He had four daughters and their marriages cemented family relations in Potchefstroom. In 1849, Roland William Schikkerling set up a productive trade in ivory, horns, skin and the various products of game hunting. Roland married 14 year old Maria Catharina Jacoba Landsberg. Two years and two children later she was dead. Amalie Henrietta Emelia Landsberg made the most interesting marriage to Oscar Wilhelm Alric Forssman.

OWA Forssman was a Swede. He was wealthy; he had a store trading in ivory, skins, ostrich feathers and more, he farmed, wrote tracts, ran a transport company and actively promoted Swedish emigration to the Transvaal.[4] They lived a refined life and his language skills saw him appointed as Portuguese Consul-General, hence Chevalier. His trading store was in Church Street, next door to that of Ramsay Daly. There too was a butchery run by Carl Landsberg

In 1862 the remaining Landsberg daughter, married to JPF Rocher, joined the sisters. But there were differences for the family to absorb. CGC Rocher’s sister, Anna Susannah Wilhelmina married Hendrik Johannes Louw du Toit, minister in a deeply conservative branch of  the Dutch Reformed Church.

After “Willie Daly”, full name Wilhelm Carl Landsberg Daly, Ramsay and Catharina had 9 more children. The younger orphaned children of William Daly and Barbara Croeser also also made their way to Potchefstroom. The last to arrive was the youngest, Barbara Magdalena Benjamina Daly, who was 20 years younger than Ramsay Daly. She married John Roland Schikkerling who had set up a photographic studio in Potchefstroom, and may well have taken all the photographs included in this account. Barbara gave birth to Roland William Schikkerling who was to give us a detailed account of family activities during the next historical crises, the two Anglo Boer Wars.[5]


[1] Heritage impact assessment, 2008, http://www.sahra.org.za/sahris/sites/default/files/heritagereports/HIA_Laaiplek_Ellis_R_Aug08_0.pdf

[2] South Africa’s Water History: 19th Century – www.ewisa.co.za/misc/WaterHistory/default19c.htm

[3] Charles GC Rocher, 1938, Enige Aantekeninge oor die Familie Rocher in Suid-Afrika, available from GISA Stellenbosch.

[4] Brian Musto,  Oskar Wilhelm Alrik Forssman (1822 to 1889) – Entrepreneur, Pioneer, Farmer, Consul and Father of Swedish immigration to South Africa. http://www.sabelskjold.com/paper/pdf/Oskar%20Wilhelm%20Alrik%20Forssman.pdf

[5] RW Schikkerling, 1964, Commando Courageous (a Boer’s diary), Johannesburg, Hugh Keartland.

All other references are to files held by the Cape Archives in Roelandt Street, Cape Town.