The Road to Nowhere
An excellent road runs from Robertson to McGregor. It carries on through the heart of the village and then… stops. Originally, this road was meant to continue through the mountains to Greyton, and then on to Cape Town. In 1861 it was decided that another town was needed on this road, and the village of Lady Grey came into being.
In 1902, the local congregation requested independence from Robertson, which was duly granted. The congregation called itself after the recently retired Rev. Andrew McGregor, who had been responsible for the Lady Grey ward for all his 40 years in the Robertson ministry.
In 1905, the village name changed too (the Cape had another Lady Grey which resulted in no end of confusion, not least for the postal services). McGregor finally existed, in pretty much the form we know it now.
Its residents waited for the road to Greyton to be completed. They had a long wait. McGregor still sits at the end of the road to nowhere...
Some myths about the Boesmanskloof Pass road
There are many imaginative but erroneous stories told about the abortive attempts to build a road through the Boesmanskloof Pass to Greyton. Its real history, however, is just as fascinating, and has been extensively researched by Dr. John Mortimer.
Here he dispels a few of the myths that have grown up around the pass that was never built.
Myth 1: That the pass was conceived in the 1920s.
No! The first attempt to build the pass was made between 1865 and 1880. Greyton and McGregor collected £700 and a start was made, but the money ran out when the Greyton side had progressed only as far as Perdekop and McGregor had only reached Takkap and the Rietvlei valley farms. An engineer who climbed to Perdekop estimated it would cost £40 000 to complete the road.
In 1916 pressure began mounting once again for the road to be pushed through, and a second attempt began in 1924. Province agreed to a survey, which took three years to do and estimated the cost at £25 310.
Myth 2: That Lady Grey (now McGregor) was laid out to create erven which would be used to compensate people working the Boesmanskloof Pass.
No! Some workers did settle on erven, but they bought their plots.
Myth 3: That convicts and/or prisoners-of-war were used as road workers.
During World War II (i.e. after work had stopped), National Roads did use PoWs. The McGregor council suggested that labour could be supplied by convicts or as part of a poverty relief programme. These requests were repeated regularly, but without success, until March 1936 when, following another approach, General J.C. Smuts persuaded the Cabinet to a poverty relief scheme, provided the Divisional Councils of Caledon and Robertson each agreed to contribute 25% of the cost. Work started in April/May 1936 and stopped at the end of 1940/41 when World War II was absorbing manpower and resources. In November 1942, 20 months later, a request was made to use Italian prisoners-of-war but this was also denied.
Myth 4: That work stopped because the engineer in charge absconded with all the funds.
No! The engineer in charge of construction at the time the project was finally shelved was Mr. Ted Hittersay, assistant roads engineer of the Robertson Divisional Council, who continued to work for the Council. There is nothing to substantiate that anyone ran off with the funds, or that any miscreant was arrested “up north” and returned to South Africa for trial. A search of media archives, including the local Robertson newspaper Die Landsman, the local Caledon newspaper and Die Burger (a Cape Town newspaper very popular in the district) has turned up nothing, and such an important trial would surely have been reported extensively in the district at the time.
However, there is some question about the money sent up weekly to pay persons who had absconded during the week and were therefore not around to collect, but the amounts involved would have been relatively small.