Harry Charles (Christoffel), was born at Beaufort West in Cape Colony on 14 February 1877. After living for some time in Johannesburg he later managed a farm and trading store for his father at Legogote in the eastern Transvaal where he associated with the local Native Commissioner, Abel Erasmus, and learned to know the lowveld and its native inhabitants. He became a fluent speaker of the Swazi language.
He had built up a small herd of cattle of his own but they were wiped out in the rinderpest epidemic of 1896—97 and he was forced to go and manage a farm near Nelspruit. A virulent form of malaria also decimated many of the area’s white population and Wolhuter had his first experience of this plague — as a sufferer himself and then attempting to help other victims.
Such was the ignorance of its cause that the local people were not aware of the role of the mosquito and even thought that the construction of the Netherlands Railway from Lourenco Marques to Pretoria had something to do with the pestilence.
He had his first taste of warfare when he was commandeered to fight in the Magato war in the Zoutpansberg, northern Transvaal. On his return from a hunting trip in 1899 he learned that the Anglo-Boer War had begun and having friends on both sides he and others decided to trek into Portuguese East Africa.
The war had been in progress for many months when Wolhuter met the two Willis brothers ‘Pump’ and ‘Clinkers’ at Nkomati. They had emerged from the bush where they had been elephant hunting to learn of the war for the first time.
They had heard of a volunteer corps being raised at Nomahasha, near the north-eastern border of Swaziland, by a Lieutenant von Steinaecker.
The three of them decided to join and Wolhuter enlisted in SH at Komatipoort on 12 November 1900, although he claimed that none of the three signed any papers. His first assignment in SH was to oversee a gang of natives making a road from the Komatipoort bridge to Mateveskom.
When the road was completed Wolhuter was stationed at Sabi Bridge, a distant outpost and the end of the Selati railway where he helped build the blockhouse. The garrison there consisted mainly of a contingent of native police. Further on from Sabi (later known as ‘Skukuza’) Steinaecker’s men had constructed a fort near the kraal of | Chief Mpisane which was strongly garrisoned and under the command of Captain Farmer Francis.
Wolhuter was instructed by Major Gardyne, then acting OC, to take a patrol of two white men and thirty natives as far as the Olifants River and identify suitable places to station picquets which were to police the border with Portuguese East Africa and intercept Boers crossing with despatches.
On this patrol he went down with malaria and blackwater fever and found himself first in hospital at Komatipoort and then on a hospital ship Delagoa Bay. There were nine cases of blackwater fever in SH that summer and Wolhuter was the only one to survive. On recovery he returned to Komatipoort, and then back to the task of erecting picket posts along the border as well as paying the mostly native police who manned them.
Wolhuter was later placed on the Intelligence staff of SH and took half a dozen native policemen on a patrol along the foothills of the Drakensberg escarpment as far as Letaba.
On his return he took charge of an outpost at Gomondwane. When the war ended he asked for his discharge from SH, a course clearly unacceptable to Colonel Steinaecker who asked Wolhuter what he wanted and offered him a commission. Wolhuter told the Colonel he did notwant to be an officer, so Steinaecker, typically unconcerned with correct administration, offered him officer’s pay while he maintained his rank as Sergeant.
He was discharged time expired at Komati Poort on 20 August 1902. He qualified for the QSA medal with clasp Transvaal and KSA with the two date clasps was issued from the SH roll.
After a meeting with Major J. Stevenson-Hamilton, Wolhuter agreed to become a ranger in the Sabi Game Reserve (later part of Kruger National Park) and he dedicated the rest of his life to this calling.
He chose two of his native police who had also obtained their discharge from Steinaecker’s Horse, and set off for Pretorius Kop where he would build his home and headquarters.
The area had become denuded of game and while SH and Boer patrols were blamed, it is more likely that the rinderpest epidemic of 1896—97 was the real culprit, particularly as there was an overabundance of predators like lions, leopards, wild dogs and hyenas.
In August 1903 Wolhuter, who was on horseback, was attacked by two lions who sprang at his horse. One of the lions landed on the horse’s rump and, after much commotion, the ranger was dislodged from the saddle and fell almost on top of the lion. The horse galloped off with one lion after it while the other seized Wolhuter by the right shoulder and started dragging him away into the bush with his back on the ground and his body between legs of the lion.
Wolhuter was able to get his knife out of its sheath on his belt and plunge it twice into the lion’s heart; he then managed to get a third stab into its neck, severing the jugular vein. The lion dropped his prey and walked off into the darkness which had now descended. The lion was found dead nearby when the rest of his party arrived on the scene.
After being carried to Komati Poort he was sent by train to hospital in Barberton under the care of Walter Dickson, a former Trooper of Steinaecker’s Horse. It was many months he was able to return to duty. After 45 years service as a game ranger Wolhuter retired. He handed on the work to his son.
His right shoulder troubled Wolhuter for the rest of his life and he would often refer to his ‘lion bite shoulder’. The lion skin and Wolhuter’s knife are today on display at the Skukuza rest camp in the Kruger. His experiences are recorded in his book Memories of a Ranger which he completed in 1948. He died on 30 January 1964.
Gleaned from “Steinaecker’s Horsemen” by Bill Woolmore
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