Bethulie – a town of many names…

Bethulie – a town of many names…

The Bethulie Guest Farm – a true gem!!

Bethulie is an unassuming little sheep and cattle farming dorp in the Free State. A hidden gem in a vast landscape, it was originally known as T’Kout’Koo by the San people. A mission station was established here in 1829 by the London Missionary Society, and it was known as Groot Moordenaars Poort (Murderers Pass) after a ferocious clash between the Sotho and Griqua tribes. Until 1833 Bethulie was known as Caledon (after the nearby Caledon River). In 1835 it was then named Verheullpolis and in 1863 this spot was renamed Heidelberg. Finally, in 1872, the town name reverted back to Bethulie after the original mission station.

The sumptuous bedrooms…

Jean Pierre Pellissier was born on 28th September 1808 in St Arey, France. He later became a missionary with the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society and arrived in Cape Town on 5th September 1831. He stayed at Wamakersvallei (Wellington) for two months, to learn Dutch, and then headed on out to Kuruman. The fighting between the local tribes caused him to move again, this time to a site north of the Orange River, establishing a mission amongst the Khoi people at the site where the London Missionary Society had previously failed. He named the mission station Bethulie, a name derived from the French word Bethulia, which means “Chosen by God”, and the land of the mission station was transferred to the Paris Mission Society in 1836. Beyond doing God’s work, Pellissier made a great contribution to practical education and medicine amongst the locals, ultimately creating one of the best-developed mission stations of the time in southern Africa beyond the Orange River. He died on 11th June 1867. His house (known today as the Pellisier House Museum) was built in 1834/35 by C Gosselin, a craftsman with the Society, and it is now one of the oldest buildings in the Free State.

Warm welcomes and smiles all around…

South Africa’s history is a complicated one, filled with both joy and tears. A particularly shameful part of our history is the fact that South Africa was the site of some of the world’s first concentration camps. During the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), the British Empire interred tens of thousands of Boer civilians (mostly women and children), who were expelled from their farms as part of a scorched-earth policy. Bethulie housed one of the largest and most horrific camps. Nicknamed “the Murder Camp”, more than 1700 died of hunger and disease – 810 of which were children. There was a possibility that the area of the original concentration camp site would be flooded as a result of the construction of Gariep Dam, and a decision was taken to exhume, move and re-bury 1 737 people to the present graveyard and memorial (“Kamp Kerkhof”), 3 km from town. The original site was, however, never flooded.

The Hennie Steyn Bridge, also known as the DH Steyn Bridge, was previously known as the Bethulie Bridge. 

The Hennie Steyn rail-and-road bridge outside Bethulie, arches over the Orange River. At 51.5m high, it towers over the Orange River just before it enters the Gariep Dam, connecting the Free State with the Eastern Cape. It is 1152m long, making it the longest road-rail bridge in South Africa. Even the mighty Mtentu Bridge, currently under construction near Lundini in the Eastern Cape, will only be 1132m (but that is a story for another day).

Game of chess, anyone?

In 1924, Mr Pellesier (one of the descendants of the missionary) built a house for his daughter, which is today known as the Bethulie Guest House (previously known as The White House Guest Farm). It was designed by none other than the renowned architect Sir Herbert Baker, who was a friend of his. Baker, a British architect who is perhaps South Africa’s best-known architects of that era, earned his reputation in our country before continuing on to the rest of the world. Some of this best-known projects include the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Groot Constantia, the Rhodes Memorial and St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town among others. And, of course, the Bethulie Guest House! I simply love the quicky spider’s web of interesting connections that run through our country! 

The resident kitchen fairy who produces oodles of magic for the table behind the scenes…

The Farm is a working concern, boasting a pecan nut plantation of just over 300 trees on approximately 8 hectares of land. Now owned by Wayne and Riana Orlandini, this beautiful guest house, which is almost 100 years old, has been lovingly maintained and many of its original features and décor remain. The welcome is warm, the bedrooms are sumptuous, and the food is sublime! We had delectable lamb chops, served with pumpkin, green beans and potatoes, followed by Malva Pudding. Breakfast was no less delicious – the usual array of cereals, yoghurt, fruit and toast, followed by whatever your heart desired in terms of a cooked breakfast. The portions were generous, and the food was beautifully prepared. Alex, the manager, is super friendly and helpful, as are the hounds. This spot offers a truly unique experience – completely unexpected in a little dorp like Bethulie! It is probably one of the best overnight stops I have ever had! 

Even the placemats are different…

Bethulie is a fascinating, quirky and artistic spot, well worth spending an extra night if you wanted to see all the various attractions…


Mobile: 082 591 8236

The Guest Farm
16 Wardaugh Street

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