Martha Read (Nie Pienaar)

On the 9th June 1951 a well-known and liked character of our coastal belt (Plettenberg Bay, South Africa) passed away at the residence of her son aged 89 years old.  She was Mrs I W O Read, former proprietor and joint founder with her late husband of Read’s Hotel.

In the year 1862 Martha Elizabeth Pienaar was born on her father’s farm Oorlogspoort in the Murraysburg district.  Her father Jan Pienaar was a very prosperous farmer who owned a number of farms.  His forefathers landed at the Cape in 1688.


PINARD, Jacques, 23 years old, a carpenter and Ester Fouche21 years old spinster, in the original passenger list of the Voorschoten, which sailed from Delftshaven 31st December 1687, with a marginal note as follows:- These two have married here before their departure.  The despatch covering this list is dated Delft, 19th December 1687.  Couple in distribution list 1690 and among Drakenstein families 1692 with two children.  Good many decendants still living all now with the name Pienaar.

When Martha, my mother was a child of about 10 years of age there was a big gathering of the old Huguenot families at Cape Town and her father Jan Pienaar was elected chairman, the post of honour as he was the oldest member at the conference.

When Pienaar landed at the Cape the name was Pienart which was corrupted to Pienaar in the 4th generation.  Mother was the seventh generation of this old family.  Her Grandmother still used French as her home language.  Mother’s mother was also directly descended from the Huguenots.

In those early days the Karoo was a veritable paradise. Sheep and cattle throve in the big vleis at Oorlopspoort where there were no dongas or corrosion, often have I heard Martha (my mother) relate how prosperous farming was in the area.  Her father would load his wool clips onto a convoy of wagons and take it down to Port Elizabeth for sale.  On one occasion he returned in an elated mood, he had actually sold his wool at 3 3/8 shillings per lb.  The returning wagons would be loaded with the years supplies of groceries and clothing and what excitement unpacking.  Amongst other necessities would be a roll of calico (course cloth often with a bright print) for the wicks for candle making. This was a big job. The sheeting was torn into strips and these were rolled for the wicks.  Then one day before dawn the fat would be put into a succession of huge soap pots and heated and then these wicks would be dipped into the fat the cooled, dipped again until eventually a candle of desired thickness was produced. After many years of this tedious work candle moulds were eventually invented and the work thus greatly simplified.

The Pienaars descended from the French Huguenots who fled their homeland on account of their religion, were staunch supporters of their church. In the evenings after supper and of a morning before dawn there would be the family devotions, which were attended even by their slaves.  This was a feature of life in those days.

Mothers nurse was a bushman girl.  She was captured by some farmers in the Cradock district.  She and her sister were out in the flats gathering insects for food when suddenly some white horseman chased them and as she entered the hole into their cave she was caught by the foot.  She was tamed and acted as a nurse to some 12 Pienaar children as she lived for well over a century.  She said that the greatest fear the Bushmen had of the white people were their eyes, those awful blue eyes. She also recounted how in retrospect she was very lucky to be caught as  life expectancy amongst her tribal peers was very short!


Nuts and roots provided the staple foods. Women also collected fruit, berries, bush onions, and ostrich eggs. Insects — grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, moths, butterflies, and termites — supplied a portion of the Bushmen's protein.

In those days the Pienaars went yearly to Plettenberg Bay and Knysna for their holidays.  They travelled by mule wagon.  As there were always babies in the family, a horse mare accompanied the outfit and when baby required a drink the mare was milked at the opportune moment and all was well with the baby.  When we remember that Martha  lived to the ripe old age of 89 years there could not have been anything wrong with this diet.

Mothers first visited Plett as a baby and then when she was 10 years of age in 1862 and then she was sent to school at Mrs Hoves private school at Knysna in that wonderful old thatched roofed cottage built by Rex and which is still in splendid repair. She boarded with the George Atkinson  who lived in the house which now forms part of Mrs Coote Nobles shop.  There were only a few houses in Knysna then and only one shanty at Plettenberg  Bay.

Here at Keurbooms River she met Ignatius Read, son of the late James Read who was the second white owner of the farm Keurbooms River, which he incidentally bought for 500 Rex dollars (£75.00) This romance led to their marriage in 1878.  They first lived at Welcome in Plettenburg Bay where they had a shop then at Keurbooms River where they spent the last days of her life at the residence of her son John Read.

In 1916 when business was very bad in these parts Mr and Mrs Read founded Reads Hotel at first a commuted farm house which in time under their splendid direction became well known not only in South Africa but also overseas.  There were distinctive features about Read’s Hotel which were conspicuous by their absence in other hotels.  When a guest arrived at any time of day or night they were welcomed by the host and hostess personally and not by the maid and the same happened when they left. The table was unequalled everywhere else in the country as far as plain cooking went with generally up to nine vegetables on the table fresh three times a day if desired and all canned fruits were home made. Green mealies were a feature usually for six months of the year. All the above were produced on the farm.  So entertaining were those grand old host’s that once a guest came to Keurbooms he or she was enrolled for life. 

When Mr  Read passed one of the sons came home and ran the hotel for Mrs Read for the last six years when it was sold in 1945.  There is much more I can add but space forbids.  There will be many who read this and recall many happy memories of their holidays spent at Keurbooms.