The second in a series on famous South African Passes Bain’s Kloof Pass


Bain’s Kloof Pass

Bainskloof Pass – completed 1853

Map of the Bain's Kloof Pass

Bain’s Kloof Pass crosses the Limietberge to the east of Wellington on the road to Ceres and the north. It is a work of considerable engineering complexity, which is generally regarded as being the magnum opus of Andrew Geddes Bain, the famous road-builder and geologist. In 1846 Bain was appointed as an inspector of Roads in the Western Cape’ working under Charles Mitchell, on an impressive program of road-building conceived and implemented by John Montague. One of Montague’s ambitions was to open up a direct line of communication with the interior.

Montagu Rocks (Cape Archives)

In the 1840s Andrew Geddes Bain was working on the Michell’s Pass, when he began to contemplate a pass through the Wellington’s mountains. At the time there was only a bridal path through the mountains.
    He asked Johannes Retief to act as his guide through the mountains. Other members of the group were the sons of Daniel Malan and Septimus du Toit. Horses were provided by Field Cornet Rousseau. They followed a cattle track, then left their horses at the neck (now Bainskloof village or Eerste Tol), and then walked eastwards down into the kloof.
    Bain described the landscape as “repulsive and savagely grand” and “for the first three miles we had nothing but crossing and recrossing the river and climbing up the mural banks at the risks of our necks, so gloomy was this place, there is a perfect absence of animal life.”
    Bain completed the Michell Pass in 1848 and moved his team to Wellington where he built a construction village at Eerste Tol. The settlement included the usual storerooms and workshops, as well as a hospital, a church/school building, recreation area and stables. Work started in February 1849 on the easier western approach. This section required little blasting but required the building of two timber bridges and four stone culverts. He also had 300 oaks planted for shade. The road was trafficable to the summit by the end of 1849. Bain  tried to shorten this part of the route by building a 122m tunnel, the first road tunnel in South Africa, but the rock face soon proved too unstable and dangerous. The two portals of the failed tunnel were signposted by Divisional Engineer M.Austin in 1988, and may be inspected.

Dacre's Pulpit 1878

Modern Image of Dacre's Pulpit

In 1851 he moved his camp to Tweede Tol to start work on the remaining, more difficult part of the pass. Bain described the work thus: “The nature of the work here is quite different from the other side of the mountain, the line passing through the masses of fixed and detached quartzose rock which seem to set at defiance the engineer’s skill to construct anything like a well graduated road through it: for no sooner is one obstacle removed, in the shape of an enormous block of rock, scores of tons in weight, than others appear in rapid succession, such as transverse rocks etc. of which there appears to be no end; but the powerful agency of gunpowder is slowly making them disappear. Ten kilometres of road had to be blasted through solid rock, and in places 20m high retaining walls had to be built. 
 These are holding up the road today some 150 years later! The workers used little more than hand drills, sledgehammers, steel bars, picks, and shovels. Large rocks were moved by muscle power steel bars and sometimes rollers. Bain recorded that he used a short section of rail at what is known, as Montague Rocks to remove the broken rock from the box cut were the excavated rock couldn’t be pushed over the edge. Convict labour – between 300 and 350 people did most of the work at a time. Sometimes the figure went up to 450. About 1,000 convicts could claim that they were involved in building the 30 km pass.

Montagu Rocks

Present day view of the Pass

Once clear of the rocky kloof the nature of the work changed again and picks and shovels replaced drill steel and sledges. Two major bridges, later named Pilkinton and Borherds Bridges, had to be built on this section of the work.

The pass was opened in September 1853 and is still in use today – with a few minor improvements like getting a tarred surface in 1934. It became a national monument in 1980. 
It was at the opening that Andrew Bain, in replying tom a speech stated “ I would rather make another road than another speech- being a common highwayman more accustomed to blasting and blazing”

The 30 kilometre pass had taken four and a half years to build and cost about 50 000 pounds to complete.

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One response to “The second in a series on famous South African Passes Bain’s Kloof Pass

  1. Pingback: The second in a series on famous South African Passes Bain’s Kloof Pass « FindSATours

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