Colonel James Stevenson-Hamilton was appointed warden of the Sabie Nature Reserve in 1902 until his retirement in 1946 at the age of 80. In 1926, the reserve was expanded and renamed, becoming what is today our world famous Kruger National Park. This is not news to many, but what may come as a surprise is the long history the Stevenson-Hamilton family has in White River.
During the hot, malaria-ridden summer months the warden’s wife, Hilda left Skukuza with their children James and Anne and spent their time at family friends the Grahams, at Red House in White River. The Stevenson-Hamilton children attended Miss Fuller’s school before eventually going away to be educated in Johannesburg and the UK.
The canny Colonel, faced with moving back to Scotland upon retirement and uncertain that he’d enjoy northern climes, sent Hilda property hunting in White River. Through their friendship with the Grahams and all the time they’d spent in White River, White River was as much home to the family as Skukuza was. Hilda drove out to view the Duke of Sutherland’s property at Lake Longmere, and it was while seated on a big koppie there that she glimpsed three mud huts on the other side of the dam – the Klipkopje Post Office.
Landowner and farmer Clem Palmer wasn’t a terribly successful farmer – the area had frost which didn’t suit the citrus and he’d planted an expanse of Tung nut trees which dropped copious amounts of nuts in season, but couldn’t find a market for them. Palmer wasn’t interested in selling, however, but Hilda was a determined woman (after all, she’d kept a lion as a pet and faced off most African wildlife in her time) and she tenaciously persisted until the Stevenson-Hamilton’s became the new owners. Palmer split the land in two, selling the second half to the Willis family but eventually the Stevenson-Hamilton’s bought the land from them and reunited the property.
Forever after, Hilda called the koppie across the dam from whence she’d seen their new home ‘Hilda’s Hill’. They called their new home ‘Gibraltar’, because of its view of the enormous rock at the end of the dam.
After purchasing Gibraltar, the adult Stevenson-Hamilton’s returned to Scotland in August 1946, and suffered through the country’s worst winter in 100 years. March 1947 saw them back in White River after a five day journey by seaplane, ready to settle in Africa.
Post war, building supplies were difficult to come by so their plans to build a house changed to gradually improving the mud huts and building around them. Hilda was impressed by the strong, shiny dung floors in the mud huts and they made their own bricks, adding on rooms as needed.
Colonel and Mrs Stevenson-Hamilton lived at Gibraltar until their deaths. Their children and grandchildren live in the UK but James and his wife Jennifer continue to visit the family home at Lake Longmere annually and Anne also drops in to enjoy summer in White River and to renew their long standing friendships in the area.