At the end of the Anglo-Boer War the government of Lord Milner decided to establish an irrigation farming scheme for unemployed British soldiers returning from the war. Although not successful, it was the forerunner of a small farmer’s township. In 1904, Milner ordered the Transvaal Land Department to survey the valley. Building a weir over the river and constructing a canal, a hundred plots of land were offered up for sale.
A number of British ex-servicemen from the Boer-War began citrus farming in what would become known as White River. The White River was known as Mhloppemanzi in Siswati and Wit Rivier in Afrikaans, because of its milky colour – caused by high levels of kaolin in the water.
Like the Lowveld settlers before them – seasonal San and Trekboer visitors – they soon experienced the harsh conditions of the region. Defeated by disease, drought, and insects, the new farmers left in droves and despite his best attempts, Estates Manager Thomas Holman Lawrence was unable to stop them. By 1911 a Mr McDonald was the only remaining farmer in the development.
Henry Glynn, Clem Merriman, Colonel William Barnard, Reverend Ponsonby and Exley Millar formed a syndicate to raise the necessary capital and bid for the failed settlement. Their offer of £10000 for 10000 acres was accepted and White River Estates established. In 1916 White River Estates became a private company with capital having grown to £30000, but the 1914 – 1918 war delayed development, which resumed again only in 1919.
Homes were built of wattle-and-daub and citrus planted. As it developed, the village of White River consisted of the Magistrates residence and court, an outspan on the site of where the Dutch Reformed Church is today, the White River Hotel and a police station and stables connected by the single main street which is today called Chief Migyeni Khumalo. There were no cars in those days and transport consisted of mule wagon, donkey cart, or horseback. Horse sickness plagued the animals.
Because the main industry was citrus farming, the White River Fruitgrowers’ Co-operative Company was established in 1924, packing the first citrus crop a year later and by 1926 the railway line from Nelspruit reached White River.
Claire Nevill’s book, White River Remembered, is an entertaining and well researched source of information on the pioneer days of White River and can be bought from the Hans van der Merwe showroom at Casterbridge Centre.
Source from Louis van der Merwe – the Connaughton’s House, Which became the first White River School, Plaston Road