Herman Hendrik Smorenburg (1883 – 1946)


   1. His childhood

The eighth child of Andries Smorenburg (1842 – 1916) and Maria Jansen van Galen (1845 – 1928), Herman Hendrik, was born on 29 July 1883 at Arnhem, Gelderland.1,2 He became my husband’s great-grandfather.

According to family folklore, Herman Smorenburg went to school in Amsterdam, North Holland but later ran away from home. As a teenager, he found work on a ship owned by the Dutch-East India Company (DEIC) who left for South Africa, because he wanted to join the cause of the Boers in the independent Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek [ZAR] (South African Republic) in their fight for freedom against the imperialistic British Empire during the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902).3 However, this story holds no truth! In the first place, the DEIC was founded on 20 Maart 1602 and defunct on 31 December 1700. Furthermore, his parents, two older sisters, Everdina (1876 – 1959) and Maria (1879 – ?), an older brother, Jan Willem (1881 – 1968) and Herman himself moved to South Africa in the early 1890s when he was about nine or ten years old. He did, nonetheless, at the age of about 16 years in ca 1899 join the Boer forces during the war.

NOTE: Our Herman Hendrik Smorenburg should not be confused with the well-known Dutch painter Herman Smorenburg, who was born in 1959 at Alkmaar, North-Holland, Netherlands.4

   2. His wife

Herman, then 29 years old, married the 25 year-old Janet Connell Thomson on 17 April 1913 at St George Presbyterian Church at Johannesburg, Transvaal in the Union of South Africa.5

Janet was born in February 1887 at Glasgow, Scotland.5 She was the daughter of Robert Thomson and Isabella Plenderleith who immigrated with their children from Scotland to South Africa.6

Janet’s mother owned a boarding house in Johannesburg, presumably at 110 Oaklands Road, Norwood. A dining menu of the boarding house, dated 1914, is privately held by Isabella Thomson’s great-granddaughter, Pamela Jean Jamison. Janet had a sister Dolly who later married Bill Smith.3,7

Janet Smorenburg (née Thomson) died one month before her 74th birthday on 30 January 1961 in Johannesburg General Hospital. At that time she was residing at 3 Corona, 80 Edith Conell Street, Hillbrow, Johannesburg.6

   3. His career

According to family folklore, Herman Smorenburg worked on the 473 km long NZASM (Nederlandsche Zuid Afrikaansche Spoorweg Maatschappy) railway line between Pretoria and Delagoa Bay (now Maputo in Mozambique) and in particular at the 400 m long NZASM Tunnel through Elandsberg (Elands Mountain) between the two towns, Waterval-Boven on the Highveld plateau and Waterval-Onder in the Lowveld, within the ZAR, also known as Transvaal Republic (now Mpumalanga province in South Africa). After six years of construction, the line was opened in November 1894 by the ZAR President, Paul Kruger. This same railway line would later became his escape route to Mozambique before the advancing British Armed Forces when the tide started to turn against the Boers during the the Second Anglo-Boer War (ABW2), also known as the South African War.3,8-12The construction to the tunnel itself started in 1892 and lasted until 1894. If the folklore is true, this meant that Herman must have been between nine and twelve years old, to have worked at the tunnel. Whether he actually did work there is debatable but not impossible. What is known with greater certainty is that his father resided at Waterval-Boven and with his extensive experience on the railways in the Netherlands could make a useful contribution to the building of the NZASM line. In what capacity Andries Smorenburg was working is not known, but after the completion of the railway, he remained at Waterval-Boven and worked as a locomotive machinist (train engine driver) for the company, which would later in 1910 become known as the South African Railways.13-15

Herman Smorenburg was residing at Waterval-Boven with his parents by the time the ABW2 broke out in October 1899. The 16-year old Herman enlisted in the Boer forces as a volunteer.16 It is likely, yet not certain, that Herman joined the same commando as his brother, Jan and his first cousin, Andries Smorenburg (1872 – 1939). Andries was the Commandant-in-chief of the Second Dutch Foreigners Section of the Corps van Nederlanders en Oud-Nederlanders. Jan Smorenburg was Quartermaster of the same commando.17,18 By February 1900, the Corps with its various sections were merged with other foreigner commandos to form the International Legion under headship of French nobleman Colonel George de Villebois-Mureuil. The Legion, also referred to as the European Legion or Foreign Legion, did not have the usual army structure but rather consisted of a loose collection of some Boers and Dutch, French, German, American and Russian volunteers organised in detachments under the leadership of commandants.19,20

Andries and Jan were captured during the Battle of Boshof, a small farming village in the independent Boer Republic of Orange Free State (OFS). On 5 April 1900 the Boer Forces, consisting of a independent Boer commando and a detachment of about 125 men of the International Legion under leadership of De Villebois-Mureuil, were unexpectedly attacked by British forces under command of Lord Methuen. The Boer commando fled when the tide started to turn against them but most of the Legionnaires remained and were eventually beaten. Andries and Jan Smorenburg with 62 others were captured and sent off to St Helena, a remote island in the Atlantic Ocean, as prisoners-of-war (POWs). De Villebois-Mureuil was killed during this battle. At that time, the rest of the Legion under command of De Villebois-Mureuil’s deputy, the Russian Lieutenant-Colonel Yevgeni Maximov, was grouped near Brandford awaiting further instructions, while undergoing further training in field combat and military discipline. The young Herman Hendrik Smorenburg must have been part of this grouping. When the news broke of De Villebois-Mureuil’s death and fate of his detachment, Maximov was appointed the new leader of the remainder of the Legion, but the Legion soon thereafter broke up in its constituent detachments. One of these was the Hollander Corps who remained under the command of Maximov, and Herman Smorenburg had the honour of serving under this formidable Russian commander (One wonders if Herman at this point knew that his brother and cousin were still alive).19-24 Maximov and his Corps had a high reputation and were respected by the Boers. Moreover, Maximov led several raids to rescue Boer families from the farms seized by the British. On 30 April 1900, however, the Hollander Corps of 150 men encountered the British Army at Houtbrug Pass at Tabokop (Tabo Mountain) near Thaba N’chu, approximately 60 km east of Bloemfontein. Only two men were killed and five seriously wounded. Unfortunately, one of the wounded was Maximov himself. The next day, on 1 May 1900, the Corps suffered heavy casualties, including its new commander. Herman Smorenburg was taken prisoner that day.  READ MORE on the battles near Thaba N’chu. The POWs were sent off to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) for the remainder of the war. Herman Smorenburg, then 17 years old, with POW number 3362, spent the first couple of months in Diyatalawa Camp on Ceylon, then was transferred to Ragama Camp until the end of the war in 1902.16,19,20,25-27

Diyatalawa Camp was the main camp at Ceylon. It was ringed with a deep trench and barbed wire entanglements. The POWs referred to the camp as Boer Town and had two laagers (settlements) dubbed by the prisoners as Kruger’s Dorp and Steyn’s Ville. The Transvalers occupied the first, named after the President of the ZAR, Paul Kruger (1825 – 1904), while the second was occupied by Burghers from the British occupied Orange River Colony (previously Orange Free State) and named after President Marthinus Steyn (1857 – 1916).28  During his time at Diyatalawa Camp, Herman Smorenburg compiled three unique journals that revealed his extraordinary artistic skill. One journal was for his friend at the camp, the other was intended for Queen Wilhelmina to be sent after the war and the third he kept for himself. (The latter was auctioned off in 2012 by his alleged grandson).29

Herman was later transferred to Ragama Camp. Dissidents and irreconcilables who would not sign the oath of allegiance to the British Crown were housed at Ragama Camp. The first inmates were welcomed on 8 January 1901.27,29 After the Peace Treaty of Vereeniging was finally signed on 31 May 1902 at Melrose House in Pretoria,30 the “burghers of the late South African Republic and the late Orange Free State were permitted to proceed to South Africa immediately at their own expense, or to await repatriation as soon as arrangements could be made for their transportation. Foreign prisoners-of-war, except those able to produce evidence that they were nationalized Burghers, were not allowed to return to South Africa. They were permitted instead to leave at once at their own expense if they wished to do so, or await repatriation by the Consuls of their respective Governments. All releases were subject to a declaration of allegiance to the British Crown.”28 Herman was released on (possibly) 28 July 1902 and repatriated to the Netherlands on the Dutch steamer SS Alak. Two POW medallions were issued to Smorenburg – a Ragama Camp Ceylon “Scum of the scum” medal (dated 1901) and a Rotterdam Lloyd medal (dated 28 July 1902).29,31 But Herman soon thereafter returned to  the British Transvaal Colony (previously ZAR).3

Looking at the life of a young Herman Hendrik Smorenburg before the age of 20, he had worked as a railway track labourer, fought in a guerilla war and spent time in an offshore POWs camp. He certainly had to mature very quickly from a youngster into a man, by developing the skills and tenacity to persevere and overcome many hardships and challenges early in his life.

The older Herman and his family resided in eastern Johannesburg where he worked as a horse riding school instructor for many years. The school was called Daughters of the Transvaal and provided horse riding lessons to mainly women, which was in particularly high demand after the ABW2.3,7 Later in his life as he aged and until his death, he worked as a laundry traveler (laundry-van driver). He collected dirty laundry from homes and hotels and after being washed, dried and ironed at the laundromat, delivered the clean laundry again at the appropriate addresses.3,32

Herman also was a volunteer in the Transvaal Horse Artillery.3,7 When and for how long is not known. The regiment, based in Johannesburg, was formed on 17 March 1904 and still exists today as part of the South African Army Artillery Formation. In World War I (1914 –1918), this reserve unit participated in the German South-West Africa Campaign and was also part of the South African Heavy Artillery in Palestine, Egypt and Europe. Volunteers also served in World War II (1939 – 1945) and the South African Border War (also known as Angolan Bush War) (1966 – 1990).33

   4. His death

The last few years before his death he suffered from Parkinson’s disease.3 Herman Hendrik Smorenburg, nicknamed “Pop”, died at the age of 63 years and 3 months on 31 October 1946 at the Provincial Home, Modderfontein, Johannesburg. At the time of his death, the couple lived at 116 De Korte Street, Clifton, Johannesburg. Apart from movable property, Janet inherited an Insurance Policy with African Life Ass Co. Ltd. worth 100 pounds.3,32 Janet Smorenburg was widowed 15 years before she died on 30 January 1961at the age of 73 years and 11 months at Johannesburg General Hospital. At the time of her death, she resided at 3 Corona, 80 Edith Conell Street, Hillbrow, Johannesburg.6

Sixty-six years after Herman Smorenburg’s death in 2012, several of his effects were auctioned by Fine Art Auction House and Antique Auctioneer, Stephan Welz & Co., Johannesburg. These included various Anglo-Boer War memorabilia such as his personal Ceylon POW camp album, his Dutch-English Dictionary and his two POWs medallions. Furthermore, a pair of gold-and-silver cuff-links that belonged to Herman, was also auctioned off.29,34 Sadly, these sentimentally-precious artifacts are now lost to Herman’s descendants.

   5. His children

Herman and Janet Smorenburg had only one child, a daughter.

5.1 Isabella Plenderleith “Pat”

Isabella was born on 11 May 1914 at Johannesburg, Transvaal. She married William Gustave “Willie” Rowlinson in 1936.35,36 They became my husband’s grandparents. READ MORE on Isabella Smorenburg and her husband Willie Rowlinson.


  1. Van Otterlo, H. 10 February 2016. Parenteel van Peter Janssen van Gaalen. https://www.jmvanotterlo.nl/parenteelboek/boekineke07.09.htm
  2. Birth of Herman Hendrik Smorenburg.https://www.openarch.nl/show
  3. Interview on 23 March 2017 with Pam Jamison, Randfontein, Gauteng, South Africa, granddaughter of Herman Hendrik Smorenburg
  4. Herman Smorenburg. http://www.hermansmorenburg.com/?lang=en
  5. Marriage of Herman Hendrik Smorenburg. Gendatabase. http://www.gendatabase.com/paid/index.php
  6. Death notice, will and estate of Janet Connell Thomson. National Archives & Repository Service of South Africa. TAB MHG 1236/61, 1961
  7. Family Photo Album of Smorenburg & Rowlinson Families. Privately held by Pamela Jean Jamison (neé Rowlinson), Randfontein, Gauteng, South Africa
  8. Archaeological site report. NZASM Tunnel, Doornhoek, Waterval Boven District. http://www.sahra.org.za/sahris/node/42758/sitereport-archaeology-pdf
  9. NZASM tunnel at Waterval Boven. http://www.dutchfootsteps.co.za/watervalboventunnel.html
  10. Historic tunnel at Waterval Boven – Probably the best-known and most famous of all NZASM structures. 2 January 2016. The Heritage Portal. http://www.theheritageportal.co.za/article/historic-tunnel-waterval-boven-probably-best-known-and-most-famous-all-nzasm-structures
  11. Waterval Onder – A small piece of history. The Highveld Gazette. http://www.thehighveldgazette.co.za/histwonder.html
  12. Waterval Boven. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterval_Boven
  13. Death notice of Andries Smorenburg. South Africa, Transvaal, Civil Death, 1869-1954, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:7V2Y-SP3Z : Fri Oct 06 07:59:32 UTC 2023), Entry for Andries Smorenburg, 10 Jan 1916
  14. Marriage record of Everdina Smorenburg and Jan Sartorius. South Africa, Transvaal, Civil Marriages, 1870-1930, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QP7W-4XCW : Fri Oct 06 09:30:59 UTC 2023), Entry for Jan Wilhelm Surtorius and Everdina Marie Smorenburg, 21 Sep 1898
  15. Marriage record of Maria Smorenburg and Frederik Koch. South Africa, Transvaal, Civil Marriages, 1870-1930, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:6877-KVJP : Tue Oct 03 06:28:09 UTC 2023), Entry for Frederik Koch and Maria Smorenburg, 22 Jun 1899
  16. Herman Hendrik Smorenburg. https://angloboerwar.com/index
  17. Andries Smorenburg. https://af.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andries_Smorenburg
  18. Andries Smorenburg. https://www.geni.com/people/Andries-Smorenburg/6000000020038358389
  19. Nordbruch, C. 2000 Vir vryheid en reg: Buitelanders aan Boerekant tydens die Anglo-Boere Oorlog 1899 -1902. Kontak-Uitgewers: Pretoria
  20. Davidson, A. & Filatova, I. 1998 The Russians and the Anglo-Boer War 1899 – 1902. http://ab-war.narod.ru/DAV-1
  21. Judd, D & Surridge, K.. 2013 The Boer War. A history. I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd. : London. https://books.google.co.za
  22. Battle of Boshof. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Boshof
  23. Boer prisoners (1900 – 1902). http://sainthelenaisland.info/boerprisoners.htm
  24. Jan W Smorenburg. https://angloboerwar.com/index
  25. Evans, M.M. 2000 Encyclopedia of the Boer War. http://www.sahistory.org.za/sites/default/files/file%20uploads%20/encyclopedia_of_the_boer_war_martin_marix_evans.pdf
  26. POW Camps Overseas. Anglo-Boer War Museum. http://www.wmbr.org.za/view.asp?pg=research&pgsub=prison&pgsub1=2&head1=Prisoners%20of%20War
  27. Photos of POW Camps, Ceylon. National Archives & Repository Service of South Africa. TAB Photos 215/6001-6015
  28. Harman, M. 2017 POW camps in Ceylon during the Boer War. https://libcom.org/library/pow-camps-ceylon-during-boer-war
  29. Smorenburg of Ceylon: Artist extraordinary. Archived news – November 2012. http://www.stephanwelzandco.co.za
  30. Treaty of Vereeninging. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Vereeniging
  31. Ceylon: Boer War: Ragama Prisoner of War Camp “Scum of the Scum”. 2012 South African Commemorative Medals. http://www.southafricanmedals.com/index.php?page=shop.product_details&flypage=flypage.tpl&product_id=1119&category_id=1&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=1
  32. Death notice and estate of Herman Hendrik Smorenburg. National Archives & Repository Service of South Africa. TAB MHG 1187/49, 1947
  33. Transvaal Horse Artillery. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transvaal_Horse_Artillery
  34. Session One. Lots 1-250. 19 November 2012. http://midrandcover-FIN.indd – Session 1-Lots 1-250.pdf
  35. Parenteel van Hendrik van Galen. http://members.upc.nl/y.galen2/vgs/Ede/gn23951.html#p24074
  36. Isabella Plenderleith Rowlinson. Gendatabse. http://www.gendatabase.com/paid/index.php