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Tuesday, April 26, 2022 - 11:28

On the 26th April 1900, the South African Cultural Historian, Dr Willem Henri Jacobus Punt was born in Elandsfontein (Germiston today). He was the son of Dutch immigrants, Jacob Punt and his wife Cecile Ruwers. They were both born in the Netherlands, Jacob in Amsterdam and Cecile in Hilversum. In 1893, Jacob came to South Africa and was employed by NZASM (Nederlandsche Zuid-Afrikaansche Spoorweg-Maatschappij). He became the Station Master at Elandsfontein before the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899. During the war he was imprisoned by the British and in May 1900 was deported back to Holland with his wife and son Willem of 6 weeks. The family returned to South Africa in 1904 with an added sibling for Willem, his sister Cecile Punt who was born in Holland.


Willem Punt (Bulletin)


At the age of 14, he had already decided to become an Historian and find where the Van Rensburg Trek had been massacred and where the graves of the Louis Trichardt Trek were in Delagoa Bay (Lourenço Marques). His research on the Voortrekkers, Louis Trichardt and the Van Rensburg Trek started in 1928 and was completed in 1945. From this date, more expeditions were taken to finalize certain aspects of his research. This research comprised of 14 expeditions through the bush, rivers and the wild to Delagoa Bay. It earned him his PhD at Stellenbosch University in 1952 and was published in book form as "Louis Trichardt se Laaste Skof” in 1953.

The Louis Treghardt Monument at the site of the cemetery in Lourenço Marques was inaugurated on the 12th of October 1968, forty years after he started his research on this project. He launched the "Louis Trigardt Monumentefonds” in 1952 to raise funds for the building of this Monument.


Louis Tregardt Monument (Wikipedia)


Captured in History - photographs from the opening of the Monument (Louise Punt Collection)


Willem HJ Punt studied at the Pretoria Teachers Training College to become a teacher. He completed his BA and Masters degrees in Geography and History at The “Transvaalse Universiteits College” in 1932 (later known as the University of Pretoria). He soon became a Vice Principal at various schools, followed by being appointed as School Principal at Voortrekker Primary School in 1936. In 1946 he was appointed as Principal of Danville School in Pretoria until the end of 1958. He was also a part time lecturer at TUKs in Pretoria.

After researching and visiting historical foundations and councils in Europe, he knew the time was right to start a national foundation in South Africa to save our heritage. He became the Founder Director of the Simon vd Stel Foundation. The inauguration of the Foundation was held at the Castle in Cape Town on the 8th of April 1959. The Foundation was his brainchild and aimed to preserve our Heritage, Culture, Cape Dutch architecture and South African fauna and flora.


The entrance to the Castle (The Heritage Portal)

He was the Foundation Director for 15 years from 1959 to 1974. During this time the number of Foundation members grew to 4300. Under his Directorship several sites were purchased and restored including Coornhoop in Mowbray Cape Town, Bradshaw Mill near Bathurst, two houses in Tulbagh, a house in Graaff-Reinet, Macrorie House in Pietermaritzburg, Boekenhoutfontein (Paul Kruger's farm near Rustenberg) and Botshabelo Mission Station near Middleburg. His passion for restoration and conservation filtered through to all our Provinces.


Coornhoop (Janek Szymanowski)


Bradshaw Mill, Bathurst (Bev Young)


The Kruger Houses of Boekenhoutfontein (Vincent Carruthers)


His son Willem Punt took over the Directorship of the Simon vd Stel Foundation in 1974. Dr W H J Punt then remained the Foundation's Advisory Historian until 1979.

Dr W Punt was the founder of many cultural and historical societies and the author of many books pertaining to our History and heritage. He wrote over a 100 historical articles and made 7 documentary films. He founded the Old Pretoria Society at a meeting held in his house in 1948. His wife Phyllis was the first secretary. The society was committed to preserve the historical character of Pretoria and see to conserving our heritage in all aspects, especially the ”West Façade” of Church Square.


Portion of West Facade of Church Square (The Heritage Portal)


His work as a Cultural Historian and researcher earned him many awards from cultural and historical societies in South Africa, the Bond Heemschut in the Netherlands and the Lourenco Marques City Council in Mozambique. Dr W Punt was awarded the State President's Award for Meritorious Service to South Africa as a Cultural Historian in 1980 which was presented to him posthumously on 27th July 1981 at a Ceremony held at the Tuynhuis in Cape Town. His five children were present. The award was presented to eldest son Willem J Punt.


Receiving the Simon vd Stel Gold Medal at the Foundation's 15th anniversary celebrations held at the Carlton Hotel in 1974 (Bulletin)


Tuynhuis (The Heritage Portal)


Dr WHJ Punt was known as one of the most prominent Historians in South Africa, highly respected nationally and internationally. He passed away in his house in Pretoria on the 22nd of May 1981, a day before the State President was to present the Meritorious Award to him at his house in Muckleneuk Pretoria.


Louise Punt and her father share a moment at the Foundations 10th Anniversary


Main image: Willem Punt and some of the sites he saved. Top left is Coornhoop, top right is an old painting of Botshabelo Mission Staion, bottom left is Bradshaw Mill and bottom right is the Main House at Boekenhoutfontein.

About the author: Louise Punt is the youngest daughter, and only surviving child born to Dr WHJ PUNT and Phyllis Emily Barry. She was one of five children, raised with History, Arts and Culture being part of their everyday life. Phyllis was a gifted writer and artist. Louise grew up with the example of being passionate about life, History and Culture. Her father lived his passion. She had the privilege of attending many historical events with him from a very early age. As a family they attended the opening of the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria in 1949. The gift of passion was imprinted on their lives… It lives on and never fades.


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