Street names reflect history 11 – R

by | Oct 22, 2021 | Forgotten Heroes, People, Places, Street names | 0 comments

A prominent businessman with assumed super powers, the man who was in charge of the town’s first power supply, the first English minister and first English teacher, amongst others, gave their names to these streets.

Reitz Street (Bult)
The street was named after President FW Reitz 1844-1934) who was the fifth president of the Orange Free State from 1889 to 1895. He was state secretary of the ZAR from 1898 to 1902. After the Anglo-Boer War, he was president of the Senate of the Union of South Africa from 1910 to 1921.

Retief Street (Central) was named after the wife of the Voortrekker leader, Piet Retief, Magdalena. Retief. She resided on the north-eastern corner of Retief and Berg Streets (later Van Riebeeck, now Peter Mokaba). See my article on Magdalena Retief.

Minister lived in unsafe house

Richardson Street (New Baillie Park)
The street was named after Rev W Richardson who was the first minister to serve the English congregation in Potchefstroom approximately 1864, according to Potchefstroom 1838-1938. Geoffrey Jenkins in A Century of History, however, wrote that Richardson announced that the first English service in the town was to be on 26 June 1866. According to Prof Gert van den Bergh, Richardson lived in Church Street (Walter Sisulu) about halfway between Lombard Street (James Moroka) and Potgieter Street (Nelson Mandela) on the western side of the Street. Prof Van den Bergh wrote that this dwelling was so dilapidated that it was regarded as a fire hazard. Next door was the first Anglican Church. An article on this church appears in my book Stories of Potchefstroom.

The rectory of St Mary’s church, which stood in Church Street (Walter Sisulu) next to the first Anglican Church. It stood approximately at 188 Church Street.

Rissik Street (Bult)
was named after Johann Friedrich Bernhard Rissik (1857-1925). Born in the Netherlands, Rissik was the acting surveyor general of the ZAR. He was responsible for the surveying of Johannesburg and Benoni. He became minister of Lands and Native Affairs in 1907 and after the Union of South Africa came into being in 1910, he was appointed as the first administrator of the Transvaal and served until 1917.

Johann Friedrich Rissik was a land surveyor. Photo: wikipedia

Rivier Street (Central) was literally the street nearest to the river when the town was laid out in 1841. Its opposite was Berg Street (now Peter Mokaba), which was nearest to the hills or higher ground. This was one of the first named streets in Potchefstroom and appears on the earliest map of the town, dating from 1863, where it was named “Revier” Street. Shortly afterwards the name “Rivier” was used. In the 1960s the town council was requested to change the name due to the fact that the name was associated with certain unsavoury characters who then resided there. Two names that were suggested were “Strydom Street” and “Môregloed Street”. “Strydom” was to honour adv JG Strydom, the former prime minister and  “Môregloed” because it was on the eastern side of the town. Council, however, decided against renaming the street.

A scene in Rivier Street at the beginning of the 20th century. Photo: Gawie van der Walt Postcard collection

Astute businessman, model husband and father

Rocher Street (Baillie Park) was named after a prominent Potchefstroom businessman and farmer, CGC Rocher (1844-1909).

La Rochelle, the house built by Charlé Rocher as it appeared on the day of his funeral on Monday 20 March 1909. The hearse with his casket is to the right. This is one of many photos of Rocher’s funeral taken by August D’Ange D’Astre, whose studio and house stood next to the one of Rocher in Wolmarans Street (buildings directly above hearse). D’Astre’s maternal grandfather, the artist Otto Landsberg, was the brother of Rocher’s maternal grandfather, Carl Wilhelm Cornelius von Landsberg.

The Potchefstroom Herald published a lengthy obituary of CGC Rocher on 19 March 1909 after he had passed away on Sunday 14 March:

Charlé Guilliaume Corneille Rocher, who came of Huguenot stock, was born in Simon’s Town on 9th October 1844. When his grandfather sold out, the whole family settled at Saldanha Bay, where it appears that the Rochers were not so prosperous as when they lived in Simon’s Town.

Rocher worked at the stores of Landsberg & Co in Cape Town. Landsberg later explored business opportunities in the Transvaal and took the young man with on his journey. Subsequently a store was opened at Kimberley.

The obituary continued:

If Rocher had not been obliged to leave Kimberley on account of family illness, he would assuredly have become another Cecil Rhodes. He was, as we all know, a wealthy man, he leaves a large estate. He never inherited a farthing. What he became the possessor of, he acquired by his own luck and pluck. He was in the truest sense of the word a self-made man. He was a man of extraordinary energy and activity, up to the last days of his life and his indomitable willpower was simply marvellous. Those who have sat with him in church or other meetings can testify to this. He was level-headed and very shrewd and generally carried his point. His co-members were eventually satisfied after discussion and altercation, that Rocher was right.

CGC Rocher (left) with his mother, son and grandson. The caption on the back of the picture reads: “Catharina Maria Louisa Rocher, born Landsberg on January 14th 1821, with her eldest son Charlé Guilliaume Corneillé, and his eldest son, Charlé Guilliaume Corneillé Rocher. Photo: Potchefstroom Museum

Rocher moved to Potchefstroom in the early 1860s. (Some sources say 1862, other 1864). He brought his whole family with including his grandfather, Pierre Rocher, who passed away shortly afterwards and was buried in the Alexandra Park Cemetery. Charlé Rocher married Catherine Johanna Petronella Zinn a month after his grandfather’s death.

His obituary remarked: Mrs Rocher, néé Zinn, has always been the right hand and guiding star of her beloved husband. Our profoundest sympathies go out towards the bereaved family. We have been intimately acquainted with the deceased and know that he was a model husband and an ideal father.

Charlé Rocher became a prosperous businessman and amongst other concerns, owned a mill at the northern end of Molen Street.

He also owned farms south-east of the town. According to legend he was able to look out to his farms, which were approximately 12 km from town with binoculars from the attic or first storey of his house, La Rochelle. Charlé Rocher acquired the property on the south-western corner of Wolmarans and Church Streets (Walter Sisulu). He later enlarged the house to have a second storey and attic and it was known as La Rochelle. His workers firmly believed that he had superpowers when he could tell them exactly what happened even when he was not there! Potchefstroom had fewer trees than today, which allowed him to see his farm from town.

Charlé Rocher owned this house on the corner of Wolmarans and Church Streets. It was built in 1888. According to some sources the first shots between the English soldiers at the Fort of Potchefstroom and the Boers in the First Anglo-Boer War (1880-1881) were fired from the veranda of the house. It still stood in 1938. After the Second Anglo-Boer War it was used as a boarding house and later the downstairs rooms were converted to shops. The first Turkstra shop in Potchefstroom opened on the Wolmarans Street side of the building in January 1936.

The obituary mentioned his involvement in the NG Church:

Since the construction of the “Nederduitsch Gereformeerde” Church – now the United Church – in Transvaal (1866) by the Reverends Cachet and Jooste, Rocher associated himself with it and became one of its staunchest supporters. He served this church well, first as deacon and then as elder. And he died in presbyter-harness.

The church loses a strong man in the deceased. His purse was always open for God’s house and work, not only for his own church, but for every other protestant denomination. He gave liberally at all times, whenever he was asked to help.

But his forte was education. The first girls’ school in Potchefstroom, started in 1879, was of his creation and administration and since his first entry into public life, Charlé Rocher was always in the front ranks of the great and good cause of education. He leaves a large family of eleven children, of whom the three youngest are unmarried.

The Alexandra Park Cemetery holds the remains of two of the Rocher children. In 1874 a three-month old daughter passed away and in 1884 another daughter, aged nine, died.

Roselt Street (Baillie Park)
The street was named after JH Roselt, the first English teacher in Potchefstroom. He came from Graaff Reinet and was appointed to teach at the government school on 3 June 1866, but resigned in August 1867 due to the fact that he received a smaller salary than the Dutch teacher. Jenkins mentions in A Century of History that Roselt was appointed as the editor of the newspaper The Transvaal Argus in July 1867.

Ross Street (Potchindustria)
The man who for nearly 40 years was the electricity engineer to Potchefstroom gave this street, that passes one of the large electricity substations in town, its name. He was William Davidson Ross. He was born in Scotland and trained there as a ship’s engineer. He came to Potchefstroom in 1907 to work for the private company who then supplied electricity to the Kings and Royal Hotel. When the town council took over the electricity supply, he was placed in charge and with the opening of the power station in 1912, he was the electrical engineer. See my article on the history of the electrification of Potchefstroom.

In his term many changes were made to the electricity supply. This includes the switch over from direct current to alternating current. A few years before his retirement Eskom took over the electricity supply to the town.

Mr Ross was employed by the municipality beyond the age of retirement and finally retired in 1946. He passed away suddenly on 14 May 1951 at the age of 74 years.

WD Ross came to Potchefstroom in 1907 as engineer to the private company who supplied electricity to the Kings and Royal Hotel. He later became electrical engineer to the town council. This photo was published in the Herald on 28 June 1912 to commemorate the official opening of the power station.  

The original source of and inspiration for these articles is a series of 13 columns written by “Senex” for the Potchefstroom Herald on the origins of the street names of Potchefstroom, published from 17 December 1974 to 24 June 1975. Senex was the pseudonym of Mr Jurgens Smith, a long-time history teacher at the Potchefstroom High School for Boys. Smith’s primary source of information was the research of Mr TC de Klerk, who studied the origins of the street names of Potchefstroom to write a master’s dissertation in the 1960s. He sadly passed away before completing his studies. Some of De Klerk’s research is kept in the Archives of the Potchefstroom Museum, which otherwise also provided a rich source of information.


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