Sir David Graaff, the first baronet who bought De Grendel, was a direct off-spring of one of the most beautiful love stories that came out of the Overberg. The romance of his parents is the tale of the farmhand who won the heart of the farmer’s pretty young daughter.
Had this romantic tale not occurred, the Graaffs would probably never have occupied De Grendel.
The legend stretches back to the middle of the 19th century. At that time David’s father, Petrus Norbertus Johannes Graaff, generally known as Nort, lived on the farm Wolfhuiskloof in the district of Villiersdorp, on the Franschhoek Mountains. Nort was a grandson of Johannes Jacobus Graff, who came from Germany in 1775 as a 21-year-old soldier in the employ of the Dutch East India Company. This Graff, as the surname was initially spelled before it was eventually changed to Graaff, worked as a carpenter and painter and became known for a singular heritage: the impressive pulpit of the Groote Kerk in Cape Town. He crafted the wooden pulpit resting on two lions following a design by the sculptor Anton Anreith.
Nort was a farmhand on Wolfhuiskloof, adjacent to the farm Radyn owned by Pieter Hendrik de Villiers, a respected man who also served as field cornet of the district. De Villiers had the land of Radyn surveyed and subdivided with a view to founding a town, which came about in 1844, the founding date of what would later be known as Villiersdorp. The Cape Dutch homestead of Bo-Radyn, with its exceptional unsymmetrical ‘H’ shape, was declared a historic monument in 1975. Various new residents settled adjacent to Bo-Radyn in the new town, initially called Akkedisdorp. However, permission was obtained from the colonial governor, Sir Peregrine Maitland, to name the town after its founder, P.H. de Villiers, and since then it has been called Villiersdorp.
De Villiers, known as Pieter Silwermyn because he previously owned a Stellenbosch farm where silver was mined, was the most prominent leader and government official of the area after his appointment as field cornet of the ward Boven Rivier Zonder End. He was married to Catharina Helena Minnaar and they had five children, two sons and three daughters.
One of the daughters was Anna Elizabeth – the pretty Annie, with whom Nort fell in love. As the Wolfhuiskloof herdboy, he had to come to Bo-Radyn every now and then. It seems Annie also soon started to have feelings for the young, handsome Nort.
The owner of what would later be a show fruit farm, however, did not take kindly to the young man’s interest in his daughter. Therefore, Field Cornet De Villiers forbade the bywoner boy from coming to the farm. However, love is unstoppable. Nort would sneak through the bushes and shrubs, ostensibly to help Annie with the washing at the mill stream. For that he earned himself a thorough hiding from De Villiers, according to a tale told later by Cobus le Roux, a subsequent owner of Bo-Radyn, to David Graaff’s son, De Villiers Graaff.
The secret drawer
One of the love letters Nort had sent to Annie by messenger was later found by his son, Dawie (as he was known then). He discovered it in a secret drawer of a large armoire, an heirloom that came from Wolfhuiskloof and after some roaming ended up on the Graaff family farm, De Grendel. Even as a young man, Dawie had an interest in beautiful furniture, carpets and paintings. For this purpose he often consulted a good friend, Dr Lawrence Herman. Herman bought the ornate wardrobe for Graaff at an auction; it still stands in the manor.
One day, Graaff was admiring the walnut piece with its silver fittings, pulling out drawers and pushing buttons and hinges. To his amazement, one of the panels moved, swung open and a number of drawers appeared. In the third drawer there were a set of dentures and the title deeds of the old family farm Silwermyn. He discovered that the armoire had belonged to his own family while they resided in Stellenbosch.
Another drawer contained a letter to “Mijn Schat” (my darling). It was his father’s own passionate plea to pretty Annie of Radyn. The letter read thus:
“I can no longer endure our meeting in secret. I can no longer humiliate myself by pleading with your parents. In their eyes I am not worthy of their daughter. I am no longer prepared to be silenced by your father’s haughtiness and proud attitude when he talks to me. You now have to decide whether you want to come with me, as we have planned so often, or whether our ways are to part.
“I shall be at the old oak at the end of the lane at nine o’clock. Dress warmly, because it will take two hours to reach the home of Aunt Maria. If you are not there at ten o’clock, I shall proceed on my own. Do not leave me in the lurch, my darling.”
How the letter ended up in the drawer remains a mystery. Perhaps Annie or her mother hid it there. The conclusion of the saga, according to family tradition, was, however, that at the age of 23 Nort eloped with his young mistress. Legend has it that the young Graaff kidnapped the De Villiers daughter on horseback.
On 2 May 1846 Nort and the 18-year-old Annie were married by a magistrate in Franschhoek. Upon their arrival back in Villiersdorp, father-in-law De Villiers finally consented to the marriage, but insisted that male offspring should get the name De Villiers as well. Hence the merger of the Huguenot name De Villiers with the German-Dutch Graaff that would distinguish later generations.
At a time when large families were the order of the day, five sons and four daughters were born from the marriage of Nort and Annie, who went to live a simple life at Wolfhuiskloof, about four kilometres from Villiersdorp.
David Pieter De Villiers is born
The sixth of the nine children, David Pieter de Villiers Graaff, the first Graaff to own De Grendel, was born on 30 March 1859. He and his eldest brother, Pieter Hendrik de Villiers Graaff (born in 1848), acquired the middle name of De Villiers – but not the other three Graaff brothers, Johannes Jacobus Arnoldus (Jan or John, 1854), Jacobus Arnoldus Combrinck (Kobie or Koos, 1863) and Pieter Christiaan (1866).
The name De Villiers would continue in the case of David Graaff’s three sons, De Villiers (Div), David (Dawie) Pieter de Villiers and Johannes (Jannie) de Villiers Graaff. His eldest son, Div Graaff, who became leader of the opposition in the South African Parliament, also had the eldest grandson, David de Villiers Graaff, the third baronet, baptised thus. The tradition has been continued since, both in the case of the fourth baronet, De Villiers Graaff, born in 1970, and the eldest great-grandson, David Peter Berkeley de Villiers Graaff, born in 2004.