This Original Homestead of Sir Rider Haggard (Author of King Solomon’s Mines) built in 1875, stands as a focal point in a 3 Hectare Indigenous forest overlooking the Bed and Breakfast now called “Haggards on Hilldrop”, build around it since 1981.
Haggard lived here during 1881 on the farm Rooipoint. Re-named Mooifontein, it is described in Jess: It was a delightful spot. At the back of the stead was the steep boulder-strewn face of the flat-topped hill that curved round on each side, embosoming a great slope of green, in the lap of which the house was placed. It was very solidly built of brown stone, and . . . was covered with rich brown thatch. All along its front ran a wide verandah, up the trelliswork of which green vines and blooming creepers trailed pleasantly, and beyond was the broad-carriage drive of red soil, bordered with bushy orange trees laden with odorous flowers and green and golden fruit.
Fort Amiel Museum has a Haggard display including an axe that belonged to Mhlopekazi, Haggard’s Umslopogaas.
Sir Henry Rider Haggard was born on 22 June 1856 at Bradenham, Norfolk. His academic career was undistinguished and, after failing the Army Entrance examination, he was sent to London to study for the Foreign Office examination. There he became unofficially engaged to Mary Elizabeth Jackson, known as Lilly, but the romance was put on hold when in 1875 Haggard’s parents arranged for him to join the staff of Sir Henry Bulwer, Lieutenant-Governor of Natal.
In Pietermaritzburg, the Natal Capital, Haggard met Theophilus Shepstone, Secretary for Native Affairs, who became his friend and mentor. In 1876, while accompanying Bulwer and Shepstone on a tour of Natal, Haggard witnessed a Zulu ceremonial dance that provided the material for his first article written for publication. The Zulus named Haggard Lundanda u Ndandokalweni “The tall one who travels on the heights”.
In December 1876, Haggard joined Shepstone’s mission to annex the Transvaal. During the trek to Pretoria, Haggard “heard many a story of savage Africa” from his traveling companions and also from Mhlopekazi who, as Umslopogaas, features in Allan Quatermain (1887), Nada the Lily (1892) and She and Allan (1921). Haggard’s Zulu servant, Masooku, with whom he had several adventures, features in Haggard’s autobiography The Days of My Life (1926) plus Diary of an African Journey (2000), and the novel The Witch’s Head (1884).
Haggard helped run up the British flag in Pretoria on 24 May, 1877. Shortly afterwards he was appointed Master and Registrar of the High Court. In Pretoria, Haggards met Arthur Cochrane and together they built a small cottage, “The Palatial”. Here Haggard learned that Lilly Jackson had decided to marry someone else. “The news left me utterly reckless and unsettled”. He had an affair with a married woman, Johanna Catherine Ford, who became pregnant with his child – a girl named Ethel Rider – who subsequently died.
Looking for a new start, Haggard and Cochrane resigned from their jobs and bought a small farm, Rooipoint, just outside Newcastle, where they intended to farm ostriches. The farmhouse was named Hilldrop and still stands today, used as a bed and breakfast filled with Haggard memorabilia.
In August Haggard went on a visit to England and in 1880 Haggard married Louisa Margitson. The couple returned to South Africa just as the First Anglo-Boer War broke out. The British were defeated in three battles fought close to Newcastle: Laing’s Nek, Ingogo and Majuba.
Hilldrop was rented by the authorities to negotiate the peace terms. “It was a strange fate which decreed that the Retrocession of the Transvaal, over which I had myself hoisted the British flag, should be practically accomplished beneath my roof”.
Haggard’s first child, Arthur John Rider (‘Jock’) was born at Hilldrop on 22 May 1881. But the change in British fortunes convinced the Haggard family to leave South Africa.
Back in England, while studying for the Bar, Haggard wrote Cetywayo and His White Neighbours (1882), a work of non-fiction. This was followed by two novels: Dawn (1884) and The Witch’s Head (1884). Haggard’s third novel, King Solomon’s Mines (1885), proved an instant bestseller. On the strength of this success, Haggard quit law and embarked on a literary career. A series of popular novels followed, including She (1886), and Allan Quatermain (1887).
The death of Jock in 1891, however, signaled the end of Haggard’s most creative period and, as he emerged from his grief, the beginning of Haggard’s life as a farmer and “man of affairs”. He ventured briefly into business and also stood for parliament but failed to win a seat. Haggard’s agricultural studies, A Farmer’s Year (1899) and the two-volume Rural England (1902), brought him recognition as an authority on land issues. He traveled to the United States to investigate schemes for the resettlement of the urban poor and also served on the Royal Commission on Coast Erosion and Afforestation. He was knighted in 1912 for his public services.
Haggard revisited South Africa in 1914 while serving on the Dominions Royal Commission. During the trip Haggard returned to old haunts, toured Zululand, interviewed John Dube, first president of the African National Congress, and was reunited with Mazooku.
During World War One, Haggard toured the dominions to investigate the post-war settlement of servicemen.
He briefly visited Cape Town in 1916.
Haggard died on 14 May 1925 in England.