When we look at Mbombela today, it is a bustling town with huge shopping malls and even bigger farms that produce some of the best fruit in the country.  Our town is a tourist destination of choice thanks to its moderate climate throughout the year, great places to stay and wonderful things to see.

But back in the 1800’s it was very different.

There were no roads and no shops.  Back then most people that were farming in the area had to rely on traders who would bravely hitched up their oxen and take off into the unknown with their heavily laden wagons.

Often most of these traders died of malaria and the oxen from sleeping sickness before they reached their destination.  Tsetse fly was another hindrance along the way and often traders would travel at night through tsetse fly infested areas as the flies were less active at night.  Then they still had to fight through thick bush, over huge mountains and struggle through deep rivers that would flood in the rainy season.

Most traders were men, but there was one trader, a woman, who became famous for her brave spirit.

Sarah Maud Goff Heckford was born on the 30 June 1839 in Dublin, the daughter of a banker.  As a child Sarah survived tuberculosis, and lived for the rest of her life with posture and gait problems as a direct result of the sickness.  To make things worse both her parents and sister died when she was ten, and she was left in the care an aunt and uncle.

She married a doctor that she met while nursing in 1867, but that was short lived as he died in 1870 from tuberculosis.  After working as a governess, when her hopes of becoming a farmer were dashed, she took her money and bought a cart and oxen and took to the bush as a trader.

She broke through the gender boundaries, which dominated the time, and made it as peddler/trader, serving both the Afrikaners and Africans that populated the land.  Once on the road she would often have to clumber under her wagon when a sudden afternoon thunder shower would blow in from nowhere.  Often the rivers would be in flood and she would have to make camp on the river banks while she waited for the rivers to subside enough for her to drive her oxen through.  At times she would get to a mining community and there she would help by nursing some of the miners that were ill with malaria before moving on her way to the next stop.

In the late 1890’s when she was in her 60’s, Sarah left the road and went back to work as a governess.  When the Second Boer War broke out this brave lady did work as a messenger for the English.

Before her death in 1903, Sarah Maud Heckford had served as a governess, been a doctor and a nurse, been both a farmer and a builder and made her fortune as a peddler in the remote bushveld.  But that was not all she did, she also wrote and published books.  In 1882 she wrote “A Lady Trader in the Transvaal”, “Excelsior” in 1884 and “The Story of the East London Hospital” in 1887.

Well ahead of her time, Sarah’s story is one that is little known but one that can inspire those living in this modern time.

Nelspruit has a fascinating history and those who visit our small town can easily find information about this history both before and during their visit. Book your stay at Nelspruit Lodge today and find out more about what makes our town the place that it is.

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