In the heart of Hermanus, the Old Harbour was saved when a man of vision and his friends started the humble task of cleaning up where vagrants and neglect had left their mark. Much earlier he had helped with the first stages of Fernkloof, the construction of Rotary Way and the Cliff Path.
This man was Ion Williams, whose major contribution and living monument is probably the Vogelgat Nature Reserve.
Dr Ion James Muirhead Williams was born in Cape Town in 1912, matriculated at St Andrew's College, Grahamstown and obtained a B.Sc civil engineering degree at UCT. During World War II he worked on fortifications and observation posts. In 1947 he moved to Hermanus with his wife, Sheila, and two children.
In 1950, with mayor Otto Prillewitz, and Eric Jones, Williams started to develop the newly proclaimed Fernkloof Nature Reserve. While establishing the boundaries of the reserve, Williams drove Cyril Gillespie, Eric Jones and Bill Le Barrow up the mountain from the Hemel-en-Aarde valley, to find the pegs. Bill who could not walk, waited for them and was overwhelmed by the magnificent panorama below. He persuaded the others that a road should be built for all to enjoy that beauty. With help from the Rotary Club, Rotary Way came into existence within a short space of time, with Williams as surveyor.
He next tackled the cliff path — brainchild of Eric Jones and today one of our biggest assets. The botanical society supplied funds, and Williams with one labourer, set about making the path. It took five years to complete the ribbon of paths from Grotto Beach to the new harbour. The Fernkloof paths continued steadily. Ion Williams and Eric Jones were the two main movers in this project. Today the reserve has over 40 km of paths to be enjoyed by all.
In 1962, Williams began studying botany. After ten years of research, he received a doctorate from the University of Cape Town for his thesis "A revision of the Genus Leucadendron" (A classification of approximately 80 species of the Protea Leucadendron.) Dr Williams also published a series of papers on buchu (a shrub whose leaves are used for medicinal purposes) - Studies in the genera of the Diosmeae (rutaceae) - between 1973 and 1984.
Ion and Sheila were equally enthusiastic and supported each other. She collected all the coastal plants of the Hermanus area which are now preserved in the SL Williams Herbarium in Fernkloof. Together they built their own boats, sailing and angling on the Klein River lagoon; and walked the mountains and valleys around Hermanus.
Their major contribution to botanical heritage in Hermanus and South Africa is undoubtedly the jewel, Vogelgat. They turned the 600 hectare farm into one of the most beautiful nature reserves in the country. The surrounding areas on all sides have been cleared of alien vegetation, preserving the prime fynbos, and paths and overnight huts have been built.
In 1997, when he was 85, Dr Williams was awarded honorary Freemanship of Hermanus. Only four other people received this honour — Meester Paterson, Thomas Ravenscroft, Otto Prillewitz and Charlie Sim. Dr Ion Williams passed away in 2001, at the age of 89. His memory lives on in the many monuments he had built in his quiet, unassuming manner.
Article extracted from SJ du Toit – Whale Capital Chronicles I, Page 152.
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