Rev Louis Hugo served Beaufort West’s Dutch Reformed community as a minister until he decided to become a missionary. He then left the Karoo and moved to Robben Island to work among lepers and the metally ill.
Hugo, who was of Huguenot extraction, was born in Stellenbosch on November 22, 1846. He came to Beaufort West in 1876 and served there until 1896. His predecessor, Rev W P de Villiers, had left the town in August, the previous year.
Rev Hugo, a descendant of Daniel, (Hugot or Hugod a Huguenot who landed in 1690), received his education and theological training in Stellenbosch. Hugo’s mentors were Prof N Hofmeyr and Prof John Murray, both well known men in the Karoo. He was ordained on March 19, 1871, at the age of 25 and called to serve the people of Ladybrand in the Free State. In 1876 Hugo accepted a call from the people of Beaufort West despite the fact that there was no formal transport to take him and his family to that town. Then to the horror of Beaufort West’s church council no one volunteered to go and collect the minister, his wife, family and household goods from the Free State. The church council had to hire a team of donkeys and handlers at a cost of £100 to get the man of their choice to Beaufort West. Yet, on the afternoon of April 3, 1876, when they heard he was nearing the village many rode out crossing swollen rivers to go and meet him.
By 16h00 the whole entourage had arrived back in town and the minister was warmly welcomed at the “pastorie” (manse). He was inaugurated that same evening by Rev. George Murray from Willowmore. Sadly some of the other presbytery (“Ring”) ministers, who had hoped to ride to Beaufort West from places like Prince Albert and Graaff-Reinet to welcome the new minister were prevented from doing so by heavy rains and swollen rivers, nevertheless it was reported that he preached his inaugural service to a satisfactory congregation. .
Several major changes took place during Hugo’s period of service in the Karoo. The church managed to budget to pay a proper salary to the minister, collection plates were introduced to replace the former little velvet bags, a new pulpit was acquired and some services were conducted in English, so that all townspeople’s religious needs could be addrerssed. Despite hard times in 1877 the church council was able to plan for a new church to be built. Funds were collected and the new building was inaugurated on September 22, 1894, but this much needed place of worship was to lead to strife and the departure of Hugo and his family.
A year later the church was still in debt to the tune of about £7 000 and struggling to raise funds. A Mrs Hertzog of Cape Town donated £5 500,but despite this some members of the congregation were up in arms about the “large debt which still hung about their necks.” Early in 1896 a complaint was laid against Rev Hugo. Members of the Presbytery came to Beaufort West to investigate and sadly ill feelings surrounding the complaint mushroomed. This caused a great deal of damage to relationships within the church and there were people with hurt feelings throughout the community. On March 30, while investigations were still underway, Rev Hugo decided to resign and leave town. After nine days of investigation the Presbytery decided to temporarily suspend Hugo pending a final decision by its council. Feels raged high and this caused a split in the congregation. There was great deal of bitterness at various levels throughout the town. More than half the congregation supported Rev Hugo and were unquestioningly loyal to him, yet he and his wife departed by train on June 30, 1896, amid extremely emotional scenes.
After about a year Hugo was re-instated as a minister and he went to Robben Island to work among the lepers and the mentally ill in 1897. He did great work on this island and gained great respect for his unstinting efforts. Hugo died on Robben Island on August 17,1907. He was buried in a remote cemetery among the lepers and the mentally ill who he had so faithfully served.