When Robert Grey, Bishop of Cape Town, set off for the northernmost reaches of the Colony, he was captivated by the Karoo. “There was no time for reading in the wagon,” writes Thelma Gutsche in The Bishop’s Lady. “The arid desert-like Karoo with its abrupt rocky kopjes, occasional mirages and stunted bushes sparsely mixed with grass, was full of fascination.” The Bishop saw thousands of springbok, gnus and swarms of locusts, rare pools of water, called “vleis” and sometimes, but very seldom, a Hottentot family trekking along the “road”. The Bishop enjoyed a stopover with the stormy petrel of Cape politics, Andries Stockenström, famed for intransigent liberal views and swam in the Great Fish River, before entering the Great Karoo. Graaff-Reinet’s Rev W Long and his wife met the Bishop at Somerset (East) where Robert preached in the Dutch church. He then doubled back across Agterbruintjieshoogte and travelled to Cradock – full of English speaking people, but with no church.
The Great Karoo in those days had a large English speaking population. Robert tried to preach in Dutch at some farms. He was sure his messages were quite unintelligible, but his Boer hosts politely disagreed. He gave a Dutch-English prayer book to one family with whom he spent the night. In Colesberg he stayed with Dr Orpen, a sincere, but explosive Irishman, whom he ordained as a deacon in the Dutch church where Thomas Reid, a Scotsman, was the minister. The fabled Orange River was only a three hour ride away, so Robert rode out at 05h00 one morning to see the river and have a swim in its muddy waters.