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Matjiesfontein in the Karoo is known for many things, but what makes Matjiesfontein and the Lord Milner really special is the feeling that you are stepping back through time.

matjiesfontein, lord milner

John Theunesseun in The Laird’s Arms. Photo supplied by The Lord Milner.

Matjiesfontein in the Karoo is well known for many things – from the ghosts that are said to inhabit it, to the house where Olive Schreiner wrote “My thoughts on South Africa,” from the Boer War Remount Camp with its 10 000 soldiers and 20 000 horses, to the Laird of Matjiesfontein himself. Like the hotel, the staff seem to have been there forever and if you return a few times as I have, you will start to regard them as family. Here are six of my favourite humans of Matjiesfontein.

(And if you’re looking for other things to do in Matjiesfontein, my post from a couple years back – Four ghosts and a wedding: what to do in Matjiesfontein – has some suggestions).


Linda Louw

Waitress at the Lord Milner

matjiesfontein, lord milner

Linda Louw, Waitress at the Lord Milner. Photo by Rachel Robinson.

Linda has worked at the hotel for 24 years. She was born in Matjiesfontein (her father worked for the railway) with her parents sadly passing away when she was eight years old. Linda has only ever travelled to Worcester and that’s been mostly for shopping. Although Linda misses the old way of serving breakfast (she used to serve at the hot buffet station and liked to chat to everyone), she recommends the scrambled egg with salmon trout from the breakfast menu. She has never seen any ghosts.



Head Wine Waiter and Porter at the Lord Milner

matjiesfontein, lord milner

Gert, Wine Waiter and Porter at the Lord Milner. Photo by Rachel Robinson.

If Gert (his name badge has no surname and he couldn’t spell it for me) isn’t carrying your bags into the hotel with gusto, he’ll be the man to call when deciding on which wine should accompany your dinner (he doesn’t drink wine himself, but has an interest in it). He’s been at the hotel for 27 years, starting out as security and then as a gardener before becoming a porter, where he “carries a lot of big bags from buses.” Gert travels twice a year to Cape Town and his hobby is racing pigeons. He has never seen the ghosts.


Alinck Smith

Barman at the Laird’s Arms

matjiesfontein, lord milner

Alinck Smith, Barman at the Lord Milner. Photo by Rachel Robinson.

Alinck was born in Lainsburg with his family moving to Matjiesfontein shortly after his birth. Both his parents worked for the Lord Milner and his father is still does maintenance for the hotel. Alinck has been serving drinks in the Laird’s Arms for the past nine years and is known to enjoy an occasional Castle when off-duty. In those nine years he’s seen someone drive a Harley Davidson into the pub and had merrymakers dancing on the bar counter. Alinck is probably one of the most well-travelled, having been to Bonnievale, Swellendam, Clanwilliam, Cape Town, Heidelberg, Montagu, Sutherland, Murraysburg, Oudtshoorn and George to name a few. His favourite town is Clanwilliam for the small interesting shops. He doesn’t believe in ghosts.


Sharon Ackerman

Waitress at the Lord Milner

matjiesfontein, lord milner

Sharon Ackerman, Waitress at the Lord Milner. Photo by Rachel Robinson.

Sharon was born in Bantams (just outside of Matjiesfontein) and has been at the Lord Milner for 13 years. Her parents came to Majtiesfontein when she was a child and her mother worked at the hotel as a scullery maid for 22 years. The best place she has been to is Jongensfontein because of the sea, even though she’s scared of water. Sharon whole-heartedly recommends the lamb chops for dinner at the hotel. She has never seen a ghost and says, “Only the guests see the ghosts.”


John Theunesseun

Entertainer and tour guide

matjiesfontein, lord milner

Johnny, Entertainer and tour guide at the Lord Milner. Photo by Rachel Robinson.

If the Lord Milner was a circus, Johnny (as he’s affectionately known) would be the ringmaster. With his favourite phrases being “It’s showtime!” and “I love it when you talk foreign,” Johnny is not someone you are likely to forget when you visit Matjiesfontein (and he wouldn’t have forgotten you either if you return). He’s been entertaining the guests at the Lord Milner for 30 years, either taking them for a tour of the hotel, showing them the town from aboard Futtom Fluffy (the red London bus) or cajoling them into having a sing-along at the piano in the pub. But Johnny is not only a funny guy, he’s also a pastor at a church in Touws River where he does sermons, baptisms and funerals. Unfortunately he doesn’t have a marriage licence, as he can’t afford to take three days off to do the course (I think we need to crowdfund him as he would make a perfect marriage pastor). He loves everything about his job, except for cigar smoke as it affects his throat and then he can’t sing well. Of course Johnny has seen the ghosts! He cheekily went on to say, “If you feel something heavy on you at night, it’s Lord Milner. If your partner does, it’s his wife…”



“The Princess” of the Lord Milner

matjiesfontein, lord milner, cat

Theresa, the Lord Milner’s ‘Hotel Harlot’. Photo by Rachel Robinson

Theresa is the hotel cat, so not strictly a “human” of Matjiesfontein, but definitely a character worth mentioning. For 7 years this striped feline has been escorting guests to their rooms, sleeping on their beds and tripping them up in the passageways (she has a knack for weaving her way in front of you, as cats do.) If you hear a scratching at your room door, it’s probably not a ghost, but rather Theresa asking to come in to spend the night or to drink your milk while you have your morning cuppa. I always like having Theresa around as I reckon she’d be the first to let me know if there was anything ghostly lurking in the passageways, but don’t expect her to stay around for long as she moves on to other guests without so much as a flick of the tail. The staff refer to her as “The Princess”, but I think “The Hotel Harlot” is slightly more fitting!


  • Lesle

    This was a great read! Thank you. 🙂 I am adding Maatjiesfontein to my must-see places in SA. I look forward to meeting your favourite humans at Lord Milner, especially ‘The Princess’. 🙂

    • Rachel Robinson

      Thank you Lesle! Matjiesfontein is such a special place – I never tire of going there. You will love it. Please let me know how you found it when you do go and do give The Princess a tickle under the chin from me.

  • Gareth Dean

    Excellent stuff! We all tend to get embroiled in the history and scenery whenever we go somewhere interesting without realising that the folks who call that place their home are an integral part of what makes that space so special. Given that my last sojourn to Maatjies saw a relaxing weekend turn into a crooning session with Johnny, an archaeological expedition, a friend being scared witless by a ghost in the ladies ablutions and attending an impromptu wedding arranged over a couple of beers the Laird’s Arms the night before, there’s something so special about this place that’s hard to put into words. But that’s what you’ve done both here and with your wonderful ghost piece – love it!

    • Rachel Robinson

      You are quite right Gareth – as with life in general, it is often the people who make a place special. Hope you’ll go back to Matjiesfontein soon. Johnny would love to have another crooning session I am sure!

  • jimhunneyball

    Everyone should experience John’s guided tours. His knowledge of the place and it’s people and impersonations are superb.

  • Dorette Gower

    Went with “Forgotten Route” and tour guide Riaan Renke for a getaway to Matjiesfontein. What a magical experience, not to be forgotten and worth every cent!!!

  • Robyn

    We have recently spent a night at The Lord Milner Hotel and were delightfully entertained by Johnny ! What a delight to have such attentive staff, and the hotel has been refurbished, with beautiful bathrooms. As in your article the staff from front desk to dining room where very friendly, the food was delicious. Well worth a stop over when traveling through the Karoo

  • Uwe Herbertz

    Matjiesfontein is really special. I came to the place the first time in 1985 and I enyoyed, especially a LONG night at the bar. The place is a MUST. Keep going.

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