The founding of Theunissen and its history goes hand in hand with the development of the railway system in the Orange Free State (OFS). When gold was discovered in the Witwatersrand, railways to the new gold fields were a necessity. During this period there were no railways in the OFS and the Transvaal. The nearest railway lines were Kimberley and Pietermaritzburg. Connecting to the coastal ports from the Witwatersrand was vital. A race started from the Natal and Cape coastal ports to connect with the gold fields. In 1887 the Cape government received a concession from the OFS government to build a railway line through the OFS. This railway line was completed in sections which were opened on the following dates:
- the line Norvalspont to Bloemfontein on 17 December 1890;
- the line Bloemfontein to Kroonstad on 20 February 1892 and
- the last section from Kroonstad to the Vaal River on 7 May 1892.
The line reached the Witwatersrand during the same year. Smaldeel station was erected directly to the west of Winburg. Because Winburg, the oldest town in the Free State, was not connected with the main railway line, the residents insisted that the OFS Government had to build a railway line from Winburg to Smaldeel. After careful consideration, the Government decided that a railway line will be built through Winburg to Clocolan. The line from Smaldeel to Winburg was opened on 1 November 1898. The building of the line to Clocolan was in an advanced stage when the Second Anglo-Boer War broke out. The line, to date, has not been completed.
Smaldeel grew rapidly, as it was the junction where the main line from Bloemfontein and the line from Winburg, Clocolan, Ficksburg and Ladybrand, met. The residents of the Smaldeel station and the farmers from the region decided that the time has come to apply for the establishment of a township. There were objections to the establishment of a town. On the one hand there were the settlers at the railway station and the farmers in the region who wanted to see the establishment of a town. They were represented by Helgaardt Theunissen who, from the beginning, put all his weight behind the campaign for the establishment of a town. On the other hand, were the residents of the Winburg district, who believed that the establishment of a township in the vicinity would greatly hamper trade in their town, especially with the recent establishment of the nearby towns such as Senekal, Ventersburg and Marquard. The result was the submission of two requisitions to the Legislative Council of the OFS:The request from the residents of Smaldeel for the establishment of a town, and
The request from the residents of Winburg, with 67 signatures, opposing this.
Requisition number one was received on 3 May 1906 and contains the following:
“The petition of the inhabitants of Smaldeel district Winburg, O.R.C. humbly sheweth:A.
1. That Smaldeel is an important Railway Junction with refreshment room employing a full staff.
2.That there are 7 General Stores, 1 butchery, 2 bakeries, 2 boarding houses, a large Government School with 1 principal and 2 assistant teachers and an attendance of 100 children daily, a Dutch reformed church, a Court House with a Special Justice-of-the-Peace.
3. That Smaldeel has a population of some 400 souls of which 200 plus minus are coloured and it already presents the appearance of a town.
4. That having such a considerable population it is desirable and very necessary that the place should be under proper Municipal supervision for reasons of sanitation, the bad state of the Roads and Streets, the want of proper rules as to native location and the proper control of natives and wandering stock, etc.
5. The funds have been nearly fully subscribed to erect a D.R. Church to seat 600 people, the present church building to be converted into a parsonage.
6. That is very necessary for the whole of the very large and extended Ward Vet River to have a proclaimed Township at Smaldeel, it being as near as possible central for the ward, and almost equidistant from Winburg, Brandfort, Bultfontein, Odendaalsrus and Ventersburg, as the outlying farms of the Ward Vet River are from 35-42 miles distant from their political centre, Winburg, and it is next to impossible for the inhabitants living so far away to get there whenever it may be necessary.
B. That the farms of which the proposed township will consist are Albany, 1912 morgen (widow Rasmussen), Smaldeel 891 morgen (S.J. Nieman), Statie 61.5 morgen (W. Mucke), Winburg Road North (W. Isaacman), Railway Curves 106.5 morgen, in all plus minus 3000 morgen.
C. That a resolution was passed at a public meeting of Householders held in the Court House on the 30th day of April 1906 that the municipality of the proposed Township shall consist of 7 members.
When a request was submitted that a Township be established at Welgelegen instead, a petition was signed by 232 farmers and residents of Smaldeel. This was not the only requisition that was submitted opposing the proclamation of a town. On 20 July 1906 and 6 February 1907, opposing requisition was received from Winburg and Kroonstad respectively.
It was impossible for the Legislative Council to make up its mind right away. A few months later the petitioners from Smaldeel received a letter from the Secretary of Legislative Council dated 18 September 1906, stating that the case of proclaiming a town will be investigated by a commission of enquiry consisting of Surveyor General, Mr. J.W.H. Steyn and Mr. W.J.C. Brebner. They were also informed that certain improvements needed to be made to their letter of request.
On 23 June 1906 the residents of Smaldeel had a meeting where a declaration was drawn up, giving Helgaardt Theunissen authority to amend the first letter of request, and to sign all the following declarations and to appear in front of the Legislative Council, in person, on their behalf. Theunissen, assisted by his lawyer, Mr. G.A. Hill, drew up a complete declaration, dated 23 June 1906, containing information of which farms should be purchased and at what price. He concludes by declaring:
“It is confidently anticipated that the total cost of forming the Township… will not exceed ₤20,000.”
This important document is accompanied by a medical report compiled by the district’s physician Dr. A.J. Baird, wherein he states considered sanitary and health circumstances within Smaldeel. He concludes:
“It is highly desirable that a recognized municipal authority should be appointed.”
Following the submission of the declaration the area was visited by the commission of enquiry, Mr. Steyn and Brebner. The report from the commission appears on 4 January 1907. This stipulated their findings, as well as the arguments for and against the forming of a township, and stating their recommendation as follows:
“On an inspection of the properties your Commission had doubts as to a sufficient supply of water being obtainable for the wants of a township, but got assurance that plenty could be obtained from the existing spring and dam, which would be supplemented by the sinking of wells: underground water is struck at a depth of from 13 to 20 feet”
After they were sighted on the possible difficulty that they could encounter, their findings were as follows:
“Your commission recommends that the petition be granted.”
The requisition for the founding of a Township at Smaldeel appeared in front of the Legislative Council on 1 March 1907. The request was approved. The Secretary of the Legislative Council sent a letter, dated 6 March 1907, to Mr. H Theunissen:
“I have the honour to inform you that the Legislative Council has sanctioned the formation of a township at Smaldeel on conditions of which I enclose a copy"
The conditions were as follows:i) That A.N. Mucke for his farm Statie, is paid ₤1,200
ii) That J.S. Nieman for his farm Smaldeel, is paid ₤5,500
iii) That Jacobs W.A. du Plessis and Jozeph A. du Plessis for their farm Poortjie receives ₤3 per morgen, for the portion that lies within the township. (it was more or less 400 morgen)
iv) That land is set aside for the building of a church, school, magistrate buildings, post office, jail, town hall, etc.
v) That at least 2 town squares be lain out.
vi) That the streets may not be less than 70 feet wide.
vii) That the costs for the founding of the township should be ₤11,700
The official proclamation of Smaldeel to the township of Theunissen dragged on until September. The official proclamation appeared in the Government Gazette of 13 September 1907 – Proclamation 41 of 1907. It reads as follows:
“Whereas the Legislative Council of this Colony has determined that it is necessary that a township be formed at Smaldeel in the district of Winburg. Now, therefore, under by virtue of the powers in me vested, I do hereby proclaim and make known as follows:
A township has been formed at Theunissen formerly known as Smaldeel in the district of Winburg in terms of the resolution of the Legislative Council dated 1st March 1907, consisting of the following farms viz. Statie No. 667 registered in the name of A.N. Mucke, Smaldeel No. 262 registered in the name of S.J. Nieman and that part of the farm Poortjie No. 259 registered in the names of J.W.A. du Plessis and J.A. du Plessis and situated between the North East Boundary of the farm Smaldeel and the main railway line, all in the said district of Winburg.
GOD SAVE THE KING
Given under my hand and the public seal of the Orange River Colony at Bloemfontein, this 13th day of September 1907.
South African Formula One driver Neville Lederle was born in Theunissen in 1938. Springbok rugby legend, Os du Randt had a farm called Tama just outside the town. The pilot of the first solo flight between London, UK and Cape Town via Cairo in 1920, Sir Pierre van Reyneveld, owned a house near the current Senwes grain-silos and train station. It is currently a bar/restaurant.