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Liebig House | Neu-Heusis

Windhoek District | Namibia

A few kilmeters past Daan Viljoen Game Park is a large, dilapidated residence, Liebig House, known to Windhoek residents as the ghost house. This is a private property and although visible from the road can not be visited by members of the general public. The property is closely linked to the early colonial history of Namibia.

On 18th September 1907, The Liebig's Extract of Meat Company (Lemco) purchased 210,000ha of land in the Khomas Hochland. A house was built in 1911 and named after Baron Justus von Liebig, the German 19th-century organic chemist who founded the Karl Liebig Company. Farm managers of the company, who were renown cattle breeding specialists, were housed there. Lemco were the originator of Liebig and Oxo meat extracts, which later became known as Oxo beef stock cubes.

The location was perfect. Beautiful panoramic views across the veld could be admired from the large windows. A short walk from the house, farm managers would stroll to a deep rocky river gorge, divided by an old dam. Tea parties would be held on the well-manicured garden, which featured a finely crafted statue, a flowing fountain and a beautifully carved fish with water cascading from the mouth into a pond of floating lilies and croaking frogs. Nowadays the walls of the lounge have been adorned with artistic prints and the former occupants can be imagined warming themselves in the winter around the large fireplace.

One of the managers who lived in the house was Alexander Scotland. He travelled to South Africa in 1902 to meet his brother, a serving British Army officer who had promised him a commission in his unit. However, as the conclusion of the Boer War coincided with his arrival, he obtained work for an insurance company before returning to the grocery and provisions trade. He lived in the border town of Ramonsdrift and as German forces were his main customers he quickly learned to speak German fluently.

In his 1957 memoir, The London Cage, Scotland claims that 'at the invitation of a German officer', he joined the German Army as 'Schottland'. He served in the German army from 1903 to 1907 and boasted of engaging the Khoikhoi in a number of battles in the German uprisings of that era.

After the uprisings, he was appointed the general manager of the government trading post at Ramonsdrift, a position that extended his sphere of influence to British, German and Khoikhoi forces. He was instrumental in cease-fire talks and encouraged the Khoikhoi leader Johannes Christian to abandon hostilities with the Germans on 23rd December 1906. He was awarded the Order of the Red Eagle for his services.

It was during this time that Scotland began unofficially reporting German manpower and other information to British intelligence in Cape Town. A British secret agent was now operating in Namibia. In 1914, he was arrested and imprisoned at Windhoek until 6th July 1915, when the area was captured by British Empire troops. The Germans were defeated by South Africa in 1915 during WW1 and Scotland left Namibia, but continued his work in military intelligence.

In 1939, the South African Government bought the land from the Liebig Company. There was enough real estate to build 65 farms and it was used to resettle farmers from the Union of South Africa at the end of World War II.

In 1945, the house was sold to the Courtney-Clark family. Internationally acclaimed photojournalist, Margaret Courtney-Clarke, who was born in Swakopmund, left the country 50 years ago. Both of her parents were born here and she is credited as being amongst American talk show hostess Oprah Winfrey's close circle of 'influential and intellectual close friends'.

The name 'Neu-Heusis' farm is derived from Khoekhoegowab word ||Hoeses, which refers to a deep chasm found a few hundred yards downhill from the farmhouse. The local Damara community in this area were also known as '||Hoesedaman'.

Questions today are asked about the future as well as the past of Liebig House. Preservation and redevelopment take time and money. Or as has been observed by many a curious visitor, is the beauty of the building best left to the elements of the weather and the forces of nature?

So who are the 'ghosts' of Liebig House? The farmhouse managers admiring the gardens out of the large windows? Skeletons banging inside a kitchen cupboard desperate to tell of the secrets of the Courtney-Clark's? Or is it the screams of a German soldier being tortured by British secret agent Alexander Scotland? Perhaps the answers lie with the wind battering down onto the loose corrugated iron sheets of the roof. Baron Justus von Liebig needs to know!

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