The Bain Legacy

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Swartberg Pass - The oldest unaltered pass in SA built by Thomas Bain Swartberg Pass - The oldest unaltered pass in SA built by Thomas Bain - Photo: Pic: RoadTravelAfrica

This page deals with the phenomenal contribution to road building of the father son team of Andrew and Thomas Bain. We list all the passes that both these men built or assisted in building and provide direct hyperlinks to those passes. There are very few complete lists in existence of all the works including railway construction, bridges and other roads (other than passes). The most comprehensive research on this subject that we could find, was that of Dr. Graham Ross - a noted 'modern' padmaker himself, who has spent many years of his retirement researching the history of South African roads. Much of what you read here has been adapted from Dr Ross's meticulous research.

Andrew Geddes Bain was born in Thurso Scotland. He was a pioneer engineer and geologist and earned the tag of "Father of South African Geology". He arrived in the Cape in 1816 aged 19, originally as a saddler in Graaff-reinet, and later set about finding employment in the construction of roads. See the tables below (at the bottom of this page) for his list of passes built. He also built a bridge over the Fish River during that period. Bain Snr. then tackled the Gydo Pass near Ceres (1848) which he did as a side job, whilst constructing the considered masterpiece at that time, the Michells Pass just south of Ceres. The most famous pass built by Andrew Bain, was of course his opus magnum, which still stands today and named after him - the Bainskloof Pass (1853). He also built the road north out of Graaff-Reinet  which included the Lootsberg Pass and a series of smaller passes. His final pass was the Katberg Pass (1854), which he was unable to complete. It was completed by Adam de Smidt. 
Andrew Geddes Bain00Above: Andrew Geddes Bain

Andrew Bain had 11 children, of which his famous son, Thomas Charles John Bain, was the second son and the seventh child. Many people confuse him with John Thomas Baines (1820-1875) - a traveller and explorer in South Africa who was also a prolific artist who died in Durban in 1875. Note the spelling of his surname is different to our two padmaker heroes. For the purpose of this page, we can put Baines the artist to one side.

Born in Graaff-Reinet, to Andrew Geddes Bain and Maria von Backstrom, on 29th September 1830, Thomas Bain died, after a full and energetic life, on his 63rd birthday, 29th September 1893, at his last residence “Woodside” in Rondebosch, Cape Town.

Thomas Bain x UCT Libraries and Lister Family G.RossAbove: Thomas Bain / Lister Library

On 26th June 1854 Thomas married Johanna Hermina de Smidt, ninth child of Willem de Smidt, the Secretary to the Central Road Board, later to become a Member of the Cape Parliament. They had a long and happy marriage, being devoted to one another and to their thirteen children. Johanna's brother Adam de Smidt was also a road builder and worked for many years under Thomas' supervision. The two men did not see eye to eye - a result of a dispute in the routing of the 7 Passes Road, which turned into bitter acrimony, which would last a lifetime. The family followed Thomas where his work took him, and this entailed moving every few years, so they had nothing which could be called a “settled residence” until they bought “Woodside”, standing in 90 acres of ground in Rondebosch, a suburb of Cape Town, for £1,300 in the 1880’s.

Thomas was essentially a quiet and gentle man, beloved of his family. At the same time he was able, as his works attest, to control large construction crews in remote areas and, when more senior, to guide and control work on a number of sites, often hundreds of kilometres apart. He was religious and a teetotaller.

Thomas was basically a road engineer and surveyor, with strong geological links. He was apprenticed to his father for five years on the construction of Michell’s Pass and Bain’s Kloof Pass, whereafter he sat for and passed top of the entrants the examination in Civil Engineering, set under the direction of the Colonial Engineer and the Superintendent-General of the Colony. He obtained his AMICE in 1877. He earned the nickname of "the man with the theodolite eye" for his uncanny ability to visualise the perfect routing for a pass with the naked eye.

In 1848 he was appointed an Assistant under the Central Road Board, and Superintendent of Convicts; then from 1854 Inspector of Roads for the Western Province, holding on several occasions the appointment of Visiting Magistrate of the convict gangs employed under his supervision. In 1873 he was lent to the Railway Department for eighteen months as District Engineer in charge of construction and he also surveyed three proposed railway routes. He then returned to the Road Office of the Department of Public Works until 1888, when he was appointed Irrigation and Geological Surveyor of the Colony.

On the geological side, Thomas was from time to time engaged in making collections of reptilian remains from the Locustrine beds of the Karoo for the British and Cape Museums, and reporting on the mineral resources and discoveries of minerals in the Colony, such as the Knysna, Prince Albert, Barkly West and Namaqualand Gold Fields, and the Coal Fields of the Eastern Province and the Free State. He also discovered new botanical species, collected other fossils and artefacts, made copies of pre-historic rock art – and played a variety of musical instruments.

A dedicated and extremely conscientious man, he had but one month’s leave in his 46 years in the Public Works Department. The records of his works, his reports to his Chief Inspector, and the near-perfection of the surveys and other maps which he produced bear witness to the excellence of his professional work.

Shortly before his death Thomas undertook a 1,600 kilometre trip, travelling in a small ox cart through the hot and dry interior regions to investigate possible irrigation sites near Upington on the Orange River. This most arduous trip appears to have further undermined his health, which was already suffering from the strain of his work and from worries about the (he considered inappropriate) reorganisation of his Department. He never recovered, and was bed-ridden for the last month of his life, gradually fading away. He was buried in the churchyard of St Thomas’ Anglican Church in Rondebosch. Plaques have been erected in his honour at five different places around the Cape, and his grave stone is housed in the Cultural History Museum in Cape Town.

When Thomas and Andrew Bain commenced working for the Central Road Board there were only three engineered mountain passes in the country, one of which Andrew had built. Andrew was responsible for seven major passes, and Thomas for twenty six. Thomas was responsible for 560 miles of major road construction which included minor passes, as also geological investigations, dams and other water supply works.

It can be said that the Bains, in conjunction with the Colonial Superintendent of Works and Surveyor-General Major Charles Michell, initiated the great age of road-building in the Cape. Thomas Bain especially has made a contribution to road engineering in South Africa which must rank among the greatest made by any engineer.

Sources: Dr.Graham Ross, Wikipedia, Flemingway, Cape Archives.


1. In the tables below, some of the passes are shown in a black font (not hyperlinked). These are passes that are no longer in use, or publicly accessible, or were/are a part of a normal road and not a mountain pass. For example Van Rynevelds Pass became submerged under the waters of the Van Ryneveld dam; the Queens Road was an entire road between Grahamstown and Fort Beaufort, and is therefore not listed, but the Ecca Pass, which is a section of Queens Road, is listed. Another example is Thomas Bain's Tsitsikama Road between Humansdorp and Knysna, which is not listed, but all the mountain passes on that road, are listed.

2. The Bains built many other public works projects, including several bridges, water reservoirs and railway passes. These have also not been listed in an effort to remain true to our cause, which is solely mountain passes.

3. We have endeavoured to make our listing on this page as comprehensive as possible. Some other reference works, for example would show the 7 Passes Road as one project, whereas we have listed those as 7 individual passes. Similarly with the Tsitsikama Road, we have listed the four big passes separately. We have also listed passes where either of the Bain's were involved in some way in the pass, whether it be in a consultative or managerial capacity or in some cases, where they pegged the lines of a pass (eg Hexrivier Pass), but did not actually build it. Therefore, our list is considerably longer than most of the other references works.

4. For the technophobes, and uber-historians, please note that in the 1800's it took several years to complete a road building project. Some of them took longer than 10 years to complete. Therefore our dates are approximate and could be related to the start, or end of construction, or any period within that time frame.


  1 1832 Oudeberg Pass,   Graaff-Reinet      
  2 1834 Van Ryneveld Pass, Graaff-Reinet    
  3 1837 Queens Road, Grahamstown      
  4 1840 Ecca Pass, Grahamstown      
  5 1848 Michells Pass, Ceres      
  6 1848 Karoo Poort, Ceres        
  7 1848 Gydo Pass, Ceres        
  8 1848 Houwhoek Pass, Botriver   (reconstruction)  
  9 1853 Bainskloof Pass, Wellington      
  10 1854 Katberg Pass, Eastern Cape   (Completed by Adam de Smidt)
  11 1858 Goliathskraal Hoogte      
  12 1858 Lootsberg Pass        
  13 1858 Naudesberg Pass        
  14 1858 Perrieshoohgte        


  1 1848 Michells Pass (Ceres) as apprentice to his father.  
  2 1848 Gydo Pass (Ceres) as apprentice to   his father.  
  3 1855 Klein Swartberg Pass (Laingsburg)    
  4 1857 Greys Pass (Citrusdal)      
  5 1858 Meiringspoort (De Rust) Reconstruction after flood damage
  6 1858 Amandelhoogte (N/Cape)        
  7 1859 Tulbaghkloof or Nieuwekloof Pass (Tulbagh)  
  8 1860 Phantom Pass (Knysna)      
  9 1860 Hex Rivier Poort (Worcester) [Plotted the lines]  
  10 1860 Hex Rivier Pass (Worcester) [Plotted the lines]  
  11 1863 Prince Alfreds Pass (Knysna)      
  12 1867 Robinson Pass (Mossel Bay)      
  13 1868 Homtini Pass (Knysna)      
  14 1868 Kaaimansgat Pass (George) with Adam   de Smidt  
  15 1868 Swartrivierhoogte Pass   (George) with Adam de Smidt
  16 1869 Karatara Pass (Sedgefield)      
  17 1869 Silver River Pass (George) with Adam de Smidt  
  18 1870 Hoogekraal Pass (Wilderness) with Adam de Smidt  
  19 1870 Touw River Pass (Wilderness) with Adam de Smidt  
  20 1870 Storms River Pass (Tsitsikamma)    
  21 1872 Cogmanskloof Pass (Montagu)      
  22 1872 Bloukrans Pass (Tsitsikamma)      
  23 1872 Bobbejaans River Pass (Tsitsikamma)    
  24 1873 Tradouw Pass (Barrydale)      
  25 1875 Uniondale Kloof (Uniondale)      
  26 1875 Garcia Pass (Riversdale)      
  27 1876 Pakhuis Pass (Clanwilliam)      
  28 1876 Grootrivier Pass (Natures Valley)    
  29 1877 Koo Pass or Burgers Pass        
  30 1877 Verlatenkloof Pass (Sutherland)    
  31 1878 Thompsons Pass (renamed Rooihoogte Pass)  
  32 1880 Vanrhyns Pass (Nieuwoudtville)    
  33 1881 Blue Krantz Mountain Pass Carnarvon      
  34 1882 Molteno Pass (Beaufort West)    
  35 1883 De Jagers Pass (Beaufort West)    
  36 1883 Roseberg Pass (Beaufort West)      
  37 1885 Grootrivier Poort (Baviaanskloof)    
  38 1885 Nuwekloof Pass (Baviaanskloof)    
  39 1884 Swartberg Pass (Prince Albert)    
  40 1887 Schoemans Poort (Oudtshoorn)    
  41 1888 Victoria Road (Camps Bay)      

Ed note: We have received documentation from Hugo Legatt of Wilderness, showing that Thomas Bain plotted the lines/ and or constructed the Duiwelskop Pass between the 7 Passes Road and the Langkloof Road over the Outeniqua mountains in approximately 1867. This pass is currently still driveable (under permit) and is known as the Voortrekker Pass. It was also known by various name in the mid 1800's including Nanniedouw Pass. At the time the pass was in use, it was commonly known as the Duiwelskop Pass. The Voortrekker Pass title came along in the early 1900's. This very well designed pass, although quite long follows an excellent path over the mountains, with very few dangerous sections and mostly the gradients are very comfortable. It is a superior routing over the mountains to both the Montagu and Outeniqua passes.

This takes Thomas Bain's tally to 42.


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Mountain Passes South Africa is a website dedicated to the research, documentation, photographing and filming of the mountain passes of South Africa.

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