The first magistrate, FK Maré, requested the building of a jail to prevent prisoners escaping. Ueckermann volunteered land and the jail was erected. It would serve as the first hospital and was later used to keep prisoners of war. It’s location at the town entrance convinced early visitors about law and order in Heidelberg. The recent jail replaced it in 1963. The old jail became a heritage building which is now kept by the MOTHS.
During the liberation struggle it served as a beacon of justice. However, the tragic execution of Salmon van As is still a painful memory for many Afrikaans people. He was recognised as one of the first martyrs of the Afrikaner. At the Peace Treaty of Vereeniging investigation into, the white flag incident on 25 September 1901 was raised. The British regarded Salmon van As’ behaviour contradictive to civilised warfare. They themselves did not apply the principles of natural justice. No eye witnesses were available and no petition to appeal was allowed. After this biased trial he was sentenced to death. The sentence was read out on Sunday on the market square, for him to be executed the next morning of 27 October 1902. He died at the hands of a firing squad behind the old Jail. The firing party was composed of at least 8 men of the Somersets. The bullet holes can still be seen in in the sandstone, an everlasting proof of the event.
This real life drama urged great poets like C Louis Leipold to write a poem about Salmon van As. The poet tried to connect this poem factually to this event. The main role players were officers on both sides. On the British side it was their most favoured captain Ronald Miers (25), son of Lieutenant Colonel Capel Miers. He was an excellent athlete and boxer, the unopposed middle weight military champion in 1898 and 1899. As captain of the “Sommersets” he manned the outpost at the Riversdraai block house, 19 km south from Heidelberg.
In the other corner, was field cornet Salmon van As (21) a witty born leader. His mother was the grandchild of the eldest brother of the Voortrekker leader, Gerrit Maritz and also cousin to Genl. Manie Maritz.
It was accounted that Captain Miers on horseback, would approach the boers in the field with a white flag. He would present them with cigarettes and convince them to put down their weapons, referring to the women and children deaths in the concentration camps. Louis Leipoldt referred to this as follows (Freely translated)
|“A man proceeds with a white flagOne who spreads fool’s goldHe comes every evening to tryAnd deceive men on the frontier He often boast – victory is impossible against our rule.”||“Daars ‘n kêrel te perd met ‘n witvlag –‘n kêrel wat klatergoud sprei,wat elke aand kom en die voorposmet vleiende praatjies verleihy sanik gereeld: “Dis onmoontlik te wen teen ons heerskappy.”|
The boers who fought to the bitter end summoned Salmon van As to apprehend him. He took the young Louis Slabbert (19) and Piet du Toit with him and waited at a water point, 2 km from the block house. Captain Miers did not disappoint. At about 13H00 he came on horse back with a white flag in his hand. About 200m away, Van As asked Slabbert to leave his weapon and walk towards him. A focused Miers however rode past him to where du Toit and Van As were. Slabbert turned around and heard a gunshot, where after Miers fell from his horse. Van As allegedly informed Miers that they did not come to surrender but to apprehend him. Miers allegedly spurred his horse and went for his revolver where after Van As shot him. According to the British Miers was unarmed. Louis Leipoldt refers to this as
|“A shot form a Mauser sounded in the darkA horse without a rider galloped awayThe smart smooth talkerWill never mislead the outpost again.”||“’n Mausershoot knal in die duister‘n ruiterloos perd draf verbydie vleiende fynpraaterige kêrelsal nooit weer ‘n voorpos verlei”|
On advice of the leaders, Van As surrendered after the treaty. He was executed behind the Old Jail. His body was disposed of in a ditch, and a thorn tree was planted there. The graves of Miers and Van As could still be found in the Kloof Cemetery. Louis Leipoldt ends this life drama as follows:
|“There is a grave across the cemeteryit is empty nowthere is no tombstone with an epitaph only a thirteen year old thorn treeto remind us of this story.”||“Daar is ‘n graf teenoor die kerkhof-dis ‘n leë grafplek nou;daar’s geen grafsteen met sy spreekwoord net ‘n dertienjaar-oue doringboomwat die storie help onthou.”|
On 17 October 1903, he was reburied in the heroes’ acre in the Kloof Cemetery. Thirteen years after the white flag incident, another Afrikaner martyr, Jopie Fourie, would become the only rebel to die in front of a firing squad. Jan Smuts the then Minister of Defence was never forgiven and years later the Afrikaners, brought him politically to account when he lost the election in 1948.