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History / Page 2


Simon van der Stel

Simon van der Stel, who arrived as Governor in 1679, was destined to exercise marked influence on the Colony for the next 20 years. He enlarged and beautified van Riebeeck's garden and built a slave lodge (today the Cultural History Museum) at the entrance. It was during Simon van der Stel's governorship that the Huguenots, who had been driven from France by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, arrived from Holland. There were some 200 of them, so small a number that they were quickly absorbed in the Dutch population. The lands given to Simon van der Stel, by the Dutch East India Company, stretched from Muizenberg to the Steenberg Mountains, right across to Wynberg. He turned this vast region into rich farmland, planted some eight thousand trees and designed and built the stateliest of the Capes historic mansions, Groot Constantia (named after his wife, Constance) in 1685, where he lived until his death in 1712. Groot Constantia remains one of the most favoured destinations for visiting tourists to the Cape. The Estate gave its name to the Constantia area, and its wines won the praise of even such connoisseurs as Kings of France. Simon van der Stel is also the founder of Stellenbosch, Drakenstein and Franschhoek, and is responsible for the construction of many of the famous homesteads in the Cape. More farmers soon settled in the Constantia area, along the little streams pretentiously named the Spaanschemat and Diep Rivers and on the soils so well suited to the vine. West of the mountains, Kronendal in the Hout Bay valley was granted to another enterprising settler in 1681 and a wagon road into the valley was opened over Constantia Nek twelve years later.

Simon van der Stel's eldest son, Willem Adriaan van der Stel, who succeeded him as Governor, added a museum to the gardens, and erected a lodge (now Government House) for the reception of visitors. He built Nieuweland (on a site now occupied by Newlands House) where he started a new garden. Later it replaced Rustenburg as the country residence of successive Governors and its pleasure gardens became almost legendary in the writings of eighteenth century visitors to the Cape. Willem Adriaan van der Stel also developed the Vergelegen estate, where he built a house and planted over 500 000 vines, large orchards and corn lands. He stocked the farm with 800 cattle and 10 000 sheep. The fact that the Governor traded his products with ships in the port brought him into conflict with other farmers and eventually led to his recall to Holland and confiscation of his estate. The Dutch East India Company, which had reached the high point of its power during the governorships of the van der Stels, began to decline, chiefly because of English and French competition in the eastern markets.

In 1737 eight ships were wrecked in a single storm in Table Bay, with the loss of over 200 lives. In 1773, the Dutch East Indiaman the Jonge Thomas drifted into the breakers during a violent gale. Although 200 men were aboard, no effort was made by the Company's officials to rescue them. Enraged by this callousness, an old man, Wolraad Woltemade, borrowed a horse and rode into the pounding surf towards the doomed vessel. Eight times he made the journey and saved 14 men. He drowned during his last attempt. Ultimately the Company was driven to establish another winter port at Simon's Bay (modern Simon's Town). Named after Simon van der Stel, who surveyed the bay in 1657, ships were safe here under the lee of the Peninsula highlands.

Architectural Heritage

It is indeed fortunate that three men of outstanding architectural talents were brought together at the Cape. In 1777 Anton Anreith, a young sculptor and woodcarver from Freiburg, arrived as a soldier in the Company's service. Four years later Louis Michel Thibault, a Parisian architect, appeared on the scene as an officer in the French garrison. In 1789 they were joined by Hermann Schutte, a young architect and builder from Bremen. The trio settled at the Cape, and it is due to their influence that the period of prosperity and building activity in town and country, which marked the late 18th and early 19th century, has left us such a rich heritage of architectural beauty.

British Rule

Gradually the little dorp in Table Valley began to assume the character of a town. No longer was it referred to as Cabo de Goede Hoop, De Caab or De Kaapse Vlek, but during the last quarter of the eighteenth century it acquired the name of De Kaap or Cape Town. During the war between Britain and Holland (1780-1783) a British fleet sailed to take possession of the Cape, but was attacked and disabled by the French. The French then landed two regiments at the Cape to assist the Dutch in the defence of the Colony. Part of the large hospital on the outskirts of town was assigned to them as barracks. (After 1795 the building was wholly occupied by troops and in time the adjoining Ziekenstraat became more appropriately known as Barrack Street, a name it still bears). When the revolutionary armies of France invaded Holland, William of Orange escaped to England and issued instructions that the Cape should temporarily be handed over to the British for protection against the French. Accordingly, in 1795, a British force arrived at the Cape. The Dutch resisted and after a brief battle (Battle of Muizenberg), retired before superior forces.

The change of authority brought with it other changes which many felt were long overdue. Many of the monopolies and other restrictions on trade by which the Company had promoted its own pecuniary interests at the expense of the colonists were swept away. A large garrison again provided a ready market for farm produce and thirsty patrons for the houses which had already given Cape Town its reputation as The Tavern of the Seas. The British remained in possession until 1803, when the Colony was relinquished to the Dutch by the terms of the Treaty of Amiens. Within three months of the restoration of the colony, war had again broken out between Britain and Holland. In 1806, a British fleet of sixty-one ships dropped anchor at Robben Island and landed 6 000 troops at Blaauwberg. The Battle of Blaauwberg followed and Dutch resistance crumbled. In 1814 the Cape Colony was formally ceded to Britain by a convention under which Dutch vessels were to remain entitled to resort freely to the Cape of Good Hope for the purposes of refreshment and repairs.

In 1814, Lord Charles Somerset became Governor, and the following year he inaugurated the first mail-packet service between England and Cape Town. This was the beginning of the Union-Castle Company's connection with South Africa. The Union and Castle lines amalgamated in 1900.

Outside the town, satellite villages formed around churches and inns along the road to False Bay. At the eastern foot of Wynberg Hill was the village of Wynberg. With its white-walled thatched cottages set among gardens and fruit trees, it possessed at one time much of the atmosphere of an English country village and became for a while the favourite resort of officials of the British East India Company recuperating at the Cape. At Simon's Bay, an extensive fishing village began to expand, a whaling station had been established, a Residency had been built, and the growing settlement had assumed the name of Simon's Town. The naval establishment had been transferred there from Table Bay in 1814 and it had acquired an atmosphere more reminiscent of Portsmouth or Plymouth than characteristic of the Cape.

In 1824, Cape Town's first newspaper , The Commercial Advertiser was published. It was printed in English and Dutch. In 1830, Sir Lowry Cole laid the foundation stone of St. George's Church, now the Cathedral, the first English Church in South Africa. The first civil hospital in southern Africa was built on the western edge of the town, largely through the public-spirited action of Dr. Samuel S. Bailey, a naval surgeon who had served with Admiral Lord Nelson at Trafalgar. Subsequently enlarged, it became the old Somerset Hospital to a later generation. Schools also appeared and in 1829 the South African College was opened in Long Street (in 1841 a site at the upper end of the gardens was ceded to the South African College).

One of the first duties of Sir Benjamin D'Urban, appointed Governor in 1834, was to give effect to the Act for the emancipation of slaves passed by the British Parliament in 1833. Some 39,000 slaves, mostly in the western districts of the Colony, were granted their freedom. The British Government provided inadequate compensation for slave-owners and many were reduced from affluence to bankruptcy.

News was brought to the Governor D'Urban at a convivial New Year's Eve gathering of the irruption of the Bantu tribes over the eastern border of the Colony. He instructed Colonel Harry Smith (later Governor Sir Harry Smith) to make for Grahamstown to organise the border forces. Colonel Smith left, on horseback, at daybreak and arrived at Grahamstown six days later, having ridden one hundred miles each day, at fourteen miles an hour throughout, a wonderful equestrian feat.

The British Government made an attempt in 1849 to form a penal settlement at the Cape, but when the ship Neptune arrived at Simon's Bay, with 282 convicts aboard, the citizens declined to supply anything to persons having dealings with her. So strictly was this pledge observed that no food whatever was obtainable, either for the convicts or for the troops. During the riots which ensued, Newspaper Editor, John Fairbairn's house at Sea Point was wrecked by a crowd who had lost their employment through the boycott. In the end the colonists were victorious, and on 21 February 1850, the Neptune set sail for Tasmania. In recognition of the services of C. B. Adderley who had championed the colonists in this manner in the British House of Commons, the name of Cape Town's main street, the Heerengracht, was changed to Adderley Street.


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