Per's Swellendam Diary
The Hideaway in Swellendam South Africa

History of Swellendam


Historic Swellendam is South Africa's third oldest town


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Swellendam's majestic Moederkerk watches over the historic town.
Early travellers and explorers who visited the Cape in the 1500’s traded with the Khoi-khoi people who lived on these shores.

When the Dutch East India Company established a replenishment station at the Cape in 1652, trade continued inland as far as Swellendam.

In 1743 Swellendam was declared a magisterial district, the third oldest in South Africa, and was named after Governor Hendrik Swellengrebel and his wife, Helena Ten Damme.

This outlying settlement soon became a gateway to the interior, and was visited by many famous explorers and travellers including Le Vaillant (1781), Lady Anne Barnard (1798), Burchell (1815) and Bowler (1860). In time, a village was established opposite the Drostdy, where artisans including numerous wainwrights and traders settled. To travellers and explorers, the services of the village folk were indispensable, as Swellendam was the last outpost of civilization on the eastern frontier.

By 1795 maladministration and inadequacies of the Dutch East India Company caused the long-suffering burghers of Swellendam to revolt, and in 1795 they declared themselves a Republic, but this was short-lived due to the occupation of the Cape by the British. With the arrival of British settlers in the early 1800’s the Overberg boomed, and its capital, Swellendam, was soon the heart of the famous mercantile empire of Barry and Nephews, created by Joseph Barry.

By the middle of the 19th century, the eastern districts had been colonized by the British settlers and Swellendam was a thriving metropolis. The town served as a useful refreshment station on the long, slow journey up the coast. Today Swellendam is a flourishing agricultural area, and has many attractive and historic buildings which serve as a reminder of its exciting past.

The first known sketch of Swellendam was of the Drostdy, by Johannes Schumacher in 1776, when he accompanied the son of Governor Swellengrebel to the town.

Today the Drostdy forms part of a museum complex that consists of several heritage sites.