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
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.