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Sir Lowry's Pass
Gordon's Bay district, Western Cape

Charles Cornwallis (alias Collier) MICHELL: Engineer

Date:1829-1830 : 1957-1959 : 1978-1983
Type:Mountain Pass
Style:Civil Engineering
Status:Extant but altered


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34°08'46.52" S 18°55'44.85" E Alt: 431m

Original name: Gantouw, then Hottentots Holland Pass.

As with most tracks, trails and passes in South Africa this was the indigenous Khoen-khoen (Khoi) herders pass for their cattle, which in turn had followed that created by the eland, hence the name T'kana Ouwe [transliterated to 'Gantouw'], or Eland's Path. The path became legendary in the writings of travelers who used it in colonial times.

Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole's arrival as British Governor of the Cape Colony (1828-1833) coincided with the arrival of CC MICHELL. Sir Lowry (who lent his name to the pass) instructed the latter to improve the pass. MICHELL realigned its passage to decrease the gradient by cutting diagonally across the flank of the mountain. This met with the Governor's approval. The work was executed at a fair cost with a team of convict labour. The construction was not without controversy. Sir Lowry had failed to gain the approval for the expenditure from the Colonial Office who would not sanction the monies and implied the Governor might pay for it himself! The Burgers raised protest and the monies thence grudgingly approved by the authorities.

Near the foot of the pass is the ruin of the old toll house alongside the original trajectory before it was re-aligned by Michell.

1902: By 1890 a branch rail line of the CAPE GOVERNMENT RAILWAYS had been extended to Sir Lowry's Village. This served as a terminus, particularly to the Caledon Hot Mineral Baths Hotel and Sanatorium, where the visitors changed to coach by particular arrangement with the Manager of the Baths Hotel. The Hottentots-Holland mountains were a significant obstacle to any further development of the rail line and construction of Overberg Branch Line over Sir Lowry's Pass only started on 1899 07 12. The Anglo-Boer War slowed progress, but by 1902 08 01 the line was opened to Caledon. At the summit of the pass the line reaches an elevation of 415 metres and passes through the summit tunnel of 217 metres in length. (See Wikipedia)

1930s: The surface of the road pass was macadamized.

1956-1959: Resident Engineer: SCOTT, Dave; Contractor: SIMPSON Construction.
The pass was reconstructed after 126 years of service. The main change in the trajectory was the elimination of the S-bend across the railway track.

1978-1983: Engineer: HAWKINS, HAWKINS and OSBORN.
The pass was again reconstructed, broadened by a spectacular concrete viaduct.

Writings about this entry

Coyne, Patrick. 2010. A guide to South Africa's mountain passes and poorts. Westville: Osborne Porter Literary Services. pg 56-58
Heap, Peggy. 1970. The Story of Hottentots Holland : Social history of Somerset West, The Strand Gordon's Bay and Sir Lowry Pass over the centuries . Cape Town: Balkema. pg 55, 70, 84-88, 90-91, 93-94, 136, 154, 158-165
Potgieter, DJ (Editor-in-chief). 1973. Standard Encyclopaedia of South Africa [SESA] Volume 9 Pop-Sla. Cape Town: Nasou. pg 647-648
Ross, Graham. 2002. The romance of Cape mountain passes. Cape Town: David Philip. pg 14-23