Gordon's Bay, Western Cape

Founded: 1778

Named after Colonel Robert Jacob Gordon of the Dutch East India Company.


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The San, probably the first human inhabitants of the south-western Cape, were joined there in the first millennium by the Khoikhoi. They were a herding people, who moved down gradually1 to the most southern part of Africa from modern day Botswana, Zambia and Angola.2 The early European settlers observed that some of these people subsisted on marine foods, such as seals, shellfish and fish, and called them Strandlopers or beach combers.3 This does not mean that they were not also herders. Not many of their artefacts survived along the False Bay coast, but in 1967 an important shell heap was exposed by archaeologists digging Dune 111 in Heddon Park, Gordon's Bay.

False Bay came to the attention of the Dutch at the Cape in September 1652 when four company servants deserted the settlement and made an unsuccessful attempt to cross the Hottentots-Holland range. They gave up and returned to Table Bay. Apart from sorties to the bay in search of stolen cattle, the possibility of finding pearls and Commissioner Rijkloff van Goens’s fantastic idea to build a canal between False and Table Bays, little was known about the area during the first decade of the Dutch at the Cape. Then, when a British ship took shelter there, the VOC became aware of the potential dangers of foreign intrusion in the bay.4

It was only at the end of the C17 that the Governors Van der Stel saw the value of the valley and bay: Simon van der Stel (1639-1712) was delighted with the possibilities of Simon's Bay (Simon's Town) as a sheltered anchorage. WA van der Stel (1664-1733) secured for him the chance to exploit the fishing industry and annexing the farm Vergelegen and huge tracts of land in the valley and grazing lands over the mountains. By this time the border of the Dutch settlement had been pushed as far as Saldanha in the North and Mossel Bay in the east, and the Khoikhoi had lost their independence in the expanded area under European control.

Gordon's Bay was named after Colonel Robert Jacob Gordon (1743-1795), commander of the VOC garrison during the first British occupation of the Cape in 1795. Before that the little bay was known as Vischhoeks Baay or Vissersbaai due to the abundance of fish caught under Cape Hangklip. Here WA van der Stel erected a fishing hut where fish was salted and packed and from where it was transported to Table Bay by boat. Grazing rites were granted to Catherine Cloete (1660-1702), the widow of Jan van Brienen, early in the C18. By 1720 her home was, however, in ruins.5

In 1743 the farm Gustrouw was given on loan to Maria Malherbe, the widow of Jurgen Radyn, who occupied the land since 1723.6 She remained on the farm till 1763. After her the farm changed hands several times. In 1813 it came in the possession of Henry Alexander (1763-1818) who became Colonial Secretary after the death of Andrew Barnard (1762?-1807).7 (Figure 2) Alexander died before his dream of establishing a town and harbour in Vissersbaai could be realized. He did though establish a whaling station, and William Bird (1758-1836), writing in 1822, thought that whale oil, combined with salted fish, could be a most profitable export from the bay.8

Over the next two decades Gustrouw was transferred to a number of different owners and in 1844 it was bought by Colonel Robert Stanford (?- after 1850). He established himself there in 1848. He also had visions of a town in the bay, to be called Bellena Stanford.

The arrival, in 1849, of the Neptune with 282 convicts on board in False Bay, changed all his plans. Fearing that the convicts would be allowed to settle in the country, an Anti-convict Association, informed the then Governor, Sir Harry Smith (1787-1860), that they would “drop connection” with anyone assisting the boat in any way, including the provision of supplies. Stanford and eleven other individuals were denounced in the press for furnishing the government with provisions, bound for the ship. After this they were ostracized by the community.9

Their haystacks were burnt down, their children hounded from their schools, medical help was refused to the families, bank services were suspended and creditors called in their loans. So also the second attempt at the establishment of a town failed. Stanford, knighted in 1850, was financially ruined and returned to England.10

In 1852 James William Miller took transfer of a 54 morgen portion of Gustrouw, later to be known as erf 425, Gordon’s Bay. Some of the other buyers at the time were P.J. Korsten, J.E. de Villiers, P.C. Wium and P.H. Faure.11 Also J.S. de Villiers acquired a plot on the 9th of November 1855. They became the establishers of the town.

The Miller family became an institution in the developing town and was involved with the Town Management Board since it was established in 1902, as well as the Municipality (established in 1961) until the present day.

  1. Thompson calls the process migratory drift or gradual territorial expansion. Thompson, L. 2000. A History of South Africa. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball, p. 12.
  2. Ross, R. 1999. A Concise history of South Africa. Cambridge: University Press, pp. 5-8.
  3. Boonzaaier, E., P. Behrens, C. Malherbe & A. Smit. 2000. The Cape Herders. Athens: Ohio University, p. 10.
  4. Bekker, A.E. 1990. The History of False Bay up to 1795. Simon’s Town: Historical Society, p. 23.
  5. De Wet, G. C. (red.). 1968. Resolusies van die Politieke Raad. Kaapstad: Argiefkommissie, vol. 6, p. 11.
  6. Van Schalkwyk, H. 1995. Gordonsbaai Juweel van Valsbaai. Kaapstad: Tafelberg, p. 11.
  7. Krüger, D.W. (red.). 1972. Suid-Afrikaanse biografiese woordeboek. Goodwood: RGN, vol. II, p. 7.
  8. Bird, W.W. 1966 [1823]. State of the Cape of Good Hope in 1822. Cape Town: Struik, pp.173-174; Böeseken, A.J. (red.). 1959. Resolusies van die Politieke Raad. Kaapstad: Argiefkommissie, vol. 2, p. 212.
  9. Theal, G.M. 1964 [1904]. History of South Africa from 1795-1872. Cape Town: Struik, vol. iii, pp 79-81.
  10. Potgieter, D.J. (ed.). 1974. Standard encyclopaedia of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Nasou, vol. 10, p. 243.
  11. Van Schalkwyk, H. 1995, p. 12.

[Schalk LE ROUX, June 2010]

List of references:

Burrows, Edmund Hartford . 1994. Overberg Odyssey : people, roads and early days. Swellendam: Privately printed in co-operation with the Swellendam Trust. pp 4, 106, 115
Heap, Peggy. 1970. The Story of Hottentots Holland : Social history of Somerset West, The Strand Gordon's Bay and Sir Lowry Pass over three centuries . Cape Town: Balkema. pp 145-157

List of structures:

Clarence Drive Memorials: 1950.
Gordon's Bay House 1: n.d..
Gordon's Bay House 3: n.d..
House for Sir Alfred Beit: 1862 : n.d..
Ingrid Jonker Memorial: 2006.
Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk: 1916.
Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk: 1915.
Post Office: 1938.
Sir Lowry's Pass: 1829-1830 : 1957-1959 : 1978-1983.
Steenbras Dam Filtration Plant: 1941.