History of Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch Founded – Simon van der StelIn 1679 Simon van der Stel, while on an inspection of the outposts and a search for more arable land in the Hottentots Holland area, came across the Eerste Rivier (“First River”- named by Corporal Willem Muller simply because it was the first river he crossed on an expedition in 1655) and set up camp on an island formed by the double course of the river. He named the area Simon van der Stel se Bos (Simon van der Stel’s bush) and knew this beautiful valley called for settlement, it was suitable for agriculture and watered by the Eerste Rivier, later it became known as Stellenbosch (Stel’s Bush).

In 1683 some farmers settled around the Stellenbosch area. The town however, was only established in 1685 when Commissioner Baron Hendrik Adriaan van Rheede accompanied Simon van der Stel on a visit to the area and stipulated that a Drostdy be erected on the island and a town be laid out. Van Rheede was managing the affairs of the VOC (De Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie – the Dutch East India Company) in the Cape. Jan Mulder was appointed as the first landdrost (magistrate) and the town was laid out. By now farms were being cultivated and the first vines were planted in Stellenbosch, some of the farms’ names have survived to this day, which include: Mostertsdrift, Jonkershoek, Idas Vallei, Coetzenburg and Koelenhof.

The First Buildings

The first bricks were laid in 1686 and in 1687 the Drostdy was the first building completed, serving as the magistrate’s court as well as the residence of Jan Mulder.

Stellenbosch | First Fire Engine (1732)The first church (Dutch Reformed) was also completed in 1687, situated where d’Ouwe Werf Hotel & Restaurant stand today and where some of the foundations of the church can still be seen. Both these buildings, together with most of the town’s buildings, burnt down in 1710, the first of three fires that swept through Stellenbosch. Incidentally, the first fire was caused by a slave, summoned by his “master” to fetch a “light” for his pipe. The slave carried small smouldering coals across the courtyard when a gust of wind blew the coals onto the thatch roof, the fire started and spread quickly. “The Master” was the landdrost at the time; he was relieved from his duties due to his negligence. Jan Mulder, acted as magistrate for a short while after that.

Also destroyed in the fire of 1710 was the first houses built on the wagon road to Cape Town, today this wagon road is known as Dorp Street.

Wine and Huguenots

In the December of 1687, the first organised group of French Huguenots, seeking refuge in the Cape set sail from Holland. From 1688 to 1700 some 150 French Huguenots and their families arrived in the Cape. They were granted land, mainly in the Franschoek area, bringing with them an advanced knowledge of viticulture. Thanks to their knowledge and the fertile valleys around Stellenbosch the wines produced in the area improved significantly and ultimately ensured that Stellenbosch became the centre of the South African Wine industry.

Eikestad (City of Oaks)
Stellenbosch is also known as “Eikestad” (City of Oaks). The Heemraden (officials of a Dutch water board) were appointed in 1682 and their duties included defence, public services, property registration and planting of trees. Heemraden were replaced by the first magistrate in 1685. In 1701 Willem Adriaan van der Stel, eldest son of Simon van der Stel, sent oak saplings by wagon to Stellenbosch with a letter addressed to the Landdrost Ditmar instructing him, that with the help of Reverend Hercules van Loon (first minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in Stellenbosch), the trees be planted in public streets. It is believed that most of the trees seen today were planted in the early 19th century.

Die Braak (Fallow Land)
Die Braak was used over the centuries for social, military and sporting events. In the days of Simon van der Stel an annual fête and open market was held to celebrate his birthday (14th of October). Part of the celebrations was target shooting on the hillside near the Braak and van der Stel and his men used parrot shaped targets thus the hillside became known as Papegaaiberg (Parrot Mountain) so called to this day. Willem Adriaan van der Stel abolished military reviews on The Braak and moved this annual event to Cape Town, only to re-introduce the event to The Braak at a later stage. The Braak was also known as “Exercitie Plein”. Other names, through the times, for The Braak were Queen Square, Adderley Square and Kings Square.

The Braak’s existence came under threat on three occasions, in 1796 the selling of plots adjacent to The Braak was stopped thanks to the intervention of Commander Craig of the British Forces who pointed out that The Braak should be kept as a recreation area. In 1855 the Church wanted to use The Braak as the new venue of the Church, the concerns raised by 28 inhabitants saved The Braak. In 1935 the Town Council wanted to build the Town Hall there and again the citizens put a stop to these plans.

By about 1860 Stellenbosch had large scale sporting events which were held on The Braak. Cricket was popular and in 1865 a pitch was laid. In 1888 a cricket game was played on Die Braak against the MCC – the world’s most famous cricket club. Rugby was also played on Die Braak and in 1880 the Stellenbosch College Rugby Football Club was founded and in that year the club won their game against the famous SACS side. Later cricket was no longer played here thanks to players continually hitting balls through a jewellery store window, other sports followed suit and were also moved to new venues. Today most of the sporting events are held at the legendary Coetzenburg Stadium.

Another event on The Braak was the Boeren Bazaar, held in October 1863 to collect money for the Mother Church. Today The Braak is a Historical Monument.

Early Growth of the Town

1710 – 1776

After the fire of 1710 the town was re-built, after most of the town burned down.

1776 – 1817

A valuable map of surveyor W.F Hertzog shows faster development during this period. The town was destroyed in 1803 by the second fire to hit Stellenbosch and about forty houses were lost. The fire was found to have been arson traced back to a pair of slaves who were tried and publicly hanged. Repairs started soon afterwards, however a new trend started moving away from the Cape Dutch thatched homes to Georgian Style double storey constructions.

1817 − 1859

The Hager Map of 1859 shows further growth of the town.


A third fire breaks out and leads to the break in tradition, with the majority of houses and buildings no longer thatched.


Although the first school in Stellenbosch was opened in 1683, education began in earnest in 1859 with the building of the Seminary of the Dutch Reformed Church. The oldest school for girls in South Africa, Rhenish Girls’ High School, was established in 1860.

Reverend J.H. Neethling, of the Dutch Reformed Church, was very involved in establishing Stellenbosch as an educational centre. He played a role in establishing Stellenbossche Gymnasium in 1866. In 1874 an Arts Department was established giving Stellenbossche Gymnasium a College Status. In 1879 the Gymnasium and the College separated. The Gymnasium changed its name to Stellenbosch Boys’ High School in 1899 and then Paul Roos Gimnasium in 1946. The college moved into a new building in 1885, in 1887 the college was named Victoria College and in 1918 became the University of Stellenbosch. The reverend was also involved in establishing Bloemhof School for girls which formally opened in 1875.

History Timeline

Stellenbosch | Oom Samie se Winkel1904 First Hospital.

1906 Stellenbosch Farmers Co-operative Wine Company Ltd.

1907 Oom Samie se Winkel.

1910 First telephone.

1913 Du Toit Train Station.

1914 Electricity for Official Buildings.

1915 Electricity for Houses.

1918 University of Stellenbosch.

1923 Botanical Garden, Synagogue.

1924 William Winshaw, supported by Oubaas Markötter, registered Stellenbosch Farmers Winery.
He bought Oude Libertas and established the new entity there.

1932 Catholic Church.

1937 Post Office moved into new building, Bird and Plein Street.

1941 City Hall, Kayamandi (meaning pleasant home in Xhosa) founded.

1945 Anton Rupert founder of Distillers Corporation.

1950 Eikestadnuus, local newspaper.

1956 Stellenbosch Farmers Winery Ltd. lists on the JSE (Johannesburg Stock Exchange).

1959 Lieberstein White Wine, a natural wine introduced. This wine revolutionised the wine industry. First Town Flag.

1962 Relocation process after the introduction of the Groups act.

1964 Stellenbosch Farmers Winery becomes the biggest seller of bottled wine in the world thanks to the Lieberstein brand.
Cloetesville founded.

1971 Stellenbosch Wine Route established thanks to the efforts of Frans Malan of Simonsig, Niel Joubert of Spier and Spat Sperling of Delheim.

ShowMe Stellenbosch1993 Kayamandi High School produced its first Grd 12’s.

2001 Distillers Corporation and Stellenbosch Farmers Winery amalgamate and list on the JSE as Distell with assets of R3.8 billion.

2011 Showme.co.za/Stellenbosch launches in Stellenbosch.

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