Early History


The following account comes from The Ganzvlei Story, by David Metelerkamp (1928-2015) who lived at Ganzvlei from 1978, and created the garden. It is included with thanks :

The San were probably the first people here. The Khoi also lived in the area, and their legacy lives on in the names of many of the rivers and mountains. The word Goukamma (or Daukama, Doukoma, Gaukamma, Gowcomma), comes from the Khoikhoi word for the sour fig or vygie (Carpobrotus) which grows along the coast and is covered with shiny yellow or mauve flowers in Spring.

In the early 1770s, when the earliest travellers from Europe made their way through Outeniqualand, it was a region remote from the Dutch East India Company’s settlement at the Cape. Company officials at the Cape had known of the existence of this densely forested area, sparsely inhabited by Khoi and Bushmen, from the early part of the 18th century, but precipitous river crossings and the Outeniqua Mountains kept this strip of land between the mountains and the sea fairly inaccessible.

When Secunde JW Cloppenburg, deputy to the Cape Governor, visited Outeniqualand in 1768 he noted that there were 14 farmers settled between Mossel Bay and the Knysna River. Many were very poor and supplemented their income by cutting and selling wood. When Hendrik Swellengrebel Jr visited the area 10 years later he noted that ‘as far as Swellendam and Mossel Bay and occasionally as far as the Zeekoei River, one finds quite respectable houses with a large room partitioned into 2 or 3, and with good doors and windows, though mostly without ceilings.’  (Swellengrebel, pp. 357,361)

Francis Masson, a Scot who visited the Cape in the early 1770’s to collect plant specimens for the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, wrote ‘to the N.E.of Mossel-Baay lies a woody country, called Houteniquas Land; whose woods, intercepted by rivers and precipices, are so large, that their extent is not perfectly known. These woods are a great treasure to the Dutch, and will be very serviceable to the inhabitants of the Cape, when their other woods are exhausted. In them are numbers of wild buffaloes that are very fierce, and some elephants’. (Masson, F. Account of three journeys to the Cape of Good Hope, 1772 – 1775, p.118)

The first written description we have of the Goukamma valley is by Carl Pehr Thunberg, the famous Swedish botanist and student of Linnaeus. Thunberg had been commissioned by the Dutch East India Company to do a botanical survey of the Cape, and he travelled with Johann Auge, gardener and botanical collector of the Company’s garden at the Cape. Thunberg describes his crossing of the Goukamma River in his book, Travels at the Cape of Good Hope, 1772 – 1775. On the 3rd of November 1772

“…. Auge, the gardener, having travelled this way before, was now our guide, and we had left the Hottentots with our oxen behind us. In the afternoon we arrived at Koukuma Rivier. We forded over one of its branches and intended to pass through a thicket to a farm which we discovered on an eminence on the other side of this thicket…but we had not advanced far into the wood before we had the misfortune of meeting with a large old male buffalo which was lying down quite alone… He no sooner discovered Auge, who rode first, then roaring horribly he rushed upon him. The gardener turning his horse short round, behind a large tree, by that means got in some measure out of the buffalo’s sight, which now rushed straight towards the serjeant, who followed next, and gored his horse in the belly in such a terrible manner, that it fell on its back that instant, with its feet turned up in the air, and all its entrails hanging out, in which state it lived almost half an hour. The gardener and the serjeant in the mean time had climbed up into trees, where they thought themselves secure. The buffalo after this achievement now appeared to take his course towards the side where we were approaching, and therefore could not have failed in his way to pay his compliments to me, who all the while was walking towards him, and in the narrow pass formed by the boughs and branches of the trees, and on account of the rustling noise these made against my saddle and baggage had neither seen nor heard any thing of what had passed…”

Thunberg was in the habit of stopping frequently to pick plant samples, and generally kept behind his companions in order not to hold them up or hinder their progress; so at the time that all this was going on he was ‘a small distance’ behind them. He continues with the story:

“….The serjeant had brought two horses with him for his journey. One of them had already been dispatched and the other now stood just in the way of the buffalo, who was going out of the wood. As soon as the buffalo saw this second horse, he became more outrageous than before, and attacked it with such fury, that he not only drove his horns into the horse’s breast and out again through the very saddle, but also threw it to the ground with such violence, that it died that very instant, and all the bones in its body were broken. Just at the moment that he was thus occupied with this latter horse, I came up to the opening, where the wood was so thick that I had neither room to turn my horse round, nor to get on one side. I was therefore obliged to abandon him to his fate and take refuge in a tolerably high tree, up which I climbed.

The buffalo then turned about and went off in the direction in which the travellers wished to go. Thunberg and his party decided that discretion was the better part of valour, especially the gardener and the sergeant who were absolutely speechless with fright, so, on climbing down from the trees they hurried back along the path by which they had arrived. A group of Hottentots were sent with their lances to drive the buffalo away and retrieve the saddles….”

Thunberg records spending a cold and relatively sleepless night next to a fire. The Hottentots smoked dagga that had been grown nearby.

During the late 1700s and early 1800s a number of other travellers recorded their experiences while crossing the Goukamma River. One of them was James Callander, a Scot, who after an adventurous career in the British Navy and the English East India Company arrived at the Cape in about 1778. He was commissioned by the Cape governor to report on the forests, bays and rivers from Mossel Bay to Algoa Bay and travelled overland to Knysna. There he obtained the right of occupation from Johann von Lindenbaum, then owner of Melkhoutkraal, and built himself a wooden cabin on the Eastern Head but later moved to about where Woodbourne is now. In Callander’s unpublished diary, December 1798-November 1800 (CA BO 235), he describes his experiences of crossing the Goukamma River.

“….Arrived at and crossed the Doukama river to the farm of Peter Terblans which stands immediately on the east side. This river is here a stagnant pool that we crossed by boat. The bullocks being unyoked from the wagon and horses unsaddled swim over, and the wagon dragged through by rope. Being all under water except the upper part of the tent which appeared above. Went down to examine the mouth – nearly blocked…I have since crossed the Doukama about one mile higher up, in the Publick road where there is no boat, those that do not send for the boat to transport their goods over generally make a float of timber. Here this river is fresh water and good to drink … The entrance of this river is about two miles from the crossing….”

In August 1801 Robert Semple, a young British/American merchant from the Cape, travelled to Plettenberg Bay to investigate the condition of his stranded brig. In his book, Walks and sketches at the Cape of Good Hope, p.156-7, he relates ‘we reached the brow of a hill, and saw beneath our feet the Daucuma River … at a small house on the banks we procured a gun, which we fired twice or thrice as a signal for the boat, and then rode about three miles to the place where it usually crossed.’ The boat was tied to a tree on the other side with no one in attendance, so Semple tried to ride across to fetch it. His horse became frightened of the deep, extremely cold water and he had to abandon it and swim across and paddle the boat over. ‘The horse now frightened ran off into the woods followed by the other two; nor was it until after a tedious search that we collected them again and drove them into the river. After ascending the hills on the other side, we arrived at the house of Peter Terblans…’ They were treated ‘hospitably enough’ and after resting

“….rode six or eight miles further along the high ground until we came to the house of Hans Carvel close upon the river Knijsna: here we were obliged to wait upwards of three hours on account of the tide, it being high water and the Knijsna, so near its mouth was impassable….”

Friedrich von Bouchenroeder, an immigration agent for the Dutch government, travelled to the eastern districts of the colony in 1803 and found crossing the Goukamma River extremely difficult. He relates that

“….Half an hour beyond Ruigte valley was the farm of Widow (sic) Voslo, where a certain Bernhard [Barnard], who had brought corn to the mill on this farm, helped us across the river Taucamma. This was the worst bit of road on the journey, through heavy clay mud, and took an hour. Bernhard swam over on one horse to the farm of Pieter Terblans, son of Widow Terblans, and brought us over in a schuit. Horses had to swim. Got to farm half an hour later. It is a good cattle and corn farm, extensive gardens, spacious homestead and outbuildings. P.Terblans together with his family are friendly, cordial people. He and his eldest son are great hunters and enjoyed hunting buffalo and elephant. (Reize in de binnenlanden van Zuid Afrika in 1803).

Willem Paravicini di Capelli, aide-de-camp to General JW Janssens, the Governor, accompanied him on his expedition to the interior of the colony in 1803. Paravicini wrote of his travels in Reize in de binnin-lande van Zuid-Afrika gedaan in den jaare 1803, and describes how the governor and his party were received and entertained with great hospitality by the farmers en route. After spending a happy morning hunting birds at Groenvlei, the ‘lake of sweet water with abundant fish life, which is separated from the ocean by a narrow strip of high hills, [where] the shores are covered with dense trees and reeds; thousands of ducks, flamingos and other water birds cover the lake’; the Governor’s party was served a midday meal at Ganzvlei, the farm of Wessel Vosloo. On continuing their journey through the Goukamma drift, they reached Buffelsvermaak, where Pieter Terblanche and his family (not to be outdone by the Vosloos), insisted that the party enjoy a second midday meal, served by Terblanche’s ‘angel-faced daughters’. Although Paravicini would have preferred to spend the night at Buffelsvermaak, the Governor wished to press on. Four hours later the party arrived at the Knysna River drift and found it too deep to cross as the tide was in. By now it was late in the evening; there were no farms nearby, so the party built a great fire and waited for the dawn. Paravicini commented sadly that he could not help comparing their present circumstances with a pleasant evening at the Terblanche farm.

Henry Lichtenstein, tutor and house physician to the Governor’s family, who was also a member of the party, describes the same event slightly differently in his Travels in Southern Africa in the years 1803, 1804, 1805 and 1806. Lichtenstein concentrates on describing the countryside rather than the people and meals. He records reaching

“…the beautiful river Daukamma, which issues from a deep and widespread forest. At the place where we first saw it, and where, upon the heights directly over against us, stood the house at which we were to pass the night, raising its head above the trees that shaded the declivity of the hill; – at this place the river is so broad and deep that it cannot be forded. We were obliged to travel half an hour farther upwards to come at a ford. The road lay along the morassy bank of the river, among high trees: an immense quantity of the cynanchum obtusifolium (monkey’s cord) was twining about in all directions. The beautiful touraco (called by the colonists loeri, or luri) sported among the highest tops of the trees, unfolding its scarlet wings to the last rays of the sun. After we had crossed the river, we again went through a similar wood, and afterwards ascended the hill to the house of Peter Terre-blanche, called Buffelsmark.

As we were obliged to set off again very early on account of crossing the Neisna-river at the ebb, we only laid down upon the ground in our clothes, with a saddle for a pillow, and there took a short rest. The wagon had the misfortune to be overturned in the morassy road by the river side, and notwithstanding assistance being sent, it was very late before it arrived…

We set out again by moonlight. It was now three hours to low water, and we arrived just in the right time, as the morning twilight came on at the bank of the formidable river. It flows into a large lake called the Neisna, which is separated from the sea by a chain of rocks along the strand, the rocks having an opening in one place about two hundred feet wide, and deep enough to admit of the entrance of vessels, which here find a safe harbour…We now soon reached the ruins of a large farm on the eastern shore of the lake, known by the name of Melkhout-kraal…”

The earliest document relating to Ganzvlei is dated March 1775, when a grazing licence was granted to one Wessel Vosloo (CA RLR 23(2), p 223):

“Werd door deesen gepermitterd aan den Landbr Wessel Voslo omme voor den tyd van een geheel jaar met zyn vee te mogen gaan leggen en weyden op de plaats gent. de Ganse Valleij gelegen agter in ‘t houteNiqualand aan deese zyde van de Goucomma ….. een soma van Sesthien Ducatons en 72 stuyv. Casteel de Goede Hoop den 19 Maart 1775 geteekent: JV Plettenberg”

This licence gave Voslo [or Vosloo] permission to live and graze his cattle for one year on the farm Ganse Valleij situated in houteNiqualand on this side of the Goucomma. It was signed at the Castle of Good Hope by the Governor, Baron van Plettenberg.

Wessel Vosloo, the earliest farmer of Ganzvlei, was a child of racially mixed parentage. His father Johannes was possibly the son of Johannes Vosloo, a German from Plettenberg, Westfalia, who was a master-woodcutter at the Cape from 1693 and who was mentioned as a farmer in 1714, but no marriage records survive. Johannes married Gerbrecht Herbst, the daughter of Johan Herbst, a German from Bremen who arrived at the Cape in 1686, and Lysbeth van die Kaap, a slave woman born at the Cape.

Wessel Vosloo’s maternal grandmother Lysbeth was the child of two West African slaves – Abraham and Pladoor of Guinea. In 1680 she was bought by Louis of Bengal, a former slave who had purchased his freedom. In 1683 Louis granted freedom to Lysbeth and her two children (at least one of whom was his daughter), and in 1687 she became his wife. Shortly thereafter Lysbeth took up with William Teeling, her husband’s 56 year-old knecht and shepherd, and became pregnant by him. Louis applied for a divorce and requested that Lysbeth be made a slave once more. The divorce was granted but Lysbeth retained her freedom. She was in trouble once more in 1696, when she was accused of stealing jewellery. She adopted the name Lysbeth Sanders and entered into a long-term relationship with the German Johan Herbst. The couple had two daughters, Clara and Gerbrecht (baptised in 1702). (South Africa’s Stamouers http://stamouers.com)

Gerbrecht, Wessel Vosloo’s mother, would have grown up on the farm Optenhorst. In January 1718, at the age of 16, she married Johannes Vosloo, and the farm was transferred to him in 1724. Wessel was their eighth and last child, and was baptised on 5th June 1740. (Births were not recorded at that time, but Church baptismal records provide approximate dates. As families in the outer districts only attended Nagmaal about four times a year, there was often a delay in baptising children).

Wessel Vosloo married Maria Meyer in March 1764. She was the eldest daughter of Willem Meyer and Elizabeth Loots, whose families were from the Paarl area. Maria’s grandfather Jan Loots was a schoolteacher, and therefore an educated man. Where the young couple lived before they moved to the Goukamma valley we do not know, but four children were born to them in those years, including Wessel, who was baptised in 1773. After the grant of the grazing licence at Ganzvlei in 1775, five further children were born. At least one of the offspring died in infancy – little Willem Johannes, the third child, whose name was later given to the eighth child.

One must bear in mind that the original farm Ganzvlei was not all thick forest as described by Thunberg in 1772. The farm stretched from the sea in the south, to the northern hills, and from the eastern shores of the Goukamma to west of Groenvlei. This meant a varied terrain. Initially in 1775 Vosloo is likely to have set up a camp in the vicinity of the windmill to the east of Groenvlei, where he probably dug a well to obtain fresh water for drinking purposes, unless the water in Groenvlei was not as brak then as it is now.

When Wessel Vosloo was granted a grazing licence at Ganzvlei in 1775, his nearest neighbours were the Terblanche brothers, Stephanus and Pieter. Their father was a wealthy farmer at Rheeboksfontein, between the Groot and Klein Brak rivers, where he had been settled since 1762. Stephanus was granted grazing rights to Melhout Kraal on the eastern shores of the Knysna lagoon in 1770, and in 1774 Pieter acquired rights to Buffelsvermaak, across the Goukamma River from Ganzvlei. Hendrik Barnard, who became Wessel’s son-in-law 15 years later, settled at Uitzicht, (Belvedere) also granted in 1775. Ruigtevlei, which lay to the west of Ganzvlei, was granted to Vosloo’s brother-in-law Andries Gous in 1775 – Gous was married to Wessel’s eldest sister Anna Magdalena.

It would appear that over the next few years Vosloo took up permanent residence in the valley, as the census return of 1778 (Opgaafrolle CA J317) finds him ensconced on:
Ganze Valley
Wessel Voslo d’oude / Maria Meyer
2 sons, 1 daughter, 1 horse, 20 cattle, 100 sheep, 1 musket, 1 sword, 1 pistol

As this modest list of worldly possessions reflects, eking out a living in the area at that time was a tough business. It must also be remembered that early census returns were not accurate, particularly livestock figures and wheat and wine harvests returns, as the burghers were trying to avoid tax. It was only after the British took over the Cape that returns became more reliable as they issued instructions that returns should be completed under oath, and tough punishment was meted out to those evading the census or giving false returns.

In 1789 the Dutch government ordered a map to be made of the southern coast, from Cape Aghulas to Algoa Bay. This important manuscript map was made by Johan Christiaan Frederici, a Leiutenant of the Artillery, assisted by Cadet Bombardier Josephus Jones, and was completed in 1790. The map incorporates a list of 215 farmers and the names of their farms, each of which is indicated on the map. Ganzvlei appears as no.113, and Wessel Voslouw is named as the owner. (Nieuwe kaart van den zuydelyker oever van Afrika ….. strekkende van de St Helena Baay tot de Baay Algoa etc). (CA M3/36)