History of the Cederberg

The history of the Cederberg starts way back. The original people of the Cederberg were the San or Bushmen people (hunter-gatherers) and Khoikhoi people (pastoralists). The San bushmen people had a nomadic lifestyle, hunting the extensive wild animals which roamed the area in that time. In caves and overhangs throughout the Cederberg, remnants of San rock art can be found. Indeed there are rock art images dating from 2 000 years old showing herds of eland, elephant and leopard amongst others.
Cederberg San Rock Art of Leopard
The Early Colonialists

The earliest written mention of the Cederberg is when the explorer Batholomew Dias saw these mountains from the Atlantic Ocean. He called them the “Sierra dos Reis” (meaning the mountains of the 'three wise men of the East'). Presumably thse are the three mighty peaks of Sneeuberg, Sneeukop and Tafelberg which can also be seen clearly from Cederberg Ridge.

The name ‘’Cederberg’’ comes from the Clanwilliam Cedar Tree (Widdringtonia cedarbergensis). This is an extremely rare and endemic tree of the region which typically grows at an altitude of  over 1 500 metres. Its wood is fine-grained and very beautiful when it is worked properly. However European settlement almost led to the complete destruction of the cedar trees with thousands being used for furniture, housing, even telegraph poles. The Cedar tree is now strictly protected with only isolated trees to be seen in hard-to-reach high locations.

Later on, one of the earliest Colonists to the Cape, Marthinus Oloff Bergh, led a scouting party north from Cape Town in about 1670 to explore the Cederberg. (The owners of Cederberg Ridge are 10th generation descendants of this Marthinus Bergh.) The scouting party came across the river running through the valley with herds of elephant on the riverbank. It was duly named the Oliphants River.  However sadly the elephants were hunted out this area by later settlers. 
Clanwilliam Scenery
The Early Colonialists

The earliest written mention of the Cederberg is when the explorer Batholomew Dias saw these mountains from the Atlantic Ocean. He called them the “Sierra dos Reis” (meaning the mountains of the 'three wise men of the East'). Presumably thse are the three mighty peaks of Sneeuberg, Sneeukop and Tafelberg which can also be seen clearly from Cederberg Ridge.

The name ‘’Cederberg’’ comes from the Clanwilliam Cedar Tree (Widdringtonia cedarbergensis). This is an extremely rare and endemic tree of the region which typically grows at an altitude of over 1 500 metres. Its wood is fine-grained and very beautiful when it is worked properly. However European settlement almost led to the complete destruction of the cedar trees with thousands being used for furniture, housing, even telegraph poles. The Cedar tree is now strictly protected with only isolated trees to be seen in hard-to-reach high locations.

Later on, one of the earliest Colonists to the Cape, Marthinus Oloff Bergh, led a scouting party north from Cape Town in about 1670 to explore the Cederberg. (The owners of Cederberg Ridge are 10th generation descendants of this Marthinus Bergh.) The scouting party came across the river running through the valley with herds of elephant on the riverbank. It was duly named the Oliphants River. However sadly the elephants were hunted out this area by later settlers. 
Clanwilliam Scenery
The 1820 Irish Settlers

The first farm site was awarded in 1732. Originally the Cederberg was part of the Stellenbosch region, some 230km to the south! However the area was only really settled at the start of the 19th century. Nevertheless the town of Clanwilliam is one of the 10 oldest towns in South Africa. (It's the 7th if we are being pedantic). It was awarded its own municipality in 1808. It was given the name of Clanwilliam by Sir John Cradock who named it after his father in law, the Scottish Earl of Clanwilliam.

The population started to grow when some of the 1820 settlers from England and Ireland were sent to the region. (Other settlers were sent to the Eastern Cape). It was a small group of 126 men, 73 women and 159 children. They trekked in from the coast to Clanwilliam. But many soon decided that they couldn’t make a go of it. They were used to the wet conditions of Ireland and this was a southern Meditterranean climate! The area was too mountainous for easy farming. And the summer heat meant that irrigation was essential. Plus none of them were even farmers by background. And so most settlers left to join the others in the Eastern Cape. The irony was that those Eastern Cape Settlers soon got caught up in a series of Frontier wars with the Xhosa people. So they may have been wiser to stay put!
Church in Clanwilliam Town
The Settlers used the veld as grazing for their herds of sheep and goats. Unfortunately their arrival led to the elimination of the remaining San hunters as they competed for resources, as well as much of the wildlife. The arrows of the San people were no match for the guns of the settlers, a situation repeated in many parts of the world.

Gradually the town grew . Clanwilliam still has many well-preserved original 1820 Settler homes, especially along Park Street. It also has a number of later Victorian buildings as well. Some of the original farmsteads also show the classic Cape Dutch features:  white-washed thatched long houses with typical green detailing for doors and windows. However these are much simpler farms than the ornate Cape Dutch gables and H-shapes you may see in the Winelands. 
History of the Cederberg - Heuningvlei
The Anglo-Boer War

You may not know that the Cederberg is probably the southern-most battleground of the Anglo-Boer war. The Afrikaaner commandos travelled all the way south from their Boer republic strongholds in the north of South Africa. They wanted to threaten the English Cape Colony on their home turf. And Clanwilliam was the northern-most English stronghold. The Boers had hoped to stir up popular support from the local farmers. (who were all of Dutch descent). But in this they failed. The farmers certainly had no love for the English colonial government. But they were fairly sure that the English were going to win ultimately. So, fearing reprisals, they opted to stay with the English authorities

The Englishman’s Grave

A poignant side story is that of englishmen, Lieutenant Clowes . He was leading an English patrol out from Clanwilliam when they ambushed by a Boer commando and killed. He was buried where he fell. His family travelled out and erected a headstone is in the form of a Celtic cross which bears the words “brave and true.” The place where he fell is today called Englishman’s Grave (or "Engelsmanskloof"). His mother came out to visit his grave every year for the rest of her life until 1936. This was at a time when a visit from England to South Africa entailed a steamer ship passage of some weeks in each direction. Then a full day’s journey from Cape Town to Clanwilliam. (It now  is an 11 hour flight and a 2½ hour drive).

The Clanwilliam Dam & Rooibos

The areas fortunes improved when the Bulshoek Dam was built in 1914. The much larger Clanwiliam Dam was built in 1935. And this allowed for the neighbouring farms to have much needed water for irrigation farming. It was enlarged to its current size in 1964. The mainstay of the area is still agriculture supported by tourism. The main output are wine and table grapes, citrus and of course rooibos tea. Currently we are hoping that the dam will be enlarged once again in coming years.
History of the Cederberg - Clanwilliam Dam
Cederberg Wilderness Reserve

The Cederberg Wilderness Reserve was established in 1973. A reserve of about 5 250 hectares was established in 1987 initially to prevent the complete extinction of the Clanwilliam cedar tree. This tree is actually a relic species from a time of colder climate. Nowadays this tree, with its sweet smelling wood, is only found up up on the cooler mountain slopes, in inaccessible areas.  All farming livestock was removed from the Cederberg Wilderness Reserve and small quantities of indigenous fauna were reintroduced. But not so much as to tax the recovering mountain fynbos. It is now a unique area of wilderness, much enjoyed by those in the know, looking to escape the rat race. 

(Side Note: the English name for our region was originally the Cedarberg and the Afrikaans name was Sederberg. But about 15-20 years ago, it was decided to combine the two names into the new name Cederberg. Thats why you may see two spellings used: Cedarberg and Cederberg.) 

For more on the Cederberg and how to enjoy it click here