A Short History Of The Riebeek Valley

The first Europeans to visit the valley were part of an exploratory expedition dispatched by Jan van Riebeeck in 1661. The mountain, the valley and the towns of Riebeek-Kasteel and Riebeek West were named after him by Pieter Cruythoff and the members of his expedition.

Jan van Riebeeck

While Simon van der Stel was governor of the Cape in the 17th century, he was worried that the English or the French would take over the Cape. This was the reason that the new settlements were established outside of the Cape Peninsula area.

Simon van der Stel

When Simon’s son, Willem Adriaan van der Stel, succeeded his father as governor in 1699, he found that there were still settlers who did not have farms. As a result of this, he visited the valley at the foot of the Winterhoek mountains, and named it "Land van Waveren" in honour of Oetgens van Waveren, a prominent Amsterdam family to whom his mother was related. 

Almost immediately he began to allocate loan farms to landless Dutch families and by the mid-1700 the area had become a prosperous farming district more commonly known as Roodezand (Red Sand). In 1743 the Roodezand Dutch Reformed congregation was established, and its church was completed in 1749. The village which inevitably grew up about the church was formally established in 1795, and was named in honour of Ryk Tulbagh, former Governor of the Cape, 1751-71.

At that stage the area was part of the district of Stellenbosch, but on 11 July 1804 it was proclaimed a separate district with its drostdy at Tulbagh, the latter named after Governor Ryk Tulbagh. The region was also known at times as Roodezand (red sand). 

Dutch ships leaving from the Cape

During the time of Willem Adriaan van der Stel, all men of the area had to belong to the militia (burgermag) and had to attend an annual compulsory training camp in the Cape. The farmers of the Valley objected to this conscription due to the fact that the Cape was a distance away in those days and they had to leave behind their farms and families unprotected.

An outpost was subsequently established in Riebeek-Kasteel and a cannon mounted on Kasteelberg that was to form part of a signalling system that would connect the inland areas to the Cape. The cannon was preserved and is still to be seen in the town square in Riebeek-Kasteel.

Some of the first farmers in the area were Huguenots from France who established the development of viticulture along with wheat and other fruit crops. The Valley included the well known farms of Kloovenburg, Allesverloren, Zonquasdrift, Goedgedagt and Vlysbank.

More people settled in Riebeek-Kasteel during the 1730’s to 1740’s. Wagon makers and other artisans gathered in the town over the years while the wealthy farmers chose to retire to Riebeek West.

Hermon itself started out as a missionary station named Rondeheuwel (Round Hill). The town only began to grow once Thomas Bain was tasked in 1873 to extend the railway line from Wellington to Worcestor through Hermon. He settled on the farm Eikeboom (Oak Tree). At times, as many as 300 ox wagons used to come and offload their produce at the station.

Hermon is a name of Hebrew origin, ‘ker-mone’ meaning “Abrupt” or “Mountain Peak” with reference to the biblical Mount Hermon (Deuteronomy 3:8-9). This was probably a reference to the dominant Kasteelberg 10 kilometres away to the north-west that also rises abruptly up to 299 metres above the Riebeek Valley like its middle eastern counterpart does to a height of 2814 metres above the Golan Heights on the Syrian-Lebanese border. The meaning of the town’s name has been broadened over time to also indicate “Elevated” or “Exalted”.

Kasteelberg with Riebeek-Kasteel in the foreground and Riebeek West to the upper right

Post for the farmers arrived by train from Cape Town in the early days after the railway was completed. It was then loaded onto a postal wagon and taken from the station to a large olive tree that was on the lefthand side of the road mid way between Hermon and Riebeek-Kasteel. A bugle was then blown to alert the surrounding farmers as to the arrival of their post.

The Post Office Tree


The Khoisan

"Khoisan" (Khoesaan/Khoesan/Khoe–San) is a collective name for two groups of peoples of Southern Africa, who share distinct physical and linguistic characteristics. Culturally, the Khoisan are divided into the foraging San and the pastoral Khoi, or more specifically Khoikhoi.

The Khoikhoi

The Khoikhoi (Khoekhoen/Kwena) was the general name which the herding people of the Cape used for themselves. The word can be translated to mean 'the real people' or 'men of men', meaning 'we people with domestic animals' as opposed to the Sonqua or "Bushmen" who had none. The “San” (Sanqua/Soaqua) was a name given to hunter-gatherer peoples by the Khoikhoi of the Cape. The word means 'people different from ourselves' and became associated with those without livestock. The Khoikhoi used to inhabit the Riebeek Valley area in the early 1600’s.


The Old Post Office

Farmers began to acquire farms in the area in the 1800’s. Thomas Bain, who was also a resident of the valley, commenced the building of the mountain passes in Tulbagh and Wellington during this time.

Thomas Bain

At this time, a train line was in the offing from Wellington to Worcestor. As there was no direct route for the railway through the Du Toitskloof mountains, the second best route was to construct it around them. The train line was completed in the 1800’s. A station was constructed at Hermon - 22 kilometres north of Wellington and 8 kilometres from Porseleinberg - for the transportation of local produce.

A hotel with stabling was built at Hermon to provide overnight facilities. The daily mail was brought to the town by train from the Cape and then taken to the Posboom (post tree). Over time the post tree system was done away with as farmers and residents collected their own mail from Hermon by motorcar. This resulted in the need for a local post office to be built in the town. In later years, the post office closed and moved to the Café as a Postal Agency. It is still located in “Die Rooi Spens” in Hermon.