HISTORY OF CARNARVON

A concise summary of the historical origins of

Carnarvon Town  

The aim of this concise summary is most definitely not to cover all of Carnarvon’s history, but only to enlighten readers with regard to the origins of the town. This also provides some insight into the architectural heritage of especially the Schietfontein community, approximately 5 kilometers West of the town, the De Bult area and the buildings of the Rhenish Mission more or less in the centre of Carnarvon today.

The history of the origins of Carnarvon town can very broadly be summarized in terms of pre-history (before 1847) and the early history of the Schietfontein Rhenish Mission (established in 1847).

Pre-history of Schietfontein

The pre-history of Schietfontein, the original name of what was later to become the present Carnarvon town, is of course not easy to track. Firstly, this is due to the fact that there was little stability in the pre-1847 period. Schietontein had in this period attracted more visitors passing through this arid area, than it had inspired a permanent settled community. Secondly, the documentation of the movements of San, Xhosa and colonialist settlers was more sketchy than after the establishment of the Rhenish Mission in 1847.  

First documentation of the pre-history of Schietfontein, comes in the form of the official granting of grazing rights by the Cape Government to Pieter Hugo on 26 September 1758. For this privilege an annual rent of 20 “rijksdaalders” had to be paid. Other early

 settlers were Gijsbert van Schalkwyk, Jacobus Cloete, Johannes Visser and the Polish adventurer, Jan Latsky.

Of course, the legal granting of grazing and  property rights by the colonial government can not be equated with the moral claims to land in the Schietfontein region. In fact, the struggle for land rights in the area, mainly between the San (initially) and also the Xhosa and the colonial settlers has been a feature of  the history of the Schietfontein region and even today remains a controversial issue.

More early documented mention of Schietfontein originated from the travelers P.B. Borcherds, Henri Lichtenstein and W. J. Burchell in the early nineteenth century. In their travels through the hot and barren region of the Karee Mountains, Schietfontein presented them with fresh water and therefore an ideal resting-place. The word “karee” is indeed a Khoi word meaning dry or barren. Burchell himself ascribes the name “Schietfontein” to an earlier skirmish between white colonial settlers and the San people.

An interesting anecdote related to the naming of the farm Carelsgraf, dates back to the late eighteenth century. Carel Kruger and his brother, Jacob, embezzled money and were fleeing prosecution by the colonial government since July 1783.  They succeeded in avoiding capture for more or less eight years, when Carel met his fate in a rather bizarre fashion. Carel wounded an elephant during a hunting expedition in 1791. The elephant charged Carel and trampled him to death, inspiring the name of the farm Carelsgraf (Carel's Grave).

The first community to permanently settle in the Schietfontein area, was a Xhosa faction, under leadership of Jan Kaffer. Apparently, the Cape government had cordial relationships with Jan Kaffer and his people and wished to use them as a buffer between the colonists and the San.  

In 1839 the Cape Governor, Sir George Napier, officially granted 98 000 morgen of land to the Xhosa people of  Jan Kaffer. This included the farms of Schietfontein, Harmsfontein and Rhenosterpoort. Before the end of that year 110 Xhosa families had settled in this area.

The Rhenish Mission (1847-1943)

It is not our intention to cover all of the Rhenish Mission history, but only the contribution it made to further stabilizing the Xhosa settlement in the region. The Rhenish mission provided far more than just the proclamation of the gospel. It also provided school education and the creation of more and more infrastructure, eventually leading to the establishment of Carnarvon town.

In the year 1847, the Reverend C.W. Alheit started his ministry in Schietfontein area. He originally pitched his tent near the site on which the first parsonage was to be erected in the 1850’s. This parsonage was beautifully restored by the Department of Tourism of the Northern Cape and was officially opened as Information Centre of the Kareeberg Municipal area (serving the communities of Carnarvon, Vanwyksvlei and Vosburg) in April 2005.

 

The Schietfontein settlement approximately five kilometers West of Carnarvon, as well as the De Bult area in the town of Carnarvon, even today proudly reflects something of the very early history of our town’s development and are therefore worthwhile visiting.

The center of Carnarvon town today also bears witness to the originating years of the Rhenish Mission, during the time of its pioneers, Rev. Alheit (1847-1865), Rev. P. Sterrenberg (1865-1891) and Rev. H. Stremme (1893-1902).

The most prominent architectural heritage from the pioneering years of the Rhenish mission in the town centre are :

-    the restored Alheit parsonage utilized as Information Centre (1850’s),

-    the church building erected in 1858 and the addition of its clock tower in 1899,

-     the old school building (1871) and

-      the present parsonage (1912)

So significant was the contribution of the Rhenish Missionaries to the development of the town of Carnarvon, as we know it today, that streets are still named after the three mentioned pioneers (Alheit, Sterrenberg and Stremme), as well as their successors Rev. E. Biesenbach (1902-1922) and Rev. E. A. Hartwig (1922 - 1943).

 

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