History of Robertson
Founded in 1853
Oginally called Hooprivier the town of Robertson was founded in 1853 by two good friends, the Dutch Reformed Church minister at Swellendam, Rev. Dr. William Robertson and the Honorable Joseph Barry, who was the auctioneer when the farmland on which the town stood was cut up into erven. Since 1847 Barry & Nephews had had a store there, Hoops River Trading Store, which later became Barry Brothers. It was said that these friends were, “the providers of all things earthly and spiritual”.
The new town was named Robertson in honour of the evangelistic Scottish minister who served the Overberg for 39 years and who had held church services when visiting every three months in the home of Johannes W van Zijl who owned the farm Over het Roode Zandt in the 1840s. A street was named Barry in recognition of the mainstay and trade opportunities that Barry & Nephews had opened up for the Overberg farmers.
In 1852 a part of the farm Over het Roode Zandt was purchased for the princely sum of 4 200 Pounds by Dr. Robertson (assisted by school teacher Mr. Mauritz Polack who was also to act as preacher for the Dutch Reformed Church) on behalf of the Church Council, which had yet to be elected! It doesn’t take too much imagination to guess who Dr. Robertson convinced to initially fund this project. On the 19th January 1853, Robertson was officially founded as a ‘dorpsgebeid’ township. It was surveyed by H van Reenen and a total of 199 plots were auctioned off by Joseph Barry for about 40 Pounds each. The tax on each plot was used for the building and maintenance of the first Dutch Reformed Church which was consecrated in October 1856. At the auction on 4th & 5th May 1853 an erf was promised to the first male child born in the new town of Robertson, provided the names of both founders were given to him. On the 1st of December in the same year the lucky child was born. He was duly baptised Robertson Barry Masuriek by Dr Robertson, with Joseph Barry being one of his seven sponsors.
The founding of Robertson coincided with the Cape Colony receiving representative government from the British and electing the first Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope without regard to race in 1853. The Honorable Joseph Barry was elected as the Swellendam representative and moved to Cape Town. The voting system known as the Cape Qualified Franchise came into existence. It was enshrined in the Cape Constitution of 1853 and a non-racial voters roll was established. Any Cape male owning property (any type of property including traditional African land tenure) of £25 was qualified to vote irrespective of race. (Only white women were enfranchise in 1930) Nevertheless, the extremely low property qualification and inclusiveness was internationally revolutionary for its time. Whilst the main motivator was to bring peace to the Cape Colony especially amongst the Xhosa along the eastern front, it must be born in mind that the population growth at the Cape was significantly increased by mixed marriage. Senior Merchant Jan Van Riebeeck arrived at the Cape in 1652 to establish a refreshment station with some 91 Germans and 7 Scottish or English employees of the Dutch East Indian Company and only 25 woman and children. Later the Dutch, Danes, Swedes and other Europeans that worked for the Dutch East Indian Company and the local Khoikhoi, freed slaves from the East and black slaves from West Africa and Madagascar also intermarried. Kroata (Eva) the niece of Chief Autshumao (Harry the Strandloper, who ran the postal service for 5 countries at the Cape) and Van Riebeeck’s translator, being proficient in 6 languages, married Danish surgeon Pieter Van Meerhof (Peter Havgaard) in 1664 and Wagenaar, the Govenor at the time, gave them a wedding reception at the Fort. Simon van der Stel the governor at the Cape from 1679 that developed the wine industry and requested safe passage from the Dutch East Indian Company for the French Huguenot wine farmers to the Cape was also of mixed race origin. Thus unlike the other provinces by 1838 it was already law in the Cape under British occupation that no discrimination on the basis of race or colour was allowed. In subsequent years the Cape Constitution was severely limited and systematically eroded by pressure from the Eastern frontier. In 1936 the Hertzog goverment removed blacks from the general voters roll and placed them on a separate ‘native voters’ roll. The apartheid government eventually loaded the senate in 1948 to gain a majority to change the law and exactly 100 years later the last ‘Coloureds’ participated in a general election until 1994 saw an open and free election for all South Africans.
Fragments of a forgotten past can sometimes be found in the empty mountain caves surrounding Robertson and near streams where nomadic Khoisan hunters would have refreshed themselves.
In 1728 a large tract of land, which fell within the extended boundaries of the Swellendam district, was let to a Mr. P Joubert. Other farmers in search of grazing for their sheep were attracted to the area and by 1800 many of them had purchased land outright from the Government. In the 1790’s the farm Orange Grove in Noree, was leased to a Messrs J.H Cloete and P.J du Plessis. The oldest manor house in the area was built in 1812 on Orange Grove and the flour mill at the Old Mill house was turned by the passing mountain stream and supplied wheat flour to the nearby farmers and transport riders.
Today the names of these original farms are still much in evidence as the surrounding districts of De Hoop, Roodezant, Willem Nels River, Noree, Goree, Vink Rivier, Klaasvoogds, Goudmyn, Le Chasseur, Retreat, and Vrolijkheid.
The village itself grew up around the Dutch Reformed Church and the Barry’s store and wine cellars which became a meeting and trading place for the farmers in the district. Later Liebermann and Buirski, a well-known Cape Town firm, opened a branch and other traders on a smaller scale followed.
All things Spiritual
As there were no English churches in the Overberg at the beginning of the 19th century, services were held in both languages in the Dutch Reformed Churches. Dr. Robertson took them both with the afternoon service being in English. In 1859, Dr. Carel Henrich de Schmidt was called to shepherd the growing Robertson congregation. A big revival conference held in Worcester in April 1860 saw the church grow in number. Dr. de Schmidt passed away at the young age of 26 in January 1861 after contracting enteric fever while selflessly seeing to his congregation during an epidemic outbreak of the illness. His grave is one of the few graves within the Church grounds.
Looking to recruit ministers for the Dutch Reformed Church Dr Robertson had returned to his native Scotland in 1860. One of these recruits was Dr. Andrew McGregor who arrived in 1862 and faithfully ministered to the Robertson flock for 40 years. He became Dr. Robertson’s son-in-law when he wed his eldest daughter Elizabeth Augusta. Dr Andrew McGregor also actively ministered to the neighbouring village of Lady Grey. He retired in 1902 and in 1905 this village was renamed in his honour as McGregor to avoid confusion with Lady Grey near Aliwal North.
Ds (later Dr.) H.P. van der Merwe served from 1903 to 1925. It was during his tenure that the original church was replaced with an imposing church complete with a neo Gothic tower and steeple that could be seen from miles away. Services had always been attended by all racial groups but in 1907 a separate mission church was built for ‘non-Europeans’ and the missionary Eerw. P.W.J. van Zyl was appointed.
In 1851 the Wesleyan missionary the Rev. Henry Tindall had already started ministering in the area. The Wesleyan Church, formerly called the ‘pink’ church by residents due to its paint colour, was built in 1859. Today this church serves as a community hall for the Roelou Barry Retirement ‘Oord’ Haven and Robertson has a street named Tindall in the Reverends honour.
The building of St. Mary’s, the small Anglican Church, started in 1862 and was completed in 1867. Bishop Robert Gray was the first English Bishop appointed to the Colony in 1848 and he consecrated the church in 1869. His wife Sophy Gray designed several churches in South Africa and the plans for the Robertson Anglican Church were drawn up by her and built on land donated by the Barry’s. Rev. W.J.R. Morris was the first minister and one of several clergy from England that had been recruited by Bishop Gray. The town grew and several private schools were started. One such being a preparatory school run by Rev. Matson at the beginning of the 1900s in a big room at the rectory where he lived opposite Hamilton Barry’s Caldwell House on the corner of White and Barry streets. Several decades after Rev. Matson this room was used as a garage by Rev. Ted Torrance who was a great comfort to Marjorie Marnock and her child evacuees during WWII.
By 1881 the Robertson Jews first came together as a minyan (ten men) and the Robertson Hebrew Congregation was established in 1895 when the community built the Knesset Israel Synagogue with a Talmud Torah. They played an integral role in building the local economy, whether as ostrich feather buyers and farmers, as wagon makers, as bookkeepers, as tinsmiths, tailors, butchers, teachers and traders, as hoteliers and doctors or bioscope proprietors and even a violin maker in the 1980s. The first Jewish wedding in Robertson was solemnised by Rev. Rabinowitz of Cape Town in 1895.
In 1912 the Robertson congregation sent a delegate to the historic conference in Bloemfontein at which the National South African Jewish Board was established. In the 1920s Philip Buirski and Lewis Rosenzweig served on the Robertson Municipal Council, and the rabbi’s son Abraham Josefowitz became deputy mayor in 1972. In the 1950s Norbert Pinto was the first person to start growing coriander, which previously needed to be imported. He freely distributed seeds to other farmers and encouraged them to plant coriander for sale to the Robertson Spice Company.
The Jewish population peaked in 1904 with 140 Jewish people but by 1967 their numbers had dwindled and they could no longer gather a minyan. The late Becky Saacks founded, developed and ran the Robertson Museum and its collections from 1972 and was instrumental in Druid’s Lodge being purchased by the Municipality in 1976 to turn into a museum. When the synagogue was sold in 2010 she organised that part of the proceeds be donated to the Robertson Museum with the bulk going to the bursary fund administered by the Jewish Board.
Robertson Distillery produces best spirits of wine in 1865
With the building of the old Cogmanskloof pass in 1860 (Thomas Bain was commissioned to build the ‘new’ pass in 1877) Robertson and its wine farmers were linked to Montagu and the Barry & Nephews distillery which produced according to a chemist that assisted the judges at an 1862 agricultural show in Cape Town, “best and strongest spirits I have seen here, made of wine, but not entirely free from fusal oil and sulphurous acid which are found in such abundance in our common Cape Spirits or Brandy. To these two impurities our Cape Brandy owes its disagreeable taste and offensive smell. Messrs Barry’s Spirits being nearly free from both could be used for medicinal and certainly for technical purposes, and for fortifying wines for exportation”. To cope with the increasing wine trade in the Robertson district Barry & Nephews soon opened up a distillery in Robertson as well. In 1865 they sent a sample to the Paarl Agricultural Show. Competing against the best distilleries in the country the Robertson Distillery took the prize for the best spirits of wine.
1860s Drought & epidemic, a disastrous period for Robertson and the Overberg
As the town grew the need for water became a major concern as the mainly winter rainfall in the area is very low and periodic droughts far too frequent for comfort. The 1860s was a disastrous period for Robertson and the Overberg. A prolonged drought saw the crops failing, fruit trees suffering and thousands of sheep and cattle dying due to lack of grazing. Robertson’s first doctor, Dr. F A Hanf, had an irrigation furrow dug from the Breede River to irrigate the farm Klipdrift during the 1860s.
To compound the problem a swarm of brown locusts swept through any remaining plant life in 1863 and Britain’s Gladstone announced a new scale of duty on imported alcoholic beverages depriving the Colonists of a market for their wine.
An outbreak of measles in Robertson followed by gastric fever from 1860 to 1861 was responsible for the death of the 89 people. Dr. Hanf put the epidemic down to lack of isolation of the sick and the water that became polluted in the open water furrow system. Another epidemic due to unhygienic water broke out from 1896 to 1897 prompting water pipes to be laid to the Langeberg Mountains under the Robertson Water Supply Act of 1898 to provide the town with a supply of fresh clean water.
Oldest irrigation scheme
Robertson has the oldest irrigation scheme in South Africa. Mr Le Brun, the Civil Commissioner for Robertson, requested state assistance for an irrigation scheme as far back as 1862 and several minor schemes were attempted between 1865 and 1875. However, it was in 1896, backed by the Cape Irrigation Act, that concrete developments towards establishing a large scale irrigation scheme moved forward. Construction of the scheme started in February of 1900 with TE Scaife appointed as engineer of a diversion weir across the Breede River about 8km outside Robertson. Delayed by the Anglo-Boer War and flooding, the scheme was only completed in 1904. Lucerne, grain, wine and fruit were now grown under irrigation.
Greater Brandvlei dam
By 1918 several additional irrigation boards had been established and schemes constructed; Zanddrift 1909, Le Chasseur & Goree 1910 and Angora 1917. The lack of summer rainfall begged for a storage dam and JP Marais 1862-1922 saw the potential of a dam at Brandvlei near Worcester to provide irrigation for the farms of Robertson and Bonnievale. Brandvlei dam was named Lake Marais in his honour. In the 1980s the Greater Brandvlei dam was created by the raising of the Brandvlei (Lake Marais) and adjacent new Kwaggaskloof dams to counter sedimentation and increased irrigation requirements.
All things earthly
Sheep and mixed farming were originally practised in the Robertson district but by the mid 1880s the wine trade rapidly became the most important industry. On the 14th January 1884 Ernst Marais of Wonderfontein was granted an agricultural brandy distillers license. K.W.V. built their premises in 1941 alongside the railway station where Robertson Wineries bottling plant stands today. Ostriches and racehorse breeding were also introduced but with the collapse of the ostrich feather market at the outbreak of WW1, farmers changed to fruit, grain and dairy farming. The later becoming so big that by the mid 20th century Robertson at that time had a Nestle condensed milk factory. By the 1980s the dairy herds and grains had largely been replaced with vines. Currently with the poor return on wine more fruit trees are being planted in the valley.
In 1857 William Gregan became the Robertson Town Clerk to the Board of Municipal Commissioners (forerunner to the Municipality that was established in 1902) earning a salary of £17 per annum. Robertson was declared a magisterial district in 1858 and by the following year had its own Divisional Council.
When Robertson was founded a large number of villagers were engaged in wagon making and selling them to the Free State and beyond until the Boer War which marked the decline of wagon making. Approximately three to four times per year professional transport riders ‘togryers’ would take wagons laden with locally crafted furniture, dried fruit and brandy to sell up North along with the wagons. Robertson’s fame spread far and wide and even President Kruger’s wagon as can be seen displayed in the President Paul Kruger House in Pretoria bears the following inscription on its wheel; Philip Fouche maker Robertson.
Mr F Staal was the tin and coppersmith in the town from 1880 to 1920.
As parliamentary representative Joseph Barry was elected to the select committee to enquire into the expediency of building a railway from Cape Town to Wellington in 1857. He saw the railway as the only eventual way to bring prosperity to the Overberg and strongly expressed his support.
The Cape Central Railway, a privately owned line that ran between Worcester and Mossel Bay with Robertson its Head Office largely took over the transport of goods and post was delivered daily instead of bi-weekly.
A British Garrison under the command of Lieutenant Cooper was stationed in Robertson during the Anglo Boer War of 1898 – 1902.
The largest employer was Barry Handelshuis which had originally been the Barry & Nephews, Hoop River Trading Store before the town was founded. They built a gun powder magazine “kruithuis” on the outskirts of Robertson. The Barry Kruithuis was declared a National Monument in 1975. After the Boer War in 1902, Hamilton Barry (Joseph Barry’s grandson) had taken over as manager of Barry Bros, with his older brother George Joseph managing the Montagu store and distillery.
The beginning of the First World War in 1914 saw a disproportionately high number, for the size of the town, young men leave their peaceful rural surroundings for the horrors of war at the Front Line in France. Hamilton Barry’s youngest brother Duncan van Reenen took leave from the Barry Bros Board and farming in the Koue Bokkeveld to join the South African Army artillery and was sent to France.
In August 1920 Barry Bros changed it name again to the Robertson Trading Association which was licensed to sell wholesale or retail, import or export 24 different categories of merchandise which included liquor, property, building materials, hardware, clothing, groceries and so forth. The firm also owned the dried fruit company and several farms.
It was during Hamilton Barry’s long tenure as mayor of Robertson that the Council couldn’t decide on a motto for the town. After much indecision, Hamilton Barry eventually declared that as his family motto, Boutez en avant, was good enough for the Barry’s it would be good enough for Robertson. The Council unanimously agreed and so the Barry motto and battle cry meaning to ‘Push forward’ hailing back to Tournai in what was then France (now in Belgium) in 1020 was adopted by Robertson.
Mrs Hamilton Barry inaugurated Robertson’s Electric Lighting System in 1923 and the Dental Clinic in 1928.
Robertson’s coat of arms representing the important industries at the turn of the 20th century –
the shield with sheep and vines and the Breede as life-blood supported by horse and ostrich breeding
underscored by the optimistic Barry motto ‘Boutez en avant’ – to push forward.
After Hamilton Barry’s death in 1933, his son Edward George Hamilton ‘Ted’ became managing director of Robertson Trading Association and he was later joined by Duncan van Reenen Barry’s son George Joseph. Roelou Barry, a cousin of Ted descended from old Joseph’s nephew Thomas Barry, became managing director from 1947 to 1970. The business continued to grow under his leadership and in 1951 the name was changed to Barry Handelshuis Beperk. Housed in a new building between Barry and Piet Retief streets boardering on Van Reenen street it had 17 departments. Roelou’s son Reenen took over from his father in 1970. In 1989 Shoprite and Ackermans opened branches in the building which was then know as Barry Sentrum before it was sold. The Barry ‘Kamp’ hardware, building materials and carpentry store was situated separately in Adderley street where Agrimark and Spaces are situated today.
Barry Brothers Robertson
Robertson Trading Association
Barry Handelshuis Beperk
Barry Trading Company Board; George Joseph Barry, Roelof Louis "Roelou" Barry, Richard van Reenen "Reenen” Barry & Edward George Hamilton "Ted" Barry
A memorial garden was established in the block adjacent to the Barry Handelshuis and behind the DR Church and named the Hamilton Barry Park in honour of this man who had worked so tirelessly at the development of the town and the district. Sadly the bronze commemorative plaque at top of the podium was removed by the Municipality and has since vanished.
Culturally Robertson blossomed and by 1872 boasted a well stocked Public Library. In 1883 the very Victorian sounding Robertson Mutual Improvement Society was established. Now called the Robertson Literary Society it is the oldest society of its kind in South Africa and hosts monthly talks on a variety of interesting topics. It still organises an annual Stakesby Lewis academic lecture in honour of one of the founders of the society. Another founder of the Society was Mr. William Dutton English, the Civil Commissioner and Resident Magistrate in Robertson from 1881 to 1890. He purchased what is now the Robertson museum (that collapsed during renovations) and named it Druids Lodge in 1883. Other founders included Rev. McGregor of the DR Church, Rev. W.J.R. Morris the Anglican Priest, and John Lewis the brother of Stakesby. By 1890 Robertson could also boasted of a Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club and a Brass Band.
In the 1880s a cannon was found at Struisbaai and brought to Robertson and placed on Muiskraalskop. It became the custom to annually fire the cannon on Queen Victoria’s birthday and even after her death it was fired up until the 1930s. In 1953 Major C R Wolhuter accompanied by his son George retrieved the cannon and mounted it onto an iron base that they had made for the purpose. Today it stands in the Robertson Museum garden.
Despite the collapse of the 1860 Druid’s Lodge during renovations in August 2014 the Robertson Museum gardens, Annex and Barry Room are still open to the public in the mornings from 9am to 12pm except on Sundays.
On the 28 December 1904 a new library was officially opened in the predominantly Edwardian building designed by the firm Tully and Waters of Cape Town behind the Dutch Reformed Church on the corner of what is today the Hamilton Barry memorial park.
The building was originally intended to commemorate King Edward VII’s coronation in 1902. Today the library is located opposite the Post Office in Van Reenen street.
The first schools were private and Mr. Polack continued to teach in addition to being the Secretary of the town management board. The first public school was built in 1893 under Dr. Cluver. In those days they learnt English in the morning and Afrikaans in the afternoon. “Rob Roy” the home of Rev. McGregor and his wife became a hostel for students from far afield and continued operating even after his retirement. In 1913 the Girls High School was opened by the Superintendent of Education, Dr Muir.
A century after Robertson was founded it boasted a Primary School for Boys, the Primary School for Girls and the High School with a boarding house. The photo on the right is the Robertson School Board of 1953. Towards the mountain Dagbreek and Vergesig Primary Schools were built as was Langeberg High School. Nqkubela is served by Masakheke Combined School.
The first pre-primary school was started by Philippa Barry at the Robertson airfield in the early 1970s. Her assistant Veronica Van Der Merwe took over as head of the pre-primary which eventually moved to what is today called the Grade R class at the Robertson Voorbereiding School.
The Spanish Flu epidemic that decimated the Cape in 1918 left many orphans in it’s wake. The Dutch Reformed Church established The Herberg (Refuge) in Robertson to look after the orphans. First in an ordinary home and later a double storey children’s home was built that is now the Old Herberg apartments. The current premises were first occupied in 1980 and now serve as a country refuge for 122 children that tragically have had to be removed from their parental home by court order.
Today the home is a joint charitable non–profit programme of BADISA with the government only supplying 48% of the monthly expenses to meet each child’s needs and to develop their potential and skills. Land was made available to the children´s home in 1956. In collaboration with Robertson wine estates, fertiliser, spray and irrigation suppliers and the community the unproductive apricot orchard on this land was replaced with vineyards in 2003. In 2010 the first wine made in aid of The Herberg was sold under the Thunderchild label. The touching part of the story is that this community project was launched without any cost to the Children’s home.
Church Street centered on the DR Church’s tower housed the Magistrate’s court and saw a branch of the Standard Bank of South Africa open in the 1880s followed by Barclay’s Bank and a pharmacy. By 1891 the district was prospering once again and Standard Bank could report that the income for the area was between 30 000 to 40 000 pounds per year. The 1865 census indicated that Robertson had a population of 715. In 1875 this number had risen to 1 104, and by 1891 the population had nearly doubled to 2 121. By 1904 it stood at 3 244, of whom 1 875 were literate. In 2011 the population was 21,929 with 3.7% of over 20 years not having attended school.
Standing: ID Odendaal, IJM van Zyl, JK de Wet, Ds JE Terblanche, SJ Conradie, S Conradie, GJ van Zyl, H Le Febre v d Merwe, Mrs HJ Retief, RL Barry, HA Conradie
Seated: S Van Coller, JJ Pretorius (Secretary), SWP Swart (L.P.R), G van Zyl Wolfaard (Chairman), Ds SJL Marais (Vice Chairman), D v r Barry
In 1997 the independent Robertson Logos Christian School was established as a values based English curriculum school with humble beginnings at the Robertson Show Grounds with Anna Marie Redelinghuys as Principal. When new premises were needed for the expanding school in 2001, Dr Fonnie Bruwer and Duncan Barry (Joseph Barry’s great, great grandson) signed surety to buy the Commercial Hotel and adjacent double storey house in Hope Street to convert into a school to serve the community with a quality education from Nursery school to Grade 12. To finance the bond on the school the top floor was rented out. In 2005 one of the tenants caused a fire that destroyed the top floor. The Robertson Primary School (by this time a combined school with a separate preparatory school) very kindly allowed Logos to continue in mobile classrooms on its premises.
The entire building was renovated to house the growing school under the watchful eye of Principal Mr. Martin Booysen who is now an A.C.E. school inspector. Today Mrs Talita Lloyd serves as Principal and Administrator and ensures that all the Matrics pass their National Senior Certificate exams.
First South African killed in WW II from Robertson
Morris Alexander, the founder and chairman of the Cape Council in 1904, visited Robertson in 1935 during a time of increased Antisemitism and Grey Shirt activity, this resulted in the affiliation of the Robertson Hebrew Congregation to the National South African Jewish Board. The outbreak of the Second World War once again saw many young Robertson men signing up to fight for freedom. Sadly it was also Robertson that provided the first South African and the first Jew to be killed in action in the war against Hitler. This was Sydney Lazarus, who was shot down by the Italians near El Wak and is buried in Nairobi. His parents, Lewis and Ethel Lazarus, used to farm in Robertson.
Before returning home after WW II Alfred Hamilton Barry (‘Ham’ a great grandson of Joseph Barry) from Robertson took part in the South African 6th Armoured Division Rugby side that toured England, Germany and France, raising morale in post war Europe. On his return he completed his B.Sc. Engineering degree at UCT and resumed playing Rugby for WP.
Robertson home to child evacuees during WWII
Robertson also opened its hearts to Miss Marjorie Marnoch and the up to 16 sixteen at a time child evacuees from England and Scotland in her care that stayed in a house she called Bairnshaven, the present day doctors rooms at 34 Paul Kruger Street. Her story written to one of her charges recounting their journey that started in August 1941 and their years in Robertson before finally being able to return home in December 1951 gives a fascinating insight into South African village life at that time.
Download Marjorie Marnoch’s STORY.
Robertson Winery 1941-2017 celebrating 76 years
The progressive Robertson Winery made history in 2010 when transfer took place in a groundbreaking Land Reform and Black Economic Empowerment Project that involves no less than 183 women farm workers from member farms acquiring the majority share in Constitution Road Wine Growers, which owns the farm Klipdrift – a member farm of Robertson Winery.
In 1941 farmers Giepie Rossouw and Alwyn Bruwer persuaded a number of Robertson Valley growers to form the Robertson Winery, named after Rev. William Robertson, in which all the families owned a share. They purchased an abandoned missionary church built in the late 1880s to house their new winery.
Pon van Zyl served as Robertson Winery’s first winemaker and took Robertson from its humble beginnings to being the third largest winery in South Africa. In 1984, van Zyl handed the reins over to Bowen Botha, under whose guidance Robertson Winery has become a global brand, recognized for the quality and value of its wines.
Wines from Robertson Winery were also of the first wines in South Africa to be accredited with an ethical seal that audited that fair labour practices, in line with international standards, were practised in the production of the wine.
Roodezandt Winery was founded on the 18th of September 1953 when they officially took over the building, grounds and machinery from Robertson Distillery. The winery was established by members that previously delivered their grapes to the old “Sonskyn Winery” which had in turn hired the building from Robertson Distillery.
On the 14 April 1964 wine farmers surrounding the the Rooiberg Mountain founded Rooiberg Winery. Originally started with a meeting in the Robertson Town Hall with 11 members and five directors under the chairmanship of Manie Conradie and winemaker Arrie van der Merwe, who was succeeded by the legends Manie Rossouw and Dassie Smith. In 1980 they ventured into own bottle wine marketing and have continued to grow.
From its early beginnings as an area producing largely quality bulk wines, today Robertson has some of the top wine estates and cellars in South Africa and can now boast of producing some of the best wines in the world with all the international accolades that it consistently garners. De Wetshof made history in producing South Africa’s first Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs and Zandvliet produced the valley’s first serious Shiraz. Nelson Mandela toasted his inauguration with Graham Beck MCC in 1984, and Barack Obama, after tasting a couple of glasses in a Chicago restaurant with his wife Michelle, decided to order it for a toast on the eve of his presidential nomination. In 2013 it was on the menu of the wedding celebration dinner of Swedish royal Princess Madeleine and her husband Chris O’Neill. Springfield Winery does indeed bring life from stone and caters to the discerning wine connoisseur as does Bon Courage and Excelsior. Today Robertson and its surrounding villages are home to over 50 wineries. Visitors to the valley can now also enjoy a picnic and wine aboard Viljoensdrift’s river cruise of the Breede. Complimentary olive farms like Olyfberg and Marbin have also made a name for themselves.
The Breede Valley is the only wine producing area in South Africa that doesn’t need to add lime to its soil. It is this same property that produces high quality wine that produces the superior bone quality in the many champion racehorses that are consistently bred in Robertson and its surrounding districts.
Joseph’s sixth son, John Henry (1839 – 1890) stood an imported stallion “Warrior” at his farm, Stockwell, near Robertson. The late Paul de Wet’s Zandvliet Stud enjoyed early success and stood Noble Chieftain by Nearco – a three times leading sire and bred Peter Beware and Wild West who won the Met. Danie Le Roux’s Angora Stud also enjoyed considerable success. By the 1960s breeders and owners realised the potential for breeding top thoroughbreds in the area. The highly successful BAR Valley Breeders (Bonnievale, Ashton & Robertson) was founded and breeders discussed which stallions to import and support. Highlands Stud stood six-time leading sire Persian Wonder (by Persian Gulf) and five-time leading sire Jungle Cove (by Bold Ruler) which improved the bloodlines in the area and Granville Gorton’s Noreen Stud stood Drum Beat by Fair Trial and bred Jamaican Music. Riverton Stud stood Jamaico and Champion first season sire, Russian Fox. In Full Flight was bred by Godfrey Gird at Maine Chance.
The BAR Valley amalgamated with other regions to become the Cape Breeders Association in the late 1990s but the region remains one of the most prolific breeders of champions. Paul de Wet’s son Dan bred the multiple graded stakes winning superstar Pocket Power before Zandvliet Stud was sold. In 2015 Riverton Stud bred the top merit rated horse in South Africa and the joint second top sprinter in the world according to the international Longines rankings.
In keeping with overseas trends many of the Robertson stud farms (Maine Chance, Highlands and Black Swan Stud) are now owned by captains of industry with one of the biggest studs in South Africa, Klawervlei Stud being situated near Bonnievale.
With over 50 wine cellars and of the best thoroughbred racehorse breeding studs in the country it is no wonder that the area lives up to its reputation as the
Valley of Wine, Horses and Roses
1883 to 1953
Robertson celebrated its centenary from the 3rd to the 11th October 1953 with a full programme of events:
A Thanksgiving service and organ recital at the Dutch Reformed Church, a Polo match and a gymkana, a flower show, rugby match and braaivleis (BBQ). The highlight of the celebrations was a dramatisation of Robertson’s history in which 300 people from Robertson and its surrounding districts took part. The production was called the Robertson Saga. It was written by Mrs Chris De Wet and directed by herself and John Warner, a local photographer.
Robertson has always had concerned Counicilors and citizens who saw to the planting of trees. Today it is one of the prettiest town’s in the Western Province.
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