Swellendam History

The District of Swellendam was established in 1745. It covered a large area, encompassing Agulhas to almost East London and reaching inland. This was the third district after Cape Town and Stellenbosch.

The then Governor at the Cape of Good Hope was Hendrik Swellengrebel, the first South African born Governor. He was married to Helena Ten Damme. He decided to name the district after himself and his wife, hence “Swellendam”. No we do not have a dam.

The reason for the establishment of the new district was the fact that about 800 burghers had moved over the mountain, “over het berg”, hence the Overberg region.

To maintain Law and Order and to collect Taxes a “Drost or Landdrost” , Magistrate, was appointed and his seat would be in the “Drostdy”, house and work place of the Drost, which was built and completed in 1747.

Swellendam is extremely rich in history and in 1795 for a short period was the first Republic in South Africa. The well-known “Steyn and Reitz” families have their roots in Swellendam; both families produced Presidents and well known lawyers and judges.

Eventually the town developed and in 1798 the Rev. von Manger was sent to build a church in what is now known as Swellendam. A town could not be established before the Church was built, this makes Swellendam the 7th oldest town but the 3rd Magisterial district.

It was first the District of Swellendam and later the Town, in fact the present town and district of Swellendam is all that is left of the once large Swellendam district.

More about the history of Swellendam may be researched at the Drostdy Museum in Swellendam.