History of Knysna

Millwood House Museum

Knysna is a town with around 80,000 inhabitants in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. The town is essentially established on the north end of a large warm-water estuary, called the Knysna Lagoon, which the Knysna River feeds. The estuary opens to the sea after passing between two prominent headlands.

History – Knysna

Not much is known about the indigenous residents of Knysna, the Khoikhoi. The region east of present-day George was split by deep gorges and high mountains, making it virtually impervious to European travelers.

Nonetheless, the first Europeans landed in the area in 1760 CE, and the farm Melkhoutkraal ( translating from Afrikaans as ‘milk wood kraal’) was constructed on the east end of the Knysna Lagoon. Stephanus Terblans, the first known European farmer to live in the area, was present a loan license to farm here in 1770 CE.

Upon moving to Knysna George Rex, a British-born businessman credited as the founder of Knysna, he obtained the loan rights to Melkhoutkraal in 1804 CE and later, in 1816 CE, to the farm Welbedacht, which he later renamed Eastford. He gave 32 ha (80 acres) of Eastford to the Colonial Government, on which the Royal Navy installed the township of Melville. Rex’s properties were auctioned when he died in 1839 CE.

In April 1817 CE, the transport brig Emu, belonging to the early modern Cape Town Dockyard, was the first European ship to land at Knysna heads. She hit a rock, now known as Emu Rock, and was later holed. Her crew ran Emu ashore to stop her sinking. In late April, HMS Podargus arrived to provide assistance. After examining the region, Podargus sailed safely into the Knysna and recovered Emu’s cargo.

Millwood Gold Rush

In 1878 CE, an extraordinary discovery was made in the region. A gold nugget was discovered in the Karatara River, adjacent to Ruigtevlei. Soon fortune hunters (from different nations) landed at the Millwood Forest searching for gold, and Millwood developed into a bustling town. Millwood was named a goldfield, the first in South Africa. However, soon not enough gold was being produced to support a growing town, and the mining industry in the area dropped. Some miners moved to Knysna, bringing their tiny homes with them. One of the houses, called ‘Millwood House,’ now operates as a museum.

Amalgamation and timber industry

By 1880 CE, over 1000 people had lived in Knysna. In 1882 CE, the settlements of Melville, Newhaven, and the “wedge” of land between the two villages were amalgamated to form the Knysna River’s municipality.

Knysna’s timber industry topped when George Parkes came from Britain and recognized the opportunity to use the hardwoods of the Knysna Forest for shipping to elsewhere in the nation and even overseas.

2017 Knysna fire

On June 7, 2017 CE, due to heavy winds from a severe storm – the Cape Storm of 2017 CE- coming in from the far west, a fire swept through the city and neighboring towns. It killed nine as a direct result of the fires and another two indirectly and displaced around 10,000 people from all walks of life.

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