The Directors of the Dutch East India Company propose Hout Bay to Jan van Riebeeck as a possible area to settle some Dutch families

Tuesday, 6 October 1654

Hout Bay is a sheltered cove along South Africa's Cape Peninsula. Before European settlement, the area was populated by Khoisan hunter-gathers who lived largely off the ocean's bounty.  By the 17th century the Cape Peninsula and it's numerous safe harbors became highly coveted by Europe's seafaring powers. Thus did Jan van Riebeek arrive in Table Bay (Cape Town) in 1652 to set up a refreshment station for the Dutch East India Company. It wasn't long before the company looked into the feasibility of settling other areas along the peninsula.

Van Riebeeck had first visited Hout Bay in 1653. Upon arriving, he named it 'T'Houtbaaitjen' (Dutch for 'Bay of Wood'), noting in his journal that its mountainous slopes held 'the finest forest in the world'. Indeed, by this time the thinner forest around the more arid Table Bay side of the mountain were already under pressure, and the company was in dire need of wood for building and fuel. Woodcutters then soon set to work near Hout Bay, sending the timber around the mountain to Table Bay by ship.

In 1677 as the thick forest was being cleared, the first agreement to rent land was signed and a small farming community began to flourish in Hout Bay. Attention also turned to the nearby sea and a thriving fishing community soon formed.  By the early 1800's they were able to catch fish in sufficient quantity for export to Mauritius. To this day, Hout Bay is home to a small, working fishing fleet.

As for the marvelous forests that had caught van Riebeeck eye, they were never extensive and barely lasted a generation. Though trees now cover large areas of the mountain slopes once again, they are mostly of exotic species.

References:
• (Wallis, F. (2000). Nuusdagboek: feite en fratse oor 1000 jaar, Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau.)
•  safarinow, ' Hout Bay is a sheltered cove along South Africa's Cape Peninsula ',[online],Available at www.safarinow.com[Accessed: 27 September 2013]

Last updated : 04-Oct-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011