The Orange River is named in honour of Prince William V of Orange by Col. Robert Gordon

Tuesday, 17 August 1779

Col. Robert Jacob Gordon, a Dutch officer of Scottish descent, was born on 29 September 1743 in Doesburg, in the Netherlands.

After joining the Dutch East India Company, Gordon was stationed at the Cape, where he went on several explorations in the surrounding region. According to his journals, Gordon returned from an extensive trip of the Cape Colony on 6 October 1777, along with William Paterson, a botanist and plant collector.

Paterson later turned back due to illness, but Johannes Schoemaker continued with Gordon in his effort to reach the Groote Rivier (present day Orange/Gariep River) via the Great Fish, Tarka and Vlekpoort rivers to the confluence of the Groote Rivier with the Caledon.

On 17 August 1779, almost a year after his third trip with Governor von Plettenberg in 1778, Gordon renamed the Groote River in honour of the Dutch prince, William V of Orange.

The Orange River would later form the border between the Cape Colony and the Orange Free State, an area proclaimed by Voortrekkers in 1853.

Gordon later committed suicide on 27 October 1795, apparently because he could not prevent the British occupation of the Cape. Gordon's Bay, in the Western Cape, is named after him.

• Cullinan, P. (2003) Transcription and Translation of the Gordon Travel Journals [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 August 2010]
• Wallis, F. (2000), Nuusdagboek: feite en fratse oor 1000 jaar, Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau

Last updated : 16-Aug-2013

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

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