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                       The history of Langebaan

Langebaan is one of the oldest villages in South Africa... 

The history of Langebaan stretches back more than 4 centuries and its palaeontological and archaeological history go back several million years. At the farm Elandsfontein, a fossilized skull, dating back to the Stone Age,was discovered. The fossil deposits in the area are considered the richest of their kind in the world.

The First Explorers:

The first Europeans to explore Africa, south of the Sahara desert, were the Portuguese navigators, of which Vasco da Gama, must have been the most famous explorer.The Portuguese seek new ways to reach India and the Spice Islands. Moving merchandise overland was dangerous and very time consuming. The only other alternative,was by sea, that also offers the benefit of spreading Christianity, outside Europe. The first Portuguese sailor to land in South Africa, was Bartolomue Dias, but did not reach India, as ship turned around, when he reached Mossel Bay. 










Other countries also explored  the trade route to the East and between 1601 and 1652, the French had all ready made use of Saldanha Bay. French seal hunters used Schaapen island(in front of Langebaan) to store skins and oil.The Saldanha Bay  got its name in 1601 when a Dutchman, Joris van Silbergen, mistook it for the place, where Antonio de Saldanha landed in 1503. it was named " Aguada de Saldanha", which literally means "watering place of Saldanha"  









The Bay was only used  to provide the Cape with fish, eggs, birds and to keep sheep on Schaapen Island, for the use of passing ship, as lions and other predators did a lot of damage. Tracks and skeletons of rhinos, elephants and hippos were also found on the islands.


From 1658 free burgers started moving to the Bay. In 1659, the Bay was surveyed in detail by Pieter Potter and Langebaan lagoon, was officially called Saldanha Baaij. The ruins is still visible today as a  National monument.To stop the settlers from bartering with foreign ships, Jan van Riebeeck ordered the built of Oude Post, a fort, at Kraal Bay, with a small garrison. In 1666 six men was sent to protect Oude Post and the islands from French annexation and also provide the Cape colony with basic necessities like salted meat, eggs,oversee farming, fishing, trading activities, and defence. Cushions and beds were filled with feathers from birds on the islands and guano was found in abundance and collected for the new VOC gardens at the castle in Cape Town. In 1669, the garrison was enlarged to 15, after it became clear that the French had intention to base themselves in Saldanha Bay.  To claim their domain, the Dutch instructed  carpenter, Jan van Geel to erect a VOC monogram on each of the 5 islands. The only one that remains today, can be viewed at Geelbek. By 1673 the VOC needed 10 000 fish per month from this area, to feed the Cape slaves. Salted harders, steenbras and bird eggs were provided and hippopotamus were killed for oil.


 The fort ruins is close to the site, where Eve's footprint was found in 1997, which is the oldest  footprint of modern man, dating back 117 000 years. The lagoon was only used for ships in need of repair and crew from ships that was sick. They stayed in tents on Schaapen Island. For 143 years , the lagoon was used to repair ships.Today there is more than 286 ship wrecks in the bay  and the Langebaan Dutch Reformed Church is the proud owner of the oldest pulpit in the country.

The French Admiral de la Haye and his fleet with 200 soldiers, invaded the bay in 1670. He took over the fort and removed the VOC monogram.In 1671, the French left the fort and the Dutch took it back and kept it as a trading post in the Khoi country. A second fort was built in 1729 to provide water to ships, close to Konstabelkop and the farm Geelbekfontein was the first official farm awarded to free settlers in 1729.





In 1781, Holland joined France and Spain in the war against England. Given the difficulty to defend Table Bay, the Governor of the Cape, Baron Plettenberg, dispatched five ships to Saldanha Bay, where they were ordered to shelter.Orders were given that under no circumstances, should these vessels fall in the hands of the English and that these ships had to stock themselves with flammables and set ships on fire, if captured. French ships, under Admiral de Suffren, help to secure Table Bay. The English fleet with 3000  soldiers entered Saldanha Bay  on 21 July 1781, to land troops here to attack Table Bay, over land.  He disguised his vessels by flying French flags.  The Dutch sailors from the 5 ships, were mistaken, the English vessels, for their escort, back to Holland. To their surprise, French flags were replaced with English flags and they opened fire on Dutch vessels. The Dutch, completely surrounded,  tried to set their ships on fire and abandon their ships, but they were extinguished by the English, before ships burned out completely. The "Middelburg" was the only Dutch vessel that was completely destroyed by flames and sank. 

The Saldanha Bay became a British territory.  


 Activity in the area remained quite and stable, till the guano rush in 1844.  Hundreds of ships  stripped the islands of quano. The British kept   their strong  presence  in the area, to keep order and manage tax that was  levied on the guano.

In 1870 the bay was used as a quarantine station for sailors with infectious diseases. Tents were erected on the island to keep the sick away from the Cape. Lots of graves are in Salamander Bay, due to smallpox epidemic of 1882. By 1893, these camps were closed and only opened during Anglo- Boer War, when outbreaks of smallpox and bubonic plague, happened again.

In 1909 John Bryde  opened a whaling station at Donkergat.The whalers had great success and during absent months from whaling, time was spent on boat repairs. The scarcity of whale-oil made prices rise dramatically during First World War. This created an extremely profitable venture.. In 1926 a fire broke out at Donkergat and 2000 barrels exploded, but operations was restored. The Great Depression of 1930 brought and end to the whaling. The town grew and prosper as residents  made their living from fishing. In 1919 the first Town Council was chosen.






During the Second World War, Saldanha Bay was used as a base for the British fleet to track the German submarines. Donkergat became mooring facility and all residents had to carry permits with them to identify them as non Germans. The problem of fresh water was solved in 1943, when a pipeline  was laid from the Berg River. The demand for whale oil during Second World War, let to the reopen of the whaling station at Donkergat in 1947. Thousands of tons of oil were processed.  By 1967, whales became scarce and operation was ceased. The military took over Donkergat in 1967 and it became a restricted area, as it is till today.

Langebaan became more popular with retired farmers from the Swartland area and the town  grew as a holiday destination, due to the safe lagoon. On 19 November 1976, the town received Municipal status.Till today, there are lot of foreign surnames under local community, which came from fortune hunters who made their money from whaling.





The Dutch, under the VOC (Dutch East India Company), also traded with India, and seek a suitable location as a  refreshment station for their ships. The point of Africa, was perfect.  Jan van Riebeeck was appointed to set up a base at the Cape of Good Hope. He arrived on the 6th April 1652 with 3 ships. Trading was important with the Khoihoi tribe, to provide meat. In 1657 the VOC released a number of its servants from their contracts to become free settlers in the Cape with the purpose to raise cattle and grow crops. Van Riebeeck was constantly on the lookout for new areas, to extend trade and where free settlers could farm. Scouts were sent out in  October1662 and  Jan van Riebeeck, personally came to Saldanha Bay to access the area. He concluded that Saldanha bay was not suited for farming or habitation because of the lack of water for 8 months of the year. He though that is more perfect as a harbour to shelter ships from strong sea and winds and do ship repairs. 



The next expedition was under Vasco da Gama, that left Lisbon with 4 ships and 170 crew on 8 July 1497. He reached St Helena Bay, West Coast, on 8 November 1497, where he stayed for 8 days, before completing the route and reaching India, in May 1498, During his "discovery" of Southern Africa, he made contact with the Khoihoi/Khoisan tribe. They were nomadic herders with vast herds of cattle and sheep and stayed in villages. It was recorded that the 1713 small-pox epidemic, was one of the main causes for the disappearance  of the Khoihoi from the West Coast. 

Jan van Riebeeck
Jan van Riebeeck
Jan van Riebeeck lands in Cape
Old map of Africa
Battle of Saldanha
Battle of Saldanha
battle of saldanha
guano collection on Schaapen Island
Guano on Schaapen Island
Guano on Schaapen island
Bartolomeu Dias
Vasco da Gama, discoverer of West Coast
Dias with discovery map
Da Gama ship
The route Vasco da Gama sailed
Donkergat whaling station
Donkergat whaling station
Donkergat whaling station
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