A historical background of Oudtshoorn - by Adri Odendaal | iinfo TZANEEN

Oudtshoorn, a small town in South Africa’s Cape Province, became the new home for a thriving Litvak community, including Solomon
 
Gillis, who made his way from Kretinga to make his fortune during the Ostrich feather boom - the last two decades of the nineteenth century and up until World War I.
 
Oudtshoorn is located in the Klein (Little) Karoo, an arid region, 350 kilometers east of Cape Town. The name Karoo was given to the area by its original San (Bushman) residents, who have left behind rock paintings in the nearby Swartberg mountains, much of which is now a UNESCO natural World Heritage Site.
 
The Little Karoo is a fertile inland plateau wedged between the Swartberg- in the north and Langeberg- and Outeniqua mountains on the south. Oudtshoorn is the central town of the region. The first known Europeans to reach the Little Karoo, was a trading party led by a certain Ensign Shrijver, who were guided there by a Griqua, via an ancient elephant trail in January 1689. However, the area was only settled a hundred years later as a farm named Hartenbeesrivier.
 
The first large permanent structure, a Dutch Reformed Church, was first erected in 1839 near the banks of the Grobbelaars River on land donated by Cornelius Petrus Rademeyer. The town that gradually grew around this church, which was originally known as Veldschoendorp, was given the name Oudtshoorn, by the Magistrate of George, in memory of the daughter of Baron Pieter van Rheede van Oudtshoorn, who was appointed Governor of the Cape Colony by the Dutch East India Company, but died aboard ship in 1772, before his arrival at Cape Town.
 
Nothing really happened over the following decades, though a small school was opened in 1858, followed by the formation of a municipality, the founding of an Agricultural Society and work on a larger church to replace the original. Unfortunately, in 1859 a long and serious drought commenced which severely depressed the South African economy leading to serious poverty. The drought was finally broken by floods in 1869. With the depression lifted, Oudtshoorn was transformed from a struggling village to a town of great prosperity over the following decades.

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