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Seagetaway - History of Simon's Town
Simon's Bay and Simon's Town - an historical perspectiveby Dr Boet Dommisse
Simon's Bay owes its name and original importance to Governor Simon van der Stel, who personally surveyed False Bay in 1687. He recommended Simon's Bay as a sheltered safe winter anchorage - but it was only in 1741, after many shipwrecks in Table Bay, that the Dutch East India Company decreed that their vessels anchor in Simon's Bay from May to August.
The development of the small settlement, Simon's Vlek, was slow due to the almost impossible access overland to Cape Town. However stores were built, ships repaired and fresh provisions supplied. A three-gabled hospital was built as well as a few more substantial houses.
Simon's Town, as we know it today, grew more rapidly with the establishment of the Royal Naval Base there soon after the second British occupation in 1806. Admiralty House, previously a private dwelling, dates from 1814.
During the 19th century the Simon's Town Naval Base was responsible for the care of Napoleon Bonaparte, exiled to St Helena Island, until his death in 1821. The Royal Navy was actively involved in combating the slave trade from African ports.
The railway line eventually reached Simon's Town in 1890 and furthered the development of the town and harbour. The Royal Navy was responsible for the care of the Boer prisoners-of-war in Bellevue Camp - now a golf course - . during the Anglo-Boer War (1899 - 1902). During the First World War a Japanese Cruiser guarded Town. The Simon's Town harbour and the Selborne dry-dock were completed in 1910 and more than 300 ships underwent repairs in Simon's Town during the Second World War.
In April 1957 the Naval Base was handed over to the South African Government. The harbour was extended and several new ships, including three submarines, were purchased.
Meanwhile the small town had expanded along the shoreline and up the hillside. Many businesses and a few hotels were built along St George's Street, and many of these historic buildings still exist today, constituting the Historic Mile with Jubilee Square, overlooking the yacht basin, as its central point. Simon's Town with its naval harbour had a diverse cosmopolitan community with many races and nationalities. Tragically in 1967 the Group Area Act declared Simon's Town a "White Group Area", and a large and important section of the community was displaced - leaving large parts of the town derelict.
Over the past two decades Simon's Town has attracted many new residents with a subsequent building boom, which has fortunately not destroyed the historical and cultural appeal of the old town. The advent of democracy in 1994 and the recent expansion of the, fully integrated, South African Navy has given a further impetus to the growth of Simon's Town, which now attracts thousands of visitors every year. While most come to see the penguins and the whales, many tarry to appreciate the unique historical ambience of Simon's Town.
The Simon's Town Historical Society
was established in 1960 and has over 500 members. The Society supports the Museum by providing voluntary staff and substantial annual monetary contributions. There are monthly meetings with invited speakers and lectures to groups of scholars and tourists. Regular walking tours are also arranged. Annual membership fees are R 35 plus R 10 for spouses. For further information telephone Simon's Town Museum 021 786 3046 or the Hon. Sec. 021 786 1782.
There are several museums worth visiting in Simon's Town
Simon's Town Museum
in the Residency (c1777), Court Road reflects events in the development of Simon's Town through the centuries. Pay a visit to the museum to find out more about the history of Simon's Town
South African Naval Museum
in the Mast House (1815) alongside the Simon's Town Museum, but entrance from St George's Street, displays models of ships and related maritime events. Visit the Naval museum and experience the history of the South African Navy
The Heritage Museum
in Amlay House, down King George Street near the foundry, features aspects of the Moslem Community.
The Toy Museum
on St George's Street has a fascinating collection of model trains, cars and other toys of the past.