George is the second largest city in the Western Cape province of South Africa. The city is a popular holiday and conference centre, as well as the administrative and commercial hub and the seat of the Garden Route District Municipality. It is named after the British Monarch George III.
The city is situated roughly halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth on the Garden Route.] It is situated on a 10-kilometre plateau between the Outeniqua Mountains to the north and the Indian Ocean to the south. The former township of Pacaltsdorp, now a fully incorporated suburb, lies to the south.
Prior to European settlement in the late 1700s the area was inhabited by the Khoekhoen tribes: the Gouriquas, Attequas and Outeniquas. Many places in the area, such as the surrounding Outeniqua Mountains, come from Khoekhoen names for these locations.
18th and 19th century
The settlement that was to become George was established as a result of the growing demand for timber and the wood used in building, transport and furniture. In 1777 the Dutch East India Company established an outpost for the provision of timber; its location is thought to be near the western end of York Street. The Timber Post had its own Poshouer (manager), some 12 woodcutters, a blacksmith and a wagon maker with their families, as well as 200 oxen. After 1795 and the British occupation of the Cape, a caretaker of the forests in the area was appointed. After the second British occupation in 1806, it was decided that the Swellendam magistracy was too large and needed to be sub-divided. George was chosen because of the availability of good water.
In 1811 George was declared a separate district and Adrian van Kervel was appointed the first Landrost (magistrate) and the town was proclaimed by the Earl of Caledon, governor of the Cape Colony on St George’s Day, 23 April 1811, and named after the reigning British monarch, King George III. The town’s main street, York Street, was named after King George’s second son Prince Frederick, Duke of York.
One of Van Kervel’s first acts as Landrost (Mayor), was to dig a furrow to supply the first thirty six plots in George with water. An 1819 map shows the original furrows and storage dam where they remain to this day in the Garden Route Botanical Garden. The first Furrow originated from the Rooirivier (Red river) and later a diversionary weir was built in the Camphersdrift River. George gained municipal status on the 24th March 1837.
George has an oceanic climate, with warm summers, and mild to chilly winters. It is one of the highest rainfall regions in South Africa. Most rain falls in the spring months, brought by the humid sea winds from the Indian Ocean.
The 2001 Census divided the urban area of George into four “main places”: George proper, population 68,557; Thembalethu, population 31,999; Pacaltsdorp, population 18,285; and Lawaaikamp, population 2,458. This gives a total population of 121,299 in the urban area. 51.2% of these people were female and 48.8% were male.
Of the total urban population, 49.5% described themselves as Coloured, 29.3% as “Black African”, 20.9% as “White”, and 0.3% as “Indian or Asian”. 65.4% spoke Afrikaans as their home language, 26.9% spoke Xhosa, 6.9% spoke English, and 0.9% spoke some other language.The 1936 census recorded a total population 9,075 residents with 3,437 of them being recorded as “Coloured” and 5,195 recorded as “White”.George has a sophisticated infrastructure with banks, conference facilities, businesses and shopping centres including the Garden Route Mall and Eden Meander, transport and sporting facilities, yet retains its small town atmosphere. The city is also a major accommodation centre.
George has numerous world-class golf courses, some designed by famous golfers. The most well-known is Fancourt Golf Estate, which hosted the Presidents Cup in 2003 and is often the host to high-profile golf tournaments.
Every December through 2010, top national rugby sevens teams from around the world came to Outeniqua Park for the South Africa Sevens, one of the tournaments in the IRB Sevens World Series. However, the tournament was moved to Port Elizabeth. December 2015 the Tournament was moved to the Green Point stadium in Cape Town.
George has many historical landmarks:
- The Slave Tree, an ancient English oak planted by Landdrost (magistrate) van Kervel, known as the Slave Tree because of the very large chain and lock embedded in the trunk, has been declared a national monument.
- The King Edward VII Library building, said to be the best example of Edwardian architecture in George.
The First Class School for girls was started by Miss Christina Petronella van Niekerk, a “New Age” young lady with visions for the future which were very different from those ideas held by the conservative population of George.
George is often used a base to explore Tsitsikamma National Park.
The Outeniqua Choo Tjoe was South Africa’s last scheduled mixed steam train service and operated on the Outeniqualand Preserved Railway between George and Knysna on the Garden Route. Opened in 1928 and declared a preserved line in July 1993, this train winds its way through picturesque scenery. However, after a landslide disrupted operations in 2007 service was maintained on the section between George, Hartenbos and Mossel Bay. In 2010 Transnet, the South African railway authority, decided to discontinue all operations of the Choo-Tjoe train. The Outeniqua Transport Museum houses a large collection of steam locomotives and carriages.
The Garden Route Botanical Garden is situated the top of Caledon Street. The Garden Route boasts the largest continuous natural forest area in South Africa, covering some 650 km2. Marketable timber is harvested from 20% of the State forest. Stinkwood, named for its unmistakable odour when freshly cut, is highly prized by the furniture industry, as are white pear, hard pear, ironwood and assegaai. The most sought after timber is the outeniqua yellowwood (Podocarpus falcatus).