In the early days of Dutch settlement in the Western Cape explorers and farmers that moved eastward from Cape Town to settle in the area encountered Khoikhoi and San people who lived there and had been living there for thousands of years. Present day Swellendam was home to the Hessequa Khoi tribe.
In 1743 Swellendam was declared a magisterial district and became the third oldest town in South Africa. It was named after Governor Hendrik Swellengrebel and his wife Helena Ten Damme. The control of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was further established with the construction of the Drostdy building which housed the residence and administrative quarters of the Landdrost or magistrate.
During its early days, the town was an important refreshment station along the coastal road and a gateway to the interior. In those days, the town was managed according to the rules of the (VOC), but after poor management and other grievances, the residents led a revolt against the company in 1795 and declared themselves an independent republic. However, this rebellion was short-lived due to British colonial expansion.
During the 1800s, the Barry family was instrumental in establishing Swellendam as a centre of trade. As it took weeks for anything to be transported by ox-wagon from Cape Town, the Barry’s pioneered the transport of goods along the nearby Breede River which was the only navigable river in the country. Unfortunately, due to many factors this business enterprise crumbled, but evidence of this trade can still be seen at Malgas where the historic River Pont is still in use.
By the middle of the 19th century, the eastern districts had been colonized by the British settlers and Swellendam was a thriving metropolis.
Swellendam is rich in historic buildings and heritage Sites.
The Drostdy was built by the Dutch East India Company in 1747 to serve as residence and official headquarters for the Landdrost.
Ambagswerf (Trade yard) For the settlers to survive they had to be self-sufficient and generate their own food and clothes as well as build their own wagons, furniture and household necessities.
The NG Church was build in 1798. The towns first pastor was appointed by the name Ds.J.H van Manger. It has a small but beautiful cemetery.
The land on which this H-shaped house is situated was granted to Jacobus Wessel van Dijk in 1818. He was one of the well-known wainwrights of Swellendam and built the house round 1825. The building was then purchased for a school in 1896.