The Moravian Church (originated in 1457 in Moravia, today part of Slovakia) had a particular zeal for mission and in 1737 the young bachelor missionary Georg Schmidt was sent to the Cape. Many thought that mission work among the Khoi (Hottentots) was attempting the impossible, but in spite of this Schmidt settled on 23 April 1738 in Baviaans Kloof (Ravine of the Baboon) in the Riviersonderend Valley.
Schmidt became acquainted with an impoverished and dispersed Khoi people who were practically on the threshold of complete extinction. Apart from the few kraals, which still remained, there were already thirteen farms in the vicinity of Baviaans Kloof. Within a short while Schmidt formed a small Christian congregation. He taught the Khoi to read and write, but when he began to baptize his converts there was great dissatisfaction among the Cape Dutch Reformed clergy.
According to them, Schmidt was not an ordained minister and as such, was not permitted to administer the sacraments. Consequently he had to abandon his work, and in 1744, after seven years at Baviaans Kloof, he left the country.
Before the arrival of the Dutch in 1652, the Overberg was inhabited by Khoi tribes known as the Hessequas and Attaquas. The trading parties of Dutch people came to the area to barter for cattle and to cut timber early in the 18th century. After Willem Adriaan van der Stel was recalled as Governor in 1707 (he owned large tracts of land here) loan-farms in the Overberg were granted to Burgers and officials alike. The occupation was helped on its way by Company posts established inter alia at Soetmelksvlei and Tygerhoek, both farms being on the Riviersonderend River.
All this happened to the exclusion of the Hessequas, (the Attequas living more to the east), who lost their land and herbs in the process. A large-scale and deadly smallpox epidemic in 1713 aggravated their position and they gradually became landless people, servants on the land of the Dutch farmers.
One of the loan-farms was Weltevreden in the foothills of the majestic mountains, nestling along the Gobos River, a perennial stream and tributary of the Riviersonderend. The farm was first loaned in 1791 to MW Theunissen, a member of the renowned Theunissen family who owned much land and played an important role in the affairs of the Overberg. He built a house on Weltevreden in 1793, but unfortunately not even the ruins remain today.
In 1795 the farm was taken over by Hendrik Cloete of Groot Constantia. He was the Cape tycoon who owned many farms in the Overberg, including Mosselrivier (now Hermanus) and De Hoop, which is now a Nature Reserve on the coast north of Arniston. After the British occupations of the Cape in 1795 and again in 1806, Weltevreden became a freehold farm in his hands. Soon the so-called “British Invasion” of the Overberg started and in 1839 the first British owner of Weltevreden was John Malcolm Stewart. A few years before 1839, Weltevreden was offered for sale to the missionaries of Genadendal, but the offer was not accepted.
During 1842, two brothers of Huguenot descent, Henry Vigne (1805 – 1881) and Herbert Vigne (1821-1895) emigrated from England to settle in the Cape. They acquired Tygerhoek – now the town of Riviersonderend, and settled there. The farm remained in the hands of the Vigne family for 120 years. The Vigne brothers were related by marriage to Lady Anne Barnard, who toured the Overberg in 1798, as well as to the governor-to-be, Sir George Grey.
Henry, apart from being a successful farmer, became a respected gentleman and politician in the Cape Court. Herbert on the other hand, still young, had quite an eventful time and reputedly had misalliances both in Genadendal and on the Eastern Cape frontier. After many disagreements, he was banned from Tygerhoek and in 1846 settled on the farm Bosjesmansklooof, next to Weltevreden. He acquired Weltevreden soon after that.
Founding the Village
The First 150 Years
In 1854 Herbert Vigne founded a freehold agricultural village on his farm Weltevreden. He kept two small portions for himself and bequeathed the remainder of the farm to the proprietors of the erven as commonage, naming it “GREYTON”, after Sir George Grey, the then Governor of the Cape. The layout of the village was designed and set out by J G Rietz, a senior surveyor at the time. The layout remains essentially the same with only a few changes and additions through the years. In the 1860s Herbert married a young girl of British stock named Elizabeth Belshaw – 27 years his junior! They settled on their town farm De Bos, in the village (subsequently subdivided by his heirs after his death in 1895). Elizabeth bore him a legitimate family of three sons and a daughter to add to the illegitimate offspring of his younger days, whom he was to acknowledge in the village. Vigne Lane was later named after him.
The erven were long and narrow and were serviced with water running in “leiwater” furrows, which crisscrossed the village. Cottages, in the rural Cape Vernacular style, were built close to the street leaving large pieces of the erven for horticultural pursuits. The produce consisted of a variety of vegetables and fruits such as onions, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, beetroot, carrots, pomegranate, apricots, pears and the like.
Although the reason for the establishment of the village remains obscure, the fact is that Herbert Vigne left us with a village of unsurpassed beauty and enchantment. It is a wonder that the essence of the village and its Cape Vernacular architectural environment are largely intact and that the out-of-context and unresponsive development that has destroyed so many small towns of the Cape has up to now passed Greyton by.