History of Beaufort West

Province: Western Cape
Central Karoo
Coordinates:32°21′S 22°35′E
Area:56.5 km2
Municipality: Beaufort West

Original gangter town

In the late 1700s, the authorities in Cape Town were not very concerned with the lawlessness of the huge interior of their colony,
Gunrunning syndicates and cheap liquor passed across the ill-defined northern boundary of the Cape Colony through the Karoo. Naturally, these commodities were in high demand in the lawless environment.

Fortune hunters

It was only when the British took over the Cape after 1805 that a semblance of law and order was established. Adventurers, ivory traders, explorers, and big game hunters often passed through the area, in heavily loaded ox wagons en route towards the coast.
The town of Beaufort West was first established in the Central Karoo, this was in 1818 on the farm Hooivlakte (Hay flats.) The farm was granted by Governor Rijk Tulbagh to its original owner Godliep Rudolph Opperman in 1760. and The Dutch Reformed Church parish in Beaufort West was established in 1825. The name isBeaufort-Wes; in afrikaans and in Xhosa:it is eBhofolo)

Law and order

The town was first just called  Beaufort after Henry Somerset, The fifth Duke of Beaufort, father of Lord Charles Henry Somerset, Governor of the Cape Colony. That year, he sent Lieutenant John Baird to the northern areas of the Cape Colony as its first magistrate to maintain law and order in the northern frontier districts. West was added to the name later to avoid confusion with other towns with the name Beaufort in them.

The local jail was built in 1873,  in the heavy Neo-Classic manner of the mid-Victorian period. It is unknown why it was built in the main street. Its first jailer, an African-American, was also jailed there for negligence on duty Interestingly he escaped, never to be seen again.

Sad stories

The main street was named in honour of Sir Rufane Donkin, who acted as Governor from 1820 to 1821. Sir Rufane, lost his wife while they were in India. He was so devastated that he had his beloved Elizabeth’s heart embalmed and took it everywhere with him. When he died, Elizabeth’s heart was buried with him in England.

Sheep farming

The introduction of Merino sheep in the area was the beginning of prosperity in the town. One of the first Merino farmers was John Molteno a young Anglo-Italian. Molteno who founded the town’s first bank in 1854 also became the first Prime minister of the Cape.
In 1837 Beaufort West became the first municipality in South Africa. The arrival of the railroad in 1880, en route to Kimberly and later further north to the goldfields of Johannesburg brought more prosperity and Beaufort West became the locomotive depot, marshalling yard, and the largest town in the Karoo.

Droughts and floods and fossils

Beaufort West is a water-scarce area and some authority had to be established to manage the sparse springs. While the town is usually arid it has also been at the mercy of the Gamka river which occasionally comes down in flood. In 1869 the town’s dam wall collapsed causing six houses to be damaged, but a worse flood happened in 1941 when the river burst its banks and every building in the town was flooded. However, a milkman out on his daily round sadly was the only fatality.
Beaufort West is also one of the richest grounds for finding fossils and there have been many exciting finds.

Local people

When Beaufort West was established, Black people in the immediate vicinity moved closer and set up dwellings in and around the town.
Black and Coloured people, who were mostly descended from the Griekwas and Khoi Khoi, lived among the settler community in Bird and New streets and in the “Bodorp” for almost 60 years before a township was established
Sophie Grey, the wife of Bishop Robert Grey described the blacks as having been responsible for the building of the beautiful stone kraals in the area.


All listings in Beaufort west


Things to see and do in Beaufort West

  • De Jagers pass
  • Tour Mandelenkosi township on a bicycle at 078 965 8413
  • ASWD & Decti RTB Cross Country League-082 907 1296
  • Rock engravings at the complex at Nelspoort. Tel. 071-6142051
  • Karoo Birding Safaris, Tel. 083-7247916
  • Karoo Erdvark trail
  • British  Blockhouse dating from the Boer war
  • Ancient gong rocks were hammered for a resounding boom by the local Khoi. 023-4161648 ( info)
  • The clear Karoo skies are great for stargazing, see the spectacular Milky Way.
  •  Donkey Cart Rides at Olive Grove Guest Farm Tel: 023 414 3397
  • The Neo-Gothic Dutch Reformed church where Christian Barnard’s father was the preacher. This is now a museum where the history of apartheid is depicted
  • Beaufort West Town Hall built in 1886 is now a museum housing Chris Barnard who was the pioneer of the heart surgery, collection.
  • Get a brochure from the tourism office for a self-guided heritage tour around the town.023 415 1488
  • Beaufort West Agricultural show held in March 023 414 4905 / 0827771315
  • Horse riding, quad bike riding, and mountain bike trails. The Vale Karoo Farm, Tel. 082-9687991
  • The Bulkraal picnic spot is in the Karoo National Park. There are braai  and ablution facilities and a  clean swimming pool for day visitors
  • OldGirls public school
  • The postcode for Beaufort West is 6970 and the license plate prefix is CZ

Useful Numbers in Beaufort West

  • Police: 023 414 8800
  • Traffic department: 023 414 8166 / 023 414 8150 / 8157
  • Fire: 023 414 8176
  • Water: 023 414 8100
  • Electricity:023 414 8100
  • Ambulance: 10177
  • Post office; 023 414 2201
  • Library: regional 023 414 3511 / Pieter Jacobs ave023 414 8113 15 Church st
  • Closest hospital; 023 414 8200
  • Pharmacy; Nuweld pharm 023 414 2151
  • SPCA: 072 847 7312
  • Schools:Beaufort West srcondary 023 414 2386
    Sentraal high school 023 414 2552
    HM Dlikidla primary 023 417 3134
    AH Barnard 023 414 3731
    Mandlenkosi secondary school 023 415 2400
    Beaufort west Rustdene 023 414 3731 primary
    Beaufort West voorbereiding primary 023 414 2457
  • Museum; Chris Barnard museum 89 donkin st 023 415 2308
  • Tourism; info centre at 59 Donkin Street  023-4151488 / 087-7008210
  •  Local newspaper: Die Courier :. 023-4142615


Local Listings