Although the first grant of land at Fish Hoek is usually said to be the 1818 grant, made by Lord Charles Somerset to Andries Bruijns, there was interest in the land before that. By the late 1700’s fishing had become more commercialised and there was a good living to be had from it. In June 1797 J. P. Kirsten applied to the Governor, Earl Macartney, for land at “the Visch Hok, that may be granted as a Loan Land without any prejudice either to Government or to any individual. Your Excellency’s Petitioner requests Your Excellency to grant the said Place called the Vischoek as a Loan Land to him on the usual rent of Rds 24 per annum.” (rix dollars) The letter was endorsed “To lie over” so no grant was made at that time.
Later that year Johannes Isaak Rhenius, also applied for land to establish a fishing business in the bay. He was a member of a well known Cape family and in 1795 had been appointed Collector-General and Treasurer by the Military Administrator, General Craig. Although it was not granted then, in March 1801 Rhenius was granted permission “to cause a cover to be put on the small Government Building at Visch Hoek Bay for the purpose of depositing his fishing materials therein on express condition that he shall be obliged to give the building up to the government whenever it shall be wanted.” This government building was the Dutch East India Company’s Watch House which had been deserted for many years and had fallen into disrepair. It was already being used by the fishermen but it would seem that Rhenius wanted to stake a claim to it.
In August 1801 he was given permission to cultivate a piece of land at what was to become Clovelly, “not exceeding two acres in extent, subject to six months notice by the Government, no house or building to be erected on it.” So Rhenius was the first official farmer in the Fish Hoek valley. In August 1802 he was granted land for a fishery in the bay but as the Cape was in the process of being handed over to the Batavian Republic he had to reapply to the new Governor, General Janssens, for confirmation of the grant, which was approved. This must have been a profitable business as it was not long after this that an Englishman, Robert Row, also applied to General Janssens for land at Fish Hoek to operate a fishery. Rhenius protested, but after investigating the situation the authorities decided that there was room for both of them and Row received his grant. There must have been great competition between them as to who reached the shoals of fish first, they must both have had their lookouts posted and would race out into the bay as the signal was given. Rhenius gave up his business about 1805 and Row, who was described as being “a man of speculative tendencies’, had many business projects going, but was eventually declared insolvent and left the area.
It seems that Andries Bruijns moved into Fish Hoek when Rhenius left. Whether this was by mutual consent or whether he just took over when the property became vacant is not known. However in 1806 he wrote to Sir David Baird, the British Commander at the Cape, stating there had been a fire in some of his buildings at Fish Hoek and he needed wood to repair them. He therefore asked for permission to cut two wagon loads of wood from “the Government woods near Noordhoek”. This request was referred to the Inspector of Government Woods who replied that the wood was known as “Bosch Wood and is solely appropriated for such spars, stakes, rails etc. as are suitable to the erection of Huts. It comprises under that name various species, amongst which are the Wild Pear, the Olive, the Red Elser and the White”. He was given permission to cut his two wagon loads of wood.
Although occupying the land Bruijns had never applied for ownership. However, it came to the notice of the authorities that he had a very prosperous business and was only paying a small rent for the land although he had improved and added to the buildings at his own expense. So in 1817 the Resident of Simon’s Town, J. H. Brand, was instructed to sell the land at Fish Hoek, thus putting Bruijns into the position of having to buy the land himself or go out of business. Brand must have sympathised with him for he inserted a clause into the advertisement of the sale stating that if anyone other that Bruijns bought the land the buildings would have to be demolished. For anyone else buying the land it would have been an expensive business to rebuild, so possibly because no one else was interested in it, on payment of 250 rix dollars Andries Bruijns became the owner of the Fish Hoek Farm on 25 June 1818.
For many years farmers coming from the western end of the valley had used Fish Hoek as an outspan as there were springs for water for their cattle and themselves. To keep the cattle from fouling the springs a kraal was built, probably near the area of the traffic circle at the Simon’s Town end of the Main Road. To preserve these, and other rights, six conditions were put into the title deed.
1. That the field lying behind the former Klip Kraal as far as the head of the mountain together with the watering place and dam which is situated a little beyond this, shall be used for the purpose of grazing and drinking cattle of people unteaming their wagons in frequenting the road, also a free passage to the left for cattle to and from Simon’s Town, Noordhoek or elsewhere.
2. That he shall be obliged to keep the fountain in good condition for the use of travellers passing there but not for the drinking of any cattle at all.
3. That his oxen-kraal shall also be at the disposal of those who either go thither for the purpose of fishing or others passing by and unteaming their oxen.
4. That also a passage be allowed or left for the purpose of digging iron stones (if necessary) either by Government or any other.
5. Not to keep a Public wine house and finally,
6. That the right of fishing shall be free as heretofore and the strand itself quite open to the public.
Most of these conditions have lapsed, although there has been much discussion with regard to the last two.
Fishing had been the main business of those occupying the land until this time, but one of the conditions of the title deed granted to Bruijns was that the land had to be cultivated as much as possible within three years. He carried on fishing for two years and then on 9 July 1820 sold the land to Isaac Lesar at a good profit. Lesar was a fisherman and it was in October 1821 that the brig Waterloo sailed into Fish Hoek Bay to load whale oil from his catch. She must have dragged her anchor and was blown on to the shore and wrecked. Early in November the Cape Town Gazette and African Adviser printed a sale notice. “On Tuesday the 6th instant, a Sale will be held on the beach at Fisch Hoek Bay, of the Masts, Yards, Sails, Rigging, Boat, Provisions, Furniture, Material and Damaged Cargo, saved from the wreck, with the Anchors and Cables, and such part of the Cargo as is not recovered. The sale will commence at 11 o’clock.”
Lesar kept the land for two years before, on 3 May 1822, he sold it to an Englishman, Thomas Palmer, for £3000. Palmer took out a mortgage of £6 000 from a Cape Town businessman, James Richardson, for improvements to the farm. Although it is not known exactly when the first part of the farmhouse was built it was probably Palmer who built it. Built in traditional Cape Dutch style, E shaped, with gables, it was called Bellevue and situated on the beach, before the days of the railway, it must, indeed, have had a wonderful view of the bay. The date 1710 was added to one of the gables at some point, perhaps by a later owner who wanted to boast of his old house, however there was no recorded building on this scale at Fish Hoek in the early 1700’s.
Palmer was not popular with other fishermen. Stephen Twycross, the owner of the fishery at Kalk Bay, complained to the authorities in 1823 that “he has in a second instance this day sent his boat and crew to land and hover about my fishery”. In 1827 Richardson was declared insolvent and as Palmer was unable to repay the balance of his debt to him the executors took over the farm. Realising that as most of the land was undeveloped sand hills it would fetch a better price if subdivided for sale they sold it off in three lots.
Lot A was the smallest but included the old Watch House. The whaling rights were included in this section which became known as The Great Whale Fishery. Lot B was the largest and included the farmhouse, Bellevue, and the fishing rights, this was known as the Harring Fishery, probably referring to the harders which were plentiful in the bay. Lot C was called Klein Tuin, some fields had been cultivated in what is now called Clovelly.
Lot A was sold to John Osmond of Simon’s Town, who owned a lot of property in the Peninsula. In 1830 he resold it to Thomas Thwaites who ran a whale fishery. One of the conditions of the sale of lots A and B was that the owner of A should have access to the spring on B, however Thwaites was denied access to the water and had to complain to the authorities. Possibly this is what ruined his business, something did, for he was declared insolvent in 1833 and the land sold to Collison and Co. run by Nicholas Collison and Joseph Starkey, who sold to J. H. J. and J. M. Muller in 1842.
When the land was divided, in 1827, Lot B was sold to J. G. Muller who kept it for only five months before selling to John Leibrandt for the same price for which he had bought it, £250. For this sum Leibrandt purchased 693 morgen which included the farmhouse. He was the owner of whom Thwaites wrote, “he has caused this spring or fountain of pure water aforesaid to be enclosed and unlawfully as it is contrary to the express conditions of sale at which the purchase of the said property was made, put the same under lock and key, which I fear must have been done with a malicious and cruel intent to deprive the fishermen employed on the adjoining property, lot A, amounting to nearly 30 persons, of the use and benefit of said water, which nature absolutely requires, thereby excluding them and the public from the enjoyment of their natural rights”. Leibrandt only kept the land for three years, during which time the situation with his neighbours must have been very strained. He sold to John Hendrik Muller in 1830 who sold to the brothers J. H. J. and J. M. Muller, who on buying Lot A in 1842 became the owners of what was then the entire Fish Hoek Farm.
Lot C, Klein Tuin, was sold to Jacob Hurter in 1827. It changed owners several times before it became the property of Gwendolyn McIntyre, and in 1902 the land was subdivided for sale as residential plots. The area was marketed as Mayville, but soon became known as Clovelly. Cape Estates Ltd. bought land there and in 1922 laid out a nine hole golf course, the beginning of the Clovelly Country Club.
The Muller brothers, who were part of a well known local fishing family, fished and farmed at Fish Hoek until 1871 when they sold out to James McLachlan for £850. However he did not make a success of his business and by 1875 he was in financial difficulties and was lucky enough to be able to sell the farm to James Wilson for £2 000, a very good profit, which hopefully solved his financial problems. Seven years later, on 5 October 1883, he sold it to Hester Sophia de Kock.
A spinster, fifty one years old, when she bought the farm, Hester de Kock had run a small school in Wale Street, Cape Town before coming to Fish Hoek. Why she bought the land is not known, although various reasons have been suggested. Perhaps she inherited some money or sold her school for a good price, whatever the reason she must have been a very strong character as in those days it was not usual for an unmarried woman to go into business on her own. Whilst the previous owners had concentrated more on the fishing side of the business she was more interested in farming and laid out fields for growing vegetables and wheat. The farmhouse was by now quite an extensive building. About 1837 an addition to the farmhouse had been built, called Goede Hoop, and a coach house was also added later, known as Brighton.
On 8 June 1901, at the age of sixty-nine, Hester de Kock married Jacob Izaak de Villiers, a widower with a farm at Noordhoek. One of his sons took over that farm and he came to live at Fish Hoek where he and Hester farmed together. The business did well, but more cultivation needed more water, so in 1902 she bought the rights to the water from the Kleintuin spring at Clovelly and had water piped to Fish Hoek where she built a small reservoir to augment the springs which supplied the farm. These water rights were passed on to the residents of Fish Hoek and were eventually leased to the Clovelly Country Club for a peppercorn rent.
The 1818 grant stipulated that public access to Fish Hoek beach had to be ensured and by the early 1900’s it was beginning to be known as wonderful place for a day’s outing. The extension of the railway from Kalk Bay to Simon’s Town in 1890, and the siting of a halt at Fish Hoek, made it easy for people from the suburbs of Cape Town to come and enjoy a day of sun and sea bathing. It was not long before they were asking permission from the de Villiers’ to be allowed to camp on their land. Being a shrewd businesswoman Hester de Villiers soon realised that that she could make money from this.
She let rooms in the farmhouse and converted her barn and coach house to provide holiday accommodation. The old Watch House, later to be known as Uitkyk, but then called Wharncliffe, although it had probably been called Uitkyk earlier, was also converted to rooms.
Her accommodation seems to have been very comfortable with water from her reservoir piped into all her buildings. Although the beach was not part of the farm property Izaak de Villiers kept a very stern eye on the visitors, rowdy behaviour and littering were not tolerated. So, with its clean beach and safe bathing Fish Hoek soon became known as a wonderful place for a family holiday.