History of Oudtshoorn and Ostriches South Africa
The area in which Oudtshoorn is situated was originally inhabited by the
Bushmen, as evidenced by the many rock paintings that are found in caves
throughout the surrounding Swartberg mountains.
The first European explorers of the area was a trading party led by a
certain Ensign Shrijver, who were guided there by a Griqua via an
ancient elephant trail in January 1689. The expedition reached as far as
present-day Aberdeen before turning back and exiting the Klein Karoo
valley through Attaquas Kloof on 16 March of the same year. However, it
was only a a hundred years later that the first farmers started settling
in the region.
The first large permanent structure of the Klein Karoo, a church of
the Dutch Reformed denomination, was first erected in 1839 near the
banks of the Grobbelaars River. The village (and later town) of
Oudtshoorn gradually grew around this church; it was named after Baron
Pieter van Rheede van Oudtshoorn, who was appointed Governor of the Cape
Colony in 1772 but died on the voyage out.
A small one-room school was opened in 1858, followed by the formation
of a municipality and the founding of an Agricultural Society in 1859.
During the same year work was also started on a larger church to replace
the original small one.
Unfortunately, 1859 also signalled the start of a long and serious
drought which severely depressed the national economy - by 1865 there
was serious poverty. When the drought was finally broken by floods in
1869 the depression lifted and Oudtshoorn was transformed from a
struggling village to a town of great prosperity.
First Ostrich Boom
The main reason for the large rise in prosperity was the ostrich,
whose feathers had become extremely popular as fashion accesories in
Europe; they were especially popular for use on hats. Between 1875 and
1880 ostrich prices reached up to GBP 1,000 a pair. The farmers of the
region, realising that ostriches were far more profitable than any other
activity, ripped out their other crops and planted lucerne, which was
used as feed for the ostriches. The rising wealth also finally allowed
for the completion of the Dutch Reformed Church - it was opened on 7
Due to overproduction the ostrich industry experienced a sudden slump
in fortunes in 1885; the town's misery was compounded when it was hit by
severe flooding during the same year, which washed away the nearby
Victoria Bridge which had been built over the Olifants River only the
Second Ostrich Boom
The ostrich industry recovered only slowly and it was not until after
the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902 that a second and bigger boom
started. It was during this period that most of Oudtshoorn's famously
opulent "Feather Palaces" were built. This boom peaked in 1913, before
collapsing in 1914. As a result the region's economy was ruined and most
farmers returned to more traditional crops.
Sourced from www.wikipedia.com