1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cape Town

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Cape Town, the capital of the Cape Province, South Africa, in 33° 56′ S., 18° 28′ E. It is at the north-west extremity of the Cape Peninsula on the south shore of Table Bay, is 6181 m. by sea from London and 957 by rail south-west of Johannesburg. Few cities are more magnificently situated. Behind the bay the massive wall of Table Mountain, 2 m. in length, rises to a height of over 3500 ft., while on the east and west projecting mountains enclose the plain in which the city lies. The mountain to the east, 3300 ft. high, which projects but slightly seawards, is the Devil’s Peak, that to the west the Lion’s Head (over 2000 ft. high), with a lesser height in front called the Lion’s Rump or Signal Hill. The city, at first confined to the land at the head of the bay, has extended all round the shores of the bay and to the lower spurs of Table Mountain.

The purely Dutch aspect which Cape Town preserved until the middle of the 19th century has disappeared. Nearly all the stucco-fronted brick houses, with flat roofs and cornices and wide spreading stoeps, of the early Dutch settlers have been replaced by shops, warehouses and offices in styles common to English towns. Of the many fine public buildings which adorn the city scarcely any date before 1860. The mixture of races among the inhabitants, especially the presence of numerous Malays, who on all festive occasions appear in gorgeous raiment, gives additional animation and colour to the street scenes. The mosques with their cupolas and minarets, and houses built in Eastern fashion contrast curiously with the Renaissance style of most of the modern buildings, the medieval aspect of the castle and the quaint appearance of the Dutch houses still standing.

Chief Public Buildings.—The castle stands near the shore at the head of the bay. Begun in 1666 its usefulness as a fortress has long ceased, but it serves to link the city to its past. West of the castle is a large oblong space, the Parade Ground. A little farther west, at the foot of the central jetty is a statue of Van Riebeek, the first governor of the Cape. In a line with the jetty is Adderley Street, and its continuation Government Avenue. Adderley Street and the avenue make one straight road a mile long, and at its end are “the Gardens,” as the suburbs built on the rising ground leading to Table Mountain are called. The avenue itself is fully half a mile long and is lined on either side with fine oak trees. In Adderley Street are the customs house and railway station, the Standard bank, the general post and telegraph offices, with a tower 120 ft. high, and the Dutch Reformed church. The church dates from 1699 and is the oldest church in South Africa. Of the original building only the clock tower (sent from Holland in 1727) remains. Government Avenue contains, on the east side, the Houses of Parliament, government house, a modernized Dutch building, and the Jewish synagogue; on the west side are the Anglican cathedral and grammar schools, the public library, botanic gardens, the museum and South African college. Many of these buildings are of considerable architectural merit, the material chiefly used in their construction being granite from the Paarl and red brick. The botanic gardens cover 14 acres, contain over 8000 varieties of trees and plants, and afford a magnificent view of Table Mountain and its companion heights. In the gardens, in front of the library is a statue of Sir George Grey, governor of the Cape from 1854 to 1861. The most valuable portion of the library is the 5000 volumes presented by Sir George Grey. In Queen Victoria Street, which runs along the west side of the gardens, are the Cape University buildings (begun in 1906), the law courts, City club and Huguenot memorial hall. The Anglican cathedral, begun in 1901 to replace an unpretentious building on the same site, is dedicated to St George. It lies between the library and St George’s Street, in which are the chief newspaper offices, and premises of the wholesale merchants. West of St George’s Street is Greenmarket Square, the centre of the town during the Dutch period. From the balcony of the town house, which overlooks the square, proclamations were read to the burghers, summoned to the spot by the ringing of the bell in the small-domed tower. Still farther west, in Riebeek Square, is the old slave market, now used as a church and school for coloured people.

Facing the north side of the Parade Ground are the handsome municipal buildings, completed in 1906. The most conspicuous feature is the clock tower and belfry, 200 ft. high. The hall is 130 ft. by 62, and 55 ft. high. Opposite the main entrance is a statue of Edward VII. by William Goscombe John, unveiled in 1905. The opera house occupies the north-west corner of the Parade Ground. Plein Street, which leads south from the Parade Ground, is noted for its cheap shops, largely patronized on Saturday nights by the coloured inhabitants. In Sir Lowry Road, the chief eastern thoroughfare, is the large vegetable and fruit market. Immediately west of the harbour are the convict station and Somerset hospital. They are built at the town end of Greenpoint Common, the open space at the foot of Signal Hill. Cape Town is provided with an excellent water supply and an efficient drainage system.

The Suburbs.—The suburbs of Cape Town, for natural beauty of position, are among the finest in the world. On the west they extend about 3 m., by Green Point to Sea Point, between the sea and the foot of the Lion’s Rump; on the east they run round the foot of the Devil’s Peak, by Woodstock, Mowbray, Rondebosch, Newlands, Claremont, &c., to Wynberg, a distance of 7 m. Though these are managed by various municipalities, there is practically no break in the buildings for the whole distance. All the parts are connected by the suburban railway service, and by an electric tramway system. A tramway also runs from the town over the Kloof, or pass between Table Mountain and the Lion’s Head, to Camp’s Bay, on the west coast south of Sea Point, to which place it is continued, the tramway thus completely circling the Lion’s Head and Signal Hill. Of the suburbs mentioned, Green Point and Sea Point are seaside resorts, Woodstock being both a business and residential quarter. Woodstock covers the ground on which the British, in 1806, defeated the Dutch, and contains the house in which the articles of capitulation were signed. Another seaside suburb is Milnerton on the north-east shores of Table Bay at the mouth of the Diep river. Near Maitland, and 3 m. from the city, is the Cape Town observatory, built in 1820 and maintained by the British government. Rondebosch, 5 m. from the city, contains some of the finest of the Dutch mansions in South Africa. Less than a mile from the station is Groote Schuur, a typical specimen of the country houses built by the Dutch settlers in the 17th century. The house was the property of Cecil Rhodes, and was bequeathed by him for the use of the prime minister of Federated South Africa. The grounds of the estate extend up the slopes of Table Mountain. At Newlands is Bishop's Court, the home of the archbishop of Cape Town. More distant suburbs to the south-east are Constantia, with a famous Dutch farm-house and wine farm, and Muizenberg and Kalk Bay, the two last villages on the shore of False Bay. At Muizenberg Cecil Rhodes died, 1902. Facing the Atlantic is Hout's Bay, 10 m. south-south-west of Wynberg.

Most of the suburbs and the city itself are exposed to the south-east winds which, passing over the flats which join the Cape Peninsula to the mainland, reach the city sand-laden. From its bracing qualities this wind, which blows in the summer, is known as the “Cape Doctor.” During its prevalence Table Mountain is covered by a dense whitish-grey cloud, overlapping its side like a tablecloth.

The Harbour.—Table Bay, 20 m. wide at its entrance, is fully exposed to north and north-west gales. The harbour works, begun in 1860, afford sheltered accommodation for a large number of vessels. From the west end of the bay a breakwater extends north-east for some 4000 ft. East of the breakwater and parallel to it for 2700 ft. is the South pier. From breakwater and pier arms project laterally. In the area enclosed are the Victoria basin, covering 64 acres, the Alfred basin of 8½ acres, a graving dock 529 ft. long and a patent slip for vessels up to 1500 tons. There is good anchorage outside the Victoria basin under the lee of the breakwater, and since 1904 the foreshore east of the south pier has been reclaimed and additional wharfage provided. Altogether there are 2½ m. of quay walls, the wharfs being provided with electrical cranage. Cargo can be transferred direct from the ship into railway trucks. Vessels of the deepest draught can enter into the Victoria basin, the depth of water at low tide ranging from 24 to 36 ft.

Trade and Communication.—The port has a practical monopoly of the passenger traffic between the Cape and England. Several lines of steamers—chiefly British and German—maintain regular communication with Europe, the British mail boats taking sixteen days on the journey. By its railway connexions Cape Towh affords the quickest means of reaching, from western Europe, every other town in South Africa. In the import trade Cape Town is closely rivalled by Port Elizabeth, but its export trade, which includes diamonds and bar gold, is fully 70% of that of the entire colony. In 1898, the year before the beginning of the Anglo-Boer war, the volume of trade was:—Imports £5,128,292, exports £15,881,952. In 1904, two years after the conclusion of the war the figures were:—imports £9,070,757; exports £17,471,760. In 1907 during a period of severe and prolonged trade depression the imports had fallen to £5,263,930, but the exports owing entirely to the increased output of gold from the Rand mines had increased to £37,994,658; gold and diamonds represented over £37,000,000 of this total. The tonnage of ships entering the harbour in 1887 was 801,033 In 1904 it had risen to 4,846,012 and in 1907 was 4,671,146. The trade of the port in tons was 1,276,350 in 1899 and 1,413,471 in 1904. In 1907 it had fallen to 658,721.

Defence.—Cape Town, being in the event of the closing of the Suez Canal on the main route of ships from Europe to the East, is of considerable strategic importance. It is defended by several batteries armed with modern heavy guns. It is garrisoned by Imperial and local troops, and is connected by railway with the naval station at Simon's Town on the east of the Cape Peninsula.

Population.—The Cape electoral division, which includes Cape Town, had in 1865 a population of 50,064, in 1875 57,319, in 1891 97,238, and in 1904 213,167, of whom 120,475 were Whites. Cape Town itself had a population in 1875 of 33,000, in 1891 of 51,251 and in 1904 of 77,668. Inclusive of the nearer suburbs the population was 78,866 in 1891 and 170,083 in 1904. Of the inhabitants of the city proper 44,203 were white (1904). Of the coloured inhabitants 6561 were Malays; the remainder being chiefly of mixed blood. The most populous suburbs in 1904 were Woodstock with 28,990 inhabitants, and Wynberg with 18,477.

History and Local Government.—Cape Town was founded in 1652 by settlers sent from Holland by the Netherlands East India Co., under Jan van Riebeek. It came definitely into the possession of Great Britain in 1806. Its political history is indistinguishable from that of Cape Colony (q.v.). The town was granted municipal institutions in 1836. (Among the councillors returned at the election of 1904 was Dr Abdurrahman, a Mahommedan and a graduate of Edinburgh, this being, it is believed, the first instance of the election of a man of colour to any European representative body in South Africa.) The municipality owns the water and lighting services. The municipal rating value was, in 1880 £2,054,204, in 1901 £9,475,260, in 1908 (when the rate levied was 3d. in the £) £14,129,439. The total rateable value of the suburbs, not included in the above figures, is over £8,000,000. Rates are based on capital, not annual, value. The control of the port is vested in the Harbour and Railway Board of the Union.

Cape Town is the seat of the legislature of the Union of South Africa, of the provincial government, of the provincial division of the Supreme Court of South Africa, and of the Cape University; also of an archbishop of the Anglican and a bishop of the Roman Catholic churches.