From Val du Charron to Wellington
The story of Wellington alias Val du Charron or Wagenmakervallei is nothing less than enchanting. With more French people settling here than anywhere else in the Cape, the town was initially called Val du Charron, meaning valley of the wagon makers. The robust wagons constructed here to withstand the rigours of long and arduous journeys into the hinterland made Wellington real border country – a wild and untamed place, encircled by a forbidding mountain range that formed the very outer limits of the settlement. It started with the first French Huguenots who dared to venture beyond the furthest reaches of the Cape settlement, across the Berg River, and into the hostile and unforgiving wilderness.
Wellington circa 1937
The name Wellington dates back to the founding of the town’s first church. The grateful community wished to honour John Addey, and the name ''Addey’s Dorp” was unsuccessfully mooted. An attempt to name the town after Sir George Napier was also rejected, as a local town bearing his name already existed. It was Napier himself who wrote over the application letter, “…call it Wellington. It is a disgrace that in this colony no town bears the name of England's greatest soldier”. On 22 March 1840, the town of Wellington was proclaimed, named after the English duke, Arthur Wellesley, who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo – a somewhat ironic choice, and a contradiction, considering the town’s French forbears!
One of Wellington's greatest assets is its fertile soil, and during the summer mother nature's larder overflows with a bountiful harvest— to be bottled, dried, processed and sold— often in distant lands far across the oceans. During the thirties and forties Wellington was known as the centre of the apricot industry. However, the emphasis has recently shifted to the wine and vine nursery industry.
Our spiritual soil has proved just as fruitful. Evangelical seeds were sown in greater quantities in this valley than anywhere else, thanks to the dedication and devotion of many foreigners who arrived here and, through their earnest prayers, made these seeds germinate, shoot and flower. With the Bible as platform, they successfully transformed Wellington into a showpiece, demonstrating to the rest of the country how teaching based on Biblical principles can lead to the highest form of civilization and culture, and an unrivalled inner refinement. They came to this continent from Scotland, America and Holland - not as traders, prospectors, or dissipated seekers of material pleasure, but because they had a higher calling - to serve, to build and to evangelize. The names of these visionary men and women can be found today on the many streets and buildings that stand as proud and lasting monuments - a testimony to their lives and works. The founding fathers who first planted the roots of the town did so in full knowledge that their actions would have positive and far-reaching consequences, for this valley has been able to offer each successive generation a sustenance more potent than mere food and drink. There is a unique awareness of lingering spiritual inheritance that has concealed itself in the companionable folds of the Hawekwa mountains, radiating a sweet blessedness.
The laying of Wellington's solid educational foundation was largely due to the effort of one man— the highly respected Scottish man of God, Dr Andrew Murray. It was the very quiet, contemplative country life in Wellington that led Murray to a deeper, truer knowledge of God, and ultimately to the writing of many books, through which he became a blessing to thousands. He was in the prime of his life, and by God’s providence was to spend the remaining 45 years of his life in Wellington. At this stage he had already demonstrated his talents as an educator, which was to be a great asset in his new working environment. Between 1871, the year of his tenure as pastor to the Dutch Reformed Church of Wellington, and 1917, when passed away, Andrew Murray imbued the town of Wellington with so many institutions of faith, learning and care, that over time he helped shape the town's essential character. In the days of his prime his appeal stirred thousands, for his influence in the pulpit was magnetic.
He was essentially a man of prayer, but at the same time a practical man of affairs.
Wellington has long been a source of inspiration to writers past and present. Former luminary South African authors and poets include C.P. Hoogenhout, Adam Small, Breyten Breytenbach, P.H. Nortje, and others. The area continues to nurture contempory writers as Winnie Rust and Riana Scheepers.
Andrew Murray came to Wellington as a Dutch Reformed Church pastor in 1871 and he passed away here in 1917. During this time he imbued the town of Wellington with so many institutions of faith, learning and care, that over time he helped shape the town’s essential character—that of a great educational centre. Many elegant buildings to house all his projects, still bears testimony to this legacy. Fine examples are the Hugueonot Seminary, Goodnow Hall, Ferguson Hall, Cummings House and the Mission Institute, Samuel House. In the days of his prime, his appeals stirred thousands, for his influence in the pulpit was magnetic. He was essentially a man of prayer, but at the same time a man of practical affairs—a true son of Wellington and one of it’s worhtiest hero’s.
Petrus Johannes Cillie, or "Piet California", as he later became known, was born in June 1856, on the family farm Rhebokskloof in Wellington, where he grew up with his four brothers and four sisters. His chief interest was in dried fruit, and in 1887 he received a certificate commending him for the high quality of export produce. He rapidly became known as the leader in the field, and was acknowledged as one of the Boland’s most prominent farmers. In 1904 F.D. Macdermott wrote a report in the article journal about the 'Pioneer Dried Fruit Company Ltd' in Wellington, in which he mentions that the proud managing director P.J. Cillié should be acknowledged as the originator of the South African fruit-drying company.
Abraham Izak Perold is often referred to as the founder and architect of South Africa's entire flourishing wine industry, and for good reason, for much of its success today can be attributed to the enterprise to this far-sighted Wellingtoner. Perold matriculated in Wellington in 1898, and thereafter attended Victoria College in Stellenbosch. Perold was a truly gifted man, with a remarkable intelligence and eloquence. His training in the basic sciences, coupled with his skills in contemporary logistics, enabled him to provide an immeasurable service to the South African wine industry, and he can rightfully be seen as the founder of the modern South African viticulture and viniculture.
Schalk Willem Petrus (“Schalla”) Burger Jr was born in Port Elizabeth on April 13 1983, yet grew up in Wellington. Schalk made his debut for the Springboks playing against Georgia in Sydney, Australia, and scoring a try in his career-opening match. He then became a professional rugby player, which made an end to his cricket career. In 2004, still only an u/21 rugby player, Schalk astounded the world of rugby with his performance for South Africa and claimed the 2004 ABSA SA Rugby Player of the Year award. Burger was also awarded the most prestigious rugby player's award, the IRB International Player of the Year award in the 2004 season.
Breyten Breytenbach is a international celebrated poet, author, artist, essayist. Breytenbach who was born in Bonnievale matriculated in Wellington and studied Fine Arts at the University of Cape Town, before leaving the country in 1959. His literary debut Catastrophes (1964), a volume of stories, was followed by The Iron Cow Must Sweat. Breytenbach worked as political activist from the 1960s onwards, drawing international attention to the human rights violations and collaborating closely with UNESCO and the ANC. In 1975, on an "illegal" visit to South Africa to make contacts with activists and trade unionists, he was arrested, charged under the Terrorism Act and jailed for seven years. Released from prison in 1982, he left for Paris where he obtained French citizenship. Breytenbach's prison memoir, The True Confessions of an Albino Terroris t (1983), is widely recognized as a South African classic and has been translated into several other languages.
Valiant Swart. His real name is Pierre Nolte and he was born and raised in Wellington. He taught himself to play guitar when 11 years old and shortly thereafter, started to write lyrics and during his high school days played in various bands. After school he underwent 2 years' military conscription (1988 - 1989). During 1988 and 1989 played with Koos Kombuis at various bars in Hillbrow. He started the first Valiant Swart Band in 1990. He had a brief stint as corporate PRO for a few months from 1990 - 1991, but gave it up for rock 'n roll. Valiant either performs with his full band, or solo, with acoustic guitar and harmonica. He has played close to 3 000 shows all over South Africa, at most major festivals, in theatres, clubs and bars, as well as in Namibia, England, the USA and Holland. The soundtrack album of the hit TV series Song vir Katryn achieved gold status.