A postcard tour of old Cape Town

Twenty-one old postcards of the Cape

A bunch of 21 old postcards of various scenes in Cape Town gives a fascinating insight into what Cape Town looked like about 100 years ago.

The postcards come from the collection of my great aunt Hettie McGregor, who lived for many years in a house in the suburb of Tamboers Kloof, Cape Town. The house, in Hillside Road, had been bought by her father the Rev. Andrew McGregor, who called it, rather grandly, Rob Roy Villa.

As far as I can ascertain from post office date stamps (the cards have all been postally used) the oldest cards date from 1903 and the latest from 1916.

The cards all show scenes in and around Cape Town except for three that show scenes from further afield on the Cape Peninsular.


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Woodhead Reservoirs on Table MountainPlatteklip Gorge
Woodhead Reservoirs on Table Mountain
Woodhead Reservoirs on Table Mountain
Platteklip Gorge
Platteklip Gorge

The Table Mountain cards

Two of the cards show scenes from Table Mountain, the reservoirs on the top of the mountain and the popular route for climbers up the mountain called Platteklip (literally "Flat Rock") Gorge, up which I have climbed many times myself.

The views from the sea

Two of the cards show Cape Town from the sea, one entitled "The first sight of Cape Town" and the other showing Mouille Point Lighthouse. This latter card was sent to my great-grandmother on her birthday in 1904. The view of Mouille Point is rather what we might call these days "Photo Shopped"!

The first sight of Cape Town
The first sight of Cape Town
Mouille Point Lighthouse from the sea
Mouille Point Lighthouse from the sea
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St Stephen's Church and the Old Slave MarketThe Cape Town City HallThe Grootte Kerk at the top of Adderley StreetQueen Victoria's statue in front of the Houses of Parliament
St Stephen's Church and the Old Slave Market
St Stephen's Church and the Old Slave Market
The Cape Town City Hall
The Cape Town City Hall
The Grootte Kerk at the top of Adderley Street
The Grootte Kerk at the top of Adderley Street
Queen Victoria's statue in front of the Houses of Parliament
Queen Victoria's statue in front of the Houses of Parliament

Cape Town buildings

The next group of cards shows buildings around Cape Town. One, dating from 1905, shows St Stephen's Church on what used to be called "The Old Slave Market" and is now known as Riebeeck Square. This building is little changed today, although the surrounding buildings have all disappeared.

The next card shows the Cape Town City Hall and was posted on 21 February 1906. The City Hall was at that time not yet one year old. It was designed by architects Harry Austin Reid and Frederick George Green of Johannesburg and the foundation stone was laid on 29 August 1900. The building was inaugurated on 25 July 1905. As a young boy I was taken to many symphony concerts in this grand old building as it was for many years the home of the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra. Nelson Mandela made his first public address after his release from prison in 1990from the balcony of the City Hall.

The next card is of the Grootte Kerk, the mother church of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa. This church was dedicated in 1841 although the foundations had been laid in 1700. A church had been built on those foundations where the Grootte Kerk now stands, but it was completely remodelled before the 1841 dedication, only the clock tower remaining of the earlier building.

The Houses of Parliament on Government Avenue are the subject of the next card, with the statue of Queen Victoria dominating the gardens in front of the building. The building was completed in 1884 and was designed by Henry Greaves, based on an earlier design by Charles Freeman. This card was posted on 20 October 1904.

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The flower sellers in Adderley StreetThe Gardens with sundial and statue of Cecil John RhodesView of Table MountainCape Town and Devil's Peak
The flower sellers in Adderley Street
The flower sellers in Adderley Street
The Gardens with sundial and statue of Cecil John Rhodes
The Gardens with sundial and statue of Cecil John Rhodes
View of Table Mountain
View of Table Mountain
Cape Town and Devil's Peak
Cape Town and Devil's Peak
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Kloof RoadRogge BayTable Bay and the CityTable BayThe gates of the South African College in Government AvenueGrave Avenue RondeboschThe statue of Jan van Riebeeck
Kloof Road
Kloof Road
Rogge Bay
Rogge Bay
Table Bay and the City
Table Bay and the City
Table Bay
Table Bay
The gates of the South African College in Government Avenue
The gates of the South African College in Government Avenue
Grave Avenue Rondebosch
Grave Avenue Rondebosch
The statue of Jan van Riebeeck
The statue of Jan van Riebeeck

Other sights in Cape Town

The flower sellers in Adderley Street are still an attraction today. In this card they are plying their trade on the sidewalk, while now they have permanent stalls next to the old Standard Bank building. This card was posted in 1909 and shows Adderley Street as a busy thoroughfare with a horse-drawn cart and two electric trams. What a different place it is now, with cars in their thousands thronging the road.

On the opposite side of Government Avenue from the Houses of Parliament are the old "Company Gardens" started by Jan van Riebeeck soon after he landed at the Cape in 1652. The next card, which was posted in October 1916, shows the old sundial and the statue of Cecil John Rhodes with the inscription on its plinth: "Your hinterland is there."

The next card, dated 1908, shows a view across the city from Signal Hill towards Table Mountain. In the foreground is the burial ground which the City fathers attempted to close down in 1886, an action which caused great unhappiness among the mostly Muslim inhabitants of the Bo-Kaap, the suburb on the slopes of Signal Hill.

The next card, entitled Cape Town and Table Mountain, actually shows Devil's Peak rather than Table Mountain. This card was posted in 1904 but I think the photo is considerably earlier than that date.

Kloof Road is the road over the "neck" between Table Mountain and Lion's Head. This card is, I think, the oldest of the bunch, having been posted in December 1903.

The photo of fishing boats landing their catches at Rogge Bay is interesting in that the pace no longer exists as a bay having been "reclaimed" from the sea when the Cape Town Harbour was built. The reclamation project started in 1937 and continued into the 1960s, opening up huge areas known as the "foreshore". Where this photograph was taken is now close to the Cape Town International Convention Centre and some major international hotels.

Table Bay

The next two cards, one of which is postmarked 1914, show views across the city into the bay. Interestingly the one postmarked 1914 was published by Valentine's Cape Town branch. Valentine's was a large Scottish publishing company and I was not aware that they had a Cape Town operation.

The South African College, of which the gates are the subject of the next card, was the forerunner of the University of Cape Town (UCT). It was situated at the top of Government Avenue. Great aunt Hettie was in the first class of women graduates from this university.

The next card is of Grave Avenue in the suburb of Rondebosch. It is postmarked 1916.

The last card in the Cape Town proper series is of the statue of the leader of the original settlement in the Cape, Jan van Riebeeck. This statue now stands on an enlarged plinth on the Heerengracht, a street which is a continuation on the reclaimed foreshore of Adderley Street, the main street of Cape Town.

South of Cape Town

The next card is of a typical small Cape Dutch house. It was published by Raphael Tuck and Sons and printed in Berlin.

The last card is of the Naval range in the Royal Navy base at Simon's Town towards the southern end of the Cape Peninsular. The rocky hill in the background is typical of the area, although where this particular photo was taken is now most likely very built up.

The Naval Base at Simon's Town was established by the Royal Navy in 1814 and only handed over to the South African Navy in the 1960s.

Old Cape Dutch homestead
Old Cape Dutch homestead
The Naval Range, Simon's Town
The Naval Range, Simon's Town

Copyright Notice

The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Tony McGregor 2008

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Comments 15 comments

VioletSun profile image

VioletSun 7 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

This was nice too read and look at; my favorite are the flower sellers with their long dresses and the men dressed elegantly wearing their hats. 

Thumbs up!


VioletSun profile image

VioletSun 7 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

Ooops, I posted my response twice. Just erased it, and added this comment. :)


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

Very nice hub. Loved the post cards.


ESAHS 7 years ago

"Very well written hub with some exellent thoughts included!"

"Two thumbs up!"

CEO E.S.A.H.S. Association


eonsaway profile image

eonsaway 7 years ago from New Mexico, USA

Must bring back memories going through these old p.cards.


Anthony James Barnett - author 7 years ago

Interesting stuff. It's always good to take a peep at 'how things were', and when that peep is at a personal collection, it makes it all the more intimate.


rongould profile image

rongould 7 years ago

Interesting view from a historical perspective. I am glad the postcards were saved and that you shared them with us. Thanks!


no body profile image

no body 7 years ago from Rochester, New York

Thank you for sharing the beautiful cards that speak of a full and happy life. I am in awe of your home and perhaps I and my wife could travel there one day. We are not really travelers but I can try to convince her. Thanks buddy.


dohn121 profile image

dohn121 6 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

Hey, Tony. I love to travel, photos, and history, so naturally, I was instantly attracted to this hub just as soon I saw it on your profile page! You really have in your possession a real treasure trove of history. I was actually thinking of making a time capsule for the future generation of my family but have yet to start it (in truth, most of it is in the attic, haha). This was wonderful to read. It really is amazing how all of these pictures are forever frozen in time, along with the messages written upon them. I'd like to thank you Aunt Hettie McGregor for keeping these in such great shape and thank you so much for sharing them with all of us!

Warmest Regards,

Dohn


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Dohn - thanks for the visit and the great comment. Glad you enjoyed this Hub and Aunt Hettie was a great old lady!

Love and peace

Tony


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

What treasures these post cards are. They provide a trip back in time..."Accept best wishes for a bright and happy Christmas" on the card from the Simon's Town naval range!

Thanks for sharing.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

RTalloni - these post cards are treasures indeed and I do love them. Glad you picked up on the irony.

Thanks for stopping by.

Love and peace

Tony


jeanihess profile image

jeanihess 4 years ago from Cape Town South Africa

Postcards make interesting collections:)


Sebastian 3 years ago

Think about it in the bigger piucrte, TABLE MOUNTAIN as one of the 7 WONDERS OF THE WORLD. More tourist means more money for the country, more money means tighter security, which means a saver and better environment to grow in. December traffic could be stopped if we had more money(due to AMERICANS) to set up better platforms for public transport, then the traffic will also slow down Dude, seriously think about what it could do for Cape Town and us in general Hope you voted ;)


Nadine May profile image

Nadine May 2 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

I found your great hub on the old postcards of Cape Town after I published an article on the 2014 Cape Argus Cycle tour. I'm always glad to mean a hub page member from South Africa.

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