1902 Encyclopedia > Cape Town

Cape Town

CAPE TOWN, the capital and seat of government of Cape Colony, lies at the head of Table Bay. on the northern side of the peninsula formed by Table Mountain, and 30 miles north of the Cape of Good Hope. It was founded in 1652 by Van Riebeeck, and at first consisted of a few houses under the shelter of a fort, at the mouth of the Zoeta or "Sweet Stream," on the site of which the still existing castle was built. The chief streets of the increasing town were subsequently laid out at right angles, but the outer streets and suburbs extend irregularly upwards. The town is now paved, and lighted with gas, and has a regular water supply. Its architecture generally retains the features given to it by the earlier settlers, the houses being of brick faced with stucco, with flat roofs and cornices and raised platforms called "stoeps" in front ; but these are rapidly giving place to edifices of more modern design. Be-sides the castle, which is now useless in a military point of view, being commanded by the sur-rounding heights, the public buildings in-clude the Govern-ment House (a mod-ernized Dutch build-ing), the supreme courts, the art gal-lery, the exchange, the post-office, and the public library (with upwards of 40,000 volumes) and museum, inaugurated in 1860, perhaps the finest edifice in the city. New par-liament houses are being built on a magnificent scale, the legislature having voted a large sum for this purpose. Cape Town is the seat of bishops of the Anglican and Roman churches. Among its ecclesias-tical buildings the Roman Catholic cathedral, a Gothic structure, is the most conspicuous. A university has been erected, and there are several educational institutions. The botanical gardens, in the centre of the town, serve the purposes of a park, and have been of great value in the introduction to the colony of many trees, flowering plants, and fruits.

The town is a municipality governed by a mayor and council. Its population, amounting in 1875 to nearly 33,000, is formed of many races ; people of Dutch descent are still more numerous than British, but all European nations are represented. The "coolie" or labouring popu-lation comprises the descendants of negro slaves, and half-bred Hottentots and Kaffres; the Malays form a numerous class.

Cape Town is the starting-point of the Great Western Railway, which at present reaches Wellington, and is being extended towards Beaufort; and from the town communica-tions are maintained by post, cart, or waggon with all chief points in the interior. Besides being a market for home produce, Cape Town imports manufactured articles for the greater part of the western provinces, and has a large export trade in copper, wool, wine, fish, and fruit; the construction of a breakwater and docks in Table Bay having rendered shipping more secure and facilitated traffic. Several lines of steamers maintain regular corn-munication with Cape Town both from Europe and from India, passing along the eastern and western sides of the continent.

The scenery round the head of Table Bay is very striking. Table Mountain, with its branches the Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head, rises in a massive wall immediately at the back of Cape Town. During the prevalence of south-east winds it is covered by a dense whitish cloud, partially overlapping its side like a table-cloth. Along the base of this mountain, where lie the suburban villages of Ron-debosch, Claremont, Wynberg, and Constantia, the land is covered with luxuriant vegetation, including oaks and firs, with gardens of flowers and shrubs (especially of heaths) and vineyards, and is studded with villas.

The Royal Observatory of the Cape, established In 1820—one of the most valuable of those supported by the British Government—is three miles east of Cape Town.

See Cape of Good Hope Blue Books; H. Hall, South African Geography; J. Fleming, Southern Africa; Handbook for South Africa; Glanville, Guide to South Africa; Noble, Descriptive Handbook of Cape Calony. (K. J).

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