The pirate tale at the heart of Fish Hoek’s history

A view of Fish Hoek Beach circa 1947. The old wooden pavillion, now The Galley, was built in 1928. Picture: Fish Hoek Valley Museum

Fish Hoek Beach, undoubtedly the town’s most appealing asset was once a stop-over for a so-called pirate ship.

According to history books, it can be said that the village of Fish Hoek was established in March 1918.

But long before Andries Bruyns became the owner of the Fish Hoek farm and Hester De Villier instructed the land to be sold off after her husband’s death, a mysterious ship, Groote Alexander, arrived in the bay on a cold and wet day in August 1725.

According to Joy and Malcolm Cobern’s books, Fish Hoek Looking Back, and Story of the Fish Hoek Valley, crew members from the ship came ashore, claiming she was an English ship.

They were in search of sheep and vegetables, which they offered to pay for.

A message was sent to Simon’s Town, and the wharfmaster immediately dispatched a messenger to the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town.

The authorities at the castle suspected the Groote Alexander might be a pirate ship, and sent out Ensign Rhenius with 50 soldiers, two sergeants, two corporals, and one drummer. They were ordered to get proof that the ship was English.

Ensign Rhenius then reported that two deserters had declared the ship to be a pirate vessel from the Netherlands, with 26 guns and about 102 crew members.

When the captain, Pieter Dunn, heard that reinforcements were sent and Ensign Rhenius was instructed to demand the ship’s papers and take the crew into custody, he came ashore with papers that appeared to confirm that she was an English ship.

However, more deserters said that there were many more men on board than the number declared, no cargo apart from guns and ammunition, and that it was indeed a pirate ship.

Captain Dunn and the deserters were taken to Cape Town and imprisoned.

Those remaining on board must have decided that it was only a matter of time before they were all arrested and raised the anchor in the middle of the night and sailed away never to be seen again.

According to both books, it was never proved that the ship and her crew were pirates, but it certainly was a possibility.

Fast forward to 1806, Bruyns made his first appearance in Fish Hoek. He fished and farmed the land by paying a small yearly rental.

It was only in June 1818 that he bought the land for 250 rixdollars (a name given to large silver coins mainly used during the 18th and early 19th centuries).

His title deed included six conditions one of which was “ not to keep a public wine house”. The interpretation of this title deed condition sparked huge controversy in recent years with the application for a liquor licence by Pick n Pay in The Arcade. At the time, Fish Hoek had been a dry town for almost 200 years.

The Western Cape Liquor Authority declined the initial application in 2017, but the Liquor Appeal Tribunal overturned a ruling, and the first bottle store in Fish Hoek officially opened on June 4, 2019, bringing an end to Fish Hoek’s dry town status (“End of Fish Hoek dry spell,” Echo, June 6, 2019).

In July 1820, Bruyns sold the land. It changed ownership twice, and it is believed that the first part of the farmhouse, called Bellevue, which would later become The Homestead, was constructed around that time.

It was during the same time that the land was taken over by an executor and divided into three lots to sell.

Lot B was the largest and included the farmhouse and the fishing rights.

The Muller brothers later bought it and then bought Lot A in 1842 making them the owners of what was then the entire Fish Hoek Farm until 1871.

The land changed ownership twice before it was sold to Hester Sophia de Kock, a spinster, on October 5, 1883.

According to local history books, De Kock married Jacob Izaak de Villiers, a widower with eight children and a farm in Noordhoek, on June 8, 1901, at the age of 69. However, according to the couple’s marriage certificate, which is in possession of the Fish Hoek Valley Museum, the couple married on May 13, 1884, when De Kock was 56.

According to the Fish Hoek Valley Museum, June 8, 1901, is the date she bought the rights to the water from the Kleintuin Spring at Clovelly. A copy of the deed of servitude is in possession of the museum.

De Villiers let rooms in the farmhouse and converted her barn and coach house to provide holiday accommodation in the early 1890s.

De Villiers died in October 1914 at the age of 82 and left instructions in her will that the farm “Vischoek near Kalk Bay shall be sold” after the death of her husband.

A weekly newspaper, The Cape, reported on December 7, 1917, that “Fish Hoek is, at last, to be laid out as a seaside residential resort.”

On March 16, 1918, the first sale of plots was advertised and plots were sold at prices ranging from £10 to £140.

The Homestead was later converted into a popular hotel, Homestead Residential Hotel. After surviving a fire in 1934, the next fire, on November 17, 1947, destroyed it leaving nothing for future generations and history lovers to enjoy.

The Homestead Residential Hotel around 1925. Picture: Fish Hoek Valley Museum