Brief History of Kirkwood
The town of Kirkwood is situated in the heart of the
Sundays River Valley and can be considered the citrus
capital of the Eastern Cape. It is hard to believe that
this beautiful valley was witness to bloody border wars
a mere two hundred years ago. Also a place where, a
little more than a 100 years ago, Afrikaner farmers
(Boers) fought for freedom against the British Empire.
The 250km (156 miles) long Sundays river, with its origin
in the Compassberg mountains near Nieu Bethesda (highest
mountains in the old Cape Province), is the fastest
flowing river in South Africa. It flows into the Indian
Ocean at Algoa Bay near Port Elizabeth. The river winds
its way through the Zuurberg mountains and passes Kirkwood
in the fertile Sundays River Valley. Kirkwood is 80
km (50 miles) from the ocean and 100 meters (330 feet)
above sea level. The weather bureau recorded a temperature
of 50.3 C (122.5 F) in 1928. This is still the highest
temperature recorded in South Africa. All these factors
add to Kirkwood's subtropical climate and make it ideal
for the growing of citrus fruits.
At the turn of the 19th century, the Sundays river formed
the eastern border of the then Cape colony. This is
one of the few areas where all of the South African
ethnic groups were at war at one time or another. Khoi
against Xhosa, Khoi and Xhosa against Boer and British,
and finally Boer against the British. During the Anglo
Boer war, General Smuts and his Commando of 250 men
passed through the valley on their epic quest to the
northwest. The three men who died the furthest south
during the war, were killed on Cecil John Rhodes's farm,
"Brakkefontein". Arri van Onselen and Henri
Rittenberg were buried in the Kariega cemetery, which
is next to the main road towards Jansenville. Cornelius
Vermaas was buried in Uitenhage. After these casualties,
a major battle ensued on the "Bedrogsfontein"
In 1814, Governor Cradock awarded the first Sundays
River Valley farms to leaders of the successful burger
commandos for their role in the victories in the border
wars of 1811 and 1812. Magistrate Cuyler (originally
from America) of Uitenhage received "Geelhoutboom"
(later Dunbrody), Commandant Ignatius Muller received
"Klaaskraal" (just outside Kirkwood) and Fieldcornet
J.S. van Niekerk received "Gouwernements Belooning"
- the farm where Kirkwood would be established almost
100 years later.
James Somers Kirkwood, an auctioneer from Port Elizabeth,
arrived in 1877 to auction off the farm "Gouwernements
Belooning". A flooded Sundays river prevented him
from reaching the farm and instead he climbed a hill,
known today as The Lookout, from where he had a view
of the entire valley. He also had a vision of the valley,
overgrown by valley bushveld at the time, being transformed
into lush green irrigated fields with fruit trees. His
vision also included farm produce being delivered via
river barges connecting the fertile valley with Port
Shortly afterwards, James purchased "Goewernements
Belooning" and other farms in the valley. He established
the Sundays River Land and Irrigation Co and also the
small village Bayville. He started preparing irrigation
land on a big scale. In spite of a very positive prospectus
and tons of publicity, he failed to attract any interest
in buying stock in this big venture. It coincided with
the big diamond rush to Kimberly. Everyone was investing
in diamond companies. His company eventually failed
due to a lack of public interest and was declared bankrupt.
Kirkwood died a financially and spiritually broken man
Like many pioneers, James Somers Kirkwood was ahead
of his time. His vision became true in the next century
with the Sundays River Irrigation Project and eventually
the Orange River Water Project. His name lives on in
the town of Kirkwood that originated on his first farm,
"Gouwernements Belooning", in 1912.
Today, Kirkwood is the center of one of the largest
citrus regions in South Africa with approximately 12,000
ha (30,000 acres) of citrus orchards. Approximately
8 million cartons of oranges, lemons, grape fruit and
soft citrus are exported from here to countries all
over the world each year. Kirkwood is at present the
dynamic capital town of the Sundays River Valley Municipality,
which includes places like Patterson, Addo and Enon,
with a total population of nearly 70,000 people. It
is known throughout the country for its citrus fruit,
roses, game farms and its annual Wildlife Festival.
To the north of Kirkwood lies the beautiful Rietberg
mountain with the Uyepoort (Uye gateway) that provides
passage to the Zuurberg mountains and the Greater Addo
Elephant National Park with the big five of the animal
Kingdom. A panoramic view of Kirkwood and the orange
groves is visible from The Lookout, where James Somers
Kirkwood had his vision.
The Lookout is also well known as a site where large
dinosaur fossils are frequently dug up by archeologists.
The first complete dinosaur fossil to be found in South
Africa was found not far from Kirkwood and aptly named
Kirky, because it looked like a turkey.
* - Unlike James Summers' vision, barges were never
used to transport fruit to the Port Elizabeth harbor
- the railroad had this honour.
Written by: Mr. Stef Delport
Translated by: Johannes Nel