Belvidere Manor, nestled in the picturesque landscapes of Knysna, South Africa, holds a rich history dating back to the early 19th century. This historic estate’s story begins with George Rex, a prominent landowner and businessman who settled in Knysna in 1804. By the time of his death in 1839, he had acquired all the land within the Knysna basin, including the farm known as Uitzigt, which he renamed Belvidere in 1830.
Belvidere, along with the neighbouring areas of Brenton and Buffalo Bay, comprised hilly terrain covered predominantly with fynbos and, closer to the water, small areas of natural scrub forest.
The tale of Belvidere Manor takes a romantic turn when George Rex introduced a young Lieutenant named Thomas Henry Duthie to his family. Perhaps influenced by having three eligible daughters, George invited Thomas to visit his home, Melkhoutkraal, in Knysna. During this visit, Thomas fell in love with the youngest daughter, Caroline, who was just 17 at the time. They married in February 1833, following a brief courtship.
Thomas Duthie had a remarkable background. He entered the military academy in Edinburgh at 19, purchased a commission in the 72nd Highlanders, and was subsequently stationed in Ireland. At the age of 23, he was entrusted with the construction of the Houw Hoek Road, known today as Sir Lowry’s Pass, in the Cape Colony.
After their engagement in 1832, Thomas applied to leave the army. The newlyweds left for Scotland, where they welcomed their first child, Caroline. During this period, Thomas pursued courses in agriculture, botany, and natural history at the University of Edinburgh.
Upon their return to Cape Town, the Duthies acquired Belvidere in October 1834, purchasing the property for a total of £750. They spent their initial months in Knysna with George Rex before moving to temporary tented accommodation at Belvidere while Thomas focused on constructing a cottage for them.
Adapting to farm life proved challenging for Thomas at first. He expressed frustrations about labour issues, a perceived lack of civilised society, and the strenuous demands of farming and homemaking. However, in 1835, Thomas was appointed Supervisor of Crown Forests and Lands for the Western Division of the George Districts. By 1838, as a result of his newfound regular income, the couple began to feel more settled and comfortable.
Thomas ventured into various agricultural pursuits, including selling timber from the farm and attempting activities such as salting fish, breeding angora goats, and raising beef cattle. Ultimately, he settled on beef farming as his primary source of income.
The construction of the present-day Belvidere Manor house commenced in 1848, and the couple hosted their first formal dinner there in November 1849. The house boasts a British Colonial Georgian design, primarily built using local materials. In the 1860s, the thatched roof was replaced with corrugated iron, and ‘Chinese Chippendale’ style roofs were added to the verandahs. Thomas also adorned the surroundings with decorative gardens and planted a long avenue of oak and gum trees, some of which still stand today.
In 1840, Thomas hired surveyor William Musgrove Hopley to design a village for Belvidere, complete with land earmarked for a church (later Holy Trinity Church), a commonage, and 157 residential plots. The first land transfers occurred in April 1850.
The village was serviced by a post office within one of the front rooms of Belvidere House, a thatch-and-timber general trading store (since demolished), and the Brighton Hotel, now known as Ferry House.
In August 1857, Thomas Duthie died, leaving his estate to his wife and, upon her death, to their twelve children. His son Archibald, the second eldest, continued his father’s work at Belvidere. After a 15-year military career, Archibald married Augusta Vera Roberts and brought her to Belvidere in 1874. They assumed responsibility for the farm’s management from Thomas’s widow, Caroline.
Throughout the years, various family members upheld the estate’s traditions, preserving them well into the 1970s. In 1983, a development plan was devised for Belvidere Estate, envisioning Belvidere House as the centerpiece of a hotel accompanied by residential cottages. This marked the beginning of the restoration and conversion of the historic manor house.
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