Belvidere Manor Hotel

Our History

Belvidere Manor is steeped in history. These are the events dating back to 1830, which led to the development of the property as it is today.

Delve into the Fascinating History of Belvidere Manor

The land on which Belvidere stands was acquired by George Rex of Melkhoutkraal, a wealthy landowner, timber merchant, and businessman who arrived in the area in 1804. It was part of the original farm Uitzigt, bought from Hendrick Barnard’s deceased estate. Rex renamed it Belvidere, meaning ‘beautiful vista’.

During one of Rex’s many visits to the Cape, he met Lieutenant Thomas Henry Duthie and, much impressed by the young soldier and invited him to visit his family in Knysna.


Thomas-henry-duthie-history-of-knysnaThomas Henry Duthie was born in Stirling, Scotland, in 1806. His widowed mother enrolled him in the military academy in Edinburgh. He was posted to the Cape Colony in 1826 and put in charge of the construction of the Houw Hoek Road (now Sir Lowry’s Pass), at only 23 years of age.

After completing the pass and being promoted to Lieutenant in 1830, Duthie was granted two months leave. During this time, he spent a week in Knysna with the Rexes, where he fell in love with the farm Belvidere and Rex’s 17 year old daughter Caroline.


carolineDuring Duthie’s second visit to the Rexes, when Caroline was 19, the couple became engaged. Thomas then applied for permission to leave the army.


The couple was married in Cape Town on 12 February, the first time Caroline had been ‘more than 20 miles away from home’. After a short honeymoon in the Cape, they boarded a ship for Britain, where their first child, Caroline, was born on 21 November, and where Thomas enrolled for courses in agriculture, botany, and natural history at the University of Edinburgh.


On their return to Cape Town, Thomas signed the Deed of Sale for the purchase of Belvidere on 7 October, paying £750 for the farm (which Rex had bought for £679 17s 6d). Three weeks later, the Duthies returned to Knysna, staying with Rex for seven weeks, then moving into tents at Belvidere while Thomas built a cottage with materials sourced earlier by Rex.


The Duthies moved into their cottage but within a year Thomas wrote to his older brother Archie to ask whether he might return to Britain. He had problems with labour (slavery had been abolished in the Cape Colony on 1 January 1834) and wanted to import English families to settle the land (and no doubt provide him with the social life he craved). He found farming and home life ‘hard toil and drudgery’.


Thomas was appointed Supervisor of Crown Forests and Lands – Western Division of the George Districts and quickly set about introducing extensive improvements to forest management in the region.


The Duthies were becoming ‘more settled and comfortable’. Thomas was able to sell modest amounts of timber off the farm. Smaller coastal trading ships (up to about 150 tons) were able to navigate the lagoon as far inland as Belvidere, where loading and unloading took place. Some of the timber was floated downstream, or upstream to The Drift where George Rex had built and launched his stinkwood brig, Knysna.


On 3 April George Rex died of a stroke. His sons, Edward and John, were appointed executors of his estate, and Thomas Duthie was made guardian of the five youngest Rex children.

Thomas tried various farming activities during this time, often without success: salting fish for sale in Cape Town, angora goat breeding, and the breeding and salting of beef. He eventually settled on cattle, and also bought Westford and Portland out of George Rex’s deceased estate to bring his total landholdings to 5,544 hectares.

The district began attracting more and more visitors from ‘civilised’ English-speaking society – including the governor of the Cape Colony and his wife, Sir George and Lady Napier, and the Right Honourable Henry F.F.A. Barrington, whom Duthie met by chance in George.


Thomas Duthie was always a religious man (his brother, Archie, was a clergyman) so, when Robert Gray was consecrated as the first Bishop of Cape Town in 1840, he travelled to the Cape to meet him. Four months later, the Grays made the first of many visits to Belvidere, and, together with Duthie, settled on the old Norman-style design of the Belvidere Church – Holy Trinity Anglican Church Belvidere – as we know it today.


Henry Barrington came to stay with Duthie for a month in 1842 and bought the farm Portland from him for £400.


Duthie began building a new house: his family was growing, and they were receiving more and more visitors.


the-history-of-knysna-belvidere-manorThe family hosted the first formal dinner in their new home in November. The house followed a British (rather than Cape Dutch) design known as Colonial Georgian, with large doors and windows and an uncluttered facade. It was built of local materials – with much of the timber, including that for the house’s chief adornment, its grand staircase, coming from Barrington at Portland. Duthie surrounded the building with decorative gardens – not common at the time – and planted a long avenue of oak and gum trees, some of which are still standing today.


Belvidere Manor KnysnaIn his desire for ‘civilised companionship’ Duthie decided to establish a village at Belvidere, hiring the services of the surveyor William Musgrove Hopley. Plans were drawn up for 157 residential stands with a commonage.

The first transfer of land took place on 15 April to Robert Squire, while Henry Barrington’s name appears a few days later as the purchaser of two of the plots.

One of the front rooms of Belvidere House served as a post office.


A building committee for the church was formed including Henry Barrington and Thomas Duthie and published its first advertisement for labourers and artisans to work on the project.

The foundation stone was laid on 15 October. The walls of the church were built of sandstone quarried locally, while many of the other materials were donated by Henry Barrington, who provided timber from his farm as well as slate and bricks imported from England.

The church’s bell was cast in London. When it arrived in Knysna, it was dropped in the lagoon during offloading, and remained under water for many months before it could be salvaged and finally installed in its rightful place.


The church was consecrated by Bishop Gray on 5 October.


History of Belvidere Manor KnysnaThe birth of Amy Georgiana Duthie brought the total number of the couple’s offspring to 12.

Thomas Henry Duthie died at the age of 51 on 13 August a little less than two years after the completion of the church. He left £150 per annum for his wife and divided the rest of his estate between his children. His sons Archibald and John took up most of the responsibilities of farming at Belvidere: Archibald and his family moved into Belvidere House, and Caroline moved into nearby Ferry House, where she concentrated on raising her younger children.


In the late 1860s, by which time the fashion for importing roofing materials from the USA and the UK had begun, the house’s thatch roof was replaced with corrugated iron, while curved corrugated iron roofs and balustrades in the ‘Chinese Chipendale’ style were added to the balconies – all of which gave it the appearance by which we know it today.


Augusta Vera ‘Ave’ DuthieAugusta Vera ‘Ave’ Duthie – daughter of Archibald Duthie and Augusta Vera Roberts and granddaughter of Thomas Henry Duthie was born. She was to have a profound effect on the history of Belvidere in the 20th Century.


Belvidere Manor Estate in KnynsaIn 1916, the chapelry of Belvidere was separated from the parish of Knysna to become the parish of Belvidere. The mission school that was established in the parish – and the little coloured community that thrived there – would later be moved to the suburb of Hornlee under the Group Areas Act.


After the death of her brother Will in 1933, Ave Duthie took over responsibility for Belvidere, and, following her retirement in 1939, returned to live permanently in Belvidere House where she was joined by her old governess, Annie Armstrong.


Knysna History - Belvidere ManorAve died on 8 August 1963, leaving a carefully detailed will that stipulated that all plots should be sold in pairs and, in order to prevent high-density development, forbade the subdivision of plots. The proceeds of any land sales were to be held in trust for the beautification and maintenance of the church and its grounds.

A distant relative, surgeon Jock Marr, was appointed ‘nominative heir.’ Although they redecorated the house and Mrs. Marr tried to keep the farm going, they found the challenges too great. Jock died in 1968, and his son, John (also a doctor) took over as nominative heir, living in the house for the next six years.


Knysna South Africa HistoryFrom 1974 Belvidere House stood empty while various locals made plans for the redevelopment of the estate.


In the mid-1980s, a local resident and designer, Gray Rutherford proposed a new vision for the estate which featured large parkland areas, and a formal harmony in the architectural design of residences and other buildings. This plan found favour with the Board of Executors development company, and, with the master plan coordinated by local town planner and landscape architect Chris Mulder, the development of Belvidere Estate was begun. As part of the plan, the old Belvidere House was restored and opened as the Belvidere Manor country hotel – complete with a strategically placed gazebo with a beautiful vista (‘Belvidere’) of the Knysna Lagoon.

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