a short history of kalk bay

Of all the towns and villages in South Africa there must be very few, if any, who have a more interesting and fascinating history than Kalk Bay.  Its modern day history started when the Dutch East India Company proclaimed Simon’s Bay a winter anchorage for their ships from May 15th to August 15th each year from 1742.The difficulty of getting supplies to these ships in Simon’s Bay and the  building of the town of Simon’s Town was severely hampered by the inadequacy of a proper road especialy at Clovelly and Sunny Cove where the moutain reached the sea and the quicksands of Fish Hoek and Glencairn halted oxen transport.  Kalk Bay became a mini-port for the Dutch and all victualling requirements as well as anchors, masts, sails, etc, were sent by ox-wagon to Kalk Bay and thereafter loaded onto barges which took the goods over to the ships in the bay as well as construction materials needed for the building of Simon’s Town.  Returning ox-wagons took lime (kalk) and fish, the staple diet of slaves, back to Cape Town. 

This mini-port boom where warehouses were built to store the goods lasted from 1742–1795 whereafter the British took over the Cape and the Royal Engineers built a proper ‘hard’ road to Simon’s Town.  Kalk Bay fell into disuse, but not for long, and by 1820 it was again the hive of activity as the whaling boom brought much enterprise to Kalk Bay, especially as whaling was prohibited in Simon’s Town due to the compaints by residents and the garrison that the repugnant smell of both burning blubber and rotting whale carcasses was unhygienic and unacceptable.  Whaling was the third biggest income earner for the Cape Colony after agriculture and wine making, and Kalk Bay housed three of the main whaling stations at the Cape.The whaling boom was, however, short-lived as killing the female Southern Right Whale who had come to calve in the warm waters of the False Bay, soon resulted in almost total extinction of the whale popoulation around these shores.  By c1835 Kalk Bay again became a ‘backwater’ but this stagnation again did not last long for in the mid-1840s a Filipino crew who were ship-wrecked at Cape Point settled at Kalk Bay.  They found the climate most favourable but above all the abundance of the fish in the False Bay was almost too good to be true.They persuaded fellow Filipinos, who crewed on Yankee sugar ships that lay at anchor in Simon’s Bay to desert their ships and join them in Kalk Bay where their leader, Felix Forez, would provide them with shelter and fishing gear.  The Filipino populations of Kalk Bay slowly grew and the anti-Spanish riots in the Phillipines in the 1850s resulted in thousands of refugees fleeing the Phillipines, and a good many joined their countrymen in Kalk Bay.  Their numbers were reduced somewhat in 1898 when America took possession of the Phillipines and many returned home.

The families who stayed, some 60 odd, still have descendants in the village to this day and the names of de la Cruz, Fernandez,Menigo and Erispe still appear in St James catholic School register.

The population of Kalk Bay was further augmented when many emancipated slaves at the Cape who originated from Batavia, Java and Malaysia joined the community at Kalk Bay.  Fishing was their life-skill and it was not long before they played an important role in the community.  When the railways arrived in 1883 the population of Kalk Bay grew rapidly and the way of life changed dramatically in this small fishing village.  It was now possible to work ‘up the line’ in Wynberg or Cape Town and live at the seaside, a phenomenon that was previously not possible.  This population growth resulted in more homes, boarding-houses, hotels, schools and shops, and an economic infrastructure which the Kalk Bay municipality (1895–1913) successfully created.

The Kalk Bay fishermen survived the abhorrent Group Areas legislation, but they could not survive the dramatic reduction of fish in the False Bay, which occurred steadily from c1955 onwards as ‘over-fishing’ reduced fish stocks considerably.

Today the village has once again changed its character and although the harbour and fishing still operates at low key, the village has become the centre of antique, art and bric-a-brac shops with many outstanding restaurants who, with excellent food, maintain the unique and special character of this historic harbour village.

Michael J Walker Kalk Bay Historial Association