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Simon's Town Museum
Simonís Town was a town of many nations and cultures from its inception. Simonís Bay was named by Simon van der Stel, when he was carrying out his survey of False Bay in 1687. He recommended Simonís Bay as the new winter anchorage for the "Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie" fleet (in English, the " United East India Company" and nowadays more generally called the "Dutch East India Company") or simply the "VOC". After much dithering, the VOC finally acted on his recommendation in 1743, when Baron von Imhoff ordered the building of the Storehouses in what is now the West Dockyard. At first the settlement remained tiny, most of its inhabitants being resident only in the winter. The population of Simonís Town were mainly VOC officials, soldiers and slaves that had been bought to the Cape from China, Indonesia, India, Madagascar, Mozambique, Zanzibar, Angola and other parts of West Africa and the indigenous Khoisan people. Small numbers of Scandinavians, Germans and Frenchmen joined the community as sailors, whalermen, mercenaries, farmers, teachers, traders and so on. The little village remained small though as a result of its seasonal trade with the Dutch East India Company fleet and other passing shipping.
The British took control of the Cape in 1795 and handed it back to the Dutch in 1803, only to seize it once more in 1806. From 1814 the Royal Navy established a permanent naval base at Simonís Bay and the town began to flourish. People were drawn from all over by the possibility of employment. The large Royal Naval fleet had to be provisioned and this created business opportunities for a relatively large number of persons. Many people from Britain began to settle in Simonís Town. The Kroomen from West Africa originated in places like Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Ghana. They joined the Royal Navy on three year contracts, but many married Simonís Town women and stayed on in the town after their contracts had expired.
Muslim sailors from Zanzibar joined the Royal Navy too. They were known as "Seedies". Most returned home at the end of their contracts, though a few settled in the town, marrying local women.
The Catholic Church of Saints Simon and Jude owes its existence to two Spanish brothers, the Delcarmes, reportedly from South America, who married Irish and German wives respectively and whose descendants were so numerous that they formed the basis of the resultant Catholic congregation and were able to build a church in 1850.
During the middle and late 1800ís islanders came from St Helena to settle in Simonís Town. In the early 1900ís another group of islanders arrived from Tristan da Cunha to settle in the town. Amongst other trades, these people were skilled fishermen and whalermen.
Also arriving in the late 1800ís and early 1900ís were the Indian people, who began businesses in the town. Their descendants still own businesses in Simonís Town today.
Another group to arrive in the late 1880ís were the Xhosa people from the Eastern Cape. They built the railway into Simonís Town from Kalk Bay, which was opened in 1890. At first they lived alongside the railway track and then on completion of the work, they moved to a kloof close to the town, where they built their homes on terraces on the mountainside. They assisted with the building of the East Dockyard (1901-1910) and later found employment with the Simonís Town Municipality and in the day to day activities of the expanding Dockyard.
Other nationalities who worked on the building of the East Dockyard were the Italians, the Chinese, Indians from the Punjab and again a large number of men from the United Kingdom.
In the late 1800ís and early 1900ís, a large number of Jewish people, mainly Lithuanians, settled and opened businesses in Simonís Town, becoming prominent members of the community.
In addition, there were small numbers of Philippinos who settled in Simonís Town in the 1800ís. They were mostly sailors or fishermen.
Centuries of intermarriage and social interaction in Simonís Town created a very culturally diverse community, whose history and heritage must be UNIQUE in South Africa, if not the world!
Simonís Town was declared a White Group Area on 1 September 1967 and the subsequent Forced Removal of the people of colour irrevocably destroyed the multi-cultural fabric of Simon Town society. Families were literally split as some were removed and some were able to stay in the town - all based on the colour of their skins.
In order to preserve the heritage of the Simonís Town community, the Simonís Town Museum initiated Project Phoenix in 1996. A committee representative of those forcibly removed from the town was formed to assist the Museum to gather and record the history of Simonís Townís dispossessed people.
Phase One of Project Phoenix was completed in September 1997 when a permanent exhibition of photographs and documents showing the town, its people and the results of the Forced Removals was opened. Phase Two is underway and the Museum and the Project Phoenix Committee is collecting material for displays on the Artists, Poets, Writers, Dancers, Societies, Sports, Entertainers and Achievers of Simonís Town.
Any assistance for Project Phoenix in the form of family histories, photographs, documents, artefacts and funding of course, would be most gratefully received. The Simonís Town Museum has had to fund Project Phoenix itself, on a very limited budget and the scope of the research and display work we can undertake is therefore very restricted.
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