The History of Knysna – Municipality of Knysna:
By the early 1870’s Knysna had 25 settler dwellings with a population of 200.
Also in early 1870, Arnt and Matheus Thesen and their families arrived to settle in Knysna. The Thesen’s had travelled from Norway on their sailing ship, the Albatros, and brought with them much needed sailing, commercial and practical skills. The Albatros was immediately put to use as a coastal trading vessel. The large family soon set to work in the vast indigenous forests, extracting and exporting timber on the Albatros to the Cape for construction and boat building. They established their own steam sawmill at Bracken Hill, where they also manufactured small boats. This sawmill and boat building factory was later relocated to Paarden Island, later known as Thesen’s Island, in the Knysna River Estuary, and was operational by 1923.
They also established the Thesen’s Steamship Company.
By 1880 there were over 1000 settlers in Knysna.
The town took on a new importance with the discovery of gold in 1878, when a gold nugget was found by Jack Hooper in the Karatara River near Ruigtevlei, west of Knysna. Eager prospectors followed the gold trail into the Millwood Forest and by January 1887 the Millwood Forest had been proclaimed as a goldfield.
In 1881, the first bank was opened in a room in Melrose House, Queen Street.
Commerce and trade in Knysna grew as the demand for food and supplies for the gold miners increased. The gold boom was unfortunately short-lived and later, when the mining industry at Millwood collapsed, many of the miners settled in Knysna, bringing their little wood and iron homes down into Knysna with them, as well as their skills, to the growing little town.
In 1882 the two villages of Newhaven and Melville, plus “the wedge”, a triangle of land between the two villages, being a remaining portion of the farm Eastford, had been amalgamated to form a municipality, known as The Knysna, taking its name from the Knysna River. Nowadays it is simply called Knysna Municipality. A Municipal Committee was formed, mainly of the leading Knysna businessmen at the time, resulting in the formal management of future development.
In 1891 George Parkes arrived in Knysna from England and saw the opportunity to use the hardwoods of the Knysna Forest. After acquiring large tracts of indigenous forest and a steam sawmill in Knysna, he formed the Knysna Forest Company, later re-named Geo. Parkes & Sons Ltd.
The Company still trades under this name today.
History of Knysna article by Philip Caveney.
If you’ve yet to read the rest of this brief colonial history of Knysna, go to Part 1.