Huguenots of South Africa Copy



The Huguenots were devout Protestants from France and Southern Netherlands, who followed the teaching of the theologian, John Calvin.

They fled their homes to escape persecution during the 17th century so they could be free to practice their religion. Their new homes were in England and Ireland, Europe and the Atlantic world.
A small number came to the Cape of Good Hope.



From 1572 – 1685 French Huguenots fled religious persecution in France to settle in Britain.

Persecution In France

The Refuge

Protestants in France had three choices: convert to Catholicism, worship in secret, or flee the country. The word ‘refugee’ comes from the French word refugié which dates back to 1685, used then to refer to the 16,000 or more who fled France for nearby non-Catholics states or countries.

Places Of Origin In France

They came from two main regions in France and the Southern Netherlands, one region stretched from Flanders to the Loire Valley, the other region consisted of the arch stretching from the Dauphiné to Languedoc, which includes Provence. A big factor was the difficulty or ease of the escape routes.

VOC recruitment

The first attempt at recruitment of immigrants to strengthen the Cape as a self-sufficient base and a replenishment station for the passing ships was largely unsuccessful. However, as a result of the intensified persecution against Protestants, the second drive had a good response. The offer of 60 morgen (51 hectare) allotments had especial appeal for the refugees. All applicants had to meet stringent requirements and had to agree to conditions like bringing only essential personal possessions and staying for five years.

Flight To The Cape

The flight of the Huguenots to South Africa did not, as is generally believed, occur only during the years 1688 to 1689. Over a period of more than three-quarters of a century they relocated to and settled at the Cape of Good Hope.

Voyage to the Cape

The twelve week voyage was arduous and dangerous. The ships were far from comfortable and the seas were often rough. Most of the time, there was no fresh food and water was in short supply. Malnutrition led to diseases like scurvy. Many died or were seriously weakened during the sea voyage.

Arrival At The Cape

The Honselaarsdijk the first of the nine VOC ships bringing Huguenots to the Cape set anchor in Table Bay on 11 April 1688. The refugees on these and the other seven ships were severely debilitated by the voyage. They gathered in Table Valley. Before moving into the interior they were given emergency supplies.

Settlement At The Cape

The majority of Huguenots were allotted land along the Berg and Franschhoek rivers. The others were allotted farming land in the Dwars River Valley, and the present day Wellington (Wagenmakersvallei) and Stellenbosch. They were also given some food supplies, seed and basic equipment. The VOC policy to assimilate them led to the loss of their language.

Struggle For Survival

The climate and terrain were unfamiliar and much of it was unsuitable for grazing or food crops. Few of them had farming skills and they had only rudimentary equipment. They also lacked the capital to buy the seeds and basics they needed. Other problems were drought, transporting their produce to market, stock raids and unfair competition from the company officials.



Their perilous journeys over mountains and sea to establish new lives and homes in a foreign land
reflects the texture of refugee experiences around the world at different moments in time.

The Méreau

Protestants who were away from home on a Communion Sunday could give Mereaux (special tokens) to the minister at another Calvinist community as proof that they were not Catholic spies. Méreaux entitled their bearers to take Holy Communion.

The Huguenot Cross

The Maltese Cross proclaims victory over death. Its eight points symbolise the Beatitudes. The four stylised Fleur-de-Lys between the arms of the Maltese cross symbolise the twelve disciples. The dove that is suspended below the cross represents the Holy Spirit.


The Huguenot Rose

As its name implies, the Huguenot rose (Rosa damascene semperflorens) flowers through the season. The Huguenots brought the Autumn Damask rose variety with them and used it to make fragrant rose-water for export to the east. It symbolises their entrepreneurship.



From 1572 – 1685 French Huguenots fled religious persecution in France to settle in Britain.


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