On our journey back along the Garden Route, we arrived in Knysna along Main Street and followed Long Street down to a sign sending us down a potholed sand road. We thought we had gone wrong until we got out of the car and spotted a fenced enclosure. Hidden in the overgrown garden was a gravestone, and not just any gravestone… here lay the founder of Knysna.
George Rex was born in London in 1765. He moved to the Cape Colony and held many important positions before buying his farm Melkhoutkraal in the Knysna district. He became the postmaster of Plettenberg Bay and later a timber exporter, with thirty five slaves and four hundred woodcutters. He was instrumental in the development of the harbour which encouraged naval and commercial ships to drop their anchors here in the bay.
But that’s just boring! We have heard similar stories of successful men who made an impact on the development of towns and cities across the world. Is there not a juicier story? Oh yes there is!
George Rex was rumoured to be the illegitimate son of George III. He secretly married a Quaker girl called Hannah Lightfood. She and her son George were kept a secret and when George reached adulthood he was banished to the Cape Colony with a promise never to marry, thus never to produce a legitimate heir and lay claim to the British throne.
And from there the story runs sort of parallel to the story above, and George settled in the area that is Knysna today. He apparently received many titled and influential international visitors. He also kept his word and never married, but had four children with a slave he had freed and nine more with one of her daughters from a previous liaison with a slave master.
But recent research and genetic testing has disproved the royal lineage, and Knysna has to settle for a Londoner as their founder and not an heir to the British throne. Sorry about that…
After spending thirty five years in Knysna, George Rex was laid to rest on his farm in a spot called the Old Place. I was a little sad to see his grave so hidden and uncared for. I feel he is a bit forgotten, and I really do think there should be more of a ‘song and dance’ to celebrate what Mr Rex did to lay the foundations for the beautiful town of Knysna.