Beaufort West - History

History

Beaufort West was the first town to be established in the central Karoo. The town was founded in 1818 and initially named Beaufort after Henry Somerset, 5th Duke of Beaufort, who was the father of Lord Charles Henry Somerset, then governor of the Cape Colony. The town was renamed Beaufort West in 1869 to avoid confusion with Port Beaufort in the Western Cape as well as Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape.

The town became prosperous with the introduction of Saxon Merino sheep by one of its early citizens, John Molteno. Molteno, a young Anglo-Italian immigrant (later nicknamed "the Lion of Beaufort"), founded the first bank in 1854 and went on to become the first Prime Minister of the Cape and the champion of the responsible government movement.

Beaufort West became the first municipality in South Africa on 3 February 1837 and had the country's first town hall. When the railroad reached the town in 1880 it became a marshalling yard and locomotive depot and today it is the largest town in the Karoo.

Professor Christiaan Barnard, the town’s most famous son, performed the first successful human-to-human heart transplant. He is honoured in the local museum, which houses a display of awards presented to him and a replica of the original heart transplant theatre.

Beaufort West is the site of one of the largest migrations of mammals on record. In 1849, Sir John Fraser (son of the local Dutch Reformed Church minister) observed and famously documented a herd of Springbok that took three days to pass the town.

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