Hermanus – A Photographic History: 1855-1955

Hermanus – A Photographic History: 1855-1955

For those living in or visiting the bustling holiday town of Hermanus today, imagining what it might have looked like more than 100 years ago would be an impossible exercise. That’s why this book, literally hot off the press, is such a treasure.

Featuring just over 300 wonderfully preserved photographs, it tracks the development of the little settle-ment from its beginnings in 1855, to 1955. While the publishers pay tribute to the excellent work done by the late SJ du Toit and Dr Robin Lee in unearthing and telling the fascinating stories of days gone by in the little fishing village that was,this is the first time there is such a comprehensive photographic record of its early life.

What’s more, the compilers couldn’t have been better suited for the job. Dinkie Marais, Jack van Dyk and Michael Clark all grew up in Hermanus towards the end of that first century, in the 1940s and ‘50s, and have been friends since attending Hermanus High School together. In fact, Dinkie’s forebears, the Warringtons, were amongst the founders of the little settlement. Fortuitously, as the Old Harbour Museum’s archivist, he had access to thousands of old photographs from the period.

For all three men, this project has been an all-consuming labour of love. It had its beginnings when Dinkie presented a slide show of some of the historic photographs to members of the Hermanus History Society (HHS) in January 2023. Theimmediate  consensus was that it should be turned into a coffee-table book. The trio had no prior experi- ence of producing a book, but 17 months of blood, sweat, tears and lots of learning later, here we are with this beautiful publication.

The most difficult task, says Jack, was selecting 300 pictures from over 2 500 in the museum. They were so relieved once they had achieved this, they immediately rushed off to Helga Steyn of Hemel en See Books, who had offered to help them with publishing advice. “Here it is”, they said, “it’s done. Now, how do we get it printed?”

“What do you mean, it’s done?” was her response. “All you have is photographs, there has to be some writing as well. You’d better go and do that first, then we can talk again.” They were stunned, but Jack took on the task of doing the necessary research and whatever writing was called for.

The team decided to arrange the photographs by theme, from founders to sport and recreation, including shops and other businesses, Visbaai (the Old Harbour, around which all future development revolved), hotels and boarding houses, personalities, visiting celebrities (oh yes, there were plenty of those) – 15 sections in all.

The one key character in the story who has not yet been mentioned is the renowned photographer of the times, TD Ravenscroft, Chief Photographer for SA Railways, who began his work in 1879. And, as a friend of Sir William Hoy (after whom Hoy’s Koppie is named), he visited Hermanus frequently. When he retired in 1920, he came to live here permanently and set up a photographic studio in the centre of town. Without his prolific output, this beautiful book would not have been possible.

Based on a relatively limited initial print run, over half of which was pre-purchased, for now, the books will be available from the HHS only.

To order, email Michael Clark on mikeclark@hermanus.co.za.

Don’t miss out!