Explorers 4. Gordon

These guys saw Southern Africa before the Anthropocene – lucky fishes! I love reading about their fresh look on the amazing African fauna and flora as their local guides showed them around.

Robert Jacob Gordon (1743 – 1795) – was a Dutch explorer, soldier, artist, naturalist and linguist of Scottish descent.

Starting in 1773 he went on more expeditions than any other 18th century explorer of southern Africa. His first was with Thunberg and Masson. They undertook a trip on foot exploring the mountains between Cape Town and False Bay.

Johannes Schoemaker, an artist, accompanied Gordon on all his journeys, producing a fine record of their travels. Gordon was a diligent recorder of data such as altitude, compass headings and hours traveled and other information which he would later incorporate in a great map he planned.

For most of his journeys he followed well-travelled routes, sometimes joined by others going the same way. His equipment was carried by a single wagon, while he rode on horseback, ranging across the veld, observing, recording and occasionally hunting.

One trip was to Swellendam; from there via Plattekloof to Beervlei and on to present-day Aberdeen, across the Sneeuwberg to a point slightly west of Colesberg. He then roughly retraced his outbound route as far as the Sneeuwberg, then headed south-east to Cookhouse.

He reached the confluence of the Grootte Rivier (Orange / Gariep) and the Caledon, about 1000km east of Cape Town.

– R J Gordon paintings collage –


Gordon’s home Schoonder Sigt (‘beautiful view’) was one of the ten most conspicuous large manors of Cape Town. In 1800 it was purchased by George Rex, an Englishman believed to be the son of King George III and his first wife Hannah Lightfoot whom he secretly married before he ascended to the throne and wed Queen Charlotte. I think he was actually George Rex, son of John Rex, farmhand from Paddock Wood, but hey! new country, new identity! What happens in the Colony stays in the Colony, OK!?

Over the years the Schoonder Sigt residence saw many transformations from the original manor house. It was changed to an apartment block called Sunny Lodge; then it became The Gardens Nursing Home, a seven-ward psychiatric hospital specializing in rehabilitating ‘people living in the fast lane’ and ‘housewives on the busy cocktail circuit’! In 1973 it was changed to resemble a Spanish villa complete with scalloped plasterwork and cactus, and was renamed Flower Street Villa! Luckily that was undone when in 2009 it was completely renovated and restored to something like its former glory as The Three Boutique Hotel, corner of Schoonder and Flower streets.

On 25 October 1795 Gordon committed suicide in Schoonder Sigt soon after the blerrie British annexed the colony in the chaos and uncertainty following the French invasion of the Netherlands. As commander of the Dutch garrison he had probably seen the futility of fighting against the superior British forces that invaded the Cape. So even though it had been governor Sluysken that actually surrendered, the decision was held against Gordon by some of his countrymen.


wikipedia; rijksmuseum.nl; robertjacobgordon.nl;


  1. Jon Taylor says:

    Thanks for the interesting history snippet. Wonder what a Scottish person was doing pretending to be a kaaskop?


    1. bewilderbeast says:

      Oh, he was a genuine kaaskop. His ancestors, like yours, were Scottish. And he, like you, was no Scot. Even if your name is Jonathan Murdock Makhathini Taylor!


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