The Damhuis, one of the oldest buildings in South Africa and the first built structure in Melkbosstrand, dates back to 1785.
During 1781, this empty piece of land was given to Christiaan Brand. During the year 1785, he settled himself and his family, as the first residents on the farm, De Melkbosch. It can therefore be assumed that the buildings were also erected during this time period. Although it is difficult to determine the exact age of the Damhuis, there is enough evidence to proof that it must have been built during the late 1700’s. The walls were built with local stone and then plastered with a mixture of cow manure, sand and hay which are all indicative of buildings from this era. It has also been recorded that Christiaan Brand caught whales during the late 1700’s and evidence of this is the presence of whalebones, which were built into the walls of the Damhuis. To reveal the whale bone and building materials, we have left parts of the inside walls unplastered for visitors to view. Another important factor is the angular architecture of the original buildings, which was typical of that early period before Cape gables generally became a popular form of Cape architecture.The Battle of BlaauwbergA National Monument
With its thick walls and thatched roof it had originally been built as one of the outbuildings of the farmstead, De Melkbosch. At the time it was called the Visschuur (fish barn) where fish were cleaned, salted and dried. Next to it was a boathouse where fishing boats and nets were stored.
The Visschuur later became known as the Damhuis – named after the dam right in front of the house. This dam was the result of a fountain that still springs crystal clear water to this day. The fountain still exists on the property. The tarmac road – the present Beach Road, however, has long since covered the dam.
The building still has a buttress that was built to support its sea-facing wall, which during heavy storms had been pounded by rough surf coming right up to it.
The Very First Occupants
Christiaan Pieter Brand was born in the Cape of 1734 and as a young man he joined the Cape Citizen Corps and worked his way up from Sergeant to Captain. During this time he purchased property in Cape Town between the castle and the Salt river in Papendorf (today known as Woodstock) where he then lived.
According to the marriage register he married Gesina Maria Verwey and together they had ten children.
In 1780 the French stationed troops along the Cape coast to help the Dutch against possible British invasion. During this time of military unrest, Brand kindly allowed the troops to traverse over his property in Papendorf. As compensation for his co-operation, Governor Jacob van de Graaff rewarded Brand with a piece of land covered in melkbos ( a shrub which gives off a milky residue). Brand named his new farm after these shrubs, De Melkbosch (commonly known today as Melkbosstrand).
During the years 1785-1814, Brand and his wife together with their children settled here. He built a homestead, a boathouse, a lime oven and a Visschuur ( a fish barn that became the current Damhuis). They made a living from their “kotterskuit” (a cutter, which is a small single-masted boat, fore-and-aft rigged), the Nederland-Afrika by harvesting fish from the sea and sea shells from the beach. The fish was salted and dried in the present Damhuis and the shells were processed into lime in the oven, which was situated on the beach. Later Brand also planted corn and according to historical records kept cattle.
It is also historically noted that the Brand family experienced the Battle of Blaauwberg (between the Dutch and the British), right in front of their Visschuur (the current Damhuis). They had to flee whilst the soldiers thrashed and stole their property. Afterwards Brand had to claim for damage done by the soldiers.
Christiaan and his sons were also historically hailed as heroes due to the valiant rescue of soldiers from the British ship, the HMS Tremendous. The soldiers came ashore in a boat to catch crayfish and they got into trouble right on the rocks in front of the Damhuis.
The Damhuis Today
In the current Damhuis Restaurant (The Voorhuijs) hangs a painting done by a certain Gladstone Sullivan. This painting depicts the tragic drowning of one of Christiaan and Gesina’s sons at De Melkbosch. This rare painting had been hanging in the original farmstead and was then found again in an old garage.
With the passage of time the Damhuis had been transformed from a fish store to a residence. Even though it had gone through a number of changes, the historical importance has been preserved for future generations. With urban development the natural spring fed dam, right in front of the Damhuis, had to make way for the current Beach Road. However, the natural water spring is today still very much alive on the property.
Today, more than 200 years since Christiaan Brand and his family stayed here, the Damhuis has been declared as a National Monument and stIll stands proud as Die Damhuis Restaurant with its rich history and heritage along the beautiful seaside of Melkbosstrand.