Even in the Stone Age, the Khoi San lived here in this area, such testimonials show in the sandstone caves along the coast. The recent history of Knysna starts at the beginning of the 19th Century is closely associated with the timber industry. The extensive forests around Knysna were an important source of valuable raw material wood and on a historical walk through Knysna you will find many testimonials from this period.
The name Knysna (pronounced ‚Neisna‘) is a Khoikhoi word, but its exact meaning is uncertain. It could mean "place of wood" or "fern leaves" with regard to the huge forest that surround Knysna, due to the Hottentot word "Xthuys Xna „.
Another possible translation would be "straigth down" with regard to the steep sandstone cliffs along the Knysna Heads. The Knysna Heads are one of the most striking geological features along the entire coast of southern Africa. They form a deep and tracherous channel through which the sea floods the wide open lagoon at the mouth of the Knysna River.
Knysna Historical Overview:
- 1760 the first Europeans arrived arrount 1760 and the farm Melkhoutkraal (Afrikaans word for Milkwood Kraal) was established on the eastern shore of the Knysna Lagoon. Stephanus Terblans was the first European farmer that settled in the area and was given a loan permit to the farm till 1870.
- 1804 George Rex, a British-born entrepreneur and timber merchant purchased the loan rights to the farm Melkhoutkraal (today the Industrial Area) and surrounding land. He founded the town of Knysna and played a key role in its development. According to unconfirmed statements George Rex was the illegitimate son of king George III of the United Kingddom of Great Britain.
- 1817 A transport brig, called Emu, belonging to the Cape Town Dockyard, was the first European vessel to enter the Knysna Heads. After that Knynsa became a port to bring supplies to the area and later transporting timber out of the area.
- 1826 Captain Thomas Henry Duthie arrived in Cape Town from Scotland and married later Caroline Rex, the daughter of George Rex. He bought some land of the Uitzigt farm from his father-in-law and named it Belvidere. A Norman-style church (today Belvidere Church) was commissioned by Duthie and constructed in 1855.
- 1870: Arnt Leonard Thesen and his famliy were travelling from Norway to New Zealand and were so fascinated by the little village of Knysna, that they decided to stay, bringing with them their knowledge of commerce and sailing. They set up the first trading store and counting house and soon timber of the surrounding Knysna forest was beeing exportet to the Cape. A sawmill and small shipyard were established and relocatet in 1904 to Paarden Island, later known as Thesen's Island.
- 1878: A gold nugget was found in the Karatara River near Ruigtevlei. Soon fortune hunters from all over the world arrived in the area to search for gold in the Millwood Forest.
- 1880's: George Parks, an industrialist from Birmingham, England arrived and purchased over 3.400 ha forest to use the hardwoods for export and a source of wood for this factory producing edge tools. George Parked established a primitive sawmill in the forest and a mill situated in the centre of Knysna (today Woodmill Lane Centre).
By 1880 around 1000 people had settled in Knysna.
- 1881: The settlements of Newhaven and Melville were amalgamated to form the town of Knysna, named after the Knysna River.
- 1885: The search for gold was recorded in Karatara river again and soon fortune hunters from all over the world arrived in the area to search for gold in the Millwood Forest. They settled in the area of Millwood during the next 10 years, until the search for gold proved to be not lucrative.
- 1904: Charles Wilhelm Thesen purchased Paarden Island, (part of the Melkhoutkraal Estate).