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Abbotsdale is located in South Africa
 Abbotsdale shown within South Africa
Coordinates: 33°29′13″S 18°40′33″E / 33.48694°S 18.67583°E / -33.48694; 18.67583Coordinates: 33°29′13″S 18°40′33″E / 33.48694°S 18.67583°E / -33.48694; 18.67583
Country South Africa
Province Western Cape
District West Coast
Municipality Swartland
 • Total 8.70 km2 (3.36 sq mi)
Population (2011)[1]
 • Total 3,762
 • Density 430/km2 (1,100/sq mi)
Racial makeup (2011)[1]
 • Black African 4.2%
 • Coloured 95.3%
 • Indian/Asian 0.2%
 • White 0.2%
 • Other 0.2%
First languages (2011)[1]
 • Afrikaans 92.8%
 • English 3.1%
 • Xhosa 2.7%
 • Other 1.4%
Postal code (street) 7300

Abbotsdale is a settlement in West Coast District Swartland Municipality in the Western Cape province of South Africa.


In 1870 a Bishop Gray bought about 800 hectares of land near Malmesbury in the Swartland. The land was left in trust to the Bishopric of Cape Town and the Anglican mission station of Abbotsdale was founded, named after Abbott, a bishop in Cape Town in 1877. In May 1877 two boards were established at Abbotsdale: a Church Board whose main concern was religious affairs and a Board of Supervisors ('Opsieners') which had to act as policemen, maintaining law and order. The congregation selected both boards annually, at Easter.

The land at Abbotsdale was divided on a one-family-one-erf principle. Each erf measured about 100 yards by 30 yards (approximately 91 metres by 27 metres) on which a brick building or house could be erected. Erfholders paid 1 pound on becoming an erfholder and 15 shillings annually for rent. In addition, erfholders had to 'donate' 15 shillings to the church, St Michael's and All Angels, and 5 shillings to the school, every year. By 1881 there were about 150 erfholders out of a population of more than 200 families. Until about 1880 the people of Abbotsdale can be described as small peasants, holding the land in perpetuity and providing their own means of subsistence. Special application could be made for additional erven, for which no fee was paid, for the purpose of practising agriculture. Abbotsdalers grew their own vegetables, fruit, wheat and corn and owned cattle (mostly goats). In order to pay the rental and donations erfholders had to earn money. This was procured either by trading or by wage-labour. Traders sold fruit and vegetables. A popular sale product was oats which was easy to harvest and which was always in demand by racehorse owners in Malmesbury and Cape Town. Abbotsdalers were not keen to work for White people and were proud to be independent Coloureds and owners of Abbotsdale. Many activities were carried out communally viz. the use of water (which was 'brak' and had to be boiled before consumption), collecting firewood and the use of commonage for grazing and livestock.

With the development of a wheat-industry, many Abbotsdalers -men and women - became wage-labourers on white farms. Reaping was done by Scythe and sickle, a process which was labour-intensive and always demanded more labour than was available at the time. Women supplemented the income by doing domestic work in the homes of white families in Malmesbury. The railway line, stretching into the northwest with Calvinia and Namaqualand as its hinterland, was completed in 1870. Work on the railways attracted many Abbotsdale men to Malmesbury. A 'great occasion' for going to Malmesbury was when the men would go to have their wheat milled into flour. This was often coupled with an occasion for socialising and recreating. Liquor consumption was an important aspect of this socialising.

Social stratification emerged at Abbotsdale with the renting of erven. The erfholders became the dominant group in the community. Non-erfholders would either become 'squatters' or 'inwoners' on the land of erfholders or would occupy a piece of land 'illegally'. The Erasmus family was one of the prominent families that dominated the affairs of Abbotsdale. Other well-known family names that formed part of the dominant group included Rinquest, Arendse, Van Harte and Josias.

Albert Erasmus was born in 1815 in Port Nolloth, a little fishing village on the northwest coast of the Cape, near the border of present-day Namibia. It is not clear how he came to settle on the English mission station of Abbotsdale, around 1850. His son Albert (Junior) became an erfholder in 1877. Albert Erasmus (Junior) had two sons and three daughters'. Albert, Samson, Margaret, Janet and Elizabeth. Albert Erasmus worked hard to provide a relatively comfortable living for his family. In December 1885 he appeared in the court of the Church Board on two charges: harvesting on a Sunday and harbouring a woman of "low morals", one Jacoba Louis. To the first charge he pleaded guilty and was fined 7 shillings and sixpence. The second charge was more serious. The communities at Abbotsdale were subject to strict moral codes. Offences regarded as deserving of punishment included for example, use of abusive language especially on 'holy' days such as Easter and Christmas, abuse of liquor and fighting. Adultery was a very serious offence. It was thus no surprise that Albert Erasmus pleaded not guilty. In addition to the seriousness of the charge, Jacoba had already been found guilty of adultery previously. No records could be found of the outcome of this case against Albert. But Jacoba was subsequently given the ultimate sentence when she was exiled from the station. Two years after the court case, Albert was elected to the office of supervisor. His exemplary behaviour as supervisor found an echo in his daughter Elizabeth. It came, as something of a surprise to many, people when Elizabeth married David Gomas, about whose past people at Abbotsdale knew little. Through his marriage to Elizabeth, David Gomas gained some recognition and he became an erfholder in 1908.

From the beginning there seemed to have been a conflict in values and personalities between David and Elizabeth. She was haughty, dogmatically religious and had an iron will; he rebellious, obstinate and a trifle irresponsible. The conflict was aggravated by the birth of Johnny on 8 April 1901 and whom Elizabeth fondly called her "eldest and youngest". For a few years after 1901 the Gomas's lived in the house of Elizabeth's father Albert Erasmus. Elizabeth, especially sensitive to the enunciations of the missionary educated authorities in Church and school, was always careful to observe the rites of religion. All her thoughts were set on work and saving money in order to secure a future for her son while the husband was cracking under the yoke of the new society. He briefly held employment on the railways but was sacked for hurling abuse at his supervisor. It was in the moments of drunkenness that the child experienced trite beast in his father.

David eventually left Abbotsdale, wandering around in Moorreesburg, Calvinia, and Bredasdorp, criss-crossing virtually the whole of the Swartland and its hinterland, never to return to Abbotsdale. He was finally to live out his fate in a world created by the very authorities that he so despised, who declared him 'mentally ill' and had him housed at the psychiatric unit of Valkenberg Hospital in Pinelands, where he died in 1943. He had briefly seen his wife and son in the early 1930s for the last time and neither attended his funeral.

Johnny Gomas attended St Michael's and All Angels Mission School where he spent many happy days. In contrast, Elizabeth remained dissatisfied with conditions at 'dry and dusty' Abbotsdale Oom Marthinus Erasmus, a first cousin of Elizabeth's, contends that the thought of her 'eldest and youngest' joining the increasing number of young farmhands, served as a strong motivation for her departure from Abbotsdale.[2]