Sedgefield was previously known as "Steenbok Eiland", and during this period the settlement was used mainly for agricultural activities. Wheat, rye and barley flourishes due to the excellent rainfall. Small antelope such as bushbuck and duiker roamed the area. Species which are still abundant today.

History of Sedgefield

In the early 1900's, the Right Honorable, Henry Frederick Adaire Barrington immigrated from the small village of Sedgefield, in county Durham, in the North of England, and settled on a farm, Portland, in the Knysna District. Henry Barrington was the eighth of fifteen children of the Right Honorable and Reverend George, Fifth Viscount Barrington, Rector of Sedgefield. Henry became involved in this area and named it Sedgefield, in honor of his father.

During the early 1920's, the Watney family settled in Sedgefield and played an important role in the development of this area. Sedgefield was a remote undeveloped area, until the introduction in 1928, of the railway line between George and Knysna. At the instigation of JGB Watney the town was set out in erven, and this attracted more residents to the area. Sedgefield was proclaimed a town in 1929 and fell under the management of the Divisional Council of George. After World War II, a new coastal road was constructed and Sedgefield now being more accessible, expanded along the banks of the estuary towards the Swartvlei Lake. Sedgefield established a Village Management Board in 1956 and the town obtained Municipal Status in 1974. Sedgefield is situated in the Heart of the Lakes District of the Garden Route, with the town being surrounded by the Groenvlei Lake, the Swartvlei Lagoon, and Swartvlei Lake, and the Indian Ocean on the south side. This is an area of natural flora and a vast bird population.

The 'Mother' of Sedgefield, Mrs. Elaine Watney, was born in Kent, England, in 1890, as Florence Elaine Wallis. She arrived in South Africa in 1927 where she worked as governess to the children of a wealthy family in the farming area of Tzaneen. There she met and married JGB (Blanco) Watney.

In 1947, the Watney's moved from the Sedgefield area to a farm they purchased in George. It was at that time that the new coastal road between George and Knysna was constructed and Sedgefield had become more accessible than a mere donkey-cart track. The Watney's bought the long established, but vacant, Sedgefield township from Thesen's of Knysna, and had the area re-surveyed by Mr. T. Moodie. After her husband, Blanco, died in 1952, Elaine took control of the administration of the township. She also established the town's original wooden library in memory of her husband. She assisted the colored residents in improving their status, and even carted water daily to their school near the railway line. She later formed the Ladies' Work Party, which still continues with a school feeding scheme. The formation of a Girl Guides and Brownie Pack was also her doing.

In 1967, with the growing village of Sedgefield in need of a church, she loaned money for the construction of a Inter-Denominational Church building in Swallow Drive. The church was used by Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian as well as Dutch Reformed congregations. In 1968, Elaine was voted onto the first committee of the Village Management Board. In 1970 the local authority purchased the present Town Hall, which was erected some year earlier and used for film shows. Such was the quantity and variety of shows and plays that were staged under the her leadership, that she donated a piano - which is still in use today. In the early 1980's, prominent Sedgefield members paved the way for a retirement home for its older citizens, and Elaine sold her large property to establish Sedgemeer Park where she stayed as a resident. On 2 April 1983, she celebrated her 93rd birthday in her home.

The J.G.B. Memorial Library

As early as the 1950's efforts had been made to establish a local lending library. The library operated initially from the storeroom of a Mr. Walter Muller's shop with a total of 350 books. It was then relocated to the Sedgefield Investment offices and thereafter to Mr. Boshoff's Stinkwood Novelty Shop. After the arrival in Sedgefield of Miss Germaine Rouilland, a widely read and nature loving lady, who run a library from her own garage, and then moved the contents to another hired garage.

The first minuted library committee meeting was held on 8 June, 1961. Mrs. Elaine Watney was the Secretary, and the other committee members were Miss Rouilland, Dr. Brown, Mrs. Hampson and Miss Juliana van der Westhuizen. Miss Rouilland advised on an increase of books from 937 to 1142 during the past year, and that membership was 121 adults and 31 children. The Regional Library Inspector was satisfied with these details, and it was evident that ground for a permanent Sedgefield Library was necessary. In the meantime books were housed in the garage of Moreson House.

In late 1961, plot 211 was purchased for R700,00, and a loan was to be raised for this. A new building was planned to display 3 200 books with additional shelves for expansion and the introduction of a card book system. In May 1962, Miss Rouilland officially opened the library and Mrs. Boet Smuts arranged for tea in Mr. Smut's hall (the present Municipal Hall) at 2 shillings per head. In recognition of a gift from Mrs. Elaine Watney and in memory of her late husand, it was decided to name the Library 'Watney Memorial Library'.

The librarian also had art prints available with lectures offered on the pictures and artists. The Divisional Council insisted that Libraries must be, 'Pivots of Culture' for the community, and lectures were presented on bird life and ceramics. Miss. Rouilland, also an accomplished artist, conducted art classes for children and an exhibition of Child Art was held. Pictures and collages were exhibited at the Knysna Art Exhibition in 1966.

During 1963, cinema shows were held at the library and long-playing records were also available for lending. A weekly story hour was introduced to attract and entertain the children.

After Miss Rouilland's retirement, Mrs. Maud Stigling was appointed and continued in the same friendly manner, as well as maintaining the beautiful established garden. Next followed, Miss Betty Moodie, and then, Mrs. Ricky Norden as librarians. As time progressed and Sedgefield expanded, the Watney Memorial Library opened its new spacious and attractive building with a Children's Section, designed by Architect, Mr. Malcolm Fraser. The Art lending section and the new high-fidelity music center are a wonderful asset.

The 'Bird Man' of Sedgefield

Several of the long established residents of Sedgefield had been attracted to this village as visitors, only to finally be drawn under its spell of beauty and tranquillity. Reverend Wilfred Hartly was a much-loved Methodist minister and his retirement home was one of the original wooden cottages built by Willem Klein, many years ago.

During the 1960's Wilfred's young brother Kidger, and his wife, Eleanor, bought the rumbling home of Dr. Olivier, and began a protea planting project in the large garden. An extensive indigenous area finally emerged with many Protea's being grown from seeds that Kidger Hartley had brought with him from Kimberley. The large Protea garden attracted many birds.

To feed this every growing population, Kidger and Eleanor collected and planted grass seeds and began a 'wormery' to produce food. Kidger build bigger and better aviaries and at one stage fed over 200 Rooibekkies. An injured Starling would eat Pronutro from Eleanor's shoulder, and the Forked Tailed Drangos demonstrated absolute precision in catching cheese pieces thrown to them. As many as 20 Guinea Fowl would feed in the Hartley gardens. Kidger Hartley had affectionately became known as Sedgefield's 'Bird Man'.

Sedgemeer Park

Due to the lack of care facilities for the elderly and frail, a small group of citizens formed a steering committee in 1984 to establish a Retirement Scheme for themselves. After extensive research, an establishment was produced to care for the elderly folk of Sedgefield in the form of compact housing units, ensuring them continued independence and security. Sedgemeer Park, at thecorner of Flamingo and Kingfisher Drives is located on a large portion of property.

At present the Park consists of three small units, each with its own lounge/dining room, bedroom, bathroom and mini-kitchen. In comparison with similar associations in South Africa at the time, the units were low-priced due to the extremely low value of the property as offered by Mrs. Watney.

The Sedgefield Post Office

Mr. Noel Parrot and his wife Pauline ran a quaint General Dealer's shop at the corner of Kingfisher Drive and Main Road. This popular shop sold anything and everything and it was also a great social place to discuss all the latest news of the area. The Sedgefield Postal Agency and Postal Services rented a small section of the store as the first Sedgefield Post Office, and was separated from the main shop by a thin plywood partition.

The first Post Office attendant (Sub Post- mistress), was Miss Kenna Terblance, who served across the counter of the partition. Her duties included forwarding telegram information to Knysna for dispatch from there, messages to and from other areas, stamps, parcels, the telephone switchboard. She also had to collect the postbags from the station!

The counter space was limited, and even more so, when buckets were placed there to catch the drips from the leaking roof when it rained. Sedgefield progressed, Miss Terblanche was transferred and replaced by a Miss Juliana van der Westhuizen. At this stage there were 50 postal boxes and 25 telephone numbers in the exchange.

Miss Meyer was appointed as an assistant to deliver telegrams and collect the postbags. In her absence, the Postmistress had to report to fetching and carrying the postal bags from the station. The Station Mistress, Miss Hart, was only on duty at the station at times trains would arrive, and by special arrangement.

In 1955, the upgraded main road to Knysna made Sedgefield more accessible, and the general store was enlarged. Two telephone call boxes were installed on the eastern side of the building, and further behind, a new red G.P.O. mailbox. In 1973 the Post Office was moved to its current site at the corner of Flamingo and Fink Streets.

Shipwreck off Gericke's Point

Situated off the Swartvlei Estuary, this prominent rock is called 'Gericke's Point', and named after the owner of the adjoining land, Mr Gericke, in the 1800's. On the 11th of February 1850, the 546-ton 'NEPAUL' struck a submerged rock in a violent storm just off Gericke's Point.

The ship, registered in Greenock, Scotland, was bound for London from China and Bombay. On board was, Captain A. Mc Lean, a crew of 16, and as passengers, Dr. & Mrs. Bell, and Mrs. Drago with two daughters, aged seven and nine. After three days of heavy pounding from the massive waves, the wrecked ship was driven ashore at the mouth of the Swartvlei Estuary. The female passengers had all been carried up the masts for safety, but were suffering from exposure. The ship lifeboats had been smashed to pieces, and the local residents could not offer any assistance either.

Only by the fourth day when the seas had calmed, two constructed rafts and a line floated ashore, enabled everyone to be taken ashore. Five casualties resulted; the Chief Officer, William Henderson, drowned whilst attempting to reach shore tied to a hen-coop; sail mate, Dugald Blair, and the ship's boy, John Davie, drowned whilst being ferried ashore; the two little girls were unconscious when carried ashore on the backs of the sailors. Mr.and Mrs. Johannes Meeding, of the farm 'Ruigtevlei', cared for the survivors at their home.

On the 23rd February, ten members of the crew sailed to Cape Town aboard the Forlen and the Captain and remaining crew boarded the Louisa at Mossel Bay soon after. One crew member named Tom, remained with the Meedings in their employ for 30 years until his death.