The Huguenot History



The Huguenots were devout Protestants from France and Southern Netherlands, who followed the teaching of the theologian, John Calvin.

Many of them fled their country to escape persecution during the 17th century so they could be free to practise their religion.

They made new homes in England and Ireland, Reformed Europe and the Atlantic world. Many of them took refuge in the Dutch Republic where a small number were recruited by the Dutch East India Company to strengthen the maritime replenishment station at the Cape of Good Hope.

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The story of the Huguenots who came to the Cape begins with a long history of religious warfare and persecution in France.

Following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 the Dutch East India Company decided to encourage Huguenot refugees to immigrate to the Cape to establish a stronger agricultural base there. Preference was given to settlers who were wine growers or had expert skills. Farmers would be provided with as much land as they could cultivate. Their perilous journeys over mountains and sea to establish new lives and homes at the Cape resonate with similar experiences of refugees around the world.

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The Massacre of Wassy in 1562 ushered in two centuries of Huguenot persecution in France.

Persecution In France


A walking timeline takes visitors along the central spine of the museum. It starts at the Dutch wall clock made by a Huguenot descendant. Visitors can trace the key events in the French wars of religion and in the hardships Huguenots faced as Calvinist Protestants in France. Their history of their persecution is shown against the backdrop of other local and global persecutions over the course of time. A special feature is the two lamps used when worshipping secretly at night.

The Refuge

Protestants in France had three choices: convert to Catholicism, worship in secret, or flee the country. The word ‘refugee’ comes from the French word réfugié which dates back to 1685, used then to refer to the 160 000 or more who fled France for nearby non-Catholics states or countries.

Places Of Origin

They came from two main regions in France and the Southern Netherlands, one region stretched from Flanders to the Loire Valley, the other region consisted of the arch stretching from the Dauphiné to Languedoc, which includes Provence. A big factor was the difficulty or ease of the escape routes.

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VOC recruitment

The first attempt at recruitment to strengthen the Cape as a replenishment station for the passing ships was largely unsuccessful. However, as a result of the intensified persecution against Protestants, the second drive had a good response. The offer of 60 morgen allotments had especial appeal for the refugees. All applicants had to meet stringent requirements and had to agree to staying for five years.

Flight To The Cape

The flight of the Huguenots to South Africa did not, as is generally believed, occur only during the years 1688 to 1689. Over a period of more than three-quarters of a century they relocated to and settled at the Cape of Good Hope.

Voyage to the Cape

The twelve week voyage was arduous and dangerous. The ships were far from comfortable and the seas were often rough. Most of the time, there was no fresh food and water was in short supply. Malnutrition led to diseases like scurvy. Many died or were seriously weakened during the sea voyage.

Arrival At The Cape

The Honselaarsdijk the first of the nine VOC ships bringing Huguenots to the Cape set anchor in Table Bay on 11 April 1688. The refugees on these and the other eight ships were severely debilitated by the voyage. They gathered in Table Valley. Before moving into the interior they were given emergency supplies.

Settlement At The Cape

The majority of Huguenots were allotted land along the Berg and Franschhoek rivers. The others were allotted farming land in the Dwars River Valley, and the present-day Wellington (Wagenmakersvallei) and Stellenbosch. They were also given some food supplies, seed and basic equipment. The VOC policy to assimilate them led to the loss of their language.

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Struggle For Survival

The climate and terrain were unfamiliar and much of it was unsuitable for grazing or food crops. Few of them had farming skills and they had only rudimentary equipment. They also lacked the capital to buy the seeds and basics they needed. Other problems were drought, transporting their produce to market, stock raids and unfair competition from the company officials.



Find here a detailed Register of all the Huguenots who came to the Cape



The legacy of the Huguenots was kept alive through artefacts and tangible symbols.
One of these was the Huguenot Cross, which appeared for the first time as a piece of jewellery worn by Protestants in the south of France.


Jean Calvin advocated the use of méreaux (stamped metal discs) , as a proof of identity and recognition for members of the new Reformed confession. Méreaux were used as tokens permitting worshippers to partake of Holy Communion. In times of persecution, méreaux became known as the medals of the church of the Désert.

Huguenot Cross

The Huguenot Cross is a symbol of recognition among Reformed Christians. Its four arms represent the four Gospels and the points at the end of the eight Beatitudes. The fleur-de-lis lily is a symbol of the resurrection of God, the twelve petals symbolise the Twelve Apostles and the three petals stand for the Holy Trinity. The four hearts symbolising loyalty and the love of Jesus. The descending dove is the symbol of the Holy Spirit.


Huguenot Rose

As its name implies, the Huguenot rose (Rosa damascene semperflorens) flowers through the season. The Huguenots brought the Autumn Damask rose variety with them and used it to make fragrant rose-water for export to the East. It symbolises their entrepreneurship.


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