Horse racing in Knysna, 1882
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A Thesen Island secret we -ahem!- bet you never knew
Fancy a flutter on the ponies? Our great-great-great grandparents here in Knysna certainly did!
We recently came across a number of cuttings from The George & Knysna Herald - the local newspaper of the time - that showed that the old folks arranged at least two major race days here, both on the 25th of May: first in 1882, and then in 1883.
We don't know why they chose that date: - even Google couldn’t help us, although we did learn that Queen Victoria’s birthday fell on the 24th. Perhaps one of our readers knows? If so, please educate us! (PLACE CLIENT'S EMAIL ADDY HERE)
Under the banner of the Knysna Turf Club, these were well-organised events that offered substantial prizes. The programme for 1882, for example, included a Turf Club Purse (stakes: 50 pounds) and a Ladies’ Purse - which was open only to “gentlemen riders.” (We know. We don’t know either...)
From what we’ve been able to gather, the race course itself was laid out on Thesen Island - which makes sense, since the earliest maps of Knysna identified it as Paarden Island: 'paarden’ being the Dutch for horses. And that would have made sense, too: at first It was basically just a low-lying field where Knysna’s earliest settlers kept their livestock. Later, though, it was bought, renamed, and put to use as a harbour, sawmill and oyster farm by the Thesen family, who came to Knysna from Norway in the 1860s, and set up as very successful timber merchants, whalers, and ship owners.
Today, of course, you aren't likely to find any four-legged horses on Thesen Island. But if you’re desperate for some racing, perhaps you can train a few Knysna seahorses?
(Jokes! Seahorses are far too chilled to race. And anyway, you’re not allowed to collect them, because they’re endangered. But they ARE here - and if you don’t want to swim, you can see a few of them in the aquarium at the Thesen Island offices of the Garden Route National Park.)
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Featured image: Wikimedia (public domain)