PEERS CAVE  –  Dr Dawn Gould

Peers Cave c1930s Photo Fish Hoek Valley Museum

When the South African War was underway a young man born in Australia, Victor Peers, joined the army and in 1899 he and other Australian men were sent to South Africa to support and defend the British soldiers already there. Peer was wounded and was sent to the Cape to recover.  After the end of the war in 1902 he was repatriated but returned to stay in South Africa, found work on the railways and later would build a house in Fish Hoek for his family. He enjoyed walking on the local mountains and became interested in the Fynbos (Dutch = fine leaved plants / Afrikaans = fine bush) the smallest of the six floral kingdoms.  He began collecting specimens from many parts of the Cape Province and according  to an article in Veld and Flora of March 1980, he donated many to the Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden and others to the Bolus Herbarium.  It was during his and his young son’s mountain walks that Peers Cave  – then called Schildergat – was brought to public attention.

 

Peers told and showed stone pieces he had picked up in the cave to John Goodwin an archaeologist who indicated that the pieces were stone age tools. The Peers, father and son, were given a quick training and from the 1920’s began to dig. What was found over years included a shell midden, ostrich egg beads, a burial site. The skull of a male skeleton was sent to England, for examination, by anatomist , Sir Arthur Keith who afterwards stated that “It will be a long while before so perfect a discovery as that made by the Peers is repeated.”  The age of these discoveries has been suggested as between 10,000 and 12,000 years old.

 

In 1932 General Smuts, at the time leader of the opposition in parliament and who would later become Prime Minister of South Africa, stated at a meeting, in Durban, of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science, “The exploration of this Cave is not yet complete but already it promises to be the most remarkable cave site yet found in South Africa.”

 

Unfortunately as often happens when something is brought to public attention, people began to visit the cave, caused destruction, began their own digs, carrying away whatever they found.  In 1941 the then mayor of Fish Hoek, as an honour to Victor Peers, named the cave, Peers Cave.   Some confusion arose after this when it was felt that the cave should become a National Monument. Unfortunately it is not clear exactly what occurred but this did not happen.  Bertie Peers died, in 1939, from a snakebite and his father in 1940.

 

Were the statements made by Sir Arthur Keith and General Jan Smuts fulfilled, the answer appears to be no .Today, on information given, it falls under Table Mountain National Park.