OUDTSHOORN OSTRICH BOOM Dr Dawn Gould

Oudtshoorn is a town in the western Cape approximately 423 kilometers, by road, from Cape Town.  Its name is in memory of Baron Pieter van Reede van Oudtshoorn who died at sea on January 1773 while on his way to become Governor of the Cape. 

In 1689 an Ensign Shrijver had his hopes, as he trudged along an old elephant path, for trading opportunities, thwarted. It would be many, many years later when some possibilities slowly started in the area.  Later in 1839 a Dutch Reformed Church was built. Slowly a town began to grow and was given the name of Oudtshoorn.  In time a school opened, as did a municipality, an agricultural society and a larger Dutch Reformed Church.

Drought in 1859 a drought created serious economic situations.  Eventually heavy rains improved matters as the Oudtshoorn farmers learnt of the value of selling ostrich feathers.  The feathers of these birds were in huge demand for the female fashion industry in Europe and Britain. The profitability of nourishing these birds and then selling the feathers was a huge attraction to the local citizens.  More and more people moved into Oudtshoorn, imposing homes began to be built and being filled with expensive furniture, women began to be dressed with the huge feathers on hats, twisted in their hair and attached to clothes. There appeared to be a large surplus of wealth.   A boom was in practice.

But an economic failure began to be felt between 1899 to1902. Then slowly business improved. However shortly after the end of the first world war 1914-1918, problems began to incur. There had been over production, other countries, eg California, were in competition.  Further, certain motor cars were not able to accept the tall feathers – especially when car windows were opened.  Further fashion was also changing.  The boom of ostrich feathers had  fallen apart.