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With the Green Point area in Cape Town very much in the news as one of the venues for the 2010 Soccer World Cup, it is a timeous moment to reflect back on the history of this well-known site overlooking Table Bay.
1904 (circa) Post Card of The Docks with ships in Table Bay, showing portion of Green Point, the Track and Somerset Hospital at left.
Though there is much controversy over the use of this area and the changes envisaged for it, this will not be the first major change in its history, although it is doubtful that previous changes elicited such debate and uproar.

Green Point was originally granted to Jan van Riebeeck in 1657 for farming, but it was found to be unsuitable. It was named Green Point back in 1675 and is believed to be the 2nd oldest surviving English name in South Africa. The area consisted of a residential suburb and the common, which was called De Waterplaats (the Foreshore) by the early Dutch settlers.

The first lighthouse in South Africa was built here in 1824, and acquired the 1st revolving light in 1865. It was electrified in 1929 and is the oldest active lighthouse in South Africa, although it is now known as Mouille Point lighthouse. (The original Mouille Point lighthouse was located in front of the battery at Pringle Bay but no longer exists).

Stamp issued in 1988 depicting Green Point Lighthouse, but as it looks today and renamed Mouille Point Lighthouse.

The common has been used for a wide variety of recreational activities over the years, besides being a place where Cape Town residents have taken outings and rambled about since the earliest days. The area was used over the years for grazing cattle & other livestock. There used to be an extensive but shallow seasonal vlei, which hosted sailing regattas until it slowly filled in and disappeared towards the end of the 1800’s and early 1900’s.

The 1st horse races were held at Green Point in 1795 and continued through to around 1900, until the facility was moved to the new Kenilworth race track. In fact, the original course stand still exists today, currently the premises of a McDonalds franchise.

The Green Point Post Office was opened in 1847 and is still in operation today. As with all things, the postmarkers employed at the postal counters have changed in style and appearance.

Reproduced from The Postmarks of South Africa, with kind permission from R. Putzel & A. Visser.

The 1st rugby game played in South Africa took place here in 1862, between the Gentlemen of the Civil Service and the Officers of the Army and ended in a 0-0 draw. In 1862, an annual cricket game was staged for the first time here between citizens split into 2 teams, "Mother Country” vesus “Colonial Born". In the late 1800’s, a golf course was established on the common and a large part still exists to this day, although its layout and area has altered over the years. The common also contained a cycle track and an althletics track which were incorporated into the Green Point Stadium, which was used for various sports & recreational activities until very recently. Over the years, parts of the Common were utilised for many other purposes, some permanent, such as the building of the Somerset Hospital.

The original Green Point Track, with Somerset Hospital on the right near the water’s edge.
  Also used as a rugby venue, parts of the old track are still there.
In 1923, the area was granted to the Cape Town City Council by the Union Government as Commonage, for general public recreation purposes & sports fields.

During the Anglo-Boer War, the British used the area for a military camp and the British Army later constructed a Prisoner of War camp in Green Point for Boers captured in battle. There were also POW camps constructed at Bellvue and Simon’s Town, but Green Point was the largest of the three. Altogether 27,000 Boers were captured and detained in prisoner of war camps. Because of the shortage of adequate facilities in South Africa and because the British wanted to reduce any threat of escape or rescue by Boer sympathisers, 24,000 POWs were sent to camps in Bermuda, St Helena, India, Ceylon & Portugal.

Green Point Military Camp & POW Camp with the cycle track clearly visible.
The cover illustrated below is an example of mail sent to a POW at Green Point Camp. It was registered & posted from KRUGERSDORP/ Z.A.R / 29. JAN 01 & addressed to C.C. de la Rey, Prisoner of War, Camp No 1, Tent No 2, Green Point, Cape Town. It was cancelled on the reverse (as per regulations) in transit JOHANNESBURG/ Z.A.R/ 30.JAN 01, arrived in Cape Town & is cancelled (also on the reverse) by REGISTERED LETTER OFFICE/ CAPE TOWN/ FE 5 01 and delivered to GREEN POINT/ FE 5/ 01 where it was backstamped on arrival. Before being delivered to the addressee, it was censored and the cover bears the CENSOR/ PRISONER OF WAR circular handstamp with the censor’s initials at right of this, plus an endorsement “£10” by hand, indicating that £10 was enclosed as a gift from the sender (the reason for it being sent by registered mail). The sender is not known, as there was no sender’s address written on the reverse of the envelope, which was customarily written here, especially for registered mail, but one would presume that these details were contained in a letter accompanying the contents, which unfortunately, are no longer present.
An additional note for the non-philatelist.
The point that must be stressed is that the stamps on the envelope are of relatively little value, despite their age. If the stamps had been removed, as was customary for stamp collectors to do back in the “old days”, the purpose for which the stamps were used and the cover which bears this interesting “history”, would have been lost forever and with it any significant value. These are stamps were originally issued by the Z.A.R. (Zuid Afrikaanse Republiek) before the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War in 1896-1897 and were then overprinted V.R.I. by the British in June 1900, soon after the fall of Pretoria.

The real value of this cover lies in the fact that it is complete & intact, i.e. the stamps, the envelope and all the postal and other markings are still present. Overall, the condition is very good (an essential ingredient in establishing value) and is as to be expected of a cover that has travelled, done its service and has been fairly well preserved for more than 100 years. Naturally, if the contents were still present, this would enhance the value even further. This is an good example of what is known as “postal history” in the stamp trade and is among the most popular philatelic material sought after by philatelists.

This important rule of thumb is illustrated with the above cover. Never remove stamps from envelopes. One can take them off, but can never put them back together and who knows what unique item of postal history may be destroyed in the process.
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