White settlement and irrigation schemes: CF Rigg and the founding of Bonnievale in the Breede River Valley, 1900-c.1953.

15 April 2014

The idea to initiate irrigation development as part of a white colonisation scheme and a political movement to settle Britons on land in South Africa dates back to the culmination of British imperialism in the late nineteenth century. Such schemes were envisaged by imperialists such as Cecil Rhodes, Thomas Smartt and Percy Fitzpatrick and became more viable with the promulgation of the Cape Colony’s Irrigation Act of 1893 which extended the facility of government loan funds to private individuals. In 1900 a Scottish immigrant, CF Rigg, obtained land on the Breede River in the Western Cape which was divided after a survey into irrigation plots for private purchase. Thus, Rigg began one of the first private real estate schemes in South Africa. Apart from a number of poor white Afrikaner ostrich farmers, who left the droughtstricken Oudtshoorn district in search of better agricultural conditions by purchasing plots from Rigg, he also targeted British World War One veterans. Rigg compiled an elaborate and professional recruitment brochure which included detailed information on aspects such as soil conditions, climatology and geographical features, agricultural possibilities, transport facilities and shipping fares from Britain to South Africa. This article explores the historical development of Rigg’s irrigation settlement and infrastructural development such as the construction of a weir and canal system (which included the drilling and blasting of an irrigation tunnel) under the guise of white colonisation and settlement in the age of empire in early twentieth century South Africa. As the number of purchasers of irrigation plots increased over time, Rigg’s scheme, originally called Riggton, would gradually develop into the town and agricultural community of Bonnievale, derived from the Scottish word for “beautiful” and the local railway siding Vale.