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The Treaty Tree is a landmark milkwood tree that marks the spot where control of the Cape passed from the Dutch to the British ©Alison Westwood

The Treaty Tree

Location: Corner of Treaty and Spring Streets, Woodstock.

 

Beside the railway tracks that run behind the furniture wholesale warehouses in Lower Woodstock is an old milkwood tree. The commemorative plaque on the rock beneath it was stolen some years ago, but it is nonetheless a national monument.

 

It was here on 10 January 1806, that the commandant of Cape Town, Lieutenant-Colonel Hieronymus Casimir von Prophalow, and the commanders of the British forces signed the treaty of the Battle of Blaauwberg. The treaty passed control of the Cape from Dutch to British hands, where it remained for more than a century, until it was incorporated into the Union of South Africa in 1910.

 

At the time of the treaty, the tree stood beside a homestead called Papendorp, after which the suburb of Woodstock was originally named. This building became known as Treaty House and the tree as the Treaty Tree. The house was demolished to make way for a factory in 1935, but the tree survived. In 1967 it was declared a national monument.

 

Although it’s not certain how old the tree is, some say it was already a landmark for Portuguese sailors in the 16th century. Legend also has it that it was near this tree that 64 of cut-throat explorer Captain d’Almeida’s infamous marines were massacred by local Khoikhoi in 1509 after foolishly attempting to abduct an infant from the clan.

 

Before 1806, the tree was known as the slave tree, as slaves were sold in its shade – and sometimes hanged from its branches. Until the end of the last century, there still lived in Woodstock a woman, Rachel Bester, who claimed to have seen the slave dealers touting their human wares under the tree.

 

It’s interesting to note that, until the land reclamation of the Foreshore in 1952, the Treaty Tree would have been very close to the old Woodstock beach, with a fine view of the sea and ships coming in and out of the harbour.

 

This is probably the only tree in South Africa to have a wine named after it. The milkwood is pictured on the label of Flagstone’s Treaty Tree Reserve – an award-winning blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.