Robben Island - Encyclopedia


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ROBBEN ISLAND, an island at the entrance of Table Bay, 7 m. N.N.W. of Cape Town. It is some 4 m. long by 2 broad. At its southern end is a lighthouse with a fixed light visible for 20 m. It got its name (robben, Dutch for seal) from the seals which formerly frequented it, now only occasional visitants. The island when discovered was uninhabited. It is first mentioned by an English seaman named Raymond, who states that in 1591 seals and penguins were there in large numbers. In 1614 ten criminals from London were landed on the island to form a settlement and supply fresh provisions to passing ships. The attempt, which ended in failure, is interesting as the first recorded settlement of English in South Africa. In the 18th century the slate quarries of Robben Island were extensively worked by the Dutch of Cape Town. The island is now noted for its leper asylum and its convict establishment. For many years an asylum for lunatics was also maintained, but in 1904 the lunatics were removed to the mainland. The common rabbit, brought from England, abounds, but its introduction to the mainland is prohibited. As early as 1657 criminals were banished to the island by the Dutch authorities at Cape Town; it has also served as the place of detention of several noted Kaffir chiefs.

See G. F. Gresley, "The Early History of Robben Island," in The Cape Illustrated Magazine (Oct. 1895).

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