Portland Manor’s history

As the custodians of Portland Manor’s history, RussellStone Group’s vision and core objectives, as owner, are to rehabilitate this 212-hectare property, restore it to its former glory, and for it to become the main activity hotel destination in the Greater Knysna area. Portland Manor is a majestic historical country estate situated in the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountain range, bordering the famous indigenous Knysna Forest.

delve into the history

of portland Manor &

the Knysna area


Portland’s history is intertwined with South Africa’s first European settlers. In 1652 the first European settlement was established by the Dutch East India Company in Table Bay, Cape Town. To both survive and thrive, these settlers needed an on-going supply of timber to construct buildings, furniture, wagons, tools, and to use as a fuel source.

The small forests scattered over the slopes of Table Mountain served as one of their first sources of timber. Unfortunately, these forests were quickly depleted. Timber was then imported from Mauritius, but after that supply line ran dry, the settlers were forced to search for timber in other inland areas located to the east and west of the Western Cape.

Knysna’s development began after its lush forests were discovered in the Garden Route area. The surrounding mountains ensured lots of rainfall, the timber supply seemed inexhaustible, nearby beaches made ocean transport possible, rivers and lagoons teemed with fish, and local wildlife was in abundance. Knysna’s boundless potential could not be ignored.


Stephanus Jesaias Terblanche, the first recorded farmer, settled in the region in 1770. He was granted a loan permit to farm Melkhoutkraal. This farm was situated on the eastern banks of the Knysna River and stretched from the Eastern Head to the present-day industrial area


In 1774, Stephanus Terblanche’s younger brother, Salomon Terblanche, acquired a farm to the northwest of the estuary, called Leeuwenbosch.


In 1804 George Rex, once thought to have been the illegitimate son of George III of England, settled in Knysna


  • In 1819, George Rex bought a portion of Leeuwenbosch (De Poort) from Salomon and renamed it Portland. He eventually owned all the farms along the Knysna Estuary and beyond, namely: Melkhoutkraal; Eastford; Westford; Uitzigt; Leeuwenbosch and Springfield. He effectively owned the whole of the Knysna River basin, measuring some 25,000 acres.


Knysna’s next major figure was Captain Thomas Henry Duthie, formerly of the 72 Highlanders, who, in 1834, married Caroline Rex and bought the farm Uitzicht from his father-in-law, George Rex. It was renamed Belvidere and is located on the west side of the Knysna Estuary

Portland Manor History


After George Rex’s death in 1839, his properties were put up for sale under the terms of his will.

Portland Manor History


By 1840, Thomas Henry Duthie had bought two additional farms from the George Rex estate, Westford, and Portland


In 1842, Henry Barrington, 12th son of the 5th Viscount Barrington, arrived in the Cape and went to Knysna. He brought lavish household items from England, which included a grand piano and a chandelier, and was on the lookout for the perfect home in which to place them. He purchased the Portland farm from Thomas Henry Duthie and set out to transform the estate into a “very perfect place”.

Portland Manor History


In 1863, Henry Barrington built the farm’s first house, styled after the manor houses of England


Unfortunately, Henry Barrington’s joy in accomplishing this momentous feat was short-lived after the Great Fire of 1869 left his house in ruins. Henry spared no time rebuilding the house, but he had lost everthing and the new house was not nearly as grand as the original one. Reconstruction started the following year and the family home, named Portland Manor, still stands today. Barrington’s dedication to revolutionising Portland was unwavering. Along with his newly built home, he also constructed a dam on the estate with a sawmill. Beekeeping and the planting of mulberry trees and apple orchards were at the order of the day. Henry’s other endeavours on the estate included cheese and breadmaking, growing tobacco and barley, and farming livestock. He also campaigned for the Seven Passes Road to link Knysna and George which he believed, quite rightly, would open the markets for all their produce. Sadly, this project was only finalized after his death. Henry played a very significant role in turning Portland Manor into the awe-inspiring property that it is today.

Portland Manor History


Portland Manor is also close to Millwood. This little town became famous in 1876 when a gold nugget was found there in 1876. The word spread like wildfire which led fortune hunters to flock to the area in search of riches. However, by 1888, not enough gold was recovered to maintain the growth of the town. Rumours of other gold deposits on the reef led many diggers to leave the area. The Millwood House Museum built in the original mining village still stands today and harbours lots of the town’s history, including artefacts once owned by George Rex. This historical building is only 20 km away from Portland Manor

Portland Manor History


The San Ambroso chapel still standing in Gouna was eventually built in commemoration of the Italian silk farmers by Rev Rooney in 1891 – ten years after they arrived. The chapel is located only 30 km from Portland Manor and is well worth the drive.

Portland Manor History

Early 1980's

Lawnwood Dam is situated on the Portland property and was constructed in the early 1980s. The addition of this beautiful body of water spurred Frank Peter to establish the house on Portland as a country hotel in the mid-90s, which became Portland Manor

Lawnwood Dam


Henry Barrington’s interest in silk production and mulberry trees as food plants also led to him being featured in renowned South African author Dalene Matthee’s 1987 novel, Moerbeibos. In the novel, Dalene recounts the story of the Italian silk spinners of Gouna. Her book, although fictional, was based on real events and references the group of Italian silk farmers who were brought to Knysna to farm with silkworms and start up a silk spinning industry.

Moerbei Bos

The Resting Place of Dalene Matthee at Krisjan-se-Nek

At Krisjan-se-Nek picnic area is the Big Tree, named after Dalene Matthee – an eight hundred year old yellowwood that stands some 40 metres high. Dalene Matthee died unexpectedly from heart failure in 2005. Her ashes were scattered at Krisjan-se-Nek, one of her favourite places in the Knysna Forest. The memorial is a joint undertaking between SANparks, Tafelberg Publishers and her children.

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Goukamma Nature and Marine Reserve

Located between Sedgefield and Buffalo Bay is the underrated and unpretentious magical Goukamma Nature Reserve and Marine Protected Area with sand dunes, a freshwater lake, and abundant wildlife.

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San Ambroso Chapel Museum

The San Ambroso Chapel Museum is a small building in Gouna. The Chapel was built as a Roman Catholic church in 1891 for the Italian immigrants who came to establish a silk industry in South Africa based on the misinformation that Mulberry trees grew plentifully in the Knysna Forest.

Knysna Timber Route

The Knysna Timber Route covers the Lakes District of the Garden Route: from Island Lake near Wilderness in the West to the Garden of Eden, about 10 km east of Knysna.

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Thesen House

Thesen House was designed in 1915 and built in 1917. It is built on a foundation of sandstone with walls of brick and an iron roof. A fire destroyed the building in 1926, which was rebuilt with gables showing a Viking ship. The building still belongs to the Thesen family.

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The Old Gaol

The oldest municipal building in Knysna, built in 1859 and converted to a museum in 1993.

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Millwood House

House built of yellowwood at Millwood Goldfield in the 1880s. Now houses our local history collection, with local history publications on sale.

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Holy Trinity Church

Holy Trinity Anglican Church is located in the picturesque village of Belvidere in Knysna, built by Thomas Henry Duthie, owner of Belvidere Estate from 1833 to 1857.

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