Everyone loves a ghost story – here are some of our favourite Cape Town ghosts.
Tokai Manor House
Built in 1796, this house was designed by Louis Thibault, a Frenchman who was South Africa’s first architect and who designed many of the finest buildings in the country. The owner was financially ruined after building it and the estate was bought by the Eksteen family. At the time it was considered to be the most outstanding homestead on the peninsula. The Eksteens were renowned for their annual New Year’s Eve parties and on one such night Eksteen Senior dared his son Frederick to ride his horse up the stairs and into the dining-room. Frederick was game and proceeded to prance around the dining room to the delight and encouragement of the guests. As he rode out of the house, and in full view of the guests, the horse slipped on the very steep steps and both horse and rider fell to their deaths. To this day, a ghostly horseman is often seen and heard in the house and surrounding forest, especially on New Year’s Eve.
The Flying Dutchman
The world’s most famous ghost ship is the Flying Dutchman – a ship doomed to never make port. There are many variations of this story but most agree that the ship’s captain, Hendrik van der Decken, was attempting to round the Cape of Good Hope in 1641 when his ship and all crew perished, as have so many other ships who under-estimated these wild seas. Many sailors have reported seeing him, still trying to find a port, screaming into the wind. The funicular at Cape Point which takes visitors to the old lighthouse at the top of the point is named the Flying Dutchman but you are guaranteed to reach the top (or the bottom as you come down) without any drama, unless you count the views which are dramatic indeed!
Hout Bay – Kronendal
The homestead Kronendal, in Hout Bay, is on the main road between Constantia Nek and the Hout Bay beach. The legend of the ghost dates back to 1840, about 40 years after the present gabled manor house was built. The owner, Daniel Cloete, had a very pretty daughter, Elsa. She fell in love with a British soldier stationed in Hout Bay. However, their love was forbidden since he was British and she was Dutch.
The closest contact they had was at secret meetings at the front windows of the homestead. Eventually, in desperation, the soldier hanged himself from one of the oak trees in the avenue across the road from Kronendal that can still be seen today. Elsa, it is said, died of a broken heart. Around sunset you can sometimes see a man standing among the oaks looking longingly at the Kronendal building and every so often there is a young woman wearing an old-fashioned blue dress looking out of one of the windows. The building is a restaurant now and every night a table is set for Elsa and her lover.
Castle of Good Hope
As Cape Town’s oldest building it’s no surprise that the Castle of Good Hope is positively riddled with ghosts. Workers and visitors report hearing voices and footsteps in the dungeon and narrow corridors. The bell in the Bell Tower, which was walled up centuries ago after a soldier hanged himself with the bell-rope, sometimes rings of its own accord. A black dog haunts the property and has been known to approach visitors and then disappear. Another ghost story is that of Governor Pieter Gysbert van Noodt, who was apparently a strict and militant man, once sentenced seven soldiers to die by hanging. One of the soldiers is said to have cursed him. Later that day, Van Noodt was found dead at his desk, having died of a heart attack. Lady Anne Barnard, wife of the Cape’s colonial secretary and renowned for her diaries and drawings recounting life at the Cape, lived at the Castle and is said to haunt the ballroom and the Dolphin Pool where she bathed regularly.
Most well-known house in Rondebosch – Jac Loopuyt House, also known as The Ghost House of Rondebosch, is a picturesque Edwardian residence nicknamed “The Spook House”. It is rumoured that a strange cult resided there in the 1970’s and there are stories of doors being opened and closed inexplicably, and a transparent elderly man wandering around. It’s nonetheless a beautiful house and, after years of neglect, has been lovingly renovated and filled with lovely things.
The hauntings of Doctor Barry
Dr Barry was surely one of the most unusual of the many strange individuals who washed up on the Cape’s shores in days gone by. Doctor Barry arrived in the Cape in 1817. He was small, effeminate, had a shrill voice, wore built-up shoes and used towels to pad his shoulders but he was most famous for his bad temper and ability to get into trouble all the time. There are many stories about his duels, the poodle he carried everywhere, and the high-ranking company he kept, including Lord Charles Somerset who had a hunting lodge at what is now the Round House Restaurant in Camps Bay. He avoided punishment for various deeds many times because of the protection he enjoyed and because of his skills as a doctor. He carried out the first Caesarian Section in the English-speaking world and the family of that baby was so grateful they commissioned the only known painting of him. The painting hangs in the Alphen Hotel and the eyes follow you as you walk around. He is also said to haunt the Round House and gardens, a sad looking figure in British military uniform.
Barry went on to serve – as irascible as ever – in places like Mauritius, Trinidad, St Helena, Malta, Corfu, the Crimea (where he reportedly quarreled with and insulted Florence Nightingale), Jamaica and Canada. Then he retired to England in the rank of Inspector-General of Army Hospitals, the British Army’s highest medical post.
On his death in 1865 the doctor who signed the death certificate did not notice anything untoward but the cleaning woman who laid out his body discovered that Doctor Barry was in fact a woman.
We can’t resist including the uniquely South African Tokoloshe. Not a ghost but possibly the most colourful and well-known of all South African legends is that of the tokoloshe. This ugly little creature strikes terror in the heart of many South Africans and is regularly blamed for all manner of unfortunate events. There are no photos of him, but he has been described as being dwarf-like, brown, hairy, naked, and very well-endowed. Nothing good has ever been said about him as he is filled with malicious intent. Also said to be invisible so it’s all very confusing. Have a look here for more details and some very interesting ‘real’ stories.
Some historical background gathered from: