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History of Somerset East

The first settler in the area was Willem Prinsloo who settled under the Boschberg in about 1774. Somerset Farm was founded on the same land in 1815 by Lord Charles Somerset as an experimental farm and military post to improving stockbreeding in the Cape Colony and provide produce for the British soldiers at the Frontier. 

In 1825 the project was cancelled as it was cheaper and easier to get provisions via contracts from farmers, than it was to cultivate it. The English settlers in the Albany district welcomed the closure of the Farm, as they were of the opinion that the Farm practically had a monopoly on the market at the time. 

A new Drostdy was declared, and the town of Somerset was established. The “East” suffix was only added on 30 years later in order to differentiate it from Somerset West in the Western Cape. In the early 19th century, Somerset East was a major center for the wool trade. The town was also home to a number of other industries, including tanning, wagon making, and brickmaking. Somerset East was also a popular stop for travelers on their way to and from the interior of South Africa.

In the years following the Anglo Boer War Somerset East continued to grow and prosper. The town is now a major commercial center for the Eastern Cape, and it is home to a number of industries, including agriculture, tourism, and manufacturing. Somerset East is also a popular tourist destination, thanks to its scenic location and its rich history.

Somerset East is home to a number of historical buildings, including the Somerset East Museum, the Walter Battiss Art Museum located in the old British Officer’s Mess, and the Somerset East Dutch Reformed Church. An historic mill can also be found on Glen Avon Farm outside town.

In March 2023, Somerset East was renamed KwaNojoli, which is the Xhosa name for the area. The name change was met with mixed reactions, with some people welcoming it as a way to acknowledge the town’s African heritage, while others felt that it was unnecessary and disrespectful to the town’s history.

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