Who built and repaired boats in those early years in Hermanus? You may also ask this question. John Louis built the harbour house (today the Burgundy Restaurant) and set up boat-building business in the latter part of 1870’s. John came from Sweden and jumped ship, from a “Windjammer” where he was employed as shipswright. He soon became part of the small fishing community and met up with young widow Martha Wessels. Unfortunately they could not marry as her husband who deserted her years before could not be confirmed dead.
John became known as Sweed Wessels. He built a second house where Martha and her three daughters lived. They were happy and her children accepted him as father and the grandchildren called him Oupa. Coena Haman of Cafe Royal was one of Louis’s grandchildren.
In 1902 a friend, Mr Overbeek presented Sweed with a small cypress tree and the six year old Coenie helped to plant the tree. It was the same cypress tree that gave the name to the Cypress Tree Tea Garden and when Ethel Rubery bought the cottage in 1928 and turned it into a restaurant.
John was also a keen fishermen and owned two boats – Morning Star and Mabel. He served in the town council but died at an early age of fifty three. According to Coena Haman, his son Hennie Wessels carried on building and mending boats at harbour house but later moved to Westdene. Martha moved in with her daughter, married to Lewies Poppies Swart, in the house where the library stands.
The monument left by Sweed Wessels is now the Burgundy, formerly known as The Cypress Tree Tea Garden, and is also a National Monument.
Story and information: S.J. du Toit Photos: Jeanette du Toit and the Old Harbour Museum