Culture and history info
The origin of the city's name is disputed. It is likely borrowed from the Dutch words bloem (flower) and fontein (fountain), meaning fountain of flowers. Popular legends include an ox named "Bloem" owned by Rudolphus Martinus Brits, one of the pioneer farmers that was taken by a lion near a fountain on his property, while another story names Jan Bloem (1775–1858), a Korana KhoiKhoi leader who settled there.
Though historically a predominantly Afrikaner settlement, Bloemfontein was officially founded in 1846 as a fort by British army major Henry Douglas Warden as a British outpost in the Transoranje region, at that stage occupied by various groups of peoples including Cape Colony Trek Boers, Griqua, and Barolong.
Warden originally chose the site largely because of its proximity to the main route to Winburg, the spacious open country, and the absence of horse sickness. Bloemfontein was the original farm of Johannes Nicolaas Brits born 21 February 1790, owner and first inhabitant of Bloemfontein. Johann – as he was known – sold the farm to Major Warden.
With colonial policy shifts, the region changed into the Orange River Sovereignty (1848–54) and eventually the Orange Free State Republic (1854–1902). From 1902–10 it served as the capital of the Orange River Colony and since that time as the provincial capital of the Free State. In 1910 it became the Judicial capital of the Union of South Africa
The Orange Free State was an independent Boer sovereign republic in southern Africa during the second half of the 19th century. Extending between the Orange and Vaal rivers, its borders were determined by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1848 when the region was proclaimed as the Orange River Sovereignty, with a seat of a British Resident in Bloemfontein.
As the capital of the Orange Free State Republic the growth and maturing of the Republic resulted in the growth of Bloemfontein. Numerous public buildings that remain in use today were constructed. This was largely facilitated by the excellent governance of the Republic (which acquired the term model republic) and the compensation from the British for the loss of the diamond rich Griqualand area. The old Orange Free State's presidential residence the Old Presidency is currently a museum and cultural space in the city.
A railway line was built in 1890 connecting Bloemfontein to Cape Town.
The writer J. R. R. Tolkien was born in the city on 3 January 1892, though his family left South Africa following the death of his father, Arthur Tolkien, while Tolkien was only three. He recorded that his earliest memories were of "a hot country".
In 1899 the city was the site of the Bloemfontein Conference, which failed to prevent the outbreak of the Second Boer War. The conference was a final attempt to avert a war between Britain and the South African Republic. With its failure the stage was set for war, which broke out on 11 October 1899.
The rail line from Cape Town provided a centrally located railway station, and proved critical to the British in occupying the city later.
On 13 March 1900, following the Battle of Paardeberg, British forces captured the city and built a concentration camp nearby to house Boer women and children. The National Women's Monument, on the outskirts of the city, pays homage to the 26,370 women and children as well as 1,421 old men (also 14,154 black people, though some sources feel that the records are unsatisfactory, and that this number could be as high as 20,000) who died in these camps in various parts of the country.
The hill in town was named Naval Hill after the naval guns brought in by the British in order to fortify the position against attack.
On 31 May 1910, exactly eight years after the Boers signed the Peace Treaty of Vereeniging that ended the Anglo-Boer War between the British Empire and two Boer states, the South African Republic (Republic of Transvaal) and the Orange Free State, South Africa became a Union.