Philippolis is regarded as one of the first colonial period settlements in the Free State. The London Missionary Society (LMS) founded Philippolis in 1823 as a mission station for the local Griqua people.
At first, the area was referred to as Southern Transorangia.
The town takes its name from Dr John Philip, who was the superintendent of the LMS from 1819 to 1849. Adam Kok II, a Griqua leader, settled here with his people in 1826 and became the protector of the mission station. Kok II and some of his followers moved to Philippolis from Griquatown (about 200km away) after there had been factional disputes in the area.
When Adam Kok II was given possession of the mission station it was on condition that he promised to protect the San against the aggression of the Boers and the LMS hoped that the Griqua would promote peace in the region.
However, Philippolis became a base from which a number of deadly commandos against the San people were organised within a year of the Griqua arrival. This violated the agreement made between the LMS and Adam Kok II and eventually the San were driven out of the area.
Kok’s son, Adam Kok III and his followers later migrated across the Drakensberg mountains to settle in Kokstad in Griqualand East.
The town has a number of declared heritage sites including an historical jail that has been turned into a bed and breakfast guest house. Seventy-five of Philippolis’s buildings have been declared national monuments. The library is amongst one of these buildings, and many places are built in Karoo-style which means they have thick walls.
Other points of interest are:
Cannons – Two naval cannons stand on top of a small hill which were presented by the Cape colonial government in 1840 to Adam Kok III who was the Griqua chief at that time. The cannons are fired during the town’s Witblits festival held in April. These cannons may have been used during the various wars between the Griqua, Basotho and the Boers.
Emily Hobhouse memorial – This memorial commemorates Emily Hobhouse who helped improve the lives of the Boers during the South African War. After the war, she established a spinning and weaving school in Philippolis in 1905.
Transgariep Museum – This museum was opened on 2 March 1982. It focuses on the London Missionary Society (LMS), Adam Kok III and the Griqua as well as Emily Hobhouse and her weaving school.
The Philippolis Jail – The town jail was built in 1872 and served as a jail for 70 years. It was subsequently converted into a police station and several changes were made such as the repurposing of jail cells into charge offices. The SANDF (South African National Defence Force) used the jail as an army barracks from 1972 to 1982. The jail was abandoned from 1982 until 1998 when it was restored and turned into a bed and breakfast guest house.
Old Dutch Reformed Church – The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (NGK) in Philippolis was opened in 1871. The church is famous for its pulpit which is carved from wild olive and erected with no nails, screws or bolts. This site is a declared Provincial Heritage Site.
Other attractions in Philippolis include:
– Gariep Dam and Nature Reserve
– Jagersfontein Golf Course
– Annual Philippolis Horse Show
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