Fancourt History

In the early days of South Africa’s expansion,
when ox-wagons negotiated their way through
impassable mountain ranges, Henry Fancourt
White established a workers’ base at the foot of
the Outeniqua Mountains for the construction of
the Montagu Pass.
The building of Blanco House in the style of a
Cotswold Mansion proceeded slowly from 1859.
Henry, a wealthy man at the time, suffered a
major financial setback in 1860 and died soon
after. Blanco House was put up for auction in
1857: “a thatched-roof double-storey building
with ten airy rooms, kitchen, pantry, outbuildings
and servants’ rooms”.
The property was subsequently owned by Henri
de Maraliac, Robert Drummond and M J Adams,
the latter re-naming it Homewood in 1879. At a
public auction in 1903 Homewood was sold to
Ernest Montagu White who re-named the house
Fancourt in memory of his father – Henry
Fancourt White.
Ernest, or Montagu as he was known, spent the
English winters at Fancourt. He made extensive
improvements to the house using indigenous
timber from forests in the area. Always
immaculately dressed – a Panama hat and a
flower in his buttonhole being his trademark –
Montagu supervised his estate from a white-
canopied cart drawn by a red ox whilst he
painted watercolours, knotted rugs and lived the
life of a country gentleman.
Sadly, in 1916 Montagu, his sister and a friend
succumbed to mushroom poisoning after
enjoying a dinner of wild mushrooms picked by
Montagu earlier in the day. The house stood
empty for two years after the tragedy. It was said,
however, that the deceased Montagu and
Elizabeth continued to visit their much-loved
Rumours of ghosts did not deter Rubin Greer from
purchasing Fancourt in 1918. He and his family,
which included four daughters, brought music
and laughter back to Fancourt. Legend has it that
performance of the band members at their
dances depended on the liquid refreshment they
consumed. Too little and they refused to play, too
much and they were unable to play!
A number of owners followed, and a century after
Henry Fancourt White built his home it fell into
disrepair due to neglect. Dr Krynauw bought
Fancourt in 1960 and through his skill and
excellent taste, the property became a symbol of
high-class living once again.
In 1969 Fancourt was sold to a property
developer who went into liquidation soon after.
Andre and Helene Pieterse became the new
owners and in 1987 they decided to transform
their country house into an hotel and golf estate
and on 23 March 1989, the Fancourt Hotel
opened in grand style.
By July 1993, however, Fancourt was on the
market once again. In 1994 a German couple,
Hasso and Sabine Plattner, bought the estate out
of liquidation. Expansion and development
proceeded at an unprecedented pace, and when
the present becomes history it will be said that
Fancourt never stopped growing.
The heart of Fancourt is now the modern
clubhouse, but the old Manor House will always
hold its soul. When you visit the estate spend
time in the stillness of the reading room,
appreciate the gardens and walk along the quiet
passages. Imagine life as it was then, with
Panama hats and buttonholes, grand pianos,
campher-wood kists, antique silver and wild
mushroom dinners

History Of Henry Fancourt White

Henry Fancourt White, (1811 Yorkshire – 6
October 1866 George), was a Colonial Assistant
Surveyor from Port Macquarie, Australia who
came to South Africa and played a part in
construction of the Montagu Pass between
George and Oudtshoorn, over the Outeniqua
1820 Settlers
He was born in Yorkshire in 1811 and emigrated
to the Cape with his parents as British 1820
Settlers. They were allocated land at
Riviersonderend near the mission station of
Genadendal, but resettled at Assegaaibosch in
the Langkloof. He left South Africa for Australia in
order to acquire road-building experience.
Australia 1836-1843
White was appointed Assistant Surveyor by the
colonial government in New South Wales. He
surveyed land at Emu Plains for a town after the
convict farm closed in 1832. White arrived in Port
Macquarie in August 1836 and is believed to have
established the first vineyard in the Hastings River
region of Australia in 1837. It was known as
“Clifton”, a name which has been retained for the
area to this day, and was located on land
purchased near Settlement Farm, a stone’s throw
from the Pacific Ocean.
As a surveyor, White was responsible for the siting
of a new road from Port Macquarie westwards to
the New England district, but in 1837 became
involved in a dispute with the Stipendiary
Magistrate, William Nairn Gray. White accused
Gray of altering the line of a road that White had
marked out, so as not to cross land owned by
Major Innes, a wealthy landowner. Gray in turn
accused White of using Government men and
animals on his land at “Clifton”. The Acting
Governor, Colonel Snodgrass, dismissed the
charges against Grey as frivolous. An enquiry held
in Port Macquarie in 1839 resulted in White’s
dismissal from Government service. His efforts at
rescinding this judgement were unsuccessful,
despite an 1842 petition supporting him, being
submitted by a large number of settlers. White
sold his vineyard and some of the land to William
Stokes in 1839.
South Africa 1843-1866
In 1836 Charles Collier Michell, Surveyor-General
of the Cape Colony, had reconnoitred Cradock
Pass and had been horrified by its steep gradients
and poor condition. In 1843 he proposed that
convict labour be used to build a road along an
entirely new route over the Outeniqua Mountains.
In due course this was approved by the colonial
secretary, John Montagu, and work was started in
1844 with H.O. Farrel as superintendent of the
project. The work turned out to be beyond him,
and in his place Montagu appointed Henry
Fancourt White, a qualified surveyor, who had
recently become Road Inspector. Some 250
convicts were used to carry out the demanding
work of constructing the new road. The project
was eventually completed after 4 years’ work at a
cost of ₤35,799 and opened to traffic in
December 1847, with the ceremonial opening
taking place on 19 January 1848 and the Hon.
John Montagu personally attending. Montagu Pass
served as the main road over the Outeniquas for
more than 100 years and it was only with the
completion of the Outeniqua Pass in 1951 that
this old pass became no more than a scenic
Montagu suggested that the tiny roadcamp and
village that grew at the foot of the mountain be
named “White’s Village” in honour of Henry
Fancourt White, but this was subsequently
changed to “Blanco”. “Blanco House”, White’s
residence, was started in 1859 in the style of a
Cotswold Mansion, but White suffered major
financial setbacks in 1860, dying in 1866 and
was buried in the grounds of St. Mark’s Cathedral
in George. His wife died shortly after and her
grave is next to his. His son, Ernest Montagu
White, bought back the property in 1903 and
renamed the house “Fancourt” in memory of his
father, and his grandmother’s maiden name. He
commissioned skilled craftsmen to refurbish the
manor house, using yellowwood, stinkwood and
blackwood to restore its former grace. Ernest, a
philanthropist and successful businessman in his
own right, funded the building of a road from
George to Wilderness and stained glass windows
in St Mark’s Cathedral. He was to die tragically on
10 April 1916, together with his sister, after a
meal of poisonous mushrooms. Today Fancourt is
a provincial heritage site and operates as a hotel
and golfing estate.
White also engineered the road from George to
Great Brak River, the mountain pass from Port
Elizabeth over the Zuurberg Mountains
33°17′12″S 25°42′34″E / 33.28667°S
25.70944°E and Howieson’s Poort pass just west
of Grahamstown. A difference of opinion with
fellow engineer Woodford Pilkington, son of the
Colonial Engineer, led to his leaving the Roads
Board in 1853 and entering politics. He briefly
served as the member for Algoa Bay.