- 1898-1976 (Creation)
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The Western Cape wine farms had been devastated by a phylloxera epidemic in the 1880s & 1890s. Farmers needed alternative forms of agriculture and the lucrative fruit industry in California provided a suitable model for the Cape. Harry Pickstone, an Englishman who had experience growing fruit in California, landed in the Cape in 1892. He convinced Cecil John Rhodes that a commercial nursery was needed to propagate new varieties of fruit trees for the industry. Rhodes financed his first venture, the Pioneer Fruit Growing Company. After retiring from politics in 1896 Rhodes decided to invest further in fruit farming. Pickstone advised him to buy old wine farms in the Groot Drakenstein, Wellington and Stellenbosch areas. In March 1897 Rhodes secured the first of more than 20 farms, including Boschendal and Rhone. Twelve young managers from South Africa, Britain and America were appointed; many of them had been trained in California. Under Pickstone's tutelage they transformed the farms, introducing modern methods of pruning, grafting and irrigation, and training farm workers in the new skills. They planted 200,000 deciduous fruit trees – pears, apricots, plums and peaches. In February 1902, as Rhodes was dying, a new company, Rhodes Fruit Farms Ltd, was born. The day before Rhodes died, Pickstone was appointed technical director to the company and resident director at Groot Drakenstein.
De Beers, Sir Alfred Beit and the Rhodes Estate became joint share-holders of Rhodes Fruit Farms with Dr Leander Starr Jameson (of Jameson Raid fame) was chairman. Pickstone ran the company for another two years before returning to his nursery business. By then the railway was extended to Groot Drakenstein and trains were fitted with refrigeration cars for the distribution of fruit. Rhodes Fruit Farms became the industry leader and a major source of employment locally. It opened a cannery in 1903 and a jam factory in 1906.
After Sir Alfred Beit's death in 1906, De Beers bought Beit and Rhodes's shares. Returns were never high and in 1927 De Beers ordered an investigation into its fruit-farming operations. They appointed one of the consultants, Alfred Appleyard from the University of Bristol, as general manager. He held the position for 22 years and consolidated the company's holdings: selling off the Wellington farms and acquiring Excelsior and Bien Donné in Groot Drakenstein.
In 1937 De Beers decided to sell Rhodes Fruit Farms and it was bought by Sir Abe Bailey, three years before his death. He was an old associate of Rhodes with gold-mining interests and had been involved in the Jameson Raid. During Bailey’s short interlude as owner, Appleyard remained in charge of the fruit farms and lived at Goede Hoop.
In 1941, a syndicate of businessmen bought Rhodes Fruit Farms from Bailey's estate. They were A.B. McDonald, E.J. Crean, S.T. Richards, G.H. Starck, and later Frank Robb. The Directors and their families spent many holidays at Rhodes Cottage. John Manning, the new general manager, built a new cannery in 1951, a sawmill in 1953 and purchased the farm, Bethlehem, in Groot Drakenstein. Rhodes Fruit Farms retained only one farm in Stellenbosch, namely Vredenburg.
In 1969, Frank Robb persuaded Anglo-American, De Beers and Rand Selection Corporation Ltd to become majority shareholders in Rhodes Fruit Farms. The company decided to restore Boschendal and revive wine farming under the Boschendal brand name. The complex was restored by the architect, Gawie Fagan, and opened to the public in 1976. The company changed its name to Anglo-American Farms.
Anglo American started divesting itself of the cannery, dairy, piggeries and its fruit interests in the late 1990s, eventually selling off all the lands along the Berg and Dwars Rivers. In 2004 a private consortium, under the leadership of property developer Clive Venning, bought Boschendal.