Otto family celebrates 400 years

2014-02-13 00:00

THE family that named the famous landmark known as Otto’s Bluff outside Pietermaritzburg will be hosting a 400-year reunion in March.

The largest reunion will be in the Cape, but a fair gathering will celebrate in KwaZulu-Natal. The KZN branch of the Ottos form the largest of the original Michiel Otto’s descendants.

Jacqueline Yallup, who has researched the family history, said Michiel Otto landed in Cape Town on April 1, 1714. He sailed to South Africa aboard the Rijksdorp ship belonging to the Dutch East India Company. Starting out as a sailor, he later became superintendent of the woodcutters behind the Steenbergen mountain in the Western Cape.

In 1719, he was released from his contractual service. Michiel Otto married twice; his second marriage was to the widow of Barend Gildenhuyzen, and when she died he inherited her farm Vergelegen, which is now a huge tourist attraction.

According to Yallup’s research, his grandson Petrus Alberto Ryno Otto is the Otto who started the Natal branch of the Otto family. Born in 1810, he farmed for his parents Andries and Elizabeth at Caledon for a time. Crop failure in the area drove him to seek new opportunities and he went to Natal where he was apparently offered the whole of the Durban Bluff for a bag of sugar and a bottle of brandy. He refused, saying he did not want “all that bush and sand”. Instead, he chose an inland mountain with a magnificent view over Natal.

He apparently negotiated the land for a pair of boots and a bag of salt. Otto was not a Voortrekker but a crafty businessperson, and bought many farms from the boers who were leaving Natal for the Boer War. It is believed he eventually owned 21 000 acres.

• Descendants of the Otto family are invited to join the reunion at Rietvlei Church and Saxony Farm, Otto’s Bluff on March 22, 2014. Contact Jacqueline Yallup at

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