The Dutch were a seafaring nation. They built timber ships to sail the seas to trade with faraway places like Japan and other countries in Asia. A company was founded in 1602 to trade with countries in the East. This was the Dutch East India Company, also known as the VOC. Travelling to far off places took many months (8 – 10 months). They had to stop over half-way to take in fresh food supplies and to allow for sailors rest and recuperate after long sea ordeal. They decided to establish the Cape of Good Hope as a half-way station. Jan van Riebeeck sent to the Cape in 1652 to settle at the Cape.
In 1658 Pieter Potter, van Riebeeck’s surveyor looking for better farmland came across a stretch of land near the Obiqua Mountains which he described as “a barren landscape” and named it Roodezand (red sand). The Khoi tribe living in the areas was known as the Obiqua (people of Obi).
In 1699 governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel also visited the area and described it as “the most beautiful landscape”. He named the valley Het land van Waveren in honour of his in-laws, the Waveren family, in the Netherlands.
By the 1700s many people had trekked through the Oude Kloof and settled in the Tulbagh basin. The road that was built through the Oude Kloof became known as the Roodezand Pass.
In 1743 a new town was declared by Baron J van Imhoff, named het Land van Waveren or Roodezand (red sand).
A new cruciform church was built and completed in 1748, as the church at Paarl was too far away for them to attend regularly. To pay for the building of the church plots were sold along a street leading from the church to the manse where the minister lived. People built houses along this street to stay over when they came to church. Rev MC Vos named the street Church Street in 1795.
The town eventually developed eastward and a new street, named Achterstraat (now Van der Stel Street) was formed
Commissioner Jacob de Mist changed the name of the town in 1804 to Tulbagh in memory of Rijk Tulbagh, a very popular governor at the Cape.
Tulbagh then became the seat of the new district that was created. In 1806 a drostdy building (the court of law and residence of the Landdrost) was erected just outside of town. This building was designed by Louis Michel Thibault, a famous Cape architect and still exists and is now as a private museum.
The first landdrost was Hendrik van de Graaff. When the building was badly damaged in a storm in 1822, the landdrost was moved to Worcester. The building was badly damaged in the earthquake of 1969, but could be restored. Moving the landdrost to Worcester considerably slowed down the development of the town.
In 1861 Tulbagh became a municipality. Tulbagh is now one of the towns within the Witzenberg Municipality.
Tulbagh experienced a devastating earthquake in September 1969. Many buildings were destroyed or badly damaged. To a certain extent the earthquake was beneficial, as many of the old buildings along Church Street were restored. These buildings and the museum became a major tourist destination and stimulated the economy of the town.
The hospitality industry has grown considerably with a number of good restaurants and other eating places and guesthouses. There are several other businesses, a number of schools, and many well-known wine estates etc. which provide employment to the people
Tulbagh is now an important commercial hub in the Witzenberg Municipal area, of which it is now part.