History of Lions Head
The first people to set eyes on Lion’s Head and more than likely climb its summit, were the Stone Age people who had made the Cape Peninsula their home, followed by the San and later the Khoi-Khoi, who were around more than 2000 years before the first Europeans.
The first written records began with the coming of the Europeans. Bartholomeu Dias recorded seeing Table Mountain, including Lion’s Head, in 1488. We do not know who the first European man to climb Lion’s Head was, but it is recorded that in 1682 the wife of Ryklof van Goens (the Governor General of the Dutch East Indies) climbed it with Simon van der Stel, Governor of the Cape. To commemorate the event a two-metre-high brick pyramid was erected, but this has long since disappeared.
In the true spirit of colonisation, Lion’s Head would be claimed, named, mapped, probed, dug into and built upon. The first to leave their mark were the Portuguese; instead of erecting their traditional stone cross on the summit, they hacked a large cross-shaped fissure into a rockface near the summit. This cross can still be seen today, but most believe it is natural and the story is but a legend.
What’s in a name? Disregarding any local name given to these places, the English, on 3 July 1620, supplied their own names for Lion’s Head and Signal Hill. The background to this naming is quite interesting: it was part of a show of pretence to keep the Dutch from thinking they could occupy Table Bay without the English putting up some form of resistance. Two high-ranking English naval officers, Humphrey Fitzherbert and Andrew Shillinge, issued a proclamation annexing Table Bay in the name of King James I, and stating “... and for a memorial hereafter we have made a heap of stones on a hill lying west-south-west from the road in the said bay, and call it by the name ‘King James His Mount’ “.Thus Lion’s Head was briefly known as “King James Mount” while Signal Hill was named “Ye Sugar Loaf”. The annexation by the English was never confirmed and the Dutch subsequently took control of Table Bay and the Cape, providing the names “Leeuwen Kop” (Lion’s Head) and “Leeuwen Staart” (Lion’s Tail), which later became Signal Hill.
Excerpt from Gateway Guides