For thousands of years, the coastline that is now known as Jeffrey’s Bay was occupied by the San, who later interbred with the Khoi-khoin people, to become known as the Khoi-San tribes. Because of their movement along the coast, they became known as “Strandlopers” (beach walkers). Some of their rock art remains as a vestige of these ancient tribes. Unfortunately, the indigenous people were soon driven further and further away from the coast by Dutch explorers.
Regarding the origin of the name of the town, there are a few speculations. One is that Captain Jeffreys sailed South Africa’s east coast in the 1840’s for trading purposes. When his crew members were struck by scurvy, he landed his ship on the primitive coast, now the main beach of Jeffrey’s Bay. Ten years later, he bought erven 1, 2, 9 and 10 for £79, and built their home on the corner of Woltemade and Jeffreys Streets. When the prominent Reilly family arrived in the area in 1928, they reportedly used the original timber from Captain Jeffreys’ ship to build their home, even preserving the 150-year old barometer.
There are other speculations that the name came from a prominent trader in the area in the 1850’s, or from a whale hunter from St Helena, who used J’Bay as a harbour and trading post.The Reilly’s bought the land that Country Feeling now occupies and built the old Wimpy Bar during the 1960’s. This building was demolished in 1964, and the Reilly’s constructed a double-story building, which they used as a tea garden, with residential flats and a gift shop sharing the same property. The Savoy Hotel was constructed in the 1850’s, and was known as the Jeffrey’s Bay Hotel. It was named the Savoy in 1937 and stood strong until its demolition in 1968.Perhaps more important is the historical finding of the waves that have put Jeffrey’s Bay on the international map of the surfing world.
It is generally believed that the legendary John Whitmore, known as “the father of South African surfing”, discovered the waves along the coast while travelling the Garden Route on a business trip in the 1950’s. He watched the world-famous waves roll onto the shore in awe. Since then, Jeffrey’s has consistently performed at equally impressive levels for the surfing community and its many surfing competition's.Amidst the fast-growing residential and commercial sectors, Jeffrey’s Bay remains a peaceful getaway, a relaxing seaside resort. This gives J’Bay a unique edge as it is suitable for holiday makers seeking an oasis, investors looking for the perfect opportunity, and even those couples who have earned their rights to retire along the coast. When one considers the multi-million rand development that Jeffrey’s Bay is currently undergoing, it is remarkable to consider its humble beginnings, and accidental discovery.