Carl Friedrich Drège, Paarl’s famous apothecary and explorer

Carl Friedrich Drège (1791-1867) was an itinerant apothecary and lived in Paarl between 1828 and 1867. In 1847 he married Sophia Christina Auguste Koch (*Hamburg 1816) in Paarl. Two of their children are buried in the Strooidak Church cemetery: a baby (died 12.04.1848) and Henri Charles (≈ Paarl 3.6.1849, died 13.04.1850. His son Isaac Louis was also baptised in the Strooidak Church on the 10 April 1853. Further research would be required to establish if the undated “CF Drège” buried in the Strooidak Church’s cemetery is a third child, or Carl Friedrich himself.

Carl Friedrich Drège was born in Altona near Hamburg, arrived at the Cape in 1821 and worked in Cape Town as an assistant apothecary Pallas & Pohlmann. The 35 year old Carl Friedrich registered as an independent apothecary in 1826 with a shop at 4 Long Street, on the corner of Long and Grave Streets.

Carl Friedrich was an enthusiastic amateur collector of dried plants, seeds, bulbs, insects and animal skins. Most of these first specimens were collected around the Cape Peninsula and sent to his younger brother Johann Franz (1794-1881), a horticulturalist with a similar interest in new and exotic species.

Carl Friedrich encouraged his brother to join him, and in 1826 Johann Franz and a younger brother Wilhelm Eduard (-1840) arrived at the Cape. Wilhelm Eduard was a chronometer and watchmaker. On arrival, Johann Franz did not waste any time to organise an expedition, and in August 1826 left on an eight month trek by ox wagon to explore the Karoo. Although Carl Friedrich clearly shared his brother’s interest in exploration, he did not join him on this trip first overland trip.

In 1828 Carl Friedrich moved his apothecary business from Cape Town to Paarl. His journal – only discovered in 1937 – spans the years 1828 to 1848 and provides invaluable snippets of information on his life.

In Paarl he live in a double storey thatched roofed house with a large underground cellar. The house was situated on the wagenpad (Main Road) and had two steps leading up onto the stoep. His thatch roofed shop (probably on the premises) had two glass doors and a ceiling constructed from old wooden doors. In 1828 built a stable in the backyard, which he thatched with palmiet gathered in the river (Berg River).

Drège wrote that when he moved into the house it was so invested with fleas that he was compelled to sleep stretched out across two chairs. He lived modestly on a diet that consisted mostly of boiled mutton, rice, potatoes, raisin dumplings and cooked peaches.

Jean le Roux’s research into Paarl’s early properties suggests that Drège’s erf may have been the Vredelus property, a subdivision of the original Rosendal farm. An approximate location would be between Rosendal and Cecelia Streets. In 1827 Vredelus belonged to Charles P Theron, who may have sold it to Drège when the latter moved to Paarl in 1828.

Drège employed two servants: Willem who he paid 10 Rds per month, and Daartje, Mrs Aling’s slave who he hired from her for 13 Rds per month. Mrs Aling was in all probability Hester Anna Meiring (1802-1885), the wife of Robert Frederik Aling (1785-1861), the son of the former minister of the Strooidak Church, Ds Robert Nicolaas Aling (1751-1800).

Drège also supplemented his income as a tutor teaching English, French and arithmetic. He wrote that for this service Goetz paid him 10 rds per month. Goetz was probably Andreas Marthinus Goetz (1763-1831), then married to his second wife Johanna Hermina Redelinghuys. Goetz owned the town erf Morgenster near what is today the intersection between Mill and Main Streets. Goetz’ son Marthinus Andreas, born on 29 August 1815, would have been a teenager at the time.

Drège wrote in his journal that he sold his apothecary business in March 1829 to Carl Friedrich Juritz, an apothecary in Stellenbosch. It is likely that he continued to practice his trade as an itinerant apothecary and retained his Paarl property as a home base while travelling.

Travels into the interior

  • August 1826 – May 1827: Johann Franz Drège travelled to the central Karoo, then joined his older brother Carl Friedrich in Paarl.
  • May 1829 – February 1830: The two Drège brothers travelled by ox wagon to Worcester and then through Graaff-Reinet to the Sundays River and back to Paarl via Swellendam.
  • June 1830 – January 1831: This time the Drège brothers travelled northwards as far as the Orange River. On their way back they explored the Cederberg and Bokkevel. In the autumn of 1831 Carl Frederich made a second trip to the Cederberg and returned to Paarl on 18 June 1831.
  • July 1831 – May 1833: The Drège brothers trekked through the Overberg and Eastern Cape to Port Natal before returning to Paarl via the Langkloof, Swellendam and the mission station at Genadendal.
  • 1836 Carl Friedrich returned to Namaqualand and then travelled on to Uitenhage and Port Elizabeth.
  • 1837 Carl Friedrich visited Namaqualand again, returning to Paarl in October 1837.
  • November 1833 – March 1834 Johann Franz once more travelled north to explore the Cederberg.
  • April 1839 – September 1839: Carl Friedrich undertook another trip to Namaqualand.

In July 1833 Carl Friedrich left the Cape on board the Porcupine to take his vast collection of mostly zoological specimens to Europe where he sold them to collectors and institutions. He returned to the Cape in October 1835.

Johann Franz Drège

Johann Franz Drège (1794-1881) collected more than 200 000 specimens of southern African plants including 8 000 species, many unknown to European botanists and collectors. He lived at the Cape between 1826 and 1834, and returned for a brief visit in 1836. Drège is seen as the father of South African phytogeography. The plant genus Dregia was named after him.


  • South African Biographical Dictionary Part I. Tafelberg, Cape Town 1976
  • Burrows, EH. A History of Medicine in South Africa. Balkema, Cape Town 1958
  • Laidler, RW et al. South African Medical History 1652-1898. Struik, Cape Town 1971
  • Le Roux, J et al. Bewaarders van ons Erfenis: Drakenstein. Drakenstein Heemkring 2012
  • Le Roux, J et al. Drakenstein Erfgrond: Suider Paarl. Drakenstein Heemkring 2012
  • South African Commercial Advertiser, 8 February 1832
  • South African Commercial Advertiser, 2 October 1833
  • South African Commercial Advertiser, 9 October 1833
  • South African Commercial Advertiser, 11 September 1839
  • Van der Walt, K. Millenniumregister, Kerkhof van die Strooidakkerk, Paarl 2000

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