For Africa, the tobacco story began when it was imported from America by the Portuguese. They brought it from their one-time South American colony, Brazil, to their settlements on the West African coast around the turn of the 17th Century.
Although the plant is not indigenous to Africa, when it arrived tobacco was enthusiastically received and fairly soon cultivated. Tobacco soon replaced Indian hemp, known today in South Africa as ‘dagga’ (cannabis), which was already known and grown widely but soon came to be regarded as second best compared to tobacco. Today, Africa boasts some of the best Virginia and Burley tobacco in the world.
1652 Only seven months after the arrival of the first white colonists, on 24 November 1652, there is mention in Van Riebeeck’s journal of the use of pipes for trading with the local tribe known as the Saldanhas.
1659 On 19 February, there appears the first of a series of protests and warnings against the risk of fire addressed to careless smokers. The practice of smoking is forbidden and six years later the ban is extended to slaves. Nothing, however, could stop its popularity, not even the decree of 1715 and a further decree twelve years later by Governor de la Fontaine reiterating the ban.
1662 Mention is made of plenty of copper and tobacco available for trading purposes.
1673 A traveller, Willem ten Rhyne, tells how he saw “men and women, children and old men, indulge in tobacco”. About the same time an agreement was signed that gave a group of the Dutch East India Company’s servants their freedom but which prohibited them from planting tobacco, as this considered so profitable that it was reserved for the Company. These attempts to restrict the cultivation of tobacco soon proved futile.
1718 Dutch East India Company Directors in Amsterdam authorise experiments to be done in the planting of tobacco and state that "a person having a special knowledge of the manner of production shall be sent out to superintend the work".
1719 South Africa’s first tobacco expert, Cornelius Hendricks, arrives from Amsterdam and is immediately sent on a trip to the farthest limits of the Cape Colony from which he returns to declare that the soil in most places was unsuitable.
1722 The tobacco trials by Hendricks are abandoned after some plants were destroyed by wind and others by the heat of the sun. The leaves of those that did finally reach maturity were also bad in flavour. The leaves were too sparse and their preparation too crude for tobacco to be exported but the leaves that were not consumed locally were probably used for barter with the indigenous people.
1791 The oldest firm of tobacco merchants in South Africa, J. Sturk and Company, comes into existence. There may have been others before this but, if so, they did not survive.
Foreign soldiers help to change the Colonists’ tobacco habits. A French regiment stationed here increases the fashion of snuff-taking. About this time the first cigars, then known as ‘seegars’, are introduced. This type of smoking is particularly favoured by English officers, who had picked up the custom in the Far East.
During the 18th century, the plant began to be cultivated near Stellenbosch, Paarl, Swellendam, Graaf Reinet and Uitenhage.
1801 On 12 September, the first tobacco advertisement appears in the Cape Town Gazette. The advertisement reads: 'At Walter Robertson & Company’s for sale, inter-alia, and a cask of Cheroots (cigars) captured from an enemy ship'. Thereafter advertisements appear regularly in the press.
1818 On 20 June the Cape Town Gazette carries the first reference to a local product: 'For sale by the undersigned: good Cape-made Seegars of American Tobacco and Dutch Chewing Tobacco – LS de Jongh'.
On 19 December, the Cape Town Gazette carries the first advertisement on tobacco paper for rolling hand-made cigarettes.
1824 The arrival of the first English settlers in what became the city of Durban stimulates the growing of tobacco around the Bay of Natal.
With the coming of the Voortrekkers led by Piet Retief from the Drakensburg, smoking becomes more firmly established across the country. During the short-lived Republic of Natalia, established by the Voortrekkers, tobacco is regarded as an essential commodity.
1837 The public authority launches an attack against the practice of smoking. On 6 February, the regulations for the newly-formed Municipality of Beaufort West are gazetted. According to the South African Commercial Advertiser, 'persons walking in the street with a lighted pipe or cigars are liable to a penalty up to £5 and not les than 5 shillings'.
1840 The tobacco trade in Cape Town is now running in well-recognised channels and advertisements are common in the press.
1845 A tobacco manufacturing industry is started in the Eastern Cape and immediately after other manufacturers followed on the heels of this trade with tobacco-related accessories.
1851 A return of exports for Natal from January 1849 to December 1851 includes the first shipment of local tobacco worth £90 and between 1 January 1854 and 1 December 1856 a further £119 is exported. The trade in tobacco continues today.
1859 The first recorded fine against public smoking is made. The Midland Province Times mentions that two people were fined in Transvaal for lighting pipes in the street.
1867 Tobacco growing is largely confined to the Transvaal and Natal. The Transvaal Argus reports on the Potchefstroom agricultural show: 'Among the new Transvaal industries were some fine examples of manufactured tobacco and cigars'. Incidentally one of the pioneers of tobacco growing in South Africa was the former President Paul Kruger on his farm at Rustenburg.
1881 Although at the beginning of the early 1880s a company called Nathan and Co. were manufacturing cigarettes, it is widely accepted that Herman and Canard were the first to concentrate solely on the manufacturing of this product around this period. As yet, however, there is no question of using local leaf for the manufacture of cigarettes. American and Turkish tobacco is still used.
1884 On 25 October, smokers are granted separate compartments on the railways. At first this privilege applies only to trains running from Cape Town as far as Papendorp, now Woodstock. Nine years later it is considered necessary to alter the Civil Service regulations to prohibit smoking during business hours at all public offices in the Cape Province. These become the first recorded workplace smoking regulations in South Africa.
1885 A trader, S. Naft, opens a cigarette factory in Port Elizabeth to become a rival of Herman and Canard. All of these plants are still without any machinery and depended upon the skills of manual workers, mostly girls, who hand-roll the cigarettes.
1888 About this time, James ‘Buck’ Duke, the founder of American Tobacco Company, begins distributing cigarettes in South Africa. Duke sends a professional salesman, J.R Patterson, from America to sell cigarettes in South Africa laying the foundations for an organised cigarette trade in the country. Patterson also undertakes what would today be called 'market research'.