The Fancourt story began in 1859 and is full of mystery and romance. According to historians, Henry Fancourt White, a British engineer, built his home, Blanco House – now the exclusive Manor House – in the style of an old Cotswold mansion with two storeys and 10 large rooms. He worked on the Montagu Pass over the Outeniqua Mountains that links the Karoo with the ocean.
Henry is celebrated for his artistic spirit – he often painted watercolours of his home – and his contribution to the betterment of the George area.
Although he was a rich man at one stage, he died poor after the economic depression in 1860. His wife, Sarah, stepdaughter, Elizabeth Jane, and son, Ernest, remained at Blanco House until she died in 1875. She was buried next to her husband at St Mark’s cathedral in George.
The property was then auctioned off and had three owners until 1903, when the house was bought by Ernest Montagu White, who was a diplomat. After 28 years the estate was once again the property of the White family. He renamed the house ‘Fancourt’ in honour of his father, and although he and his English wife resided in the UK, he spent summers at Fancourt.
Ernest made improvements to suit his English country living tastes and no expense was spared to give the home a stately, comfortable feel. He was known for his love of animals, his dapper dress sense, generosity and his gregarious nature.
It was during one of his legendary dinners when, after foraging for mushrooms, Ernest and his visiting step-sister and a widowed friend succumbed to poisoning. The tragedy all but wiped out the original White family entirely and signalled the end of an era at Fancourt.
The house changed hands a few times and after 30 years of neglect it was finally bought by SA brain surgeon, Dr Roland Krynauw. He restored the house to its former glory and added a wing. In 1969 it was bought by the Pieterse family and turned into a hotel.
Today, tribute is paid to the White family all around the Fancourt estate, especially in the now award-winning boutique hotel, The Manor House, which certainly retains all the original home’s stately charm. Visitors are welcome to browse the library and public areas in The Manor house in order to imagine and relive the memory of Henry White – from evocative old family photographs to the actual dining table where the family ate their fateful last meal.