The first European to reach the cape was the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias in 1488, who named it the “Cape of Storms” (Cabo das Tormentas). It was later renamed by John II of Portugal as “Cape of Good Hope” (Cabo da Boa Esperança) because of the great optimism engendered by the opening of a sea route to India and the East.
The land around the cape was home to the Khoikhoi (Hottentot) people when the Dutch first settled there in 1652.
Dutch colonial administrator Jan van Riebeeck established a resupply camp for the Dutch East India Company some 50 km north of the cape in Table Bay on 6 April 1652 and this eventually developed into Cape Town. Supplies of fresh food were vital on the long journey around Africa and Cape Town became known as “The Tavern of the Seas”.
On 31 December 1687 a community of Huguenots arrived at the Cape from the Netherlands. They had escaped to the Netherlands from France in order to flee religious persecution there. The Dutch East India Company needed skilled farmers at the Cape of Good Hope and the Dutch Government saw opportunities for the Huguenots at the Cape and sent them over. The colony gradually grew over the next 150 years or so until it stretched for hundreds of kilometres to the north and north-east.
The United Kingdom invaded and occupied the Cape Colony in 1795 (“The First Occupation”) but relinquished control of the territory in 1803. However, British forces returned on 19 January 1806 and occupied the Cape once again (“The Second Occupation”). The territory was ceded to the UK in the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814 and was henceforth administered as the Cape Colony. It remained a British colony until incorporated into the independent Union of South Africa in 1910.
In 1994 the then Cape Province was split up in three smaller provinces: Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Western Cape.
On his voyage for the Indies Bartolomeu Dias dropped anchor at a headland, formerly called False Islet, now known as Kwaaihoek on 12 March 1488. Here, Dias erected his farthest stone pillar, the padrão de São Gregorio and then resumed his homeward journey. Eric Axelson excavated fragments of this padrão in 1938.
On his way back Dias Dias erected a second padrão somewhere on the Cape Peninsula on 6 June.
Preserved padrão’s from Africa show a cross atop of a cube charged with the royal arms of Portugal.
The erecting of padrão’s along the African coast marked the beginning of the Portuguese Seaborne Empire which had a settlement at the Cape for a short time. This empire has held out until 1974.
The Portuguese mercantile interests in the Cape are the reason why the crowned Portuguese Royal arms were depicted in 1558 by the Portuguese carthographer Diogo Homem on the southernmost point of Africa.
Detail of the map of Diogo Homem (1558), now in the British Library.
Only a few of the possessions of the Dutch East India Company had coats of arms of their own. Amongst them were Ceylon and the city of Batavia, the capital and main settlement in the east of the VOC. Common was the use of the company’s cypher, a combination of the letters VOC over which sometimes a small letter C was placed, meaning Cabo.
Seal of the companies settlements of Cape of Good Hope, showing a ship in full sail and the legend C D G HOOP.
Six stuiver piece, showing the cypher of the Dutch East India Company for the Cape. 1791.
After the liquidation of the Company in 1798, its successor, the Batavian Republic, wanted their overseas possessions to use the arms of the mother country. First it used a seal for its colonies on which the emblem with the altar, the virgin and the lion, together with the legend RAAD DER ASIATISCHE BEZITTINGEN EN ETABLISSEMENTEN, was engraved. Later the image on the seal was replaced by the lion with the sword and the arrows.  In the Cape itself the lion of the Republic, with crown, sword and arrows, was displayed also. On a crowned circular shield it can be seen, be it together with the arms of the Chambers of the VOC and the old VOC-cypher, on the entrance gate of the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town. 
Arms of the Batavian Republic on the entrance gate of the Castle in Cape Town.
Nevertheless, the Batavian Commissioner-General J.A. de Mist divided the Cape Colony into the administrative units of the City of Cape Town and five country districts or drosdijen: Stellenbosch, Swellendam, Graaff-Reinet, Uitenhage and Tulbagh.  They were granted their own arms which were placed on their seals. Some of them are still used by the present municipalities. The first to have its own arms was Cape Town which was granted a coat of arms on 3 july 1804. When the British took the Cape in 1796, and again in 1806, colonial symbols, as such, were unknown. The early governors sealed their ordinances with their own personal coats of arms, without any addition of the British arms or other symbols
In 1827 the old Dutch administrative system was replaced by a new British system. On 6 April 1827 the secretary of the colonial government applied at the Ministry of Colonial Affairs in London for arms of the Cape Colony. He also applied to create a Principality of South Africa, similar to the Principality of Wales, as he argued that the name Cape of Good Hope is rather strange for such a large territory. In the letter he also proposed a coat of arms for the new principality.
The proposed arms showed on a white shield the red cross of St. George, with a golden anchor on the crosspoint. In the first and fourth quarters were the three British lions and in the second and fourth the Dutch lion, with sword and arrows. He claimed that the choice for the Dutch lion was intended to please the many Dutch colonists in the colony.
The proposal, however, arrived too late in London, the Cape colony seal already been cut, and thus the arms were never registered.
In July 1827 the King issued a royal warrant authorising General Sir Richard Bourke to use a specially made seal for the colony. In letters patent of 24 August, constituting a supreme court of Justice in the Cape, it was stated that the court should also use this seal for the time being, and later use a seal with the royal arms.
The colonial seal showed Table Bay, with Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, Devil’s Peak and the town in the background, and a number of ships in the foreground. The legend was sigillum coloniæ promontorii bonæ spei. The seal was used until 1876. In 1827 the Cape Colony still comprised the entire British posessions in South Africa and this seal can, therefore, be regarded as the first symbol of the country as a whole.
In 1872 the Cape received responsible government and the laying of the foundation stone of the new Houses of Parliament seemed an ideal occasion for the display of new symbols. A colonial coat of arms was designed by Charles Aken Fairbridge and officially granted by royal warrant of 29 May 1876. They were recorded by Garter King of Arms in the College of Arms on 28 June of the same year and published in the Government Gazette of the following September. The blasoning reads:
“Gules, a lion rampant between three Annulets Or, on a Chief Argent as many hurts each charged with a fleur-de-lis of the second, for the Crest - on a Wreath of the Colours the Figure of Hope proper vestd Azure resting the dexter arm on a Rock and supporting with the sinister hand an Anchor Sable entwined wit a Cable also proper, and for Supporters. On the dexter side a Gnu and on the sinister side an Oryx (gems buck) both proper, together with the motto ‘SPES BONA’
Both England and Holland bear lions, the annulets were taken from the arms of Jan van Riebeeck, founder of the colony, and the fleurs de lys indicated the influence of the Huguenot settlers on the history of the country. The arms were supported by a gnu (wildebeest: Connochaetus gnou - Bovidæ) and an oryx (gemsbok: Oryx gazalla - Bovidæ), and the Lady of Good Hope was taken as crest. 
ð see illustration in the head of this essay
The achievement was also in the badge on the blue ensign of Cape of Good Hope. This flag was abandoned 1910. 
Black and white version by Hugo Gerard Ströhl, about 1900.
By Royal Warrant of 4 May 1911, the first quarter of the national arms of the Union was assigned to the Cape Province as provincial arms. The provisions of this Royal Warrant were never implemented however and the achievement for the Cape Province remained uninterruptedly in use. A new drawing was even made in 1952 by Prof. C.S. Groves.
As the Royal Warrant of 1911 was in contradiction with this tradition, a letter of 1954 to the Administrators of the Provinces provided the withdrawal of it with effect from 22 June 1954. As a result the achievement of 1876 was confirmed by certificate of registration of the Bureau of Heraldry of 30 October 1967. The blazoning of the achievement in this certificate reads:
Arms: Gules, a lion rampant Or armed and langued Azure between three annulets Or; on a cheif Argent three hurts, each charged with a fleur-de-lis Or.
Crest: The Figure of Hpe vested Argent mantled Azure, resting the dexter arm on a rock and supporting with the sinister hand an anchor Sable, cabled proper.
Wreath: Or and Gules.
Supporters: Dexter a black wildebeest and sinister a gemsbok, proper.
Motto: SPES BONA. 
In 1994 the province was split up in three smaller administrative units: Eastern Cape Province, Northern Cape Province and Western Cape Province. For these provinces new coats of arms were designed a few years later. 
Achievement registered by the South African Herald on 25 March 1996.
Arms: Argent, two flaunches Gules, issuing from a base barry wavy Azure and Argent of four pieces, an aloë-tree Vert, blossoming with three flowers Gules,
Crest: On a wreath of leopard-skin a rising sun radiant Or.
Supporters: Two elands (Taurotragus oryx - Bovidæ) proper.
Motto: DEVELOPMENT THROUGH UNITY in black lettering on a listel Or, lined Gules.
Compartment: Gironny of three of two shades of Vert.
Heraldic Rising Sun
The sun refers to the location and pleasant weather of the Eastern Cape. It symbolizes the friendliness and positive attitude of its people. It also represents a new era and bright future of growth, development and prosperity.
Leopard Skin Head Ring
The rising sun head ring is a symbol for prestige, power and the heritage of the province. The leopard is an animal of strength and is universally considered as a symbol of authority.
The Cape Aloe, is an indigenous succulent/cactus plant. Its bitter nectar is used for healing purposes. It symbolizes perseverance and strength. The three flowers sprouting from the one stem symbolize unity among the different groups of people in the province.
Wavy Blue Lines
The blue lines are heraldic symbols for the sea and represent the magnificent coastline of the Eastern Cape. The blue colour symbolises peace and hope.
The Eland was by far the most widespread of all larger antelope in the Eastern Cape and is now reintroduced into the province’s nature reserves and game farms. The eland is also important in the folk-lore, especially among the bushmen who almost worshipped it. The bull represents magnificence.
"development through unity": The province strives to develop all its people in all facets of life. This could lead to prosperity. It is attainable if the people are united and moving together towards their goals.
Green: Associated with tranquility, renewed, potential growth and fertility of the land. Refers to agricultural conservation and the environment.
Red: Symbolises the soil and fertility.
Yellow: Symbolises warmth and prosperity.
Blue: Symbolises peace and hope.
Achievement designed by the Provincial Directorate of Art and Culture and approved on 25 August 1997 by the Provincial Legislative Council of the Northern Cape Province.
Arms: Parted per fess Gules and Azure, a lozenge Argent, in chief two marigolds (Calendula officinalis - Compositæ) Or, in base three waves Azure and Argent counterchanged, on the central wave a Sweet-thorn (Acacia karroo - Fabacæa) issuant proper.
Crown: A diadem of Bushmen beadwork, Azure seven lozenges Gules, rimmed Argent, set with four targets bordured Gules, Or and Gules.
Supporters: Dexter a gemsbok (Oryx gazella - Bovidæ) and sinister a kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros - Bovidæ) proper.
Motto: SA K//ʔA: !AISIʔ UISI (“Strive for a Better Life” in Bushmen auni-language).
Compartment: A rocky ground, typical for Augrabies National Park.
* The Augrabies National Park is of great cultural and spiritual meaning for the Bushmen and the Khoikhoi.
The achievement, designed by State Herald F. G. Brownell, has been approved by the Executive Council and published in the Uitsonderlike Provinsiale Koerant of 19 May 1998. It is:
Arms: Azure, chapé Argent: 1. An anchor Gules; 2. a bunch of black grapes proper; 3. a pot Or.
Crown: Or, the diadem decorated with Bushmen beadwork dancetty Gules and Azure of thirteen, set with four sugarbush flowers (Protea - proteaceæ) Or, their petals Argent, and three annulets Or.
Supporters: On the dexter a quagga (Equua quagga quagga - Equidæ) and on the sinister a bontebok (Damaliscus pygargus - Bovidae), both proper.
Motto: SPES BONA (Good Hope), on a listel Or, its ends of ostrich-feathers.
Compartment: per fess of two shades Azure.
In 1994 the famous heraldist Cornelis Pama was asked to make proposals for an achievement for the new province but he died before he could finish his task. Major Brownell, as his successor has heard all parties of the National Legislative Council and his design was approved by all in 1996.
© Hubert de Vries, 2009.03.12. Updated 2020-02-03
 Schutte, O.: Catalogus van Zegelstempels. In: De Nederlandse Leeuw, 1971: N° 100 (1800) Altar with dolphin and anchor supported by the Batavian Virgin with a book and a spear with the hat of freedom, and the dutch lion with the Batavian flag. N°s 101 - 102 (1801): Lion with sword and bundle of arrows.
 As the shield is circular like the shield of the Batavian Republic after 1803, the relief of the arms in the tympanon of the gate must date from the period from 1803 - 1806 after which the arms were replaced by the arms of Louis Napoleon and the Cape was taken by the British anyhow. It is not likely that the arms date from the time of the Company because we would expect the shield with the sailing ship then. We may conclude that the arms of the chambers and the VOC cypher are from the time of the construction of the gate (1666).
 Graaff Reinet, Swellendam and Uitenhage. See: http://www.ngw.nl
 Pama, C.: Lions and Virgins: heraldic state symbols, coats of arms, flags, seals and other symbols of authority in South Africa, 1487-1962. Cape Town, Human and Rousseau, 1965.
 Picture from : Drawings of the Flags in use at the Present Time by Various Nations. Admiralty, 1915. http://www.archive.org/details/drawingsofflagsi00grea.
 Brownell, F.G.: National and Provincial Symbols and flora and fauna emblems of the Republic of South Africa. Johannesburg, 1993. Ch. 8 (p. 48-49)
 Information and pictures mainly from http://www.geocities.com/landswapen. This website is also indispensable for more detailed information.
 Picture and explanation from the Government site of the Eastern Cape Province. Which stipulates: Unauthorised reproduction of this Coat of Arms is an offence under the Heraldry Act of 1962. Authority to reproduce must be sought from Corporate Communications, Office of the Premier PROVINCE OF THE EASTERN CAPE.