Sutherland was founded in 1855 as a church and market town to serve the area's sheep farmers. By 1872 the town had a population of 138 registered citizens living in 19 houses. The large Dutch Reformed church in the centre of Sutherland was built in 1899.
During the Anglo Boer War the church was used as a fort by garrisoned British soldiers. During the war a number of engagements between British and Boer forces occurred in the town. In one such engagement a force of 250 Boer commandos attacked the local British garrison for 10 hours. The ruins of a fort can be found on the outskirts of town on the hill called Rebelskop. This was named after this engagement.