Jan Van Riebeek

Jan van Riebeeck was born in Culemborg on 21 April 1619 and he grew up in Schiedam. At the age of 30, he married a 19-year-old Maria de la Queillerie. The couple had 8 children but most of them did not survive infancy. However, their son Abraham who was born at the Cape later became Governor General of the Dutch East Indies.

At the age of 20 Jan Van Riebeek joined the VOC (Dutch East India Company) He served several posts including assistant surgeon in Batavia, in the steps of his father who had also been a surgeon.

He headed the VOC trading post in Indochina but was dismissed in 1645 due to some insider trading.  However, soon afterwards after having spent a couple of weeks at The Cape on his return voyage to Holland,  he began to advocate for a refreshment station to be established there. Support for the idea increased after a VOC ship was marooned at the Cape and was able to survive in a temporary fortress.

A report was drafted and a Dutch presence was recommended. The VOC requested Jan Van Riebeek to undertake the command of the first Dutch settlement. The voyage departed from Texel on 24 December 1651. Two ships (The Drommedaris and Goede Hoop) landed at Table Bay on 6 April 1652. A third ship the Reijger, arrived the next day. The group of sailors and staff consisted of 82 men and 8 women, including hiVan Riebeek’s wife Maria. The original convoy consisted of 5 ships.  The Walvis and the Oliphant arrived late due to a large number of the crew having died, 

On arrival, Van Riebeeck began to fortify the settlement and to create the way station the Cape was to become. He went about building a fort and improving the natural anchorage at Table Bay, the group planted cereals, fruit, and vegetables, and bartered livestock from the indigenous Khoi people. Van Riebeeck was Commander of the Cape for 10 years.

The original fort was built of wood and clay it had four bastions. The fort was replaced by the Castle of Good Hope, which was built between 1666 and 1679 some time after van Riebeeck had left the Cape.

During his tenure Jan Van Riebeek he established an impressive range of useful plants in the Cape Peninsula. .This changed the natural environment forever. The varieties included grapes, cereals, ground nuts, potatoes, apples, and citrus. This had an important and lasting influence on the societies and economies of the region. In 1659 Jan Van Riebeek established a vineyard to produce red wine. The daily diary entries that he kept throughout his time at the Cape which was a VOC policy provided the basis for future exploration in the region.

He died in Batavia on 18 January 1677.


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