Ryk Tulbagh was born in Utrecht on the14 May 1699, 11 August 1771. He grew up in Bergen op Zoom. When he was 16 he enlisted with the VOC (Dutch East India Company). He worked as a  cadet and sailed to Cape Town on the ship Huys Terhorst. He excelled and rose in the Company’s ranks and was appointed as a temporary assistant to the Council of Policy in 1716. His appointment became permanent in 1718.

He continued to work for the Company and rose through the ranks and in 1739 he became to Secunde 2IC and on 27 February 1751 he was appointed as Governor of the Cape. In 1725 Tulbagh married Elizabeth Swellengrebel, Sadly She died in 1753.

Tulbagh is remembered for implementing the 124-provision sumptuary law restricting extravagance. The law stipulated that only the governor could decorate his carriage with the colonial coat of arms and that only the Council members could dress their coaches in livery. Lower officials and their wives were not allowed to carry umbrellas which were regarded as a status symbol), All women were banned from lining their dresses with silk or velvet. The trend for trains of fabric on the gowns verboten,(forbidden)

There was to be no frippery at funerals and he enacted the Tulbagh Code of colonial slave law in 1754.  There were fewer restrictions and the death penalty was imposed only on those who killed their masters, with forced labor for lesser offences. Slaves were allowed to practice a trade to support themselves and buy their freedom. They could also buy the freedom of others. These emancipated slaves were called Fryswartes and had equal legal status to the white settlers.

Ryk Tulbagh introduced civil services such as road maintenance, fire fighting, and police services. He had an academic disposition and he had many interests, He wrote Latin and French and enjoyed the company of several foreign intellectuals including botanists and astronomers who visited the Cape during his governorship. He built the first library which housed books donated by Joachim Nicolaus Von Dessin. Von Dessin was secretary of the orphan chamber and  guardian of estates

Tulbagh did a lot to mitigate the smallpox epidemics of 1755 and 1767. These wiped out almost the entire Khoekhoe population of the area. The first plague hit the settler population and also killed 500 slaves. The second wave killed more than 500 people and smallpox was not eliminated until 1770.

In 1770, Tulbagh declared the Gamtoos River the eastern border of the Swellendam district and the Swartberg mountains the northern one but was unable to defend them.

Tulbagh died in 1771 and was buried in the Groote Kerk.