Willem Adriaan Van Der Stel


Willem Adriaan van der Stel was the eldest of six children of Simon van der Stel and Johanna Jacoba Six They were important members of the Dutch merchant class. Willem Adriaan was fifteen when he went to the Cape in 1679. Five years later he returned to Holland where he married Maria de Haze whose father worked for the Dutch East India Company and was involved in the silk trade. They had five children.

Willem Adriaan van der Stel held the lordship of Nieuw and in 1691, he became a schepen of Amsterdam. He did not return to the Cape until 1699 when he was appointed to succeed his father as Governor of the colony

He had an interest in horticulture and agriculture and conducted extensive farming experiments in the Cape and sent samples of local plants to Amsterdam. Willem Adriaan authored one of South Africa’s first gardening almanacs. He also extended the Company’s gardens and sent expeditions into the interior.

Willem Adriaan Van der Stel owned, Vergelegen in present-day Somerset West. The land was granted to him in 1700, and he spent VOC resources  develoing it This naturally gave him an unfair advantage which caused discontent with the local farmers

He also used his influence to determine who could participate in the wine and meat trade. This triggered a revolt among the farmers. In 1706 Adam Tas and a few other farmers drew up a petition objecting to these activities.  The document it was sent directly to the VOC headquarters in Amsterdam.

The petition was rejected at first. Van der Stel had Tas tried and imprisoned in the “Black Hole at the Castle.

31 of the signatories were Huguenots, At the time the Netherlands was at war with France, and the petition caused some concern in Amsterdam. There were fears that some of the farmers would become spies for the French. The VOC recalled Van Der Stel in 1707 and he spent the rest of his life in exile. As a result of this action, VOC employees were not allowed to own land in the colony

Three years after the dismissal of Van Der Stel, Vergelegen was divided into four separate farms and sold.

Notably, he established the “Land van Waveren”, now known as Tulbagh and he laid the cornerstone for the Groote Kerk. His legacy is however somewhat stained by greed and extravagance. During his tenure, he was seen as corrupt, dictatorial, and beset by favouritism. The misuse of company assets was however probably not unique to Van der Stel’s tenure as governor.