Jan van Riebeeck

Jan van Riebeeck

jan van riebeeck

Personal Life

Johan Anthoniszoon “Jan” van Riebeeck was born on the 21st April 1619 in a small town called Culumberg in Holland. Van Riebeeck’s father was a surgeon. He grew up in Schiedam .This is also where he met and married his wife, Maria de la Quitterie. Maria was French. They had 8 children together, however most did not survive infancy. Maria died aged 35 in 1664 while in Malaysia. Her cause of death is undisclosed. One of their sons, Abraham van Riebeeck became the Governor General of the Dutch East Indies.

Early Career with the VOC

He joined the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) in 1639. He served in a number of posts in 1639. One of them being as an assisstant surgeon in Batavia. He picked up the skill from his father.

He travelled to the VOC outpost in Japan in 1643 with Jan van Elseracq. After this, he was put in charge of the VOC trading post in Tonkin, Indochina. He was dismissed for defying the ban on private trading.

Leendert Janszen's Recommendation

On March 25, 1647, a Dutch Indiaman, De Nieuwe Haerlem, shipwrecked near modern day Milnerton. It was headed for Holland on its way back from the East Indies. A junior VOC merchant, Leendert Janszen, was instructed to stay behind with 60 members of the crew. They were tasked to look after the cargo while the others continued their journey to Holland with other ships.

They spent a year at the Cape. They grew vegetables and bartered with the natives. On his return, he made a recommendation along with Nicolaas Proot that the Cape was sustainable as a refreshment station.

Commander of The Cape

Van Riebeeck was later chosen to lead an expedition to South Africa. The expedition consisted of 82 men and 8 women. His job was to build a fort and a small farming settlement in order to supply the passing VOC ships with refreshments. He departed from Texel, Holland on 24 December 1651.

He landed the Drommedaris and Goede Hoope on 6 April 1652. He landed the Reijger on 7 April 1652. Van Riebeeck was Commander of The Cape from 1652 to 1662. He began construction of the fort known as the Fort of Good Hope-made from mud, clay and timber. The fort was replaced with the Castle of Good Hope after he left the Cape.

In 1657, the VOC issued 9 permits to VOC company servants to farm along the Liesbeek River. These people became known as Freeburghers. In the same year, slaves were imported from Batavia and Madagascar as the natives were seen as “uncooperative”.

He is responsible for planting and developing many plants including grapes, cereals, ground nuts, potatoes, apples, and citrus.

When van Riebeeck left the Cape, there were well over 100 Europeans living there. A journal of van Riebeeck’s  time at the Cape has been extremely useful to see the conditions at the time.

Jan van Riebeeck, cape of good hope
Jan van Riebeeck and his crew at the Cape.

Life After the Cape

After his time at The Cape, van Riebeeck was appointed as Secretary to the Governor General of the Dutch East Indies. He resided in Batavia from 1664 to 1677. Van Riebeeck died on 18 September 1677 in Batavia aged 57.

Legacy in South Africa

Van Riebeeck’s administration began a tradition when in 1658, Autshumato, a Khoikhoi interpreter, was banished to an island for stealing from the Dutch. He spent a year and a half there, but eventually escaped on a row boat. He later received permission to live in the Cape again and once again worked for the Dutch as an interpreter. They named the island “Robben Island” after the seals that lived there. The island continued to be used as a prison and later housed Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada and other political prisoners.

In 1952, on the tercentenary celebration of van Riebeeck’s arrival at the Cape, 6 April was declared Van Riebeeck’s day until 1974. It then became known as Founder’s Day until 1994. It was then removed by the ANC government. Statues of Jan and his wife remain in Adderley Street, Cape Town. Hoërskool Jan van Riebeeck bears his name in honour of his contribution to South Africa.

Incorrect Portrait

When people think of Jan van Riebeeck, they imagine the face below. This face featured on South Africa’s currency and stamps for decades. However, this is reportedly not Jan van Riebeeck. This is actually the portait of a man named Bartholomeus Vermuyden. He was a Dutch Local who never set foot in South Africa. It is unsure how this mix-up occurred.

Read more about it here.

Jan van Riebeeck Fake

References and Further Reading

Written by: Justin Daines