Simon van der Stel

Simon van der Stel

Simon van der Stel-Governor of the Cape

Early Life

Simon van der Stel was born at sea en route to Mauritius on 14 October 1639. The name of the ship was le Cappel. His father, Adriaan van der Stel, was on his way to take up his new position of Governor of Mauritius. His mother, Maria, was the daughter of a freed Indian slave woman known as Monica da Costa. At the time, it was commonplace for men working in Batavia for the Dutch East India Company (VOC) to take non-European woman as their wives.

While Adriaan van der Stel moved to Dutch Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) after 5 years as Governor of Mauritius, Simon spent the first seven years of his life living there with his mother.

Simon’s father was killed in Dutch Ceylon and soon after his mother died. He moved to the capital of the VOC, Batavia, now Jakarta.  

Marriage, Cape of Good Hope

Simon later moved to Holland when he was 20, where he became acquainted with an influential VOC member by the name of Willem Six. In 1663, Simon went on to marry Willem’s daughter, Johanna Jacoba Six. They had 6 children together. In 1679, van der Stel was appointed Commander of the Cape of Good Hope. It is believed that this was a result of the influence of his relative, Joan Huydecoper van Maarsseveen, who was the Mayor of Amsterdam.

Simon and Johanna’s marriage was not a happy one and as a result her sister Cornelia accompanied him to the Cape. He never saw Johanna again. He remained faithful to her and supported her financially.

Groot Constantia-Wine Farm

While recuperating from an illness in Cape Town, Rijckloff van Goens  suggested to the Chamber of Seventeen that land should be granted to van der Stel.  In 1685, he was visited by the commander of the VOC, Henrik van Rheede. They shared a love for tropical botany. Van Rheede granted Simon a piece of land which he duly named Constantia after van Goens’ daughter. This became the official Governor’s residence and became known as Groot Constantia. It was approximately 763 hectares. Van der Stel used his knowledge of winemaking that he had picked up from Holland and turned his land in to a wine farm.

Groot Constantia

Development of The Cape

During his time as Commander, van der Stel was responsible for the rapid expansion which resulted in two towns bearing his name: Stellenbosch and Simon’s Town. The Simonsberg mountains and Simons Bay are also named in honour of him. He was required to expand in order to make place for the new independent farmers known as Freeburghers.

Christians in France were forbidden to practice the Protestant religions and van der Stel arranged for hundreds of them to get free passage to the Cape where he could use their winemaking skills. These people are known as the French Huguenots. The area were they settled was renamed Franschhoek, which translates to Frenchman’s corner.

Retirement and Death

In 1691, the title of “Commander” had changed to “Governor”. Simon retired in 1699 and he was succeeded by one of his sons, Willem Adriaan van der Stel. He devoted all his time to agriculture and growing his wine farm after his retirement up until his death. Simon died at his Constatia estate in 1712.

References and Further Reading

Written by: Justin Daines