Dutch Settlement 1652-1712

Meeting the indigenous people – 6th April, Van Riebeeck makes the acquaintance of two Khoikhoi who had come aboard the Dromedaris. One of these is a man whom van Riebeeck calls Herry. His name is Autshumato (c.1611-1663) Chief of the Goringhaicona Khoikhoi. This group of indigenous herders live on the shores of Table Bay and thus had contact with the crews of passing European ships who came ashore in search of food and fresh water. In 1631 and 1632 the English took him to their trading post in Bantam, Java, where he learnt the English language and trading methods. On his return to Table Bay he acted as interpreter and intermediary between the Khoi and visiting English crews, to obtain cattle and sheep by barter. He continued in this role for the Dutch after the arrival of Van Riebeeck, considerably increasing his own livestock holdings in the process. During the growing hostilities between the Dutch and the Khoi in 1658 and 1659, he was taken hostage by Van Riebeeck, in an attempt to force the Khoi to return some escaped slaves, and is imprisoned on Robben Island. He escaped but died an impoverished man several years later.

Living a little distance inland were two other richer and more powerful tribes, the Goringhaikuas, or Kaapmans (Capemen), who numbered about six hundred men, and the Gorachouquas, or Koras, whose strength was about two-thirds of that of the Kaapmans. In time the burgher explorations discovered the existence of other tribes. The most powerful clan was the Cochoqua, or Saldanha men, who lived along the Bergriver towards Malmesbury and Saldanha Bay. The Khoikhoi were of larger physique than the San, with a tawny pigmentation and slight of build. Their houses were crude semi-circular huts of stakes and mats. They used copper and iron. Their weapons consisted of arrows and spears tipped with metal. They were described as mild mannered and friendly.

Erecting the Fort – Van Riebeeck’s first duties were to erect a fort for the protection of the settlers and to lay out gardens for the growing of vegetables and fruit. The Fort was built at the extreme edge of what is now the Parade. It overlapped the present Post Office site. The Fort was a four pointed mud walled structure, with a lookout tower and cannon on its ramparts. In addition to housing, it contained a smithy, workshops and a hospital section.The outer walls were originally of earth, and even when overgrown with grass, they would crumble away under pressure and during the raining seasons. Constant repair was necessary. Inside the fort, buildings were of timber brought from the Netherlands. At first sandstone from Robben Island and later a more durable blue stone from a quarry in the Steenberg was used. The square tower and the gate facing the sea shore were built of stone. Two brick kilns produce lime, obtained from shells on Robben Island. After 1655 buildings inside the walls were constructed of local red brick, which was also used to give a solid surface to the unstable earthen enclosure. Unfortunately the bricks weather badly, and only in Wagenaar’s day lime was procurable for plaster. The main apartment was the Commander’s room, which, with its raised platform at one end, also served as the Council Chamber. Furnishing was primitive. Due to the lack of glass, windows were covered with coarse cotton cloth. Before long, the settlement had its own pottery and tile factory, good clay being found to the southeast of Table Mountain.

3 August, Construction of the buildings inside the Fort is completed at such a rapid pace, that the commander is able to summon a meeting, of his Council of Policy, within its ramparts.

14th April, The first Sunday service at the Cape is held on board Van Riebeeck’s ship, the Drommedaris.

In the beginning most of the settlers lived inside the fort. To safeguard their cattle from theft or wild animals, a kraal (enclosure) was built at the rear of the fort. The original fort was sufficient to keep the Khoi and wild animals at bay, but was of little use against an enemy attack from outside.

The Company’s Garden – Before the end of 1652 the land across the river, (west of modern Adderley Street), was cultivated. The master gardener was aptly named Hendrik Boom (Tree). The gardens, with their fruit trees and beds of radish, lettuce, asparagus, cress and vegetables, were bordered on both sides by a stream that run from Table Mountain, near Platteklip Gorge, down to the sea. (near the present junction of Adderley Street and Strand Street)

A new jetty – Facilities for the landing of essential supplies were an early concern of Van Riebeeck. In the first two years of the settlement, men had to walk up to their necks in the water to handle the casks and packages. Van Riebeeck instructed his men to drag yellowwood beams from the mountain kloofs so that a jetty could be constructed, where ships’ boats could load and unload. A framework of large beams were firmly anchored and the interstices ……….filled with rubble and bushes. In order to complete the jetty at the earliest possible date, carpenters were enlisted from ships in the Bay.

1658 – 17 January, The commander is able to step into a ship’s boat moored to the terminus of the jetty. All that remained to be done, was to cover the framework with planks four inches thick, so that casks could be rolled along the jetty to the shore. Little was done in the eighteenth century to improve these facilities further.

The early years – In the initial years there was so much work for masons, carpenters, wheelwrights and blacksmiths that the commander was compelled to detain men from the outward-bound fleets. The safety of the settlement remained a problem, since very few men could be spared to guard the workers against attacks by the Khoikhoi. Everyone were exposed to considerable hardship, particularly in the early months when they were living in tents lashed by the frequent gales. The work was so hard that, within less than a month of his arrival Van Riebeeck was contemplating the introduction of industrious Chinese. Even better, if colonisation would be permitted, the occupation of agricultural plots by free burghers (citizens) from the Netherland. Van Riebeeck suggested a plan to save money on the garrison pay roll, whereby Company employees would be released and granted land. Their produce will be bought for the fleets, at a Company price. Thereafter they could sell to others, with the Company’s permission. Colonisation was not part of the Company’s programme, as trade was the overriding consideration. This was the reason for the establishment of the refreshment station in the first place. The last thing the Company wanted was the emergence of colonists who, as free men, might be tempted to threaten its monopoly. However, the Seventeen were not without a healthy respect for commercial arithmetic. Expansion of the settlement meant more men and more defenders. So, in the interests of economy, they accepted van Riebeeck’s recommendation that a limited number of their servants are released to become free farmers, and that they be granted land.

1657 – 21st of February,First Free Burghers – The first nine grants in the vicinity of present day Rondebosch are made to the first Free Burghers. Thus the settlement of De Kaap, became a Colony. The free burghers were free in name only. The Commander laid down the terms of their freedom. They had to take turns at manning the fortifications of Duynhoop and Coornhoop, the former being situated at present day Woodstock and the latter where at present day Mowbray. The Company also had first call at fixed prices on their produce, after which they might sell to ships in the Bay. They were prohibited from going on board until three days after a vessel had anchored. They were not allowed to grow tobacco, in case local cultivation lead to a decline in the Company’s profit from its importation, and they were forbidden to buy anything from the Khoi people;the penalty biegn, the forfeiture of all their possessions. Cattle and sheep were to be purchased only from the fort and resold to the Company alone at original purchase prices. They were to pay one tenth of their cattle in return for free pasturage. Arms and implements were to be supplied on credit and payment to be effected by crops. The Company was to hold mortgage over all their possessions, and finally they were bound to remain at the Cape for twenty years. These vexatious conditions were alleviated in some measure when a high official of the Company, Ryklof van Goens, later Governor-General of Netherlands India, visited the Colony later in the year: Freemen’s land was exempted from tax for twelve years and they were permitted to purchase cattle from the Hottentots, at the same time being forbidden to pay more than the price offered by the Company. Van Riebeeck himself was granted a farm close to the coast, behind Lion Mountain (Green Point). Later he was given a large plot of land at the foot of Bosheuvel (Wynberg Hill), where he had already planted 1,200 vines.

1657 & 1658  – The first 150 slaves land at the Cape. A school is established for the male and female slaves. To encourage the slaves to attend, they each received a small glass of brandy and two inches of tobacco, after school. (The beginning of the ‘Dop’ system). All their names were written down, and those who did not have any, were given a name. They were also given decent clothes to protect themselves against the increasing cold weather. The strongest were put to work.

1660 – The Gardens lie entirely to the west of the Fresh River, opposite the top point of the fort, in the rectangle, today formed by Adderley, Longmarket, St. George’s and Church Streets. It occupies about 18 hectares of land. It extended from Tuin Street (now Church Street) towards Table Mountain and must have coincided more or less with the lower part of the present gardens. It was enclosed by a thick hedge of ash trees.

1662 – 7th May Jan van Riebeeck sails for Batavia on the Mars, for service in the East, never to return. 

1665 – Zacharias Wagenaar lands at Table Bay to assume Commandership of the Cape.

August, The site for a fortification, the Castle, is selected, by the Commissioner Isbrand Goske He decides that the new royal fortress will be laid out on a suitable level site about 223 metres further eastwards from the fort. This fortification was built in accordance with the principles of the old Netherlands defence system, which had been adopted in the Netherlands Republic and its extra European settlements since the beginning of the seventeenth century. It was to be a pentagonal fortification with bastions at each corner. A 25-metre moat was also dug round the Castle. Slaves were used to obtain building materials such as stone, lime burnt from shells from Robben Island and timber from Hout Bay, while soldiers do the actual building.August The site for a fortification, the Castle, is selected, by the Commissioner Isbrand Goske He decides that the new royal fortress will be laid out on a suitable level site about 223 metres further eastwards from the fort.

1666 – 2nd January Governor Zacharias Wagenaar and others lay the four corner stones with great ceremony. Later that year, Zacharias Wagenaar, broken in health, relinquished his office, and was succeeded as Commander, by Cornelius van Quaelberg, who remained in charge of the settlement for the next two years.

1667 – Two bastions of the Castle are completed and the work is stopped. 

1670 – The Town gradually begins to take shape, expanding in the direction of Table Mountain, encroaching on the lower end of the Cpmpany’ garden. First a small portion is cut off to provide a site for the new church and graveyard. (Groote Kerk and Church Square) and later more garden land is sacrificed at the top of the Heerengracht (Adderley Street) for the Slave Lodge. A reservoir, fed by water in wooden pipes, from the Fresh River, is constructed. The same stream turned the wheel of a mill for the grinding of corn.

1672 – Hostilities between Holland and England break out again, and work on the Castle is immediately resumed.

1674 – The Castle is occupied for the first time. The Old Fort is evacuated & demolished.


1677 – 16th December Commander Johan Bax and his Council set aside a suitable area in the Company’s garden as a burial ground. This is the land on which the Groote Kerk now stands.

The small town, which Van Riebeeck and his successors established at the Cape, reproduced some of the typical features of Amsterdam. To the Dutch the natural setting of a town was at the water’s edge. When they occupied the Archipelago, they insisted, as far as circumstances permitted, on a similar environment for their lives in the East. Batavia, with its canals and bridges connecting houses and stabling, was modelled on the ground plan of the Netherlands city. In the seventeenth century the sea encroached upon the land to a far greater extent than at present, and the waterfront ran across the lower end of Strand Street. Van Riebeeck intended the heart of his little settlement to lie facing the waterfront, on the bank of a freshwater stream, which flowed from the mountain down the Platteklip Gorge. Here he build his fort and the canalized the lower portion of the freshriver, to fill the moat. Behind and at right angles to the shoreline was the main thoroughfare, named, after its Amsterdam counterpart, the Heerengracht. It was bordered by masonry water canals, fed by a stream from Table Mountain. In time oaks were planted and plank bridges gave access to the gardens of cottages. It resembled the atmosphere of a smaller waterfronted Dutch town. Open canals were constructed down several of the streets, serving as a watersource for irrigations, and despite the diminished flow in summer, as a means of combating fires. The impact of the Dutch presence on the natural flaura and fauna of the Peninsula was not confined to pasture lands and hedges. The natural wildlife was being steadily hunted out. This was encouraged by the premium that the Company paid for the shooting of lions and leopards. Robben Island was populated by sheep, which the Company hoped would breed in isolation from Khoi rivals, while seals on the coastline were hunted for their oil and flesh. Trees in the Table Bay area were swiftly falling to the axe. Brick houses soon began to cluster around the fort, whilst a jetty ran out into the sea. In close proximity was Van Riebeeck’s hospital, later used as a timber store. Sidewalks at right angles to the main street led to the house of Hendrik Boom, the chief gardener, and to various private gardens. The Company’s main vegetable and fruit garden was laid out on the lower slope of the Mountain. Much of it was enclosed. Wheat and barley were sown before the settlement was three months old. With the construction of thatched cottages the wilderness of the sand dunes gave way to a pleasant domesticated scene. Countless waterfowl inhabitated the Lion’s Head area and around the green vlei (Greenpoint). The clusters of melkbos provided very little shelter against the ferocity of the rain bearing Northwesterly wind in Winter and the dry South Easter in Summer.

A new era under Governor, Simon van der Stel


The new Governor, Simon van der Stel arrives in Cape Town.

On his arrival at the Cape he finds himself in charge of a settlement that is still, simply a trading station of the Dutch East India Company. A mere commercial outpost that is sparsely populated. At the time of his arrival the officials and free burghers with their wives, children, slaves and servants number 767. Only twenty-two families are actively engaged in agriculture, and consequently the Cape is not self-supporting.

Simon van der Stel is a man with a great vision. He wants this new and richly endowed country to become something bigger, more enduring, than a commonplace provision depot for the commercial organisation he served. An intensely patriotic Dutchman, he sees the possibilities of the Cape as; Holland beyond the seas.

February Construction of the Slave starts on the land cut off from the Company’s Garden, at the top of the Heerengracht. (Corner of Wale and Adderley Street) The new lodge takes the form of a single-storied rectangle round an open court. It can house 500 to 600 slaves.

The free burghers and the Company’s garden at Newlands now produce so much that the garden in the town is no longer essential as an orchard and vegetable garden. He converts the Company’s Garden into a botanical and ornamental garden.

The garden now occupies 16 hectares and measures 1,020 metres by 273 metres. It is divided info rectangular blocks by hedges, which also serve as windbreaks.

Three beautiful avenues, equally spaced, divide the garden lengthwise and also transversely. At the top of the garden is a water mill, and from it the water of a mountain stream flow in neat masonry furrows, to irrigate the entire garden. A high wall with a fine entrance gateway enclose the northern side. Van der Stel has a small summerhouse built on the site now occupied by Tuynhuis. Here he entertains and accommodate foreign visitors in two fine rooms. The head gardener also lives there.

After a visit to Hottentots-Holland, where the south-easter blew fiercely, van der Stell decides to start a new settlement on the banks of the Eerste River. He calls the settlement Stellenbosch because of its trees he liked so much.


May The Commander informs the Directors that a number of “free persons” had established themselves at Stellenbosch.

June Simon van der Stell moves into the Castle.

He starts a sawmill at Hout Bay, visits Robben Island to organise the fishing and attend to the treatment of convicts. He starts a brickyard at De Kuijlen. Blasting deepenes the moat around the Castle and the rampart Leerdam is repaired. Visitors are entertained hospitably and lavishly at the Castle.

He also punishes dishonesty amongst officials and captains of visiting ships.

Van der Stel uses his knowledge of winemaking to help the free burghers improve the quality of their wines.


March High-ranking Orientals arrive at the Cape. The Council of Batavia had banished these people to the Cape, and urged the Commander to take particular care that they did not escape or fall into the hands of the French, Danes or English. Van der Stel protests that he does not have enough people to guard such political prisoners, but the Batavian authorities ignore his complaints and advise the Commander of the Cape to spread the prisoners out around the country so that they would have little opportunity to conspire against the Company.


Van der Stel moves into his country residence, Rustenburg, in Rodebosch, where he had plants new vineyards and many trees.


Commissioner Hendrik Adriaan van Rheede gives instructions that a cross-wall or “kat” be built across the court of the Castle, and that provision be made in it for a new residence for the Governor and several halls.


A party of 164 French Huguenot settlers arrive at the Cape. In 1685 King Louis XIV of France revoked the Edit of Nantes, which was instituted by Henry IV on 13 April 1598.

A wave of repression began against the French Huguenots. Now that all legal protection had been removed, the campaign against the Protestants in France became a massive onslaught. Even though the penalty for attempting to escape from France was death, the exodus was on a huge scale.

The Dutch recognising the value of the refugees, encouraged the French families to seek new homes in Dutch settlements.

bThe Huguenots constitutes aout one-sixth of the then white population. They bring skills in cultivating vines, which helps to lay the basis for the Cape wine industry. Most of the Frenchmen are allotted farms in the Drakenstein Valley along the Berg River

Some settle in an area named Simonsberg, later to be known as Fransch Hoek. Others, in an area known as Wagenmakersvallei, the prosperous ‘Valley of the Wagon-builders’ (now Wellington), also further north, near Hermeon and Gouda, and at Artois in the Tulbagh basin between the Breede and Little Berg rivers.


The residential section of the town is between present day Longmarket, Strand, Burg and Plein Streets. The Company’s garden extends North from the first-named thoroughfare to Orange Street where the Mount Nelson Hotel now stands. Much of the remainder of the land in Table Valley is occupied by private agricultural holdings.

Table Bay, however, lives up to its reputation as an unsafe anchorage and between 1692 and the turn of the century many vessels are driven ashore by storm. The overwhelming majority of callers are Dutch, but pirates now begin to frequent these waters.


The directors of the company reward Simon van der Stel for his great services to the company by promoting him to the rank of Govemor.


Work is completed on the wagon-road, which runs over the neck beyond Wynberg to Hout Bay. Wild animals, in the meanwhile, are still a source of danger and trouble.


Sheik Yussuf arrives at the Cape, an exile from his native land in the East. He is regarded as a rebel and mystic, whose memory is even today revered by the Muslim people of South Africa. This very remarkable man had for many years been a thorn in the flesh of the Dutch East India Company.


December Work begins on the foundations for the new hospital, which replaces the one built by Commander van Riebeeck. It is bordered the Heerengracht (Addeley Street) and Bergstraat (St George’s Mall) respectively, and by Wale and Church Streets.


The “kat” at the Castle is completed.

22nd May, The Church is moved to one of the halls in the Castle, & the first sermon is preached there.

October The Keizersgracht is laid out.The section from Adderley Street is now known as Darling Street. It runs from Adderley Street past the northern side of the Grand Parade and the Castle. The road to the country (Southern Suburbs) runs between the Castle and the shore. (Present day Strand Street)


After twenty years of toil, Simon van der Stel relinquishes the governorship. Unlike his predecessors, he had no ambitions outside South Africa. He elected to spend the remainder of his life on the magnificent farm of Groot Constantia, which, as a special concession, and in recognition of his great services to the company, the Directors had presented to him some years earlier.

Large numbers of free immigrants from Holland and France and Germany had set up permanent homes at the Cape, and a host of young farmers, filled with the spirit of adventure, and thirsting for the freedom of the wild open spaces, were boldly pushing forward into regions far beyond. This was the magnitude of the change wrought by this remarkable man.

Sheik Yussuf dies, at the age of 73. The Company allowed his family to return to Macassar. His tomb, known as a Kramat, lies at Zandvliet in the Western Cape. Pilgrimages of Muslems still come reverently every year to honour his memory.

The new Hospital is completed. It could cope, in an emergency, with no less than a thousand patients


Wilhem Adriaen van der Stel takes over the administration of the Cape.

The population at the Cape has risen to 401 men, 224 women and 521 children.

Plans for the new church is drawn up and a contract is concluded for the building.

28th December, Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel and several of his councillors lay the first stones of the new church. At the same time, the graveyard, (Church Square today) is restored and Abraham Hartog is contracted to build a wall round it. Inside the church provision are made for about 180 numbered vaults and some unnumbered graves.


Wilhem Adriaen van der Stel is granted 400 morgen in the vicinity of Hottentots-Holland. He calls the farm “Vergelegen”.

Willem Adreaan van der Stel, constructs a ‘pleasure lodge’ in the Company’s garden. It later becomes a guesthouse for the VOC. (Dutch East Indian Company). (Present day Tuynhuis)


April. The new church on the Heerengracht, except for the tower is completed. (Groote Kerk)


6th January The new Dutch Reformed church is opened with great ceremony

1708     Adam Tas leads the rising of the Free Burghers against the injustices of Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel. He is arrested and put on trial.

1712    24th of June Simon van der Stell dies at the age of seventy-two. His remains are buried beneath the floor of the Groote Kerk in Adderley Street, and a monument is erected behind the pulpit to his memory. At the time of his death and for many years thereafter, the names of those buried within the precincts of the church were not inscribed on the stones above their graves. Instead, the stones were numbered individually and these numbers, together with the relevant names, were recorded in a register. When the church was enlarged the monument was removed and never restored. The register was also lost, so it is no longer possible to establish the exact locality of the grave.  

Comments are closed.