Johan Anthonisz "Jan" van Riebeeck was born on the 21st April 1619 in Culemborg in the Netherlands (his father was a surgeon). He grew up in Schiedam and on the 28th March 1649 he got married there, to Maria de la Quellerie.
In 1639 Van Riebeeck joined the VOC (Dutch East India Company) and sailed to Batavia in April 1639 as an assistant surgeon. From there he went to Japan, and in 1645 Van Riebeeck took charge of the company trading station at Tongking (Tonkin, now in Vietnam). Van Riebeeck was called back from the post in Tongking as it was discovered that he was conducting trade for his own account.
In 1651 he was sent to establish a refreshment post at the Cape of Good Hope. On the 6th of April 1652 Van Riebeeck landed at the Cape with 3 ships (Reijer, Dromedaris, Goede Hoop), accompanied by 82 men and 8 women (including Maria de la Quellerie). The Walvisch and the Oliphant arrived late, having had 130 burials at sea.
The first wet winter was hard with 19 of Van Riebeeck's men dying. The people lived in wooden huts, their gardens washed away and food supplies dwindled.
The VOC had no desire for the conquest and administration of territory; their interest was to ensure the provision of vital supplies to their shipping fleets on their way to and from the East. Van Riebeeck's specific instructions were not to colonise the Cape but to build a fort, to erect a flagpole for signalling to passing ships, and to build pilot boats to escort them safely into the bay.
A few months after their arrival, the Dutch Republic and England became engaged in a naval war and the speedy completion of the fort at the Cape became urgent. Van Riebeeck established Fort Duijnhoop (made of mud, clay and timber, with 4 corners), near what is now the middle of Adderley Street. They planted gardens to supply fruit and vegetables to passing ships, and bartered with the Khoikhoi (who they called Goringhaikwa and later Kaapmans) for meat.
On the 17th December 1652, Van Riebeeck reported the first comet discovered from South Africa, C/1652 Y1.
In February of 1657, the VOC issued the first permits to free 9 company servants (Free Burghers) to farm along the Liesbeek River. Also in 1657 slaves were imported from Batavia and Madagascar.
By 1659 De Kaap was producing enough fresh foodstuffs to supply any passing ship during its stay. Van Riebeeck remained leader of the Cape until 1662, at which stage the settlement numbered 134 officials, 35 free burghers, 15 women, 22 children, and 180 slaves.
On 2 November 1664 Maria de la Quellerie died in Malacca, in what is now Malaysia, at the age of 35. He died on the island of Java in Batavia (which was since renamed Jakarta) on the 18th January 1677.
"The Landing of Jan van Riebeeck".
Painting by Charles Bell (South African Library).
Jan van Riebeeck High School
Cape Town, South Africa
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