Simon Van Der Stel

Simon van der stel was born on the 14 October 1639 and was the last Commander and first Governor of the Cape Colony, the Dutch settlement at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

Simon was the son of Adriaan van der Stel, an official of the Dutch East India Company (VOC, Verenigde Oos-Indiese Kompanjie), and Maria Lievens, daughter of a freed Indian slave woman known as Monica.

Simon van der Stel's grandmother (his mother Maria Lievens` mother) was Monica of Goa an Indian slave also known as Monica of the Coast. Maria was married to the Dutch Governor of Mauritius and Simon was born aboard a ship in Mauritian waters. He was raised until 7 years old in Mauritius and until 20 years old in Batavia (Sumatra). Governor Willem Andriaan van der Stel was the great grandson of Monica. In a number of his anti-governor tirades the racist Adam Tas refers to the van der Stels amongst others as 'the black brood amongst us'.

According to official documents, incidentally, Simon was a mestizo, or half blood, his maternal grandmother being of mixed descent.

In 1659 he sailed for Amsterdam to pursue his studies there and it was then, when his ship anchored in Table Bay for a few weeks, that he would have made his first acquaintance with the Cape of Good Hope, which was later to be his home.

In 1663 he married Johanna Jacoba Six. The couple lived in Haarlem and Amsterdam until in 1679 the Dutch East Company appointed Van der Stel Commander of the Cape, to succeed the previous governor, Johan Bax (1637-1678). The quick tempered Simon did not get on with his wife and it was his sister in law, Cornelia Six, who accompanied him and his children to the Cape.

After their arrival in October of 1679 they lived initially in inadequate accommodation at the Castle, which was then in a rather derelict state. Simon immediately set to work, however, planting fruit trees and improving the buildings inside the Castle walls.

Forty years old, well educated, widely travelled, Simon van der Stel then quickly developed ambitious plans for the expansion of a colony when he arrived in 1679.

Survey teams and geologists were sent out and he surveyed for himself the fertile mountain slopes beyond the Cape Flats. One night he camped among bushes on an island in the Eerste River. He declared he would build a town along the stream, and name it after his night in the shrubs - 'Stellenbosch'.

The land around the town would be developed for farms, and especially wine making (wine was required for the ships). Each year he celebrated his birthday with festivities in the elegant, oak lined village he had founded, which is today an attractive town in the winelands. He later developed farms and settlements in Paarl and Drakenstein on the Berg River.

In 1685 he established the magnificent Groot Constantia wine farm as a model to Dutch farmers. He was a cultured man, dismayed by the poor quality of wine production, and was determined to teach the Boers (farmers) by example - applying his knowledge of viticulture on the farm Rustenburg at Rondebosch. This was knowledge he had gained at Muiderberg in the Netherlands, where he had owned two vineyards, pressed grapes and made wine and brandy.

However, soon Simon discovered a better way to improve farming. When King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, providing religious tolerance in France, many Huguenot (protestant) refugees made their way to Holland. Simon asked the VOC to provide passage to the Cape for any with experience of wine farming.

Roughly 200 were shipped over, increasing the population by a third. They were provided with limited supplies and sent out to establish farms, first to the region of Paarl and then to an elephant breeding ground called 'Oliphantshoek' that later became known as 'Franschhoek'. Simon may be regarded as the father of the South African wine industry.

In 1691, the VOC replaced the office of "Commander" with "Governor", and Simon van der Stel was promoted to this new position. His house, Groot Constantia, was well furnished with fine paintings including the unfinished painting by Simon de Vlieger "The Fisherman".

Simon also explored the Peninsula and named 'Simon's Bay' - a natural harbour in False Bay that was to be used extensively in years to come, and is today the major naval base of the SA Navy and known as Simons Town. A road was built from Constantia Nek connecting the colony to Hout Bay in 1693.

In Cape Town itself, Simon instituted a hospital in 1697. With so many sick sailors arriving at the Cape, and illness common in the town, it was designed for 225 patients and located in the quiet of the company gardens, which was designated a botanical garden as production shifted to the farms.

Simon van der Stel retired in 1699 and was succeeded by his son Willem Adriaan van der Stel. In retirement, Simon devoted himself to his estate at Constantia, where he died on the 24 June 1712. Francois Valentijn visited Frans at Constantia in March 1714. The estate was split up and sold in 1716; the auction took four days and was very well attended. Cited: (http:/southafricaarchive.org.za)

Effectively he was the first coloured Governor of the Cape Colony. This was something never acknowledged in South African history during the apartheid era.

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Page Created: 13 March 2012