Most of us are unaware of the fact that Jan Van Riebeek only spent ten years of his life at the Cape. The legacy he left behind however is one of epic proportion. Statues, Street names, river names, school names, suburb n
ames, town names, you name it, it’s called Riebeek.
But who was the man before and after the Cape? To begin with, he was born in Culemborg in the Netherlands as Johan Anthoniszoon van Riebeeck on 21 April 1619 as the son of a surgeon. Jan grew up in Schiedam, where he married 19-year old Maria de la Quellerie on 28 March 1649. The Van Riebeeks had eight children of which most did not survive, but their son Abraham van Riebeeck, born at the Cape, later became Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies. Van Riebeek joined the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1639, that’s at 20 years old. He served at a number of posts, including being an assistant surgeon in Batavia (Indonesia). He visited Japan and took his most important position as the head of the VOC trading post in Tonkin, Vietnam. However, he was called back from this post as it was discovered that he was conducting trade for his own account. Consequently, around 1651, he was requested to command the initial Dutch settlement at the Cape. He landed at what was to be Cape Town on 6 April 1652 and fulfilled his duties for the VOC. He was to build fortifications, establish gardens for fresh produce and trade livestock for the trade route station. Van Riebeeck was the commander of this colony at the Cape of Good Hope until 1662. After that, he was promoted to Secretary to the Governor-general of the Dutch East Indies and served there from 1665 to 1677. His wife, Maria, died in Malacca (Part of Malaysia) on November 2, 1664 (age 35), en-route to van Riebeeck’s new assignment. Van Riebeeck died in Batavia (now Jakarta) on the island of Java in 1677. Of his 58 years of life only ten contributed to the Cape, and for that he will be remembered forever.