Jan van Riebeeck Biography

(Dutch Colonial Administrator)

Birthday: April 21, 1619 (Taurus)

Born In: Culemborg

Jan van Riebeeck is considered to be the Founding Father of the South African Cape. Responsible for the establishment of Cape Town in South Africa, he began his career as a Dutch Colonial administrator for the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, which is now known as the Dutch-East India Company. Riebeeck was stationed at numerous trading posts across the world including Tonkin, Indochina, Japan, and Batavia; but was best known for creating an opening in South Africa for the white settlers. Although some groups believe him to have disrupted the natural habitat of the Cape, he was honored by the nation well into the 1990s. Riebeeck was a devout family man, having his wife and children accompany him on his travels, and an equally devout Christian. Following in his father’s footsteps, he began his career in the surgical field, but held many positions ranging from assistant surgeon to secretary to the Council of India over his lifetime; a passion he passed along to his eldest son. Although he may have died at the age of 58, he holds a significant place in the history and founding of South Africa. It was because of his contributions to history that he was honored for decades across the nation.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Johan Anthoniszoon van Riebeeck

Died At Age: 57


Spouse/Ex-: Maria de la Quellerie (1649–1664; her death), Maria Scipio (1667–1677; his death)

father: Anthony Jansz Van Riebeeck

mother: Elisabeth Govertsdr Van Gaesbeeck

siblings: Geertruyd

children: Abraham van Riebeeck

Dutch Men Male Leaders

Died on: January 18, 1677

place of death: Jakarta

Founder/Co-Founder: Cape Town

Childhood & Early Life
Jan Van Riebeeck was born Johna Anthoniszoon Van Riebeeck, in Culemborg, the Netherlands, on April 21st, 1619 to Anthony Jansz Van Riebeeck and Elisabeth Govertsdr Van Gaesbeeck. He had one younger sibling, a brother named Geertruyd.
Van Riebeeck was the son of a surgeon. Learning his craft from his father, he later became an assistant surgeon in 1639.
He was raised in Schiedam, where he met his wife, Maria de la Quellerie. They were married on March 28th, 1649. He was 30 years old at the time of the marriage; she was 19.
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Van Riebeeck joined the ‘Dutch-East India Company’ in 1639. His first assignment was to sail to Batavia as an assistant surgeon.
In 1645, after a successful posting in Batavia, he was placed in charge of the company’s trading station located in Tongkin (now Tonkin Vietnam). After it was discovered that he was trading for his own profit and gain, he was later removed from his position and was ordered to return home.
On his return trip, his ship was docked for 18 days in Table Bay, South Africa. He quickly realized that the cape was a terrific place to furnish passing ships with produce and clean water, which would help minimize the crew fatalities due to scurvy.
In 1651, the ‘Dutch-East India Company’ appointed Van Riebeeck to establish the first Dutch settlement in Africa.
He returned to the southern point of Africa on April 6th, 1652 with three ships, the Reijer, the Dromedaris, and the Goede Hoop. The Walvisch and the Oliphant landed shortly after, having buried 130 crew members at sea.
He was commander of the settlement from 1652 to 1662. During this time, the settlement grew from 82 men and 8 women to 134 officials, 35 free burghers, 15 women, 22 children and 180 slaves.
After leaving the Cape, he was promoted to the position of Secretary to the Governor-General of the Dutch-East Indies. He remained in this position from 1665-1677.
Major Works
During the voyage to the Cape, Van Riebeeck created the Council of Policy which held meetings upon the Dromedaris. The meeting minutes, dated December of 1651, are said to be the beginning of written public records in South Africa as the indigenous people had no written culture.
In 1658, he began a monumental tradition by banishing a local translator named Autshumato to Robben Island for committing crimes against the ‘Dutch-East India Company.’ This island continued to house many political prisoners throughout the years, including Nelson Mandela.
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His journal, entitled ‘Precis of the Archives of the Cape of Good Hope,’ was published in both English and Dutch. The journal, commonly known as ‘Riebeeck’s journal’, was a three volume daily record of the ‘Dutch-East India Company’s’ South African trading station. The journal documents the period of 1652–1655.
Awards & Achievements
April 6th used to be known as ‘Van Riebeeck’s Day’. This was later changed to ‘Founders’ Day’ before being eliminated altogether by the ANC government during democratic elections taking place in 1994.
Once deemed the Founding Father of the nation, his image adorned paper currency and many stamps during the 1940s up until 1993. During this time, the currency was changed to non-political designs by the South African Reserve Bank.
Cape Town’s Coat of Arms, which was put in place during British rule in 1869, held a tribute to the Founding Father of the Cape. Designer Charles Fairbridge mimicked the three gold rings of Riebeeck’s own Coat of Arms within his commissioned drawing.
Personal Life & Legacy
He fathered eight children in his lifetime; many of which did not survive infancy. His first son, Abraham, went on to become Governor-General of the East Indies.
His first wife, Maria de la Quellerie, died in Malacca in 1664 at age 34. She had been en route to her husband’s final assignment.
On March 10, 1667, he remarried Maria Scipio. They remained married until his death.
He died on 18 January 1677, at the age 58, in Batavia (present day Jakarta).
He was the original importer of European wine cuttings to Africa. The first pressings of wine grapes in Africa were documented in autumn of 1659.
His ‘Company Gardens’ were preserved and still stand as a park in the center of Cape Town. An almond hedge that was planted by his orders still thrives in the park today.
The original clay fort was rebuilt with brick between 1666 and 1679. It is referred to as the Castle of Good Hope and still stands to this day.
A bronze statue of the Founding Father was erected in Cape Town on May 18th, 1899 on Heerengracht Street. A similar statue of his wife stands nearby on Adderley Street.

See the events in life of Jan Van Riebeeck in Chronological Order

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