JAN VAN RIEBEECK - Father of the Nation PDF Print E-mail

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JohaPicture1n Anthoniszoon van Riebeeck was born 21 April 1619, in Culemborg, on the River Le, East of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. He was the son of a surgeon. At age 16, he had already accompanied his father to Greenland and Brazil. Jan van Riebeeck grew up in Schiedam where he married 19-year old Maria de la Quellerie, 28 March 1649. Jan and Maria van Riebeeck had 8 children. One of their sons, Abraham van Riebeeck, who was born in Cape Town, later became Governor General of the Dutch East Indies.


VOC Surgeon

At age 20, Jan van Riebeeck joined the Vereenigde OostIndische Compajnie (VOC). He served as a surgeon in Batavia in the East Indies. He was also the head of the VOC Trading Post in Tonkin, of what is today Viet Nam. In 1643, he served at De Jime in Japan.


Vision Leads to Volunteering

Jan van Riebeeck proposed the selling of animal hides from South Africa to Japan. In 1651, he volunteered to establish a Dutch settlement at what became known as Cape Town. On Christmas Eve, 1651, Jan Van Riebeeck, with his wife, Maria, and his son of 4 months, set sail for the Cape. He landed three ships, the Dromedaris, Reijger and Goedehoop in Table Bay and built the Fort of Good Hope as a half-way-house supply station for VOC vessels travelling between Europe and the East Indies.


Picture3Prayer for Africa

Upon landing in Table Bay 6 April 1652, Jan Van Riebeeck prayed: 

"O Gracious and Most Merciful God and Heavenly Father, in Your Divine Majesty You have Saved us and called us to guide the affairs of the Dutch East India Company in this place, and to this end we are gathered here together in Your Name. May the decisions we take further maintain justice and, among these wild and uncivilised people, may Your true and perfect Christian teachings be established and spread, to the honour and praise of Your Holy Name and the prosperity of our God Almighty, without whose merciful help we are powerless. Therefore we pray to You, Most Merciful Father, and ask that  You will stand by and support us with your Fatherly wisdom and understanding and preside over our gatherings; lift our hearts that all wrong passions, misunderstanding and bestial lusts be removed from us and cleanse our hearts; and so fix our minds that in our actions no other principles or motives are apparent other than the magnification and honour of Your most HoPicture2ly Name so that we may best serve our Lord and Master, without in any way acting for our own advantage or taking into account personal gain, to which end we will carry out our orders and so earn a worthy blessing. We pray and ask this in the Name of Your Beloved Son, our Master and Saviour Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray 'Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name'"


Strategic Outpost

The outpost established in Table Bay by Jan van Riebeeck initially consisted of just 82 men and 8 women. Rain, hail and bitter cold made their winters hard. The first attempts to establish vegetable gardens were washed away. During the first winter at the Cape, 19 people died in the harsh environment. A flag pole was erected to signal ships and pilot boats built to guide ships safely into Table Bay. Within a few months of arriving in the Cape, the Dutch Republic and England became engaged in a Naval war (10 July 1652 - 5 April 1654). The completion of a fort became urgent. Fort De Goede Hoop was hastily built of mud, clay and timber in the middle of what is today, Adderley Street.


jan van riebeeck statue 111119 IMG 1522Cultivating the Cape

For 10 years Jan van Riebeeck served as Commander of the Cape (1652-1662). He planted vegetable and fruit gardens and imported livestock to provide fresh stocks of fruit, vegetables, meat and milk to vessels passing the Cape. Many of the innovations of Jan van Riebeeck changed the natural environment of the Cape forever, including importing grapes, cereals, groundnuts, potatoes, apples and citrus trees. There were disappointments, as wheat and rice failed to be suitable in the cape weather. No precious metals were found. The VOC refused the governor's proposals of free enterprise by fixing the prices for the farmers. In Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, one can still see some of the wild almond trees that he planted. Van Riebeeck was described as hard working, diligent, conscientious, energetic and industrious. He was strict, yet patient and accessible to those under his command.


Tavern of the Seas

When the first Dutch fleet, under Admiral Gerard Demmer, arrived in March 1653, Van Riebeeck supplied them with beef, mutton, cabbages, carrots and milk. The admiral complimented the governor on his fortifications and productivity.



His diary showed a keen eye for the environment, natural resources and an understanding of the culture of the Bushmen hunters and Hottentot (Khoi Khoi) herdsmen in the area. On 17 December 1652, Jan van Riebeeck reported the first comet sighting from South Africa.


Countering Cattle Raids

Despite strenuous attempts to maintain friendly relations with the Hottentots (Khoi Khoi), brazen theft and relentless cattle raids forced the governor to set up fortifications and guard houses to protect the livestock and possessions of the free burghers. A skirmish was fought against raiders, 19 May 1659.


East Indies

Shortly after being relocated to the Dutch East Indies, his wife, Maria, died in Malacca, now part of Malaysia, 2 November 1664. She was only 35 years old. Jan van Riebeeck died in 1677 in Batavia, (what is now called Jakarta), on the Island of Java.


Fgdkokr503rdather of the Nation

For many years, Jan van Riebeeck was recognised as the father of the nation. His image appeared on the stamps and currency from the 1940s until 1993. The Coat of Arms of the City of Cape Town is based on the Van Riebeeck family coat of arms. Towns such as Riebeek-Kasteel and Riebeek-West and schools such as Horskool Jan van Riebeeck are also named after this founding father of South Africa. At the tercentenary (300th anniversary) of the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck, Van Riebeeck Day was declared a public holiday, 6 April 1952. Later it was renamed Founders Day. 6 April, the date he landed in Table Bay, was observed as a national holiday until 1994.Maria van Riebeeck



Marie De La Quellerie

The wife of the governor, Maria de la Quellerie, is the first French Huguenot to have moved to South Africa. Born the daughter of Abraham de la Quellerie and Maria du Bois, Maria was described as energetic, a thoughtful hostess, gifted and diplomatic, she was well respected and liked in the colony. There is a statue of Maria van Riebeeck at the Foreshore on Adderley Street in Cape Town. The South African Navy also named one of their submarines, the SAS Maria van Riebeeck in honour of her, as the mother of the nation.


"Now these things are examples and were written for our admonition" 1 Corinthians 10:6-11


Dr. Peter Hammond


The Reformation Society

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