Johan Anthoniszoon “Jan” van Riebeeck was born April 21, 1619 in Culemborg, Netherlands.
He grew up in Schiedam of South Holland as the son of a surgeon and was expected to become the same.
In 1639, the 20 year old joined the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, today more commonly known as the Dutch East India Company, serving as an assistant surgeon in Batavia of the East Indies.
He later became head of the Dutch East India trading post in Tonkin, Vietnam.
In 1643, he traveled with Jan van Elseracq to the Dutch East India outpost at Dejima of Japan.
At almost 30 years of age he married 19 year old Maria de la Quellerie on March 28, 1649. The couple would go on to have nine children, most of whom would not survive infancy.
By 1650, he proposed selling hides of South African wild animals to the Japanese market.
As a result, in 1651 he volunteered to undertake the command of a new Dutch settlement in the southern part of Africa to establish a way-station for ships traveling to the Dutch East Indies.
Dutch fleets sailing between the Netherlands and the East Indies suffered many deaths en route and needed a place to restock supplies.
Early in 1652, Jan van Riebeeck departed Japan for Africa with 3 ships; the Dromedaris, the Reijger, and the Goede Hoop.
When the three Dutch ships arrived along the southern Atlantic Ocean coast of Africa they found Table Bay, a natural bay that had became famous for centuries as a haven for ships. Table Bay had been named for the nearby flat-topped Table Mountain that dominated the region.
Jan van Riebeeck realized Table Bay was actually a rather poor natural harbor and was badly exposed to the persistent gales known to exist from the Southeast.
Riebeeck and his Dutch colonists searched in vane for a better natural harbor along the coastline. The best one, Saldanha Bay, lacked fresh water and the only other alternatives, Simon’s Bay and Houtbaai, were inaccessible at the time.
Thus on April 6, 1652, Jan van Riebeeck landed at Table Bay and went ashore with hopes of building a fort.
They immediately came face to face with the local indigenous Khoi people.
Riebeeck and the Dutch colonists became friendly with the native Khoi and built Fort de Goede Hoop, or Fort of Good Hope near a group of wild almond trees.
Today we know this location as Cape Town, at the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa.
Dutch ships the Walvisch and the Oliphant arrived later in 1652.
They planted cereals, fruit and vegetables, traded for livestock from the Khoi.
They also went on to build Victoria Dock and even improved the natural anchorage at Table Bay with land reclamation.
In January of 1654, Jan Van Riebeeck was joined at the Cape by Roelof de Man who arrived on board the ship Naerden. Roelof became the colony bookkeeper and was later promoted to Riebeeck’s second-in-charge.
Riebeeck was re-assigned and left Cape Town on May 6, 1662.
His wife Maria died in Malacca (now a part of Malaysia) on November 2, 1664.
Jan van Riebeeck died January 18, 1677 in Batavia (now renamed Jakarta) on Java.
His son Abraham van Riebeeck, born the the Cape, later became Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies.
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