Dutch East Indian Company

History of the VOC






AM van Rensburg 

Van Staden drawings 1710.
Van Staden drawing: Hospital, Slave Lodge, and Church

The following institutions were part of the VOC life at the early Cape. It is amazing that they were all eventually right opposite one another, apart from the Fort. The Garden is the oldest surviving entity. The present Slave Lodge was built just below the garden, the proximity must have been a determining factor in its location. The Hospital was built later in the same vicinity. It is incredible that the Church was built right next to the Slave Lodge, and opposite the Hospital. The Church and Slave Lodge was seperated by the development of the kerkhof, church cemetery. This separation by the dead may portray their view of the status of the Slave Lodge. The Fort, Garden, Slave Lodge, and Tower of the Church is still preserved today.



AM van Rensburg

First Fort of Jan van Riebeeck

The VOC wanted to establish a hospital and garden at the Cape, where their ship's personnel could recover and obtain fresh food supplies. However they first had to take care of safety and security. Fears of the Khoikhoi, other European powers, wild animals and the weather would be taken care of with the establishment of a fort. The fort was to serve also as the administrative headquarters of the Company at the Cape.

Earlier there was a temporary fort built at the Cape named Fort Sandenburgh. It was established after the ship Nieu Haerlem ran aground on 25 March 1647, after which the 62 survivors built a place of safety in the sand dunes. They were only rescued on April 1648.

When the first settlers arrived on 6 April 1652 at the Southeaster windswept Cape, it must have been an ordeal. The first number of months they lived in tents and under canvass. At first they built a little hut for Jan van Riebeeck. However their first concern was to establish a fort. The site was chosen to be close to where a little river flowed into the bay. This fort was built with earth, in the shape of a square with a bastion at each corner. The earthen walls did not stand up to the wind and the rain and was in need of constant repair. The water from the stream was diverted into a moat for extra protection. At the back they had a cattle enclosure. On 4 June 1652 van Riebeeck gave Willem Wijlant and his wife permission to move into the fort and on the 6 June Wijlant's wife had son.

One of the earliest drawings
of the Cape
Aerial view of 5 instutions
First Fort of Jan van Riebeeck

The fort was named after the ship Goede Hoop. Was the ship named after the Cape? The four corners of the fort were named after the other four ships: Drommedaris, Walvis, Oliphant, and Reijger. The citadel's roof was seven higher than the outside wall of the fort. Beneath it was a cellar five feet deep. Another cellar excavated under one of the points were used as a dungeon.

Eventually in 1665 it was decided to build Fort de Goede Hoop. The ship Amersfoort which arrived 23 April 1665 brought the plans and illustrations for the new fort, Resolusies van die Politieke Raad Vol I p 332, 333. This new fort was to be situated to the East of the previous fort. It was to be built from granite, quarried at Signal Hill and Devil's Peak. The mortar was made from sea-shell lime and burned sandstone. The floor was to be covered with blue slate from Robben Island. It was to be in the shape of a pentagon with bastions at each corner. The bastions were named: Buuren, Leerdam, Oranje, Nassauand Catzenellenbogen. They planned to build a moat 46 meter wide all the way around it, however it was only built 18 meters wide. At first the labourers were sailors and soldiers from passing ships. Work halted in May 1667 after the Peace treaty of Breda. When war threatened again work recommenced in January 1672, the labourers were now European soldiers, African slaves and Khoikhoi. The main entrance faced north between bastions of Catzenellenbogen and Buuren. This caused problems with storms and the tide, and it was difficult for ox wagons to travel through the sand. A new entrance was made in 1682 between the bastions of Buuren and Leerdam and the old entrance was closed. A bell tower was constructed over the entrance in 1682.

In 1685 van Rheede ordered a wall to be built across the courtyard, this wall was 116 meters long and 12 meters high. This divided the castle into two, the fore court and the rear court. The rear court contained the barracks, cellars, kitchens, stores and workshops. The fore court contained the offices and residences. Simon van der Stel built houses on both sides of the wall, including a new governor's residence and council chambers. The Governor's office was known as "de Kat".

Van Staden drawing of 1710, with fort on the left hand side.

By 1743 the sea had receded away from the castle, and was still receding at about one pace a year. The castle was now standing high and dry far away from the beach.

The Cape which was meant to be a safe haven did not up to expectations, since the rede/harbour saw some great tragedies: in 1697, 1722, 1728, 1737, 1790, where East Indiamen were lost with many crew.

The Fort was never used in conflict with any foreign powers. The Fort is today one of the best preserved VOC defense buildings of the Company, and the oldest European building at the Cape.

AJ Boeseken: Jan van Riebeeck en sy Gesin
UA Seemann: Fortifications of the Cape Peninsula 1647 - 1829
CR Boxer: The Dutch Seaborne Empire
PW Laidler A Tavern of the Ocean