Company man, colonist, leader of first permanent European settlement at the south end of Africa. Founding grandfather of Afrikaanerdom
He is the Dutch guy whose statue, complete with funny hat, buckle and britches, silly mustache and birdshit stands in the middle of Cape Town. His face was on the South African banknotes, and his name is still everywhere to be found on schools, roads, buildings, suburbs, etc.
Jan Anthony Van Riebeeck was born on April 21, 1619 in Culemborg in the Netherlands.
The Dutch East India Company was at the time most powerful megacorporation in the world. Their business was to sail around Africa, on the spice trade route between Holland and the East Indies. The Suez canal wouldn't provide a short cut until 1869.
He joined the company when he was twenty, and was sent to Indonesia a year later in 1640. He was a medical man, and became a ship's surgeon.
On a voyage back form Japan and Indochina, the ship stopped for 18 days in the sheltered Table Bay, near the Cape of Good Hope at the south end of Africa. He realised that the area could supply passing ships with fresh produce.
He wasn't the only one. Ship's officers were recommending to the company that a way station for this long and arduous voyage be set up to allow ships to take on fresh water, fresh food, offload the sick and to make repairs to ships.
This was no small thing. Crew death rates in caused by scurvy could reach 40% on long voyages. The causes and cure of scurvy wouldn't be well-understood until around 1750. However it was plain that sufferers usually recovered quickly on land.
In 1652, the company decided to send an expedition under Jan Van Riebeeck. Their mission was to set up a way station. An outpost. A colony. He was 33 years old. He arrived with three ships, the flagship being the Dromedaris, the other two being the Reijger and the Goede Hoop. 82 men and 8 women were on these ships. Jan Van Riebeek's wife, Maria de la Queillerie, was one of the women.
On April 6, 1652 they landed after a three month voyage, and set up camp near the water's edge, under Table mountain. A fort was built, which later became a pentagonal stone structure known as The Castle of Good Hope, or just The Castle. The "company gardens" where vegetables were grown are now a park in the middle of Cape Town.
It was known to van Riebeek that wine, especially young red wine, sometimes carried on ships instead of water, could prevent scurvy. The Cape is a good region for wine, he imported vine cuttings from Europe. The grapes were first pressed in the autumn of 1659.
Despite hardships such as snakes and lions, the colony grew. Employees were released from the company and became independent farmers. Most of the local forests were consumed.
The settlement came into conflict with the local Khoikhoi, whom the settlers called Hottentots or bushmen. Within 20 years, slaves had been brought in from the east. Dutch settlement in the cape was encouraged.
Jan Van Riebeeck's administration even started a tradition in 1658 by banishing Autshumato, a Khoikhoi interpreter, to an island in the bay for his crimes against the authorities. They called it Robben Island after the seals there. Many years later, other political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, would be sent there.
Van Riebeeck was commander of the colony at the Cape of Good Hope for the years 1652-1662. After that he was promoted to Secretary to the Governor-general of the Dutch East Indies and served here from 1665 to 1677.
Jan Van Riebeck died on January 18th, 1677 in Batavia, Dutch East Indies - which is now Jakarta, Indonesia.
in 1806 the British took over in the Cape, and the Dutch trekked inland, and in the process gave the English language the word trek, originally meaning "to pull" (they had ox-wagons), now meaning a long journey, but that's another story.
There are mutterings of a hidden history. That he was sent to the ass-end of nowhere to farm as a punishment for creative accounting, private trading or some such crime against the corporate state.
And this history lesson is why Cape Town is called the Mother City. It helps explain why Capetonians are so snooty. We just have more history, longer roots than the other settlers. Settlers need all the roots they can get.
Notes on his name: the anglicised spelling Riebeck; or Riebek, which is more logical way to spell it in modern Afrikaans, are both rare enough to be spelling errors. The middle name is given as Anthoniszoon in some sources.
Material from the interweb and from memory.