Explorers and Merchants
| The fleet that
picked up the Haarlem castaways included a young company merchant - Jan van
Riebeeck - returning to Holland in disgrace, accused of private trading.
Perhaps influenced by the sailor's reports, and keen to
rehabilitate his reputation in the Company, Van Riebeeck volunteered for
service at the Cape when, finally, in 1650 the VOC took the fateful decision to
establish a permanent supply base.
The VOC had been swayed by the reports of its sailors and fear
that at any time the Cape might be annexed by the British.
That the VOC decided to establish a base at Cape Town, is not surprising. Bases
at Goa, Mombassa, Malacca, Ormuz and Beira were all established in the
sixteenth century, and more followed.
The surprise is that the Cape was not settled until the
mid-seventeenth century. It enjoys a strategic position halfway along the trade
routes to Asia, and was well known to sailors.
However, the opportunity to occupy the bay and supply passing
ships was not taken by Portugal nor England. It was a reputation for the
fierceness of the seas and the Cape's Khoe inhabitants, and the ebb and flow of
European politics, that kept the Cape isolated for so long.
That was to change forever when Van Riebeeck set out from Texel
on Christmas Eve, 1651 with 5 ships and orders to erect a fort and ensure the
provision of supplies to passing ships at the Cape of Good Hope.
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