Dutch Cape Colony

The Cape Colony (Dutch: Kaapkolonie) was a Dutch United East India Company (VOC) colony in Southern Africa, centered on the Cape of Good Hope, from where it derived its name. The original colony and its successive states that the colony was incorporated into occupied much of modern South Africa. Between 1652 and 1691 it was a Commandment, and between 1691 and 1795 a Governorate of the United East India Company (VOC). Jan van Riebeeck established the colony as a re-supply and layover port for vessels of the VOC trading with Asia.[2] The Cape came under VOC rule from 1652 to 1795 and from 1803 to 1806 was ruled by the Batavian Republic.[3] Much to the dismay of the shareholders of the VOC, who focused primarily on making profits from the Asian trade, the colony rapidly expanded into a settler colony in the years after its founding.

Cape Colony
Kaapkolonie (Dutch)
Coat of arms
VOC Cape Colony at its largest extent in 1795
StatusColony under Company rule (1652–1795)
British occupation (1795–1803)
Colony of the Batavian Republic (1803–1806)
CapitalCastle of Good Hope (1st)
Kaapstad (2nd)
Official languageDutch
Common languages
!Orakobab (Korana language)
Dutch Reformed
native beliefs
Jan van Riebeeck
Zacharias Wagenaer
Joachim van Plettenberg
Jan Willem Janssens
Historical eraColonialism
6 April 1652
 Elevated to Governorate
7 August 1795
1 March 1803
8 January 1806
CurrencyDutch rijksdaalder
Succeeded by
British Cape Colony
Today part ofSouth Africa

As the only permanent settlement of the Dutch United East India Company not serving as a trading post, it proved an ideal retirement place for employees of the company. After several years of service in the company, an employee could lease a piece of land in the colony as a Vryburgher ('free citizen'), on which he had to cultivate crops that he had to sell to the United East India Company for a fixed price. As these farms were labour-intensive, Vryburghers imported slaves from Madagascar, Mozambique and Asia (Dutch East Indies and Dutch Ceylon), which rapidly increased the number of inhabitants.[2] After King Louis XIV of France revoked the Edict of Nantes (October 1685), which had protected the right of Huguenots in France to practise Protestant worship without persecution from the state, the colony attracted many Huguenot settlers, who eventually mixed with the general Vryburgher population.

Due to the authoritarian rule of the company (telling farmers what to grow for what price, controlling immigration, and monopolising trade), some farmers tried to escape the rule of the company by moving further inland. The company, in an effort to control these migrants, established a magistracy at Swellendam in 1745 and another at Graaff Reinet in 1786, and declared the Gamtoos River as the eastern frontier of the colony, only to see the Trekboers cross it soon afterwards. In order to avoid collision with the Bantu peoples advancing south and west from east central Africa, the VOC agreed in 1780 to make the Great Fish River the boundary of the colony.

In 1795, after the Battle of Muizenberg in present-day Cape Town, the British occupied the colony. Under the terms of the Peace of Amiens of 1802, Britain acceded the colony to the Dutch on 1 March 1803, but as the Batavian Republic had since nationalized the United East India Company (1796), the colony came under the direct rule of The Hague. Dutch control did not last long, however, as the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars (18 May 1803) invalidated the Peace of Amiens. In January 1806, the British occupied the colony for a second time after the Battle of Blaauwberg at present-day Bloubergstrand. The Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814 confirmed the transfer of sovereignty to Great Britain.


United East India Company

View of Table Bay with ships of the United East India Company (VOC), c. 1683
Painting of an account of the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck, by Charles Bell
Drawing of a group of Khoedi women, made by a Dutch artist in the early 1700s

Traders of the United East India Company (VOC), under the command of Jan van Riebeeck, were the first people to establish a European colony in South Africa. The Cape settlement was built by them in 1652 as a re-supply point and way-station for United East India Company vessels on their way back and forth between the Netherlands and Batavia (Jakarta) in the Dutch East Indies. The support station gradually became a settler community, the forebears of the Boers, and the Cape Dutch who collectively became modern-day Afrikaners.

Khoena and Sān of the Cape

At the time of first European settlement in the Cape, the southwest of Africa was inhabited by Sān ("Foragers") and Khoi-Khoi people, the latter being primarily pastoral people with a population estimated between 13,000 and 15,000.[4] The Khoena ("People") were disgruntled by the disruption of their seasonal visit to the area for which purpose they grazed their cattle at the foot of Table Mountain only to find European settlers occupying and farming the land, leading to the first Khoi-Dutch War as part of a series of Khoekhoe-Dutch Wars. After the war, the natives ceded the land to the settlers in 1660. During a visit in 1672, the high-ranking Commissioner Arnout van Overbeke made a formal purchase of the Cape territory, although already ceded in 1660, his reason was to "prevent future disputes".[5]

The ability of the European settlers to produce food at the Cape initiated the decline of the nomadic lifestyle of the Khoe and !Ui speaking peoples since food was produced at a fixed location. Thus by 1672, the permanent indigenous residents living at the Cape had grown substantially. The first school to be built in South Africa by the settlers were for the sake of the slaves who had been rescued from a Portuguese slave ship and arrived at the Cape with the Amersfoort in 1658. Later on, the school was also attended by the children of the indigenes and the Free Burghers. The Dutch language was taught at schools as the main medium for commercial purposes, with the result that the indigenous people and even the French settlers found themselves speaking Dutch more than their native languages. The principles of Christianity were also introduced at the school resulting in the baptisms of many slaves and indigenous residents.[5]

Conflicts with the settlers and the effects of smallpox decimated their numbers in 1713 and 1755, until gradually the breakdown of their society led them to work for the colonists, mostly as shepherds and herdsmen.[4]

Free Burghers

The VOC favoured the idea of freemen at the Cape and many settlers requested to be discharged in order to become free burghers; as a result, Jan van Riebeeck approved the notion on favorable conditions and earmarked two areas near the Liesbeek River for farming purposes in 1657. The two areas which were allocated to the freemen, for agricultural purposes, were named Groeneveld and Dutch Garden. These areas were separated by the Amstel River (Liesbeek River). Nine of the best applicants were selected to use the land for agricultural purposes. The freemen or free burghers as they were afterwards termed, thus became subjects, and were no longer servants, of the company.[6]


After the first settlers spread out around the Company station, nomadic European livestock farmers, or Trekboeren, moved more widely afield, leaving the richer, but limited, farming lands of the coast for the drier interior tableland. There they contested still wider groups of Khoe-speaking cattle herders for the best grazing lands. By 1700, the traditional "Khoekhoe" lifestyle of pastoralism.

The Cape society in this period was thus a diverse one. The emergence of Afrikaans reflects this diversity, from its roots as a Khoe-Dutch pidgin, to its subsequent creolisation and use as "Kitchen Dutch" by slaves and serfs of the colonials, and its later use in Cape Islam by them when it first became a written language that used the Arabic letters. By the time of British rule after 1795, the sociopolitical foundations were firmly laid.

British conquest

Map of the Cape Colony in 1809

In 1795, France occupied the Dutch Republic. This prompted Great Britain, at war with France, to occupy the territory that same year as a way to better control the seas on the way to India. The British sent a fleet of nine warships which anchored at Simon's Town and, following the defeat of the Dutch militia at the Battle of Muizenberg, took control of the territory. The United East India Company transferred its territories and claims to the Batavian Republic (the Dutch sister republic established by France) in 1798, then ceased to exist in 1799. Improving relations between Britain and Napoleonic France, and its vassal state the Batavian Republic, led the British to hand the Cape Colony over to the Batavian Republic in 1803, under the terms of the Treaty of Amiens.

In 1806, the Cape, now nominally controlled by the Batavian Republic, was occupied again by the British after their victory in the Battle of Blaauwberg. The peace between Britain and Napoleonic France had broken after one year, while Napoleon had been strengthening his influence on the Batavian Republic (which he would replace with a monarchy later that year). The British established their colony to control the Far East trade routes. In 1814 the Dutch government formally ceded sovereignty over the Cape to the British, under the terms of the Convention of London.

Administrative divisions

Administrative divisions of the Cape Colony on the eve of the 1795 British occupation

The Dutch Cape Colony was divided into four districts. In 1797 their populations were:[7]

District Free Christians Slaves "Hottentots"Total (1797)
District of the Cape 6,261 11,891 -18,152
District of Stellenbosch and Drakenstein 7,256 10,703 5,00022,959
District of Zwellendam 3,967 2,196 5006,663
District of Graaff Reynet 4,262 964 8,94714,173

Commanders and Governors of the Cape Colony (1652–1806)

The title of the founder of the Cape Colony, Jan van Riebeeck, was installed as "Commander of the Cape", a position he held from 1652 to 1662. During the tenure of Simon van der Stel, the colony was elevated to the rank of a governorate, hence he was promoted to the position of "Governor of the Cape".

Jan van Riebeeck
Meeting between Governor Janssens and the Xhosa leader Gaika, 1803
Commanders of the Cape Colony (1652–1691)
Name Period Title
Jan van Riebeeck 7 April 1652 – 6 May 1662 Commander
Zacharias Wagenaer 6 May 1662 – 27 September 1666 Commander
Cornelis van Quaelberg 27 September 1666 – 18 June 1668 Commander
Jacob Borghorst 18 June 1668 – 25 March 1670 Commander
Pieter Hackius 25 March 1670 – 30 November 1671 Commander and Governor
1671–1672 Acting Council
Albert van Breugel April 1672 – 2 October 1672 Acting Commander
Isbrand Goske 2 October 1672 – 14 March 1676 Governor
Johan Bax van Herenthals 14 March 1676 – 29 June 1678 Commander
Hendrik Crudop 29 June 1678 – 12 October 1679 Acting Commander
Simon van der Stel 10 December 1679 – 1 June 1691 Commander, after 1691 Governor
Governors of the Cape Colony (1691–1795)
Name Period Title
Simon van der Stel 1 June 1691 – 2 November 1699 Governor
Willem Adriaan van der Stel 2 November 1699 – 3 June 1707 Governor
Johan Cornelis d'Ableing 3 June 1707 – 1 February 1708 Acting Governor
Louis van Assenburgh 1 February 1708 – 27 December 1711 Governor
Willem Helot (acting) 27 December 1711 – 28 March 1714 Acting Governor
Maurits Pasques de Chavonnes 28 March 1714 – 8 September 1724 Governor
Jan de la Fontaine (acting) 8 September 1724 – 25 February 1727 Acting Governor
Pieter Gysbert Noodt 25 February 1727 – 23 April 1729 Governor
Jan de la Fontaine 23 April 1729 – 8 March 1737 Acting Governor
Jan de la Fontaine 8 March 1737 – 31 August 1737 Governor
Adriaan van Kervel 31 August 1737 – 19 September 1737 (died after three weeks in office) Governor
Daniël van den Henghel 19 September 1737 – 14 April 1739 Acting Governor
Hendrik Swellengrebel 14 April 1739 – 27 February 1751 Governor
Ryk Tulbagh 27 February 1751 – 11 August 1771 Governor
Baron Joachim van Plettenberg 12 August 1771 – 18 May 1774 Acting Governor
Baron Pieter van Reede van Oudtshoorn 1772 – 23 January 1773 (died at sea on his way to the Cape) Governor designate
Baron Joachim van Plettenberg 18 May 1774 – 14 February 1785 Governor
Cornelis Jacob van de Graaff 14 February 1785 – 24 June 1791 Governor
Johan Isaac Rhenius 24 June 1791 – 3 July 1792 Acting Governor
Sebastiaan Cornelis Nederburgh and
Simon Hendrik Frijkenius
3 July 1792 – 2 September 1793 Commissioners-General
Abraham Josias Sluysken 2 September 1793 – 16 September 1795 Commissioner-General
Governors of the First British occupation (1797–1803)
Name Period Title
George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney 1797–1798 Governor
Francis Dundas (1st time) 1798–1799 Acting Governor
Sir George Yonge 1799–1801 Governor
Francis Dundas (2nd time) 1801–1803 Governor
Governors of the Cape Colony for the Batavian Republic (1803–1806)
Name Period Title
Jacob Abraham Uitenhage de Mist 1803–1804 Governor
Jan Willem Janssens 1804–1807 Governor


  1. Robert Montgomery Martin (1836). The British Colonial Library: In 12 volumes. Mortimer. p. 112.
  2. "Kaap de Goede Hoop". De VOC site. Retrieved 8 February 2013.
  3. J. A. Heese, Die Herkoms van die Afrikaner 1657 - 1867. A. A. Balkema, Kaapstad, 1971. CD Colin Pretorius 2013. ISBN 978-1-920429-13-3. Bladsy 15.
  4. Newmark, S. Daniel. The South African Frontier: Economic Influences 1652–1836. Stanford University Press. pp. 10–11. ISBN 978-0-8047-1617-8.
  5. History of South Africa, 1484–1691, G.M. Theal, London 1888
  6. Precis of the Archives of the Cape of Good Hope, January 1652 - December 1658, Riebeeck's Journal, H.C.V. Leibrandt, pp. 47–48
  7. Sir John Barrow (1806). Travels into the Interior of Southern Africa. T. Cadell and W. Davies. p. 25.


  • The Migrant Farmer in the History of the Cape Colony. P.J. Van Der Merwe, Roger B. Beck. Ohio University Press. 1 January 1995. 333 pages. ISBN 0-8214-1090-3.
  • History of the Boers in South Africa; Or, the Wanderings and Wars of the Emigrant Farmers from Their Leaving the Cape Colony to the Acknowledgment of Their Independence by Great Britain. George McCall Theal. Greenwood Press. 28 February 1970. 392 pages. ISBN 0-8371-1661-9.
  • Status and Respectability in the Cape Colony, 1750–1870: A Tragedy of Manners. Robert Ross, David Anderson. Cambridge University Press. 1 July 1999. 220 pages. ISBN 0-521-62122-4.
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