SA wine history: On some of the ‘invisible’ people of early Cape wine

By , 14 August 2018



As Jeanne Viall, Wilmot James and Jakes Gerwel note in Grape – From Slavery to BEE – Stories of the Vineyards in South Africa, ‘Slaves, Khoikhoi, and later the freed people who worked on the farms are surprisingly invisible, their stories largely untold.’

I’m afraid the same is true of the slaves who were taken to the wine-producing countries of Latin America, not to mention the peasants who worked the vineyards of feudal Europe, but from the research I’ve done on the first few decades of South African wine history, two things fascinate me as far as slavery is concerned:

  1. The first slaves weren’t entirely ‘invisible’. We know many of their names (or at least the names by which they were referred). Not counting a couple of convicts banished to the Cape by the Dutch East India Company (VOC), there were only 15 slaves brought here in the six years before 28 March 1658, which is when the Amersfoort arrived (rather unexpectedly) with 174 Angolans (92 of whom were sent on to Batavia) followed by the Hasselt on 6 May 1658 with 228 slaves from Guinea (of whom 80 went to Batavia). Over the next five years, only 40 more slave arrivals are recorded (from as far away as Abyssinia, Bengal, Ceylon, Cabo Verde, Madagascar, Malabar, even Japan). The death rate was high (and some slaves managed to escape) with the result that by 1663 there were only 82 slaves in total, both privately and VOC-owned. By 1690, there were still only 350 privately owned slaves at the Cape, a number that would of course increase exponentially until finally, on Emancipation Day (1 December 1838), over 39,000 slaves would be freed.
  2. The origins of the wine industry are far less ‘white’ than has historically been documented, and not only from the point of view of anonymous, thankless, back-breaking labour, but also in the slave blood running through ‘Afrikaner’ wine families with surnames including (among others) Badenhorst, Basson, Beyers, Colyn, De Wet, Goosen, Hattingh, Heyns, Human, Jonker, Kruger, Snyman, Vermaak, Vermeulen, Visser, Van Zyl… the list goes on.

An interesting starting point is that the VOC was reluctant to send any slaves to the Cape at all, with Jan van Riebeeck being told by the Council of India on 13 December 1658: ‘In our opinion, the colony should be worked and established by Europeans, and not by slaves, as our nation is so constituted that as soon as they have the convenience of slaves they become lazy and unwilling to put forth their hands to work.’

At that stage, the vrijburghers (free citizens) who’d been released from their VOC contracts to farm along the Liesbeeck River were ‘putting forth their hands to work’ under unimaginably harsh conditions. A motely bunch of mostly illiterate soldiers and sailors with little knowledge of farming, they had to ‘without delay’ plant crops (plus the odd vine cutting that Van Riebeeck forced on them). They also urgently had to build themselves some sort of shelter, not only against the elements but also against the lions, leopards and other predators still roaming the area, not to mention the Khoi who were now taking up arms, rightfully angry at being pushed off their traditional grazing lands.

Throw in the brutally monopolistic trading conditions imposed by the VOC, which paid the vrijburghers barely enough for them to settle their ‘start-up loans’ let alone make any profit, and it’s hardly surprising that of almost 190 men given their Letters of Freedom over a five-year period by Jan van Riebeeck, there were fewer than 35 left when he departed for Batavia in May 1662. A few had died and some had run away on passing ships but many more had opted to apply for re-employment by the VOC, having discovered that ‘freedom’ actually meant living in abject poverty.

One challenge identified by Van Riebeeck was that the unmarried vrijburghers had virtually zero prospect of settling down in the conventional sense, with a wife and children, so even the least ‘lazy and unwilling’ of them were disinclined to commit to the Cape long-term. ‘Working with unmarried men is very unstable and rests but on loose screws,’ he wrote.

Not only did he ask his VOC directors, the Lords XVII, to send over ‘at least 20 lusty farmers’ or other ordinary people’s marriageable daughters’ (which in due course, believe it or not, they did, along with the odd shipment of orphan girls) but he also argued for the procurement of female slaves as potential wives for the unmarried vrijburghers: ‘Should some of the agriculturists marry the women, they will be nicely bound to the Cape for life.’

And this is where slavery at the Cape enters very grey territory.

Marriages between Europeans and (freed) slave women had already occurred at the Cape – for example, Jan Woutersz (from Middelburg) with Catharina Anthonis (from Zelagon) on 21 May 1656, Anthoni Muller (from Arnhem) with Domingo Elvingh (from Bengal) on 29 September 1656, and Jan Zachariasz (from Amsterdam) to Maria van Bengale on 21 July 1658.

It’s important to note that as long as a freed slave woman had been baptised, she was regarded as an ‘honourable maiden’, regardless of her race.

Anna de Koning

Anna de Koning, perhaps the least ‘invisible’ of the Cape’s slaves.

As the years went by, there were more marriages between freed slave women and vrijburghers. After her manumission in 1666 and baptism in 1668, for example, Maaij Ansela (Angela) van Bengal married Arnoldus Willemsz Basson in 1669. Her daughter Anna de Koning, who’d arrived with her at the Cape in 1657, married Olof Bergh (future owner of Groot Constantia) in 1678.

Anna was a so-called halfslag (half-slave), which is to say that her father was European (most likely Francois de Coninck from Ghent). For although concubinage and ‘that shameful crime of fornication or whoredom’ were strictly forbidden in terms of the Statues of India, they most certainly did occur – and nowhere more so than in the heavily male-skewed Cape, where VOC commissioner Hendrik Adriaan van Rheede tot Drakenstein was shocked to find such sexual ‘relations’ openly acknowledged and certainly not considered illegal when he visited in 1685.

By 1685, the young German soldier Lourens Campher had started his life-long relationship with the halfslag Ansela van de Caap, whose mother came from Guinea. (Their three children would be born at the notorious Slave Lodge, only moving to what is now the Stellenbosch wine farm Muratie after their mother was manumitted in 1695.)

By 1685, the remarkable Swarte Maria Everts (the Cape-born daughter of Evert and Anna van Guinea) was also living with Bastiaan Colijn, with whom she would have four children, most notably Johannes Colijn, who would take up where Simon van der Stel left off, making sweet Constantia wine at the original Klein Constantia (Hoop op Constantia), which his descendants would own until 1857, completely assimilated into ‘white’ society.

For every ‘happy’ story of concubinage, needless to say, there must have been countless unhappy ones. Sexual abuse was rife, with the ‘fructification’ of VOC-owned female slaves not merely tolerated but encouraged ‘for the benefit of the Company’ (i.e. to guarantee a future workforce). These European-fathered halfslag children were ‘born into freedom’, however, which meant that they should be baptised, educated in Dutch and manumitted at legal majority, which was 22 for women, 25 for men.

Even ‘ordinary’ slaves could potentially be granted freedom under varying circumstances – sometimes when their owners died or left the Cape, sometimes in reward for ‘good behaviour’ – and after manumission, these so-called Free Blacks ostensibly had the same rights and privileges as European or white Cape-born vrijburghers. (At least until 1705, that is, when Adam Tas came along and accused Willem Adriaan van der Stel – whose great-grandmother had been an Indian slave – not only of corruption but also of favouring ‘that black brood living among us, who … have so grown in power, numbers and arrogance … that they now tell us that they could and would trample us…’)

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Give me half a chance, though, and I’ll tell you more about Swarte Maria Everts and the Colijns of Constantia. I’ll share the sordid details of Jan Coenraad Visser’s not-so-happy household (here’s a teaser: he and his son both had children with the slave Maria van Negapatnum, including a daughter named Susanna who would marry Hans Heinrich Hattingh, thereby becoming the mistress of Stellenbosch wine farm Spier). There’s even the unusual case of a man born into slavery, Christoffel Snyman (son of the exiled convict Groote Catrijn van Paliacatta, adopted son of Anthonij Jansz van Bengale), who married Marguerite-Therese de Savoye, daughter of the French Huguenot Jacques de Savoye, and eventually owned the Delta part of what is now Solms-Delta.

There’s also Anthonij van Angola, who had 4,000 vines and employed (wait for it) three white men on his Jonkershoek farm ‘Angola’ (now part of Lanzerac). And there’s Willem Stolts, who owned the Swartland farms Wolwedans and Hoornbosch, not to mention 11 slaves of his own.

We can’t right the slave wrongs of the past but I guess we can at least try to tell the stories of some of those remarkable individuals who, until fairly recently, have been whitewashed out of South African wine history.


Leibbrandt, HCV: Precis of the Archives of the Cape of Good Hope (Journal, 1662-1670; Journal, 1671-1674 & 1676; Letters despatched from the Cape, 1652-1662, parts 2-3), originally published by W.A. Richards & Sons, 1896-1905, digitised by University of California Libraries (

Schoeman, Karel: Early Slavery at the Cape of Good Hope, 1652-1717, Protea Book House, 2007

Upham, Mansell:  Uprooted Lives, Unfurling the Cape of Good Hope’s Earliest Colonial Inhabitants (1652-1713), First Fifty Year Project,

Viall, Jeanne with Wilmot James & Jakes Gerwel: Grape – From Slavery to BEE – Stories of the Vineyards in South Africa, Tafelberg, 2011

  • Joanne Gibson has been a journalist, specialising in wine, for over two decades. She holds a Level 4 Diploma from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and has won both the Du Toitskloof and Franschhoek Literary Festival Wine Writer of the Year awards, not to mention being shortlisted four times in the Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Awards. As a sought-after freelance writer and copy editor, her passion is digging up nuggets of SA wine history.


8 comment(s)

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    Sam | 9 February 2019

    Fascinating reads by Joanne Gibson, and the comments just as interesting!

    Mansell Upham | 2 December 2018

    Just for the record: (1) Mai Ansela van Bengale’s voordochter, Anna de Coningh, was Cape-born and did not arrive ex Batavia with her mother – her Cape birth she affirms unequivocally in her will [the error, I believe, most likely originally derives from the commissioned (but in this case, mistaken) research done by Matthijs PS Van Der Merwe for the present-day Groot Constantia Estate]; (2) Maria van Negapatnam only had illegitimate children by Jan Coenraad Visser and not any by his son Coenraad [this error has been perpetuated by some genealogists (André van Rensburg et al who have misread the original written record]. Mansell UPHAM

      Joanne | 22 January 2019

      Thank you for pointing out these errors, Mansell. I’m particularly relieved to hear about the Vissers!
      Perhaps the idea of Visser Junior having also had a relationship with his father’s concubine, Maria, was perpetuated by the records of her having screamed ‘Moeder is dood, moeder is dood!’ when Visser Senior’s wife, Grietje Gerrits, was murdered by Claes van Malabar? For a slave to call her owner’s wife ‘mother’ seems strange in a modern context (inviting the assumption that Grietje was Maria’s de facto mother-in-law) but I guess it’s simply that she was the ‘matriarch’ of the family (if not a well-loved one, judging by Claes having called her ‘you old dog’ before severing her head with his axe…).
      I urge Winemag history fans to visit to see the work Mansell Upham and Delia Robertson are doing in collating Cape of Good Hope records during those First Fifty Years, a fascinating time in SA history.

    Darren Hattingh | 17 November 2018

    Hello Joanne,

    I’m thoroughly enjoying your work and fascinating research on the early days in the Cape. It was such a nice surprise to see the name of my forefather or “Stamouer” in your piece! You wouldn’t believe how happy I was to see that, and it was particularly pleasing to read of your understanding that the contributions of the early Germans may be underappreciated or overshadowed by the Dutch and Huguenots.
    I’m a direct descendant of Hans Heinrich Hattingh who arrived in the Cape around 1691. In 1695 he became the owner of a 60 “morgen” farm named “La Motte” (I have also read that he owned another farm named “La Cotte” as well). In 1712, he became the owner of the farm with he named “Spier” after his hometown “Speyer” in Germany.
    Joanne, I am looking to collect as much info on HHH as possible and would love to get in touch with you for any details, records or even stories that you may have about him. Myself, and other descendants of HHH are doing some digging to put together his story and uncover any details of this brave and successful man. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Please feel free to contact me at

    Thank you so much!

    Joanne Gibson | 15 August 2018

    Thank you Hennie, Tom and Melvyn!
    Melvyn, I look forward to working my way through the centuries and finding more wine/culture nuggets like that.

    Melvyn Minnaar | 14 August 2018

    Wonderfully interesting Jo. Keep it up. Do you know about Lord Charles Somerset’s 1818 wine tax that established the SA National Library that year? Great wine cultural stuff….

    Hennie Coetzee | 14 August 2018

    This has rapidly become my favourite thing to read on Wine mag. Well done for keeping up the history.

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