Willem Adriaan van der Stel

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Willem Adriaan van der Stel
2nd Governor of the Dutch Cape Colony
In office
2 November 1699 – 3 June 1707
Preceded by Simon van der Stel
Succeeded by Johannes Cornelis d’Ableing
Personal details
Born 24 August 1664
Haarlem
Died 11 November 1733
Lisse
Nationality Dutch
Religion Dutch Reformed

Willem Adriaan van der Stel (August 24, 1664, Haarlem - November 11, 1733, Lisse) [1][2] was appointed as extraordinary Council of the Dutch Indies,[3] and Governor of the Cape Colony, a way station for the Dutch East India Company (VOC), from January 23, 1699 to 1707. He was dismissed after a revolt and was exiled to the Netherlands.

Early life[edit]

Van der Stel was the eldest of six children of Simon van der Stel (1639–1712) and Johanna Jacoba Six (1645–1700), who were prominent members of the Dutch merchant world. His paternal grandfather had been the governor of Mauritius, and his grandmother a mestizo. His mother was related to Jan Six, involved in the silk trade and a friend of Rembrandt. Willem Adriaan was fifteen when he went to the Cape in 1679. Around 1684 he returned to Holland where he married Maria de Haze, with whom he would have five children. (Her father François de Haze who worked for Dutch East India Company as an opperhoofd on Deshima, in Persia and Bengal was also involved in the silk trade).

Willem Adriaan van der Stel lorded over Nieuw and Oud-Vossemeer on the island Tholen, probably through his wife. In 1691 became an schepen of Amsterdam. He did not return to the Cape until January 1699 when he was appointed to succeed his father as Governor of the colony.[4][5]

Rule as Governor[edit]

Van der Stel displayed an interest in horticulture and agriculture and conducted extensive farming experiments. He sent quite a few Aloe to the Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam. He was the author of one of South Africa's earliest gardening almanacs.[6] Van der Stel expanded the VOC's gardens and sent expeditions towards the north to explore the rest of the country. He established the "Land van Waveren", now known as Tulbagh[7] and laid the cornerstone for the Groote Kerk in Cape Town.[6]

Van der Stel’s legacy is however stained by his apparent greed and extravagance.[6] During his rule, van der Stel was viewed as corrupt and dictatorial.[8]

Revolt and dismissal[edit]

Van der Stel owned a private estate, Vergelegen, which is the origin of the present day Somerset West and its wine route. The land was granted to him in 1700, and he spent much of the VOC resources on its development. This allowed him an unfair advantage and led to strained relationships with the local “free burghers” (independent farmers).[6]

His unilateral actions determining who could participate in the monopoly of wine and meat[4] triggered a revolt amongst the farmers, and in 1706 Adam Tas, Willem van Zijl and Henning Husing drew up a petition objecting to Van der Stel's activities. Some 63 (out of 550) burghers signed the document and it was sent to the VOC headquarters in Amsterdam.

The petition was at first rejected. Van der Stel had Tas arrested, tried and imprisoned - in the "Black Hole" an infamous dungeon at the Castle of Good Hope.

Because 31 of the signatories were Huguenots, and since the Netherlands was at war with France, the failed petition continued to cause concern in Amsterdam. Fearing that the discontent might cause some burghers to become spies for the French, the VOC dismissed van der Stel, and ordered his return to the Netherlands (April 23, 1707).[9] He left the colony in 1708 and returned to the Netherlands where he spent the rest of his life in exile. Subsequently no VOC employees were allowed to own land in the colony.[4] Louis van Assenburgh (1708–1711) became his successor.[10]

Three years after his dismissal, Vergelegen was sold and divided into four separate farms, and the homestead was ordered to be demolished.[11][12]

Alternate views on van der Stel's legacy[edit]

There is some disagreement regarding van der Stel's legacy. Although most sources agree that his rule at the Cape was authoritarian, beset by favoritism, and characterized by misuse of company assets, others claim that this was in no way unique to van der Stel's reign.[4][13]

Some point to the scale of his plans and activities in agriculture and horticulture as evidence indicating a man of great vision and imagination.[11][13] Others note his role in the development of the unique Cape Dutch architecture,[5] and see him as a martyr.[14][15]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]