Episode 12 – Jan van Riebeeck’s refreshment station Khoekhoe blues

This is episode 12 and we’re at the point where Jan van Riebeeck and 88 men and women had setup the refreshment station to provide fruit, vegetables and meat to passing VOC fleets.

As we heard last episode, the fort would take a year to complete. The Dutch had arrived in the Cape at precisely the wrong time, it was Autumn and the Mediterranean climate meant the coming winter would be cold and wet.

Worse, the Khoekhoe had left their settlements on the Cape Flats heading up the east coast to areas which were more sheltered for the winter and van Riebeeck’s men suffered as meat was not available. They were reduced to eating penguins, seals and birds of different kinds to stay alive.

So by eight months and despite Jan van Riebeeck’s determination being tested, earth works had been built, gardens were laid out and seeds had been sown – and he’d even managed to harvest the first vegetables.

This was rather deceptive, because when the first large Dutch fleet passed by in March 1653, the ships themselves were obliged to contribute several tons of rice, together with salted meat and biscuit to the hungry garrison. And yet, some fresh meat was made available for the fleet along with fresh vegetables.

That by itself was quite an achievement. The Khoekhoe had largely left the Cape flats for winter so locating cattle to buy had been a big problem. Soon things improved as the Khoekhoe returned by December 1652 and were happy to trade their animals for tobacco and copper.

“the Saldanha’s seek to show us all the friendship they can..” wrote van Riebeeck on December 8th. But the Khoekhoe moved on a few days later and the Dutch fort commander seemed to forget his orders as he began to consider other ways to obtain cattle.