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Chronicles of Cape Commanders. SIMON VAN DER STEL, COMMANDER, FROM 12 OCTOBER 1679 to
1 JUNE 1691.
The Colony had now fairly commenced to expand, though its growth was necessarily slow. In 1681 several families were added to those already living in the Stellenbosch valley. That season the wheat crops there were so exceptionally good that for the first time the soldiers as well as the burghers could be supplied for several months with as much fresh bread as they needed instead of the biscuits and rice to which they had been accustomed. The farmers had been permitted to select ground for themselves, but this liberty had given rise to various disputes and contentions, to settle which the Commander paid them a visit. His presence and the friendly interest which he touk in the welfare of all had the effect of restoring concord, and after fixing limits to each man's estate he arranged for a proper survey of the ground and the issue of title deeds.
The fruitfulness of the soil, as proved by the abundant crops, caused many of the most industrious individuals in Rondebosch and Wynberg to turn their attention towards Stellenbosch, and in May 1682, when the ploughing season commenced, a party of fifteen or sixteen farmers removed to the new district. But this year a plague appeared which threatened the ruin of the settlement, for the crops were attacked by prodigious swarms of small insects, which nearly destroyed them. On the same ground where in November 168 1
*Numbers 1 to 12 appeared in the Cape Monthly Magazine.
the Commander had counted one hundred and five grains of wheat in ear on a single stalk, in November 1682 there was hardly a sound ear to be seen. This plague continued for several successive seasons to inflict severe loss upon the farmers, though it was never again so destructive, and gradually it disappeared.
To provide for the settlement of trivial disputes between the burghers of the new district, a court of heemraad was established on the 30th of August 1682. This court consisted of four of the leading inhabitants, who held office for two years, without receiving any salaries for their services. The powers of the heemraad were not at first very accurately defined, but its decisions appear in every instance to have been treated with respect. Two members retired annually, when the court itself sent to the Council of Policy a list of four new names from which to select successors. The first heemraden were Gerrit van der Byl, Henning Huising, Hans Jurgen Grimp, and Hendrik Elberts. At the end of 1683 the two firstnamed retired, when Douwe Steyn and Matthys Greef were elected to take their places. Grimp and Elberts retired at the end of 1684, and were succeeded by Jan Cornelis Mostert and Harmen Smit.
In 1683 the first school at Stellenbosch was established. On the 28th of September of that year a petition of the burghers was presented to the Council of Policy, in which they represented that there were then about thirty landowners in the district, many of whom had families, but as yet there was no school in which the children could be taught the principles of Christianity as well as to read and write, so that the young were in danger of growing up as barbarians. That they were living at toy great a distance from the Castle to be able to attend Divine Service on the Lord's days, and were thus liable to fall into careless habits. On this account the present condition of both young and old was very unsatisfactory, and if it continued God's blessing could not be expected upon them. selves or their crops. They therefore requested that a suitable person should be appointed to keep a school, to read a sermon on Sundays, and to act as visitor of the sick. They asked further for some assistance towards the erection of the necessary building.
The Council of Policy viewed this petition with great favour. The members resolved at once to send masons and carpenters at the expense of the Company to put up a residence for the teacher with a large hall in it for a schoolroom, and also to supply the nails free of charge, the inhabitants providing the other materials. As soon as the building could be got ready a teacher was appointed, by name Sybrand Mankadan, and the school was opened. The Commander took as warm an interest in it as did any of the parents, for he regarded Stellenbosch as a place of his own founding, and anything that tended to the welfare of its people secured his sympathy. It was his custom whenever it was possible to spend his birthday there. He usually arrived in the village a few days earlier, so as to have time to inspect all the improvements made during the preceding twelvemonth, to inquire after everyone's prospects, and to make himself acquainted with all that was transpiring. On these occasions he did not fail to visit the school and ascertain what progress the pupils were making. His birthday was of course a general holiday. Every man and woman in the district, dressed in their best, came to his pavilion to compliment him and to drink his health in a glass of wine. The school children came also, marching in procession with Dominie Mankadan at their head, and carrying a banner which he had presented to them. Each was sure of a friendly greeting, and of receiving some little token of kindness. The boys over nine years of age were drilled every Saturday in the use of arms, and the juvenile corps always took part in the parade in honour of the Commander.
The course of instruction at the school did not extend in secular subjects beyond reading, writing, and the elements of arithmetic, a large portion of the time being occupied with religious teaching. At the age of thirteen years the pupils were supposed to have completed their education. The standard aimed at was the ability to pass an examination before the Consistory preparatory to being publicly admitted as members of the church. It was necessary to be able to read the Bible, to repeat the Heidelberg Catechism, and to write a little. The pupils were also taught to sing psalms in the tunes then commonly used. At Christmas prizes were given at the expense of the Company. Each of the three most advanced and best behaved pupils received a prize of the value of four shillings, the next three carried off prizes valued at two shillings, and each of the others received one shilling in money. The Commander added a cake for every child, the size to depend upon the merit of the recipient.
Dominie Mankadan, the first teacher at Stellenbosch, remained there in that capacity for many years. He acted also as Sick Visitor and conducted Divine Service every Sunday. After a time he united with these duties hat of District Secretary, so that he was by no means an idle man. Yet his salary for all these services combined was only about fifty shillings a month, in addition to which, however, he had a free house, a large garden, and some small school fees. Probably he was as well off with that trifling salary in those simple times as many district schoolmasters are at the present day.
In 1681 the Cape was first made a place of confinement for prisoners of state of high rank, who were sent into exile by the Indian authorities. Some Macassar princes with their families and attendants were at this time lodged in the castle, but owing to their violent conduct it afterwards became necessary to disperse them among the outstations. As long as South Africa remained a dependency of the East India Company it continued to be used for this purpose, and many tragic narratives might be written in connection with the unfortunate exiles who were doomed to pass weary years in banishment here,
On the 16th of February 1682 the Governor General, Ryklof van Goens the elder, arrived at the Cape on his way to Europe in pursuit of health. Though he was very feeble he managed to visit Stellenbosch and to issue instructions upon a good many subjects. He directed that experiments should be made in the cultivation of fax, hemp, and indigo, but none of these were found on trial to answer sufficiently well to encourage the farmers to undertake their growth. He strictly prohibited the planting of tobacco, lest it might interfere with the existing trade, from which a large profit was derived. The Governor General remained here until the end of April. Before embarking he ordered the 13th of May to be kept as a day of prayer that God would be pleased to avert warlike attacks and protect the homeward bound feet. He died soon afterwards, and was succeeded in his high office by the First Councillor, Cornelis Speelman. In the foilowing year his widow called at the