A tale of mercenaries and rebellion
The Van der Stel reign
The original farm that today is Welmoed was granted to a German speaking Swiss mercenary, Henning Hussing, by the VOC (Dutch East India Company) upon completion of his contractual tour of duty in the Cape. He named it Meer Lusthof (German for "idyllic farm by the sea", today Meerlust) describing the sense of pleasure he experienced when sea breezes blew inland from False Bay. Hussing took a portion of his enormous property and either gave or sold it to Jacobus van der Heyden, also a mercenary and to whom he was related. This portion later became known as Welmoed.
Simon van der Stel (October 14, 1639 – June 24, 1712) was the first Governor of the Cape of Good Hope. He arrived in the Cape in 1679. He was forty years old, well educated, widely travelled and related by marriage to a director of the VOC. As commander at the Cape he quickly developed ambitious plans for the expansion of the colony.
Survey teams and geologists were sent out and he surveyed for himself the fertile mountain slopes beyond the Cape Flats. One night he camped among bushes on an island in the Eerste River. He declared he would build a town along the stream, and name it after his night in the shrubs – “Stellenbosch”. The town was founded in 1680.
He planned to develop the land around the town for farms, especially viticulture. (Wine was required for the passing ships that docked at the Cape.) Each year he celebrated his birthday with festivities in the elegant, oak lined village he had founded, which is today an attractive town in the winelands. He later developed farms and settlements at Paarl and Drakenstein on the Berg River. In 1685 he established the magnificent Groot Constantia wine farm as a model to Dutch farmers. He was a cultured man, dismayed by the poor quality of wine production, and determined to teach the Boers (farmers) by example.
However, Van der Stel soon discovered a way to improve farming. When King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, an edict that provided for religious tolerance in France, many Protestant Huguenot refugees made their way to Holland. Van der Stel asked the VOC to provide passage to the Cape for any Huguenots with experience of wine farming.
Roughly 200 made the passage to the Cape, increasing its population by a third. They were provided with limited supplies and sent out to establish farms, first to the region of Paarl and then to an elephant breeding ground called ‘Oliphantshoek’ that later became known as ‘Franschhoek’.
In 1691 van der Stel was promoted to Governor of the Cape. He retired in 1699 and was so highly esteemed by the VOC that they wished to continue the Van der Stel tradition by appointing his son, Willem Adriaan, as Governor. Upon his retirement, Van der Stel Sr developed his estate at Constantia where he died in 1712.
Van der Stel may be regarded as the farther of the South African wine industry.
Willem Adriaan van der Stel
Simon van der Stel’s eldest son, Willem Adriaan van der Stel, succeeded him as Governor. Amongst other things, he developed Vergelegen estate with VOC finances without the knowledge of the Board of Directors (Heere XVII) in Holland. He built a house and planted over half a million vines, large orchards and maize fields. He stocked the farm with 800 cattle and 10 000 sheep. The fact that he, the governor, had to sanction all purchases of supplies for a visiting fleet of the VOC, allowed him to favour his products before others. This brought him into conflict with other farmers (Vrijburghers) like Henning Hussing, Jacobus van der Heyden, Adam Tas and many others.
Most of these farmers were ex-mercenaries, and killing was their profession. They used to cross the Hottentots-Holland Mountains, raiding the Hottentots of the Overberg to steal their cattle and sheep and supplying the fleet with these goods. There was therefore a conflict of interests – the Governor calling the farmers ‘criminals’, which they were, and them naming the Governor ‘a crook’, which he was.
A petition was drafted, signed by 63 of the 550 Cape Vrijburghers (of these, 31 were French Huguenots) and sent directly to the Heere XVII of the VOC headquarters in Amsterdam, requesting that the Governor be replaced.
The petition was rejected. Willem Adriaan had the leaders arrested and issued an ultimatum – either they make out a new declaration to the Board with an apology and a declaration that the first was a fraud, plus issue a second praising the Governor, or he would hang them.
The rebels quickly agreed, all except Jacobus van der Heyden, who replied: ‘Hang and be damned! I will not change anything that I wrote about you,’ whereupon the Governor had him imprisoned in the dungeons of the Castle. The cell can be seen to this day.
As time went by, the ziekentrooster (doctor) warned the Governor that van der Heyden’s health was deteriorating, that he would most certainly die if not released, and that this would result in the ‘Vrijburghers” having a martyr to fire their rebellion. Others would join their cause, which would have definite repercussions in Holland.
And so, Willem Adriaan van der Stel released Van der Heyden. On hearing this news, the sentiment (in Dutch) around the Cape was: "Deze vent heeft wel moed" which translates to "This chap does have courage".
History does not tell us at what stage the name of this portion of Meerlust was officially changed to Welmoed, but it is widely believed that the local people referred to the place where the man lived who had courage. This is the most likely and correct way in which the name originated.
This episode eventually led to his recall to Holland in April 1707 and confiscation of his estate. The Dutch East India Company, which had reached the high point of its power during the governorships of the Van der Stels, began its decline, chiefly because of English and French competition in the eastern markets.
The second owners of the estate were the Van der Bijls. They were great builders and the old cellar, the graveyard and quite a few of the buildings were built by them.
Now enter the Kramer family. Mr Kramer, an extremely wealthy Jewish gentleman, owned the United Tobacco Company of SA and had large financial interests in The Castle Wine & Brandy Company. The house Mr Kramer built and lived in eventually became the Glen Eagles Hotel, and much later Die Drie Gewels Hotel. Kramer bought grapes from local farmers for distilling purposes. At this stage, the market was on the reef, where the miners drank spirits. Very little wine was produced due to its easy spoilage in a warm climate.
With his son interested in breeding race horses and Castle Wine still requiring distilling wine, the Kramers offered some land, the cellar and some buildings of Welmoed to the producer farmers to establish a wine co-operative on the lines of Helderberg Co-Op. The balance of the land, between Eerste River and the tarred road, which the Co-Op did not purchase, was sold to a Mr Paetzold, an immigrant who originally came from the border between France and Germany. Together with his son, he established a nursery called Rosarium.
The first winemaker was Manie Ackerman, referred to as Manie met die baie kinders ("Manie with his many kids"). He continued to produce distilling wine, and it was left to Joe Forrer, an outstanding German South African winemaker to reduce the distilling wine and to go in for natural white wines.
The famous Welmoed gables
Two of the Cape Dutch gables combine the neoclassical and Baroque styles; the other is in the florid Baroque style. For more information on Cape Dutch architecture, visit http://www.wineroute.co.za/architecture.asp.