In August 1658, Commander Jan van Riebeeck sent 1 200 rooted vines to his private fruit and grain farm Boscheuvel in the Wynberg/Bishopscourt area.
The grapes in the Company’s Garden near the fort refused to flourish, so he decided to try a different location and plant the cuttings “during the waning moon, which is the correct time”.
By December, his vineyard was growing well, but slave desertions, Khoikhoi resentment and the theft of a sheep by his free servant Willem Pieterssen were causes for concern.
Six months later, a sortie by 300 or 400 armed herders during the first Khoikhoi-Dutch War left his wheat fields devastated and completely ruined his vineyard.
The conflict simmered down and the vineyard had been re-established by the time his replacement, Zacharias Wagenaar, arrived in May 1662.
Van Riebeeck couldn’t find a buyer, so he transferred his farm to the Company, pending compensation for his expenses at their valuation.
Farming operations and wine-making continued under Wagenaar’s supervision for the next three years, but the Company didn’t want the property and ordered it to be auctioned.
Jacob Cornelisz van Rosendael submitted a low bid of 1 600 guilders in November 1665, which he paid in three instalments. He was one of the original free burghers - a rough, tough ex-soldier who’d spent eight years farming along the Liesbeek River.
He was also the holder of a coveted wine pacht which gave him permission to sell alcohol - a valuable source of income which was put out to tender every year.
He didn’t live on his farm, preferring to manage his canteen in town.
The Company retained the right to press the 1666 vintage (which produced one and a half leaguers of very pleasant wine) and take 6 000 vine cuttings to plant at Rondebosch.
Rosendael’s viticulture drew praise from the Council of Policy, and he is said to have produced the best Cape wine of his time.
He died suddenly in April 1676 at a relatively young age and his widow, Catharina Jansz van den Bergh, remarried within a few months.
She and Tobias Marquard are thought to have run the farm until they left the Cape in 1686 to avoid a scandal over a dead slave.
It’s not clear what happened to Boscheuvel next, but it may have been managed by the Flemish wine and spirit merchant Guillaume Heems, who purchased it in 1691 and built a thatched house on the property. By then, the talented French Huguenots had arrived and were making wine at Drakenstein, leaving Van Riebeek’s old farm in the shade.
In 1851, the historic property (then known as Protea) was transferred to the Trustees of the Colonial Bishop’s Fund, and became Bishopscourt, the official residence of Robert Gray, the first Anglican bishop of Cape Town.
Today, the original 101 morgen farm is said to have become the sixth-richest suburb in South Africa.
* Jackie Loos' "The Way We Were" column is published in the Cape Argus every week.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.