In 1652 the Dutch East India Company, yielding to repeated petitions and recommendations from their ships’ officers, at last decided to establish a post at Table Bay. They sent three small ships, the Dromedaris, the Reijger and the Goede Hoop under the command of 23-year-old Jan Antony van Riebeeck to establish a stronghold on the shores of Table Bay. Their objective was to grow vegetables and fruit, barter for livestock with the Hottentot tribes and build a hospital and a sanctuary for the repair of ships. Jan van Riebeeck’s first fort, subsequently replaced by the existing Castle of Good Hope, was Cape Town’s first building.

The seventeenth century was the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic. Its merchants were the most successful businessmen in Europe; the Dutch East India Company was the world’s greatest trading corporation and had sovereign rights in the East and the Cape of Good Hope, and by mid-century was the dominant European maritime power in southeast Asia. Its fleet, numbering some six thousand ships was manned by perhaps 48 000 sailors.

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