This article was part of a series written for and originally published in the Journal of the Maldon Archaeological & Historical Group – 1994.
PERSONAL THOUGHTS No 1 – ON AN OLD DUTCH DOCUMENT
When I was a young lad, my father once showed me an old document that he possessed. He told me that it had been given to him by his mother who in turn had been given it by a dying soldier during the Boer war. My paternal grandparents (William and Ada Cox) went to live in South Africa in October 1897 and my grandmother had been a nurse during the war there; the gift was apparently thanks for her care. Whether the soldier was Boer or British is not known but it was probably the former since the document was written in Dutch.
With a very little knowledge of Dutch it could be seen that it evidently referred to the ownership of some land in Africa and, with boyhood enthusiasm, I imagined that our family held the title deeds to some long forgotten gold or diamond mine and one day we would all be rich. My father himself was curiously little concerned about it and perhaps because of that, my own childish thoughts about it were soon forgotten.
However, after my father’s death in 1978, the old paper came to light again and looking at it with renewed interest, I decided to find out what it was really all about. The paper is signed and dated 18 May 1696 and carries a rather nice red wax seal showing a picture of a sailing ship and the letters “CDGHOOP”.
The first problem of transcribing it was that the script was obviously very different and some of the letters such as “h”, “k” and “s” needed a little deciphering. The other problem was that not knowing much of the language made the work harder. Modern Dutch has different spellings and no doubt Dutch legal jargon is no clearer than the British legal language. Eventually I made a rough copy in modern script (but still in Dutch). I saw that the land in question was in Table Valley, a piece between Oliphants Straat and Tweede Berg Dwars Straat; measuring 48 by 24 in “Rhineland” feet. Thinking that the feet of Rhinelanders could not be much different from the feet of other people it was clear that it was only a small piece of land. Quite obviously, there was no gold mine here! I decided that the document was of historic interest but no more than that.
The next stage was sparked off during a long weekend holiday visit to Amsterdam. Visiting the museum there showed that much historical detail about the Dutch colony in South Africa was still in existence and this prompted the thought that I might be able to get the whole paper translated for me. Of course, I had not thought to bring it with me! Once home again I decided against sending the original paper itself – it had been folded and unfolded so many times that it was getting fragile – so I sent a photocopy to the Amsterdams Historisch Museum asking if some information could be provided. My letter was passed on to the National Archivist office who very kindly provided some information from the archives of the East India Company, the owners of the Cape Colony of the time.
The following is a brief summary:
It is a deed of sale between the free man Jacob Pleunis and Marritje Pisters and is signed before the Commissioners Adriann van Reede, Guilliame Heems and the Colony Secretary Hugo de Goyer.
Hugo arrived in Africa on 8th April 1694 on the ship Moercapel where he set up as a merchant. Guilliame Heems came from Brugge in Vlaanderen and went to Africa as a soldier in 1673. Becoming a free man in 1678 he worked as a wine seller and eventually became a Standard Bearer and Commissioner.
I think that the next step should be to make some effort at repair. At the History Fair held at Tilbury, I watched with much interest a display of document repairs and perhaps, one day, I shall visit the Essex Records Office and seek assistance. The document together with my transcription and the information from the Netherlands is still of family interest but the boyhood dreams of inheriting wealth have long since departed. Perhaps, one day, I shall visit Cape Town (or at least get a street directory) and find out just what is there at the corners of Oliphant and Tweede Berg Dwars Streets
The letters on the wax seal “CDGHOOP”. Stand for “Cabo de Goede Hoop” that is the Cape of Good Hope.
Arthur Cox January 1990.
Here is a copy of the reply I received from Amsterdam and it gives more information than my summary above.
Eerste AfdelingRijksarchief voor de centrale regeringsarchieven tot 1795
To: A. Cox
96A, Nevendon Road,
Essex, SS12 0NH
uw brief 3-2-1978
onderwerp Deed of sale C 69/j-vH.h. tel. 070-6478 00 at the Cape.
Answering your above mentioned letter, which we received from the Amsterdams Historische Museum, I can give you following information.
The document you have sent to us is a deed of sale.
The free man Jacob Pleunis appears as husband and guardian of Willemina Adriaans, before widow of Ditlof Biebout, in front of the commissioners out of the Council of Policy at the Cape and declares that he has sold to Marritje Pieters of the Cape a certain part of his premises, situated in the Table Bay and adjoining in the south-east the Tweede Berg Dwarsstraat, in the north-west the yard of Lambert
Simonsz, in the south-west the remaining part of the yard, bought from the appearer by Jan de Sousa and in the north-east the Olifants-straat.
The length of the piece of land is 48 feet and the width 26 feet and 8 inches, Rhineland measure.
The appearer declares, that he has received the purchase-money of 850 guilders Indian value, namely 400 guilders cash and a mortgage-letter of 450 guilders, executed at the same day by Marritje Pieters in behalf of the appearer.
The commissioners Adriaen van Reede and Gulliame Heems, the appearer Jacob Pleunis and the secretary Hugo de Goyer have signed the deed of sale and it is sealed with the seal of the Company on the 18th of May,1696.
I have found the following information about the persons, mentioned in the deed of sale.
Jacob Pleunis from Orsoy married 2-10-1695 with Wilhelmina Ariens de Wit from Rotterdam, widow of Detlef Biebow from Mecklenburg. They had two sons, Johannes and Hendrik. Johannes became secretary of Stellenbosch.
Hugo de Goyer from Culemborg arrived at the Cape 8-4-1694 with the ship Moercapel. He became secretary bookkeeper and 1-3-1699 senior undermerchant. He was married with Christina de Beer. They had 3 children. After his death on 2-12-1703 the children went to his brother, who was burgomaster of Culemborg.
Guilliam Heems from Vlaanderen arrived in 1673 as a soldier.
He became free man in 1678 and worked as a wine-seller. His first wife was Anna Catharina van Dragen. She died 5-3-1699. His second wife was Anna van Banchem. He was standard-bearer and lieutenant of the “Burger-raad”, commissioner of marriage-affairs and trustee.
The archivist of the First Section
Mrs. M.C.J.C. Jansen van Hoof
End of section 6
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