Tour Locations | Museum Audio Guide: Home to South African Wine
LOCATION 2 | Museum Audio Guide: Home to South African Wine
Overlooking False Bay: Prisoners and Governors
Narrator: You can’t actually see it from here, but ahead of you, a few hundred metres past that dam, you’ll find the tomb of Sayed Mahmud. It’s inside a serene, secret garden.
Sayed Mahmud was sent here 350 years ago by the Dutch East India Company, who had made him their prisoner.
His journey by ship from Indonesia took a full 16 months. When he arrived, in May 1668, Sayed Mahmud had two companions. One was quickly incarcerated on Robben Island. The other was his leader: Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah, heir to the throne of Malacca.
This Malay sultanate had been conquered first by the Portuguese and then by the Dutch. The Sheik had become a rallying point for rebellion and a thorn in the Dutch side.
The two men joined each other in exile here.
But this thickly forested valley hadn’t even been given the name Constantia yet, and while the nomadic Khoi Khoi may have driven their cattle by occasionally, it was mostly a wilderness. Lions still roamed the Cape in 1668.
While you look out, imagine how different this view must have been for our two rebels.
Ten years later, the son of a slave woman was appointed Commander of the Cape. His name was Simon van der Stel.
Van der Stel made the voyage here with a Dutch fleet, and in a story told much later by the writer Hymen Picard, the fleet’s commander was said to have had a daughter on board. She and van der Stel became friends and even climbed Table Mountain together. At the top, van der Stel said he would have a farm one day, and pointed out in this direction to stake his claim.
And the name of the commander’s daughter? Constantia, of course – or so the story goes.
A less romantic telling has van der Stel collecting soil samples at regular intervals across the length of the Cape so he could select the sweetest for his farm.
We do know for a fact that in 1685, after he had been in the Cape for six years, van der Stel was granted land by the Dutch East India company for a farm he called Constantia. It originally stretched far beyond the vineyards you see today, deep into the suburbs below. We also know that van der Stel could make wine. He had learnt how when he lived in Holland.
After another six years, van der Stel’s title changed. He became the Cape’s Governor, and he made sure that his luxuriously furnished home here matched his status. Groot Constantia became van der Stel’s primary residence. It was where he held court…
Thys: …where he lived alone, with his slaves…It was a big house for, let’s say, a single man.
Narrator: That’s Thys again.
It’s a jarring image: the powerful man in his mansion with nobody to keep him company but the slaves he owned.
It’s less jarring if you put van der Stel in historical context.
He was a creature of the Dutch East India Company, born at sea on the way to Mauritius, where his father was the governor.
He spent time in Ceylon, Batavia and the Netherlands.
He shared adventures in uncharted territory up north with Dain Mangale, a Malay prince who was both his prisoner and his friend.
He established a school that slave children were compelled to attend until the age of 12.
Simon’s Town is named after him. So is Stellenbosch.
When he died, in 1712, he didn’t have a single family member in the Cape.
And in his will, he freed his 60 personal slaves and 14 farm slaves.
Thys: van der Stel…that was his world…He had that outlook and experience...Let’s say he was the right man for the right time.
Narrator: Let’s move on now. Go over to stand in front of the manor house, near the entrance. When you get there, play track 3, then look up.