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Explorers and Merchants
Portuguese Explorers Merchants Sailors The Dutch and British
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Portuguese Explorers

Warfare had cut off the lucrative trade routes between Europe and Asia. The Portuguese decided to send explorers in search of a sea route around Africa to Asia.

In January 1488, for three terrible weeks, Bartholemew Dias was lost in a great storm. When he emerged he found that he had rounded the Cape and was off the southern coast of Africa.


The Cape of Good Hope
Merchant Sailors in the 1500s

The Spanish and Portuguese dominated the trade route via the Cape throughout the sixteenth century.

But they feared both the KhoeSan and the reputation of Cape Point as a 'cape of storms'. They developed other bases and left the Cape largely unvisited.



The English formed the English East India Company (EEIC) and in 1602 Dutch lords established the Dutch East India Company (VOC) under a government charter. These powerful trading companies discovered the 'trade winds' and expanded trade to Asia.

The British used the Cape to replenish their ships - and even kidnapped some Khoe to teach them English!

But it was a group of VOC sailors rescued after a year at the Cape that began a campaign to persuade the VOC to establish a permanent settlment there.


British ship in Table Bay

The VOC maintained a number of bases around the world to support its trade. The Cape represented a strategic addition, and they were worried that the British would take control of the area before them.

A merchant named Jan van Riebeeck volunteered to lead the party and he set out on Christmas Eve 1651 to establish a permanent supply station at the Cape.


Jan van Riebeeck

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