Men on a Mission

Men on a Mission to the Cape of Good Hope

Agnes (Miems) Van Loon was a guest speaker on 20 June. Great completion on the day as it was the first rugby test match Springboks against the British and Irish Lions.

Godfrey Mocke as a friend introduced Miems, a person of great character and vast experiences.

Brought up in Holland at Bergen op Zoom, having completed school, her first employment with Shell Oil Company was short lived when the Germans invaded Holland. A very difficult time for a young girl, sadly theses experiences were not part of her talk so maybe another day! The Canadian forces liberated Bergen op Zoom, a difficult time as she and her family found themselves cloistered in a basement while hand to hand fighting over the town took place before the Germans withdrew. She served out the balance of the war in the Dutch army as a lieutenant directly under H.R.H. Prince Bernard.

During the early 1950’s Miems and her husband emigrated to South Africa. As a lover of history, she soon realised the early Dutch Governors of the Cape had a connection to Bergen op Zoom this inspired her research into the life and times of the early Cape Governors.
Her talk was based on her published work “Mannen met een missie naar Kaap de Goede Hoop” – Men on a Mission to the Cape of Good Hope. Spending time in Holland Miems was able to supplement her South African research with research in her home country.

She first introduced Jan van Riebeeck – well know to South Africans as being the forefront of European settlement in Southern Africa. His connection to Bergen op Zoom being through his father who served in the town as surgeon under Col. Charles Morgan. Van Riebeeck’s legacy is well know to most members, of particular interest however was the pier constructed by Van Riebeeck, cutting the forest of Hout Bay (hence the name) transporting the logs by sea to Cape Town. This pier still exists to this day, well constructed by Jan and his helpers still in use by the local fishing fleet in front of the newly constructed BOE building at the Waterfront.

The colourful Simon Van Der Stel (1697 ~ 1699) although he had no apparent connection to Bergin op Zoom followed. An important Governor at the Cape who left an everlasting mark on the Western Cape a legacy of Oak Trees, Simon’s Town and Constantia to name a few.

Less known than van der Stel was Maurice Pasques de Chavonnes (1714~1724) who served as Governor at Bergen op Zoom from 1695. Following St. Bartholomew’s night in 1572 when the French Protestants were persecuted and murdered by the Church of Rome, his father and family fled to Utrecht in the Netherlands. De Chavonnes was responsible for upgrading the defence of the Cape. The guns of de Chavonnes and the remains of the battery were uncovered in 1996 and are today preserved in the Waterfront.

De Chavonnes was responsible for establishing the first schools and churches at the Cape, extended the wine industry and extended van der Stel’s farm Constantia to Groot Constantia which included the re-decoration of his house.

The last of ‘Mannen’ was Rijk Tulbach (1751~1771) who’s father Dirk had been transferred to Bergen op Zoom and who in fact under De Chavonnes.

Sadly, Miems was soft spoken and I fear could not be heard at the back of the hall. Luckily she presented her book to our library, and number of members purchased copies directly from her, however I would recommend reading her book.


by D.J. Slingsby