Fact and Fiction in Kites of Good Fortune
The life of Olof Bergh is well documented from his arrival at the Cape in 1676 as sergeant to his final inspection of the fortifications shortly before his death in 1724. One of the most important primary sources for his long public career is the Resolusies van die Politieke Raad – volumes 2 to 8. ( These are minutes of the meetings of the governing body at the Cape) Another is the journals of his expeditions published by the Van Riebeeck Society. His signature can be found on the original manuscripts of the Resolusies in the Cape Archives. The deed for Constantia also exists. He also owned Saxenburg and De Kuylen.
Useful secondary sources on his life and some of his children is the Dictionary of South African Biography.
One fact, hitherto unknown and uncovered by Jim Armstrong in the Colombo Archives, is that O Bergh left Ceylon for ‘patria’ in the first part of 1694. This coincides with time Shaykh Yussuf was smuggled to Galle and from there, clandestinely, brought to the Cape. O Bergh is only officially recorded as being back at the Cape a year later AND he came on a ship from Holland, not from Ceylon. It is this information that led to the intrigue with Shaykh Yussuf. I invented a reason why OB left the Cape in disgrace and returned victorious to become Captain of the garrison, the third best paid official at the Cape. It is plausible that he ‘unofficially’ brought Shaykh Yussuf to the Cape and then went on to Holland to claim his reward from the Lords Seventeen in person.
The discovery of this fact about his movements solved another puzzle: his daughter Dorothea is recorded as being born at the Cape in 1695. At the time of her conception, Bergh was, according to official documents at the Cape, still in Ceylon. The fact of his 1694 departure makes it entirely possible that Dorothea was conceived when Bergh called in at the Cape on his way to Holland.
Portraits of both Olof Bergh and Anna de Koning exist. (They are reproduced in the current Groot Constantia Guide Book). An arthritic old lady’s signature can be seen on Anna de Koning’s will.
Her part in the rescue of Marie van der Stel is recorded in the diary of Adam Tas.
She is mentioned in the Resolusies in connection with the petition to send Simon Petrus to the East.
Like many women, she is like a shadow that follows the chronology of her husband’s life, like a mirror that reflects the status of his grandeur or disgrace. But we know she was a real person. For more than three centuries she has waited for a writer to furnish her with an inner life. The fictional account of who she may have been is informed by extensive reading and research about Dutch and Cape society in the 17th Century: There are the accounts of visitors such as Valentijn and Père Tachard(who also recounts Occum Chamnam’s account of the wreck of the Nossa Sehnora dos Milagros). There are biographical notes on the botanists and high officials who called at the Cape. There are the Claudius drawings of Cape flora and fauna. There are the many visits to museums to study 17th Century textiles. There is the story about the silk industry pieced together from entries in the Resolusies.
There are also the original inventories of Constantia and her town house at her death as well as the inventory that was made of the house she had to leave when O Bergh was exiled. This inventory even states the colour of the bag in which the ‘stolen’ musk was buried: the contents of the loft includes the ‘blue bag! The bag in which the musk was buried!’ (exclamation mark of the inventory taker a 17th century ‘gotcha’ moment!)
What she feels is based on some of the writer’s emotions and reactions to similar situations such as loss, disgrace, temptation, fulfilment in work and motherhood.
Angela of Bengal is well documented. Her X can be seen on the document that grants her a piece of land on ‘the tail of the Lion’. Her marriage to Basson makes her one of the stammoeders of many Bassons today (see Heese’s Genealogy).
What is really special is a primary source character reference: Jan van Riebeeck’s granddaughter visits the Cape early in the 18th Century and writes to her father Abraham: ‘I met your nanny, Ansjla. She is now a very old lady but still a lovely person’ (Ansjla is exactly how Angela is pronounced in Brazilian Portuguese)
There is a document recounting the auction after her death which gives an idea of what she owned.
David Koning appears early in Jan van Riebeeck’s diary. He is named as the Captain of the Reyger and goes fishing in False Bay.
He does really perish in the Indian Ocean ten years later. The account of that storm is based on two different versions from survivors.
Some attempts at explaining Anna de Koning’s paternity ut since no record of birth or baptism has yet been found, one informed guess is as good as the next.
Occum Chamnam is real. A portrait
of him has recently surfaced from the Vatican Library. He is a very handsome
man. His friendship with Annie Bergh is an invention