Monday, 5 February 2018

Not the first in my family at the Cape!

I live in Cape Town. When I came here for the first time last year for a ten-week internship stay, nobody in my family that I knew of had ever lived at the Cape or even been here for any substantial period of time. I assumed I was the first. But was I really?

Well, let's see.

There is some controversy (differing hypotheses) about one of the links in the chain, but it seems likely, or at least very possible, that one of my 11th great-grandparents was a man named Henrik Hess, who was born in Helsingør in Denmark around the year 1590. The Hess family belonged to Helsingør's upper bourgeoisie; Henrik's father was Anders Hess, a member of the Helsingør city council and a merchant who traded with Norway, the Netherlands and Spain. Anders' wife, and the mother of Henrik, was Dorothea Henriksdatter Rosenvinge, a woman of noble lineage.

In 1620, Henrik Hess arrived in Tharangambadi in Tamil Nadu, India, by way of Ceylon, as a member of the expedition of Ove Gjedde, and in 1621 Henrik became the commander of the Danish colonial fort Dansborg ("Danecastle"). A colonial connection like this might not be something to be proud of, exactly, but it does provide an interesting and exotic addition to the family history, and in any case, colonialism is part and parcel of the history of Europe as a continent. The story of the early years of the colony in Tharangambadi (known as Trankebar in Danish) is extremely interesting in itself; however, in this blog post I will concern myself with a different part of Henrik Hess' career in the Danish colonial venture: His return home.

In 1624, Henrik Hess sailed away from India for the last time on the ship Perlen (The Pearl), and Henrik himself was the captain. [How cool is it to be descended from the captain of the Pearl?!]

On the way home, the crew made a stopover at the Cape of Good Hope. Not only did they go ashore; they stayed there for almost two months.

The ship's priest, Mads Rasmussen, has described the crew's time at the Cape in his travel journal:

D. 27. Septemb. Om Morgenen to Timer for Dag lagde vi ud fra Danisborg i Jesu Navn, og
opvunde Seigl. Var saa i Søen sex Uger ringere 2. Dage, indtil den 6. Novemb.
Da vi kom til det Land Capur bonæ Spei eller bon Esperance, der blev en af
voris Styrmænd begraven, hvor ieg var i Land at prædike for de Suige, og fik
jeg samme Tid mit Jule-Offer Juledag paa Skibet, som vi laae under Landet Capur
bonæ Spei, hvor jeg samme Juledag tog mig til Prædikens Indgang og exordium af
Stedens Navn Anledning, som kaldes i vort Maal God Haab, og førde da Foket til
Gemyt den havn, der omtales i Apostlernes Gierninger Cap. 27.v. 8 som kaldes
God Havn, at Gud, som lader sine vel havne, vil ikke lade vores Haab slaae
Feil, at føre enhver hiem til sit Fæderneland, og hvo af os Gud vil heimkalde
paa denne lange Hiemreyse til det himmelske Hiem, efterdi Folket var saare og
afmægtigt, at den Almægtige Gud os udi det gode Haab og Sperance indtil Enden
ville bestyrke af komme til det forjette Fæderneland her oven til i Himmelen,
hveden vi forventer Frelseren JEsum Christum.

D. 26. Decemb. Anden Juledag, blev Anker opløftet fra Grunden, og satte vi vor Kaas fra
Capur bon Esperance hen imod det Land Bai Solda, hvor vi arriverede d. 2.
Januar 1625.

I won't translate it all word for word, but Mads Rasmussen is writing that they sailed from Tharangambadi on September 27, 1624, and were at sea for almost six weeks until they reached the Cape of Good Hope (det Land Capur bonæ Spei eller bon Esperance) on November 6. One of the ship's mates was buried there. The crew celebrated Christmas aboard the Pearl, where Mads Rasmussen held a sermon about God keeping every person's hope alight and eventually leading everyone to their true fatherland, namely Heaven.

On December 26 the Pearl raised anchor and sailed on, making stops at St Helena, Ascension Island, Ireland and Norway, and eventually arriving in Copenhagen on July 30, 1625 after a turbulent sea voyage lasting nearly a year. The story is documented in Mads Rasmussen's journal, and is extremely fascinating reading for those who can read archaic Danish.

For the purposes of this blog post, however, the most important piece of information in Mads' journal is this:

I am not the first person in my family to stay long at the Cape. My ancestor Henrik Hess came first, 394 years ago!

For my visually minded readers, I created a map of the voyage of the Pearl which can be viewed here.

On a genetic note...

A ship like the Pearl might well have been responsible for bringing my mother's Malagasy ancestor to Europe. In addition to the direct slave traffic from Madagascar itself, ships coming from other places could easily have picked up a Malagasy person on various points along their routes. The island of St Helena, for example, an important stopover station for ships sailing to and from the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean, had a high number of Malagasy inhabitants; slaves and descendants of slaves.

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