Monday, July 16, 2007

The Story of Jan Blanx Part 2

You will no doubt be pleased to know that Jan Blanx did indeed survive being keelhauled in the icy waters of the Cape, a truly unpleasant experience even for the most hardy of creatures. If one did not drown while being dragged underwater from one side of the ship to the other, one's body would be scraped to pieces by the hundreds of barnacles clinging to the bottom of the hull. But our Jan was a stout fellow and he made it. He also made it through 150 lashes from the Cat-o' nine Tails. One wonders at the staying power of certain individuals but...let's see what happens next.

The third part of Jan's sentence was to "to work as a slave in fetters for 2 years" but fate was to smile upon him and his fellow prisoners. On New Years Day 1653, after only two and a half months in chains, they were all released "through the intercession of various persons and on promise of amending their conduct". I would imagine that they would have promised anything to get out of those chains!

And that should be the end of the story but alas, Jan Blanx seems to have a penchant for mischief. Just over a month later on February 21st 1653 he and his partner in crime from the previous misdemeanour, Willem Huijtjens were found to have slaughtered a calf belonging to the Company. They made a fire and braaied the meat "in the dunes behind the Lion Mountain" and according to reports this had happened a number of times before. As food was pretty scarce and Commander van Riebeeck was trying so hard to build up his herds, this latest escapade was not well received and they were clapped in irons once more. But this lasted only a few days "as we have so few men who are fit for the necessary work on the Company's has been decided that these men, who are the most robust of them all, should be released upon trust on Monday next and be kept at work until the arrival of the Fleet from India, when their case can be taken in hand again and be settled."

Well to cut a long story short, our Jan was not going to wait for any Fleet from India. He, together with four others, decided to run off again, this time by stealing a galiot (a small boat) and some sheep but before they could carry out this ambitious plan they were ratted on by Jan van Leijen "who previously deserted but now behaves himself better". Blanx, Huijtjens and Dirckssen were caught and 'confined' probably in irons again. The other two escaped but handed themselves over later because they were starving. In the entry in Van Riebeeck's diary for the 19th March 1653 the following sentence was passed:

"Today the Commander and Broad Council for the return of ships came ashore and the cow and sheep thieves were sentenced most mercifully by the same: three were to fall from the yard-arm with 100 lashes and 1 year in irons and 2 also to fall from the yard-arm with 60 lashes and for half a year to do the common labour, in chains." The sentence was carried out on the 21st March. This time they would remain in irons until the 12th August 1653 "after numerous intercessions, and more particularly because they had acquitted themselves with diligence and willingness at the Company's works."

By today's standards that sentence is not merciful at all but once again we should not judge out of the context of the time. I have now read through the second volume of Van Riebeeck's diary and have found no further mention of Jan Blanx but....there is one more volume to go. Our Jan either turned over a new leaf or he left the Colony on one of the many ships that stopped over in Table Bay. I hope we can find out what happened to him.

The above extracts are taken from the Journal of Jan Van Riebeeck - edited by H B Thom for The Van Riebeeck Society and published by A A Balkema, Cape Town, 1952. Well worth reading!

I used the following website in my research:

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