Jan Heijstek journey to South Africa
Let’s go back to 1860 in the Netherlands. In the Gelderland province, our Oupa Wijtse Lampen’s father, Geert Lampen, was thirty-two years old and still unmarried. He had just accepted the calling of minister to the Herwijne Gereformeerde Kerk, and would marry Hendrika de Vries within a year. Two of their children, Herman and our oupa Wijtse, would be born in the next seven years and would eventually make their way to South Africa at the end of this nineteenth century. On the other side of the Waal and Maas Rivers, a mere ten kilometers away, Jan Heystek (oupa Wijtse’s future father-in-law) was a twelve-year old boy living on the outskirts of Giessen in the Dutch province of North Brabant, and had just completed his seven-year long formal education. The small town of Giessen had only one elderly school master for 150 kids, and there really was not much more to be learnt. Some sixty-five years later Jan would write down his earliest memories of the time that his dad, Jan Heijstek (snr.) took him to school at the age of five years old and he put up a screaming hissy-fit with all the power in his lungs: “…zette ik een keel op met al de kracht die in mijn longen aanwezig was…” Jan (snr.) left his second-oldest son in the care of the very capable “Meester” who knew how to distract little Jan with an “A-B-C” horse-and-rider picture book. (This story is part of Jan Heystek’s own life story written in Dutch—link attached at the end.)
Herwijnen village; the Netherlands
The grandmother of Jan Heijstek (the senior Jan in this story), Jenneke van Dalen, was born c. 1720 on a farm that had been built on the foundations of an old convent in Giessen, North-Brabant. When she married my 4x great-grandfather Jan Lodewijks Heijstek (snr.’s grandfather, born 1706) in 1753, the couple lived on this same farm where many a future Heijstek would be born. By the time our 2x great-grandparents got married in 1846 and started their family, Jan (snr.) was a rich land owner, and the family farm was doing well. Ten children were born to the Heijsteks here in Giessen, of whom our great-grandfather Jan (Jnr.) was the second oldest child. On Saturdays the children worked in the potato and wheat fields. Sundays, of course, were reserved for church. Life should have been well settled for our family, and yet they would live through several tumultuous storms before finally making a new life in Southern Africa.
The Heijsteks were sincere Protestant believers. However, throughout the 1800’s the Dutch Reformed Church experienced major upheavals and some serious schisms. During this century thousands of Dutch Protestants that had seceded from their churches back in the Netherlands, moved to Michigan, Iowa, and Illinois in the U.S. The church schism in Giessen affected the Heijsteks as well—the first few children were christened in the Nederlands Hervormde Kerk, the rest in the Gereformeerde Kerk. (See the Swieringa link in Resources for an American-Dutch secessionist perspective.)
Church near the Heijstek farm in Uitwijk; the Netherlands
In addition, a world-wide cholera pandemic had made its way to the Netherlands in the second half of the 19th century, and 20,000 lives were lost in this country alone. Three of the Heijstek children died. Concern about this climate of disease, as well as the struggles with the church, prompted the Heijsteks to prepare for immigration to southern Africa. Promising news about good opportunities in the Transvaal “Zuid Afrikaansche Rebubliek”, published in Dutch newspapers, helped pave their way. After his school education came to an end, and possibly with an eye to the family’s impending immigration to southern Africa, Jan became apprenticed to a family member in town, learning the trade of wagon making for about eight months and adding another three months of day and night schooling just before they set sail.
Heijstek family farmhouse; Giessen the Netherlands
In the beginning of May 1862, Jan Snr. and Johanna, their five sons aged between 15 and 5 years old, and two little girls of 4 years and a few months old, and with all their possessions packed in ten wooden crates, embarked on a three-mast barque vessel named the Willem Hendrik and set sail for Cape Town. This journey was not going to be without tragedy either as the eight-month old baby, Jannigje, died scarcely a month into the voyage. After another month the thirty-five year old Johanna had a “herzen verlamming” (stroke?). On the 18th of July, with a sudden clear mind, Johanna called her family to give an emotional farewell and an encouragement for the family to continue their journey to their “promised land of milk and honey” which she said God had showed her, but that she was not going to enter. As they surrounded her, the family sang Psalm 116. Her son, Jan, later remembered, “…bij het einde ervan [the hymn] haar ziel opsteeg na die gewesten alwaar Jezus Christus beter gekend zal worden dan Hij hier op aarde gekend is. De lezer verschoon mij dat terwijl ik dit op schrift zet mij tranen van weemoed, doch ook van dankbaarheid aan mijn ogen ontspringen.” Translated: “…at the end [of the hymn] her spirit rose to where Jesus Christ will be better known than He is here on earth. The reader will pardon me that while I write about this with tears of sorrow, I also have tears of thankfulness in my eyes.” He continued to write about his mother’s care for his father, Jan Snr.—now a widower with six children to take care of—and how she taught all the children the first principles of faith in God and how to pray. She lived not only for her God, but also [in readiness] for eternity. Johanna was buried at sea.
After weathering a final storm at sea, Jan Heijstek and his surviving children arrived in Cape Town, ninety days after the start of their sea voyage in the Netherlands. On shore, Jan (snr.), a doctor, J. Boomsma, and ship’s Captain Beckering made their way to the Dutch Consulate and gave notice of Johanna’s death.
Arrivals at the Cape Town harbor
Jan (jnr.) and two of his brothers were quite sick from the bad food on board the ship, so the family stayed in Cape Town for another thirty-seven days while waiting for the steamship Waldencia that would take them to Natal. Jan (jnr.) remembered that while they recovered in Cape Town, a Dutch tobacco merchant, Mr. J.A. de Vrije, and his family opened their home as “christenvrienden” and gave the Hejisteks “heartfelt care” in their home on Hout Street nr. 37. The boys soon felt well enough to go sight-seeing, taking in a military parade with “Rooibaadjes” (British soldiers in red coats), churches, museums, and even for the first time in their lives, “slamaijers” and other people with “different colored skin” than what they had.
On their last journey from Cape Town to Durban the Heijsteks sailed in the company of a few “Rooibaadjes” who were on their way to the fort at East London (no town yet). Along the way they also saw the coast of the Transkei, then known as “Brits Kaffraria”, (see map) with Xhosas in “the costume of Adam and Eve in Paradise”, quite a novelty for these Dutch boys… After about five days at sea they were brought to the Durban beach via flatbottom-boats. Four days later the family packed their belongings onto two oxwagons belonging to two Germans, and were taken to Pietermaritzburg. The family was offered a place to stay in the Nederlands Gereformeerde church building that would eventually house the Voortrekker Museum. We know this little building as the first “Geloftekerk”, built by the Voortrekkers after they settled in this town. Yes, it has a long history that most of us are quite familiar with, but what our Jan Heystek did not know is how his life would become a part of the story built into this little building. More about that later.
The Heijsteks stayed in Pietermaritzburg for twenty-five days, during which these Dutch boys saw “for the first time in our lives real barbarian Zoola [Zulu] tribesmen, children of nature”. Finally on their way for yet another month on two rented oxwagons traveling to Potchefstroom in the Transvaal, Africa opened up her chest of beauty to our heart-sore family. An added sixty-six years of life did not dim Jan’s memory of the splendor he witnessed in the Umgeni River waterfall (he had never seen a waterfall before), the majestic Drakensberg Mountains, colorful panoramas of wildebeest, blesbok, springbok, zebras and more wildflife in the Orange Free State. Life on an oxwagon was slow. The oxen had to be given time to graze, and the fear of lions attacking their party was a new emotion, especially since their ammunition had been confiscated by the British authorities in Durban. Jan wondered about having enough of a “S[a]mson’s heart” to fight off a lion attack with a “jukskei” (wooden ox yoke)… In reality wild life was so plentiful that there was little chance of being attacked by lions.
Pietermaritzburg Gelofte Kerk, where the Heijsteks stayed en route to the Transvaal
Finally crossing the Vaal River, the Heijsteks found themselves smack-bang in the middle of the Boere civil war raging at that time. (Afrikaner civil war in 1862 in South Africa? This one was an eye-opener for me! Somehow my history teachers chose not to enlighten me too much, or I dreamed my way past their voices! Maybe there was still some sore feelings about whose side your family was on, so it was safer to stay away from this thorny veld…) For an interesting look into this little bit of not-our-best Afrikaner temperament, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transvaal_Civil_War. (Funny that at this exact time the Americans were bloody-knee-deep in their own Civil War…) Suffice it to say that 2x Groot-oupa Jan Heijstek did not take kindly to being greeted with “Ou Sanna” guns and ordered to “uitspan” and go no further when a certain Jan Maré, camp commandant of a Boer laager, blocked their trek. This happend on a farm that eventually became the town Heidelberg… Jan snr. explained he was an immigrant, had no interest in their fights and simply wanted to proceed to his new home. Maré darkly warned that Jan would be taken prisoner once he arrived in Paul Kruger’s territory, and would be tied to a wagon wheel and sjambokked (whipped) into fighting for Kruger’s side. Apparently one of Maré’s five sons was wearing a pair of his father’s pants that had a bullet hole in it. The pants belonged to Maré, who refused to wear them since one of his arch enemy Kruger’s bullets had penetrated the material, wounding him (a mere flesh wound) in the hip. Struck by the irony of the situation, Jan (snr.) asked, “so how does your father get rid of the scar on his hip, then?” A day later the Heijstek party was allowed to depart to their destination.
Despite Maré’s dire predictions, after a few days in Potgetiersrus and another four days on oxwagons, our family finally arrived safely in Rustenburg on 10 December 1862. The Rev. Postma welcomed Jan and his children and provided a small two-room home for them to live in, where they stayed until April 1863, a year after their departure from Giessen.
Resources: Most of the information are found either in N A Coetzee’s book on the Heysteks in South Africa, or on the Heijstek Familie web site, thanks to our cousin Fred Heistek.
• https://www.dropbox.com/…/Jan%20Heijstek%20zijn%20levensver… : Jan Heystek life story letter.
• https://www.heijstekfamilie.nl/…/261-waar-sa-stamvader-jan-g… : arial photos and the history of this beautiful piece of the Netherlands.
• https://www.heijstekfamilie.nl/bestan…/stamvader/index_2.html - photos of area.
• https://www.heijstekfamilie.nl/…/99-heystekke-in-zuid-afrika… : two newspaper articles in Dutch for descriptions about life in the Transvaal at that time.
• https://www.heijstekfamilie.nl/…/105-heystekke-in-zuid-afrik… : Dutch newspaper announcement of Willem Hendrik passangers.
• https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hendrik_de_Cock andhttps://www.swierenga.com/Grafscap_pap.html on church schisms in the Netherlands.
• https://grahamlesliemccallum.wordpress.com: history of oxwagons in SA.
Previously published on: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Lampens/