Technology today has advanced so swiftly that we tend to take many aspects of our lives without giving much thought to that progress or to the past. But think back in time and try to imagine the small boats – about the size of fishing boats we see in local harbours – that fought the sea to try to round the southern part of the African continent and sail onwards to other unknown places. This is not to say that earlier adventurous individuals had not been exploring in the north- for example Marco Polo in 1275 visited the Mongol emperor Kubla Khan and became a government official in China. But with the rounding of the Cape, a whole new world, particularly the East had suddenly opened up before their eyes. Despite the dangers there were those intrepid humans who were prepared to forge ahead to learn and engage, not always without opposition and blood-letting. There were the Portuguese, Dutch and British explorers who opened up new places but there were also the French.
Years before the 1652 attempt began to create a refreshment station at the Cape of Good Hope and many more years before the 1688-89 arrival of the fleeing Huguenots, ships carrying French citizens were either landing here or passing on their way to the East.
In 1529 two brothers Jean and Rauol Parmentier rounded the Cape on their way to Sumatra. Jean was a poet as well as a seaman. It is known that in December 1601 Francois Pyrard, a writer, was aboard a ship rounding the Cape. He too would, in time, publish a book on voyages to the Cape. Jean Mocquet, sailing with a Portuguese expedition, was another traveller who would leave details in a book, published in 1616, about sea voyages.
In 1620 and 1622 Augustin de Beaulieu, on his way to India, spent time at the Cape and wrote a book describing the area, published posthumously in 1666. He wrote of sailors, “climbing a mountain adjoining the Table Mountain”, and of seeing large monkeys. Further, from their vantage point they saw not only Hout Bay but also False Bay, and a flat plain (the Cape Flats). They viewed forests of tall fruitless trees but which were of a kind that had a very hard wood. It has been suggested that the trees were yellow woods.
Jean BaptisteTavernier arrived in Table Bay, in 1649, aboard a Dutch ship and later described the Khoi people they met while bartering for fresh meat and herbs to heal the sick. In a book that he published he reported that fifteen men were nursed by the Khoi and due to their competency all the sick made a full recovery. Urbain Souchu de Rennefort of the French East India Company, spent a short period at the Cape 1666-1667 and left a description of the first fort as well as the Castle that was being built at that time.
In 1685 a party of Jesuit Priests on their way to China, as ambassadors from Louis XIV to the King of Siam and adventure seeking aristocrats, were other visitors. Mathematicians among these particular visitors were housed in a guest house at the entrance to the Company’s Garden. They were allowed to set up instruments on the second floor to carry out astronomical calculations. Two years later Father Guy Tachard who had been one of the 1685 visitors, arrived with 15 other Jesuits, all mathematicians. Once more they made astronomical observations and took samples of Table Mountain soil for later analysis in France.