On 29 May 1671 the Dutch ship “Isselsteijn” anchored in False Bay looking for fresh water and cattle for meat. They had left Texel, in the Netherlands, on 8 Jan 1671 and had run out of supplies.
The “Isselsteijn” was a fluyt, a merchant ship of Dutch design with a narrow round stern designed to carry cargo as cheaply as possible as some European ports taxed ships on the beam size of the vessel. Having found water, but no cattle, they sent a message to the Castle asking for supplies. There is some doubt as to exactly where they anchored, Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town both claim the honour, and the bay became known as Isselsteijn Bay. She sailed again in early June and her Captain reported that False Bay had provided a good winter anchorage.
As a result of that report the Council of Policy of the Dutch East India Company ordered that the Company employees in South Africa take possession of the area. Lieutenant Breitenbach and a party, described as experienced travellers and burghers, explored the area and it was reported that although Isselsteijn Bay provided a safe anchorage there was no fresh water and fuel available within easy reach although there was game for hunting. However, they found that on the south side a mountain range separated the bay from another bigger bay which would provide a very good winter anchorage. From this it seems probable that this expedition first anchored in Fish Hoek Bay and then moved round to what was to become Simon’s Town. For some time this anchorage was only used in cases of emergency as the overland journey to Cape Town was very difficult.
In 1678 Simon van der Stel was appointed Commander of the Dutch East India Company at the Cape. Immediately he began to expand the settlement and look for possibilities for commercial development to help defray the expenses of the station. Having explored northwards and eastwards it was not until 1687 that he made what was the first complete exploration of the False Bay area. Travelling overland he met the galiot, Die Noordt, which he had ordered to sail into False Bay to meet him, to explore the Peninsula coastline and the waters of the bay. Before boarding the ship it is recorded that the expedition saw “a large tiger” probably a leopard, and reference is made to the mines at the Steenbergen.
Anything which would bring in an income would be welcome to the Dutch East India Company, so having heard that silver could be found mining works were started. Three shafts were dug in the Silvermine Valley which can still be seen today, one on the Ou Kaapse Weg and one on each side of the valley below. The powder house for the storing of explosives was later incorporated into the buildings of a farm in the valley. This farm was deserted by the late 1920’s and it would appear that people building cottages in the area destroyed the buildings to use the stone for their own homes and so the farmhouse and the powder house disappeared, leaving only the foundations. No silver was ever found and the mines were soon abandoned.
The expedition was very busy charting the waters of False Bay, mapping the coastline and marking the rivers. It was obvious that Simon’s Town was the best anchorage and van der Stel marked the fact by giving it his own name. Nets were cast and many fish caught including some that they had never seen before. In 1690 a cattle station was established in the Noordhoek area and fishing rights were granted to free burghers applying for licences. The licence fees brought in an income for the Company and the abundant fish were a good source of food for the burghers and their slaves. Although there was as yet no permanent community at Fish Hoek there must have been a floating population of fishermen and their slaves. A Watch House was built on the site of what are now the houses Uitkyk Oos and Uitkyk Wes on the Jager Walk, to ensure that the fishing was carried out in an orderly fashion by those licenced to do so.
In 1725 a mysterious ship, sailed into Fish Hoek Bay. It was August, wet and cold, so there was probably little activity. Any fishermen in the area and the men at the Dutch East India Company outpost, were concentrating on keeping warm and dry. Where had she come from and where was she bound?
Some of the crew came ashore, and claiming that she was an English ship, asked the men at the Company outpost for sheep and vegetables for which they offered to pay. A message was sent to Simon’s Town and the wharfmaster immediately dispatched a messenger to the Castle, in Cape Town, reporting that three officers and six men had landed, and claiming that she was an English ship, asked the men at the outpost for provisions.
The authorities at the Castle, suspecting that this might be a pirate ship, sent out Ensign Rhenius with fifty soldiers, two sergeants, two corporals and one drummer, with orders that if any of the crew landed and declared the ship to be English they were to provide documents to prove it. They were to be told that they could only get provisions if they sailed round to Table Bay.
Ensign Rhenius, who was finding this to be an uncomfortable mission due to the winter rains, reported that two deserters had declared the ship to be a pirate vessel from the Netherlands, with twenty-six guns and a crew of sixty. Her Captain was Pieter Dunn and she was supposedly bound for the West Indies. On hearing this reinforcements were sent and Ensign Rhenius was instructed to demand the ship’s papers and take the crew into custody. Captain Dunn came ashore with papers that appeared to confirm that she was an English ship, the Great Alexander, but further deserters said that there were many more men on board than the number declared, no cargo apart from guns and ammunition and that it was indeed a pirate ship. The Captain and the deserters were taken to Cape Town and imprisoned.
Those remaining on board must have decided that that it was only a matter of time before they were all arrested and the ship confiscated, so in the middle of a dark night they raised their anchor and sailed away. The ship was seen off Hout Bay so people on the west coast were told to stay away from the shore in case of further landings and the Harbourmaster at Saldanha Bay was warned that she might try and get provisions there. Ensign Rhenius was ordered to remain on Fish Hoek beach for another eight days but the Great Alexander was never seen again.
Was she a pirate ship? It was never decided, but it was certainly a possibility. Pirates were known to prey on ships returning from the East with rich cargoes of spices, silks and other valuable items. The crew members who had come ashore were kept in custody for a while, and then, because of the cost of feeding and housing them, were allowed to replace crewmen on other ships who had to be left behind because of sickness. The Captain had his papers returned and was also allowed to leave.