Celebrating Women at Groot Constantia: Anna de Koningh – mother, hero and farm owner

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Anna de Koningh, Bengal-born wife of Oloff Bergh and the first woman to own Groot Constantia had a very interesting background. She was the daughter of Captain David de Koninck of the ship Drommedaris and later of ‘t Wapen van Holland, and one of the children of the slave known as Angela of Bengal (also known as Maai Ansiela, meaning Fair Ansiela). The latter was born about 1638 in the Ganges Delta, Bengal, India.

The whole family consisting of Domingo of Angola and Angela of Bengal and her three children, was brought to the Cape by a Free Burgher of Batavia, Pieter Kemp. In October 1655 he sold them to Johan Anthoniszoon (Jan) van Riebeeck. Thus they formed part of the first 14 slaves in the Cape up to March 1658.

Anna de Koningh     Oloff Bergh

Anna de Koningh                                       Oloff Bergh

Anna de Koningh may have been baptized on 28 August 1661 at the Cape. When Van Riebeeck left the Cape in 1662 he sold Domingo of Angola to the Secunde Roelof de Man and Angela of Bengal and the children to Abraham Gabbema. The latter was transferred to Batavia and on 13 April 1666 Gabbema set Angela and her three children free. Anna de Koningh, Jacobus van As and Johannes van As were most likely the children who were emancipated with their mother. Angela was the first Free Black person to own land (measuring 57 x 50 Rhineland Feet or 17.9 x 15.7 metres) in Heeren Street, Cape Town. In 1669 Angela married the Free Burgher Arnoldus Willemsz from Wesel, later known as Arnoldus Willemsz Basson; they had three children.

Anna de Koningh married Swedish-born Captain Oloff Bergh (1643-1724) on 10 September 1678 at the Cape of Good Hope and eleven children were born from this marriage. Anna de Koningh was apparently friends with Maria de Haese, the wife of Cape Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel and in his diary, dated Thursday 24 December 1705, Adam Tas told how Anna de Koningh foiled a suicide attempt by Maria as told to him by his labourers. The German traveler Peter Kolbe also gave an account of this in his book. Maria de Haese tried to drown herself by jumping into the fountain behind the house at the Cape, but Anna being present, ran to her and pulled her out of the water. The Governor’s wife lamented bitterly that her life had become one of terror for her on account of the many scandalous acts she daily had to hear and witness.

Fair Angela died in Cape Town on 18 July 1720 leaving an estate of nearly 15 000 guilders, but before her death she experienced her daughter Anna de Koningh settling in the house on part of the estate of the former Governor Simon van der Stel. Angela had fifteen children from her five marriages. Thus it was that a former soldier who had spent a term in prison and his wife in 1714 became owners of Groot Constantia. Not much is known about the period of Bergh’s ownership, but it is generally assumed that he did little about viticulture on the farm. This is supported by the fact that during this time the wines of Johannes Colijn of ‘De Hoop op Constantia’ which was in those years a separate operating entity to the current Groot Constantia, (but today again part of Groot Constantia), began to draw attention overseas and became known as Constantia wines. 

When Bergh died in 1724, his wife, who inherited the farm, also appears to have neglected viticulture. There were only 1126 litres of red wine in the cellar when she died in 1734. The inventory of her estate, which includes Groot Constantia and provides the first known list of movable property on the farm, refers to a loft above the wine cellar used for storage but none of the goods kept there had anything to do with viticulture.

It is doubtful, in fact, whether she ever lived at the farm. It is not even mentioned in her will, suggesting that she intended it to be sold. The inventory gives the names of 27 slaves who worked at Groot Constantia, all of them described as men, most of them having come from the Indian Archipelago and Madagascar. One was from Anna’s birthplace, Bengal; another was a Zulu from Natal called Snaphaan.

Celebrating Women of Groot Constantia