Skip to main content

Tryn Ras (Part One)

from: Familia, Vol.15, no.4, 1978, pages 97-98

In July 1662 the Hof van Zeeland brought to the Cape, Catharina Ufftincx, a young woman immigrant from Lubeeck in eastern Holstein1. Aged twenty-one and already a widow2 she was to lose three more husbands before marrying the fifth who survived her. She created a considerable impact in her new country home and even impressed the Netherlands Commissioner Hendrik Adriaan van Reede tot Drakestein, Heer van Mijdracht, when he was on an official visit to the Cape in 1685. In his private journal van Reede succinctly describes the tragic deaths of these three men thus:

'den eersten van een leeuw, den tweden door de hottentots en den derden door d' elephant en om hals gebracht' 3

Such experiences would have overwhelmed a lesser woman but Catharina Ufftincx was a remarkable person, and, as Tryn Ras, became a legend in her lifetime in the land of her choice.

Born in 1641, Ufftincx was in all probability her maiden name for it was then the custom for widows to revert to this. Her name appears in many guises in preserved records, Uftincx, Uftings, Ufftinghs, Oefftinghs and even Kistings. Ustings, the form in general use today is, according to Dr A. J. Boeseken not correct for the second letter is an 'f' and not an 's'.

What persuaded Catharina to leave Europe? New places, new faces to erase the memory of the early loss of her first consort? In a young settlement such as the Cape she would be assured of another marriage partner for single women were at a premium and appropriated immediately on arrival by unmarried settlers eager to find wives. Time and again preserved documents reveal the truth of this assertion. Hester Weyers van Lier arrived in Table Bay on June 17, 1658 and her marriage to Wouter Cornelisz Mostert was decided and a fait accompli by the fourteenth of the following month4. Another young woman, Anna Ru(o)dolphus of Grietrijl in East Friesland set foot on shore in mid-December 1659 from the Gekroonde Leeuw, was betrothed by the twenty-fourth and died of dysentery on 6 January 1660 before her marriage to Gijsbert Aries van Bommel could take place5. Had Anna survived she might have proved a rival to Tryn Ras for the prospective bride had spent several months travelling from Europe Voor soldat in mansklederen'6. The manner in which she managed to conceal her sex among her fellow-soldiers on a troopship was sufficient evidence of her enterprise to ensure that she would have played an interesting role at the Cape had she survived.

Germany and adjacent states provided large numbers of soldiers for the use of the Dutch East India Company in her overseas possessions and many natives of Holstein enlisted. Among these were two future husbands of Tryn Ras, Hans Ras of Angel(n) and Matthias (Matthys) Michiels(z) of Gluckstadt, towns situated on opposite sides of the Holstein peninsula. Possibly Catharina was aware of what amounted to German immigration to Dutch colonies overseas and decided to leave her homeland. Whether she was bound for the Cape or for the East is uncertain but when the Hof van Zeeland sailed eastwards from the Cape she 'remained behind'7.

The five month voyage from Texel to Table Bay must have been a nightmare experience for the girl with an initial 400 men on board. No other women are mentioned but she surely cannot have been the only one. The ship dropped anchor in the bay on 25 July 1662. Twenty Recently dead' were still unburied, another 50 sick of the scurvy with almost the entire company 'more or less affected'8. How many others had already died and been buried at sea is not stated and those who were landed at the Cape were for the most part too far gone for recovery and the journal mentions their deaths almost daily for some time. One of these landed was a junior merchant, Paulus de Moulier, bound for the east and described as Very ill'. He too succumed and the very interesting inventory of his estate has been preserved in the Deeds Office, disclosing that he was evidently a young man of some consequence and wealth9.

Catharina must have stumbled gratefully ashore with the more able-bodied of the ship's complement and less than a month later, on Sunday August 20th her banns of marriage to Hans Ras aged 26 years Vrylantbouwer alhier' were called for the first time10. On Sunday September 2nd they were pronounced man and wife by Hendrik Lacus, Secretary to the Council of Policy. No permanent minister had as yet been appointed at the Cape and early marriages were solemnised in this manner.

This, her second wedding day also almost spelt the beginning of Catharina's second widowhood. After the ceremony in Table Valley when she and Ras were on the way to his farm on the Liesbeeck at Rondebosch, trouble erupted between Frans Gerrits van Uijthoorn and Thieleman Hendricksz, the drivers of the two wagons carrying the bridal pair and a few guests. Both men were apparently somewhat merry, with the prospect of more cheer at their destination, and they vied with each other for the first place on the primitive track. This resulted in what was probably the first recorded traffic accident at the Cape with one wagon being forced off the road. Ras took strong exception to the abusive language (scheltewoorden) of Hendricksz, the driver of the other wagon, as to the cause of the mishap and in the ensuing brawl he was twice stabbed by Hendricksz. According to the contemporary account in the Court of Justice records11 the second thrust broke Hendricksz' knife off in Ras's ribs. Catharina must have taken home an enraged and severely wounded husband. That he survived with such injuries is evidence of his toughness, allied perhaps with some good fortune and the good care of his wife.

(continued: part 2 in Familia Vol.16, no.1, 1979, pages 20-26, and part 3 in Familia Vol. 16, no.2, 1979, pages 38-39, 44-49)

All references in Cape Archives unless otherwise stated.

1 C1 p.712-713,19.8.1662

2 ibid.

3 Journal om zijn verbljjf aan de Kaap, medegedeeld door A. Halshof, 1941 in Bijdragen en Mededeelingen van Met Historisch Genootschap, part 1.

4 C.I p.347, 30.6.1658 and C.I 14.7.1658

5 Journal of Van Riebeeck and following commanders/governors at the Cape 6.1.1660.

6 ibid.

7 Journal 3.7.1662

8 Journal 25.7.1662

9 Transfer deed volume for 1652-1662, 15.11.1662, unpaginated. Deeds Office, C.T.

10 C.I pp. 712-713, 18.8.1662

11 Attestation 1652-1662 no. 244

  • Hits: 2400