The Society had its birth in the National Library of South Africa (South African Library), Cape Town, and it has always retained close links with the Library. The Van Riebeeck Society owes its origins to two men in particular - A.C.G. Lloyd, Librarian of the South African Public Library, and John X. Merriman, at one time Prime Minister of the Cape Colony and a Trustee of the Library.
The impetus for the formation of the Society came from the discovery by Lloyd in November 1911 of a large fragment of Adam Tas’s diary for 1704. As the leader of the free burgher opponents of the corrupt Dutch East India Company Governor of the Cape, Willem Adriaan van der Stel, Tas symbolised the struggle for freedom from the yoke of colonialism, which seemed so valuable to the building of national identity. The Trustees of the Library, led by Merriman, raised the funds to publish the diary which appeared in 1914, edited by Professor Leo FouchÃ©.
The volumes of the Van Riebeeck Society have often reflected the period in which they have been published. The earliest works dealt with the Dutch period, in keeping with the interest at the time in the Dutch heritage of the country. The shift of interest to a British heritage can be seen in the volumes dealing with the 1820 settlers, amongst others. The centenary of the South African / Anglo-Boer War has produced a several volumes on less familiar aspects of the war. Travellers’ accounts are perennial favourites, partly because they provide such valuable information on the indigenous inhabitants of Southern Africa, but their viewpoint is that of whites.
In a post-apartheid South Africa we hope to expand the range of our publications to include the writings of black South Africans, more women, and more unusual topics. In the past we have usually waited for editors to come forward themselves; we intend now to be more active in seeking out editors and topics which we feel will contribute to the new direction of the Society.