Flight to the Cape

In the aftermath of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, more than 160,000 Huguenots fled from France to sympathetic neighbouring territories. They either made a new life there or moved on to other places of refuge. Three hundred and fifty of them made their way to the Cape of Good Hope, via the Netherlands. The main stream of Huguenot settlers arrived here in 1688 and 1699.

Since the sailing vessels bringing Huguenots to the Cape were mainly designed to carry cargo and little provision was made for passengers, one cannot help wondering how the passengers survived the 2 to 4 month voyage to reach the Cape, also keeping in mind that they were allowed only the minimum luggage.

 Questions and thoughts that arise

  • How did the parents keep their children occupied during spells of bad weather when they were not allowed on deck and how did the adults themselves while away the time?
  • How did they cope with laundry?
  • The food was insufficient and sometimes of poor quality, consisting mainly of salted meat, pickled fish, dried beans and peas and biscuits. As a result of this amount of salted food, bad drinking water and lack of fresh vegetables and fruit, they often got scurvy. Sometimes there were scarcely enough healthy people on board to bring the ship into Table Bay harbour.
  • Other problems and dangers the passengers encountered were storms, shipwrecks, fires, illnesses, death, capture by ships from hostile countries and piracy.
  • For pregnant women and nursing mothers like Madeleine Menanteau, Jeanne la Batte and Sara Vitout, it must have been even more difficult.
  • With what soul-searching did the Huguenots see the coastline of Europe finally disappear below the horizon and what were their first impressions of Africa and the Cape of Good Hope?
  • The harbour at the Cape had no dock and the passengers with their luggage had to be loaded into rowing-boats with the help of rope ladders and then be rowed to land.

We will never really know what they felt and thought, but we do know that their religion sustained them and that God cared for, and protected them through all dangers and difficulties.


  • Jean Prieur du Plessis and Madeleine Menanteau’s son Charles was baptised on board the Oosterland on 18 April, 1688.
  • Guillaume Neel and Jeanne la Batte’s daughter Jeanne was born on board the De Schelde in 1688.
  • Jacques de la Porte and Sara Vitout’s daughter Marie was born on board the Cattendyk in 1699.

When the Huguenots arrived at the Cape, they were not initially named Huguenot. Early documents and travel books mention them as French refugees.