top of page

Johannes Schumacher (act. 1776-1777)

Vue du Cap de Bonne-Esperance de l'Ouest, Gezigt van de Kaap der Goede-Hoop, van het Westen; Vue du Cap de Bonne-Esperance de la Baie, Gezigt van de Kaap der Goede-Hoop, van de reede; Vue du Cap de Bonne-Esperance de l'Est, Gezigt van de Kaap der Goede-Hoop, van het Oosten.

Three large bird's eye views of the Cape of Good Hope, after drawings by Johannes Schumacher, now in the Swellengrebel Collection, engraved by Fringham, and published by T.H. Schneider, Amsterdam, circa 1777.

Approx. H. 26.5 x W. 76 cm each (not including the wide margins)

Very little is known about Johannes Schumacher or Johan Schoenmaker, as the Dutch knew him. He arrived at Cape of Good Hope as a soldier for the VOC in 1770, where he served in the company of Major H. Prehn. He accompanied Hendrik Swellengrebel Jr. (1734-1803) as a draughtsman on three journeys into the interior of the Cape, in 1776 and the beginning of 1777. During these journeys, Schumacher made numerous drawings, including the three views of Cape Town on which the present prints are based. Unfortunately, only two of his pictures are signed and dated 1776. Fifty-six drawings by Schumacher, belonging to the Swellengrebel Collection in Holland, were published with an introduction by A. Hallema, Die Kaap in 1776-1777. Akwarelle van Johannes Schumacher uit die Swellengrebel-Argief te Breda, A.A.M. Stols, 's Gravenhage, 1951. After he had accompanied Hendrik Swellengrebel Jr. on his travels around the Cape, Schumacher was transferred to the company under the command of Captain and later Colonel Robert Jacob Gordon (1743-1795). He arrived at the Cape in October 1777. Gordon was a Dutchman of Scottish descent, a military man with vital academic interests and connections. During almost 20 years and at least four expeditions into the interior of the Cape, Gordon produced an enormous quantity of material in text and images of the topography, geology, meteorology, flora, fauna, and the inhabitants of the Cape during the last decades of the Dutch rule at the Cape of Good Hope. One of his helpers in this huge scientific undertaking was the aquarellist Johannes Schumacher, mentioned in Gordon's diary as “Gordon's draughtsman who fell off the wagon”. After the British take-over of the Cape, facilitated by Commander-in-Chief Gordon's lack of resistance, he came into a conflict of loyalties and committed suicide in 1795. The Atlas Gordon, a rich collection of drawings, watercolours, panoramas, and maps, is in the collection of the Rijksmuseum.

Hendrik Swellengrebel was the second son of Wilhelmina ten Damme and Hendrik Swellengrebel Sr, who, from 1739 till 1750, had been the only Cape-born Governor General at the Cape of Good Hope. After his retirement, Swellengrebel Sr moved to Holland, where he lived on his country estate Schoonoord in ‘De Kaapse Bossen’ (The Cape Forest) near Doorn. At a young age, Hendrik Jr. was sent by his parents to Holland, where he studied law at Utrecht University. After his father died in 1760, Hendrik Jr. lived in Schoonoord as a lord of the manor. Hendrik Jr. was the more cultured and scientifically minded of the Governor-General's children. Alarmed by the dire situation at the Cape, Hendrik Swellengrebel Jr., in 1776, returned to his birth country to study its economic and agricultural possibilities but also its geography, natural history and ethnology. He published the findings of his three expeditions into the interior of South Africa in his Journal eener landtogt gedaan in het Noord Oosten der Colonie tot in't Kafferland en langs de Zuid Oost-kust weder terug. The company that joined him on this expedition included the physicist dr. Hagh, Swellengrebel's friend Pieter Cloete, the draughtsman Johannes Schumacher, a cook, eight Hottentots, three wagons, 68 draft ox and seven riding horses. Schumacher painted 66 beautiful watercolours of the expedition. Almost nothing is known about Schumacher apart from a few scant references in Swellengrebel's journal, where he is referred to only as ‘the draughtsman’. Despite his obscurity, Schumacher's work is of the highest historical value. It forever captures the Cape in the late 18th century, just before the French Revolution and the English takeover.

bottom of page