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Surnames K to M

LEY Michiel


1. European background

In his book “The Swiss in Southern Africa” Linder states that Michiel Ley was born in Benken near Basel on 18/12/1670 as the son of Ulrich Löw and Katharina Schwarz and called Hans Michiel. [1]

Other than that, no referenced information could be found regarding his life in Europe.

When and why Michiel left his place of origin is unknown.

Equally unknown is how and why he eventually ended up in the service of the Company.

Roelof van Gelder has identified a variety of reasons for people leaving their place of origin and eventually ending up joining the Company. Although economic pressure seems to be one of the main reasons, he also mentions that some ended up in the service while actually on their journeys as so called apprentice (journeymen) artisans, while others either did it to succumb from prosecution or scandal or purely for the adventure. In many cases the so called “kat en hond” agents of “zielverkopers” and the “zielverkopers” themselves did a lot to lure men, especially those who had no financial means, into the service.[2]

In the case of Michiel Ley no specific evidence in this regard could be found, other than he did make use of a “zielverkoper”, which might imply that he joined as a result of financial circumstances.

2. Voyage to and arrival at the Cape

In 1693 he joined the VOC as Michiel Leij from Basel. He signed a “schuldbrief” with a “zielverkoper” which indicates that he was virtually broke when he joined.

On 4/5/1693 he left the Netherlands as a soldier on board the ship Koning William. After a voyage of 4 months and 13 days he arrived at the Cape on 17/9/1693.[3]

The Koning William was a pinas class ship with a length of 161 feet, 40 feet wide and 18 feet deep. It had a capacity of 1197 tons and carried a crew of 300-325. As a soldier on board the ship Michiel would under normal circumstances have had little duties other than to stand guard at the cabin or the water barrels or to defend the ship should it come under attack.[4]

When this ship left the Cape for Batavia on 24/10/1693, Michiel Ley remained behind.

Exactly why he remained behind is uncertain.

Those who later became ancestors of established families at the Cape normally remained at the Cape for one of three reasons. They either arrived with the specific intention to settle as colonists, such as the Huguenots, or were drafted ashore by the Company for service at the Cape, or remained behind due to illness.

In the case of Michiel Ley the first possibility can be ruled out. He was therefore either drafted ashore by the authorities or he was hospitalised. Which one of these two possibilities applied to Michiel Ley is unknown. What is certain is that he did not end up at the Cape by own choice.

He was a few months short of 23 when he arrived.

3. Life at the Cape

3.1 Initial phase

He initially served as a soldier at the Cape. He is not mentioned as a freeman in the Cape muster rolls for 1695 and it can therefore be assumed that he became a freeman after this date.[5]

Although no specific proof thereof exists, it seems to be commonly accepted within the genealogical community that he had a relationship with the freed female slave Armosyn van die Kaap during this time and that he fathered a child with her that was baptized as Machteltie on 26/8/1679. She was later known as Magdalena Ley.[6]

26 Aug 1697
gedoopt een kind van Armozyn
vande Caep, gent. Machteltie, halfs:[7]

3.2 Freemanship and occupation

He became a “vryburger” around 1698.

Although he apparently never owned a farm, accept for a small plot of land in the Table Valley near Cape Town, he had by 1700 somehow managed to conclude a contract to deliver meat to the Company as “Comps. slagter” and had hired Huijbert van Breda from Delft as a servant.[8]

Linder’s opinion that Michiel might have been trained as a butcher in Europe therefore makes sense.[9]

On 2/5/1707 he and the other Company contract butchers complained that they could no longer sufficiently supply the Company with meat. Thereupon the Political Council decided to release them from their contracts and to open the meat trade to all citizens.[10]

However, on 30/1/1708 he again took up a contract for supplying meat to the Company for three years.[11]

On 28/3/1709 the Political Council conveyed to the contract butchers that it was not happy with the quality of meat that was delivered to the Company since the thicker chunks became smelly and rotten too soon. They were advised to put it into saltwater for a few days and then to salt it once more.[12]

Up to this point it would seem that his financial prosperity as a “tenderpreneur” was to a great extent linked to his close relationship with the corrupt Governor WA Van der Stel.
Their close relationship is confirmed by the fact that, after Governor WA Van der Stel had been recalled due to maladministration and corruption, he appointed Michiel Ley as one of his representatives at the Cape to finalize the sale of his assets.[13]

Among these were the estate called Vergelegen with its huge house and outbuildings which was viewed as excessively exuberant for a Company official, albeit him being the highest ranking official of the Cape administration.[14]

Michiel obviously also was among those who on 18/2/1706 signed a declaration in defense of WA Van der Stel after his maladministration had come under scrutiny.[15]

This close relationship with Van der Stel also alienated him from his fellow citizens.[16]

His troubles with the authorities and problems with his previous lucrative Company contracts therefore also started soon after Van der Stel had been replaced by a new administration.

The first problem appeared with his participation in the wine contract with the Company. In September 1710 he was accused thereof that he, together with three other contractors, had manipulated the tender process to their advantage in order to establish a monopoly and exclude others who wished to tender. They were therefor excluded from the contracts.[17]

By March 1711 he had to such an extent fallen out with the new authorities that he was arrested and jailed for subordination towards Governor Van Assenburg. He however repented, willingly or under duress, pleaded for forgiveness and was released. At the same time he also gave up his part of the meat contract with the Company.[18]

Although the contents of this Resolution indicates that he himself requested to be relieved from his contractual obligations, one cannot but wonder whether he was not perhaps somehow compelled to do so by the authorities. No proof therefore exists, but one cannot help to speculate that giving up the contract might have been a condition for release from prison and cessation of possible further judicial actions against him.

An appeal to the visiting Commissioner Pieter De Vos in April 1711 regarding his loss of the Wine tender in 1710 was unsuccessful.[19]

In March 1713 he again attempted to get some compensation for the loss he had as a result of being excluded from the wine tender possess by Governor Van Assenburg in 1710. This attempt was equally unsuccessful.[20]

Whatever the case might have been, he became a very rich man, as can be seen from the estate of his wife mentioned under 3.6 infra.

Karel Schoeman describes the Ley family as one of the “vooraanstaande Kaapse families” [21]

It is therefore also not surprising that Michiel Ley, whom Dan Sleigh describes as “die welgestelde vryburger” was one of the first to spend some leisure time at Ferdinand Appel’s Baths at Caledon.

According to Sleigh visitors were supposed to bring their own tents, stretchers, and wine as well as tobacco and pipes which they could exchange with the Khoin for meat and fish. They would then dig holes into the ground in which hot water would be accumulated. “…… en het dan tweemaal per dag met badklere en badmusse tot by hulle ken in die water gaan le”.[22]

Surely, this was a pleasure that only the rich could afford.

3.3 Participation in public life

On 14/12/1703 he was elected as deacon for Cape Town.[23] After the expiry of the normal two years term, it was extended until the end of 1706.[24]

In December 1707 he was elected as Elder for Cape Town and a few days later as member of the Orphan Chamber.[25]

Both his terms as Elder for the Cape Town congregation and his membership of the Orphan Chamber expired at the end of 1709 [26]

In 1712 he was again elected as member of the Orphan Chamber as well as Heemraad for Cape Town.[27]

The terms of both these positions expired at the end of 1714. In the Resolution dealing with this matter, reference is made to Michiel as being sickly “als ziekkelijk zijnde” [28]

He was still serving as Burger Lieutenant of the Cape Town militia at the time of his death in 1716.[29]

3.4 Marriage and family

Little doubt exist that he fathered the child later known as Magdalena Ley with the slave Armosyn van die Kaap. He did not marry the mother or establish a father-daughter relationship with the child. In this regard he was no acception at the Cape of his time (See for example Coetzer and Eksteen).

He married the Dutch girl Engela VAN BREDA [d.o. Nicolaas Breda and Aagje Keysers of Rotterdam] on 8/12/1697, a few months after the baptism of Magdalena.
Michiel and Engela had 3 children, namely:
Catharina, [x 20 Aug 1719, Marthinus BERGH]
Nicolaas, [x 7 Dec, Jacoba Christina DE WIT - 10 children]
Johannes. [30] [x 1 May 1729 Cape Town, Anna THIBAULT - 10 children]

He passed away in 1716.[31]

He was 46 at the time. He was survived by Engela and the 3 children. She remained a widow until her death in 1719.

3.5 Family living conditions

Engela passed away in early 1719. From her two Inventories one can get a good idea of the financial status and living conditions of Michiel during his lifetime at the Cape.

He mostly lived in Cape Town where he possessed 2 houses on the Heere Gracht (currently Adderly Street) and a plot of land in the Table Valley.

From the Inventory it is clear that they had a very comfortable house with expensive furniture, framed pictures and ornaments as well as a lot of silver, copper and porcelain utensils. They also had 22 books and a Bible. The Inventories also contain bed linen, table cloths and serviettes. They were attended to by 11 slaves. They clearly lived in luxury.

In cash and gold alone the estate was worth f 10184
The amount in cash owed to the estate was f 7164.
The auction of the estate took 4 days and yielded another Rd:s 3805 which, when converted into Cape Gulden, would mean f 11 550
The total value of the estate was therefore f 28898.[32]
This amount excluded special endowments to her children consisting of silver, linen, furniture and a slave [33]

Following the formula given by Mentzel [33 (A)] that a Cape Gulden was worth 15 stuivers and a Dutch Gulden equal to 20 stuivers, the 28898 Cape Guldens would then have been worth 21673 Dutch Gulden.

According to the calculator of the International Institute of Social History, the purchasing power of 21673 Dutch Gulden in 1719 would be equal to fl. 489 016.94 (€ 221 906.21) in the year 2013. At the ZAR/Euro exchange rate of 17.70 Rand to the Euro as on 27/2/2016, the value of the estate would have been R 3,927,736.[34]

It is safe to say that Michiel Ley was one of the richest men at the Cape in his time.

It is quite interesting to compare the estate of Engela Van Breda, legitimate wife of Michiel Ley, with that of Armosyn van die Kaap, the mother of his illegitimate child Magdalena. When Armosyn passed away in 1733 she left one trunk containing her personal clothes and Rd:s 331 or f 993 in cash. This would have amounted to a current purchasing power of R 191,240. She was living with her daughter and son in law at the time.[35]


1. Linder A., 1997, pp 45-46.
2. Van Gelder, R., 1997, pp. 117-122.
3. (
4. (
5. (eggsa: Cape Muster Rolls for 1695 – Transcribed by Richard Ball).
6. (First Fifty Years Project:
As transcribed by Richard Ball and Corney Keller)
8. (C.25, pp. 21-27 of 19/12/1705 foot note no 50).
9. Linder A., 1997, pp 45-46.
10. (C. 25, pp.97-99 of 2/5/1707).
11. (C.26, pp. 58-59 of 30/1/1708).
12. (C.27, pp. 7-11 of 28/3/1709)
13. (C. 27, pp. 20-21 and footnote 2 of 30/4/1709).
14. Leibrandt, H.C.V., 1897, PP.6-7; 52-53 and 67.
15. Leibrandt, H.C.V., 1897, p. 70.
16. Raidt, EH (edit.), 1973, pp. 246-247.
17. (C. 28, pp. 22-41 of 13/9/1710).
18. (C. 28, pp. 61-63 of 16 March 1711
19. (C.28, pp. 84-89 of 3/4/1711).
20. (C. 30, pp. 77-83 of 14/3/1713)
21. Schoeman, Karel, 2004, p. 45)
22. Sleigh, D., 2004, pp. 542-543.
23. (C. 24, pp. 102-104 of 14/12/1703)
24. (C. 25, pp. 21-27 of 19/12/1705 and C. 25, pp. 75-76 of 18/12/1706).
25. (C. 26. pp 37 – 40 of 24/12/1707 and C. 26, pp. 41-44 of 31/12/1707).
26. (C. 27. p. 64 of 10/12/1709 and C. 27 p.65 of 17/12/1709).
27. (C. 30, pp. 28-30 of 13/12/1712).
28. (C. 33, pp. 27-29 of 31/12/1714).
29. (C. 35, pp. 97-103 of 4/2/1716).
30. De Villiers, C.C and Pama, C., 1966, Part II, pp. 470-471.
31. (C. 35, pp. 97-103 of 4/2/1716).
32. (MOOC 8/3.92 OF 5/2/1719 and MOOC 10/2.9 of 15/3/1719)
33. (MOOC 8/4.29 of 19/3/1719).
33 (a) Mentzel, O.F., 1921, p. 127.
34. (
35. (MOOC 8/5.76 of 23/10/1733).



Website : VOC opvarenden.
Website : Tanap Project :Resolutions of the Political Council.
Website : Tanap Project : Inventories.
Website : eggsa : Cape Slave Baptisms 1697 - Transcribed by Richard Ball and Corney Keller.
Website: eggsa : Cape Muster Rolls 1695 – Transcribed by Richard Ball.
Website : International Institute of Social History (Brought to attention by Marietie Kotze)


Leibrandt, H.C.V. : Precis of the Archives. The defence of WA Van der Stel. WA Richards and sons, Government printers, Cape Town, 1897.

Linder, A.: The Swiss in Southern Africa 1652-1970. Baselr Afrika Bibliographien, Basel,1997.

Mentzel, O.F., A Geographical and Topographical description of the Cape of Good Hope. Van Riebeeck Society, Cape Town, 1921.

Raidt, E.H (edit.) : Valentyn Part II. Van Riebeeck Society, Cape Town, 1973.

Schoeman, Karel: ‘n Duitser aan die Kaap, 1724-1765. Protea Boekehuis, Pretoria, 2004.

Sleigh, D : Die Buiteposte. Protea Boekehuis, Pretoria, 2004.

Van Gelder, R.: Het Oost-Indisch avontuur. Duitsers in dienst van de voc (1600-1800). SUN, Nijmegen 1997.

South African Genealogies: Vol 5 compiled by J.A. Heese, R.TJ. Lombard. [the parents of Engela van Breda, the marriages and spouses of the 3 children - this data has not been verified as correct]

Compiled by:
Dr. SB (Rassie) Rascher.

Additional data:


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