The life of Catharina Ras, Steenberg’s remarkable founder, was one of adventure and zeal and can be imagined into a tale of FIVE chapters with each chapter offering Catharina a series of seemingly insurmountable challenges.
These FIVE chapters illustrate the FIVE LIVES of Catharina and how she was able to harness her courage, adapt and be resilient through each new challenge and each new life.
With Steenberg Five Lives Red Blend, we show admiration to Catharina’s life-long resilience and courage.
CHAPTER ONE · COURAGE · Wearing her finest hat, the recently widowed Catharina takes a leap of faith into a new and unknown world on her journey to the Cape in 1662.
CHAPTER TWO · MATURITY · The lionhearted and persevering Catharina matures into her new life of family, enterprise and true belonging.
CHAPTER THREE · PERSEVERANCE · Her spirit unabated, a sorrowful Catharina weathers a storm of terrible loss and heartbreak after a series of devastating incidents.
CHAPTER FOUR · OVERCOME · Undeterred by a stampeding elephant, Catharina lands back on her feet, and conquers her challenges with sheer determination.
CHAPTER FIVE · FLOURISH · Sweet Swaaneweide 1682. Catharina musters the experiences of her FIVE LIVES and flourishes at Steenberg Farm to much acclaim and adoration.
Catharina is certainly one of the most daring and controversial figures ever to settle in the Cape. Life was not easy when she arrived, only ten years after Jan van Riebeeck landed, for 1662 was far from being the age of rights for women. Despite seemingly insurmountable challenges, this indomitable lady boarded a sailing ship and made the perilous journey to the furthest tip of Africa.
Upon her arrival, she found that the Cape was no land of milk and honey. It was a fierce, wild place with rulings to match. This being no place for a lone widow of twenty-two, Catharina immediately found herself a husband, Hans Ras. He was not a particularly eligible catch (he was a soldier and free burger), but he had a house on the Liesbeek River, which he had bought from Jakob Kluten, founder of the famous Cloete family whose name has dominated Constantia for more than two hundred years.
Once the wedding knot was tied, Catharina’s life took on dramatic overtones, which marked its course from that day forward. Two wagons left the ceremony, with the bride and groom in one and the guests in the other. Lit from within by good Cape wine and overcome, no doubt, by the spirit of the occasion, the drivers decided to race one another back to Rondebosch. While the guests clung fearfully to their seats, praying to heaven with truly Protestant fervour, the wagons vied for position and as the road was rough and narrow, a collision soon occurred.
Enraged at this conduct on his wedding day, the bridegroom jumped down from his seat and soon became entangled in a fight, receiving a knife thrust, which almost proved fatal – the weapon breaking in two between his ribs.
He survived this incident and lived to father several children, but came to an unfortunate end when he was killed by a lion some years later. Legend has it that Catharina grabbed a gun, leapt upon her horse and gave chase, hunting down and shooting the offending lion the very same day.
Fate had a good deal more in store for the girl from Lübeck however, for a Tribesman murdered her next husband and his successor was trampled by an elephant. Seemingly no less endowed with energy than Henry VIII, who surprised all Europe with his impressive total of six wives, Catharina then took unto herself a fifth husband, a hardy German named Matthys Michelse.
In 1682 Catharina Michelse, also known as The Widow Ras, asked Simon van der Stel for a portion of ground at the foot of the Ou Kaapse Weg and he agreed to lease 25 Morgen to her. After he became the owner of Groot Constantia in 1685, she asked him for a legal title deed and a mandate was granted to her in 1688 to “cultivate, to plough and to sow and also to possess the farm below the Stone Mountain.”
This is how what we now know as Steenberg came into the possession of our famed founder.
The farm’s original name was ‘Swaaneweide’ – The Feeding Place of Swans. Catharina, perhaps overcome by nostalgia for the swans of her native Lübeck Germany, mistook the area’s spur-winged geese for swans. These geese still roam freely on the estate, harking back to Catharina’s day.