Thibault Street in Stellenbosch is located in Karindal and Mostertsdrift, two of the older neighbourhoods in town. Just as with ‘Mankadan street’ there is an interesting story behind the name.
So who was this ‘Thibault’?
I suspect he was the famous historical figure LOUIS MICHEL THIBAULT (1750 – 1815) who was a talented engineer and architect.
Thibault was born more or less the same time as the composer Wolgang Amadeus Mozart. He was one of the few Capetonians at the time who could survey and create proper engineering drawings. He was involved in this beautiful map of Table Bay (1786):
THIBAULT – IMPORTANT WRITER
Without Thibault’s diaries much of the Cape’s early history would never have been written down. Like the burgher Adam Tas, Thibault had a fine sense of observation and wrote down in letters and memoirs everything he saw around him.
The Cape of Good Hope changed hands 4 times in Thibault’s lifetime, and his career was repeatedly called to a halt.
Thibault was a Frenchman. When Britain attacked the Cape of Good Hope in 1795 (the battle of Muizenberg), Thibault was on the side of the Dutch (the British and French were never very fond about each other).
He documented the invasion in his diary: “The country was rising to arms. From everywhere Burghers on horseback or by wagon came in great numbers (translated from French)”. Despite a few skirmishes and negotiations, the Dutch eventually had to surrender.
THIBAULT LOSES HIS JOB
When the British occupied the Cape during this time, Thibault, like most civil servants, lost his job. Most of the engineering in Thibault’s time was driven by military interests. He was appointed to design weapon batteries and magazines to store guns and gunpowder. Apparently Thibault had a good sense of military strategy, better than the military itself!
During the occupation all of Thibault’s detailed architectural plans were handed over to the enemy.
All Dutch, French and German settlers who wanted to stay in the Cape had to swear an oath of loyalty (to the British Crown), but Thibault didn’t want to work for the new government. He spent as long as possible under the radar, hiding away in a house on the corner of Heerengracht and Hout street and busying himself with designing, painting, visiting friends and writing letters.
During this time Thibault decided to finish his plan of Cape Town:
Having been suspended from my post as Engineer by the fact of war, and having no employment, I occupied myself with finishing a general plan of the Cape (translated from French)
THIBAULT STARTS WORKING FOR THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT
Thibault couldn’t hide for long. His signature on a confiscated document put the new government on his trail, and as he was busy with a map of the Cape they accused him of being a military spy. Eventually, Thibault was forced to swear the oath of loyalty and accept a position with the British government. Although he never changed his loyalty, he worked for the British government for almost a decade. Here he helped restore and design military batteries and other state buildings.
When Napoleon conquered Britain in 1802, the Cape was suddenly declared Dutch again (the Amiens treaty). Thibault resumed his work for the Dutch in 1803 and was appointed as inspector of all state buildings. The castle’s hospital, the ‘Cazerne’. was one of the first buildings that needed attention.
THE BATTLE OF BLUE BERG
Three years later the Cape changed hands again. The Amiens treaty expired and the British fleet invaded the Cape again, this time at Blouberg (the Battle of Blaauwberg).
After the British victory, Thibault was nearly taken away as prisoner of war. Luckily he appealed to friends in government and could stay in the Cape with special permission .
For the next 9 years Thibault worked as architect, building advisor and surveyor.
THIBAULT IN STELLENBOSCH
One of Thibault’s responsibilities during this time was to create a list of all the state buildings in the Cape and surrounding villages – one of which was Stellenbosch. It is therefore possible that he visited Stellenbosch on a regular basis. At one stage Stellenbosch’s landdros asked Thibault to draw a official map of the town. This never happened, however, and the young surveyor, W.F. Hertzog (still in his 20’s) was asked instead.
It is believed that Thibault designed the double storey building at Uitkyk Wine Estate (near Klapmuts).
If you like the history of the 1600s and 1700s, read our blogs on Adam Tas’s diary, or our 2017 trivia blog.
‘n Dromer is a young Stellenbosser who loves writing about the everyday things people tend to overlook. She likes dusty books and cobwebbed houses and seeing how the past isn’t always what you’d think or expect. She has written about Stellenbosch, its heritage and its people almost every week since 2015.
Article: Y Coetsee 2018
Sources: (book) Huguette Roy de Puyfontaine (1972), Louis Michel Thibault 1750 – 1819 His offical life at the Cape of Good Hope