Barbara Magdalena Croeser (1819-1866)

When William Daly arrived in the Cape in 1830, he moved to Malmesbury to practice “pure and genuine Medicine.” Other immigrants had come with a different purpose and the legacy of earlier settlements shaped the new colony in ways that had a profound influence on the history of the Daly family.

In 1652 the Dutch East India Company sent Jan van Riebeek to the Cape of Good Hope to establish a refreshment station for their ships trading with the East. Van Riebeek settled on Table Bay at the foot of spectacular Table Mountain and made radical and lasting changes to the country and its people. First they built a harbour, a hospital and set up households and business enterprises. The biggest challenge was to establish productive agriculture to provision the ships. The indigenous people of the Cape, the Khoikhoi, were pastoralists grazing their stock on the land. They were not seen as a suitable labour force for wheat farms or vineyards and were ruthlessly dispossessed of their land. Survivors moved away inland to join the San people. Many died from the smallpox epidemics. In the Cape economic production was to be built on immigration.

New settlers in the Cape included Dutch civilians but also political exiles from the East, French Huguenots fleeing persecution for their Protestant religion and Irish settlers fleeing various economic crises. These settlers needed labour to meet production targets. The Dutch East India Company met this need by importing slaves firstly from the areas around the Bay of Bengal, then from African countries and Madagascar. Slaves soon came to outnumber the European arrivals.[1]

By the 1700s the population of the Cape was dispersing, spreading into the fertile area known as the Zwartland (later Swartland – named after the indigenous “renosterbos” plants, dark at certain times of the year). Jan van Riebeek had brought with him the Dutch Reformed religion and this church was well-established in Cape Town. Extending the reach of the Church into the interior was a way of retaining control over the people settling there but when the Dutch East India official, Baron van Imhoff visited the Cape in the early 1740s, on his way to Batavia, he visited the Swartland and expressed concern that this was not happening. As a result a Dutch Reformed community was established in Swartland in 1745. The centre of this community was a mineral spring but only 24 people were living in its immediate vicinity.

Barbara Croeser’s great grandfather, the Reverend Gerhardus Croeser, came as minister to the Cape in 1754 from Sappemeer in the Netherlands. He served for a year at the Groote Kerk in Cape Town. In 1755 he was sent to Swartland 70 km North of Cape Town. He served this small community as a conservative and zealous preacher and when he died in 1770 he was buried under his own pulpit.

The early church was replaced by a grand building in the 1860s but by this time many changes had come to the country including the demise of the Dutch East India Company and the British occupation of the Cape. In 1829 this Dutch-dominated town was somewhat inappropriately renamed Malmesbury  by Sir Lowry Cole, the British governor, after his father in law, Sir James Harris, First Earl of Malmesbury.

The Reverend Croeser’s descendants settled in Malmesbury. Rev Gerhardus’s son Gerhardus Johannes Hendricus Croeser married Elsie Myburgh from a distinguished farming family. They had 5 children and after her death he married Johanna Geere and had one son, Jacobus Marthinus Croeser. This son married Elsie Maria Sophia Lombard (see this story here). Barbara Magdalena Croeser was their first child born in 1819. Other children followed.

In 1828, things in this Croeser household fell apart when Elsie sued for a separation on the grounds of Jacobus’s violence, abuse and adultery, including an illegitimate child. Jacobus’s own father gave evidence on Elsie’s behalf. The marriage was dissolved in 1830. [2] Later Elsie returned to Malmesbury.

There is no indication whether William Daly was Catholic or Protestant but the Daly family in Ireland had earlier turned to the Protestant religion to ensure Tory support for land tenure and political careers. This may have stood William in good stead when he found himself in the heartland of Dutch Protestantism. He may have had his first contact with Barbara Croeser’s family shortly after their family problems. In 1831 he was listed in the assessment of a substantial estate of Izaak Abraham Plantefeber, the husband of Maria Catherina Lombard who was the great aunt of Barbara Croeser.

The history of an unhappy Croeser marriage may explain some oddities. When Barbara Croeser was baptised in Swartland in 1819, four of the five witnesses were from the Lombard family. It may explain why marrying William Daly in 1833 at the age of 14 may have been a happy escape and why their marriage was conducted in Hopefield, not Malmesbury. It explains why their children’s names are drawn from the Lombard and not the Croeser family. The exception is their second son, Ramsay L’Amy Daly, a name presumably drawn from William Daly’s Irish background and which persists in their direct descendants to the present day.

Apart from these circumstantial details we know little about Barbara Croeser’s life. Over 22 years she gave birth and raised six children. The family moved to St Helena Bay in the mid-1840s when William was denied his right to practice as a doctor in Malmesbury. This was the far boundary of the Cape wheatfields, a centre for an informal fishing industry but also a post for shipping of supplies in and out of the agricultural areas. It was here that, in 1836, that they bought a beautiful farm, Wilde Varkens Valey, running right down to the beach near the inflow of the Berg River. 

We have no idea how she and William died, just 5 days apart, both at home on their farm. Their graves are lost. Barbara and William wrote a five page will in June 1865 in Dutch, in indecipherable script.[3] Clearly she stuck to her home language. They named each other as executor so they were not anticipating how close their deaths would be. At that time the youngest child, Barbara, was only nine years old, Jacob was eleven. It was many years before most of the family regrouped in Potchefstroom where their older brother Ramsay had established himself.

[1] MÜLLER, A. L., 1981, The Economics of Slave Labour at the Cape of Good Hope. South African Journal of Economics, 49: 28-36.


[3] See KAB Database NAAIRS, MOOC 7/1/287 for wills.