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The Lady of Steenberg

Nancy Astor, the first female member of British Parliament is famous for threatening Winston Churchill: “Sir, if you were my husband, I’d poison your tea.” To which Churchill responded: “Madame, if you were my wife, I’d drink it!”


The Lady of Steenberg

The Advantages of Widowhood

Catharina Ustings Ras, was the first female landowner in the Cape in 1682, quite a feat in those days. Simon van der Stel granted ‘Widow Ras’ 25 Morgen (21.4 hectares) to “cultivate, sow, plough and possess” the land underneath the Stone Mountain. It could be argued that Ras’s ownership of the land was attained by virtue of her widowed status, given the fact that women in those days weren’t afforded much without a man attached to it. Though by that time, Catharina, had quite a number of men attached to HER. Five to be exact. The feminist, Gloria Steinem, put it well: “Men should think twice before making widowhood women’s only path to power.” A lesson they seem to have learnt since then.

Lady R

Catharina Ustings Ras, or Lady R was the founder of Steenberg Farm, or rather ‘Swaaneweide’ (Feeding Place of the Swans) as it was named at the time. Named for what Catharina took to be Swans, but which turned out to be Spur-winged geese, roaming the estate. As you know, Steenberg Farm today is the producer of some of our favourite bubbles (see Lady R) and white Bordeaux blends (see Magna Carta). The estate not only produces five star wines, but now houses a 5 Star Hotel, two award-winning restaurants, a golf course and residential Estate. Catharina would be proud. 

The Five Husbands

Now any whiff of innuendo you might have caught suggesting Catharina was responsible for the deaths of any of the four husbands who died in unfortunate incidents, would be complete conjecture on your part. Though admittedly, the circumstances around the first death is decidedly murky with Catharina’s first husband having died shortly after their wedding in her hometown of Lübeck, Germany. According to record, Catharina then dressed as a man and boarded a boat bound for the Cape of Good Hope. {Suspicious} On arrival she found that a single woman of 22 would not make it alone and promptly married Hans Ras. A soldier and free burger with a penchant for female slaves and a house on the Liesbeek River. He too ALMOST died shortly after their wedding, having gotten into a knife-fight when two carriage drivers challenged each other to a race on their wedding day. He WAS unfortunately killed by a lion some years later, having had a number of children with Catharina by then (it is said that Catharina grabbed her gun and chased down the lion herself). The next husband was killed by a local tribesman and the NEXT husband trampled by an elephant. But Catharina persevered, she took yet a 5th husband. Matthys Michelse, a hardy German (by all accounts) who, from what we can make out, survived. It is not clear if he SURVIVED Catharina, but he died of natural causes all the same.

The Heart of Steenberg

The pitfalls of living in the Cape circa 1682 seems mostly life-threatening – Catharina having lost three out of five husbands to various elements of African life. The probability therefore, of her surviving, thriving even, would suggest a certain amount of grit, a survival instinct if you will. In fact, we would hazard that far from having anything to do with the deaths of her many husbands, that Catharina was simply stronger and more able than most of them; a testament to the many strong women who came after her. Catharina remains at the heart of Steenberg wine, the reputation of which is only strengthened by the quality wine. We suggest you sample the range and raise a silent toast to the lady herself.

 

 

Published On: 05/17/2017

Daléne Fourie

Twitter @DaleneFourie

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