History of the farm Elsenburg
In 1698 a farm in the Stellenbosch district was granted to Sameul Elsevier who was second in charge (secunde) under Governor Simon van der Stel. Elsevier named his farm Elsenburg after himself. Elsenburg was situated near the farm Muldersvlei, which belonged to Johannes Mulder who was the first magistrate (landdrost) of Stellenbosch (1685 – 1691).
Elsevier only lived on his farm for 9 years because he was one of the officials who were recalled with Willem Adriaan van der Stel to the Netherlands by the Dutch East India Company in 1707.
Elsevier built a house on the farm and after he had left, his son lived there until his death in 1709. After 1709 Elsenburg had five consecutive owners until 1742 when Johann Philip Giebelaar bought it.
Martin Melck was born in East Prussia in1723. He was a trained mason and he belonged to the Riga Mason’s Guild of Russia. Melck then joined the Dutch East India Company and was sent to the Cape where he briefly served as a soldier. Melck resigned from the employ of the Dutch East India Company and was employed as a farm worker by Johann Giebelaar, owner of the farm Elsenburg. After this Melck worked as a hired hand (kneg) for Jacob Cloete in Stellenbosch. Melck was part of the team of miners who mined for silver at the Simonsberg near Stellenbosch. This venture was exposed as a scam. Melck then became self-employed as a provider of lime and bricks for building purposes in Stellenbosch. During this period Melck was able to purchase two farms in the Stellenbosch district, namely Aan’t Pad and Watergang.
When Giebelaar died, Melck married the widow, Anna Margaretha Giebelaar ( neé Hop) and came into possession of the farm Elsenburg.
In 1761 Melck rebuilt the existing farmhouse into a U-shaped Cape Dutch house which was regarded as one of the finest examples of Cape Dutch architecture at the time. The front gable has a ‘holbol’ outline with two double casements and a wavy moulding horizontally above the casements. The original front door was an unique masterpiece. When Sir Herbert Baker redesigned Grootte Schuur for Cecil John Rhodes in 1892-3, he removed the original Elsenburg front door and replaced it with a door that was not so stately, thus changing the visual impact of the Elsenburg farmhouse. The original Elsenburg front door was then built into Grootte Schuur. In 1896 Grootte Schuur totally burnt down. It was rebuilt and the original door was replaced exactly as it used to be.
Anna Margaretha, Melck’s wife died in 1776 and he then married Rosina Loubser in 1778.
Throughout his life, Martin Melck remained a loyal member of the Lutheran Church in Cape Town. In 1774 he donated a building that he had built in Strand Street, Cape Town as a gift to the Lutheran congregation so that it could be utilized as a church. Melck also donated 2 erven to the Church so that a parsonage and sexton’s house could be erected. Today the Lutheran Church in Strand Street, Cape Town is a national monument whilst the parsonage is known as the Martin Melck House.
Melck died in 1781. The inventory of his estate shows that he died a very wealthy man and owner of several farms and properties.
In 1898 the Victoria College (now University of Stellenbosch) bought Elsenburg and established it as an Agricultural College. In 1916 the Elsenburg farmhouse was gutted by fire and the house was then rebuilt but not to its original splendour. Only much later it was restored to the original stately Cape Dutch house it used to be. In front of the house is a very large bell-tower dating from Melck’s time.
According to James Walton, the mill-stream on Elsenburg dates from 1761 when Melck rebuilt the house (see photograph). There was a water-mill in the mill-stream for the purpose of grinding corn. The small building next to the mill-stream, that housed the water-mill still stands today and some outbuildings that served as barns on Elsenburg, may date as far back as Melck,s time.