The Society had its birth in the South African Public Library
(now the National Library of South Africa) in Cape Town, and it
has always retained close links with that institution. The Van
Riebeeck Society owes its origins to two men in particular -
A.C.G. Lloyd, Librarian of the South African Public Library, and
John X. Merriman, sometime Prime Minister of the Cape Colony and
a Trustee of the Library.
The origins of the Society lie in the discovery by Lloyd in 1911
of a large fragment of Adam Tas's diary for 1704. As the leader
of the free burgher opponents of the corrupt Dutch East India
Company Governor of the Cape, Willem Adriaan van der Stel, Tas
symbolised the long pedigree of the colonists’ struggle for
freedom from autocratic foreign rule, which seemed so relevant
to the building of national identity at the time of Union. The
Trustees of the Library, led by Merriman, raised the funds to
publish the diary which appeared in 1914, edited by Professor
With the money remaining from the publication fund, the
Library’s Trustees decided to publish as the second volume Baron
van Pallandt's General Remarks on the Cape of Good Hope,
a rare work which had been suppressed when first published in
1803. Pallandt’s General Remarks duly appeared in 1917
but met with sharp criticism in Parliament from the Opposition
National Party for its inclusion of passages referring to the
harsh treatment by the Dutch settlers of the Khoekhoen
(‘Hottentots’). They denounced the work in rousing terms, with
the result that sales soared, providing the Trustees with a
Despite this financial success, the Trustees hesitated to
continue publishing works which might fuel controversy.
Accordingly, Lloyd and Merriman decided to found a private
historical publication society along the lines of the Hakluyt
and Linschoten Societies in Britain and Holland respectively.
Therefore, on 29 August 1918 the inaugural meeting of the new
society took place in the South African Public Library. To
appeal to both English- and Dutch-speakers, it was named the
'Van Riebeeck Society for the Publication of South African
Historical Documents'. The Society started with 54 members, many
of them members of parliament; the first volume to be published
was De Chavonnes’ and Van Imhoff’s Reports on the Cape.
As the Society approached its centenary in 2018, it was
increasingly felt that the name ‘Van Riebeeck Society’ was no
longer appropriate or accurate. It suggested a very narrow
colonial focus on our past, which was out of place in
post-colonial South Africa. Moreover, it was misleading as it
did not reflect the national range of our volumes and suggested
that we were a Cape and not a Southern African society. For
these reasons, in 2017 the members of the Society decided to a
change of name to HIPSA, Historical Publications Southern Africa
(formerly the Van Riebeeck Society)/Historiese Publikasies
Suider-Afrika (voorheen die Van Riebeeck Vereniging).
100 years the Society has published accounts
by a wide array of authors, including travellers, explorers,
officials, missionaries, soldiers, activists, settlers,
journalists, botanists, shipwreck survivors and politicians. In
most cases, if the original was not in English (i.e. in
languages like Dutch, Afrikaans, seTswana, isiXhosa, French,
German, Swedish, Russian, Latin or Norwegian), an English
translation was provided too, to make the work accessible to as
many readers as possible both locally and abroad.
We are well aware that we live in an era of changing technology.
We have explored digital options and published one e-book, but,
for the present, we expect to continue to publish hard-copy
volumes edited to a high academic standard. At the same time, we
want our volumes to be readable - enjoyable to all South
Africans who have an interest in how our country was made. That
was our original mandate - and it remains so.