Martin Melck's history is certainly one of the greatest success stories which the early Cape produced. Like many of his predecessors at De Driesprong, he was a German who had come to the Cape as a soldier in the service of the company. He was born on 20 October 1723 in East Prussia, in the Baltic seaport of Memel. Memel today is called Klaipeda and falls into the former Soviet Socialist Republic of Lithuania.
Martin's Melck’s father was a boatswain and probably often away from home. The eighteen-year-old Melck decided rather to work on land and had himself trained as a builder in Riga.
He set off on the long journey to the Netherlands and in the European spring of 1746, a year and a half after completing his studies, in the port of Texel, he went on board the ‘t Slot van Capelle. The company’s ships sailed from here because the harbours at Amsterdam and Rotterdam were too shallow. Three months later, in the depths of the Cape winter, Martin and his fellow travellers caught sight of the peninsular, and on the 26 June 1746 they dropped anchor in the winter harbour of Simon’s Bay. He was twenty-three years old and dressed in a uniform of heavy dark-coloured woollen cloth for which he had to pay himself. Brass buttons, red socks, and a hat with an inch-wide band of gold gave a cheerful air to the outfit.
The Company made soldiers available to farmers as labourers. Shortly after his arrival Martin was hired out for several months as foreman on Johan Giebeler’s Farm called Elsenburg. On 1 September (1746) he was transferred to the “salted” silver mine on the south-eastern slopes of Simonsberg to perform mining-work. After a brief stay on Elsenburg he was appointed as foreman to Jacob Cloete on Nooitgedacht. Apart from accommodation and meals, he earned 12 guilders a month, 3 guilders more than the Company’s pay.
In 1750, four years after his arrival, he was discharged from the service of the company and became a free burgher in the colony of Stellenbosch. Martin bought, in the same year, the farms "Aan't Pad" (now Cloetesdal) and "Watergang". Half of the purchase price was paid in cash. He kept on, however, with his cartage contracting and also started a profitable lime-kiln at Saldanha Bay after he had discovered good rocks, actually fossilized shells, for the purpose.
After the death of his first employer, Martin from time to time rode over to Elsenburg to visit the widow Anna Margaretha Hop. They were married on 20 August 1752, two months before the bridegrooms 29th birthday. Marriages at this time were, without exeption, in community of property and Melck was thus, after his marriage, owner of Elsenburg and Hoopenburg (now Muldersvlei). Whereas before his marriage he owned a horse, 48 cattle and 4000 vines overnight he had now become the owner of 15 slaves, 40 horses, 60 cattle, 500 sheep, 20 pigs and 30 000 vines.
De Driesprong (Muratie) was transferred to Martin Melck on 7 February 1763. In 1766 Martin was appointed to the honourable office of the Heemraad. Among other things he helped to establish the boundaries between the districts of Stellenbosch and Swellendam as well as diverted the course of the Eersterivier in order to prevent flooding. During the 1770’s he built the first wagon road from the castle to ‘t Rondebosje. In 1770 the enthusiastic farmer extended his land ownership by the purchase of De Laaste Gift, now part of Lourensford Estate), also Kersefontein and St Helena on Berg River.
It grieved Martin Melck that the many Germans and Scandanavians at the Cape, all Lutherans, were forbidden by the Company to form a congregation. One petition after the other was in vain. Martin now took the law into his own hands and built a hall, which was supposed to be a packing shed in the smart Seestraat (now Strand Street). This building was comparable to the “schuilkerke” (hidden churches used by Roman Catholics in the Netherlands).
Apart from the building which cost 45 000 guilders, the generous Melck also donated two adjoining plots for a parsonage and a dwelling house. Governor Tulbagh was a great opponent of the Lutherans, but as a good friend of Melck’s he turned a blind eye.
The Council of Seventeen eventually gave in and in 1780, the year before Melck’s death the first pastor began his ministry. The adjoining parsonage was built after Melck’s death by the architect Louis Michel Thibault and Anreith. Since 1932 the building has been called the Martin Melck house.
Anna Hop, his first wife, died on the 22nd of May 1776. Melck was at this stage 53 years old and most certainly the most marriageable man in the Cape. At this stage he owned 10 farms, 2 loan farms, owned a dwelling house and 2 packing sheds in Cape Town, 203 slaves, 170 horses, 1321 head of cattle, 4167 sheep, 106 pigs and about 200 000 vines. The Estate was valued at an unbelievable 240 000 guilder (this was equal to 2222 years of pay).
On 1 November 1778 he remarried Maria Rosina Loubser.
Martin Melck died on Friday, 23 February 1781, at Elsenburg. The 58 year old Melck was presumably buried in the Lutheran Church in Strand Street. A memorial plaque by Anton Anreith was unveiled at the church 4 years after the benefactor’s death.