Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.

Van der Kemp, Johannes Theodorus (A)

South Africa


Pioneering missionary.

After a brief army career in his native Netherlands he took a medical degree in Scotland (1782). He joined the newly formed London Missionary Society (LMS) in 1798. One of the first three agents sent by the LMS to South Africa, he was the first missionary to work among the Xhosa (1799-1800). He became interested in the economic plight of the Khoikhoi (‘Hottentot’) people in the Cape Colony and strongly advocated granting then legal equality with whites. He laboured alternately among the Khoikhoi of the eastern Cape and the slave population of Cape Town. Partly as a matter of principle he married a non-white woman and thereby alienated the white settlers against his work. Armed with a background in European and classical philology, he pioneered in the study of Xhosa and Khoikhoi languages. He was made the first superintendent of the LMS’s South African missions shortly before he died.

Mark R. Lipschutz and R. Kent Rasmussen


Martin, Arthur David. Doctor Van Der Kemp. Westminster: Livingston Press, 1931.

Dictionary of South African Biography, 4 vols. Cape Town, Durban: Human Sciences Research Council, 1968-81.

Marais, J. S. The Cape Coloured People, 1652-1937. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1939.

Photo source: Martin, A. D. Doctor Vanderkemp. Westminster: The Livingstone Press, 1931.

This article is reproduced, with permission, from Dictionary of African Historical Biography, 2nd edition, copyright © 1986, by Mark R. Lipschutz and R. Kent Rasmussen, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California. All rights reserved.