On 24 December 1651, accompanied by his wife and son, Jan van Riebeeck set off from Texel in The Netherlands for the Cape of Good Hope. Van Riebeeck had signed a contract with the Dutch East India Company (VOC) to oversee the setting up of a refreshment station to supply Dutch ships on their way to the East. Sailing on the Dromedaris with two other ships, the Rejiger and De Goede Hoop, Van Riebeeck was accompanied by 82 men and 8 women.
When Van Riebeeck left The Netherlands in 1651, the Council of Policy, a bureaucratic governing structure for the refreshment station, had already been established. On board the Dromedaris Van Riebeeck conducted meetings with his officials – minutes of the meetings of the Council of Policy, dated from December 165, have been carefully archived.
Land was sighted on 5 April 1652 and the ships docked the next day. Within a week of the arrival of the three ships, work had begun on the Fort of Good Hope. The aim was to establish a refreshment station to supply the crew of the Company's passing trading ships with fresh water, vegetables and fruit, meat and medical assistance. However, the first winter experienced by Van Riebeeck and his crew was extremely harsh, as they lived in wooden huts and their gardens were washed away by the heavy rains. As a result, their food dwindled and at the end of the winter approximately 19 men had died.