Christoffel (also Christoff, Christoph) H. Leiste (also Leisten, Leijsten) started studying law at the University of Gottingen in April 1769. He also acquired some knowledge of mathematics and surveying, and was a surveyor at Braunschweig. The Dutch East India Company employed him as a ship's chandler and sent him to the East in January 1775 on the Huys te Spyk. However, because of ill health he was left at the Cape of Good Hope in June that year. On 1 August 1775 he took the oath as surveyor to the Company, mainly to perform civil surveys for which surveyor C.F. Brink* had no time. In May 1776 Leiste married Louisa Laroche (also La Ros), but they had no children.
In 1778 Leiste surveyed Plettenberg Bay, establishing its position as 33 degrees 46 minutes South latitude and 4 degrees 25 minutes East of the Cape of Good Hope - about 18 minutes north and 35 minutes west of its true position. During October and November that year he mapped other parts of the coast between Cape Agulhas and Table Bay. Governor van Plettenberg then directed him to undertake a comprehensive survey, particularly of the coastal regions east of Cape Agulhas, with a view to compiling a map of the whole colony. This work took him to the furthest settled regions and occupied him until 1780. The resulting Caart van de Zuyd Kust van Afrika... (Map of the South Coast of Africa) and his maps of Saldanha Bay, False Bay, Hout Bay, Mossel Bay and Plettenberg Bay were submitted to the Company's headquarters in Holland. As a result he was promoted to the rank of junior merchant, with increased pay, in December 1781.
Surveying and mapping at the Cape changed dramatically with the arrival in January 1785 of Governor J.C. Van de Graaff*. He initiated an extensive mapping program and had many existing maps updated during his term of office, which ended in 1791. Leiste's map of the colony, which depicted its inhabited regions from St Helena Bay on the west coast to the mouth of the Great Fish River in the east, was updated in 1785 (and again issued in 1804) and was intended to illustrate the journal written by Governor van Plettenberg during the latter's journey into the interior in 1778. Three other maps ordered by Van de Graaff were the work of Leiste and Lieutenant D.M. Barbier*: A map of Robben Island (1785), based on a new survey; a plan of Hout Bay and adjacent regions (1785); and a plan of False Bay and adjacent regions (1786). Another map, completed in 1785, depicted Plettenberg Bay and was based on Leiste's earlier survey. He also assisted surveyor Brink and Colonel R.J. Gordon* in compiling a map of part of the Cape Colony and Great Namaqualand (on 10 sheets) during the seventeen-eighties. Copies of several of his maps are housed in the Cape Town Archives Repository.
Leiste's work was highly regarded by both Governors van Plettenberg and Van de Graaff. He retired from his post in 1787 because of ill health, but later again did some survey work, for in 1795 he requested payment for surveying two farms near Saldanha Bay. Altogether he surveyed and drew diagrams of some 100 properties (Cape of Good Hope, 1859). Upon his retirement in 1787 he applied for citizenship and settled on his wife's farm, Gelukwaard, adjoining the present town of Porterville. Here he was visited by Dr M.H.K. Lichtenstein* in 1803. By that time he produced mainly wine, lemons, oranges and dried fruit, and was becoming one of the richest farmers in the colony.