Johannes (Jan) Starrenburgh arrived at the Cape in 1695 as a young midshipman in the service of the Dutch East India Company. Later he became a free burgher and was granted a farm of some 50 ha in the Tygerberg (now Tierberg), near Capetown. In 1697 he married Johanna Victor, a widow with five children.
In July 1705 Governor W.A. van der Stel* appointed him landdrost (i.e., magistrate) of Stellenbosch. From October to December that year he travelled towards the Olifants River to barter cattle for the Company, accompanied by the gardener Jan Hartog*. Starrenburgh kept a diary, Dagverhaal van den Landdrost Johannes Starrenburg gehouden op zijn landtogt na de Gounemans, Grigriquaas, Namacquasche Hottentos, & c., 16 Oct. tot 7 Dezemb. 1705, which was published in F. Valentijn's* (Oud en nieuw Oost IndiŽn (1724-1726), in which he described the regions passed through. The undeveloped state of the country at that time is indicated by the fact that a member of the party was killed by a lion. In 1707 he undertook another journey, this time eastwards across the Riviersonderend.
Around 1700-1703, and perhaps later, Starrenburgh sent collections of plants, bulbs, algae and insects from the Cape to James Petiver, an apothecary in London who had earlier received Cape plants from H.B. Oldenland*. Petiver remarked that some of Starrenburgh's plants were new and had been gathered far inland, probably on one of the journeys mentioned above. Petiver's museum was later purchased by Sir Hans Sloane, hence Starrenburgh's plants ended up in the British Museum (Natural History). They included three species of marine algae collected before 1703, the oldest algae known from the Cape except for a fragment collected by Paul Hermann* (Barton, 1893). Starrenburgh was well acquainted with Captain William Dampier*, who visited the Cape in 1700-1701 and 1706, as their names are associated on some plant labels.
During his term as landdrost of Stellenbosch the colonists were in revolt against Governor van der Stel and Starrenburgh's strong support for the governor made him very unpopular. After an unsuccessful attempt to arrest the ringleaders in September 1706 the inhabitants of Stellenbosch refused to supply his troops with food. Finally, in April 1707, van der Stel, Starrenburg and two other officials were removed from office and instructed to proceed to the Netherlands at the first opportunity. Starrenburgh's wife and her children remained at the Cape. In the Netherlands he married Alida de Milly in January 1711 and they had one son. He died at some time before 1729, for in January that year his widow remarried.