James Cappon.

Britain's title in South Africa, or, The story of Cape colony to the days of the great trek online

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f^ On the outbreak of the present war in South

c/5 Africa, I was led, like many other Britons, no doubt,

^ to inquire what the character of British rule in that

oc region had been from the beginning. The right which

Hi Briton or Boer may claim to control the future of

South Africa must certainly depend, in the conflicting

circumstances of the case, on the work he has done in

the past and the title it has earned for him to continue

that work in the future. In the present contest no

C3 lesser issue than the destinies of all South Africa and

CT the kind of civilisation under which its mixed popu-

■^lation, Dutch, British, and coloured, are to live is

jjinvolved. No superficial question of the rights of a

^suzerain or the name of a republic must be allowed

to disguise the real nature of the struggle, or excuse

any one from examining the record of both parties

before deciding on what is only the latest phase

of a conflict that is more than a hundred years old.

It was with the view of getting some light on this

^ question that I turned to what is generally recognised

§ as the standard history of South Africa, a work in

"^ five volumes by George M. Theal, of the Cape



Colonial Civil Service. That is his large work on
the subject, but he has also published some minor
works, amongst which are a short popular history of
South Africa, published in 1894, in the Story of the
Nations series, and a history written in Dutch,
Geschiedenis van Zuid-Africa, which with the excep-
tion of some chapters of special interest to the Dutch,
is generally, word for word, the same as the volume
in his Story of the Nations series. Like many of my
countrymen, I suppose, I had always been taught to
believe, and from what I had myself seen and exam-
ined, I was ready to believe, that British rule, while
it had not of course been exempt from errors, had
been in the main distinguished by its fairness and
justice, and by liberal methods of administration
meant to further the moral and economic develop-
ment of the countries under that rule. The reader
of Dr. Theal's works will hear little in support of such
ideas. From his three histories I received only a
painful impression of misrule and incapacity, and even
of arrogance and tyranny on the part of the British
Government ; it was nothing apparently but meddling
and muddling, deliberate neglect of the feelings of
the " man of the spot " (who of course is always wise
and right), and no single thread of moral wisdom or
political forecast running through it all, that the
historian at least had any eyes for.

It happened, however, that Dr. Theal had been good
enough to send to the library of the University on
whose staff I have the honour to be, a set of the
records of Cape Colony, as far as they have yet been


published, consisting of a mass of original documents,
letters private and official, reports, investigations,
census returns and such like, from which, with the
help of other contemporary evidence such as may
be had in the literature of that time, one may be
able to form an independent judgment on the early
period at least of British rule in South Africa. After
a study of those materials I am convinced that Dr.
Theal is by no means the safest of guides in this part
of the Empire's history ; it even seems to me that he
has laboured to darken the British side of it ; he has
passed lightly or in silence over the characteristic
merits of British rule, especially when tried by the
standards of the times of which he is speaking ; he
has misunderstood or misrepresented its highest tra-
ditions, he has unfairly emphasised its defects and
made as little as possible even of the economic and
industrial advantages which it undoubtedly conferred
on South Africa. And he has done this for the sake
of setting the history of a special class of Boers in the
best light, and of building up traditions of Boer his-
tory, which are certainly at variance both with these
records and a common-sense analysis of the facts.
The problem of ruling and developing South Africa
has had various phases, all of them difficult enough,
but Dr. Theal has saved himself all trouble of seeking
for the moral or economic principles involved in it by
the easy application of one principle, namely, that
the Briton was always in the wrong and the Boer
always in the right. I have really been unable to
discover any other organising principle in his work.


I may add that it did not lessen my suspicion of
the spirit that inspired Dr. Theal's histories when I
learned from the preface to his history, written in the
Dutch language, that his collaborator in these his-
torical researches for a number of years had been
Mr. F, VV. Reitz, the present secretary of the Trans-
vaal, then President of the Orange Free State. I am
inclined to doubt if any history in which Mr. Reitz
had a hand would be a fair and impartial account of
British rule in South Africa. At any rate, I hope I
have been able to show in the following pages that
the views of events given by Dr. Theal, that " recog-
nised authority in the history of South Africa," as Mr.
Bryce calls him, are to be received, in general, with
great caution.

This work, although now cast into the form of an
independent history, was originally only a review of
the important points in Dr. Theal's representation
of British rule in Cape Colony, and part of a series
of lectures delivered at a conference of Alumni. I
have, however, developed the topics sufficiently to
present a connected view of the political history of
the colony from its occupation by the British to the
time of the great trek.


Queen's University,

Kingston, Canada.


Preface Pages v — viii


Character of the Boer CiviHsation — The Boer of the Back
Veldt — Capetown a Hundred Years Ago — Willem Sluyter,
the Boers' Classic Pages i — 21


The Dutch East India Company — Its Growth and Dechne —
Influence of its Rule at the Cape of Good Hope

Pages 22 — 43


The First British Occupation — The State of the Colony in
1795 — General Craig's Administration — The Boers of
Graafif-Reinet Pages 44 — 73


The Bushman Race— The Racial Conflict on the Northern
Frontier — Van Jaarsveld's Commando at the Zeekoe
River Pages 74 — 82



Lord Macartney's Administration — Reforms and Progress under
British Rule — The "Jacobin Party" at tlie Cape — Sir
George Yonge Pages 83 — 97


Adriaan Van Jaarsveld's Insurrection — The Kaffir Raids of
1799 — The Government's Border Policy — Bruintjes Hoogte
Revolts again— General Dundas and Ilonoratus iMaynier
— Commando against the Kaffirs — Death of Tjaart van der
Walt Pages O)^ — 115


The Restored Dutch Rule (1803 — 1806) — The Second British
Occupation — The Condition of the Slave in Cape Colony
— Olive Schreiner's Testimony— The Condition of the
Hottentots Pages 116 — 132


Lord Caledon's Administration — Attempt to Solve the Hotten-
tot Problem — The Operation of the Pass Law — Establish-
ment of the Circuit Courts — Sir John Cradock's Policy —
The Apprenticeship System — Expulsion of the Kaffirs from
the Zuurveld Pages 133 — 147


The Moravian Brethren and the London Missionary Society in
South Africa — Dr. Vanderkemp and the Bethelsdorp
Mission — The Black Circuit Passes 148 — 185



The Case of the Bezuidenhouts — The RebelHon of Slachter's
Nek — Dr. Theal's Heroics Pages i86 — 197


The British Immigration of 1820 — Troubles of the New Settlers
— British Farmers in the Zuurveld — The Scotch Settlement

at Glen Lynden Thomas Pringle's African Sketches —

The Old Home of the Bezuidenhouts . . . Pages igS — 210


Administrative Changes — Lord Charles Somerset as Governor
— The Liberty of the Press — The Liberal Party at Cape-
town — The Constitution of the Colony — Meeting of Somer-
set and Gaika — Makana the Warrior and Poet — The Kaffir
Rising — The Ceded Territory Pages 2\\ — 236


The Philanthropic Societies in Great Britain — The Heroic Age
of Evangelical Work and Literature — Protective Legislation
for the Slaves — The Dutch Evangelical Circle at the Cape
— Dr. John Philip and his Researches in South Africa —
The Emancipation of the Hottentot Race — An Old-time
Speech at Surrey Chapel Pages 237 — 254


The Whigs and " Friends of Humanity " in Power — Emancipa-
tion of the Slaves — Dr. Theal on the Defects of the
Measure — Attempts to Re-introduce a Vagrant Law De-
feated — Whites and Blacks Pages 255 — 274



The Question of Expansion — Exit Gens Bosjcsmniiica — The
Difficulties on the Kaffir Frontier — -The Kosa-Kaffir
Tribes — The Commando System .... Pages 275 — 291


Expulsion of Makoma from the Kat River — The Hottentot
Settlement there — Further Expulsion of Makoma from
the Tyumie — The Kaffir War of 1834-1835 — Sir Benjamin
D'Urban's Policy of Annexation — Lord Glenelg's Policy
of Withdrawal — Attitude of the Wesleyan Missionaries —
The Great Trek begins Pages 2^2 — 313


Natural Causes of the Great Trek — Desire of the Migrating
Boer to Escape from British Jurisdiction — Stephen Kay's
Testimony Pages 314 — 323


The Rights of Briton and Boer in South Africa determined
by their Work there — Defects of Dr. Theal's Histories of
South Africa — Paul Kruger the Representative of the old
Traditions of the Frontier Boer Pages 324 — 332


A. Piet Retiefs Proclamation Page -i^-^-i,

B. Dr. Theal's Latest Version Page 2,yj




Character of the Boer Civilisation — The Boer of the Back-
Veldt — Capetown a Hundred Years Ago — Willem Sluyter,
the Boers' Classic.

Holland was at its highest strength and vigour
as a naval and colonial power when the Dutch East
India Company, about the middle of the seventeenth
century, sent an expedition to occupy the Cape of
Good Hope. The aim of the Company was nothing
more than to secure a fine strategic position on the
ocean route to the Indies, and a provisioning station
for their fleets on their long voyages to and from
the spice islands of the East. For the latter purpose
a limited number of colonists, Dutch peasants of the
poorest class, were encouraged to plant gardens and
set up for themselves in the vicinity of the garrison j
and the number of cultivators was increased every
now and then by a Dutch soldier or foreign mercenary



in tlic Company's service, who obtained his discharge
with permission to join the ranks of the colonists.
The new settlers soon began to drive the native
Hottentot clans, the Kaapmans and Cochoquas of
those days, from their old pasturage grounds in the
neighbourhood of the settlement, and the first of those
wars between white man and black for the possession
of the soil arose. Yet in those earliest days, the racial
feeling of the Dutch was not so fierce against the
native as it afterwards became ; and the name of Peter
van der Stael, official Comforter of the Sick, is quoted
at need by the Dutch Reformed Church as that of a
missionary who in 1660 taught Hottentots and slaves
the principles of Christianity.

The economic and social development of ihe new
settlement was slow and of a peculiar type. The
character of the climate and the early introduction
of slaves (1658) made the burgher averse to manual
labour, and, like all slave-owners, he became indolent
as regards industrial development. The want of all
the ordinary evidences of civilisation, of bridges or
boats for fording the rivers, of made roads and sign-
posts, made a disagreeable impression on the traveller,
and irritated him with difficulties to which the Boer
had grown accustomed. Except in the vicinity of Cape-
town and in a few fertile valleys like Drakenstein and
the Paarl, where a class of small freehold farmers pro-
duced corn, wine and fruits, there was little cultivation


of the land. Even in the Cape District, Barrow tells
us not more than a fifteenth of the soil was under
tillage,^ and while the corn and wine Boers in this
part of the country were not wanting in industry and
shrewdness, their methods were rough and defective.
Their plough was a huge wooden instrument that
required eight horses or a dozen oxen to drag it
through the ground, and from the defects of its con-
struction was not unfrequently travelling along the
top of it ; their seed was carelessly sown, about a
bushel and a half to the acre, and the use of manure
was hardly known. Yet when there was water near,
the Dutch agriculturist received a plentiful return
for very little labour, and was quite contented to do
as his fathers had done before him. A good au-
thority remarks that the Dutch farmer with all his
defective methods generally got as much out of the
ground as his English neighbour, his long experience
of the country counting for much. " The old Dutch-
men had more under their nightcaps than most
people gave them credit for." -

^ John Barrow, Aft Account of Travels info the Interior of
South Africa, vol. ii. p. 340. Barrow is the chief authority for
the period during the first British occupation, 1795 — 1803. He
is supreme in statistical and economic information, trustworthy
as to facts, but harsh and unsympathetic in his delineation of
the Boers.

- Wilberforce Bird, State of the Cafe of Good Hope in 1822,
p. 176. Bird was many years in the Civil Service there ; a cool,
unprejudiced observer, of somewhat limited official range.

B 2


But the class of small freehold farmers, the wine
and corn Boers, as they were called, existed mainly
in the district near Capetown, or at most sixty to
seventy miles away, where the roads to the Cape-
town market, though not very good, were still pass-
able for the huge Cape waggon drawn by twelve
or fourteen oxen. As the Dutch colonists increased
in numbers and found their way over the mountains
into the highlands of the interior, or spread eastward
along the slopes and valleys of the coast, they became
more vagrant and unsettled in their way of life. At
Stellenbosch or Hottentots' Holland the Boer was
an agriculturist producing wheat or wine, but once
over the great mountain ranges he became a half-
nomadic breeder ot cattle and sheep, occupying on
a loose squatter tenure enormous tracts of country,
from six to ten thousand acres, of which nothing but
a mere patch was ever cultivated.

The life of a vee-Boer (cattle-Boer, or Boer of the
veldt) was necessarily a rude one in these early
days. His habitation was often a mere hovel, " four
low mud walls with a couple of square holes to admit
the light," and slovenly thatched with rushes. And
this was often the dwelling of a man who owned
several thousand head of cattle and had a band of
dependents, slaves and Hottentots, at his command.
Before the door stood the cattle kraal with its im-
mense dung-heap, the accumulation of years, which


he never disturbed except to take some of its
hardened and trodden mass for fuel, when nothing
better was to be had. In dry seasons he had often
to roam far with his cattle in search of pasture, the
whole family accompanying him and living as com-
fortably in the great waggon as they would have
done at home. He never saw the face of civilisation,
except it might be once a year when he made a
journey to Capetown to sell the butter and soap
made by his women folk, and to purchase coffee,
brandy, and the few other articles which he counted
amongst the necessaries or luxuries of life. He
seldom made bread in these days, or grew any corn
even for his own use. He used little milk, or butter,
or vegetables, but lived chiefly on animal food,
especially mutton, great dishes of which, stewed in
sheep's tail fat, appeared at his table three times a

Such was the life of the vee-Boer at this period all
along the great line of mountain ranges which then
formed the boundary of the colony, from Kamiesberg
and the Ouder Roggeveld in the west, along the
Nieuwveld to Tarka and Bruintjes Hoogte in the
east. It was only after you had crossed Karroo soil,
and were nearing Capetown at Roodezand or the
Hex River, that the country began to wear a richer
aspect, with well-planted orchards and neat substan-
tial farmhouses. Of course there were frontier Boers,


especially in the Snccmvberg district, who were
better off than others, and better housed ; but even
in the best cases there was little to represent the
comforts and usages of civilised life.

No doubt the descriptions of the passing traveller,
even when he is as well informed and observant as
Barrow and Thompson were, often give a faulty
impression of a people and its way. The hut at
Inversnaid, where Wordsworth saw his Highland Girl,
was a poor enough dwelling, with a mud floor and a
hole in the roof for the smoke to escape by, yet the
poet was sufficiently sympathetic to see native worth
and even graces of a kind there. But, unfortunately,
no Boer poet ever passed by the house of Hans
Coetzee of the Hantamberg, or Schalk Burger of the
Sneeuwberg, to give us an intelligible report of that
life, and do for them what Bret Harte did for as
rough a subject, the Californian miner of 1848
Thomas Pringle, it is true, of the African Sketches^
might have done it, but he was too much occupied
in drawing pictures of the Bechuana native and
the Bush-boy in the popular style of Gertrude of

It is evident that the Boer of the veldt had his
compensations. He led an easy and leisurely life,
with a band of slaves and Hottentots around him to
do what labour was required ; he had plenty of food
and tobacco, the latter being grown extensively in


some districts ; he had his soopie of gin or brandy,
and his regular nap after dinner ; he was fond of
kilHng the wild game which generally abounded in
his district, and thought nothing of riding a four or
five days' journey for a hunting expedition, or an
auction sale, or a sermon, all of which were great
social events amongst the farmers of the veldt. On
such occasions (bating the sermon of course) his
mouth was a little uproarious and apt to disconcert
strangers ; but it was no worse perhaps than that of a
jolly company of Scotch farmers of the same period,
unless indeed some hapless native chanced to excite
his anger or contempt, for that was always an ele-
ment which might give a touch of coarseness or even
a tragic turn to life in South Africa.

It was partly the nature of the country that made
the Boer of the veldt what he was, an unsettled
wanderer, w^ith little attachment to the soil on which
he stood and very impatient of the ordinary restraints
and responsibilities of life. With the exception of
the lowland belt along the coast and some green
valleys amongst the mountains, the greater part of
his country was a bare parched land all the way to
the Orange River, without wood, verdure or running
water, the Great Karroo being only a marked ex-
ample of the whole. Whatever rivers there were
shrank during the dry season into mere trickles and
muddy pools, and a journey was rarely made into


the interior without the traveller havin<:^ to hasten
anxiously forward in search of water. Destructive
blights, hurricanes and occasional plagues of locusts,
which literally darkened all the air, heljjed to make
the Boer careless of agriculture and somewhat
slovenly, therefore, in the matter of fencing and

But though little of the land in the interior was
available or profitable for tillage at that time, it
yielded a pasturage which, even where it was coarse
and scanty, as in the Karroo parts, was sufficient to
support herds of cattle and sheep on the large scale
of grazing, " six acres to a sheep," practised by the
Boer. Flocks and herds therefore were the wealth
he prized most. " There is the best garden," said old
Wentzel Coetzer of the Jarka to Pringle, as he saw
his cattle coming home up the valley. And as a
prudent grazier, with an eye to water and other
things, he did not want any neighbour nearer than
six miles away.

It was in these pastoral solitudes that the Boer of
the back-veldt grew up, a type evolved from a race
of peasants and hardy adventurers of the lower class,
thoroughly cut off by their position and habits from
all the influences of modern civilisation. The cir-
cumstances were highly favourable to the physical
development of the Boers, for the interior with all
its drawbacks was a very healthy region, with a


singularly pure air, and nights that arc cool even in
the hot season. But they did not tend to produce
a high type of state or of humanity. The population
was too widely scattered and too vagrant in its habits.
It was a civilisation of backwoodsmen made perma-
nent and universal, without possibility of adequate
provision for the education, the social training, or even
the effective political government of the inhabitants.
As the colony grew in dimensions, occasionally a
Dutch Governor would feel uneasy about the future,
and make an effort to restrict or circumscribe the
roving tendencies of his subjects. In 1743 the
Governor-General of the Dutch Indies, van Imhofif,
offered to convert on easy terms any burgher's
yearly rent into perpetual leasehold ; but this, like
other attempts of the same kind, had no effect what-
ever on tendencies so deeply rooted as to be in-
eradicable. The Dutch Boer preferred to be a rude
lord of the veldt, ruling his household, his slaves and
his herdsmen, in half-savage freedom, to the tamer
life of a settled community, with its irksome labours
and numerous obligations. The rapid expansion of
the pastoral farmer caused an increasing demand for
slaves, and still more for native servants to look after
the numerous stock on these vast and lonely farms.
The service of the latter was often more or less com-
pulsory, that of vagrant or criminal Hottentots, or of
Bushmen captured in a raid, and practically the only


law known on the farm was that of the master's will.
What laws did exist regarding the slav^e and native
servant were Draconian in their severity to the col-
oured man, from the necessity which the Boer felt of
instilling a wholesome dread of his power into this
savage and miscellaneous population around him.
Any slave, male or female, who should raise a hand,
even without weapons, against master or mistress,
was condemned to death without mercy ; and the
criminal procedure of the colony was full of pro-
visions for examination by torture and excruciating
penalties, designed to keep the slaves and native
races in subjection.

As a civilisation it had an economic side not unlike
that of a Russian or Polish rural aristocracy of the
same date ; but what made it unique was that its
ruling figure, the aristocrat of the veldt, was a born
peasant, with the hard, coarse, sound grain of a Low-
German race, without traditions of refinement or
chivalry, without arts and without literature, except
for a Bible, which he was often unable to read.
Whatever gentle blood, with its subtle instinct for
refinement and a code of honour, flows in the veins
of the South African Boer came mostly from the two
or three hundred immigrants that Africa received from
those Huguenot families whom the fanaticism of Louis
XIV. had driven to seek new homes in Protestant
States, and amongst whom there appear to have been


some families of distinction. But the Dutch Boer
took care that the pi/ r sang" of his peasant stock should
not be too much altered by any refinements or tradi-
tions of gentility which the French settlers may have

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Online LibraryJames CapponBritain's title in South Africa, or, The story of Cape colony to the days of the great trek → online text (page 1 of 21)