James Cappon.

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

. (page 11 of 21)
Online LibraryJames CapponBritain's title in South Africa, or, The story of Cape colony to the days of the great trek → online text (page 11 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

chiefly on the account given of him by Lichtenstein
{^Travels in Southern Africa)^ a German who accom-
panied the Commissary-General De Mist on a
tour through the Colony during the restored Dutch
rule. He had something of an anti-English bias,
as was natural, and had as little sympathy with the
exalted enthusiasm of Vanderkemp as might be
expected of one of the ILluininati of that period. Yet
even in his account there are traits, altogether omitted


by Dr. Theal, by which one can clearly discern the
commanding character of the apostle to the Hotten-
tots. Let the reader judge the following from Lich-
tenstein himself: —

On the day of our arrival at Alj^oa Bay the Commissary-
General received a visit from Vanderkemp. In the very hottest
part of the morning we saw a waggon, such as is used in
husbandry, drawn by four meagre oxen, coming slowly along
the sandy downs. Vanderkemp sat upon a plank laid across it,
without a hat, his venerable bald head exposed to the burning
rays of the sun. He was dressed in a threadbare black coat,
waistcoat and breeches, without shirt, neckcloth, or stockings,
and leather sandals bound upon his feet, the same as are worn
by the Hottentots.

The Commissary-General hastened to meet and receive him
with the utmost kindness ; ^ he descended from his car, and
approached with slow and measured steps, presenting to our
view a tall, meagre, yet venerable figure. In his serene counte-
nance might be traced remains of former beauty ; and in his
eye, still full of fire, were plainly to be discerned the powers of
mind which had distinguished his early years. Instead of the
usual salutations, he uttered a short prayer, in which he begged
a blessing upon our chief and his company, and the protection
of heaven during the remainder of our journey. He then
accompanied us into the house, when he entered into con-
versation freely upon many subjects, without any supercilious-
ness or affected solemnity.

Lichtenstein gives a poor report of the Bethelsdorp
Mission, " forty or fifty wretched huts .... upon a
naked plain," with lean, ragged, indolent Hottentots

* They had known each other many years before, when De
Mist was a law student at Leyden and Vanderkemp a wild
young lieutenant of dragoons.


lying about them. Vanderkemp he describes as a
man of learning, but " a mere enthusiast, and too
much absorbed in the idea of conversion " to make a
good missionary.

Now, there may be some reason to criticise Dr.
Vanderkemp's management of practical affairs. His
method of dispensing in some degree with European
conventions and discipline in order to reclaim savages
may be doubtful. Discipline is probably better for
them than familiarity. Perhaps, too, his digest of
Scripture history from the creation downwards to
illustrate cardinal points in Christian doctrine was
too systematic for Hottentots, although it was no
doubt, as he remarks, more suitable than " a scientific
system of divinity." He had not a few of those quali-
ties which the economist will always criticise as
eccentricities of the enthusiast and the zealot. But
in general matters I have noticed that his judgment
was shrewd and sensible. It was not his fault that
the site chosen for Bethelsdorp was a sterile soil with
a scanty supply of water. It was the location assigned
to him during the restored Dutch rule in 1803, and
chosen by a committee of Boers who were not too
friendly to his aims. This unsuitable location ham-
pered him sadly from the beginning, but though he
and Mr. Read made repeated attempts, they never
succeeded in getting a better.

But with all the eccentricities which a man of


powerful and oris^iiial character may i)rc.sent to the
common eye, it is certain tliat there was something
in his spirit and manners which fitted him to be
a successful pioneer amongst those wild men, and
made the way easier for those who followed him.
For years after his death the name of " Jankanna,"
as the Kaffirs called him, was a loving memory
amongst the natives, and was evidently felt by mis-
sionaries of all denominations, between the Gamtoos
and the Kei at least, to be a tower of strength to
them. To the Kaffir they were all alike " Jankanna's
children," and to be received with perfect confidence
even in times of suspicion. Gaika said of him, " He
(Gaika) could always be free with him ; and that,
even if he sat close to him with his bedaubed skin,
he had never said (or looked ?), ' Get away with
your nasty caross.' " {Missiofiaty Register, 1816,
p. 477.) Similar testimony to his manners is given
by the Kaffir captain, who visited missionary Kayser
at the Buffalo River in 1830, and told him that
Dr. Vanderkemp " never refused the Kaffir captains
anything \tobacco and the like\ and even invited them
to eat with him at the table ; whereas at this station
the captains must sit down with the common Kaffirs,
and if they get something to eat it is given them
apart" {Evajtgelical Magazine, 1832, p. 455). It is no
great testimonial certainly, but the black mouths were
evidently not affluent in the language of testimonials.


But though mild in his manner to the natives, he
was very firm, almost haughty at times, in his deal-
ings with high officials, commissioners or landdrosts,
who were attempting, as he thought, to oppress his
Hottentots. From the beginning he protested
vigorously against the two-faced legislation for the
native, which began in 1809, and refused to co-operate
in working it. When Colonel Collins, the Commis-
sioner appointed to report on the frontier districts,
visited him in that year, the following dialogue took
place between them : —

Coinmissio7ier : Will you, sir, agree to send over to Uitenhage,
Hottentots whose services may be required by the magistrate,
Major Cuyler ?

Vandc?-kc>iip : No, sir. ... To apprehend men as prisoners,
and force them to labour in the manner proposed, is no part of
my duty.

Commissio7icr : Do you not consider it your duty to compel
the Hottentots to labour ?

Va7idcrkenip : No, sir ; the Hottentots are recognised to be a
free people, and the colonists have no more right to force them
to labour in the way you propose, than you have to sell them as

Commissioner : Will you agree to prohibit Kaffirs from visiting
your institution and send such as may resort to you under pre-
text of coming for instruction, as prisoners to Uitenhage ?

Va7iderkemp : Sir, my commission is to preach the Gospel to
every creature, and I will preach the Gospel to every one who
chooses to hear me. God has sent me, not to put chains upon
the legs of Hottentots and Kaffirs, but to preach liberty to the
captives, and the opening of the prison doors to them that are


After that interview, it is perhaps not surprising that
Colonel Collins recommended the abolition of Bethels-
dorp as an institution " designed for the benefit of
the Hottentots rather than that of the Colony."
After the Proclamation of 1 809, the relations between
the Government and the British missionary became
something quite different from what they had been
under Lord Macartney and General Dundas, and
Vanderkemp's interview with Colonel Collins shows
where their ways parted. After that Vanderkemp
spent the two remaining years of his life in a
continual warfare with landdrosts and field-cornets on
behalf of the Hottentots. His health sank under the
strain. " My spirits," he wrote a few months before
his death, " are broken, and I am bowed down by the
Landdrost Cuyler's continual oppression of the
Hottentots." He died in January 181 2. ^

For a number of years Bethelsdorp had a hard
struggle against the disadvantages of its location and
did not show much evidence of material prosperity.
It was long decidedly inferior to Genadenthal, in that
respect. But its standard of decency and order,
though it may have seemed poor to Colonel
Collins, was a great advance for the class of
Hottentots whom Dr. Vanderkemp had collected
about him, refugees from the rudest farms of Zwart
Kops or Bruintjes Hoogte, and generally the most
^ See Philip, Researches^ vol. i. pp. 125-130.


miserable of the race whom oppression or maltreat-
ment had driven to Bethelsdorp as an asylum. In
1 8 10, the year before Vanderkemp's death, they had
about 1,000 Hottentots on the books of the establish-
ment, had built a church, a school, a water-mill,
enclosures and the like, had taught their people to
plant gardens, to plough and sow, to cut and sell
timber, and, in most cases, to clothe themselves
decently. Most of the able-bodied were always hired
out in the service of the farmers or to the govern-
ment for labour on public works. Even in 1826, when
there were 2,000 adults on the books, only about 300
were permanently kept at the mission ; ^ so that the
outcry of the farmers against the establishment was
not altogether so genuine as it seems. I suspect that
it came very much from the worst class of them with
whom the Hottentots were afraid to take service.

Vanderkemp's mission had also its peculiar merits.
It was an educational centre for the native races, and
was very successful in producing native teachers to
carry on the work of civilisation amongst their
countrymen. Even the Kaffir chiefs liked to visit
Vanderkemp, and sometimes left their sons to be
educated at Bethelsdorp. The deputation which
visited the mission in 18 17 reported to the London
Directors that " the spot was ill chosen and labours

1 Missionary Register, 1826, p. 34. See also Philip, vol. i.
p. 194.


under great disadvantages, but the spiritual benefits
received by many persons have far exceeded in real
importance all its external defects." In addition to
all, it was a kind of headquarters and shelter — not
unneeded in these days — for the Hottentot race.
Genadenthal, with its local advantages, might show
more material prosperity, better cultivated orchards,
better constructed houses, more imposing bridges
and reservoirs, all the work of the once savage
Hottentot, but Bethelsdorp was to him the strong-
hold of his race, the place where the charter of his
rights was kept, and with which the men who fought
all his battles were connected.

Any one who will take the trouble to read the
letters and journals of Dr. Vanderkemp, as published
in the Transactions of the London Missionary Society,
or notice how respectfully he is referred to by the
missionaries and travellers in that region,^ will see
that Dr. Theal's picture of him as unhinged in his
mind and sunk in some undefined depth of degrada-
tion in his habits, is grossly unjust. The truth is.
Dr. Vanderkemp had an old-fashioned style of
faith, and thought more of the one thing needful
than the many things expedient. His piety seems
to have had a tinge of mysticism, not uncommon
amongst speculative Hollanders of that age ; at

^ See particularly Robert Moffat's account of h'\m, Alisswftary
Labours in South Africa.


times he sought, as devout men have done before
him, signs and omens in the passages of Scripture
which he happened to read. At one time during
his first mission to Gaika's kraal he had reason to
think his Hfe was in danger. Troops of savages,
excited by the disturbances in the Zuurveld, were
dancing round his hut every night and brandishing
their assegais. Coenraad du Buys, too, one of the
Dutch renegades and a most plausible ruffian, came
and told him he need not be surprised if they were
all put to death that day. Coenraad did not want
the missionaries there to be witnesses of his intrigues
and diplomacies with the Kaffirs, and I think there
was something of a comedy in it also got up between
him and Gaika, the latter not being sure as yet what
the presence of white missionaries meant in his kraal.
Vanderkemp, however, was not scared into flight, but
sought comfort in reading his New Testament (Van
Blaaun's Greek edition), and happened to open it at
the page beginning with 670) eljXL, /nrj (^o^elcrOe (" It is
I, be not afraid "), which, he says, " gave new strength
to my soul." ^

As to the apostolic simplicity of his habits or
the slight regard he had for some external refine-
ments of civilisation, were they even more marked
than I have any reason to believe they were, they
represent views that have been held by many good

' Evangelical Magazine, vol. 8, p. 389.


men, and some great ones, from St. Francis to
Tolstoi.^ Some eccentricities in his dress and way
of living may certainly be accounted for by the
fact that he lived habitually amongst natives but
lately reclaimed from savagery, and in a district far
enough away from the resources of civilisation. Even
Father Marsveld, the venerable head of the Moravian
mission at Genadenthal, seems generally to have gone
about without a hat. Nor is it true that he was in-
different to the practical side of the missionary's
work. In his letters to the Society at home, he
shows that he is quite alive to the expediency of
teaching his Hottentots to earn their own subsist-
ence, though he explains that for some years much
could not be expected of his settlement. He was
himself an indefatigable and fearless w^orker. In his
pioneer mission in Kaffirland, he stuck to his post,
when his partner, Mr. Edmonds, discouraged by the
character of the people, abandoned it,^ leaving Vander-

^ His greatest deviation from European standards of pro-
priety was his having taken a native woman for his wife, one
of seven slaves whom he redeemed with his own money. But to
enthusiastic believers in the future of the African, like Pringle
and Kay, that seemed no blemish, and to-day there are some
modern authorities, like Dr. Ludwig Wolff, strongly in favour of
such a course for missionaries living amongst savage races. Dr.
Philip, however, says that Vanderkemp lived to see his mistake.

^ So Vanderkemp with characteristic benevolence states.
Perhaps he was frightened by wild assegai dances and Coenraad
du Buys. The London Society, on hearing of it, removed his
name from their list.


kemp lonely enough there amongst the Kafifir kraals.
The event, as noted in his journal, may give the
reader a glimpse of the man and the spirit in which
he worked :

To see my brother Edmonds departing from me was a very
trying circumstance, but the Lord supported me. Before he
left me, we went over the river into a wood, and there we
wrestled in prayer once more, which was often interrupted by
our tears. After I had recommended him to the grace of the Lord,
I gave him my last blessing and he took final leave of me. I
went upon a hill, and followed his waggon for about half an
hour with my eyes, when, it sinking behind the mountains, I
lost sight of him to see him no more. In the evening I
preached on Eccles. iii. 10 (" I have seen the travail which God
hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it "). I spoke
entirely extempore, and never before under such a deep
impression, that I spoke in the name of the Lord, and by His
spirit ; and, I hope, the word was blessed to two poor ignorant
Hottentot women.

One can easily understand how this type of man
with his fervent piety and disregard of conventional
appearances, perhaps even some neglect of decorum
and discipline according to European standards,
might not appear of any worth to an. unsympa-
thetic Lichtenstein, or a British colonel with stiff
military notions of order and how a collar should be
worn ; but he should be no riddle to the modern
student of history, and the insinuation of insanity
contained in Dr. Theal's account of him (" Yet his
conversation was rational and his memory was per-



fectly sound,") i.ssiin[)ly ridiculous, to give it no worse

But Dr. Vandcrkemp's fault in Dr. Theal's eyes is
not, I suspect, that he did not wear a necktie and
socks, articles which were not too common in the
Graaff-Reinet district at this time, but that it was his
mission at Bethelsdorp that first aroused the attention
of the missionary societies of Britain and philanthropic
circles generally to the frontier Boer's ill-treatment
of his slaves and Hottentot servants. In the year
i8i I , Mr. Read, his partner at the Bethelsdorp mission,
wrote a letter to the directors of the Society in
London, in which he spoke of the inhuman treatment
the Hottentots received from the Boers, especially in
the district of Graaff-Reinet. In Uitenhage alone,
(the south part of the old Graaff-Reinet province,
where the mission was situated), he declared that Dr.
Vanderkemp and he knew of a hundred murders that
had been committed. Previous reports in the Trans-
actions of the London Missionary Society, and in the
evangelical magazines generally, had given the public
an unfavourable idea of the Boer of the frontier, but
now the philanthropic societies, amongst whom there
were influential Members of Parliament like Wilber-
force and Charles Grant (afterwards Lord Glenelg),
were stirred into action ; Zion Chapel and the Taber-
nacle, remembering John, Mary, and Martha, and
their Dutch hymns, lifted up their voices, with the


result that the Secretary of State sent out instructions
to the British Governor to investigate the matter.

The charges came up before the second Circuit
Court which left Capetown in September, 181 2. Dr.
Vanderkemp had died, however, eight months before,
and the loss of that commanding presence, which
gave confidence to the native, seems to have partially
crippled the prosecution.

The Black Circuit, as Dr. Theal calls it, turned out
no great affair in the matter of convictions, or even of
charges, considering the extent of the district, the
mixed character and condition of its population, and
the fact that the charges went back for several years.
In the eastern districts of Graaff-Reinet, Uitenhage
and George, seventeen Boers were charged with
murder, but none convicted, two cases being post-
poned, and three being referred to Capetown. Fifteen
were charged with violence, of whom seven were found
guilty : two cases had to stand over on account of
the non-appearance of witnesses in the one, and of
the complainant in the other. That is the bald ab-
stract Dr. Theal gives of the results. He says nothing
of any particular cases, gives us nothing by which we
may judge of their general character, or of the moral
impression the evidence might leave on an impartial
hearer. He avoids any concrete representation of
the facts, and gives the reader only his general state-
ment to go by. Even Judge Cloete, who was Regis-

N 2


trar for the Circuit Court in that district the year
afterwards, gives the details of only one case in which
a Boer woman of Uitenhage, doubtless with the best
of intentions, was fatally mistaken in her treatment
of a Hottentot's ailment, arousing of course unjust
suspicions amongst his black brethren. But Judge
Cloete, though a candid writer in matters that relate
only to disputes between Briton and Boer, has to the
full all the prejudices of a slave-holder against the
work of the Bethelsdorp missionaries, and refers to
Vanderkemp and Read, who had married native
women, as having formed a " disreputable connec-
tion " and " lost all that respect which morality of
conduct will ever command in society." ^ " In
Society " — that of Capetown, I suppose, where Gov-
ernor Sir Peregrine Maitland was just then, or had
been very lately, the ruling figure ; or that of the
veldt, where of every four children born of a slave
woman, &c. What Judge Cloete means, when the
professional snuffle is removed, is that Vanderkemp
and Read lost caste with society by their marriage,
a different matter, and one which Vanderkemp at
any rate had long ceased to care about.

What some of the cases of violence found proven

1 See Cloete's Five Lectures (Lecture Second), republished
by John Murray, London, as The Histoty of the Great Boer
Trek, p. 37. Cloete does not name Vanderkemp and Read, but
the reference is evident.


in these very Circuit Courts of 1812 amounted to,
and the absurd leniency of the sentences occasionally
passed on the offenders, may be found in Fringle's
Narrative (p. 254).

One miscreant, named De Clerq, a wealthy colonist, who was
convicted, upon the clearest evidence, of having been in the
habitual practice of mutilating his Hottentots in a most inhuman
and indescribable manner, was merely subjected to a fine of
500 rix dollars, or somewhat less than ^50. And another
monster, in the district of Swellendam, named Cloete, who was
found guilty of shooting, in mere wanton wickedness, a Hotten-
tot woman, with a child in her arms, was solemnly doomed to
kneel down blindfolded, to have a naked sword passed over his
neck by the executioner, and to be banished the colony under
the penalty of becoming liable to a " severer punishment " if he
should return ; the latter part of the sentence, being merely in-
tended to save appearances, was never actually enforced.

The English Governor (Sir John Cradock), it ap-
pears, made some " severe animadversions " on these
and similar sentences, after which Pringle says " the
Circuit Courts became somewhat more attentive to
outward decency, at least in their decisions."

The missionaries no doubt might at times be mis-
led by the unfounded or exaggerated reports of
Hottentots, but it is clear also that the early Circuit
Courts, composed of men who were themselves slave-
owners, had a strong tendency to screen their country-
men in this racial conflict. With regard to the results
of the " Black Circuit," especially we must remember
that it was generally a matter of great difficulty for a


Hottentot servant, or a slave, on a distant and lonely
farm, either to lay a complaint or give evidence
against his master. The landdrost did not and could
not know the twentieth part of what was being done
in his wide and sparsely populated district ; and the
field-cornets or commandants who did the ordinary
police work of the district were themselves farmers,
who rarely interfered except to support the authority,
however arbitrary, of the Boer master.^ There was
nothing easier than to intimidate a Hottentot or a
slave who was totally dependent, he and his family,
on his master for any of the comforts of life, who had
perhaps a five or six days' journey to the nearest
drostdy, during which he was liable to meet with
accidents, and who at the end of his journey was
thrown into prison till the day of the trial, and then
brought out to a court filled with a vengeful and
dominant race, from whose prejudices the Bench was
by no means exempt. Pr ingle or Philip, I forgot
which, has a lively picture of one of those court
scenes, the Hottentot complainant, practically a
prisoner, uneasy and apprehensive in his situation,
the accused Boer strutting contemptuously about the
court, nodding to the judges or whispering in their

^ I use here the formal testimony and almost the very words
of the Fiscal, W. S. van Rhyneveld, one of the most experienced
officials in the Colony and afterwards Chief Justice. See Records^
1 801-1803, pp. 92, 93.


ear ; his comrades muttering audibly for the Hotten-
tot's benefit, " The rascal, he'll pay for it " ; for the
Hottentot was punished if he failed to prove his case.
That of cours? would be the local court, but the
partiality if more decorously disguised was none the
less present in the higher one. It is quite evident in
the lectures of Judge Cloete, a man of high character
and himself an official of the Circuit Court.

On the whole when I consider these things, and
compare the many testimonies on the subject from
Sparrman and Barrow to Pringle and Olive Schreiner
(the latter's story of Dirk and the thing that was
baked in the oven belongs about this period), I am
disposed to think that the sheet of the Black Circuit,
as it is somewhat fancifully called, is perhaps too
white. I could almost dare affirm that there was
not a Boer in Graafif-Reinet and Uitenhage who was
not well aware that the list of seventeen charges of

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryJames CapponBritain's title in South Africa, or, The story of Cape colony to the days of the great trek → online text (page 11 of 21)