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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violence brought forward by the missionaries did not
amount to one half or even one quarter of the cases
which really occurred, during the period covered, in
that district. I say nothing of the light in which he
would regard them.^

What is more, I do not see that Dr. Theal says

^ In much later times a British farmer flogged a Kaffir servant
to death in Natal, was acquitted by a jury of his countrymen,
and accompanied home by a band of music. See Bryce's Im-
pressions of South Africa^ p. 446.


anything explicitly or straightforwardly to the con-
trary. He does not explicitly say that there were
no real grounds for the missionaries' charges. He
only says, " It was no use telling the people that
the trials had shown the missionaries to have been
the dupes of idle story-tellers," an assertion which
it would be possible to make in this way, were there
nothing more than the solitary case of the Uitenhage
widow quoted by Cloete, to support it. He does not
actually assert that the London Society missionaries
were slanderers, whose statements were not worthy
of attention ; he only says, " As for the missionaries
of the London Society, from that time they were
held by the frontier colonists to be slanderers and
public enemies whose statements were not to be
regarded as worthy of attention." {^History of South
Africa, chap. xxxi. p. i66.)

The missionary no doubt has his faults ; he may
at times be indiscreet in his zeal and too ready
to accept the tales of converts or proteges, he may
do harm sometimes by being too aggressive and
insisting upon a higher standard than is possible,
and by undervaluing that which already exists.
Not to go abroad for illustrations, one has seen
something of all that in conflicts between the mis-
sionary and the local authorities in the North-west
of Canada. But even where I thought the mis-
sionary ill-advised in his action and too pugnacious


in his temper, I knew that the facts he stated were
true in the main ; and it is difficult to beheve that
experienced missionaries Hke Mr. Read, and Dr.
Vanderkemp who had Hved twelve years in the district,
should be grossly deceived or mistaken in so grave a
matter, and one which might be said to come under
their personal supervision. As to their sincerity there
can be no doubt at all in the mind of any one capable
of reading the literature of an age that is past.

The general effects of the first Circuit Courts, in-
cluding the " Black " one, were such as no one will
quarrel with. Both the cautious statistical Bird and
the fervent Pringle agree that there was a decided
decrease in the worst class of outrages after their
establishment, and Judge Cloete admits, though in
guarded terms (Lecture i., p. 12), the same fact.


The Case of the Bezuidenhouts — The Rebelhon of Slachter's
Nek — Dr. Theal's Heroics.

From 1806 to 181 5 the great war continued to
rumble on in Europe with events which left the
British ministers small leisure perhaps to attend to the
destinies of a few thousand grazier farmers in a distant
part of the empire. The death of Pitt, stricken by
Austerlitz ; Jena and the Berlin Decrees ; Eylau,
Friedland ; the retreat of Corunna, Wagram, and the
disaster of Walcheren, the new French Kingdom of
Italy, the new French Kingdom of Spain, all heavy
news in these years for the British people, except to
Charles Fox and a few Radicals. It was always the
same tale ; as Wordsworth sang after Jena and the
fall of Prussia,

Another year ! another deadly blow,
Another mighty empire overthrown !

Some events touched the Cape more nearly. The
annexation of Holland, made formally complete by


Napoleon in 18 10, vindicated the British occupation
of the Colony. In the same year, the Mauritius, a
nest for French privateers preying on English
commerce in the East, and only needing the support
of the Cape as a base of supplies to become a great
French arsenal, was taken by a British squadron.
About the same time the Tyrol was subdued and its
patriot Hofer shot by the soldiers of that nation which
a few years ago had proclaimed itself the universal
defender of the liberty of peoples. Universal defender
now become, by a most natural development, universal
oppressor of peoples !

Trafalgar and the Nile, however, had made some
amends, and indeed the stout soldiers and sailors who
did Britain's work at the Cape and the other outposts
of the empire seem quite unaffected by the avalanche.
" All right out here," is their general tone, " if only
you at home stand steady and resolute." At length
Wellington began to stem the tide a little at Talavera
and the lines of Torres Vedras, and by the time the
" Black Circuit " had finished its work, the Retreat
from Moscow and the Battle of Leipzig commenced
to give a new face to the situation in Europe.

Meantime Cape Colony during these years of war
and change in Europe continued growing quietly
enough under the aegis of Britain's naval supremacy
which even Napoleon could not contest. Under
Governor Sir John Cradock (1811-1814) the Kaffir


clans were exiJclled at last from their old <^rouiul in
the ZuLirveld as related in a preceding chapter. The
Government then offered the land there in lots of 2,000
morgen (about 4,000 acres) each, to the Boers, but was
not successful in inducing them to settle there, for a
variety of reasc^ns, the inadequacy of the grant
according to Boer standards, the difficulty in
procuring Hottentot herdsmen, the dread of Kaffir
vengeance and depredations, and the growing
tendency to seek farms on the northern frontier,
where native servants, especially bushmen, were more
easily got hold of, combined to make the Boers
indifferent to the pastures of the Zuurveld.

Equally unsuccessful were Sir John Cradock's well-
meant endeavours to induce the Boers to turn their
squatter farms with their ill-defined boundaries, which
gave rise to perpetual quarrels, into quit-rent holdings
which they could sell or divide amongst their
heirs. The grazier Boer had no particular attachment
to his farm, and as long as there were plenty of
unoccupied lands on the northern border, he would
not pay a stiver extra for a title. There were few
farms. Bird says, which remained two descents in a

Sir John indeed laboured faithfully at his difficult
task. He abolished the old Dutch law which
prohibited baptized slaves from being sold, but which
^ State of the Cape of Good Hope, p. 1 04.


really operated as a bar to their receiving any
Christian instruction at all, and made most of them
the proselytes of Mohammedan priests — no bad thing
for them either in the opinion of Alfred Cole and
travellers of that class. Sir John also established
public schools for poor white children, and gave
due encouragement to missions, granting sites
for Pacaltsdorp and Theopolis to the London
Missionary Society, although his landdrost Cuyler
bore with too heavy a hand, perhaps, on Bethelsdorp,
and he himself had re-introduced the apprenticeship

It was certainly very hard to hold the scales of
justice evenly in a slave and serf-owning community.
There can be no better illustration of the difficulties
the Government had to deal with, and no better
justification of the Bethelsdorp missionaries than the
celebrated case of the Bezuidenhouts, which occurred
in 18 1 5, three years after the " Black Circuit."

This miserable story, out of which Boer writers
have made a patriotic legend, really sets in a very
clear light the difficulty the Government experi-
enced in maintaining a decent standard of law and
justice amongst the Boers of the eastern frontier.
Frederick Bezuidenhout belonged to that turbulent
band of Bruintjes Hoogte farmers, always mixed
up in Kaffir intrigues, illicit cattle trading and any
wild work that was afoot on the frontier. A charge


of illci:^al detention of a Hottentot servant had been
laid against him. The deputy landdrost happened
to be Andries Stockenstrom, a humane and just man,
who inquired into the case and found the Hottentot's
statement to be correct. Ikit the Boer refused to
appear before the local magistrate. A complaint
was then laid before the circuit judges at Graafif-
Reinet, but their summons also was disregarded. The
judges then issued a warrant for his apprehension, and
the landdrost sent the messenger of the court to the
field-cornet of the district, a sort of deputy sheriff, say,
in his civil capacity, for his assistance to make the
apprehension. But Bezuidenhout's character was
such that field-cornet Opperman was afraid to
accompany the messenger, and advised him to apply
to the nearest military post. The lieutenant com-
manding there furnished him with a party from the
Hottentot corps which served as a frontier guard.
But Bezuidenhout resisted to the last, and after firing
on the soldiers, retired with two servants to an impreg-
nable cave, where he had previously stored a quantity
of ammunition. After being repeatedly summoned to
surrender, he was shot dead by one of the party as he
was taking aim at a Hottentot soldier.

In an ordinary civilised community the public
opinion would no doubt be that Frederick Bezuiden-
hout had had every chance and consideration that the
law could allow him. But such was not the opinion


of the friends and relatives who assembled at the
dead man's funeral. They were irritated, generally,
by the operation of this law calling the master to
account for ill-treatment of his coloured servants, and
they appear to have been specially irritated by the
fact that one of this despised race of Hottentots could
under authority of the law shoot one of themselves
vi^ith impunity. Probably they felt very much as a
Southern American would feel if he were arrested and
taken to jail by a black policeman. Their point of
view no doubt was a wrong one ; the Hottentot
soldier represented the majesty and authority of the
law, not his own race, and had been employed only
when all civil authority had failed. But such con-
siderations, if they were capable of making them, could
not cool the blood of the Graaff-Reinet frontiersman.
A conspiracy was formed, and again all the wild
spirits of the district, the Prinsloos, Erasmuses,
Kloppers, and Krugers, took up arms.

Their plan was the usual one, to rouse all the
disaffected spirits on the frontier, to persuade and
partly to intimidate the rest into the movement,
and with the help of the Kaffir tribes, to whom
they actually promised the restoration of the Zuur-
veld, to invade the Colony. They did succeed in
inducing a commando which had been assembled
on some pretext of a Kaffir invasion to join them.
But the great chief Gaika, though he had intimate


relations with them, was wary and stood by his
alHance with the British. He hinted to the Boers his
doubts of the success of their enterprise, tellinjr them
with Kaffir wit and cunning " that he must sec how the
wind blew first before he took a scat at the fire."
Notwithstanding this failure with the great chief the
conspirators persisted, and tried to raise the Tarka
district of Graafif-Reinet by the false announcement
that Gaika was to join them, and threatening as usual
to leave those who declined to the mercy of the Kaffirs.
One of the most active in the insurrection was Jan
Bezuidenhout, a brother of the deceased. He drew
up the rebels in a circle and exacted an oath of
fidelity from them ; after which they disbanded for a
couple of days to gather all the forces they could from
the various districts. On the seventeeth of November
they again assembled and marched to Slachter's Nek.
Their attempt to rouse the country was a failure, like
their attempt to rouse the Kaffirs, and their last
muster at Slachter's Nek did not, according to Dr.
Theal, number more than fifty burghers. Judge
Cloete, however, in his Five Lectures speaks of an
additional main body.

Whatever their numbers, they were obstinate men
and seem to have been kept to the last in some
hopes by Gaika, for neither prayers nor threats would
make them disband till an armed force under Colonel
Cuyler, the landdrost of Uitenhage, had been assem-


bled and was upon them. Then eighteen of the in-
surgents gave themselves up ; the rest fled, but some
were afterwards retaken, and some came in of their
own accord. Five of the most desperate, headed by
Jan Bezuidenhout, fled with their families into Kaffir-
land. They were pursued by a mixed body of
burghers and Hottentots under Commandant Willem
Nel and Major Fraser. An advanced party of the Hot-
tentots under an English officer was successful in am-
bushing the fugitives. Two of them had previously
surrendered, two more were now captured while absent
from the laager ; what became of the fifth, Jan
Bezuidenhout, I will give in Mr. Theal's own words :

The soldiers now approached the waggons, and called to
Jan Bezuidenhout to surrender. He was an illiterate frontier
farmer, whose usual residence was a wattle and daub structure,
hardly deserving the name of a house, and who knew
nothing of refinement after the English town pattern. ( Wa?it
of necktie arid socks no reproach kere, at any rate.) His code
of honour, too, was in some respects different from that of
modern Englishmen, but it contained at least one principle
common to the noblest minds in all sections of the race to
which he belonged ; to die rather than do that which is degrad-
ing. And for him it would have been unutterably degrading
to have surrendered to the pandours. Instead of doing so
he fired at them. His wife, Martha Faber, a true South
African countrywoman, in this extremity showed that the
Batavian blood had not degenerated by change of clime. She
stepped to the side of her husband, saying, " Let us die
together," and as he discharged one gun loaded another for his
use. What more could even Kenau Hasselaer have done ?
{Hist, of South Africa., vol. 3, p. 193).



Jan's son, a boy of fourteen years, also took an
active part in the skirmish, the result of which was
that a Hottentot soldier was killed, and Jan himself
died, some hours afterwards, from the wounds he
had received.

Now I am quite willing to see a kind of savage
heroism in Jan Bezuidenhout which calls for pity
rather than severe judgment He was perhaps the raw
material out of which a good soldier may be made,
but he was a wild cateran with notions which would
have made all decent government impossible, and
which had seriously threatened the public peace of
the whole district, and might, had Gaika been
willing, have brought on the Colony, on his own
countrymen, the evils of a civil war and a Kaffir
raid combined. There is some danger, as well as
some absurdity, in a responsible historian, the official
historian of South Africa, making a kind of heroic
legend for the example of youth out of Jan Bezuiden-
hout's story. I doubt if those who really respect
the fame of Kenau Hasselaer and the soundness of
national traditions will much appreciate Dr. Theal's
complimentary reference to the widow of Haarlem.

The Bezuidenhout affair is the kind of thing which
has happened in the early history of every country,
when the central government was beginning to ex-
tend its authority and its civilised conceptions of law
over remote and half-barbarous provinces. It could


be paralleled by a dozen stories out of Walter Scott
of the period when the legal administration of the
South first began to assert itself in the Highlands,
such stories as that of The Highland Widow, for in-
stance ; they are pathetic enough to all, and to a
Scotchman they have a peculiar pathos ; but not
even Mr. Theodore Napier, the President of the
Scottish Patriotic Association, who sits down to dinner
every day in kilts and with a skene-dhu in his stock-
ings, would think of making them occasions for tall
talk about the honour of his race. The colour which
Dr. Theal has spread, with no great delicacy of touch,
over this story of Jan Bezuidenhout simply means
that he is insidiously pointing the moral against the
higher conceptions of law and justice represented by
British rule in South Africa.

Dr. Theal, it is true, has suppressed these heroics in
his later popular history belonging to the Storj of the
Nations series ; but in his Dutch history, written three
years ago for the use of Dutch youth in South Africa,
they reappear with special touches which are very
characteristic of the manner in which Dr. Theal varies
his narratives to suit different times and readers of
different views. In his Dutch history, he is silent re-
garding the fact stated in his larger history, that a
commando of Dutch burghers were acting in concert
with the Hottentot soldiers in pursuit of Jan Bez-
uidenhout, and he concludes this pitiful story of a

O 2


half-savatj^c frontiersii-ian's resistance totliejust opera-
tion of law in the following high style :

The spirit which impelled these two men (Frederik and Jan
Bezuidcnhout) to this way of acting, whatever name you give
it, was the spirit which enabled the South African Boers to
preserve their special civilisation {Jiutine hcscJun'ini^ tc l)ehoudc7i)
in the remote lands of the interior \to w/iich Uicy afieriuards
iiiigratcd\ and kept them from the degradation into which the
Portuguese sank through recognising the coloured races as their
equals. . . . They could die, but they would not submit to the
shame of surrendering to Hottentots. Such was their law of

That is the grand plea, I perceive, by which the Boer
justifies to his own conscience his treatment of the
native races. But whether it has been the conscience
of the Boer, or the protection which British suzerainty
has given the native races, which has saved South
Africa from being degraded by a half-breed civilisa-
tion, and how far this principle of Dr. Theal's covers
the case of wild Frederik Bezuidcnhout defying the
law-courts of his own district, readers may determine
for themselves.

The end of the Slachter's Nek rebellion was that
of the thirty-nine prisoners taken, five were hanged
after due trial before a high court of justice held in the
district of Uitenhage, that is, the southern part of the
old Graaff-Reinet district. The others were let off
with punishments mostly of a very light character,
one month's imprisonment or £^ fine. The judges
who tried them were Dutch, the clerk of the court
was Dutch, the prosecutor was the landdrost of


Uitenhage, Dr. Vandcrkemp's old opponent and a
very good friend to the Boer. All the civil officials
connected with the affair from the first summons of
Frederik Bezuidenhout to the final pronouncing of
the sentence were Dutch. The only interference re-
corded on the part of the British authorities is the
pardon the British Governor granted to one man who
had been condemned to death along with the other
five. Yet in reading Mr. Theal's account we get a
subtle impression of grave injustice, or at the very
least, of extraordinary rigour on the part of the
British Governor. And in his Story of the Nations
volume, as well as his Dutch history, he adds the
remark, that " amongst the families concerned the
event was long remembered with very bitter feelings
towards the British authorities." It is very likely
indeed, and might happen with small blame to the
British authorities. But I think Judge Cloete's way
of noticing that fact is a fairer and more sensible
way than Dr. Theal's.^ But we are assisting, you
see, at the building up of legends which will be of
no small use to Presidents Kruger and Steyn and
Mr. Hofmeyr of the Africander Bund.

^ Judge Cloete admits both the wild character of the origin-
ators and the justness of the punishment, " it [the rebeUion]
origitiated," he says, "entirely in the wild unruly passions of a
few clans of persons who could not suffer themselves to be
brought under the authority of the law : the sentence passed
upon them was no other than might have been expected in a
case of overt rebellion thus committed." {Lecture I.)


The British Immigration of 1820 — Trouljles 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.

In 181 5 the long struggle with Napoleon was at
last brought to an end on the plains of Waterloo.
Great Britain had come out of the conflict greatly-
increased in reputation and possessions, mistress of
the seas and covered with military glory, with a
prestige, in short, which for many years did much to
facilitate her development as an empire and her
schemes in every part of the world. ]^ut with peace
came the reckoning up of accounts, and a host of
problems regarding internal administration and the
government of colonies and dependencies which, now
that the tension of the war was over, called for the
consideration of the British Ministers. Amongst
these was the condition of Cape Colony. One result
of the war had been that at the Peace of Paris (1814)
Great Britain found herself confirmed by a convention


with the Netherlands ^ and the consent of the Great
Powers in the permanent possession of the Cape, and
the Government accordingly now began to take
measures to strengthen its position in the colony.

The most important of these measures was the
encouragement of British immigration. In 1820,
with the assistance of money from Parliament, over
4,000 British immigrants were landed at Algoa Bay.
Most of them were located in Albany, the old
Zuurveld, a good corn-growing country with plenty
of wood and water, which, however, the Boers, for
various reasons, could not be induced to occupy. It
was expected that the presence of the immigrants
would steady that turbulent region and interpose a
neutral element between those inveterate enemies, the
Boer and the Kaffir.

The new settlers were a motley band, composed of
all sorts and conditions of men, jovial English
farmers, staid Scotch agriculturists from the Lothians,
of Presbyterian faith and discipline, polemical
Wesleyans, who fought points of theology all the
way across, respectable tradesmen, fishermen and
watermen from the Channel ports, distressed artisans
from the towns, and parties of pauper agricultural
labourers, not always too respectable or likely to make
a good class of emigrants under the trying conditions

' Britain gave the Dutch six milHons sterling and returned
Java and the Spice Islands to them.


of a pioneer settlement in a wild district. There were
some, too, of a hi<^her social class, half-jmy officers
and youni;"er sons, who had come out with a small
capital to try their fortunes in a new country.

They seem to have been rather appalled at the wild
appearance of that part of the coast which they saw
first. " Hegh Sirs ! but this is an ill-faured and out-
landish-locjking country," had been the exclamation
of a canny Scot, who came out with I'rini^le in the
brig Brilliant, as he looked with a grave face at the
bleak hills and sands of False Bay ; and as they
sailed along the coast to their destination at Algoa
Bay, and gazed at the great headlands and rugged
mountain ridges of that district, sublime but wild and
lonely looking, their feelings rose into something like
consternation, except in the case of some Scotch
mountaineers, who saw something not quite unfamiliar
to them in the great Knysna forests or the ranges of
the Zitzikamma.

The Colonial Government had made careful and
extensive preparations for their disembarkation and
conveyance to the respective lands allotted to them.
Camp equipage and rations, Highland soldiers, tall
Dutch Boers with their teams, and swarthy
Hottentots to assist them, nothing seems to have
been lacking or deficient. But the best a Govern-
ment can do for a new population of settlers is little
compared with what they must learn to do for them-


selves, and we can imagine the situation and feelings
of many o{ the parties (ten associated families at
least were required for an independent location)

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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 12 of 21)