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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escorted by a field-cornet to some wild valley among
the mountains and there left for the most part to
their own resources ; not altogether, however, for the
Government always stood by to help a little where it
was necessary. The neighbouring Boers, too, every-
where were friendly and helpful, supplying the new-
comers with such cuttings, graftings, seeds, &c., as
were suitable to the soil. Even that turbulent race
of Bruintjes Hoogte and the Boschberg, Prinsloos,
Labuschagnes, Kloppers, Erasmuses, &c., were good
neighbours to the Lothian farmers who settled near
them on the Baviaan's River.

The new settlers, of course, had to make their own
huts and furniture, and learn the new conditions of
doing- everything from planting orchards and drying
fruits to driving an ox-team. In some exposed parts,
too, they had to guard against thieving Kaffirs or
Hottentots, and were liable to be roused at nights by
the roar of a lion prowling round after their cattle.
What the poorer and more thriftless class amongst
them could do in such circumstances, we may guess.
They were unfortunate also. Two successive seasons
of blight, followed in the third by a destructive hurri-
cane, reduced many of the emigrants to the greatest
misery, which was only partially alleviated by all the


efforts the Government could make in the way of
(listributin;^ rations and seed-wheat gratis. Under
such circuinstances it is not surprisin<^ that numbers of
them, especially the mechanics and j^eneral labourers,
abandoned their farms and sought work in Grahams-
town, Cradock, Port Elizabeth, Graaff-Reinet and
other places which were now rising into importance.
There they ultimately formed the artisan and shop-
keeping class of that part of the country.

The Government had also made a mistake in
dealing with the emigrants. With the idea of creating
a denser agricultural population they had restricted
the grants of land to a hundred acres for each family,
in a country where the Boer considered anything less
than six thousand insufficient to make sure of water
and pasturage. The grants were enlarged in 1825,
to those who were still on their lands, and I think
there may have been prudence in the Government's

But notwithstanding their misfortunes and the
privations which they endured for a year or two,
many of the settlers soon began to do well ; and on
the whole it is agreed that the immigration of 1820
turned out eventually one of the most successful
experiments ever made on that scale. In 1824 George
Thompson, travelling along the coast near the Kowie
River, describes the locations of the better class, the
" heads of families," in terms which would not dis-


credit an English nobleman's parks and lawns, to
which indeed he does not hesitate to compare them,
" neat, picturesque cottages surrounded by luxuriant
woods and copses of evergreens, in the disposal of
which the wanton hand of Nature seemed to have
rivalled the most tasteful efforts of art. . . . flocks of
sheep pasturing on the soft green hills, while the
foaming surge broke along the beach on my right
hand." Evidently a beautiful and fertile country, this
part of the Zuurveld, old land of the Ghonaqua and
Kaffir now passed away from them for ever. With the
locations of the ordinary settlers also, Thompson was
much pleased. " The hedges and ditches, and wattled
fences presented home-looking pictures of neatness
and industry, very different from the rude and slovenly
premises of the back-country boors." ^

By far the best account of any of these nev/ settle-
ments is that given by Thomas Pringle in his Narra-
tive of a Residence in South Africa, from which I have
so often quoted. There the reader may see how a
good class of Scottish emigrants from the Lothians,
with no superfluity of capital, could in the worst of
times hold their own and eventually reach a high
degree of prosperity, that degree, at least, which seems
to be characteristic of the country, " an abundance
of the comforts of life and few causes of anxiety for
the future."

^ Thompson, Travels, vol. i. pp. '})2)''yi-


This Scottish settlcincMit was situated just over the
iiKHUitains beyond Hruintjcs Hoogte and the Bosch-
berg, witli the Boers of the Tarka for its neighbours
on the north, and the kraals of Gaika not far to the
east of it ; a wild mountainous district and an
exposed part of the frontier, but enclosing a beautiful
and fertile vallc)', about six miles long, where the
settlers were located. " The place looks no sae mickle
amiss," was the comment of one of the party on his
first sight of it.

It was as the leader of this band of emigrants that
Thomas Pringle, the son of a Lothian farmer, came
to Africa. Pringle had received a University educa-
tion and possessed literary talent really of a high
order. Whatever strikes his fancy in the way of
novel picturesque scenery, of romantic or pathetic
incident he describes in a vivid, often masterly
manner, with great truth of impression and a fluent,
if slightly prolix, art of narrative. He has quite a
genius indeed in descriptive language, and never fails
to seize the true features and capture the right word
when the thing is novel enough to stir his imagina-
tion. Take his description of the Elephants' Glen,
for example, " inhabited by a troop of those gigantic
animals, whose strange wild cry was heard by us the
whole night long, as we bivouacked by the river,
sounding like a trumpet among the moonlight


But with all his literary gift Pringle has mastered
nothing, unless it be this field of picturesque descrip-
tion, has organised no materials, developed no line
of thought historical, psychological, ethical, or statis-
tical, and made it his own. Hence even in his prose
he remains too dependent on casual inspirations of
an imaginative or sentimental kind. There is a want
of observation in his work regarding ordinary men
and their ordinary ways which is not quite made up
for by occasional excursions on the Flora and Fauna
of South Africa, or moving descriptions of Kafifir
prisoners in the troiik. All the same the Narrative
is a very fine style of work, conveying general pic-
turesque impressions, and throwing high lights here
and there on things with something of the grace and
power of a Chateaubriand.

As a poet also Pringle's reputation must rest
altogether on a few vivid impressional pictures of
native African life. In his Scottish poems, he is only
one voice more in the crowd of those minor singers
who caught something of the grace of Campbell and
Beattie, or yielded to the seductions of romance in
the octosyllabic verse which Scott and Byron wielded
so well. But when he once reached the virgin soil
of South Africa, where there was so much which
appealed to the imagination of that age, the desert,
the noble savage and the tragic scenes of slavery, but
had been sung of hitherto only by poets like Cowper


.-111(1 Hannah More from the safe distance of their
evant^ehcal parlours, I'ringle's muse took fire and
produced a few pictures of the Bush-boy, the Kaffir,
the Hottentot and the Koranna, which deserve to be
better known than they are. The true rhythmical
power of the lines on the Bush-boy has haunted
many an car since it fascinated Coleridge's : —

Afar in the Desert I love to ride,

With the silent Bush-boy alone by my side :

Away — away — in the Wilderness vast,

Where the White Man's foot hath never passed,

And the quivered Coranna or Bechudn

Hath rarely crossed with his roving clan.

It is from Pringle indeed that we get our best
sketches of African life and scenery at this period,
a little idealised perhaps in the style of Campbell, the
moral sublime and tender at times overpowering the
natural character of the thing ; but still the only life-
coloured pictures we have of the frontier, with its
different races, Boers, British, Hottentots and Kaffirs.
For the accounts of missionaries and travellers, though
they occasionally contain dramatic pages, rarely possess
that power of giving the atmosphere of life without
which details are so apt to be distortions and produce
a misleading impression, especially if the writer has a
particular theory or view to support. Pringle's work,
therefore, may fairly be considered, except for some
half-savage, half-sublime breathings from Kaffir poet-
chiefs and " wise men," as the first literary fruit of


African soil, though as yet clearly exotic in its
flavour. From his volume of poems, once well known
under the title of African Sketches^ I make the
following extracts, which will give the reader some
idea of the Scottish settlement at Glen Lynden,
as the old home of the Bezuidenhouts was now

First, you observe, our own Glen Lynden clan

(To whom I'm linked like a true Scottish man)

Are all around us. Past that dark ravine —

Where on the left, gigantic crags are seen.

And the steep Tarka mountains, stern and bare,

Close round the upland cleughs of lone Glen Tair,

Our Lothian friends with their good mother dwell,

Beside yon kranz ' whose pictured records tell

Of Bushmen's huntings in the days of old,

Ere here Bezuidenhout - had fixed his fold.

— Then up the widening vale extend your view,

Beyond the clump that skirts the Lion's Cleugh,

Past our old camp, the willow-trees among,

Where first these mountains heard our Sabbath song ;

And mark the settlers' homes,^ as they appear

With cultured fields and orchard-gardens near.

And cattle-kraals, associate or single.

From fair Craig-Rennie up to Clifton Pringle.

1 Steep rock, on which the wild Bushmen, low in the scale
of races, yet with an art instinct greater than that of Kaffir or
Boer, drew and coloured his rude pictures.

2 Of the Bruintjes Hoogte rebels, some of whom as inveterate
breeders of strife on the Kaffir frontier had been transferred to
the northern district.

2 Scotch emigrants, who had given Lothian names to their


Then there is Captain Harding' at Three Fountains

Near Cradock — forty miles across the mountains :

I like his shrewd remarks on things and men,

And canter o'er to dinner now and then.

— There's Landdrost Stockenstrom - at (jraaff-Rcinct,

A man, I'm sure, you would not soon forget,

Who though'in this wild country born and bred,

Is able in affairs, in books well read,

And — whafs more meritorious i?t the case —

A zealous friend to Afrids swarthy race.

— Sometimes a pleasant guest, from parts remote,

Cheers for a passing night our rustic cot :

As, lately, the gay-humoured Captain Fox,

With whom I roamed 'mid Koonap's woods and rocks.

While the wild elephants in groups stood still,
And wondered at us on their woody hill.
— Here, too, sometimes, in more religious mood,
We welcome Smith or Brownlee, grave and good,
Or fervid Read ^ — to natives, kneeling round
Proclaiming the Great Word of glorious sound :
Or, on some Christian mission bravely bent,
Comes Philip •* with his apostolic tent.

1 Deputy-Landdrost.

2 Captain Andries Stockenstrom, afterwards Lieutenant-
Governor, the same whom Dr. Theal paints in his History^ vol. iv.
p. 54, as a kind of half-monster, driven by jealousy and ambition
into an unaccountable perversion of his past career, because he
took the side of the natives in the Border policy question. As
Pringle's verses show, he had always been an advocate of the
claims of the native.

3 James Read, of the Bethelsdorp mission.
* Dr. Philip, of the Researches.


In what follows, we have a glimpse of the native
element in this wild pastoral scene. I'link is the
Hottentot herdsman :

— Tis almost sunset. What a splendid sky !
And hark— the homeward cowboy's echoing cry,
Descending from the mountains. This fair clime
And scene recall the patriarchal time,
When Hebrew herdsmen fed their teeming flocks
By Arnon's meads and Kirjath-Arba's rocks.

— Ha ! armed Caffers with the shepherd Flink

In earnest talk? Ay, now I mark their mien :

It is Powana from Zwart-Kei, I ween,

The Amatembu chief He comes to pay

A friendly visit, promised many a day :

To view our settlement in Lynden Glen,

And smoke the Pipe of Peace with Scottish men.

And his gay consort, Moya, too, attends,

To see " The World " and Amanglezi ^ friends.

Her fond heart fluttering high with anxious schemes

To gain the enchanting beads that haunt her dreams ! -

Yet let us not these simple folk despise ;
Just such our sires appeared in Caesar's eyes :
And in the course of Heaven's evolving plan,
By Truth made free, the long-scorned African,
His Maker's image radiant in his face,
Among earth's noblest sons shall find his place.

A somewhat old-fashioned idyll, no doubt, alike in
its valour and its rhythms, but interesting as a picture

' English.

- Slight idealisation here in the Campbell style, where there
might have been with more truth a picture of Groot Willem of
the Boschberg dismounting his huge bulk at Pringle's door of a
Sunday morning.



of that district; Hriiintjcs Iloogtc, or at least the
Baviaans' River valley, seen by clear, honest Lothian
eyes, even if there is something of a pious visionary
light in them. But who knows ? The instinct of a
Pringle is a deeper as well as a better thing than the
cynical realism of a IIofiTie}'r or a Theal, and more
likely to be justified by time.

Pringle did not remain long in the Glen Lynden
settlement, the farm he occupied being only held by
him as care-taker for his brother. He found his
way to Capetown, and started a newspaper there of
advanced liberal and philanthropic opinions, which
soon brought him into collision with the authorities.
Eventually he returned to England where he became
secretary of the Society for the Abolition of Slavery,
and as such, as well as by his writings, continued to
exercise some influence on the destinies of South
Africa. He was a high-minded, generous enthusiast,
who worked with his whole soul in the humanitarian
movement, which was the Zeit-geist of that age in
England, and had a faith in the divine government
of the world which the modern economist reserves for
his own figures.


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 Prophet and Warrior — The
Kaffir Rising — The Ceded Territory.

The presence of a large number of British settlers
brought with it new problems for the Government,
and suggested various changes in the administration.
The new immigrants spoke no Dutch, and with
their arrival and the rapid growth of towns and farms
bearing British names, the Government had a fair
opportunity of introducing another measure designed
to bring the Colony into closer connection with Great
Britain and the other parts of the Empire. This was
the substitution of English instead of Dutch as the
language of official documents and of the law courts,
a change which was gradually effected by a series of
enactments ranging over six years, from 1822 to 1828.
No doubt the British Government was looking forward
to an eventual fusion of the two white races in the
Colony, and felt that a dual language would be an
impediment to that. But naturally the Dutch popu-

P 2


lation of the Colony would feci it to be a <^nMevance,
a kind of osteiitaticnis ])roclamation of ]?riti.sh
supremacy. It was attended also by some practical
inconveniences to them, as in the case of Dutch jury-
men who might not know English. But there was
nothing injudicious in the attempt made at a time
when it had some chance of success. The Governor
(Lord Charles Somerset) had done all he could to
prepare the way. Free schools, with English teachers,
had been established almost in every village, and Dr.
Thom, of Capetown, who had this field under his
charge, reported in 1827 that the English language
had made great progress in most of the villages.
{^Missionary Register, 1828, p. 40.) Even so cool
an observer as Wilberforce Bird considered at this
time that what between English schools and the
frequent intermarriages of Dutch and English, the
Colony would soon be " completely anglicised."

After all, if there is to be an Empire, there ought
to be an official language for the Empire, and as
much recognition of its precedency as is compatible
with the natural rights and feelings of the different
races under its flag. Had Cape Colony stood alone
and Dutch racial sentiment not been stirred long after-
wards by events far outside of its border, the propriety
of the measure might never have been questioned
even by Dr. Theal. But many years afterwards,
in 1882, when Mr. Gladstone's surrender after Majuba


Hill and the formation of the Africander Bund had
given the Dutch a new sense of power, and even, as
was natural and indeed inevitable, a hope of ultimate
supremacy, the Cape Parliament made the Dutch
language again official. No one, of course, objects to
that. But it is not altogether by legislation that the
status of things is finally settled ; and it is a fact of
some significance that after all Cape colonists like
Olive Schreiner and Dr. Theal, in spite of their Dutch
sympathies, prefer to write their works in English.

Other changes which the British Government made
about this period were the alterations in the admin-
istration of the laws. With the influx of a new
British population, the old boards of the landdrost and
heemraden, which had combined all the functions of
financial, judicial, and civil administration in a pater-
nal kind of way, were considered inapplicable and
out of date. Accordingly a new administration, with
resident magistrates as judges, civil commissioners for
ordinary business, and justices of peace throughout
the district was created. Even Dr. Theal, in his
History of the Boers, admits that " every one now
recognises this to have been a beneficial measure."
But in his later Histories, in his volume in the Story of
the Nations series, for example, he has not a word to
say in its favour, but speaks coldly of it, as well as
of the substitution of an independent supreme court
for the old burgher senate (heartily approved of in


his lart^cr Ifistorv) as a " remodelling after the iMiglish
pattern." He mixes it up with the question of the
substitution of lui^lisji for Dutch as the language of
the courts, and concludes the subject ominously with
these words : " And now was heard the first murmur-
ing of a cry that a few years later resounded through
the Colony, and men and women began to talk of the
regions devastated by the Zulu wars, if it might not
be possible there to find a refuge from British rule."
Dr. Theal, like Gaika, is evidently " taking his seat by
the fire," as he thinks the wind blows.

It is easy to make general representations of
this kind and not difficult even to find some con-
temporary utterance which appears to justify them.
Of course, every one may understand that there was
a difference of opinion between many or most of the
Boers and the Cape Government on such a question
as the substitution of the new magistrates for the old
ones ; but the difference was simply that which will
always arise between the Government and a conser-
vative or interested part of the population when the
former introduces new and improved machinery into
the State. We can all sympathise with the feelings
of the Boers on this occasion, all of us at any rate
who have a love for old names and old things ; but
what they experienced then is what we have all
experienced alike in matters of the State and matters
of the parish. I felt a disagreeable shock myself


when I found that the old town-crier with his hand-
bell had been abolished in the small burgh where I
was bred. But I admitted that the place had grown
too large for his jurisdiction, and did not, like my
grandmother, suspect any malice on the part of the
new burgh commissioners. The Dutch colonist, it is
true, is intensely conservative in his ways, and any
change is more vexatious coming from the hand of
a foreign governor. It was vexatious to lose the
familiar old Jiconraad that they had been accustomed
to all their lives, and have him turned into a strange
vrederechter or justice of the peace, even if he was the
same man. All this may be readily granted, but
it is a very different thing to represent this change,
and that of the official language as a substantial
grievance which led to the great trek. There is one
fact alone which goes a long way to discredit such
a view. These changes, as far as they were felt as
grievances, were felt by every part of the Colony alike,
while ninety-eight per cent, of the Boers who made
the great trek, from 1836 to 1839, came from the old
district of Graaff-Reinet alone. There can be no
clearer evidence that the troubles which caused that
trek lay altogether in that frontier district. Indeed
these administrative changes do not seem to have
seriously disturbed the good relations which existed
generally between the British authorities at the Cape
and the mass of the Dutch colonists. The general


reputation of the liritish rule for justice, and the
security it gave to all legitimate interests, was too
well established to be much affected by such
differences, or by those which occasionally occurred
at this time on the question of farm tenures.

The Governor of Cape Colony during these im-
portant events was Lord Charles Henry Somerset,
who held office for the unusual term of twelve years,
from 1 8 14 to 1826. He was a member of the great
Beaufort family, with connections high and powerful
enough to obtain a practically free hand for him in
the government of the Colony. He was an able man,
of clear, prompt judgment, almost pouncing upon
the thing he took in hand and straightening it out
with a fine practical instinct for the immediate needs
of the occasion. A few months after his arrival he
set up a Government farm at the Boschberg for
provisioning the troops on the eastern frontier, and
built granaries for storing grain purchased from the
farmers, a great boon to the latter, saving transport
and securing a steady market for them. After a look
at the old experimental farm at Groote Post, managed
in an easy way by a Board of Directors, he took
it over into his own hands, imported a number of
the best blood horses from England at his own
expense, and improved the colonial breed so much
that a considerable export trade to India and the
Mauritius was the result. He was willing to help


philanthropic work also when it did not stand in
his way. He founded the Leper Asylum, and as
a respectable British Governor, well aware of the
existence of Wilberforce and the people at Surrey
Chapel and Tottenham Court Road, not to speak
of Henry Brougham and other Whig friends of
humanity, he gave a discriminating patronage to
missions, granted 7,000 more acres to the Moravian
Brethren at Genadenthal (who never meddled with
politics), and gave them another site at Enon, their
first station in the frontier district. Many mission
stations indeed, both within the Colony and without,
were founded under his regime, for the evangelical
and missionary spirit was rising ever higher in Britain
in those days, and w^ould not be denied.

But at heart Lord Charles had no great opinion of
the utility of mission stations, within the Colony at
least, and set more value on the economical benefit
to be got by dispersing the natives in the service of
the Boers, than by bringing them under the influences
of Christianity.^ He even refused to allow the
Wesleyan missionary, Barnabas Shaw, who arrived in
Africa in 18 16, to labour amongst the coloured people
in the Cape district, on the pretext that it was con-
trary to the Dutch laws of 1804, and that the feeling
of the slaveholders was against it.^ In short. Lord

^ See the "Journal of Missionary Anderson," quoted by
Philip, vol. ii. p. 62.

^ See Barnabas Shaw, Memorials of SoiitJi Africa^ p. 59.

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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 13 of 21)