James Cappon.

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

. (page 16 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 16 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


their liberties and tlieir lives. Now, how different is the pic-
ture ! .... By a glorious act of justice has he (the Hottentot)
been admitted into — has he been, I should rather say, re-in-
stated in — the great Family of Man.

The orator then proceeded to remind his audience,
wisely enough, of the work that lay before them to
save this mass of undisciplined humanity suddenly
set free, from lapsing into vice and indolence, and
closed his address with the famous parallel between
the African natives and the Britons of Caesar's time,
much in favour with the " friends of humanity " of
that time.

I know not what will be the result of this measure ; but I
will say, that if you have done something — more, much more,
remains to be done. On you depends the solution of a problem
of vast, of incalculable importance to humanity. It is this —
" What will be the effect of liberty suddenly granted to an
enslaved people ?" There will, be assured, be many to rejoice,
if you fail — many to exult, if they are enabled to say, " You see
what you have done ! You see now, that the Hottentots refuse
to labour ! " And how pleased will such men be, if they can
exclaim, " Your boon of liberty was bad!" Persevere then, I
beseech you ; not only for the sake of the natives of South
Africa, but for the sake of the millions who have been and are
trodden down under the iron heel of Oppression. Show your
adversaries, prove to this country, what the Bible has done and
can do. ... I have said that we cannot now even conjecture
what will be the effects of the regeneration of South Africa. It
may seem visionary, it may appear idle, to indulge in such views
as those in which I am not ashamed to indulge ; but I confess I
do hope, and it is probable— at least it is in no way impossible
— that a day will come when the now ignorant natives of South
Africa shall be our rivals — the rivals even of Great Britain — in


science and in knowledge. . . . The classic historian tells us,
that, some centuries ago, a Roman army headed by their most
illustrious chief, visited a small and obscure island of the
Atlantic, where the people were brutal and degraded, and as
wild as the wildest beasts ; and the then chief orator of Rome,
in writing to a friend, said, " There is a slave-ship arrived in the
Tiber, laden with slaves from this island : " but he adds, " don't
take one of them ; they are not fit for use." This very island
was Britain ; and the slaves of Britain were then considered,
by the Roman orator, as unworthy to be even the slaves of a
Roman noble ! . . . . May not, then, a day arrive, when the
sons of these wretched and degraded Africans will run with you
the race of religion and morality, and even outstrip you in the
glorious career ? But it is of little matter to inquire whether or
not such an event will ever happen : one thing is certain — this
country has now opened to Africa a way by which thousands
may be, and will be, admitted to the enjoyment of greater privi-
leges than this world could ever furnish — a channel of admission
to the joys of eternal life ! ^

A very fair specimen of that by-gone eloquence of
" the saints," from one of the most eloquent amongst
them, the wealthy amd evangelical brewer, Mr.

As to the strictly economical results of the Fiftieth
Ordinance, we have the testimonies collected by
Pringle (see pp. 266-268 of his Narrative), that
though some petty disorders, as might be expected,
prevailed for a time amongst some of the freed
Hottentots, there was nothing serious in this way,
and the great majority of them remained quiet and
orderly, taking service just as before with the farmers.
^ Missionary Register, June, 1829, p. 252.


An official authority even declares " that it was a
matter of remark that crime amongst the coloured
population had of late greatly diminished, not only
in the number but in the character of the offences."

There was a great outcry raised against the Fiftieth
Ordinance as long as it was only known to have the
authority of General Bourke and the Colonial
Government. Even at Capetown and the uniformly
quiet district of Stellenbosch there were strong re-
monstrances addressed to the Government, and the
ruin of the Colony was freely predicted for the want
of labourers and herdsmen. The outcry came not
only from the Boers, but from many of the British
settlers also, who were just as eager to compel cheap
native labour.


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 Vagrancy Act
Defeated — Whites and Blacks.

The Hottentot race had now been emanci-
pated, but the much more difficult question of the
emancipation of the slaves proper still remained.
This meant direct confiscation of property, affected
great interests at home, and involved economic
changes in the West Indian colonies of a much more
serious and extensive kind than anything that could
happen in Cape Colony. But the Societies continued
to work with the confidence and ardour of those who
feel that the forces of the time are with them. In
1 830 the Whigs, with Lord Grey at their head and
Brougham and Charles Grant in the Cabinet, came
into office. The " Friends of Humanity " were now
in the saddle, and emancipation of the slaves was
clearly within sight. The shrewd Graaff-Reineters,
at any rate, those fathers of the Transvaal Boer, saw


how the tide was going, and understanding how
vain it was to attempt to stop it by mere opposition,
they tried to turn it. On this occasion they came
forward with a proposal which certainly met with the
approval of the Dutch colonists generally. It was
to the effect that " after a date, to be fixed by the
Government, all female children should be free at
birth, in order that slavery might gradually cease."
The proposal was coupled with some conditions for
the removal of the restrictions placed on the masters
by the new legislation : " no new legislation other
than provisions for the severe punishment of actual
ill-treatment should be imposed on the slave-holders."
What Graaff-Reinet's proposals amounted to was
this : that they could keep the slaves they had, and
all male slaves to be born as long as any female slave
then existing was capable of bearing children. I
calculate that on Graaff-Reinet's proposal the institu-
tion of slavery would have existed with increasing
numbers till the middle of the century at least, and
after that in a slowly decaying form, till the present
time, when there might still have been, under the
Graaff-Reinet arrangement, many thousand slaves
for life in the Colony. Such is the proposal which
Dr. Theal mentions with grave complacency. " The
Graaff-Reinet proposals," he says in his larger history,
" were generally accepted throughout the Colony as a
reasonable basis for the extinction of slavery, and a


law founded on them would certainly have met with
f^blic approval." I don't doubt it. There are few
who would make much fight against a prohibition
law to come into effect a hundred years hence.

Of course the Graaff-Reinet proposals were not
listened to ; one can conceive the solemn indignation
with which they would be receiv^ed by venerable
heads in England who hoped to live to see the total
extinction of the institution of slavery. Mr. Fowell-
Buxton, that eminent philanthropist and M.P.,
addressing the Anti-Slavery Society, rises into high
tones of sarcasm over such proposals, which the
Government, it seems, was toying with ; " a tame
and dastardly intimation," he says, " that, perhaps,
at some very distant time, and by some means, ex-
ceedingly gradual indeed, it might be expedient to
consider whether it might not be as well to introduce
something like justice into our dealings with the
negro " ; and he calls on the Government for " a
bold and manly avowal that the negroes are men,
and entitled, as well as the loftiest among us, to a
full and unqualified participation in every natural
right and every moral privilege."

In 1830 fresh orders in council were issued, and
amongst them a clause requiring that a punishment
record book should be kept by every slave-proprietor,
and submitted twice a year, under oath, to the pro-
tector of slaves in the district. This order produced



somclhiuL^ lil<L' a riot in llic Slcllciib(;sch district,
where the slaves were numerous and on isolated
farms, and a supplementary order was soon after
issued restrictin<^ its operatit^n to the Capetown
district and the l^ritish settlement at Grahamstown.
Still, Exeter Mall (now become a name in the world)
and Zion Chajjel pressed on undaunted. In 1832
the hours of slave-labour were limited to nine daily,
and protectors were given the power of entering
slave dwellings at any time for the purpose of in-
spection ; an enactment which caused new com-
motions and angry protests amongst classes which
had never hitherto given the Government any trouble.
It had become an absolute conflict between two
different standards of civilisation. In 1833 the
great blow came, when the British Parliament passed
a bill for the abolition of slavery. The law was to
take effect in Cape Colony on the ist December,
1834. There were some alleviating measures. The
slaves were to continue as apprentices to their former
owners for four or six years. There was also to be
money compensation.

The official historian of South Africa does not at-
tack the Emancipation Act directly. He is even bold
enough to say that the Dutch colonists did not ap-
prove of the slave system " in theory," a statement
which either means little or is practically dis-
proved, as Mr. Fitzpatrick remarks in his book, The


Transvaal from Within, by the usage of the Boers
after the great trek. But Dr. Theal thinks the British
Government did wrong in not accepting the colonists'
proposal for a slow extinction of the system, Graaff-
Reinet's proposal, for example. Had the question
been one merely of economics, Dr. Theal's objection
would have had greater force ; but to the mass of
Abolitionists in Great Britain, slavery was a gross in-
justice to human flesh and blood, to the religious
amongst them it was a crying evil in the sight of
God ; even Dr. Theal blandly professes that he thinks
it unjustifiable. Well, when you have once made up
your mind and publicly admitted that a thing is evil,
can you possibly halt and delay for years to remove
it ? No doubt public opinion in England went more
on what it heard of the atrocities of slavery in the West
Indies, than on what it knew of it in South Africa ;
but the general situation was the same, and the point
of view from which it was regarded by the average
Briton, standing midway between the extreme Aboli-
tionists, who were unwilling to admit that the slave-
owner had any right to compensation, and the slave-
owners themselves, who demanded full compensation,
is very clearly put by Lord Macaulay's speech in
favour of abolition. " He approved," he said, " of the
principle of emancipation, he approved also of the
principle of compensation to the slave-owners ; but
what he could not approve of CI condense him here a

S 2


little) was the j^rinciplc of a transition state," i.e., a
pi'olon<^ation, in some modified form, of slavery,
which he represents as virtually making the slave
pay for what he had a right to without payment, his
freedom. " The planters and the State," he said,
" had been accomplices in a crime ; and it would be
exceedingly hard and unjust to throw the burden of
retribution on one party." (Mark that ofie party, that
represents an English point of view, which Dr. Theal
does not notice.) " But," continues Macaulay, " it
would be still more hard and unjust to lay any portion
of it on the third and injured party." (Speeches, p. 203.)
In fact, it amounts to what I have already expressed :
when you once admit a thing to be a downright crime,
you must stop it immediately. That was the attitude
of the eminent men who led public opinion on this
question in England.

But Dr. Theal is very severe on some defects which
he thinks existed in the Government's method of
carrying out its measure. It would not indeed be
easy to frame an abolition law of this comprehensive
kind which would give satisfaction to all parties. Dr
Theal thinks that the measure was somewhat sudden,^
and had the effect of disorganising for a time industry
in some districts where the agriculture was dependent
on slave-labour. That is very probable, although I

1 The slave-holders had four years (of the enforced apprentice-
ship system) to prepare for results.


could wish that Dr. Theal had given us some statistics
and references as to the character of the labour in
these districts. It certainly could not seriously affect
the farmer of Graaff-Reinet, where the number of
Hottentots and free coloured servants, as I find from
the Records, was at least nine or ten times greater
than that of the slaves. In fact, the vast majority
of the latter were in Capetown and the adjoining
districts, and owned by wealthy and well-to-do

The money compensation also. Dr. Theal com-
plains, was inadequate, about a million and a quarter
sterling being allowed by the British Government as
Cape Colony's share for its 35,000 slaves, valued at
three millions sterling. But, as we have seen, there
were different views of what " adequacy " meant on
this question. I have already quoted Lord Macaulay's,
according to which the State and the slave-holder had
each been accomplices in a great crime, and each
ought, therefore, to share the loss. We must remem-
ber also that the Abolition party insisted, amongst
other things, that the years of enforced apprenticeship
allowed to the masters were to be considered in fixing
the amount of compensation.

One cause of loss to the colonists, however, might
have been avoided. It appears that the British Gov-
ernment did not send the money to South Africa, but
required each claim to be presented before Commis-


sioncrs in Loiuloii. " This decision," Dr. Thcal says,
" brou<4"ht into the country a swarm of j^etty agents,
who [Hirchased claims at perhaps half their real value."
There is much virtue in that " perhaps." Judge
Cloete, himself a slave-holder and bitter on the
Abolitionists, says the Discounters in Capetown
and Grahamstown bought uj) the claims at i8 to 20
per cent, discount, and, "he verily believes," at 25 to
30 per cent, in the country. Neither notices the
fact that there was (since 1808) a responsible dis-
counting bank at Capetown.

In any case the British people did pay ^1,200,000
of its own to do away with slavery in Cape Colony,
and if that act was so beneficial to that country as
Dr. Theal admits it to have been, why is his tone so
bitter in speaking of the British Government, and his
narrative overlaid with such phrases as " widows
and orphans made destitute," " poverty and anxiety
brought into hundreds of homes," " widespread
misery," " parents descending into the grave in
penury," " relatives and friends once wealthy reduced
to toil for bread," all through the " confiscation " of
their slaves ? A description, in short, which would be
quite strongly enough coloured for the ruined con-
dition of the Southern States of America after the
Civil War, but could hardly be applicable to a country
where there were only 30,000 marketable slaves —
men, women, and children over six years old — of


whom only 5,663 were efifective field labourers, 5,325
labourers of an inferior type, valued at half the others,
while much the larger number, about 15,000, were
domestic servants, the rest being tradesmen or em-
ployed on wharfs, &c.^ And these existed amongst a
far larger population of whites and free coloured
servants, so that the general prosperity of the country
was not even appreciably affected by the change. No
doubt the Abolition Act bore hard in some of the
corn-growing districts and in certain cases of aged
people and widows, whose property may have con-
sisted mainly of slaves, but under the circumstances
it is difficult to believe that the suffering was at once
so widespread and intense as Dr. Theal pictures it.

Why, too, should the official historian of Cape
Colony notice only the defects of the Abolition Act,
without the least recognition of the worthy motive
(fairly backed up by a million and a quarter sterling)
which inspired the British people, or of the difficulties
with which the Government had to contend in carry-
ing out an Abolition Act, which affected 800,000
slaves in all the British colonies and cost the nation
twenty millions sterling, besides the sacrifice of
great trade and shipping interests and the loss of
capital at home. It is a rather curious fact that
an official of the Empire, for such the former archivist

^ See Parliamentary Return to the House of Lords, 1838, in
Martin's British Colonies.


and liistorioG^raplier of Cape Colony certainly is,
.should insult the J^ritish nation by sneering at the
Abolition Act as " a noble and generous act carried
out at the expense of the colonists." Surely that
style of Dr. Theal's is significant of much that has
been going on in the Colony for the last twenty

But the most daring case of misrepresentation on
the part of Dr. Theal is where he seeks to leave his
readers with an impression that the British Govern-
ment was mainly responsible for the number of slaves
in the Colony. Here is how he puts it in his Story of
the Nations volume : —

As long as the Dutch East India Company held the colony
slaves were brought into it, but not in very large numbers, for
their services were only needed to a limited extent. During the
first British occupation [1795- 1803] ^ great many more were
imported, as the trade was then profitable, and English energy
was employed in it. The Batavian Government \Jie jneafts the
restored Dutch rule fro?ii 1 803 to 1 806], being opposed to the
system, allowed very few to be landed, and had it lasted a
couple of years longer every child born thereafter would have
been declared free.^

The impression which that paragraph conveys to
the ordinary reader must be that British rule is chiefly

^ As a matter of fact, twenty years afterwards the English
Government was still labouring with no great effect to get the
Dutch and French Governments to make their engagements to
suppress even the ocean slave ti-ade with their colonies a reality,
and not a pretence.


responsible for the number of slaves in Cape Colony.
The Records show the facts of the case to be as
follows :

First, in 1795, when the British forces took
possession of Cape Colony, the number of slaves
already there was 16,939. (See census returns in
Records, 1793- 1796, p. 297.)

Second, shipments of slaves during the British
rule were made under special permission, which was
difficult to get and generally given only on the press-
ing request of the Burgher Senate, setting forth the
necessity of additional labour for agricultural pur-
poses. The following extracts from a letter of the
Burgher Senate to General Dundas, dated February
25, I799> will show exactly the strict supervision
under which any trade in slaves was allowed by the
British Governors.

.... It has pleased your Excellency to desire of us to inform
your Excellency if Mozambique slaves are proper for the
colony, and if in our opinion an importation of 400 slaves
ought to be allowed. ^

.... As we are not fortunate enough to be able to do with-
out slaves, more especially as agriculture here is infinitely
more difficult than in any other known country, it is therefore
indispensably necessary (to prevent agriculture from going to
decay) that a sufficient number of slaves should annually be

.... Should it please your Excellency to determine to
rescue the inhabitants from the lamentable want of slaves . . .
it would then, in our opinion, be most necessary to open the


slave trade to the inhabitants of this colony, under restrictions
that at first no more than looo slaves should annually be
imported. These circumstances we have already demonstrated
more than once ... to his Excellency, the Earl of Macartney,
and most urgently set forth our solicitation . . . but Lord
Macartney having been pleased in his replies ... to reject
our reiterated representations and requests in a manner which
was so grievous for us . . . that we were deterred from ever
expressly making again any representation or request to
Government on the subject. {Records, 1799-1801, p. 372.)

General Dundas granted permission accordingly to
Messrs. Hogan and Tennant, Capetown merchants, to
import these four hundred slaves from Mozambique,
but annulled their previous and exclusive right of
importing four hundred slaves annually from the
West Coast of Africa, and refused generally to permit
importation from any quarter (^Records, 1 799-1 801,
p. 378) ; and the trade continued (though there was
some attempt at illicit importation under Sir George
Yonge's rule) to be limited by the strictest super-
vision till February, 1803, when the British Govern-
ment restored the Cape to the Dutch, under whom
the trade was carried on in the same way. On the
reoccupation of the Colony by the British in 1806,
there was only a year more till the abolition of the
oceanic trade in slaves by the British Parliament in
1807. During that period five hundred slaves were
imported with the sanction of General Baird.

Further, Dr. Theal himself, in his larger history,
mentions, in connection with some financial report,


that the average yearly amount paid for imported
slaves during the years of British rule up to 1803, as
about i5"45,ooo. Now the price of a slave, as given by
Lord Macartney's list of prices in 1798, was from i^8o
to i^ioo ; in 1799 it had risen, as I learn from the
Burgher Senate's letter quoted above, to ^120 and
£160. Of course in the case of Africander slaves it
was very much higher, often from ^400 to £600.
Making all allowances, these figures might give
an average of four or five hundred slaves annu-
ally, just what one might infer from the particulars
given in the Records. From three to four thousand
slaves then, admitted to meet the increased demand
for labour caused by commercial growth, represent,
probably, the British responsibility for a slave popu-
lation which numbered 17,000 when British rule
began, and which had reached 39,000 when Eman-
cipation came in 1834; the increase being partly
that of half-breeds from a Dutch father and a slave
mother. It is Olive Schreiner herself who tells us
that of every four children born to a slave mother
three were the children of the white man, her master.
The facts, therefore, do not seem to justify the
grave impression of British responsibility for slavery
in South Africa which Dr. Theal's paragraph is calcu-
lated to give the ordinary reader. I hardly think his
way of stating the matter is consistent with that very
high claim which he puts forth in the preface to his


volume in the Story of the Nations series, to have told
the truth " regardless of nationalities and parties," and
to have avoided "anything like favour or prejudice."

The emancipation of the slaves is not admitted by
Dr. Theal to have been in itself amongst the causes
of the " great trek." But while he admits in a brief,
reluctant sort of manner that the measure was right
in principle he is fond of enlarging on all the possible
disadvantages by which it was or might be accom-
panied. One of these, of course, was the number of
idle, vagrant blacks whom it might let loose on the
community, and Dr. Theal has four pages on this
subject designed to show the wrong-headedness of
the Home Government in opposing the enactment of
a law against vagrancy. A draft ordinance of such a
law had indeed been approved by Sir Benjamin
D'Urban, the governor, shortly after his arrival.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 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 16 of 21)