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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Under it commandants, field-cornets, and provisional
field-cornets had power to arrest persons having no
apparent means of subsistence and bring them before
a magistrate or justice of the peace, who could set
them to forced labour till they accepted employment
from the farmers.

Here again. Dr. John Philip, of the London Mis-
sionary Society, fought the battle of the black man
with his usual energy and success. He sent a
memorial to the council at Capetown and threatened
to appeal to the English nation and Parliament.


The governor, knowing now something more of the
facts, and supported by some members of the council,
and Mr. Van der Riet of Uitenhage, one of the district
commissioners, refused to sanction the measure and
referred it to the Home Government, by whom it was
disallowed. (See Theal, History of South Africa,
vol. iii. p. 424.) In Dr. Theal's pages the English
Government certainly appears as careless or ignor-
ant, Sir Benjamin as a new governor deceived by
misrepresentations, and Dr. Philip as a fanatical
missionary ; how he explains the opposition of
Mr. Van der Riet, who was himself a Dutchman and
a resident of the border district where vagrancy
would be most dangerous, I don't know.

The principle of the vagrancy law, as stated by Dr.
Theal, sounds very sensible to the ear of the English
reader of to-day ; but does the English reader realise
how it would have worked in the frontier provinces
of Cape Colony at that date? Even Mr. Boyce, that
able Wesleyan missionary, who in his book {Notes on
South Africa) says a good word for the Boers wherever
he can, reluctantly admits that they could not be
trusted with the administration of a Vagrancy Act,
which in their hands would certainly become "an
engine of oppression " for the coloured race. Dr.
Theal actually makes it an argument in favour of
vagrancy laws, that there were such old Dutch laws
still in existence against white people ; why not, then,


against black ? And he uses this disinj^enuous argu-
ment in another simihu- case. "Why not?" Let the
reader consider the following account given by
Thomas Pringle, the author of Afriaxii Sketches, of
what he saw in the jail for the native races in the
district of ]3eaufort, and he will readily understand
why not :

This tronk consisted of a single apartment, of about twenty
feet long by twelve or fourteen broad ; and for the purposes
of light and ventilation had only one small grated opening, in
the shape of a loop-hole, at a considerable height in the wall.
Into this apartment were crowded about thirty human beings,
of both sexes, of all ages, and of almost every hue except
white. The whites, or Ckris/eti iiicnschen, as they call them-
selves, are seldom imprisoned, except for some flagrant out-
rage, and then in some place apart from the coloured prisoners ;
lest the " Christian " thief or murderer should be dishonoured
by being forced to associate with his brother men of swarthy
hue ; even though many of the latter, as in the present case,
should be guiltless of any crime.

The condition of this jail was dreadful. On the door being
opened, the clergyman requested me to wait a few minutes
until a freer ventilation had somewhat purified the noisome
atmosphere within, for the effluvia, on the first opening of the
door, were too horrible to be encountered. This I can well
believe ; for when, after this precaution, we did enter, the odour
was still more than I could well endure ; and it was only by
coming frequently to the open door to inhale a renovating
draught of wholesome air, that I could accomplish such an
examination of this dismal den as the aspect and condition of
its inmates urgently claimed from humanity. The denizens of
this horrible dungeon were runaway slaves — Hottentots who
had come to the drostdy to complain of their masters, and
Hottentots who were merely out of place, and had been


apprehended and sent here till some white man should deign
to accept of their services, ofifered to him not by themselves,
but by colonial law.

But all castes and grades, the innocent and the guilty, and
the injured complainant equally with the hardened malefactor,
were crowded together without distinction into this narrow and
noisome dungeon.^

I can very well understand then why Dr. Philip
and the missionaries opposed the Vagrancy Act of
1834, why Sir Benjamin, on reflection, did not adhere
to it, and why the home government, kept very well
informed by Pringle himself, who was then in England
and secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society, disallowed
it. It meant the legal establishment of a distinc-
tion between white and black under which the latter
would have felt himself as much as ever at the mercy
of his master. Instead of beginning a new era of
even-handed justice for all races, and the adoption,
as far as possible, of the principle of legal equality,
it would have recalled the evils Pringle had seen
in 1822.

The missionaries and philanthropists had conquered

all along the line. But for some time the benefits

of the emancipation measures continued to be hotly

debated. The ordinary Englishman like Alfred Cole,

a brisk sporting young gentleman, or Captain Harris,

^ Dr. Theal apparently thinks he replies sufficiently to such
accounts by asserting that " the majority of the Hottentots
rather enjoyed prison life than dreaded it." — See History of
South Africa^ vol. iii. p. 342.


of the Engineers, the same type with a professional
tincture of science added, travelHng in South Africa
in search of shooting and adventure, has generally
only one opinion. Me finds that John April and
Claas September, his freed Hottentots, being no
longer under fear of the sjambok, are sometimes
drunk or careless, occasionally even perverse, and he
swears at the missionaries generally as " canting and
designing men," who have spoiled the native by their
interference "veiled under the cloak of philanthropy."^
Dr. Theal also has great delight in recording any
failure to persevere, any lapse of a convert like poor
Jan Ishatshu, many years a faithful assistant of the
Bethelsdorp missionaries, but who in his later days
fell. Dr. Theal says, into drunken habits ; or of chief
Pato, the pet of the Wesleyans, who — perhaps not
unnaturally — at length turned against the aggressive
white race and led his men against the Colony in the
war of 1846. It can hardly be expected that one
generation of training will entirely subdue wild
instincts, and there is certainly nothing more abnor-
mal or unchristian in the conduct of Pato than in
that of President Steyn, who sent his men into Natal
to raid and plunder British farmers and shopkeepers
who had neither harmed nor threatened him, neither
they nor the British Government.

^ Harris, Expeditioft into South Africa, p. 346. A book much
praised by Theal as " one of the very best accounts ever given."


Even to-day some of the British officers returning
from the war, will tell you that unless you use the
sjambok with the native you will have neither good
service nor respect from him. It must at least be
there, in reserve, say others. It may be so, and yet
be very unadvisable to give that vague discretionary
power assumed at times by the white man, anything
of a fixed and legal character under which the white
man becomes a tyrant and the black one a slave.
Even a vagrancy law is sure to be made an instru-
ment of slavery, wherever it is administered by a race
which has an interest in creating slaves. As Mr.
Bryce, who has spoken wisely and candidly on this
subject in his book, Impressions of South Africa,
says, "The sense of his superior intelligence and
energy of will produces in the European a sort of
tyrannous spirit, which will not condescend to argue
with the native, but overbears him by sheer force*
and is prone to resort to physical coercion." ^

To shoot down in the open field of battle savage
tribes which have opposed themselves to the opening
up of territories and routes may be a necessity or
not, but at least it is a different thing from reducing
them to servitude, and subjecting them all the days
of their life to the avarice and passions of a despotic

With regard to the benefits of freedom to the slaves
^ Chap. xxi. p. 442.



themselves, Dr. Thcal, that friend of emancipation in
theory, draws a comparison between the negro slave
of 1834 and "his grandchildren of 1890," which is
much in favour of the former as " better fed, better
clothed, &c., more respectable in his conduct and
habits." {Hisl. of South Africa, chap, xxxvi. p. 423.)
It is an old and well-worn argument for slavery
this of Dr. Theal's, but it has become highly suspi-
cious, I think, to an age which has learned something
of general economic laws, and knows that the only
real way of raising the general level of conduct and
morality in any class of men is by improving its
status and increasing its self-respect, and not by
lowering both. It is true that there are some super-
ficial phencJmena on the other side. An iron rule
may crush out some weeds of indolence and petulance
in a race or class of men ; there may, for example,
be double or treble the number of idle and vicious
in a subject race newly set free, but there will certainly
be more than treble the number of self-respecting and
well-doing persons, and there will be a great number
of those who reach a level quite impossible for a race
which is enslaved. Whatever truth there is in the
other view may serve as a caution to those who ex-
pect too much from mere legislative reform, or expect
it too soon. But you must begin.


The Question of Expansion — Exit Gens Bosjesnianica — The
Difficulties on the Kaffir Frontier — The Kosa-Kaffir Tribes
— The Commando System.

The protective legislation for slaves and free
natives within the Colony culminating in the Eman-
cipation Act had naturally caused a great deal of
irritation amongst the farmers generally throughout
the Colony.

It is no easy matter even in the most civilised
nations to get whole classes to sacrifice their interests
on general considerations of humanity which can
always at least be debated on the other side. Much
education, including the moral compulsion which the
highest minds exercise on the general body of the
nation, was needed in England, before manufacturers
grew accustomed to the idea of Factory Acts and
government inspection. In legislation of this kind,
every class has been morally coerced for the general
welfare by the union of other classes whose interests
were less directly affected. That was just what



happened in Cape Colony regarded as a part of
the Empire. But as far as much the greater part
of Cape Colony was concerned the acute stage of
conflict between the two civilisations, British and
Boer, ended with the Emancipation Act of 1833 ;
but the eastern frontier district, the old district of
Graaff-Reinet, had a problem of its own which was
not only more difficult for the Government to settle,
but much more difficult to determine on what prin-
ciples it ought to be settled. This was the old
question of the Border policy, and the treatment of
the Kaffir tribes, which had from the beginning given
so much trouble to the Government. It was really
the question of territorial expansion.

On the northern frontier this question had ceased
to give trouble. The long conflict between the white
man and the native race in that quarter had practi-
cally ended in the disappearance of the Bushmen
as a race. Wandering bands of them still existed
scattered over the almost uninhabitable parts of the
northern Karroo, and in some districts small parties
of them might be found settled near a Boer's farm,
helping to tend his flocks, and receiving in return a
little milk or tobacco, or the offal of the sheep he
slaughtered. But the formidable race that in Barrow's
time had held the Boers in check from the Hantam
to the Sneeuwberg had almost disappeared.

Dr. Theal has little to say on the subject, and uses


no large rubrics such as he lavishes on the Circuit
Court trials of 181 2. The following quiet paragraph,
some twenty lines of his history, notices the disappear-
ance of the Bushmen race, and suggests that it was
the work of the Griquas or Bastard Hottentots who
had settled at the Orange River.

Of the different classes of free coloured inhabitants, the Rush-
men, once so formidable, were now the least important. Before
the English conquest they had ceased as a race to offer oppo-
sition to the advance of the Europeans. (?) After the settlement
of the Griquas north of the Orange, their numbers were very
rapidly reduced, and they had no longer a place of security
to which they could retire when colonial commandos were
searching for them. The Griquas, being partly of Hottentot
blood, had all the animosity of Hottentots towards the Bush-
man race. Possessed of horses and firearms, they followed the
occupation of hunters, and were thus equipped in the best
manner for destroying Bushmen, to whom they showed no
quarter. Some of those whom they pursued retreated to the
Kalahari desert, others fled into the waste region south of the
lower course of the Orange, but the larger number perished.
[Larger number of the Bushman race ? or only of those whom,
&^c. Read carefully, O reader .'']

During the early years of the century colonial commandos
were occasionally sent against plundering bands, but after 18 10
very little blood was shed, and generally all the members of
these little hordes were made prisoners, when they were ap-
prenticed to such persons as could make use of them. The
adults, however, seldom remained long in service, no matter how
kindly they were treated. {Hist, of South Africa, chap, xxxv.,
P- 337-)

It is doubtful if even the records of the drostdies
of Worcester and Graaff-Reinet would throw much


light on tlie disappearance of the Ikishman race. In
1824 Mr. Fowell-Buxton moved in the House of
Commons for a return regarding the condition of
the Hottentots and Ikishmen at the Cape of Good
Hope. As part of that return Lord Charles Somerset
forwarded an official list of the commandos sent out
against Bushmen from 1797 to 1824, from which it
appeared that during that period 53 commandos had
been sent out, 184 Bushmen had been killed, 14 had
been wounded, and 302 taken prisoners. Lord Charles
adds that the expeditions mostly took place during
the latter end of the last century.

Lord Somerset's report will evidently not do much
to explain the extinction of the Bushmen, but I think
there must have been official smiles and nods at the
Secretary's office when that document was sealed up
and sent for the edification of the British public.
No doubt the Governor himself did not know the
half of what went on,^ but he must have suspected
the list to be an exceedingly mild one.

What the report really suggests, when compared
with other testimonies of that period, is the silent,
unrecorded, remorseless character of the warfare which
the Boers of the northern frontier had been carrying
on in these years against the Bushmen.

The following facts may help the reader to supple-

1 For a small illustration see Meyer's letter in Barrow, vol. ii.
p. 54.


ment the official records of the drostdies and Dr.
Theal's quiet reserve.

After the first British occupation of the Cape there
seems to have been a lull in commando operations
against the Bushmen, Lord Macartney being in favour
of a humane policy, and insisting on a milder manner
of conducting these expeditions. In 1809 this policy
was also supported, as regards the Bushmen, by
Colonel Collins, the Commissioner of Inquiry ap-
pointed by Lord Caledon. " The Bushmen," Colonel
Collins reported, " often suffer extreme misery and
seldom rob but to satisfy their wants." But the ten-
dency of the times was against the Bushmen. The
stoppage of the oceanic trade in slaves in 1807, the
legislative protection of the Hottentots and the
increasing numbers of the colonists, all tended to
make the demand for cheap labour greater, and to
send the Boer north in search of new pastures and
Bushmen children to serve on his farm.

Lord Charles Somerset was naturally inclined to
give the Boer a fair chance in this region. Even if
there should be encroachment on some of the miser-
able kraals of the Bushmen, he probably thought, like
Lichtenstein, that there was no great harm in taking
away land from nomads who had no particular use
for it. At any rate in 18 17 he permitted the land-
drosts to apprentice Bushmen children to the Boers
under certain safeguards, with the view of regulating


and controlling^ the habits of the Boers with respect
to such children. He seems also to have discouraged
the interference of missionaries in that region. In
1818 he refused the Rev. B. Shaw, a Wesleyan mis-
sionary, permission to establish a station amongst
the Bushmen, and in the same year he withdrew the
mission stations of the London Missionary Society
already established at Hephzibah and Troverberg (the
modern Colesberg) on account of the disputes which
they had with the Boers regarding the possession of
Bushmen children.^

After that the struggle between the Boers and the
Bushmen went on in the dark, as indeed it had always
in a great measure done, except for the casual infor-
mation furnished by an occasional traveller in those

In 1823 George Thompson was travelling through
the Sneeuwberg region and reports the following : —

While at this place (Karel Okom's) I heard that a commando,
or expedition of armed boors, had been recently out against the
Bushmen in the mountains, where they had shot thirty of these
poor creatures. I also learned that above 100 Bushmen had
been shot last year in the Tarka. {Travels^ vol. i. p. 74.)

That was thirteen years after the date when Theal
assures us blood had almost ceased to be shed. In

^ This seems to be the " misconduct " for which ]3r. Theal
states, rather vaguely, that Mr. Smith of Troverberg was
recalled. See Smith's letter in Philip's Researches^ vol. ii. p. 280 ;
also Moffat's account in Missiotiary Labours and Scettes, p. 51.


1824 the same writer then travelHng in the Roggeveld
region, much farther west, stayed at the house of
Field-Commandant Nel, whom he describes as a
" meritorious, benevolent and clear-sighted man " on
any question except this of Bushmen.

Nel informed me (he writes) that within the last thirty years
he had been upon thirty-two commandos against the Bushmen,
in which great numbers had been shot, and their children carried
into the colony. On one of these e.xpeditions not less than 200
Bushmen were massacred ! . . . . Such has been, and stilly to a
great extent ts, the horrible warfare existing between the Chris-
tians and the natives of the northern frontier, and by which the
process of extermination is still proceeding against the latter, in
the same style as in the days of Barrow. {Idem. vol. i. p. 395.)

That is the testimony of a moderate man, very
friendly to the Boers, well acquainted with the
country, and a writer whose authority Theal himself

These events, it must be remembered, took place

on a distant frontier, hardly ever visited by the

stranger, and difficult of access. There was no one

but the Boers themselves to place them on record.

Only occasionally a Hottentot scout might tell the

tale of a foray, or a tame Bushman in the service of

a farmer might pour the history of his woes, or those

of his little kraal, into the ears of a traveller or a

^ For similar testimony see Pringle, Narrative^i p. 243 ;
Philip, Researches, vo\. ii. pp. 40, 44, 45, 51 ; V>2inn\sitr, Humane
Policy, pp. 226, 228. For the general condition of the Bushmen,
see Moffat, Missionary Labours and Scenes, chap. iv.


missionary. There is only one case, so far as I know,
where the Bushman may be said to have written a
fragment of his own history. In 1825 Dr. Phih'p and
a missionary party were travelling to the mission
station at Philippolis and had got about a day's
journey north of Troverberg (modern Colesberg),
when their Hottentot attendants discovered some
natives dodging timorously about the rocks in the
neighbourhood. They turned out to be the Bushman
chief Uithaalder, and the remnants of his kraal which
had formerly been under the protection of the mission
station once existing at Troverberg. They were easily
induced to approach when they knew the waggon
was a missionary's, and Dr. Philip had the oppor-
tunity, therefore, of learning Uithaalder's story from
his own lips.

It is characteristic of the strenuous, practical, legal
mind of the Doctor that he drew up the Bushman's
story in the form of a deposition, " That deponent
is a chief," &c. One would have preferred Pringle
for this business, even at the expense of a little
Campbell varnish. There can be no doubt, however,
about its fidelity, which is attested by four witnesses.
Uithaalder's story then, in protocol form, runs, in the
parts quoted, as follows :

2nd. That many years ago, the father of the deponent and his
people, whilst in perfect peace, and not having committed the
smallest provocation, were suddenly attacked in their kraal by a


party of boors from the colony. He and many hundreds of his
people, men, women, and children were killed, and ten waggons,
loaded with their children, were carried into the colony, and
placed in perpetual servitude.

3rd. That since this melancholy occurrence [very imartistic
//lis, Doctor, and very U7ibushnian-like\ many commandos
have come against my people, in which multitudes of them have
been shot, and the children carried away ; and this practice was
continued till our late teacher, the Rev. E. Smith, condescended
to live amongst us, to preach the Word of God, and to teach us
to read, and to refrain from doing harm to anybody.

4th. That while the Rev. E. Smith continued among us, he
taught us to cultivate gardens, .... showed us how to grow
potatoes and plough land, and .... we were very happy and
hoped that our troubles were over.

6th. That some moons after Mr. Smith's removal, the boors
came and took possession of our fountains, chased us from the
lands of Toverberg, and made us go and keep their sheep.
Whitboy, one of my Bushmen, and his wife, were both shot by
the boors whilst taking shelter among the rocks, and their
child' carried into perpetual servitude \duly registered by the
Boers, no doubt, according to Somersefs law, with the landdrost
at Graaf-Reinet, as entrusted to their care by the said Whitboy i\

7th. That I, Uithaalder, was sent by the field-cornet. Van
der Walt, to keep his sheep ; that one night three of his sheep
were missing and the field-cornet flogged deponent with the
sjambok, and drove himself and his wife and children from his
place, and said, " Go now, take that ; you have not now Mr.
Smith, the missionary, to go to, to complain against me." \The
three sheep were afterwards found, depojienf says.'\

loth. That I, Uithaalder, without people, with my wife and
four young children, was necessitated to live among the moun-
tains, and to subsist upon roots and locusts.^

Uithaalder's account is, I judge, a fair outline of
the Bushman's experience in general. It is quite
^ Philip, Researches, vol. ii. pp. 51-53.


true, as Pringle himself remarks, that " the Dutch-
African colonists have not been worse than other
people would be and have been in similar circum-
stances." But the fact remains that South Africa
has been a land of blood and slavery from the be-
ginning. The skies above the head of the Transvaal
Boer are of brass.

Latterly, when the warfare was almost over,
some of the better class of Boers seem to have had
compunctious visitings over these tragic events, and
to have adopted milder measures with the Bushmen.
Thompson quotes a letter from Mr. Melville of
Griqua Town, which relates a conversation he had
with the Field-Commandant, Gert Van der Walt,
in 1 82 1.

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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 17 of 21)