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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brought with them. He suppressed their language
and dispersed them over districts occupied by Dutch
farmers, with the result that anything distinctive in
their national sentiment and manners, except perhaps
a superior degree of neatness and industry observable
in Franschehock and the Drakenstein, disappeared
completely in a couple of generations.

The great fact in the history of the Boer is that
he has grown up in complete isolation from European
culture. Except for the Bible, which he seems to
have read very much as our Puritan ancestors did,
as a warrant to go forth and spoil the heathen, and
Willem Sluyter's hymns, he had nothing that con-
nected him with the traditions, the literature, or the
art of Europe. It is true the Dutch young ladies at
Capetown, as Captain Percival of his Majesty's Royal
Irish regiment informs us, dressed after the English
fashion, and were fairly accomplished in music and
dancing. But the Boer of the veldt knew nothing
of such frivolities. I have nowhere read that he
possessed as much as a musical instrument, and it
is unlikely that he paid much attention to the " gor-
rah's humming reed," or the rude guitar with which
the Hottentot herdsman cheered his melancholy lot.



12 BRITAIN'S TITLE IN SOUTH AFRICA i

But he sang Willem Sluyter's liymns morn and even,
and said long graces before meat ; a peculiar people,
and, had it not been for the temptation of that poor
native race around them, a good one.

His language alone would have doomed the ]?oer
to intellectual isolation. It was not the language of
Dutch books, or even the common speech of Hol-
landers ; it was the Taal, a rude peasant tongue, with
a vocabulary, Olive Schreiner says, as limited as that
of pigeon-English, and still further debased by accre-
tions from the lingo of Kaffirs and Hottentots.
Even to-day, the same authority declares, the true-
bred Boer finds it just as difficult to pass an exam-
ination in literary Dutch as in English. Not that
I think the Taal such a curiosity as that talented
writer in her enthusiasm fancies it to be. The
language of Ezekiel Biglow, or Tammas Haggart
and his compeers in Thrums, or the Ligurian speech
of an old peasant from Cogoletto would answer every
point in Mrs. Schreiner-Cronwright's description of
the Taal. But these vernaculars exist on the fringes
of a cultured society and side by side with a literary
language, which is equally current for the purposes
of the press and the pulpit. But in Cape Colony,
outside of Capetown, there was no cultured class at
the time of the British occupation, and not more
than four or five clergymen for the whole widespread
Boer population. Except in a few thriving villages



I BRITAIN'S TITLE IN SOUTH AFRICA 13

in the corn districts near the Cape, there were no
schools. The only schoolmaster obtainable by the
Boers of the veldt was generally a wandering soldier
discharged from the Capetown garrison, and his
functions were even more varied than those of Sy-
brandt Mankadan, the historic dominie of Stellen-
bosch ; for in addition to keeping the Boer's accounts
and teaching his children to read and cipher, he
might be asked to take a hand at the plough or
other farm work. The condition of the whole colony
is fairly represented by the fact that at this period it
had no newspaper, no printing press, no regular
mails, and also not a single professional tramp or
beggar of the white race except the privileged
Lazarus, whom Bird describes as lying at a rich
man's gate on the road to Wynberg.

This intellectual isolation of the Boer goes a long
way to explain certain anomalies in his character.
Nearly all the traditions which have been part of the
education of Europe and America have passed him
by, the civic spirit of progress, the ideals of science
and philosophy, the enthusiasm of the saint and the
scholar, the code of Bayard, the traditional, at least
traditional, respect for truth — so candidly absent in
the bulletins of Pretoria and the proclamations of
Steyn, all that has been left out of the composition
of the Boer as completely as the art of Monsieur
Worth and other elegances of European life. The



14 BRITAIN'S TITLE IN SOUTH AFRICA I

educated Afrikander of Blocmfontein and Pretoria
may belong to European civilisation, but the typical
Boer, the Boer of the veldt, hardly does any more
than the children of Rarabe and Moselekatse. The
store-clerk in Omaha who knows all about the eti-
quette of sport, and the shop-girl in Kansas who
arranges her room after the boudoirs of Duchesses,
as shown in the Home Journal, are in comparison
saturated with the traditions of Europe.

All the same, it is in this Boer of the veldt that
the peculiar virtues of the race seem to be concen-
trated, its hardihood, its faculty for building up life
in the wilderness, and its faith, its intense convictions
on the subject of race and destiny and land, ons land,
which have only partially found a Burns or a
Bjornstjerne in Olive Schreiner. In her pages the
Great Karroo at least, with its wastes of red sand
and fantastic kopjes, and the charm of its solitude
and great horizons, have been made familiar to the
European imagination.

The one place in this extensive country w^hich
had any resemblance to a town was the capital,
Capetown. At the time of the British occupation it
had a population of about five thousand white people
and ten or eleven thousand slaves. It was pleasantly
situated -on the shore of Table Bay, with the mag-
nificent mountain scenery of Table Mountain, Lion's
Hill and Devil's Hill in the background, almost



I BRITAIN'S TITLE IN SOUTH AFRICA 15

encircling it on the land side. It was well laid out,
the principal streets being wide and regularly built,
with canals flowing through them, lined on each side
with oak-trees. The houses were neat and substantial,
in some cases elegant mansions with large gar-
dens attached to them. The public buildings were
handsome, and the citadel, Government House,
barracks, grand parade, and batteries gave an air of
state and military display to the town.

Society in Capetown, even before the advent of
the British, seems to have had all the characteristics
of what is specifically called society in every part of
the world. The young ladies there spoke French
and English, had a fair musical education, and
dressed after the fashion of Paris and the Hague.
The Dutch admiral Stavorinus, who visited the Cape
in 1778, is rather severe on their vanities ; " the first
lesson they learn," he says, " is how to make them-
selves agreeable to the men, and especially to
strangers . . . nothing is omitted that can render
them elegant and attractive." Stavorinus was evi-
dently a steady-going old Hollander, who did not
appreciate the characteristic colonial smartness and
vivacity of the Cape ladies. In general, indeed,
though he had a high opinion of the country farmers,
he thought little of the inhabitants of Capetown.
" The chief trait in their character," he says, " is the
love of money, . . . palpable and universal." He



i6 BRITAIN'S TITLE IN SOUTH AFRICA I

thought the men lazy and inactive both in body and
mind, indifferent to education or improvement, and
distinguished by an " utter ignorance of whatever
does not daily strike their outward senses." ^ Stavo-
rinus was himself a Dutchman, and not likely to
mistake, as an Englishman might, mere Dutch
gravity for sloth. There was evidently something of
the moral languor of a Dutch East Indian colony
even at the Cape.

The account which Captain Percival, of the Royal
Irish Regiment, gives of Capetown society in 1801,
agrees in most points with that of Stavorinus, except
that he is all admiration for the smartness of the
ladies, and has evidently a good opinion of their
character. But the men seemed to him heavy and
almost morose in their want of social graces. " A
Dutchman's hat," he remarks, " seems nailed to his
head even in the company of ladies." The captain is
troubled more than once about the Dutchman's use
of his hat.

It is evident that the ordinary Capetown burghers
had neither much taste for intellectual pursuits nor
for smart society. They rather avoided social inter-
course with the English, partly no doubt resenting
the rigid English manner of regarding nothing as
correct that was not English, and congregated by

1 J. P. Stavorinus, Voyages to the East Indies (translation),
vol. iii. p. 436. See also Barrow, vol. ii. pp. 102 and 386.



I BRITAIN'S TITLE IN SOUTH AFRICA 17

themselves at the Concordia Club or elsewhere,
playing cards and smoking interminable pipes, and
no doubt making quiet, caustic criticisms on the
British method of conducting things.

Between the higher class, however, of Dutch officials
and professional men and the British a social fusion
seems soon to have taken place, and Wilberforce Bird,
Comptroller of Customs at the Cape, gives an amusing
picture of the daily loungers at the African Club
House in the Heeregragt about 1820. There British
and Dutch civil servants, military gentlemen from the
barracks, naval officers on the station, invalided In-
dian officials recruiting their health in the bracing
air of the Cape, Dutch advocates and physicians,
assembled during the morning to circulate gossip
and take critical observation of the passers-by, espe-
cially ladies on their way to the milliner's shop next
door. This was the aristocratic society at the
Cape, and constituted an environment for the British
Governor which might at times have considerable
influence on his policy.

For business Capetown depended largely on the
retail trade with British and foreign ships calling at
the port and the custom of passengers who stayed on
shore to refresh themselves after the long voyage.
Everybody at the Cape called himself, a koopman, or
merchant, whatever else he might be, the Cape Dutch,
as Barrow and others remark, holding traffic in high

c



i8 BRITAIN'S TITLE IN SOUTH AFRICA i

honour.^ Almost every family even of the well-to-do
took boarders ; great officials retailed the produce of
their gardens by means of slaves ; ladies of society
sent their female slaves to peddle feminine wares to the
neighbouring villages and country houses ; and ships
calling at the Cape were besieged by boats plied by
slaves and filled with oranges, melons, and other fruits
from the gardens of all classes of the inhabitants.

But few except the lowest whites would consent to
work at a trade, and most handicrafts were carried on
by slaves, who, besides doing the carpentering, shoe-
making, &c., required by the family, were generally
hired out by their master. Even a family of inferior
condition usually possessed six or eight slaves. The
expenses of a Dutch household in Capetown were
consequently small, and though few of the inhabit-
ants were very rich the greater number were in easy
circumstances.

But between the civilisation of Capetown and that
of the Boer of the veldt there was not only a gap,
there was all the contrast which in Lydgate's time
existed between the Chancery clerks in London, or
the sharp people of the Cheap, and the yokel from
the hop-fields of Kent. Capetown was then the
Boer's only market, and the place from which the

^ This belonged to the traditions of the Dutch East India
Company's service, in which the title of koopvian was official
and highly honourable.



I BRITAIN'S TITLE IN SOUTH AFRICA 19

laws that governed him were promulgated. But he
regarded it mainly as the seat of an alien aristocracy
of officials, whether Dutch or English, edele Heeren,
who oppressed and pillaged him with their taxes and
duties. Its ways and manners were strange to him, and
the aristocrat of the veldt — the haughty Boer, as tra-
vellers frequently call him — accustomed to lord it over
a dependent train of Hottentots and slaves at home,
when he visited Capetown became a helpless being in
the hands of lawyers or designing agents, " Semans,"
as he called them, who took advantage of his igno-
rance to plunder him. After disposing of his waggon
load of butter and soap, 1,200 to 1,500 pounds, per-
haps for ;^30 or ^40, about half its market value, he
inspanned again, and was no doubt glad to find him-
self once more across the Berg or the Breede River
on his way home to the Roggeveld or Camdeboo,
where he perhaps consoled himself by reading
Willem Sluyter's Fable of the Town and Country
Mouse, or a favourite stanza or two from the Buiten
Leven in praise of rural solitude and tranquillity.

De wijse Vaders leefden immer

Meest buyten, niet in't Stadsch getimmer.
In hutten op hete ensaem veld
Was slechts haer wooning neer-gestelt.

Soo wierd van haer op't best, in tenten,

De Stad, op vaste fondamenten

Selfs door Gods meester-konst gebouwt,
Verwacht en door 't geloov' aenschouwt.

C 3



20 BRITAIN'S TITLE IN SOUTH AFRICA i

God selfs om-vlccscht gaend' hier bencden,
Hield noyt soo veel van macht'ge Stcden.

Ging Nazareth en Bethlehem

Gods Zoon niet voor Jerusalem ?
Moest niet deglans van sijne werken
In kleyne Stedekens uytsperken ?

Moest niet d'OlijflDcrg of Woestijn

Sijn keurigste vertrek-plaets zijn ?

The patriarchs old preferred to dwell

In fields, not in the city's cell ;

And pitched their tents where best they felt,

Afar upon the lonely veldt.

Their wanderings here should end at last

In Zion, whose foundations fast

Were laid by God's own master-hand,

Their hope, their prize, their promised land.

God's self, when in the flesh He came,

Sought not great towns, but loved the name

Of Nazareth and Bethlehem

Before that of Jerusalem ;

And little hamlets had the glory

Of all His wondrous works and story;

Dearest to Him the solitudes

Of desert plains or Olive's woods.

These two stanzas may give the reader some idea
of Willem Skiyter, the Boers' classic ; for, like other
great sages, he is nearly always saying the same
thing. The poetry of Sluyter is as good a help for
understanding the life of the veldt Boer — what is
spiritual or religious in it, I mean — as anything I
have come across. His simple faith and quaint



1 BRITAIN'S TITLE IN SOUTH AFRICA 21

pastoral ideas of life are expressed there in a way
which he can feel and understand. To this day the
simple old pastor of Eibergen, in Gelderland, obsolete
in his own country, is for the Boer a Shakespeare and
a Cowper combined.^ But perhaps with the younger
generation Mr. Reitz's collection of patriotic anti-
British ballads has displaced him.

1 My edition of Sluyter was picked up in a farmhouse near
Poplar Grove (old Orange Free State) by Frederic Hamilton,
war-correspondent with the Canadian contingent. It is in
black-letter, and must date back to the early part of the
eighteenth century. " All that was not the Bible seemed to
be Sluyter," Hamilton remarked to me.




II

The Dutch East India Company — Its Growth and Decline — Its
Rule at the Cape of Good Hope.

The fortunes of Cape Colony were so intimately
bound up with those of the Dutch East India Com-
pany and with the growth and decline of Holland as
a Great Power, that a brief account of these things
may be useful for the reader.

The Dutch East India Company had at one time
been the greatest of the great chartered Companies
which the chief maritime powers of Europe esta-
blished in the East during the seventeenth century.
Holland, Denmark, England, and France were all
eager to seize a share of that lucrative Eastern trade
which had been the possession of the Portuguese
since the days of Albuquerque ; and the chartered
Company, with full powers of levying troops and
making war or peace, was the special form which
expansion took in that age. Then, as now, the real
force behind commercial expansion, and indispens-
able for its support, was the military power ; and the



II BRITAIN'S TITLE IN SOUTH AFRICA 23

Dutch, whose ships were the most numerous and
best equipped and whose sailors were the most skilful
of that time, soon won a commanding position in the
East, especially in the Indian Archipelago, where the
natives, dispersed in small communities amongst the
different islands, were less able to make any resist-
ance. Their most serious conflicts were with the
Spaniards and Portuguese, the latter of whom they
drove out of Ceylon, Malacca, the Moluccas, and the
best of their Eastern settlements, thus securing ex-
clusive possession of the coveted spice trade. Their
ships patrolled the Straits of Sunda and Malacca in
the trading season, and their factories and forts were
planted in the most advantageous positions along the
coasts and islands of the East from the Persian Gulf
to the Yellow Sea.

It need hardly be said that there was nothing
scrupulous in their methods in those days when,
according to common saying, " no peace held good
beyond the line." They tortured and massacred the
small English settlement in Amboyna on mere sus-
picion, pretended suspicion, Crawfurd says,^ of a plot
against themselves, in 1623 ; and Governors like
Vlaming and Valckenier conducted their executions
in wholesale fashion, the latter massacring 10,000

^ Crawfurd, History of the Ifidian Archipelago. The author
was British Resident at the Court of the Sultan of Java about
1812.



24 BRITAIN'S TITLE IN SOUTH AFRICA ii

Chinese at once in Batavia. It was an age which did
not spare Hfe, and the scattered Empire of the
Dutch resting on a number of isolated military posts
with garrisons varying in number from 30 to
200 European soldiers, could only be secured by
fostering strife and jealousy between the native
princes (Stavorinus himself accepts it as a cardinal
principle of their rule), and by the severest measures
of repression.

It was not a genuine territorial empire, but a series
of stations or small settlements on the coast. Each
of these had its separate establishment, its fort and
garrison, its residency and warehouse, and, if large
enough, its European village, with surrounding Malay,
Buginese or Chinese encampments, its regular staff of
Governor, Second Governor, Commandant, all " Senior
Merchants," Master of Port, Paymaster Fiscal, &c.,
" Merchants " or" Junior Merchants " and, if there was
a considerable Dutch population, also such officials
as a Pastor, a Krankbezoeker, or Visitor of the Sick,
and perhaps an itinerant schoolmaster, all in the pay
of the Company.

The service of the Company offered a tempting
career in some respects to an adventurous young
Dutchman who had influence with the Chambers at
home ; but in these early days it was a rough and
dangerous one. What between fighting the Spaniards
and Portuguese, and never-ceasing conflicts with the



11 BRITAIN'S TITLE IN SOUTH AFRICA 25

natives, and the frightful ravages of scurvy and
dysentery, in the outward bound ships particularly,
it cost the Dutch many lives to establish that famous
empire in the East Indies. It was no uncommon
thing for a ship with a crew of 200 to arrive in the
Texel or at the Cape with hardly enough hands to
take in sail,^ thirty or forty of them having died on the
passage, and most of the rest being down with scurvy.
Of the seamen and soldiers that sailed every year for
the Indies, Stavorinus calculates that about a sixth
died on the way. But it was no bad service for any
roaring blade or reckless adventurer to try his for-
tunes in, and its rank and file were recruited from the
various nations of Europe, refugees and deserters
from Prussia, Hanover, and Sweden, and men kid-
napped in the low ports.

The great Recueil des Voyages (Amsterdam, 1754)
contains the story of their early navigations and war-
fare in the East, takings of settlements, brushes with
Portuguese on the high seas, conflicts with natives,
mutinies, &c., written by men who took part in
them. The Dutch are a stout, fighting, persistent
race, and in the course of half a century had cleared
the Portuguese pretty well out of the Archipelago.
A fair sample in a small way of their doings is the
taking of Solor Island, in the Timor group, by Cap-
tain Apollonius Schot, of Middleburg, in 161 3. A
1 Stavorinus, vol. ii. p. 93.



26 BRITAIN'S TITLE IN SOUTH AFRICA ii

couple of Dutch ships sail into the bay, dismount the
poorly-served Portuguese battery at the entrance,
draw up before the fort and small native village,
plant a battery also on the land, and blaze away.
After the village has been burned and a tower or two
of the fort battered down, there is a capitulation, and
the Portuguese garrison, some thirty or forty men,
are transported to the nearest Portuguese settlement,
and the Dutch enter into their labours, occupying
their fort and taking up their commerce with the
natives, that is, calling upon the latter to supply them
exclusively with their commodities, in this case bees-
wax, ambergris, and sandal-wood, at a fixed price.
But the ending was not always so merciful, and on
both sides many men languished and died in prison.

It was to obtain a convenient half-way house and
victualling station for this extensive commerce with
the East that, in 1652, an expedition under Jan Van
Riebeek took possession of the Cape of Good Hope,
and thus laid, without much suspecting it, the foun-
dations of their greatest colony. But the Cape, which
had no rich trade in silks or spices to give them, was
a station only of second or third-rate importance in
the Company's service, and administered on the same
system as the settlements at Macassar or Samarang.

The most flourishing period of the Company was
the middle part of the seventeenth century. In the
Directors' Report of the year 1664, the Company is



II BRITAIN'S TITLE IN SOUTH AFRICA 27

said to possess about 140 vessels, well provisioned
and mounted with guns, and to employ about
25,000 men. Its yearly expenditure in fitting out its
expeditions to the Indies ("a' que Von envoie aux
Indes en argent compta)it, mardiaudises, vivres et autres
choses necessatj'es") was from two and a half to three
millions, and the merchandise it brought yearly from
the Indies yielded "nine, ten or eleven millions of
livres,^ about a million sterling."

The seventeenth century was the great period of
Dutch commerce and expansion generally. More
than half the carrying trade of Europe was in their
hands, particularly that of the Baltic. The herring
fisheries in the northern seas alone employed over a
hundred thousand Dutch seamen. Even the profits
of the East Indian trade, great as they were for the
first sixty or seventy years of its establishment,
accounted for but a part of the wealth which flowed
into the United Provinces, and of the merchandise
which filled the immense warehouses of Amsterdam,
then the special emporium for the East. But it was
their dominion in the Indies which trained their best
sailors and employed their best ships, the great East
Indiamen of eight hundred or a thousand tons burden,
and carrying from forty to fifty guns. As long as
these latter continued to be factors of importance in
naval warfare, Holland was a Sea Power of the first
1 Directors' Report in Recuetl, vol. i. p. cxxv.



28 BRITAIN'S TITLE IN SOUTH AFRICA ll

rank. It was their Indian empire also that called
forth their highest energies as colonists and navi-
gators, and gave a kind of imperial grandeur to their
history. Literature and art too blossomed on this
opulent soil, and the commercial enterprise and
energy of that age had no doubt something in
common with the spirit which inspired the labours
of Grotius and the art of Rembrandt. Most of the
classic names of Dutch art and learning belong to
the same era.

The foundations of this prosperity had been laid
in habits of frugality and patient industry which were
the scoff of an age whose study was but little on
economics. It was no courtier of Versailles or White-
hall, but a sturdy English republican and poet, who
wrote the famous satire on their thrifty ways and
the laborious diligence of their poldering operations,

To make a bank was a great plot of state ;
Invent a shovel, and be a magistrate.

But the rulers of the East Indies could afford to
disregard the jest of Marvel. The domestic sim-
plicity of their manners was proverbial, and happily
illustrated in the life of their greatest naval hero,
De Ruijter, who w^as found by the Spanish admiral
and grandee who visited him in a plain house in the
outskirts of Amsterdam, reading his Bible, while his
wife sat at her knitting. It was always the same



II BRITAIN'S TITLE IN SOUTH AFRICA ' 29

story — Haiic olini veteres vitavi coluere Sabini — till
the New Americanism arose to overpower with its


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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 2 of 21)