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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superb material magnificence those primitive concep-
tions of greatness. In the presence of that great
democracy with its VValdorfian luxuries, the proverbs
of Solomon are growing obsolete as they never did
in the high days of King and Kaiser, for the people
had no share in them then ; almost as obsolete as
Dante's tirades against the fine dress of the Florentine
ladies. " There is nothing too good for my little
woman," says a solid, quiet, powerful man, whom a
Montana mine has suddenly made rich, and presents
his wife with 40,000/. worth of diamonds at Tiffany's.
And the little woman, who washed her own steps a
year ago, knows how to wear them. Radical oratory,
I observe, has lost its voice over it, and I hear
nothing at all in these days about a " bloated aris-

We are not idle on the other side, however. I see
that the President of one of the great universities in
the States, with the practical turn of his countrymen,
is at present healthily engaged in proving by actual
experiment, to be published in the Magazines, that
he can live, he and his family, on thirteen cents a day,
or it may be fifteen, which is little more than the
price of a working man's cigar in Chicago or New
York. Such a rebuke to luxury I have not read of
since George Fox's leather suit, or Diogenes in his


tub ; the former, by the way, would be a great help
to the President, if he means to hold out for more
than a year.

The decline of the Dutch East India Company,
along with that of Dutch commerce generally, com-
menced early in the eighteenth century. But long
before that the rivalry of the English had begun to
be felt. In 165 1 the English Navigation Act, de-
priving the Dutch of the right to carry freight
between England and her Colonies or between Eng-
land and other European countries, was a heavy
blow to the great carrying trade of Holland. The
Dutch felt that they must fight for their commerce,
and the Navigation Act was the substantial cause
of a series of naval wars between the two Powers
in which, after great victories on each side and some
indecisive fights, the balance of power ultimately
remained with the British. For notwithstanding the
skill of the two greatest of Dutch admirals, the elder
Tromp and De Ruijter, and the memorable success
of the latter's sudden swoop into the Thames at a
time when most of the English ships were out of
commission, the Dutch navy during these wars was
hard put to it to protect Dutch shipping, and more
than once completely lost the command of the seas
and its own coasts. The end of it all was the formal
concession by Holland at the Peace of Westminster,
and again at that of Utrecht (17 13), of the much


contested "right of the flag" and England's supre-
macy on the seas. That meant, as Capt. Mahan has
pointed out, the transference to British ships of most
of the great carrying trade the Dutch possessed, the
merchants of all countries naturally preferring a
shipping the security of which was guaranteed by
the power of its navy. Even the Dutch capitalists
themselves became timid ; and though for long after
they continued to be the money-lenders of Europe,
did not care to risk investments in distant colonies,
and an expansion of trade which their naval power
might not be able to protect. The leadership in
commercial and colonial enterprise thus passed with
the supremacy of the seas into the hands of the

The fight had been a gallant one on both sides.
When it began, and it had been sought rather than
avoided by the Dutch, there had seemed to be no
great disparity between the two Powers. At the
beginning of the seventeenth century, the population
of Holland, according to Motley, was about the same
as that of England, three and a half millions, and
in wealth and the mere number of ships that could
be used for purposes of war, the advantage lay with
the Dutch.

But while the growth of England was only begin-
ning, that of Holland was already at the height.
With a small acreage, about a tenth of that of the


United Kingdom, with no natural riches or great
manufactures, Holland could not keep her place
amongst the Great Powers. By the close of the
eighteenth century England had trebled her popula-
tion, exclusive of that of Scotland and Ireland, while
that of Holland, exhausted by wars too great for
her resources, had declined. There had never,
indeed, been any surplus population sufficient to
develop or make a natural garrison for her great
acquisitions over the ocean. At the Cape all the
efforts of the Dutch East India Company could not
procure, even at the time of the Huguenot influx
into Holland, any great immigration from the mother
country, and the population of that important colony
was slowly recruited from discharged soldiers of the
garrison, often of German or Swedish extraction, or
roving adventurers who had no particular ties of
sentiment or family with the country which governed

But the seeds of decline lay also in the character
of the Company itself It had been founded, and it
continued to be conducted, for purely commercial
ends. What the Dutch, with characteristic prudence,
sought abroad was not territorial dominion, but posts
of vantage and exclusive privileges for their com-
merce. They seized territory and built forts, but
only for the purpose of securing control of the
products of the district, which they forced the natives


to sell at a small price exclusively to the Company,
The result was detrimental to the character of the
Company's agents and officials. They did not
conquer, administer, and civilise. They hardly felt,
therefore, the responsibilities of Government, while
they were exposed to all the temptations of absolute
rulers in remote and isolated dependencies.

A constant source of corruption also existed in the
method adopted by the Company for the payment of
their officials. The salaries of these had been fixed
on the frugal scale of the early days of the Republic,
when a burgher-like simplicity of life, such as is
recorded of De Ruijter, was not uncommon amongst
them. In the time of Stavorinus even (1774), the
vice-governor at Macassar, an important settlement,
with a civil and military establishment of 800 men,
could not make on an average more than 500 rix-
dollars a year, about ^100 sterling, from his lawful
emoluments, but he might easily make four or five
times that sum in a corrupt manner. As he happened
to be a very honest man (Bernard van Pleuren), it
was rather hard on him.^ The Governor-General of
the Dutch Indies himself at Batavia, the head-
quarters, received little more than a thousand pounds
a year by way of fixed salary, but he usually made
;^20,ooo in the exercise of his privileges.^ The
temptations of such a situation for men who had
1 Stavorinus, vol. ii. p. 274. '^ Idem, vol. ii. p. 131.



grown accustomed to the luxurious habits of the
East were very great, and the Company's agents
almost everywhere abused the privileges they pos-
sessed of supplementing their salaries by private
trade and the collection of duties. A universal
corruption, which deprived the Company of much of
its revenue, prevailed throughout the Dutch settle-
ments. Even men like the brave and hardy Speel-
man, the conqueror of the Celebes, sank in the end
under the influence of the climate and the habits
around them.^ For there was all the luxury and
indulgence of Oriental life in these Dutch settle-
ments, and many also of its forms and usages, the
servile obedience of the surrounding population, of
Javanese tommago7tgs or native middlemen, of Chinese
captains, and of a crowd of dependents and slaves,
the dancing girl and the black seraglio, or something
very like it.^ The Residency at Samarang or that
at Joana, with its dome, its gilded cornices and
curious carvings, was a much more magnificent place
than the corresponding edifice at the Cape. The
junior merchant went abroad with a slave holding a
sunshade over his head, and the Dutch lady, mostly
with a strain of native blood in her, was as fond of
her betel-box as any Buginese woman.

This Eastern luxury was not without its effect on

1 Crawfurd, History of the Indian Archipelago, vol. ii. p. 291.
" Stavorinus, vol. ii. p. 156.


the ancient simplicity of the mother-country. Many
a retiring official, no doubt, brought home with him
the laxities of Vlaardingen or Samarang to infect the
soberer life of Dutch cities, and startle even people
who were not quite as precise as the Calvinists of
Groningen. But generally speaking the luxury of
the Dutch at home seems to have taken charac-
teristically moderate and respectable forms ; no
Neronian or Trimalchian extravagances, but only
an excessive love of ease and comfort, a furious
rivalry in rare plants and costly gardens, and a love
for genre pictures of a not too elevated school ; in
short, a general relaxing and a settling down into
comfortable enjoyment of life as it was — such life as
we see, for example, in the quiet opulence of the
interiors of Gerard Douw and De Hoogh. The art
of these masters reflects perhaps better than any-
thing else the seductions to which the Dutch
temperament lay most open.

To other nations, indeed, Dutch art seems a greater
interpreter of the national history than Dutch letters
probably because it is better known. One need only
look at the portraits of the two Admiral Tromps,
father and son, to see the change that half a century
of wealth and conquest had made in the manners of
the Dutch. Old Marten, the son of a sea-captain,
with his broad weather-beaten visage, roughly lined
and seamed, and apparently a little carbuncular,

D 2


looks like a man who has known the hardships of a
seaman's life in those days, the fluxes and scurvies,
the filth and the hardy profanity of the forecastle.
But there is something great in the massive head and
in the strenuous countenance, on which great sagacity
and resolution are plainly written. Equally bold and
circumspect as the occasion required, Marten was the
crafty Odysseus of the Narrow Seas, and could bring
300 sail of Dutch merchantmen safely through the
English Channel, though Blake and Penn were wait-
ing for him in the Downs.

But Jaevens's portrait is admirable also for what it
tells us of the manners of the man as shown by his
dress. There was no regular uniform in the navies
of those days, and Marten Tromp might have had
himself painted in lace and shining armour like most
of the Admirals and Generals-at-Sea of that period ;
but he chose to appear in what was evidently his
daily wear, a plain, serviceable-looking doublet, not
too elegantly cut or adjusted, and with nothing more
ornamental in its make than a cuff, which I think
was then old-fashioned. There is no lace cravat,
only a plain square-cut linen collar, on which the
long hair, now growing thin and ungracefully relaxed
with age, falls in careless unkempt ends. A small
medallion hangs on his breast ; but except for that
there is no decoration, neither chain, lace, embroidery,
nor lappel about the person of this old sea-dog of


Holland. It is very different from a Reynolds'
portrait of an English admiral, a peer in lace and
ruffles, with a fleet in action on the distant back-
ground. Each artist was true enough, no doubt, to
the character of his subject ; yet there was probably
more in common between Marten Tromp and our
English Boscawens and Hawkes than the elegant art
of Reynolds and his school quite brings out.

Cornelis, the younger Tromp, is a fitter subject for
Sir Joshua than his father. There is no doubt about
him ; he is as much a magnifico as Lord Sandwich
or Prince Rupert himself. Plump and sleek, with
elegantly curled locks in his earlier portrait as
Lieutenant Admiral of the Maze, in his age he is
still more resplendent, a perfect dandy of the Re-
storation period, with a gorgeous hat and feather,
superb cravat and immense peruke descending in
heavy curls over his steel corselet. He was a gallant
seaman too, though rasher and less capable than his
father. His face has a bull-dog kind of courage in
it, but is fleshy and puffed, and altogether wanting in
the strenuousness of old Marten's.

Such changes, of course, are part of the general
history of civilisation. No nation can retain with
increasing wealth the ancient simplicity of its manners,
and the real question is what capacities of political
evolution lie in it, what new stratum of the national
life it can bring forward to replace or recruit the class


whose energies have begun to flag from success and
satiety. But apparently there was no reserve ot
strength in so small a nation as Holland to produce
a second growth. The ruling mercantile class also
had grown apprehensive, timorous about their com-
mercial interests, and began to be fatally influenced
by the idea of restricting and contracting their trade
and settlements to some fancied point of security
and easy management, instead of seeking a larger
unity and a bolder development of their empire. In
the case of the East India Company, which included,
one way or another, nearly all the influential mer-
chants of Holland, this policy had a damaging effect
on many of their settlements. They conquered islands
like Celebes, only to find that they lost most of their
commercial value in their hands,^ and the great colony
at the Cape suffered particularly from this policy of
restricting development. In the Moluccas and the
Banda islands they destroyed every year great quan-
tities of clove and nutmeg trees to secure a mono-
poly for what they could bring in their own ships.
Their ideal was to have a strictly limited trade,
with high dividends to the Company. But the re-
sult was that the consumption of these spices in
Europe, which in any case perhaps was on the
wane, decreased greatly as the price rose, pepper
and ginger taking their place in a great measure ;
See Crawfurd, vol. ii. p. 443.


and every now and then the Company had to burn
immense surplus quantities of spice at Amboyna
and Middleburg.

Owing to this policy the famous Eastern trade was
carried on, as far as oceanic commerce was concerned,
by a comparatively small number of ships, about four-
teen every year during the seventeenth century, and
from twenty to thirty during the eighteenth. As there
was no encouragement of private enterprise, most of
the commerce of the East, especially the tea trade from
China, fell into the hands of British and American
private traders, and even the intercourse between
Holland and her own Colonies, in spite of the heavy
duties on foreign shipping, was largely carried on by
the ships of those two nations.^ From these causes
the Dutch trade and capital employed in the East
remained on too small a basis to meet the increasing
expense of armaments and the losses in time of war.
In the eighteenth century most of the settlements
were appearing in the Company's books with balances
on the wrong side. In 1779 the excess of expend-
iture over receipts in all of them taken together
amounted to nearly iJ"! 50,000 sterling.

But the sales of Eastern merchandise at home still
yielded a large profit, and the value to the nation of
a field which gave employment to 20,000 common
men, and a high career as administrators, navigators,

^ Crawfurd, Indian Archipelago, vol. iii. p. 289.


and merchants to some thousands more, is not, of
course, computed in the Company's books. Those,
however, who were best acquainted with the condi-
tion of the Company's affairs, Governor van Imhoff
in 1743, and the great authority. Governor Mossel in
1753, had begun to sound a note of warning, though
the latter struggles to make the figures look as well
as possible: and honest Stavorinus, in 1777, wrote
openly that the Company was likely to have a " disas-
trous termination at no very distant period if more
effectual measures of redress are not resorted to."
Stavorinus, indeed, has already begun to moralise
on the " inscrutable designs of Providence," which
enlargeth a nation and straiteneth it again. His
gloomy prognostics are founded mainly on three
points, the inability of Holland to supply the sea-
men and soldiers required to maintain these distant
settlements, the prevalence of corruption amongst the
Company's officials, and the expense of their wars
in the acquisition of territory.^

Wars, no doubt, especially European wars, were
amongst the immediate causes of the Company's
ruin. Its basis was not large enough to support the
losses inflicted on its Colonies and commerce in 1781,
when the Dutch, in the hope of overwhelming a
dangerous rival, joined France, Spain, and the United
States in their war with Britain. In these years the
^ Vol. iii., chapters vi. and vii.


Company was sinking ever deeper into debt, all the
more hopelessly that its difficulties were not fully
made public, most of the leading merchants of the
nation having an interest in the monopolies, and even
the national pride of the Dutch being concerned to
cover up the decaying condition of this relic of their
former grandeur.

It was unfortunate for the great colony at the
Cape that it belonged to the Company, and was tied
to the system of administration and the policy
established in the Dutch Indies.

In the Company's service it counted only as a
station of second or third-rate standing. There were,
as Crawfurd observes, few men of much note amongst
the administrators of the Dutch Indies (one result of
the purely mercantile aims of the Company), and
these naturally aspired, not to an appointment at the
Cape, but to one at Ceylon or Amboyna, which was
in the high road of things, and led direct to a seat
in the Council at Batavia and the chance of the
governor-generalship. The Cape was only their
" frontier fortress " and victualling station, and when
the great conflict began, the best regiments, as a
matter of course, were withdrawn from it to guard

Yet the Cape had some good governors, like Simon
van der Stel and Ryk Tulbagh, men who identified
themselves with the colony and its interests rather


than with the Company, though even Governor
Simon in his later years seems to have succumbed
to the relaxing atmosphere of the colonial service, as
his son Wilhelm Adriaan, who ruled after him, did
in a still greater degree. In general, the colony at
the Cape, under the aristocratic rule of these days,
was a helpless participator in all the evils of the
system. Both the States-General and the Directors,
it is true, made at times earnest efforts to remedy
disorders and the prevalent corruption, but there was
something in the declining fortunes of Holland
which made great or fundamental reforms impossible.
There was the moral and material exhaustion follow-
ing on conflicts too great for the strength of the
nation, there was the consciousness of its military
weakness and the decay of public spirit which that
caused, and there was the insufficiency of Holland as
a centre for the supply of immigrants and troops.
All these things, together with the selfish policy of
the Company, which sacrificed the trade of the
colony to protect its own, made the rule of the Dutch
at the Cape unsatisfactory, deficient especially in
guidance and enterprise.

The celebrated Abbe Raynal, one of the philo-
sophic spirits of the eighteenth century, has a story
in his great Histoire philosopJiique et economique des
Deux hides of the last Portuguese Governor of
Malacca, who had been forced after an obstinate


resistance to surrender that settlement to the Dutch.
The Dutch general, it is said, asked him if they ever
expected to get it back again. " Yes," replied the
Portuguese, " when your sins have become greater
than ours." I don't know that their sins ever became
greater, or even as great, for the Dutch are naturally
a prudent people, but evidently their time too had
come in these last years of the eighteenth century,
and both France and Britain, the Mede and the
Persian, were already at their gates.


The First British Occupation — The State of the Colony in
1795 — General Craig's Administration — The Boers of

In 1793 Pitt had reluctantly made up his mind that
there was nothing for it but war with the new French
democracy, which was showing more resources than
he had expected, and had begun to take up an
aggressive attitude towards Holland. The worst of
it was that in that country, as in many others, the
defects of the old regime had created a strong
revolutionary party, which was ready to believe in an
era of universal equality and fraternity, and to ally
itself with the French invaders whenever they
appeared. A revolution in Holland therefore meant
the practical control by the French of Dutch naval
resources and Dutch power in the Indies. In these
circumstances one of the first things England had
to consider was the position of the Dutch naval
station at the Cape of Good Hope, which, as Sir
Francis Baring, one of the Directors of the English


East India Company, wrote at this time to Secretary
Dundas, " commanded the passage to India as effec-
tually as Gibraltar doth the Mediterranean." The
States-General and the Directors of the Dutch East
India Company, who were of the Orange and Anti-
Revolutionary party, were well aware of their weak-
ness, and consented, after some hesitation, to receive
a British garrison at the Cape to secure it against a
French attack, partly as a return for the services,
which they gratefully acknowledged, of the British
navy in guarding and convoying their commerce in
the East.i A reverse, however, which the French
suffered in the Netherlands at this time, seems to
have calmed the apprehensions of the British Govern-
ment, and nothing was done till an event occurred
which altered the whole situation. The French
General Pichegru, taking sudden advantage of a
severe frost, called his soldiers from their winter
quarters, and crossing the Meuse and the Scheldt
took possession of Holland, overthrew the govern-
ment of the Stadtholder, and set up a new " Batavian
Republic " under French auspices, and really under
French control.

It was as a counter- weight to this blow and a

necessary measure of self-defence that Britain fitted

out the expedition, ultimately amounting to between

four and five thousand troops, which in 1795 took

1 See Records of Cape Colony, 1793- 1796, PP- 4-18.


possession of the Cape, after a very slight resistance
on the part of the garrison and the inhabitants.

The British Government had certainly little idea of
the administrative problems it was entailing on itself
and its successors. The territorial dimensions of the
Cape Colony, it is true, were already imposing, the
trekking habits of the Dutch farmer having constantly
extended its area till it now covered over a hundred
thousand square miles. But the Dutch population in
this extensive territory was not really large, consist-
ing, according to the census returns of 1795, of about
15,000. There was, besides, a population of slaves
numbering about 17,000, and a large number of

But economically as well as politically this great
territory was in a state of confusion and disorganisa-
tion. The Dutch East India Company, under whose
rule it was, had become bankrupt, and had been obliged
the year before to declare itself unable to meet the
interest on its loans. Its paper money, which as legal
tender had become the only circulation in the colony,
had depreciated over fifty per cent., and was besides,
owing to the negligence of the Company's methods,
extensively corrupted by fraudulent issues. The
farmers were impoverished by monopolies and re-
strictions of trade, which existed for the benefit of
the Company and its officials ; the rents of these in
the remoter districts were years in arrear, and the


regular collection of taxes had become impossible.
Fiscal exactions had driven away the trade with

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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 3 of 21)