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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foreign shipping ; and internal trade, owing to the
depreciation of the paper money, was mostly carried
on by barter. Corruption, as might be expected,
went hand in hand with mismanagement. Commo-
dore Blankett, of the Royal Navy, in his report to
the Admiralty, states that " the duties on import to
Capetown on some articles come near a fourth of the
whole value, and there is a charge of five per cent, on
its re-export, without any drawback whatever being
allowed. This is a great discouragement (to trade)
as well as the mode of levy, which is done at the gate,
liable to the connivance or oppression of the tax-
gatherer who collects it, on the spot or after sale, in
proportion as he chooses to favour the parties. In
some such spirit of levy are all their taxes gathered,
so that an officer of revenue makes his place worth
holding without considering the salary more than an
appendage to his office." {^Records of Cape Colony,
Tan. 10, 1796.)

The burghers themselves, the merchants of Cape-
town as well as the farmers of the interior, felt that
the Company's mismanagement had brought the
colony to the verge of ruin. Amongst the different
reports the British Government was careful to obtain
before commencing the work of reform and restoration,
there is one from a Mr. Kersteins, a Dutch merchant


of Capetown, from which the reader may form an idea
of the disorganisation which reigned in the affairs of
Cape Colony. The report is evidently, as Admiral
Elphinstone, who forwards it, says, that of an indepen-
dent burgher, and may illustrate the feeling of those
colonists who, while they had no confidence in the
principles of the revolutionary party, despaired of the
rule of the Orange officials at Capetown, and were not
unwilling to welcome a change of flag, if it brought
good government with it.

This colony has for several years been on the decline, and
rapidly approaching its annihilation. The intolerable shackles
laid on trade, the monopoly, the paper currency, the stamp
taxes of all description, and above all the Jacobin mania, are
the chief causes ; and I venture to say that nothing less than a
revolution could have saved it. . . . The population of the
colony does not exceed 21,000 inhabitants, the land is barren,
and the enemies with which the people are surrounded are
numerous. Government has lost its respect, and such was the
oppression of the inhabitants that every prospect of reconcilia-
tion had vanished. It is now two months since Government
sent a deputation to Graaff-Reinet — and that the Commissioners
were obliged precipitately to leave the district, under the most
imminent danger of losing their lives. Want of authority on
the part of our Government is the chief reason that the Cape
was so easily reduced. Everybody would command here, and
nobody would obey. . . . The inhabitants are for the greater part
impoverished ; this poverty has disposed them for disaffection
and revolt, as appears again by the example of Graaff-Reinet.

Mr. Kersteins then gives an account of the fiscal
policy of the Dutch Company, from which one may
infer two things at least : that the Company were in


great straits for money, and considered their own
needs more than those of the colonist ; and that the
weakness of their authority made them rather afraid
than otherwise to encourage and develop the re-
sources of the cattle farmers.

The Company, so far from encouraging the breed of cattle,
seems to have been resolutely bent upon the extermination of
them, and by every means to have sought to keep the inhabit-
ants low. The mediocrity of our breed of horses is likewise to be
attributed to the Company ; they have in no instance allowed
the captains of our Indiamen to import stallions from Holland
for the improvement of our horses. But monopolies are the
grievance to which we must look for the principal cause of the
misery of the inhabitants. The Company, in order to get its
own meat cheaper, has given to a Company, here called the
Slaughter Company, the exclusive grant of selling meat to
foreign ships. Now, admitting the common price to stand
thus :

A pound of meat 2 pence.

A sheep 2 rix dollars.

A bullock 8

Foreigners are obliged to pay the Slaughter Company :

For a pound of meat 4 pence.

A sheep 45 rix dollars.

A bullock 22 „

From that circumstance foreigners have for some time left off
frequenting this colony, the houses have fallen in price, one
half of them are without tenants, and that class of the inhabit-
ants who were used to subsist on a temporary small traffic with
them are reduced to mendicity.

.... By far the greater part of the farmers and of the
inhabitants of the town are bankrupts, the rest have their
property under sequester, and every individual looks forward
to impending ruin.



The kind of maladministration into which the
Company was driven by its weakness and want of
money is excellently illustrated by the method Mr.
Kersteins states it adopted to secure payment of
its taxes. The Slaughter Company was granted its
monopoly on condition of deducting whatever was
due by the farmers to the Government from its pay-
ments to the farmers :

The butchers send their servants into the interior parts of the
country for buying cattle ; these pay the farmers with bills on
their masters ; the farmer when he comes to town to receive
his money obtains only part of it, as the butcher, in correspon-
dence with the Company, deducts from the sum what he (the
farmer) owes the latter. Thus it is no unusual thing for a
farmer to make a two months' journey to town, in hopes to
purchase necessaries for his wife and small family, to see his
expectations baffled and himself obliged to return the same way
home, both without money and necessaries.

Mr. Kersteins then described the condition of the
wheat and the wine trade under similar monopolies,
after which he proceeds to another great grievance
— the depreciation of the paper money and its unne-
gotiable character under the security of a bankrupt
Company :

During the last war, the Company being in want of money,
they borrowed from the inhabitants the specie they had, upon
promise to restore it to them by the first ships from Europe ;
but no specie was sent, and paper was left to circulate. After
some time, however, some silver specie made its appearance ;
but it was broached on the inhabitants with an advance of 20
per cent., which directly occasioned a loss on the property of


every inhabitant of 20 per cent. ; meantime the foreign nations
which were used to frequent our ports, and to sell us their
commodities, finding that there was no money in the colony,
withdrew, forgot their way hither, and the paper-money fell an
additional 50 per cent.

Mr. Kersteins concludes by a prophecy, which now
that more than a hundred years have passed away,
we ought to be in some position to judge; but in
judging we must clearly distinguish between the
history of Cape Colony in general, and the history of
the Boer of the Graaff-Reinet frontier, the Boer of
the trek :

Laws, founded and framed on justice, and promulgated as
soon as possible, are what the people stand in need of. From
the knowledge I have of the inhabitants, I will venture to
prognosticate that if they can compass that essential point, they
will look up to the English as their liberators, and strenuously
adhere to their duty and obedience, &c. {Records^ 1 793-1 796,
p. 167.)

The Cape Colony under Dutch rule was evidently
a flagrant example of the ancien regime, under which
the people were governed mainly in the interests of
their governors. As a natural consequence, the new
doctrines of the French Revolutionists which declared
war on aristocracies and promised equal rights to all,
found a ready welcome amongst a people dissatis-
fied with the corruption and tyranny of the Orange
bureaucracy that governed them. When the British
fleet anchored in Simon's Bay, the great districts

E 2


of Swellendam and Graaff-Reinet were already in
revolt, had hoisted the French tricolour, and set up
a government of their own, which they called, in
imitation of the French Revolutionists, a National
Convention. And they could do this with perfect
impunity, for the Dutch Government at the Cape
had become so weak that it could no longer either
assert its authority within the colony or defend it
from attacks from without. Such was the disorganisa-
tion with which the first British Governors, after the
occupation in 1795, had to deal.

The first representative of British authority in Cape
Colony was General Craig, the commander of the
forces which had occupied the colony and were now
stationed there as a garrison. His experience had
been only that of a soldier, and the economic and
financial problems which surrounded him in his new
position as the Governor of a colony were often per-
plexing to him. He was, however, an able, prudent,
and highly honourable man, just the kind of person
required as interim Governor till the British Govern-
ment had time to make itself acquainted with the
situation and needs of the colony. His position
being only a temporary one, his powers were
restricted with regard to questions of commercial
policy and legislation which the Home Government
had not yet had time to consider. But he used his
discretionary powers freely according to the tenor


of the instructions he had received to reHeve the
inhabitants from the more oppressive fiscal exactions
and restrictions on trade ; and he met the temporary
inconveniences caused by the change of government
by a wise and indulgent use of permits.

For his chief work, that of restoring orderly
government in the colony and reducing the revolted
districts to obedience, he was well fitted both by his
qualities as a soldier and a character which was alike
modest, firm and conscientious. In Capetown and
the colony generally, General Craig encountered no
great opposition to his authority. This was partly
because the colonists were too widely scattered to
have any effective means of organisation ; but partly
also it was because the vast majority of the Boers
were colonists of the third and fourth generation
and too illiterate to feel any strong ties of senti-
ment with a mother country which they had known
chiefly through the unpopular government of the
Dutch East India Company. With the exception
of a small " Jacobin party," as the general called it,
which had caught the flame of the French Revolu-
tion, the inhabitants were not so unfriendly to British
rule as might have been expected. There was no
difficulty at least in the administration of affairs.
Both in Capetown and in the country districts, the
general found the Dutch magistrates ready to co-
operate with him ; and the correspondence between


them, which appears in the Records, shows a wonder-
ful degree of harmony in their relations, and even
something like mutual confidence.

One district only formed an exception, and seemed
for a time to threaten serious trouble. This was the
frontier district of Graaff-Reinet, which, before the
arrival of the British forces, had revolted against the
Company's rule and set up a government by " the
Voice of the People," on the French model. The
Cape Colony was at that time divided into four
districts, each with its own body of magistrates and
councillors ; that of Capetown, a comparatively
small district, and three other very large districts,
Stellenbosch to the north and west, Swellendam to
the east, and, still further east, and also stretching
away northwards in the vicinity of what is now
Colesberg, the district of Graaff-Reinet. It was this
last district, and chiefly the distant frontier part of
it, which made some show of holding out against the
authority of the British general.

Graaff-Reinet, and particularly the men of Bruint-
jes Hoogte and the Zuurveld on the Kaffir frontier,
had always been a source of trouble to the Dutch
Governors. There, on the lands lying along the
Little and Great Fish Rivers, which formed a
natural, though ill-kept and partly disputed boundary
between the colony and the territory of the Kosa-
Kaffir tribes, dwelt a race of rough frontier farmers


possessing large grazing farms, on which, with the
aid of slaves and Hottentot servants, they reared
great herds of cattle and sheep. The names of
these men of Graaff-Reinet appear so frequently
in the letters, reports, and judicial investigations
of the period, that you get quite familiar with them,
and can even here and there discern individual
characteristics. Amongst those names the most
frequent are those of Prinsloos, Burgers, Krugers,
Jouberts, Erasmuses, Bothas, Smits, — all names, the
reader will note, borne by the men who have been
leading the Boers in their present conflict with the

The district of Graaff-Reinet was then the great
stock-breeding district of Cape Colony. Much of it
was Karroo soil, but towards the eastern frontier it
was a pleasant country, with plenty of grass and
water. Sparrman found the inhabitants in easy cir-
cumstances and rather envied by some of the corn-
Boers as leading a kind of Arcadian life. The census
of 1795 shows that the inhabitants possessed a much
larger proportion of sheep and bullocks than the other
districts, though perhaps not more than a fifth or sixth
of what they really owned in this way ever appeared
in the Returns. They alone could supply the quantities
of cattle and sheep necessary for the support of Cape-
town, with its citizens, garrison, and shipping. But
the frontiersman in South Africa was just what he is


in every country which borders on a wild, uncivih'sed
population — a rough, self-reliant person, often taking
the law into his own hands and not easily brought
under the ordinary restraints of government. From
his earliest days he was habituated to warfare and
bloodshed. As an infant he had perhaps had to flee
with his mother over the veldt frorn a plundering band
of Bushmen, and even as a boy he learned to hunt the
same unhappy race in the mountains. There were
few frontier families who could not count relatives
fallen in this savage warfare, and had not suffered from
their stock being driven off by the natives. Of course
these injuries were repaid with interest. Usually the
plundered farmer called upon his neighbours to
assemble and help him to retake the spoil ; and an
expedition would go forth over the Nieuwveldt Moun-
tains or the Fish River, and there would be shooting
of Bushmen or Kafiirs, as the case might be, and raid-
ing of kraals, and the farmers would return home as
affluent in cattle, you may be sure, as they ever were,
and perhaps a few serviceable slaves, women and chil-
dren, would be added to the Boer household. Out of
this practice the commando system arose, which for
two hundred years has made every up-country Boer
a trained warrior after his fashion.

The faults were not all on one side. Between the
colonists and the Bushmen, who were irreclaimable
savages living on wild game and plunder, it was for


long a war of extermination, no quarter given or
expected on either side ; but with the Kaffirs, who
were a high class of savages, the relations of the
colonists were varying. They had some of them as
farm servants, they had treaties and agreements with
various powerful tribes living under their chiefs, they
were sometimes at war and sometimes at peace with
them. But, whether at war or at peace, there is no
doubt the frontier colonist was a very aggressive
neighbour. His wealth consisted in cattle and sheep,
and his supply of money was got mainly from the
amount of stock he could afford to sell to the Cape-
town agents. No efforts of the Government could
prevent many of the frontier colonists from entering
the territory of the natives and pursuing an illicit
trade in the purchase of cattle, a trade in which, says
one Dutch magistrate, who evidently had great faith
in the simplicity of the native, " the innocent Kaffir is
always the loser." At any rate, from the earliest days
the trade had been forbidden by the Dutch Governors
because it invariably led to quarrels and bloodshed.
Sometimes the colonist could persuade the native to
sell his cattle for trifles, beads or buttons ; sometimes
he enforced his bargains with his gun. It is evident
also that the frontier farmers of the early days found
advantages in a retaliatory raid. Some who had
been plundered of their cattle came back as well off
as ever, and some who had lost nothing gained by the


division of the captured booty. The very first Kaffir
war the Graaff-Reinet farmers had seems to have arisen
out of this ilHcit trade. Marthinus Prinsloo, it is said,
while engaged in it, shot one of the followers of the
Kaffir chief Rarabc. The Kaffirs revenged themselves
by a raid in which they drove off the farmers' herds.
Commandos were assembled under Joshua Joubert and
Adriaan van Jaarsveld for reprisals. Large numbers
of Kaffir cattle were taken. Adriaan alone distri-
buted over 5,000 amongst his ninety-two followers.
These expeditions were sanguinary also, women and
children were sometimes shot by the burghers as well
as men, and they were often captured and distributed
amongst the farmers.

Another cause of warfare between the frontier Boer
and the Kaffir lay in the impulse for expansion
which no government, Dutch or English, could quite
repress in the former. The frontier farmer was not an
agriculturist, but a grazier. Possessing large flocks and
herds, and inhabiting a soil somewhat scanty in grass,
he required an immense extent of territory for his uses.
His usual practice was when seeking, for one reason
or another, a change of settlement, to wander into a
new district and take up land to the extent of six
thousand acres or more, or three miles on every side
of the spot where he built his homestead. Having
done so, he notified the Government, and as a matter
of course was granted a right to the land as loan-land,


on condition that he paid a yearly rent of 25 rix-
dollars (about £s) to the Government. The grant was
supposed to be from year to year, but about that
condition the frontier farmer never troubled himself.
A title was of small value in his eyes, and he was
ready to change his ground on the least prospect of
advantage. When his sons were old enough they
could move further on and take up new lands for
themselves. As their families were often large, and
the size of their farms enormous, we can imagine what
the rate of their expansion would be. With such a
way of life, the land hunger of the Boer was unappeas-
able, as it still is ; and one of the chief difficulties of
the Cape Government in those days was to control
this expansion, and to impress on the trekking Boer
the necessity of some consideration for the native
races which he dispossessed. All the more so that
the Kaffir tribes with whom he came into contact on
the eastern frontier were warlike and well organised
under their chiefs, and he might easily involve the
Government in a struggle which in these days was
beyond its resources.

It was not altogether a matter of sentiment that
induced the Boers of Graafif-Reinet to hold out against
the authority of the British Governor. In their eyes
indeed the Orange bureaucracy at Capetown was
almost as alien and unsympathetic a race as any
British Government could be. The ideas that inspired


them were rather of a practical kind. As an inde-
pendent community they calculated on keeping all
the advantages of Capetown as a market and port of
supplies, while they did away with all the restraints
and obligations which the Capetown authorities im-
posed upon them in the interests of civilisation and
the general welfare. Their pretensions are stated by
Mr. Kersteins in the Report from which I have already
quoted as follows : — " They refuse paying taxes ; they
claim judiciary power with regard to the Hottentots
in their service (' wallop your nigger as much as you
like ') ; they proscribe the Moravians sent amongst
them for the purpose of instructing the Hottentots in
the Christian religion ; they claim the right of making
prisoners of war their slaves and property." {Records

1793-96, p. 172.)

Such was the ideal of a State which the frontier
Boer in his rude simplicity had conceived ; and it seems
to be doubtful if it has materially changed amongst
his descendants. It was a return of the natural man
to the fierce pagan civilisation of the early world.

The Graaff-Reinet insurgents were aware that they
had now a stronger Government to deal with at
Capetown. But they lived far away on the frontier,
where it would not be easy for the Government to
reach them, and they thought they might make their
own terms at little more cost than a formal profession
of submission. They were rough and illiterate men,


arrogant in their ignorance of the strength at the
disposal of the new British Governor, and very much
over-estimating their own. But, for all that, it would
be a mistake to think of them as a stupid people.
They knew nothing, it is true, of the moral traditions
and conventions on which European civilisation has
slowly built itself up. The story of Ruth or Joseph,
the chronicles of the wars of Israel, were far more
intelligible to them than any page in the history of
modern Europe could be. But in matters which lay
within their ken, the Boers of Graaff-Reinet were a
shrewd people. Self-reliance and hard matter-of-fact
calculation of their circumstances were necessities of
their existence. Indeed, few nations have been more
sternly trained in two arts which the world has always
held in honour — the arts of war and diplomacy ; they
were always at both, either fighting natives or diploma-
tising with them, or with the authorities at Capetown.
In the art of intriguing no gold-spectacled diplomatist
in Europe had more practice than the Boers of the
frontier ; and with all their illiteracy, and Landdrost
Maynier declares even some of the commandants could
not write or read with ease, Talleyrand himself could
not have chosen his phrases more carefully with a
view to future events, or mixed up points more adroitly
than is done in their correspondence with the Govern-
ment. In their first letter to General Craig (Oct. 25,
1795) they show that they know perfectly how to


cover audacious proposals under humble professions,
how to probe the amount of resistance to be expected,
and to leave themselves room either for an advance or
a retreat. That letter, read in the light of the events
which followed it, is so characteristic a specimen of
Boer diplomacy that I give it here in a condensed
form, adding some comments and elucidative notes
in brackets :

Honourable Sir, —

The undersigned, fearing that the inhabitants of this
district may perhaps be represented in a very bad light to your
Excellency by the one or other revengeful servant of the
Company, have thought proper to state their grievances to your
Excellency. . . . That the inhabitants would rather never have
meddled with any disturbance '[somewhat euphemistic phrase for
rebellion atid expulsion of the Companfs magistrates^ if the
taxes were not become intolerable, and if we had been able to
suffer our country, which we love as ourselves [touch of poetry
there^ which may soften the heart of this new Governor], to be
reduced to a state of poverty, and to become the prey of the
barbarous heathens. For twenty-six years we burghers have
had to defend with our goods and our blood this district, which
the Capetown and the navigation cannot dispense with [needed
to supply ineat for town and shipping, they mean\. That not-
withstanding these services, the burghers have been from time
to time more oppressed with taxes, while their principal pro-
ducts have been farmed out [i.e., granted to individuals as
monopolies], and thereby kept at low prices, while the burghers
have even been interdicted from selling their products to or
purchasing anything from foreigners, and have received only

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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 4 of 21)