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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paper money, which they cannot use to buy necessaries from
Europe or elsewhere [ships calling at Capetown will not
take such money\ a device for the Company to get all the specie


into its treasury " in a subtle and deceitful manner." For these
reasons we have dismissed the Honourable Company, with all
its unlawful servants, and have resolved not to obey its law or
pay it taxes or duties, as we judge it not legal to pay any taxes
for lands and places which we have always been obliged to
defend at our own expenses. [Ho7c/ does that doctrine about
taxation and duties strike you, new British Governor? Nothing
for nothing. If we need your markets, your lead and gun-
powder, you need our cattle. And then the lo7ig-headed Boer
puts for%vard some carefully chosen words of submission to
authority.'] But we have never thought that the said district
[of Graaff-Rei7iet'\ could be without any protector \note the
word]. The burghers have never therefore opposed themselves
against their High Mightinesses the States-General, nor against
the Honourable Commissary Sluysken [the last Dutch Goverttor],
nor against any who are not guilty of the destruction of the
country ; and if we are defamed to the contrary, we declare, as
the voice of the people [new French watchword come into
fashion at Graaff-Reittet], that it is not true, but false. [This is
rather a refned distinction, and not altogether according to the
facts. It was Commissary Sluyskcn's magistrates and special
commissioners whom they had ignominiously expelled; his taxes
they had refused to pay. But the burghers want to use their
allegiance to Holland as a possible pretext against submission.
Then follows a statement 0^ their doings with the local
Government .•]

It has been judged expedient by the general vote of the
people to choose representatives of the burghers to sit with the
War Ofificer and Heemraden [assessors or local councillors,
burghers like themselves, but appointed by the Cape Government] .
Further, it has been judged expedient to appoint the burgher
Carel David Gerotz, in expectation of (your) approbation or
until further orders, as provisional landdrost, and T. V. Oertel
as provisional secretary, the discontent of the burghers being
thereby changed into good order ; all which is now left to your
Excellency's approbation. The undersigned request therefore
very pressingly your Excellency will be pleased to appoint for our


district, as soon as possible, proper magistrates, and to provide
the said district with the necessary gunpowder and lead for the
preser\'ation of the same. [ That last is important^ to get a good
supply of powder and lead from this English Governor; for
that they must make some more or less formal and distinct
recognition of his authority. About the next point in their
letter there is evidently a little delicacy. They are a pious people
of the Dutch Reformed Church, and they require a parson.
Their last one, Mr. Manger, had been with them since 1792, but
decided to leave them when they expelled their magistrates and
set up for themselves. Perhaps it should be stated that the
parson in Cape Colony was almost a State official, with a high
official status, and paid by the Governfnent. The burghers state
their case thus .•] The undersigned request your Excellency will
also be pleased to provide our church, which is being con-
structed and already half finished at the expense of the poor
inhabitants, with a parson ; and as we know, yet choose to
forbear speaking of, the reasons why our parson, in a subtle
manner, is gone from us [t'ery suspicious people, the Graaff-
Reineters, always apt to see subtlety ifi others^ notwithstanding
we had assured him of his safety, we hope that he will repent of
it and return again to his forsaken community. [An awkward
business this : return of repentant prodigal father. The letter
concludes with a cautiously worded professioft of submission, or
something which might be take?! for such .•]

We are still destitute of your Excellency's respected orders,
which we expect in order to know how to behave ourselves in
our present critical situation, whilst we have the honour most
humbly to assure your Excellency that according to our oath
and duty we will not fail — [ what ? ] — to contribute to the
preservation and welfare of this country. We have been
commanded by the general \'ote of the people to represent all
the aforesaid to your Excellency, and expect a favourable
answer, and after having recommended your Excellency to the
protection of the Supreme Being, we have the honour to be, &c.
\The signatures include those of C. D. Gerotz, the provisional
Tanddrost, Adriaati van faarsveld, f. foubcrt and others^


That was the first communication which passed
between the ancestors of the Transvaal Boer, the
Krugers, Jouberts and Prinsloos of that time, and the
representative of the British Government ; it was the
beginning of a conflict which has lasted a hundred
years, and in which I find the lineaments of the actors
and the fundamental nature of the dispute have
remained much the same. What was an average
honourable English gentleman like General Craig (for
even Mr. Theal admits he was a just and honourable
man) to make of that letter with its phrases of sub-
mission, " we have appointed a landdrost in expecta-
tion of your approbation or till further orders " — " all
left to your Excellency's approbation " ? Would you
not think that it meant the recognition of British
authority ? Nothing of the kind ! Throughout their
long letter they carefully avoid any formal expression
of allegiance. Their idea is a kind of undefined
overlordship or suzerainty under which the British
Governor may confirm their appointments of magis-
trates, and perhaps himself appoint them, though they
hope he will confine himself to the former, but under
which they will be allowed to do much as they like
in their district, especially as regards the treatment
of natives and the extension of settlements to the
east of the Fish River ; on such terms they will
recognise him as as their — Protector ! that is their
cautiously chosen word, title invented for the



situation : if his iLxccllency will be contented with
that, and send lliem a good sui)ply of powder and lead
then he can construe this letter as he likes, and report
that the lioers of Graaff-Reinct have submitted to his

But General Craig failed to grasp the diplomatic
character of the letter ; and probably setting down its
ambiguities to the rustic simplicity of the farmers,
received it as an acceptance of British authority. He
replied in a very friendly strain, confirming their
provisional appointment of a landdrost until Mr.
Bresler, formerly an officer in the Dutch garrison,
whom he had chosen for the post, should arrive. He
tells them he has done away with the monopolies and
restrictions of which they complain, and has made
the coasting trade free, so that they can convey their
produce to the capital " at a twentieth part of the
expense and a tenth part of the time that has hitherto
been required." He exhorts them to continue in the
" sentiments of moderation and patriotism which so
evidently appear to have dictated your letter" — "in
the principles of religion and virtue ; due submission
to the laws of that society in which Providence has
placed us," &c., &c. For there is piety on both sides,
each with its peculiar modifications.

It was a great surprise, then, to the general when
he heard what occurred on the arrival of Mr. Bresler,
the landdrost whom he had appointed. That same


day (22nd Feb., 1796) a meeting of the burghers was
held at Graaff-Reinet village, during which amongst
others the following persons were particularly active,
Pieter Kruger, Jacobus Kruger, Jan Kruger, Schalk
Burger, Adriaan van Jaarsveld, Jacobus Joubert,
Marthinus Prinsloo. When Mr. Bresler rang the bell
and had the British flag hoisted in due form at
the drostdy, Joubert and Jan Kruger hauled it down,
and informed Mr. Bresler that they would not re-
cognise his authority. There was nothing for Mr.
Bresler to do but return. He had been successful
in getting the parson of Graaff-Reinet, Mr. Manger,
to accompany him, and the burghers made pro-
posals to the latter to remain. But the parson
declined them, and went off with the landdrost.
From the reports I find that their proceedings had
at times been tumultuous, and that Mr. Bresler
thought himself in danger. They " passed the whole
day and night (19th September) in the utmost
licentiousness and riot," writes the latter. (^Records,
1796-99, p. 392.)

On hearing of these events. General Craig de-
spatched a considerable force to establish the authority
of the Government. But the news of its coming was
enough, and before it could reach distant Graaff-
Reinet, the majority of the burghers, seeing they
had a strong and resolute Government to deal with,
resolved to submit. The general at once recalled

F 2


the military ; and in return received a letter of the
frankest submission, this time from the Graaff-Rein-
eters, who declare themselves to be " faithful subjects "
of his Majesty's Government. This letter was signed
by provisional landdrost Gerotz and others in the
name of the whole district. But it really represented
the sentiments only of the moderate party there.
The men of Bruintjes Hoogte and the Zuurveld, the
Prinsloos, Krugers, Besters, and others, had a meeting
of their own, and sent in a separate letter of sub-
mission, which is cooler in the tone of its loyalty and
shows a real or (as Mr. Bresler thinks) pretended
anxiety about indemnities for the past and guaran-
tees for the future, which is not a too hopeful augury.
It is not unlikely that Woyer, the French emissary,
who was busy amongst them in these insurrectionary
movements, had been filling their heads with stories
of press-gangs for the British navy, the aristocratic
rigour of British law and discipline, and other things
of that nature, to which their suspicious minds were
but too ready to listen. There is something curious
in the semi-legal, laboriously studied character of the
language by which they seek to guard themselves
against the fancied resentment of the Government,
or, particularly, of the Cape Dutch officials. The
main purport of the letter, however, is contained in
its concluding part, in which the burghers ask leave
to make a retaliatory raid against the Kaffirs, and to


occupy nezv lands beyond the Fish River, the boundary
between the Colony and the Kaffir tribes : —

We request your Excellency will be pleased ... to enable
us to go and fetch back such cattle belonging to the aforesaid
poor inhabitants as is still in the Kaffir country, in order to
restore the same to the lawful owners.

And we further beg leave most humbly to request your
Excellency will be pleased to allow us to occupy another tract
of land, situated on the other side of the Great Fish River
unto the Koonab (or, if it could be, unto the Kat River), m
order that not only those who dwell too near each other may
thereby be enabled to enlarge their business of breeding cattle,
but also those who have not yet got any place, and who are
still obliged to dwell with others, may likewise thereby be
enabled to obtain one, and thus to forward their business.

There were other requests also for a landdrost in
sympathy with their views, and not Mr. Bresler, and
for the appointment of Heemraden from a list
chosen by themselves — requests reasonable enough
in ordinary times and settled districts, but hardly
expedient to grant in the present condition of

Their letter was handed by General Craig to
Mr. Bresler, whose comments on it are given in a
long letter to the general. {Records, 1793-6, p. 497.)
The sum of his criticism is this, that the magistrates
who conducted the retaliatory expedition against the
Kaffirs in 1793 could get no accurate account at the
time from the burghers of their losses, only a
general statement that the number of cattle taken


from them collectively was 65,357 ; while the
census returns i^iven in by the same burghers for
that year gave the number of cattle they possessed
as 8,004. Mr. Bresler considers their compensation
was fairly adequate, that there is plenty of un-
occupied land in the Zuurveld, and that their desire
for the Kat River territory simply means a desire to
get far enough from the magistrate's supervision*
to raid the Kaffirs and carry on an illicit trade.

In his reply General Craig assured the burghers
of complete indemnity for the past, suspended the
collection of arrears of rent (eventually they were
acquitted of them), but emphatically forbade any
thoughts of a raid on the Kaffirs or of occupying
the territory on the other side of the Great Fish
River. " With what face," he writes, " can you ask
of me to allow you to occupy lands which belong
to other people ? what right can I have to give you
the property of others? and what blessing or pro-
tection could I expect from God were I to cause
or even to encourage such a gross and glaring act of
injustice ? Should I not, in every view of morality
and religion, be responsible for every life that
would be lost in such a contest, &c., &c. ? " Since
the boundary line between the colony and the Kaffirs
had been fixed in 1780 at the Great Fish Riven
General Craig was no doubt right in refusing the
farmers' request to be allowed to occupy the lands at


the Koonab and Kat Rivers, a rich and beautiful
tract, afterwards the subject of much dispute ; it
would have brought him into collision with the great
Kaffir tribe under Gaika, whose authority extended
over this region. But the men of Bruintjes Hoogte
would hardly appreciate either his delicacy or his
policy. The district itself was at this time sparsely
inhabited, and Gaika himself had no very ancient rights
in it. However, the matter ended here for the time,
especially as all hopes of a successful insurrection dis-
appeared soon after with the capture of the Haasj'e, a
vessel loaded with guns and ammunition which the
revolutionary agent, Woyer, had persuaded the Dutch
Governor at Batavia to send to the burghers of Graaff-

We see then the administrative and political
problems the British Government had fallen heir to
in Gape Colony. The difficulty lay nearly all in
one region, the eastern frontier of the colony at the
Fish River. Up to 1770 the advance of the colonists
eastward along the coast had been easy amidst thinly
scattered and decaying clans of the Hottentots ; but
at the Fish River they encountered a formidable
barrier in the shape of the great Kaffir race, them-
selves advancing from the east, and the question of
expansion became one which meant fierce warfare
with powerful tribes, and included questions of
morality and jurisprudence, all the graver that the


Kaffirs were a highly organised race, living under
tribal government and a well established system
of laws.

The difficulty was increased for the British Govern-
ment by the intractable nature of the frontier Boer.
Long contact with the native races had made him
suspicious and somewhat treacherous. Laws and
taxes seemed to him only so many subtle devices for
overreaching him ; and as he was accustomed on his
solitary farm to be a law to himself in all that he did
he could hardly be brought to submit to the law of
the State when that did not agree with his own
notions of things.

With the arrival of Lord Macartney in May 1797,
General Craig's provisional governorship came to an
end. The general had had some hopes indeed of
obtaining himself the official position of Governor,
the duties of which, especially the peaceful adminis-
trative ones, he thinks would be congenial to him ;
" the country is so open to improvement " (he writes to
Secretary Dundas), " that it would furnish in time of
peace exactly that species of employment which is,
of all others, the most congenial to my mind." It is
good, he thinks, after years of war and arms, to spend
one's sober years in works of peace and progress, and
he learns with regret that it is the decision of his
Majesty's Ministers to send out a Civil Governor,
" which puts an end to every hope I had formed." He


departed with the esteem, as Dr. Theal admits, of the
colonists, and received due honours from the Govern-
ment, being made a Knight of the Bath, with a high
appointment on the Bengal Staff. In after years his
ambition to devote himself to peaceful arts and the
business of colonial administration was gratified by
his being sent out as Governor to Canada. Perhaps
when there he often looked back with regret to the
peaceful life of a Lieutenant-General.


The Bushman Race — The Racial Conflict on the Northern
Frontier — Van Jaarsveld's Commando at the Zeekoe River.

It was not only on the eastern frontier that a
savage warfare existed between the Boers and the
natives. A still more relentless struggle had been
going on for years along the northern boundary of
the colony, from the Roggeveld ranges to the moun-
tains of Sneeuwberg and Tarka. A pigmy race of
savages, called by the Dutch colonists Bosjesmans or
Bushmen, lived in those parts, wandering in loose
bands over the desert, or occupying caverns in the
mountains north of the Sneeuwberg. They had some
points of resemblance to the Hottentots, but were of a
lower race, with a tendency to deformities of person,
which may have been due to the extreme wretched-
ness of their condition, living as they did in crannies
of the rocks or crouching naked, as Thompson saw
them, under thorn-bushes for shelter against the night
winds. They were a feeble race physically, their
chief weapon a diminutive arrow, poisoned at the tip.


but they were active and tireless of foot, and had
more than the usual dexterity of the savage in con-
cealing their advance or retreat. To get at them at
all the Boer commandos had to take them either by
surprise or treachery. Their subsistence was pre-
carious even for savages ; at times they managed to kill
wild game when that was abundant, and then there was
a feast from which they never rose till their stomachs
became grotesque protuberances on their emaciated
figures ; but most of the time they had nothing to
eat but wild roots, locusts and the larvae of insects.

Pringle, Philip and others assert that this miserable
race was at one time a pastoral people, living in com-
parative ease at least on the produce of their flocks
and herds. ^ But as the Dutch colonists increased in
number and spread over the interior, this feeble race,
without any tribal organisation, was gradually driven
from its pasture grounds where subsistence was easy,
to the desert and the mountains. There the Bush-
man was forced to dig roots for a subsistence, and
when that failed him to steal sheep and cattle from
the Boer. There were numbers of tame Bushmen,
however, as they were called, who accepted service
with the farmer and looked after his herds, in
return for their food and a little tobacco. In 1775
the Swedish naturalist, Sparrman, saw many of them
living thus, contentedly enough, amongst the farmers
^ Philip's Researches in South Africa^ vol. ii. p. 2.


of the Lange Kloof district. He states that it was a
common thing then for the Boers to make up a party
for the capture of Bushmen to serve on their farms,^
and a Hottentot whom he met in the same district
had three Bushwomen and their children in his
custody whom he was taking " home to his master
for slaves." In the north-eastern parts, particularly
about Camdeboo and the Sneeuwberg, the mountain
Bushmen, who had the worst character as plunderers,
were pursued and exterminated, Sparrman says, like
wild beasts.2

It seems to be clear that about the year 1770 this
warfare between the Boers and the Bushmen had
assumed larger dimensions and a more relentless
character. Before that time, according to both
Barrow and Thompson, the Bushmen were ac-
customed to come openly into the colony begging,
sometimes pilfering, but " they never attempted the life
of any one " But in the year mentioned the Dutch
Government seems to have made up its mind for a
decided policy of aggressive defence, or, some might
call it, expansion on the northern frontier. A com-
mandant-general was appointed for the border ; a
great commando took the field in three divisions, the
whole country along the great northern ranges was
scoured, and the reports given in by the commander

^ Sparrman, Voyage to the Cape of Good Hope, vol. i. p. 202.
2 Idem, p. 198.


stated that five hundred Bushmen were shot and
over two hundred made prisoners, the latter no
doubt mostly women and children, who were, Dr.
Theal says, " apprenticed to the farmers for a term
of years." One European was shot during the

It was this custom of carrying their wives and
children into captivity, Barrow says, " which rankled
most in the breasts of the Bushmen and excited them
to fierce retaliations on the Boer farmers and the
Hottentots who served them as scouts." One can see,
too, that the custom was a great temptation to the
farmers, especially in later years, when slaves
ceased to be imported and the supply of Hottentot
herdsmen grew scarce. The Bushman with his
slender arrow could do little against the mounted
Boer and his great roer in the open field, but his
stealthy approach might take a single victim un-
awares. In the more remote and exposed districts of
the Sneeuwberg and Tarka the farmer could hardly
gather a few vegetables in his garden or venture five
hundred yards from his house without his gun.

On the other side commandos became frequent
and sanguinary, and the names of the veld-com-
mandants on the northern border. Van der Walt,
Van Jaarsveld, Nel and Van Wyck would be famous
in the annals of this savage warfare, if any one, even
Dr. Theal, cared to record its details. It was, of


course, man-hunting rather than figlitinf^. Here is
one day's work out of a hundred such in those
years, that of an expedition to the Zeekoe River
(near modern Colesberg) in 1775 under Van Jaars-
veld, extracted from his own report to the Landdrost
of Stellenbosch : — ■

August loth. — Proceeded from Blauwe-Bank along the river
about two hours, with the whole commando, to a place called by
us Keerom, whence, the manners of the natives being known to
me by experience, I despatched the same evening some spies to
Blauwe-Bank to learn whether the Bushmen were not with the
sea-cows \yiiJiicJi the Boers had shot and left to entice the Biish-
inen\ ; for they will always assemble in the night where they
know something is to be had.

About midnight the spies returned, saying they had seen a
great number of Bushmen there, when I immediately repaired
thither with the commando, waiting till day-break, which soon
appeared ; and having divided the commando into parties, we
slew the thieves \\^an Jaarsveld uses the term here quite
generically as a syjionyni for Bushme?t\ and on searching,
found one hundred and twenty-two dead ; five escaped by
swimming across the river.

After counting the slain, we examined their goods, to see
whether anything could be foimd whereby it might be ascer-
tained that they were plunderers j when ox-hides and horns
were found, which they were carrying with them for daily use.

Pages of such reports might be quoted, but that
one, as it stands, is perfect and convincing as to the
character of this warfare with the Bushmen. Indeed
the Boer, even when he was in other respects a just
and excellent man, could see no more harm in
shooting Bushmen than if they were so many rabbits.


A few days before Barrow set out from Capetown on
his journey to the interior a Boer who had just come
in from Graaf-Reinet called at the secretary's office.
He was asked if he had found the savages numerous
or troublesome on the road, and " replied lie had only
shot four, with as much composure and indifference

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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 5 of 21)