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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as if he had been speaking of four partridges."

Up to the time of the British occupation in 1795
commandos were frequently out against the Bush-
men, and whole kraals of them were exterminated.^
Nevertheless at this period the Boers were not able
to crush the Bushmen entirely. On the approach
of a commando they generally managed, if not taken
by surprise, to retire to inaccessible deserts or moun-
tain passes where the Boers could not always get
at them ; and in the north-eastern corner of the
colony they were able at this time to hold their
ground and even forced the farmers to withdraw
from the lands they occupied north of the Zeekoe
River, and from parts of the Sneeuwberg and Tarka,
It is at this period that Pringle's So7ig of the Wild
Bushman may have its modicum of truth, after
removing the fine varnish of the Campbell style : —

The countless springboks are my flock,

Spread o'er the unbounded plain ;
The buffalo bendeth to my yoke,

The wild-horse to my rein.

^ See list of commandos, Philip's Researches, vol. i. pp. 43-53.


My yoke is the quivering assegai,
My rein the tough bow-string ;

My bridle-curb is a slender barb,
Yet it quells the forest king.

Thus I am lord of the Desert Land,

And I will not leave my bounds,
To crouch beneath the Christian's hands.

And kennel with his hounds :
To be a hound and watch the flocks.

For the cruel White Man's gain.
No ! the brown Serpent of the Rocks

His den doth yet retain ;
And none who there his sting provokes,

Shall find its poison vain !

The Bushmen, wretched as their condition was,
seem to have had faculties not incapable of cultiva-
tion, and in the matter of artistic talent at least they
stood higher than any of the races around them. The
sides of the caverns where they lived were frequently
scrawled over with drawings of antelopes, ostriches,
baboons, and other animals, which Barrow and other
travellers consider were executed with much spirit
and a true perception of what was characteristic in
the object. Thompson also notes their talent for
mimicry and readiness to take off in this way any-
thing ludicrous they saw in the attitudes of the Boers
or of English soldiers. The Boer thought the Bush-
man little better than the baboon, but perhaps the
latter took his revenge in some Aristophanic click-


clacking in the caves above Tarka. The httle
savages were surprisingly cheerful in their wretched-
ness, and would often dance the whole night long
in the moonlight to the sound of their raniaakie
or guitar.

Robert Moffat, the missionary, who knew the race
well and gives a very complete and candid account of
them in Labours and Scenes in Southern Africa
(pp. 46-54), says of them that " degraded as they
really are, they can be kind and hospitable too ;
faithful to their charge, grateful for favours, and
susceptible of kindness." .... " It is also habitual
with them," he adds, " on receiving the smallest
portion of food, to divide it with their friends ....
and a hungry mother will not unfrequently give
what she may receive to her emaciated children,
without tasting it herself"

But few virtues could be expected of a people who
were hunted and tracked like wild beasts to their
lairs, and who mostly hid in their caverns by day,
issuing only at night in search of something to eat.
Unless a Bushman were caught young it was rarely
that much could be done with him. The labours of
the first missionary amongst them, Mr. Kicherer, seem
to have had very little result, and those of the philan-
thropic Boers, Vischer and Botma, who tried to con-
tinue his work, less still. But the missions established



amoni^st them some years afterwards at Trovcrberg
and Hcphzibah were more successful according to the
well-known report of the Rev. A. Faure of Graaff-
Reinet, which is quoted in most of the missionary
literature of that period.^

1 See Moffat's Labours, already quoted, p. 51. Also Thomp-
son's Travels, vol. i., p. 405.


Lord Macartney's Administration — Reforms and Progress
under British Rule — The "Jacobin Party" at the Cape
— Sir George Yonge.

Lord Macartney, the first titular Governor at the
Cape, brought out with him the final instructions of
the British Government for the administration of the
colony. He was a high-spirited and courteous Irish-
man, with a pride that was almost vanity in the purity
and rectitude of his conduct in high offices. But he
was a man of great ability and large experience in
the higher departments of administration. It was
for these reasons no doubt that the veteran proconsul,
now well on in years, was specially chosen by the
Home Government to define and carry out its economic
and financial policy in South Africa. His instructions
are contained in a lengthy document given in the
Records, and are worth reading as a proof of the very
liberal spirit in which the British Government meant
to deal with its new possession. In particular, it is
prescribed to Lord Macartney, " that you do, without

G 2


delay, afford our subjects at the said settlement such
relief from the fiscal oppressions under which they
now labour, as you shall judge expedient, and jjar-
ticularly by abolishing monopolies, pre-emptions, and
exclusive privileges, and prohibitions and restraints to
the free exercise of their industry, either in agriculture,
manufactures, or other pursuits of interior commerce."
{Records, 1796- 1799, p. i.)

In conformity with these instructions, the old mon-
opolies and restrictions on trade, the exorbitant taxes
imposed for the privilege of selling any kind of pro-
vision to the shipping were finally abolished, and in-
ternal trade and coasting became practically free.
Goods from any part of the British dominions might
be imported free of duty in British ships.^ All vessels
of friendly Powers were allowed to trade with the
Cape on paying a duty of five per cent, on the British
goods they brought, and ten per cent, on foreign
goods. The trade to the East of the Cape, however,
was allowed to be carried on only by the ships
of the East India Company, or ships which had
received their license. And in the matter of internal
trade, the Governor was obliged to do what had
always been done, to fix a price (always a fair one) on
the produce required for his large garrison, otherwise
with a limited supply, and no resources nearer than

1 This permission, allowing a freedom of trade most unusual
at that time, was in 1802 restricted to British ports.


India and England, he would have been at the mercy
of speculators. But all this represented very liberal
ideas of trade for that time, and was a great improve-
ment on the times when the interior and the foreign
trade alike were under heavy restrictions, and carried
on only by special privilege or connivance.

As a consequence of these reforms the returns
exhibit a great growth of commerce at this period,
although the exports bear an unusually small propor-
tion to the imports on account of the peculiar cir-
cumstances of the colony, nearly all its produce being
absorbed by the Capetown market in the way of
supplies to the garrison and shipping. The addi-
tional taxes had been imposed, yet the revenue,
which in the last year of the Dutch government had
been atout iJ"20,ooo, rose in 1797 to ;^40,ooo, and in
1798 to over ^60,000. In 1801 it had risen to
;^90,ooo. The foreign shipping calling at the Cape,
mainly American, Danish and Portuguese, with a
few Swedish and Prussian vessels, being allowed to
trade as freely as British ships, and there being now
no monopoly in the sale of provisions, this traffic,
which had almost died away latterly under Dutch
rule, became a great source of profit to the colonists.
(See Barrow, vol. ii, p. 183.) During the same period
I find from a list of prices in the Records that the
value of the farmer's produce, his corn, mutton, beef,
butter, &c., had doubled, while the price of the


imports he was most in need of, such as tea, coffee,
sugar, cottons, &c., was much cheaper owing to the
increased facilities of trade.^ The matter of the
rent due by the farmers to the State was also
settled by Lord Macartney in a liberal way, by a
proclamation which acquitted the farmers of the most
distressed districts of all arrears of rent, in many
cases also allowing them to stand rent free for the
next six years, and in some lowering the rents to
half. (See Lord Macartney's instructions to the land-
drost of Graaff-Reinet ; Records, 1796- 1799, p. 95.)

In the Civil Service the changes made were of a
kind which tended to promote purity and a higher
sense of responsibility amongst the officials, without
giving offence to Dutch susceptibilities by any great
change of forms. The Dutch Judicature and Magis-
tracy were continued much on the old lines, and in
the hands of the same officials ; but the members of
the Court of Justice, most of whom had been paid by
the objectionable practice of bestowing on them other
lucrative employments, or privileges, or the reversion
of such (see Records, 1796-1799, p. 134; also 1793-
1796, p. 280), were now put on a system of fixed
salaries. The practice of torturing slaves and natives,
on suspicion of crime, and the infliction of barbarous
forms of the death penalty were abolished, not without
some grumbling on the part of the Burgher Senate,
1 Records, 1793-6, p. 238.


who quoted Dutch and Roman law in support of the

But a bare enumeration of official changes repre-
sents but poorly the impression one gets from, these
records of a good government, of a governor who was
anxious to understand the needs of the colony and
to do his best for it, and whose pride was to identify
British rule with a pure and intelligent administration.
The streets, the wharf and the fortifications, all of
which had been somewhat neglected, were now put
into good repair. New water conduits were made
for the supply of Capetown, and the pass at Hotten-
tot's Holland, the great route to the eastern parts of
the colony, was put into shape, the first of several
great undertakings of the kind, by a corps of engin-
eers. A scientific agriculturist, Mr. Duckett, was
also brought out from England to teach the farmers
better methods, and the use of more modern imple-
ments, though the Boers, a most conservative race,
would for long have nothing to do with him and his
implements. In every department, indeed, the pains-
taking hand of the new government was felt. To
me it seems that English energy and honesty, the
steady English sense of justice which demands a
firm but not a rigorous, and especially not a vengeful
administration of the law, are just as conspicuous
in these early records as they can be to-day in India
or Egypt.


It was not wholly, I think, the language of official
compliment when the whole of the Dutch officials at
the Cape, the wardens of the Reformed and Lutheran
Churches, the members of the Burgher Council, and
other bodies declared in a congratulatory address to
George III. in 1800, that the inhabitants of the colony
had, under British rule, " enjoyed the most perfect
tranquillity and happiness," and were " daily increas-
ing in prosperity" {Records^ 1 799-1 801, p. 296). That
appears to be a fair representation of public opinion
except at the disturbed eastern portion of the
frontier, amongst the farmers of Bruintjes Hoogte
and the Zuurveld.

But the reader who expects to find any direct
recognition of these improvements in the pages of
the official historian of South Africa will be disap-
pointed. In his review of the administration of Lord
Macartney, Dr. Theal is not only silent about such
general matters as the greater security and increased
value of property (except, of course, on the disturbed
frontier part), and the larger and freer market pro-
vided under British rule, he omits all reference to the
removal of trade restrictions, oppressive taxes and
corrupt methods of levying them, as if all that
which was finally carried out or confirmed by Lord
Macartney need not appear in the implied com-
parison he is there making between British and
Dutch rule.


Here is his statement of the case :

The free trade promised in 1795 also came to an end.^
Commerce with places to the east of the Cape of Good Hope
was restricted to the English East India Company, and heavy
duties were placed upon goods from the westward brought in
any but English ships. British goods brought from British
ports in British ships were admitted free of duty. The Govern-
ment resumed the power to put its own prices upon farm
produce, and to compel delivery at these rates for all that was
needed for the garrison and ships of war frequenting Simon's
Bay. The prices fixed, however, were fair and reasonable,
and the burghers did not object to sell at such rates, though
among themselves they spoke very bitterly of the arbitrary
rule to which they were subjected. {The Story of the Nations :
South Africa^ p. 120.)

I do not think that that paragraph could leave the
ordinary reader with any other impression than that
there had been little or no improvement in the ad-
ministration of trade under British rule, and that
there was even something unusually arbitrary in that
administration, which caused discontent among the

It is true that in other parts of his work Dr. Theal
has dropped sentences here and there, in one place
about the very bad system of taxation under the
Dutch Company, in another about its pernicious
effect upon the people, but he carefully avoids
bringing things together for a comparison, and is
thus able in his final summary, as we see, to leave

^ Only free internal trade had been promised by Generals
Clarke and Craig.


the reader with tlie impression tliat there was no
benefit whatever, moral or economic, to the colonists
in the change from Dutch to British rule.^

There is also at times the characteristic vice of the
economist in Dr. Thcal's reasoning. Because Lord
Macartney had not at his side a superior council of
Regency (which had always consisted in any case of
Company's officials under the Governor's control),'^
therefore his rule must have been more arbitrary
than that of a Wilhelm Adriaan van dcr Stel, or a
Cornelius van de Graaff, or those Dutch commis-
sioners who imposed the obnoxious tax on auction
accounts. This kind of error is not at all natural,
however, to Dr. Theal, who knows very well, one
can see, how things really worked in the concrete,
did he care to state all he knows. From the
Records, one might certainly infer that the new
Burgher Senate under British rule was as strong a
representation of public opinion as anything that
existed under the Dutch governors.

Dr. Theal's indictment (it is hardly less than that)
of Lord Macartney's rule on its political side is even
harsher :

His administration was free of the slightest taint of corrup-
tion, but it was conducted on very strict lines. (The larger
history reads " on the strictest party lines.") Those colonists

^ See Appendix B for Dr. Theal's latest version.

2 See Van Ryneveld's Report, Records, 1 793-1 796, p. 243.


who professed to be attached to Great Britain were treated
with favour, while those who preferred a repubHc to a monarchy
were obliged to conceal their opinions or they were promptly
treated as guilty of sedition. There never was a period in the
history of the country when there was less freedom of speech
than at this time. All the important offices were given to men
who could not speak the Dutch language, and who drew such
large salaries from the colonial treasury that there was little
left for other purposes. An oath of allegiance to the king of
England was demanded from all the burghers. Many objected,
and a few did not appear when summoned to take it. The
Governor was firm, dragoons were quartered upon several of
those who were reluctant, and others were banished from the

All that sounds very formidable. Such sentences
as " there never was a period in the history of the
colony when there was less freedom of speech than
at this time," uttered by a responsible historian, seem
decisive. But every government must be tried by
the standard and the circumstances of its own time ;
and the load of obloquy which that sentence seems
to throw on Lord Macartney's rule is at once
materially lightened by the mere consideration that
in 1798 the very same thing might be said, with even
more emphasis, alike of France and Holland under
their republican governments and of England under
its monarchy, and indeed of every country where
the great contest with the revolutionary ideals of
the French democracy had arisen. Where the
government, as in England, represented the moder-
ate traditions of constitutionalism, the ultra-radicals



were regarded as Jacobins, and their liberty of
action and speech curtailed as dangerous to the
State. Where the government, as in France and
Holland, represented the new democratic ideals, the
moderate and conservative parties were regarded as
dangerous reactionaries and their liberty of speech
and action suppressed.

As I have already said, the doctrines of the new
French democracy, and their watchwords of liberty,
fraternity and equality, had found considerable
response amongst the colonists. In Capetown, as
well as in the outlying districts, there was what the
English governors called a Jacobin party, and there
is evidence in the Records that active intriguing was
carried on between that party and the agents of the
French Republic. Two attempts indeed were made
by French ships to land stores of war and volunteers
in remote eastern parts of the colony. It never
came to much, and ultimately, as in most other
countries, when the democratic ideals of France
developed into the oppressive autocracy of Napoleon,
died a natural death. Yet at the time it naturally
enough alarmed the British governors and occasioned
some slight repressive measures on the part of Lord
Macartney ; one notorious agitator, who refused to
take the oath of allegiance, was sent out of the coun-
try, a measure which the Dutch governors had been
accustomed to use freely on less provocation. The


particular case, however, which Dr. Theal gives as an
example of Lord Macartney's severity, is that of Mr.
Eksteen, a citizen of Capetown. Mr. Eksteen, it
seems, issued cards of invitation for his daughter's
marriage, which, instead of having the usual super-
scription " Mr." were addressed " Citoyen," in Revo-
lutionary style. Lord Macartney simply called upon
him to apologise and give bonds for good behaviour.
It was a small matter, no doubt, but feeling ran high
in those days, and the use of the word " Citoyen "
meant, of course, a profession of the new democratic
principles, and was designed to be offensive to the
authorities. But the offender suffered no personal
injury, and in the France of the same period, or at
Batavia, under some Van Imhoff, a similar challensfe
to the authorities might have cost the offending
individual his life or his liberty. Here, as elsewhere.
Dr. Theal's indictment of British rule in South Africa
is open to the charge that it takes no note of the
circumstances of the time, but criticises by a standard
of our own day, which even yet is applicable only
to British rule and British ideas of justice in the
case of colonies and dependencies.

Dr. Theal makes much also of the number of
Englishmen in the Civil Service, and the salaries
paid them. Besides the Lieutenant-Governor, who
was also the commander of the forces, Lord Macart-
ney had ten Englishmen in the Civil Service drawing


salaries which ainouiitcd altogether to about £i i,ooo.
The heaviest item was the salary of Lord Macartney
himself, who, as an old and experienced pro-consul,
received ;^i 2,000, including table-money. It was
about double what the Dutch governors had re-
ceived. But they had had large perquisites, farms
and country houses being kept up for them by
the Company, sometimes unwittingly, it is true,
and their household expenses, including servants
and horses, paid. Like the other officials too, their
salaries were partly paid by allowing them to collect
certain taxes or fees, so that I suspect the Eng-
lish governor's establishment did not really cost the*
colony much more, while the revenue under Lord
Macartney being double what it had been under
the old Dutch Company, was better able to
bear it.^

Lord Macartney had been sent out as one of the
most experienced of Britain's high officials to put
the affairs of the colony on their new basis. Having
performed his work and finding the climate of Africa
trying to a constitution somewhat weakened by years
and disease, he resigned his appointment and left the
colony in November, 1798.

^ Captain Percival states positively, and gives figures to show,
that the Dutch estabhshment was greater in numbers than the
EngHsh one, and more costly when all was told. See his book,
Accmo^t of the Cape of Good Hope^ p. 325. See also on this
point Wilberforce Bird, p. 141.


Unfortunately, the British Government was not so
happy in the choice of a successor. The lot fell on
Sir George Yonge, whose record, while it may not be
quite so bad as Dr. Theal makes out, is certainly far
from clear. He is decidedly the black sheep in the
list of the British Governors of Cape Colony. Sir
George was a high-going, magnificent, free-handed
sort of man, always ready to enter upon extensive
improvements, new barracks, great experimental
farms, a fine botanic garden, fountains and fish-ponds
for Government House, and such like things. He
spent his table allowance also, freely, and gave the
first public ball at Capetown, 350 guests, and
dancing till four in the morning. " I found it gave
general satisfaction," he reports to the Home authori-
ties. So being in want of money, he imposed, con-
trary to the articles of capitulation, some new taxes
on grain and timber, new licenses on game and
billiard-tables, which were naturally considered as
grievances by the inhabitants. In a rash way also
he granted contracts for supplying the government
with cattle and for cutting timber under conditions
which virtually made them monopolies. He ap-
pointed new commissioners for the supervision of the
government woodlands, tasters of wine and brandy,
&c. In most of these things his intentions seem to
have been good, to prevent, namely, the Government
from being imposed upon by a combination of cattle-


breeders, to encourage Mr. Duckett, the scientific
farmer whom the British Government had sent out
for the improvement of Cape agriculture, to secure a
decent quality of wine for the troops and so forth.
On the whole the report of the commission appointed
to inquire into his doings acquits him of any personal
share in corruption.

But certain members of his family, who occu-
pied confidential posts at Government House, made
a bad use of their position to secure for them-
selves some of these new offices and to further
applications for concessions and contracts on the
understanding that they should receive a percentage
of the profits. Sir George seems to have placed
too much faith in their representations, and lent
himself in a careless way at least to their schemes ;
a rash, free-handed, profuse man, and too indulgent
to his friends, but not himself corrupt or a profit-
seeker. He writes to Lord Hobart that he returns
from the colony a much poorer man than he came
to it. Dr. Theal compares his rule to the worst days
of Van de Graaff and the Dutch governors ; but the
Records show that within the administration itself,
in the persons of the English officials and the naval
captains on the station, there existed a decided check
on anything like open corruption (see the case of
Mr. Jessup, chief-searcher of customs, Records, 1799-
1801, page 161). Sir George was recalled, not slowly


nor with high honours like Governor Van de Graaff,
but in disgrace, on the first hint the Home Govern-

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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 6 of 21)