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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capable of achieving. They did not attempt any-
thing, however, but made an arrangement with the
Kaffirs and Hottentots, agreeing not to molest each
other, and leaving the former in possession of the



The Restored Dutch Rule (1803-1806) — The Second Ikitish

Occupation— The Condition of the Slave in Cape Colony

— Olive Schreiner's Testimony — The Condition of the

The management of Cape Colony was a heavy
responsibility the British Government had assumed
as part of the price they must pay for the possession
of the Cape of Good Hope as a naval station. The
difficulty of the task had already, after a few years
of rule, partly disclosed itself to them, but its real
immensity could be appreciated by none of that
generation. The gigantic racial problems it involved,
the certainty of conflict between the claims of British
supremacy and the national sentiment of the Dutch
inhabitants, the different moral standard which could
not but exist between the polity of one of the most
civilised nations of Europe, and the crude ideas of
a community mostly composed of illiterate farmers
and rude frontiersmen — these were all difficulties
bound to reach an acute stage in South Africa. But
at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when all


colonial government was of a semi-despotic nature,
these things were more lightly thought of than they
are to-day.

At one time, however, it seemed as if the expensive
task (for such it turned out to be) of protecting and
nursing the Cape Colony into maturity, with all the
other South African responsibilities and burdens to
which that inevitably led, was to be spared the
British people.

The original intention of the British Government
had been to occupy the Cape only as a provisional
measure, and in the name of the Prince of Orange, if
they could obtain undisputed entrance on these terms.
Even after the enforced capitulation of the Dutch
garrison, they professed for a time at least to hold it
only as caretakers. But as the chances of the House
of Orange seemed to die away for ever with the
growing power and prestige of the French Republic,
the feeling evidently strengthened amongst the British
Ministers, that they could not afford to let the Cape
go. It seemed to be only a question between France
and England as to which of them should fall heir to
such important strategic positions for commerce with
the East, as Ceylon and the Cape of Good Hope,
positions which Holland, w^hose navy, as Lord Rose-
bery neatly puts it, disappeared from history with
the Battle of Camperdown (1797), was no longer
capable of protecting. As Captain Blankett, of the


Royal Navy, wrote to the Admiralty, "what was a
feather in the hands of Holland, will become a sword
in those of France." But Naj3oleon was by no means
inclined to see a naval station like the Cape pass into
the hands of his rivals, if he could prevent it ; and one
of the stipulations of the peace which he made with
England in 1802 (the illusive peace of Amiens, hailed
with delight by both peoples) was that the Cape of
Good Hope should be restored to Holland. Re-
stored it accordingly was in January, 1803, after
some haggling and delay, due to the reluctance of
the British Government to give up their prize for a
peace which they felt could be little more than an

The three years of restored Dutch Rule (1803-6),
the rule of the Batavian Republic, as it was now
called, made no material alteration in the condition of
the colony. On the Kaffir frontier the situation re-
mained unchanged. General Janssens, a humane and
judicious man, adopted a conciliatory policy and
tried persuasion, just as Lord Macartney had done,
on the Kaffirs of the Zuurveld to remove beyond the
Fish River. But the savage tribes are not to be per-
suaded by words after force has conspicuously failed.
With the Hottentots there was no trouble at all.
They were peaceably located within the Colony
about the Gamtoos River, and many of them. Dr.
Theal says, professed their readiness to enter the


service of the farmers if only they could be sure of
good treatment.

Cattle thieving and reprisals of course continued
to be the ordinary state of things on the frontier,
but Captain Alberti, the Dutch soldier whom
Governor Janssens had made landdrost of Uitenhage
(a new district carved out of old Graaff-Reinet and
including Bruintjes Hoogte and the Zuurveld), was as
emphatic as ever Maynier was in declaring that the
Kaffirs, if justly treated, were well disposed, and that
" there was nothing to fear from the bulk of the
Kaffir nation."

In civil affairs Commissioner de Mist, Janssens's
colleague, had some philosophic ideas about secular
public schools, a Board of Education and other
matters, but they were too advanced for the people
and did not come to anything.

A notable project during this period was that of
Baron van Hogendorp,aDutch gentleman who had had
a distinguished official career under the Stadtholder,
to whose party he belonged. He was wealthy, and
having a bent for economic studies and enterprises,
had conceived the patriotic scheme of peopling a
district of Cape Colony with a class of agricultural
emigrants. With the approval of the Dutch Govern-
ment at home he spent considerable sums in fitting
out and transporting a party of Dutch emigrants,
" industrious persons," who were to form a settlement


of real agriculturists and farmers living without
slave labour.

The Colonial Government, which at first had pro-
fessed itself in favour of his scheme, eventually turned
cool towards it, locked up his agricultural implements
at Capetown, and refused to grant him the land he
asked for near Plettenberg's Bay. Instead of that
district, where there was plenty of water and the
timber of the immense Knysna forest for his saw-mill,
as well as an excellent harbour for export to Cape-
town, they assigned him an entirely unsuitable
location near Hout's Bay, some three leagues from
Capetown, where it was impossible for him to keep
his workmen from being drawn to the capital by the
higher wages offered. They advised him also, he
states, to buy slaves and put his settlement on that

At any rate, whatever their motives were, perhaps,
as Van Hogendorp hints, the narrow-minded op-
position of Capetown merchants, or perhaps because
Van Hogendorp was a Director of the Missionary
Society and had some idea of working in connection
with Vanderkemp's station in that district,^ they
effectually ruined his enterprise. " I could only with-
draw," he writes, " and ask for compensation."

When the Batavian Government at the Cape sur-

* See Evivigelical Magazine, 1804, p. 475 (Vanderkemp's


rendered to the British forces in 1806, the Dutch
authorities seem to have bethought themselves a
little repentantly of Van Hogendorp's patriotic
scheme, and attempted to insert an article in the
capitulation binding the British Government to give
him such rights " as it shall appear from the public
records the Batavian Government meant to have
given." Van Hogendorp, however, tired of long dis-
couragement and judging that the time was now
past, declined to continue his enterprise, and only
memorialised the British Government for compensa-
tion and assistance in winding up his affairs.^ That
was the end of a scheme of Dutch emigration which,
had Holland possessed the resources in population and
money, might have materially affected the destinies
of the Colony, Fifteen years afterwards the British
Government undertook the same business on a much
larger scale and carried it out with success.

In 1804 the war between France and Britain had
been resumed, and as an inevitable consequence a
British expedition again sailed for the Cape. General
Janssens had made every preparation for the attack,
but his resources were limited and the Cape was oc-
cupied with little more fighting than on the previous
occasion. Of the burghers only about two hundred
and fifty appeared to oppose the British, mostly from

^ See Van Hogendorp's case in the Records^ i8o6-g, pp.


the Stellenbosch and Drakenstein districts. There
is not a single name from the well-known names of
Bruintjes Hoogte and the Nieuwveld amongst those
whom General Janssens distinguished by mention.
No doubt it was a long way to come ; but the Boers
were evidently languid in the matter. They probably
thought that it made no great difference to them
whether the groote heer, or aristocratic official who
imposed their taxes, came from the Hague or from
London. Except for a few officials at Capetown the
personnel of the administration remained the same
in either case.

In January 1806, then, the British Government
took up its old task in Cape Colony, just where it
had left it. The worst of it was that this task was
not growing easier as time went on, but rather in-
creasing in difficulty. The Boers were really a rude
aristocracy, living on a basis of slavery and cheap
native labour. One great difficulty, therefore, which
the Government had to deal with was the condition
of the subject races in the colony. In England
civilisation was at this period making rapid advances
along the line of humanitarian ideas. In 1807, after
many years of agitation, the law abolishing the ocean
trade in slaves was passed by the British Parliament,
and there was also a strong movement in favour of
legislation to protect slaves and native servants in the
British colonies from the violence or injustice of their


masters. In this matter, therefore, a conflict was as
inevitable between such different standards of civilis-
ation as that of the British nation and that of the
Boers, as it afterwards proved to be between the
Northern and Southern States of America.

The slaves in Cape Colony were mainly of three
classes, the negro from Madagascar or Mozambique,
the Malay, and the Africander, as the name was then
used, that is, the offspring of a Cape Dutchman and
a slave girl. The first class was the least valuable
and generally used for inferior work, such as cutting
timber and labouring in the field. The Malays were
a higher class of slaves much employed in trades
as carpenters, painters, &c., and generally bringing in
a regular revenue to their masters. The Africander
slave was the most valuable and much in request for
domestic service and confidential employments. The
women of this class in particular were smart, often
dressed well, and were sometimes treated by their
mistresses more like companions than slaves.

It is true, I think, as Dr. Theal asserts, that in no
country on earth was the lot of the slave so light as in
South Africa. The great majority of the slaves were
held in Capetown and the neighbouring districts, and
their value as property after the abolition of the
Slave Trade in 1807 soon became too great to allow of
them being ill-treated or even unduly exposed. But
the country slaves who worked in the fields had


generally a hard lot, being coarsely fed and often
overworked. No doubt their condition was better
than that of the slaves who were driven in gangs to
labour on the sugar plantations of the West Indies ;
but even in the case of the best class of slaves their
lot can hardly be described as a light one. No class
of slaves was permitted marriage, although they had
relations amongst themselves which the better class
of them considered binding ; even in Bird's time
(1822) many of their Dutch masters were still stub-
bornly opposed to their education or instruction in
Christianity, and considered it superfluous to teach
them anything but the sixth and eighth command-
ments. They might be sold away from their families,
and this was likely to happen if their owner died.
When they became old and worn out they were apt
to be starved and neglected, however faithful they
had been. The laws, as administered, afforded them but
a feeble protection from the passions or the avarice of
a brutal master, and we all know that an authority
which is almost absolute is certain often to be abused.
Those who have read Olive Schreiner's Stray
Thoughts about South Africa, will remember the dark
domestic tragedies she hints at there as certainly not
infrequent in those earlier times :

Old white men and women (she writes) are still living in
South Africa, who can remember how, in their early days [say
about 1820] they saw men with guns out in the beautiful woods


at Newlands hunting runaway slaves. They can tell what a
mistress once did when a slave became pregnant by her
master ; and there are stories about hot ovens. Such stories,
as the story of Dirk, whose master seduced his wife, and Dirk
bitterly resented it, " and one day," says the narrator, " we
children saw Dirk taken across the yard into the wine-house ;
we heard he was to be flogged. For some days after we fancied
we heard noises in the cellar ; one night, in the moonlight, we
heard something, and got up and looked out ; and we saw
something slipped across the yard by three men ; we children
dared say nothing, because my grandfather never let any one
remark about the slaves ; but we were sure it was Dirk's body."

Olive Schreiner will not be suspected of darkening
the traits of Boer character ; but light as her touch on
this phase of Boer history is meant to be, that tale of
Dirk has lost nothing of its tragic character in her
hands. And when you consider that in these days,
according to the same authority, out of every four
children born to a slave mother, three were the
children of the white man who was her master, you
can easily understand that in the household of the
Boer, living far from society or immediate control of
any kind, there were often domestic tragedies. There
may be nothing new in these tragedies, as Olive
Schreiner remarks : " It is all as old as the time of the
Romans and Chaldeans," she says ; " to be surprised at
it is folly, to imply that it is peculiar to South Africa
and the outcome of the abnormal structure of the
Boers is a lie." Most true ; but in the second decade
of the nineteenth century — the time to which by


calculation her stories must refer — it was a state of
things sure to breed disagreement between the Boers
and the representatives of a country where Clarksons
and Wilberforces were a power.

The condition of the Hottentot race within the
Colony was in general hardly any better than that of
the slaves, and in some respects it seems to have been
even worse. The Hottentots were the original in-
habitants of the southern corner of Africa, and at the
time of Van Riebeek's settlement at the Cape were
found in numerous clans, Goringhaiquas, Cockoquas,
Erigriquas, on the west coast, and Hessequas,
Attaquas Outeniquas and others on the east,
names and tribes which have long passed out of the
history of South Africa. They seem to have lived in
ease on the produce of their flocks and herds, and
though quarrelling occasionally over their pasture
grounds were on the whole, like their later represent-
atives, a people of mild and indolent disposition,
possessing neither the characteristic energy nor the
ferocity of savage races.

The tribal organisation of the Hottentots was weak,
their chiefs having but little authority and no co-
hesion existing among the different clans. Con-
sequently the colonists, helped perhaps by two great
plagues of small -pox which broke out amongst them,
(1713 and 1755), found little difficulty in dispossess-
ing them of their ancient pasture grounds, and by the


middle of the eighteenth century their territorial oc-
cupation of the country was reduced to a few kraals
inhabiting inferior tracts passed over by the Boers.^
The great bulk of the race became dependents on the
Boer and filled his farmstead with an abject train of
herdsmen and servants, fed on cheap flesh and re-
munerated at the end of the year with a present of
tobacco and perhaps a couple of sheep. The system
of enforced " apprenticeship " of Hottentot children
born on Boer farms also operated to keep whole
families in practical servitude.

Their treatment varied, of course, with the temper
of their master. But he, the descendant of a Frisian
peasant or German mercenary, was of no gentle kind,
and while it might be tolerable there was nothing in
these days to prevent it being excessively harsh, as it
frequently was in the remoter districts. To be tied
up to the waggon wheel and flogged with the heavy
sjambok, while the Boer smoked one, or two, or three
pipes, according to his judgment of the misdemeanour,
or to receive a charge of small shot in his legs seem to
have been no uncommon degrees of punishment for
an angry Boer to use with his unfortunate Hottentot
servant. What worse forms of torture might be
inflicted by brutal masters the reader may find in
Barrow, Kay and other writers.^

^ See Sparrman's account of them, vol. i., p. 241.

•^ Barrow, vol. ii., chap. 2, p. 97 ; Kay, pp. 436, 437 ; Pringle,


The average Boer may have been in his ordinary
mood no more cruel than the average Briton or
Frenchman, but he was certainly coarser in his treat-
ment of natives and animals in his service, and less
apt to flinch at the sight of their sufferings. To use
knives in the flanks of their waggon-oxen as a means
of urging them forward seems to have been one of
their methods when on a journey.^

Of course we must remember the rude conditions
under which he lived, where the daily slaughter or
waste of life, human and animal, going on before his
eyes made him less sensitive to sufferings which
might appear shocking to a more civilised race not
accustomed to the sight of its slaughter-houses.

It is true the Hottentot was allowed redress by the
law, if he could reach it, and if he could prove his
case. But how was a Hottentot herdsman on a farm
of the Nieuwveld or Agter Bruintjes Hoogteto lay his
complaint ? He had to travel perhasp a hundred or
two hundred miles to reach the nearest drostdy, hiding
by day in swamps or caverns, and travelling only at
night in order not to be retaken and, it might be,
summarily shot as a runaway. If he did reach the
drostdy and state his case, he was at once sent to the

p. 250. See also the pamphlet by General Janssens' privates
secretary, quoted by Barrow, which gives more ferocious in-
stances of cruelty than anything stated by Barrow himself

vol. ii., p. 405-

1 Barrow, vol. i., p. 183 ; Percival, p. 58.


tronk^ or prison for blacks, to wait there till his
master might appear, and then he was brought out to
face a hoz.vdoUiee7nraden, who were themselves farmers,
and probably shared fully the prevalent indifference
and contempt of the Boer for the sufferings of a
coloured race. For long his only real chance of
justice in the remoter districts was if a magistrate like
Honoratus Maynier happened to be landdrost, or if
he could reach the missionary station at Bethelsdorp^
where a man of commanding character like Dr.
Vanderkemp might be able to get his case inquired
into. But if cases of cruelty and oppression were
frequent even under British rule and almost under the
eye of the missionary,^ what must have been the state
of things when the government was weak and a
missionary had never been seen beyond the Gamtoos ?

It is not surprising that a race subjected to hopeless
oppression for generations should exhibit marks of
deep degradation, should be indolent, filthy, glut-
tonous, fond of brandy, dacha, or anything else that
could make them forget for the time their woes and
the disgrace of their condition, for this last point they
felt acutely.

Yet listless and sunken as they were they had some
characteristic virtues rather unusual in a degraded and
savage race. There was a native mildness, an absence

1 See the Bethelsdorp correspondence in Philip's Researches,
vol. ii., appendices xi.— xv.



both of ferocity and cunning in their disposition.
They were docile, perfectly harmless, honest and
faithful ; they were even truthful as a people : " from
lying and stealing," Barrow says decisively, the
" Hottentot may be considered exempt." ^ So write
the older authorities very generally, but later travel-
lers, after emancipation days, do not have such a good
report of their truthfulness or honesty. By that time
they may have acquired with their freedom some of
the vices of " mean whites."

They were not without talents ; they learned Dutch
or English quickly, were expert drivers and marks-
men, and no contemptible soldiers when well led.
As scouts or on the spoor they were not to be

In the first volume of Thompson's Travels there is
a very good drawing of an old Hottentot herdsman
taken from the life, which is worth looking at. The
melancholy eyes, the simple and rather amiable ex-
pression, the weak, relaxed mouth and generally list-
less, knock-kneed attitude illustrate excellently the
character of the Hottentot as described by the
travellers of that time. In default of the picture
the reader may take Pringle's pen-portrait of
the Hottentot in the following sonnet, which, as
Thompson remarks, might have been written to ac-
company the engraving, so entirely does it coincide
^ Vol. i. p. 151.


with the latter in the features it seizes as character-
istic of the race.

Mild, melancholy, and sedate he stands,
Tending another's flocks upon the fields —
His father's once — where now the White Man builds
His home, and issues forth his proud commands.
His dark eye flashes not ; his listless hands
Support the boor's huge firelock ; but the shields
And quivers of his race are gone : he yields.
Submissively, his freedom and his lands.
Has he no courage ? Once he had, but, lo !
Harsh Servitude hath worn him to the bone.
No enterprise ? Alas ! the brand, the blow
Have humbled him to dust — his Hope is gone.
" He's a base-hearted hound — not worth his food,"
His master cries ; — " he has no gratitude /"

Interest in the pure Hottentot race is now mainly
historical. Its place in South Africa has been taken by-
mixed breeds, especially the Cape-boys and Bastards,
or Griquas, the latter a stronger race — the product
mainly of Cape Dutchmen and Hottentot women.

The condition of the slaves and Hottentots within
the Colony, then, was one of the first things to call for
the attention of the British Governor after it became
apparent that the Colony was to be a permanent part
of the Empire. The kind of legislation evidently re-
quired at this time was that which should define the
rights of these inferior races more strictly and extend
to them a better protection from the laws, without
too much disturbing the economic condition of the

K 2


But legislation of this kind was a vexation to
the Boer, especially to the Boer of the remoter dis-
tricts, who was accustomed to look on everything,
man and beast alike, within his six miles of farm
land, with the eye of an absolute lord and master.
He had the strictest notions of the discipline neces-
sary for slaves and servants of an inferior race. In
his eyes they were lazy, treacherous vagabonds, whom
nothing but the whip and even severer methods
could keep in order. He hardly considered them of
the same human race as himself The direct testimony
of all missionaries and travellers in South Africa proves
that the Boers generally were decidedly hostile to the
instruction of either slaves or Hottentot servants in
the Christian religion. Besides their unwillingness to
admit the common humanity of the coloured races, a
vague notion, founded on a custom of the earliest
colonists, seems to have existed amongst them, that
baptized slaves and natives had a kind of legal
status, and an old law of the Colony at least pro-
hibited them being sold.


rd Caledon's Administration — Attempt to Solve the Hottentot
Problem — The Operation of the Pass Law — Establishment
of the Circuit Courts — Sir John Cradock's Policy — The

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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 8 of 21)