James Cappon.

Britain's title in South Africa, or, The story of Cape colony to the days of the great trek online

. (page 9 of 21)
Online LibraryJames CapponBritain's title in South Africa, or, The story of Cape colony to the days of the great trek → online text (page 9 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Apprenticeship System — Expulsion of the Kaffirs from the

When the British took possession of the Cape for the
second time, they had a better idea of the grave racial
problems they had to face in that country. The first
Governor was the Earl of Caledon (1807-1811). He
was a young man of high character and abilities, and
entered upon his task with all the boldness and
energy of youth. He fitted out expeditions to ex-
plore the great tracts north of the Orange River,
inhabited by the Bechuanas and other tribes, it being
desirable to know what you might have one day to
meet in that quarter ; he sent Colonel Collins as com-
missioner to investigate the condition of the Bushmen ;
he induced the Moravian Brethren, whose work at
Gnadenthal he highly commended, to establish
another mission-station at Groenekloof, near Cape-
town ; and he was the first to give Capetown, in


spite of much opposition from the conservative
Dutch, a good system of water-supply by means of
iron pipes and pumps, and thus save the immense
daily labour of the slaves employed in carrying water.
But the two great measures of his administration, by
which he hoped to solve the problem of the coloured
races within the Colony, were the Proclamation of
1809, and the establishment of the Annual Circuit
Courts in 181 1.

The celebrated Proclamation of 1809 (the reader
will find it in the Appendix of Bird's or of Philip's
book) was intended to fix and regulate the condition
of the Hottentots in the Colony. It contains some
wise and benevolent provisions for the treatment of
the Hottentot servant, the very necessity of which is
a convincing proof, were there no other, of the oppres-
sive servitude into which the race had fallen. The
lOth Article, for example, prescribes that " the master
shall in no case be allowed to detain, or prevent from
departing, the wife or children of any Hottentot that
has been in service, after the expiration of the term of
their husband or father, under pretence of a security
for what he is indebted to him." This Article, in par-
ticular, put an end to the practice which the Boers
had long exercised, as if it were a legal right, of re-
taining Hottentot children as " apprentices " till their
twenty-fifth year.^ In another Article, the 6th, which

1 See Pringle's Narrative, p. 68.


allows the customary punishment of the Hottentot if
he has made " a false or wanton complaint " {i.e., if he
has failed to prove his case to the satisfaction of the
board of heemraden), it is found necessary to make
the following proviso : " This Article is not to extend
to ill-treatment, accompanied by mutilation or injury
done to any part or limb of the body, by which the
complainant may be deprived of the use thereof for
some time, or for ever."

Comment on the condition of a race which stood in
need of such protective legislation as this is surely

But the Proclamation of 1809 had also another side.
The young English Governor had heard much, no
doubt, about the need of cheap labour on the farms of
the Boer, about the dangers of vagrant pilfering Hot-
tentots, and about the combination of Hottentots and
Kaffirs in the forays of 1801. The man whom he
chiefly trusted in these matters. Colonel Collins, whom
he had sent as commissioner to the Eastern Frontier,
was a practical military man, with an eye for order,
discipline, and the immediate usefulness of things,
but somewhat limited in his insight into the larger
issues of things. It appears to have been at his sugges-
tion that Lord Caledon, who in any case was naturally
anxious to satisfy, as far as he could, the Dutch
farmers, inserted three Articles into his Proclamation)
the 1st, 15th, and i6th, any one of which was sufficient


as administered b)- Dutch landdrosts, heemraden, and
field-cornets, to rivet the chains of the Hottentots
even more firmly than before. The three together
constituted the strictest form of a vagrancy law that
could be framed. The Hottentot was required to
have a fixed and registered place of abode which he
could not leave for another district without the permit
of the fiscal or landdrost ; he was not allowed to enter
any service without a certificate from the landdrost or
field-cornet, or his previous master ; he could not,
even in the service of his master, go about the country
without a pass, which any one was entitled to ask
him for, and arrest him if he could not produce it.
The penalty for failure to comply with these regula-
tions was " being considered and treated as vaga-
bonds," that is, being put into the tronk, until he
accepted service with a farmer, usually the one who
arrested him.

The practical result of the Proclamation was to put
the Hottentot completely at the mercy of the Boer,
heemraden, and field-cornets. It condemned a man
who had no land, nor opportunity of acquiring land,
to a " fixed place of abode." ^

With the best of intentions the young Governor had
enacted one of the subtlest devices ever fallen upon

1 The whole of the land held in the colony by Hottentots on
legal rights (five or six privileged persons), did not exceed 200
acres. See Philip, vol. ii., p. 250.


for enslaving a people in the circumstances of the
Hottentots, the Pass Law. When a Hottentot's term
of service with a farmer expired, what was he to do ?
Procure a pass ; whither ? he had no " fixed abode "
except his master's farm. The pass was usually given
therefore, to the nearest field-cornet or landdrost, who
might impress him to serve as a soldier, or turn him
on to some public work at a cheap rate, or order him
to find a new master within a day. For a Hottentot
with a wife and family the case was hopeless ; he
could only leave one service for another, with masters
who knew he was absolutely in their power. If a
Hottentot not in service with the Boers lost his pass,
or had it forcibly taken from him, which might easily
happen, he was dragged before a field-cornet and
compelled to enter the service of the person who had
seized him.^ His only real shelter was the mission
station ; ^ there he was sure of good treatment and, if
he was hired out, of fair remuneration for his labour ;
or he might be allowed a piece of land to cultivate
for himself and his family.

Lord Caledon had done his best in a diflficult
matter, and no doubt official circles in Capetown and
the well-bred loungers at the Club House in the

^ See Philip, Researches^ vol. i., p. 168-171.

2 See Van Rhyneveld's " Report on the Condition of the
Hottentots in 1801," Records^ 1801-3, p. 90. This Report served
as the basis of Lord Caledon's Proclamation,


Heeregragt congratulated him on having scored a
great success, and solved the double problem of
giving the Hottentots the legal protection they stood
in need of, and also meeting the demands of the
Boers for cheap labour.

Perhaps Lord Caledon's enactment, administered
with mildness and justice, as it would be in the
districts near Capetown, was no bad solution of the
difficulty. But the administration of such a law in
the districts about Capetown, almost under the eyes
of the Governor and the South African Society, was
one thing, and its working in the remote districts of
Graaff-Reinet and Uitenhage quite another. There
it was administered by local magistrates, who were
themselves, except at the drostdies, grazier-boers,
with all the contempt and prejudice of that race for
the Hottentot, and far from any immediate super-
vision or control. It was there also, in these eastern
districts, that two-thirds of the whole Hottentot
race in the Colony lived. In Barrow's time the
average number of Hottentot servants on a Graaff-
Reinet farm was thirteen.

Here also Lord Caledon did his best to meet the
difficulty. During a tour which he made to the
eastern frontier he was painfully impressed by the
fact that the Hottentots who came to state their cases
to him, came at night, in terror, says Bird, lest they
should be seen by their masters. He seems then to


have realised more clearly the chance which the pro-
tective side of his Proclamation of 1809 had of being
carried into effect in the remote frontier districts
where the vast majority of the Hottentots were
employed. Accordingly, in 181 1, he issued another
Proclamation, which was perhaps his greatest legacy
to the Colony. By it he established annual Circuit
Courts through the distant drostdies for the purpose
of trying important cases and reviewing the acts of
the landdrosts and other officials. There were special
provisions also for affording Hottentots, and slaves
at a distance from the drostdy, an opportunity of
making their complaints.

Of this last measure Wilberforce Bird, who reflected
a sort of moderate liberal and official opinion at the
Cape, says, " it checked the hitherto unrestrained
violence of the Boers, which before that time passed
unnoticed for a long period, and often remained wholly
unpunished." No doubt it did some good, yet the
tendency of the local officials to connive at and
conceal the misdemeanours of their countrymen
was so great, that some years afterwards the Com-
missioners appointed to report on the government of
the Cape, as quoted by Pringle, declared that in many
districts the protective clauses of Lord Caledon's
Proclamation had become almost a dead letter.^

^ Pringle's Narrative^ p. 255 ; Report on Government of the
Cape, pp. 9-19.


The merit of Lord Caledon's work has been
obscured both by Theal and PhiHp. The first
separates and disperses the facts in his usual way, so
that the reader gets no clear view of the British
Governor's magnanimous efforts to do justice and
meet the conflicting needs of both the races, white
and black, under his rule ; ^ while Philip is so taken
up with the oppressive operation of the Pass Law
that he almost overlooks the other side of Lord
Caledon's legislation.

The British authorities were certainly doing their
best with a difficult problem. Everything depended,
first, on the nice adjustment of the law for two almost
opposite ends, to protect the Hottentot from oppres-
sion and yet force him into the service of the Boer,
and secondly, on the impartiality with which the
local magistrates, mostly Boers themselves, admin-
istered the law for both of those ends. Perhaps the
two ends were incompatible in the circumstances of
the country at that time, and the British authorities,
in their attempts to do their best for the Boer
graziers, were going perilously near the reduc-
tion of the Hottentot race to a legal condition of

This was decidedly the case when Sir John

^ See Theal's History of South Africa, Chap, xxxi., pp.
140-166, and Chap, xxxv., p. 340, and understand his methods
once for all.


Cradock, who succeeded Lord Caledon as Governor
in 181 1, issued his Proclamation of 1812, which
restored the old Dutch system of the enforced
" apprenticeship " of Hottentot children born on the
farms of the Boers. The fourth Article of this
proclamation reads thus :

When such children as are born in the service of the farmers
or inhabitants, have attained the age of eight years, and have
been maintained by such farmers or inhabitants during that
period, the landdrost of the district shall apprentice such
Hottentots, male or female, to the farmer or inhabitant by
whom they have been so maintained, in case he be willing to
receive such apprentice, for ten years, provided that the person
to whom the Hottentot is to be bound, is a person of humanity,
and one upon whom strict reliance for the good treatment of the
apprentice may be placed ; and in case the person who has
maintained the Hottentot for the period of eight years aforesaid,
shall not be willing to take such Hottentot as an apprentice for
the term of ten years, or that the person in question be not such
upon whose humanity or circumstances the landdrost can place
reliance for the good treatment of the Hottentot, then the
landdrost is hereby aidhorised to bind such Hottentot unto such
other humane person withiti his district as he shall think fit,
for the period aforesaid.

Dr. Theal, who indexes mere rumours and views
of his own, as if they were matters of fact, does not
make the slightest reference to this important altera-
tion in the status of the Hottentot in his account of
Sir John Cradock's administration in Chapter xxxi.
of his history. But four chapters later, in his account
of General Bourke's administration sixteen years


afterwards, he refers to it casually, and avers that
" it had more effect in raising these people (the
Hottentots) towards civilisation than any other regu-
lation ever made concerning them."

It does seem very probable that Sir John's measure
had some good effects in the way of disciplining the
Hottentots, but on the other hand Pringle, Philip,
Read and others, who knew the condition of the
Hottentots of that period better than any one of our
time can know it, are very doubtful of its good effects
and very sure of its evils. These authorities point
out that it either kept whole families in enforced
service to protect their families, or that it separated
parents from their children and left young Hottentot
females to grow up unguarded amongst the slaves
and herdsmen.^

The safeguards, too, for the just administration of this
law were often of little use. The official correspond-
ence between the Bethelsdorp mission and the land-
drost of Uitenhage shows clearly that two Hottentot
girls about twenty-four years of age, who had taken
refuge there, were claimed by a farmer as respectively
eleven and twelve. The missionary, Mr. Read,
accordingly protested, and Landdrost Cuyler, on
investigation, admitted the facts, but rewarded Mr.
Read for his exposure of the imposition by an official
note forbidding him to " receive any Hottentots of
^ Philip, Researches, vol. i. p. 183.


whatever description " at his institution without a
written permission from himself.^ The landdrost —
he was an officer in the British army — had thus taken
away the right of asylum from Bethelsdorp.

One result, I think, of Sir John's Proclamation
must have been to increase any disinclination the
married Hottentot might have for the service of the
Boers, at any rate of all but those of the best
reputation for kindly treatment of their servants ; it
must have helped to fill the missionary stations
where the Hottentot could at least leave his family if
he himself went into service. In this way it helped
to make the conflict between the missionaries and the
Boers more acute, for it added a new class of disputes
over apprenticed children to those which already

It placed very great power also in the hands of the
landdrost, practically the patronage of all Hottentot
labour, and it inevitably drew the British Governor
and his British officials into an antagonistic attitude
towards the missions for Hottentots, an attitude
which often developed, as in the case of Landdrost
Cuyler and the Bethelsdorp mission, into as bitter a
conflict as that which existed between the mission-
aries and the Boers.

Sir John Cradock was not an inhumane man, and,

^ See this and other cases of like nature in Philip's Researches,
Appendix, p. 425.


had he never left England, might have sat on the
committee of the African Institution or the British
and Foreign Bible Society, but his letter of
February loth, 1814, to the Rev. John Campbell,
then visiting Africa as Deputy from the London
Missionary Society, shows conclusively, under its
official tone of moderation and politeness, that he had
taken a decided line against the extension of
missions in the Colony.

You are well aware [he writes] that the disinclination to
ncrease, or even to maintain the institutions already established
in this colony, is almost universal ; and that the general alarm
and outcry is, that if they are permitted to enlarge or dissemi-
nate, the most fatal injury will ensue to the agriculture and
sustenance of the community. All this must be admitted by
every reasonable man : if idleness is allowed to prevail, or if the
labours in the field, at the proper season of the year, are not
cheerfully accorded to all the surrounding farmers, to ensure
industry in general and more extensive usefulness, it would
seem very injudicious to allot any considerable portion of land
to these institutions, that would render them independent of
connection with their neighbours, and allow them to look upon
all around them with indifference. ^

That paragraph expresses plainly enough what the

policy of the British authorities had been for some

years, and what it continued to be for many years

more. The existence of slave-labour in any form,

however mitigated, will always raise the same problem

and the same cry.

1 See Cradock's letter in Philip's Researches^ Appendix
No. iv.


Of course, Sir John's legislation was popular with
the Boers. It gave them the cheapest class of labour,
and it often kept a whole Hottentot family per-
manently in the service of a farmer in order not to
leave their children behind them.

On the Kaffir frontier also the policy of the British
Governors was designed to meet, as far as possible,
the views of the Boers. The Zuurveld in that region
had long been a kind of " Debateable Land." In
Barrow's time the name was occasionally given to
the country along the coast between the Sunday and
the Fish Rivers, but later it was more strictly reserved
for the part between the Bushman's and the Fish
River. The colonists claimed it as part of the colony
since Pettenberg's time, and especially since Lord
Macartney's arrangement with the Kaffir chief Gaika
But the native chiefs in the Zuurveld contested the
claim on various counts, and even, as Dr. Vanderkemp
tells us, claimed the land as far as the Sunday River,
as Kaffir territory.^ It was in many parts a fertile
and beautiful country, well watered and rich in woods
and pasture, and was occupied by the Gunukwebes,
a tribe of mixed blood, partly representing the old
Hottentot clan which had held this region in the days
of Van Riebeek. Ndlambe's tribe also, and other
Kaffir tribes, who were mostly at enmity with the

^ See Evangelical Magazine^ vol. 10, p. 193.


Gaika, or refused to acknowledge his authority, lived
in the district.

In Chapter VI. I have already related the
complete failure of the commando led by Tjaart van
der Walt in 1803 against the Zuurveld Kaffirs, and
the acceptance by the Boers of the status quo ante.
During the period of the restored Dutch rule (1803-
1806) no further expedition was attempted against
them, and the Kaffirs considered that their claims
had been made good alike by war and in equity.^

The British authorities, however, on their re-occupa-
tion of the Colony, undertook the task of expelling
the Kaffirs from the Zuurveld. In 181 1 Sir John
Cradock, then newly arrived, assembled a great force
of burghers and troops under the command of
Colonel Graham, about 800 of the former and i,2(X)
of the latter, and drove the various Kaffir tribes,
Cungwa's clan (the Gunukwebes), Ndlambe's clan,
Tshatshu's clan, and other petty sections of the Kosa
race, about 20,000 in all, across the Fish River,
destroying their kraals and their garden produce,
which was just then in the blade. Some of them
were mere refugees in the Zuurveld, but others had
been there for generations, and some were descend-
ants of Ghonaquas, who had fed their flocks and

1 See the remarkable speech of the Kaffir councillor, from
Stockenstrom's notes, in Pringle's Narrative^ pp. 303-5.


hunted the buffalo on the banks of the Sunday River
long before a Dutch Boer had trekked beyond the

Dr. Theal may try hard to obscure the fact, but the
British Governors of this period were evidently doing
much work for the Boers besides that of instructing
and civilizing them.^

^ Compare the account of these events in the Zuurveld given
by Brownlee (see Thompson's Appendix) and Pringle, p. 290,
both ahnost contemporary with the events and on the spot, with
that of Theal, Chap, xxxi., p. 153.

L 2


The Missionary Societies in South Africa — The Moravian
Brethren — The London Missionary Society— Dr. Vander-

Between the British official of this period, whether
Governor, military officer on the frontier, or provincial
magistrate, and the ordinary Boer there was consider-
able sympathy, and much that was common in their
way of regarding the subject races. Both were aris-
tocrats in their different ways ; both were hunters and
men of war ; both had very decided notions as to the
methods by which an inferior black race was to be
governed and disciplined ; and both, in general,
had much the same contempt for philanthropic
theories — ideals which serve no immediate purpose,
and generally for all that train of Christian virtues,
the exaltation of humility and patience, the charity
that hopeth all things, which Nietzsche declares to
be the natural creed of the "serf race." Perhaps
the chief difference was that the British aristocrat


being of gentler birth and training had a decided
aversion to anything like personal ill-treatment of
the native.

Both were also great professors of Christianity, in
their fashion, the Englishman in a decent official way,
and the Boers in the spirit of a chosen people, to whom
all things were lawful, especially the spoiling of the
heathen. An armed party of Boers who went out
to shoot down, quite on general principles, a few
Bushmen on the frontier, would sing three of Willem
Sluiter's hymns, and take a glass of brandy before
starting. But the Boers had not forgotten, as Mr,
Bryce suggests (" there is neither bond nor free.")
Galatians iii. 28. They had it very well in their minds
as an excellent reason for prohibiting the baptism
of slaves and refusing to acknowledge the com-
munion of Hottentots and Kaffirs. " Hottentot Pre-
dikant," their name for the missionary, was with them
a term of supreme contempt.

In short, the principles of Christianity and the doc-
trine of the survival of the fittest were in very open
conflict in South Africa, as the latter was operated
by the British official and the Boer. Nor do I think)
in the case of the latter at least, that this policy was
accompanied, or justified, by any views or hopes that
in this way the ultimate civilisation of the native races
was to be achieved. To the ordinary Boer the native
was no better than the ox of the field, to be freely


used up in his service, and tlie British Governor was
at most a kind of member of the Society for the Pre-
vention of Cruelty to Animals.

This tyrannous instinct is by no means peculiar to
the Boer, but is that of all dominant races whenever
the laws give it a chance of growth. Nothing is more
striking than the change of sentiment experienced by
many of the British immigrants, good Scotch Presby-
terians and English Methodists, who came out to
Cape Colony in 1820, overflowing with indignation
at the treatment they heard the natives received from
the Dutch farmers ; but after they had been a year or
two there, not a few of them were as eager as the
Boers to subject cheap Hottentot labour to their

But the policy of establishing legal servitude for
the native races could never obtain any full or sys-
tematic development in South Africa under British
rule. It was checked and modified from the begin-
ning by the well-known opinion of the British public
at home in such matters, and it found a resolute
and persistent opponent in the British missionary.

It was in connection with this question of protective
legislation for slaves and natives, that the British
missionary began to make himself felt as a political

^ See Pringle's Narrative ; and the wages account filed by
Alexander Biggar against his Hottentot servant in Philip's,
Appendix, p. 440.


force in South Africa. The value of his work was at

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryJames CapponBritain's title in South Africa, or, The story of Cape colony to the days of the great trek → online text (page 9 of 21)