I have been asked by the Author of this Volume to write “something” relative to the recruitment of the Cape Corps. Search our Cape Corps records.
It may be said at once that there are two gentlemen who could have under-taken this task with greater credit. I refer to Colonel Sir Walter Stanford, Chairman of the Cape Corps War Recruiting Committee, and to Colonel T. J. J. Inglesby, one of its valued members. Both were associated with the movement from its commencement, both keenly interested in the possibility of the Coloured man as a fighter able to share with the white man the privilege of taking part in the Great War, and both particularly well qualified to lead such a movement.
There were times when, as we all know, the Mother Country was almost pathetically calling to her sons to come forward voluntarily in the cause of humanity and Empire. Men were stirred as they never were before, and perhaps never will be again.
The appeal got hold of the Coloured man and gripped him, and with the help of his many friends strong representations were made to the Union Government to give him his chance.
But it was only on General Botha’s return from the German South-West African Campaign that those earnest representations were seriously considered.
The acceptance of the principle that the Coloured man should be allowed to become a soldier took concrete form in the month of September, 1915, when the Imperial Army Council accepted the offer of the Union Government to raise an Infantry Battalion of Cape Coloured men for Service overseas.
A telegraphic despatch was received in Cape Town from the Director of War Recruiting at Pretoria (Sir Charles Crewe) asking Senator Colonel the Hon. Walter Stanford, Sir John Graham, Dr. A. Abdurahman, the Mayor of Cape Town (Mr. Harry Hands), Colonel T. J. J. Inglesby and Mr. Eames-Perkins (Hon. Secretary of the Cape Town War Recruiting Committee), to meet him to discuss the formation of a Cape Coloured Regiment.
The formation of such a Unit was entirely in the nature of an experiment. A section of the people of the Cape Province resented the idea of raising such a force for employment in the fighting line. On the other hand there were many who resented the exclusion of such an organised force from the German South-West Campaign, and saw no valid reason now why the Coloured man should not be given an opportunity to serve his King and Country and follow in the footsteps of the white men and coloured races throughout the Empire then flocking from all its corners to take part in the great struggle for human freedom.
The Empire was calling for men, more men. The Cape Coloured man asked for and was given his chance and a new chapter in the history of the Coloured people of the Cape opened.
Prudence demanded that a very high standard should be aimed at, and it was decided that only men of exceptionally good character, between the age of 20 and 30, minimum height 5 ft. 3 in., chest measurement 33% in., unmarried and without dependents of any description, should be accepted for service in this unit.
On enrolment the Coloured man became an Imperial soldier, under the Army Act, for the period of the War and six months afterwards, or until legally discharged, with Imperial rates of pay, viz. :
|Sergeant Cook||2||10||per diem|
|Lieutenant Sergeant||2||0||per diem|
|Bugler, Piper or Drummer||1||1||per diem|
and with Pensions and Gratuities as for the British West Indian Imperial Service Contingent.
The foregoing details and instructions having been determined, the Cape Corps War Recruiting Committee was formed, with Headquarters at Cape Town, for the purpose of enrolling Coloured men for active service with the Battalion of the Cape Corps.
Colonel Grey (Commissioner of Police), Major G. A. Morris of the Natal Carbineer’s (Special Service Squadron), Captain J. C. Berrange, and Captain H. G. Wilmot were mentioned in connection with the Command.
The mantle fell upon Major George A. Morris, son of Mr. J. W. Morris, a former Transkeian Magistrate.
Major Morris was duly gazetted as Lieut.-Colonel and Officer Commanding the Cape Corps on October 5th, 1915.
The following gentlemen accepted the responsibility of a seat on the Cape Corps Recruiting Committee, viz. :
Senator Colonel Walter Stanford, C.B., C.M.G., Chairman ; Major G. B. Van Zyl, M.L.A., Vice-Chairman ; Mr. A. Eames-Perkins, Hon. Secretary. Colonel T. J. J. Inglesby, V.D.; Lieut.-Colonel John Hewat, M.L.A.; Lieut.-Colonel F. W. Divine ; Captain W. D. Hare ; Sir John Graham, h.C.M.G.; Sir Frederick W. Smith, Kt., J.P.; Rev. Canon Lavis ; Rev. George Robson ; Advocate Morris Alexander, M.L.A.; Mr. J. W. Jagger, M.L.A.; with the following leaders of the Cape Coloured community, viz. : Dr. Abdurahman, M.P.C.; Mr. H. Hartog ; Mr. P. Ryan ; Mr. M. J. Fredericks ; Mr. J. Currey. NOTE.-Several other gentlemen joined this Committee later and Sir Harry Hands, P.B.E. (Mayor of Cape Town) became Chairman of the Committee-vice Colonel Stanford who went to Pretoria to become Director of War Recruiting-and Canon S. W. Lavis, Vice-Chairman. (Vide Illustration, page 17.)
The Cape Corps War Recruiting Committee had the good fortune to secure the services of Sergeant-Major Samuel Hanley Reynard as a member of the Staff. No choice could have been better. His cheerfulness and conscientious performance of his work throughout the Recruiting Campaign won the esteem and respect of all who came in contact with him. Though a veteran he never flinched in carrying out of his very arduous duties.
During especially busy times the assistance of the Boy Scouts was asked for, and they never failed to answer the call made on them. Valuable assistance was willingly given, and the boys who were detailed to the Recruiting Committee by the Secretary of the Boy Scouts’ Association well earned the War Certificate that the performance of their duties at the City Hall entitled them to.
A large crowd of Coloured men and women gathered outside the Recruiting Station at the City Hall, Cape Town, in the early morning of 25th October, 1915, aroused into action by announcements in the Press that the Coloured man’s opportunity was now open to him. The crowd surged into the Vestibule when the doors opened at 10 o’clock, and it became necessary to erect barriers and to provide a squad of Police before the men could be handled. To witness the inauguration of this circumstance of significance many prominent personages, Civil and Military, visited the Recruiting Station, including the General Officer Commanding in South Africa (Major-General C. W. Thompson) and his Staff.
Captains W. R. Cowell and C. G. Durham, Officers of the 1st Cape Corps, with Colonel T. J. J. Inglesby and Lieut.-Colonel Divine, members of the Recruiting Committee, had charge of the proceedings. By noon well over a hundred recruits had passed through the hands of the Military Medical Officers, but only a small percentage succeeded in passing the very strenuous test imposed. As a result of the first day’s recruiting twenty-two men were entrained at Cape Town for Simonstown, where the Mobilisation Camp for the reception of the enlisted men had been established, there to receive their first instruction from competent instructors and to have instilled into them habits of discipline, etc., as well as to meet their future comrades who were journeying from such places as Stellenbosch, Worcester, Port Elizabeth, Kimberley, and the Mission Stations of Saron and Mamre, etc.
Considering the strenuous conditions of enlistment laid down the first day’s result was not unsatisfactory, but there were some who had got their “tails up.” “The pay was insufficient “”There was no separation allowance “! To ventilate those views a meeting of Coloured men was held on the Grand Parade, and no blame could be attached to the women who kept a strict watch on the actions of the men who supported them. Though, as a matter of fact no men were accepted for service in cases where there were dependents, and the Officers of the Cape Corps and the members of the Recruiting Committee zealously guarded instructions to that effect from Headquarters. And no wonder! They were not out to pauperise women and children.
There could be no burking the fact that at Cape Town the class of man required was holding back, and this reluctance to come forward was due solely to the question of no separation allowances and the insistence that there should be no dependents. Reports from other recruiting centres for the Cape Corps in this connection were illuminating; for example: -Worcester was asked to supply 6o men; that number was obtained in one day. Port Elizabeth provided 31 men out of 45 required. Johannesburg was only asked to supply 30 recruits, and those left for Simonstown on the clay recruiting for Coloured men opened. Kimberley’s quota was 50 men, and they were secured also in one day and were entrained for Simonstown.
In addition, other country places intimated that they could supply a certain number of men, while districts which had already furnished their quota expressed willingness to add to the number already secured, and the Mission Stations at Saron and Mamre each volunteered to furnish a company.
The Mother City of Cape Town found itself in this peculiar position that while she had taken the lead in expressing the desire for Coloured men to serve in the War, it seemed that the Coloured residents of the Peninsula would be ill represented in the first coloured fighting force to be established, whilst places other than Cape Town collared the honour. One loop hole in this peculiar situation presented itself, viz.:-the Governor-General’s Fund. But all hopes in that regard was quickly dispelled by the definite instructions of the Director of War Recruiting that no man with dependents would be accepted. Indeed, it was hardly a fair request to make that the Governor-General’s Fund should provide for dependents.
The very real grievance 9c pay and allowances was immediately tackled by the Recruiting Committee, and in November, I915, Colonel Inglesby and Mr. Brydone were deputed to go to Pretoria to endeavour to obtain better conditions, whilst Colonel Stanford, the Chairman, and the members of the Recruiting Committee in force waited upon General Smuts in Cape Town in the sane pressing connection. Meanwhile a slight concession was made by the Governor-General’s Fund, viz.: that they would give assistance in special cases, when brought to their notice.
It was about this time that the Cape Corps Gifts and Comforts Committee came into being. Later this committee became affiliated to the South African Gifts and Comforts Committee and did splendid work in supplying comforts for the men of the regiment.
“I have been informed,” said Lord Buxton at the Recruiting Conference held at Pretoria on November 14th, 1915, “that the successful operations in German South-West Africa have had a great moral effect in the European sphere of operations and caused great depression in enemy circles. The successful subjugation of German East Africa will bring about even greater moral effect to the advantage of our side all the world over.”
To take part in that subjugation of the enemy’s outposts Lieut.-Colonel Morris was now busy training his men at the camp at Simonstown, which, notwithstanding the many difficulties encountered, was steadily swelling its population.
” They are as keen as mustard,” said their Commanding Officer, ” and in their spare time are drilling on their own,” so that when His Excellency the Governor-General, accompanied by Major-General Thompson, inspected the Cape Corps at Simonstown on the 3oth November, 1915, they were complimented by him on their smart and soldierly appearance and workmanlike bearing.
That outside forces were in fullest sympathy with the men of the Cape Corps was shown by many thoughtful incidents. Two may be given.
“Tango” was enrolled. He was a smart Airedale terrier presented by Master Jack Ashley of Bellville as a mascot to the 1st Cape Corps. In the proverbial canine fashion he wagged himself into the affections of officers and men alike during his short stay at the camp at Simonstown, and Lieut.-Colonel Morris, in expressing his thanks to the juvenile donor, wrote: “I am sure that he will bring us luck.” “Tango,” when the Battalion embarked for East Africa, was called upon to show the stuff he was made of, for the Commander of the “Armadale Castle” was compelled to refuse to allow him to embark. With the persistence of his kind, however, “Tango” found another way of circumventing official opposition. A flying leap from the quay landed him on deck among his pals and the ship’s Commander had no heart to eject him.
The following letter speaks for itself: -
Wellington. “Dear Sir,
I am a coloured woman. It is a very little money that I send this is the money for the Cape Corps fund which I buy flowers from my own money and sell out again. I think it is very little but it will help too, my husband is gone to the front.”
(Signed) (Mrs.) D.S.
A postal order for fifteen shillings was enclosed.
During the months of October, November, and December, 1915, very strenuous work was done by the Recruiting Committee to enable the full complement of men (about one thousand and twenty) to be secured. The methods employed varied. Bands, Street Parades, Meetings in outlying Suburban Districts, Speeches at Bioscopes, Stirring Posters, Press Notices (the value of which cannot be overestimated) all had their turn. Ours was, of course, the job to induce those who were hanging back for various reasons to come to the recruiting stations. Once there the conditions were fully explained to the men, and the presence on duty of officers and non-coms in the smart uniform of the Cape Corps swept away all hesitation, if there were any, and made them all long to emulate those who had already joined as soldiers of the King. Having made up their minds they were then invited to interview the selection officers appointed by Lieut.-Colonel Morris.
These had their tables in the vestibule of the City Hall, Cape Town, and with drafts continually arriving from other centres, were kept pretty busy.
The officers in charge were Major Durham (a strict disciplinarian) and Captain Cowell (a kindly and just officer and beloved by his men, who later made the great sacrifice). They accepted or rejected the men. The accepted men were then passed on to the inner room (Reception Hall) for medical examination.
I remember one particularly strenuous morning. The vestibule was a busy hive with the hum of many voices, and, a not particularly savoury odour of old clothes-clothes that reeked with the sweat of hot and honest daily toil. The folding doors from the Reception Hall opened and a waft of sweet music floated through. The City Orchestra in the Main Hall was rehearsing. Instinctively drawn to breathe the music’s divine message, I was met by the Military Medical Officer, stethoscope in hand. He came to invite me to witness between sixty and seventy coloured men stripped for examination. These men had just previously been handed over to him. Then I realised that the clothing makes (or mars) the man. Now, lined up and smiling, naked to the world, they were fine specimens of strong brawny manhood. So splendidly developed were many of them that it might have been a parade of prize fighters, and, ugly in physiognomy as many of them undoubtedly were, their smiles revealed dentures that many a woman would have sacrificed a good deal to call her own. It is perhaps needless to say that every one of those men passed as medically fit for active service. They were attested and sent to the camp right away.
Early in December, 1815, the Cape Corps was nearing its full complement, and recruiting definitely closed on 12th December, 1915.
At that date the Nett result of the recruitment for the Cape Corps was one thousand and sixteen men. Considering the difficulties in regard to pay and allowances, which all the efforts of the Recruiting Committee had so far failed to get altered, it did vast credit to the young coloured man without encumbrances and showed quite clearly the spirit that was in him to assist his country in time of need.
On the world’s day of rejoicing, Christmas Day (1915), the Camp at Simons-town was thrown open to relatives and friends of the men of the Cape Corps, and full advantage was taken of the concession.
Amongst the old time customs, plum puddings and music and bands were provided and dancing and joviality took place as though no red war existed and in spite of the gloomy news that trickled through over the cables. It was just for the day, the work with all its seriousness and earnestness, was for the morrow.
Mr. Harry Hands (the Mayor) in his message to the citizens of Cape Town clearly gave the key note in reference to the position as it was at that time.
“We are on the eve of Christmas,” he said, ” and at the end of another year, a year of war, and, for many hundreds and thousands of human beings, of suffering and sadness, a year in which death has taken a heavy toll of the Empire’s manhood. From many a home in the Peninsula loved ones who have gone forth at the call of duty will be absent this Christmas. There must there-fore, be a note of sadness in our greetings, but we can still find comfort in the old, old message. Seventeen months of war have not shaken our confidence and our conviction that right must prevail, and though we may be sore let and hindered we shall endure to the end, and the end will be victory.”
In January, 1916, with the full complement of recruits secured, courtesies were exchanged between the Senior Officers of the Cape Corps and the members of the Cape Corps War Recruiting Committee in the form of simple luncheons at the Camp at Simonstown and at the Civil Service Club at Cape Town. The main reason for those proceedings was to wish ” God Speed ” and ” Good luck ” on the eve of departure on the one hand, and on the other the expression of thanks (none of course were needed) to the Recruiting Committee for what they had accomplished.
When the Cape Corps’ embarkation date arrived, very naturally the South African Military Command did not take any chances. A smoke-screen was thrown over the movement of all troops. That notwithstanding, a great crowd assembled at the docks at Cape Town, and all the approaches thereto, to witness the departure of the Battalion for East Africa on 9th February, 1916.
It was a true South African summer’s afternoon. Three train loads of men steamed into the Docks, direct from Simonstown to the ship’s side.
H.M.T. “Armadale Castle” was waiting to receive the Officers and men of the Cape Corps. The embarkation was speedily and smartly accomplished. Many a mother strained with tears of pride in her eyes to get a glimpse of her son; many a young Coloured woman, who had a very particular interest in her newly–made soldier friend, moved in the crowd in the hope of a last farewell.
With the Band playing martial airs and the men leaning over the great ship’s side anxious for a last good-bye, and the sun shining upon a sea of helmets and dark skinned faces and flashing upon the trappings of the uniforms, it was difficult to believe that these were the same men, who only a few months before had come to enlist at the City Hall, many- ill-clad and anything but smart.
The transformation was so complete. Straight, and smart and smiling, with boots, buttons, and equipment polished to a turn, they were a fine workmanlike body of healthy men, and for cheerfulness, dignity of hearing, and soldierly appearance the Officers in Charge would not have been easy to beat in any regiment.
Then, God Save the King, every one stood to attention, and the great Troopship steamed majestically away (I fancy “Tango” barked). As evening came she dwindled to a speck on the sea, and finally vanished from sight.
The Cape Corps had gone on the great adventure, taking with them the hearts and the hopes of thousands of their kinsfolk in the Union. The reputation of the Coloured community of South Africa was in their hands.
The Recruiting Committee could rest on its oars until casualties and disease thinned the ranks of the departed warriors and a new recruiting Campaign was ordered to fill the gaps.
It became evident soon after the departure of the “Armadale Castle” that a number of the men of the Cape Corps had left women and children dependents unprovided for, notwithstanding the care that had been exercised by the Selection Officers and the Recruiting Committee. It was unthinkable that these should be left to suffer. The situation was taken in hand at once by the Recruiting Committee, and a list of married men with dependents prepared. Commercial establishments who had employed such men before enlistment were approached, and guarantees obtained in most cases that half civil pay would be given to proved dependents, until Military separation allowances were secured.
The New Year (1916) was scarcely one month past w hen General Smuts took charge of the East African Campaign. From that time calls for reinforcements for the Cape Corps were frequent, with the authorisation that married men could be accepted for Service, and that Separation Allowances would be paid upon the following basis, viz.:-is. 1s. per diem to wives, and 2d. per diem for each child under the age of 16, or in cases of widowless and motherless children, 4d. per diem. Proved Dependents of unmarried men were placed on the same scale, always provided that the soldier allotted to the dependent half his pay. This placed recruitment for the Cape Corps upon a better footing, more especially as grants from the Governor-General’s Fund were left entirely in the hands of the local Committees of that Organisation.
The foregoing may, it is hoped, convey some idea of the activities of the Cape Corps War Recruiting Committee in the earlier stages of the Recruiting Campaign as well as of the feeling held by that body relative to the care of the families of the enlisted men, during their period of active service.
Frequent calls came later from the Director of War Recruiting, Pretoria, for men, more men, who, by dint of hard work and the beating up of Suburban and outlying districts, never failed to materialise. For instance, during the period 27th February to 27th April, 1917, 1,457 Coloured men were attested for the Cape Corps, whilst a large number were turned down as unfit for Active Service.
In all, during the Recruiting Campaign, 6,000 men were enrolled for the 1st Cape Corps, and 2,000 for the 2nd Cape Corps.
Other Coloured units were formed, of a different character to the Cape Corps it is true, but all useful in their different spheres, and all dovetailing and harmonising into the great fighting machine of the Empire. For instance, the Cape Corps War Recruiting Committee were requested to find one thousand men for the Cape Coloured Labour Battalion, with reinforcements as required, whilst they were interested in and consulted with reference to the formation of the South African Native Labour Contingent, in which ten thousand men were enrolled.
In addition, the Recruiting Committee were called upon to supply Coloured men to the S.A. Artillery (Drivers and Leaders) and for the Cape Auxiliary Horse Transport Companies, etc., etc.
The exact total figures of Coloured men obtained by the Cape Corps Recruiting Committee are not before me at the present time, but it is certain that they were in the neighbourhood of twenty-five thousand, over rather than under. It is in my opinion a fair calculation to make that 4 to 1 of the men who presented themselves for enrolment were turned down as medically unfit, and if this basis is correct, it shows the handling of one hundred thousand Coloured men.
Amongst the rejected there was genuine disappointment and not a little grumbling. Many such men, especially the younger ones, hung about the recruiting station for weeks hoping by hook or by crook to be allowed to go, while the spectacle of their “pals” in the smart uniform of the Cape Corps heightened their misery at being left behind.
Every post brought letters from men in the country districts, bitterly complaining that the medical officer either did not know his job, or that he had mistaken their case.
Covering some ten closely written pages, smatterings of English and Dutch, a Coloured boy at Clanwilliam, 19 years of age, bemoaned his fate because he was two inches under the regulation height to enable him to join the Cape Corps. He begged to be allowed to join as a bugler; he knew that he could get one cheap if the money was sent to buy it, and, he added, “God would bless the Recruiting Committee.”
Besides the actual recruiting of Coloured men, the Recruiting Committee took upon its shoulders other matters closely connected with the men enrolled. For instance
Medicine and Comforts for Sick wives and children of soldiers.
The witnessing of the Signature on Military Cheques for monthly allowances in order to satisfy Banking requirements, etc., etc.
A batch of from thirty-five to forty coloured women, some with babies at the breast, others leading ragged and bare-footed children by the hand-little things that the soldier of the Cape Corps had left behind him to be cared for by the country whose freedom he was helping to keep intact-came to the recruiting station one slack morning. Sergeant-Major Reynard was pounced upon in the vestibule of the City Hall. He stood their fury and anger like the good old soldier that he is until explanations were possible.
When order was restored out of the chaos, they were invited to appoint one of their numbers to interview the writer in an inner room.
It was not hard to enter into the feelings of these women. Their separation allowances as has been stated were very small, just enough to provide food to keep them and their children alive and with no hope of putting anything by to meet an unforeseen emergency. However, they were content to suffer the hardships that white and coloured alike were called upon to bear at that time.
But the least delay in the payment of the allowances due created more difficulties than they were prepared to endure. A delay of some days had already taken place in the arrival from the Paymaster of the usual monthly draft, and the children were without food. They had already applied to the Paymaster of the Cape Corps, but he was powerless to assist them in their trouble, and had to explain that there would be a further delay of three or four days-due entirely to the change of office from one centre to another. The Cape Corps Gifts and Comforts Committee found the matter was one that did not come within their scope, and no tangible result accrued as the result of an application to the local Secretary to the Governor-General’s Fund. Finally the Cape Corps War Recruiting Committee was approached as described.
The writer’s own application to the then Secretary of the Governor-General’s Fund shared the same fate as the women’s appeal, and it became necessary to bring the full force of the Recruiting Committee into action. The result was entirely successful, and each family or individual went away with a sufficiency to tide over the awkward period. The women were satisfied and even grateful and dispersed to their various homes in outlying parts of the Cape Peninsula. The same method was adopted in cases where difficulties arose with landlords, who either wished to eject dependents of soldiers on account of the men being on active service, or to increase the rent on threat of ejectment if they did not agree to pay.
In fact there was no genuine grievance connected with the dependents of the enlisted men, which the Recruiting Committee was not compelled to redress.
There were, of course, some strange incidents connected with the recruiting of the coloured units. The following may be cited:
Private John Jacobs of the 1st Cape Corps had, by good fortune-or otherwise-obtained leave of absence from his Regiment during a lull in its activities, and found himself in the Cape Peninsula. Resultant upon his good-or evil-fortune he took it upon himself to form fresh attachments and responsibilities in domestic life.
The sequel to this visit was revealed in a letter, businesslike in its brevity and very much to the point, to the Hon. Secretary Recruiting Committee, as follows : -
I married John Jacobs a week ago. He has gone back. We have ten Children. Please let me know how I stand.
On a tour of the Eastern Province of the Cape quite recently the writer had the good luck to have as a companion on the journey an ex-officer of the Cape Corps who had served in the East African campaign and in Palestine. During the journey opportunity was afforded of hearing something of the doings of the Cape Corps in the actual fighting line, some of which no doubt will be set down in this volume. That officer’s praise of his men, of their manly courage and pluck, of their discipline and cheerful endurance in times of hard-ship and difficulties, served to confirm the reports one had heard of the splendid work and behaviour of the men in camp, on the march, or under fire.
At most of the stations at which the train halted, coloured men stepped out from somewhere, and, in their working clothes, stood to attention and saluted-they were so obviously glad to see their old officer, and to have the opportunity to refresh in a few words their memories of the time when they had served under him in the Great War.
It was the same in many of the places we visited during the tour. There was generally some coloured man who halted in his work to salute the officer, notwithstanding that both wore civilian clothes. Indeed, on the train by which we travelled, an ex-member of the Cape Corps brought us our nightly bedding, and the chef’s coloured assistant in the dining-car tendered his respectful greetings and was recognised.
On some of the farms visited at which ex-officers of the Cape Corps had entered into possession, the servants, the farm hands, and those employed in other capacities were all, wherever possible, returned soldiers of the Cape Corps. In some of the town’s ex-officers of the Cape Corps who had embarked upon new ventures since release from service employ men in their offices who have seen service in the Battalion. This continued association in civil life of European officers and Coloured ex-soldiers who served under them during the Great War is of course only natural and may in course of time evaporate and become only a memory. But what seems to be forced upon one is that this sympathetic understanding and respect between the white officer and the coloured man who served with and under him, if fostered in some way, should prove of inestimable value to the State.
South Africa, we are told, is a land that is merely scratched upon the ‘surface. Could not some semi-military body be formed from what is left of the Cape Corps for its greater development?
By Mr. A. Eames Perkins.
Extracted from the publication The Story of the 1st Cape Corps 1915 – 1919 by Captain I.D. Difford
An excerpt from the thesis “British Policy Towards the Malays at the Cape of Good Hope 1795-1850)
By Ghamim Harris B.A. (UCT) M.A. (U. W. Wash.)
The building of mosques was one of the most important activities of the Malay community at the Cape of Good Hope. Very few accounts, except that of Rochlin (1), have been written to examine this aspect of the development of Islam at the Cape. In recent years an excellent attempt was made by Bradlow and Cairns, on the Muslims at the Cape, with information on the Auwal mosque, (2) which other contemporary writers (3) have ignored.
There is no documentary evidence that an attempt was made to build a mosque before 1790. There is evidence that the Muslims at the Cape made an attempt to build a Mosque in the late 1790′s. The invasion by the British in 1795 and the Dutch defense of the Cape gave the Muslims the opportunity to enlist the support of the governing authorities to grant them permission to build a mosque. The Dutch authorities before 1750 did not condone the spread of Islam; they were only interested in converting slaves to Christianity. However, this all change with the publication of Van der Parra’s Plakaat, or Code of Laws (4); the Dutch followed more tolerable attitude towards Muslims at the Cape and in the East Indies. This action may have fostered the development of a positive attitude towards Muslim community in Cape Town.
The Malays had always held their religious services in prayer rooms set aside in the houses of imams. They now saw a changed attitude, which may lead to the building of a mosque.
The first literary reference to any kind of mosque was made by Thunberg:
On the 20th of June (1772), the Javanese here celebrated their new year. For this purpose they had decorated an apartment in a house with carpets, that covered the ceilings, walls and floor, At some distance from the furthest wall an altar was raised, from the middle of which a pillar rose up to the ceiling, covered with narrow slips of quilt paper and gilt alternately; from above, downwards ran a kind of lace between the projecting edges. At the base of this pillar were placed bottles with nosegays stuck in them. Before the altar lay a cushion, and on this a large book. The women, who were still standing or sitting near the door, were neatly dressed, and the men wore nightgowns of silk or cotton. Frankincense was burned. The men sat crosslegged on the floor, dispersed all over the room. Several yellow wax candles were all lighted up. Many of the assembly had fans, which they found very useful for cooling themselves in the great heat necessarily produced by the assemblage of a great number of people in such a small place. Two priests were distinguished by a small conical cap from the rest, who wore handkerchiefs tied about their heads in the form of a turban. About eight in the evening the service commenced when they began to sing, loud and soft alternately, sometimes the priest read out of a great book that lay on the cushion before him.
I observed them reading after the Oriental manner, from right to left, and imagined it to be the Alcoran they were reading, the Javanese being mostly Mohamedans. Between the singing and reading, coffee was served up in cups, and the principal man of the congregation at intervals accompanied their singing on the violin. I understood afterwards that this was a Prince from Java (5) , who had opposed the interest of the Dutch East India Company, and for that reason had been brought from his native country to the Cape, where he lives at the Company’s expense. (6)
Writing about the same time as Thunberg was at the Cape, George Forster, wrote of the Malays that: “A few of them follow the Mohommedan (sic) rite, and weekly meet in a private house belonging to a free Mohommedan, in order to read, or rather chant several prayers and chapters of the Koran.” (7)
The above two quotes support earlier testimony that Malays owned property and that the Dutch had become more tolerant after 1750. The Dutch tolerated the practice of Islam, while denying official recognition. In an earlier chapter it was pointed out that some plakaats were not really enforced, although they remained on the statute books.
The free Malays obtained the right to own land. Not necessarily because of changes in the legal system, but de facto, by the purchase of property, this was legally registered in the name of the owner. This is an acknowledgement that they had the right to purchase and own real estate. Moodie mentions many Black Free Burghers who owned considerable property. (8)
Since many of the Free Blacks were Malays, it is logical that many Malays owned real estate. In a footnote Moodie observed, “The opinion that the right of Burghership was an exclusive privilege of the Whites, seems to have no foundation in law, …” (9) Another early writer, who visited the Cape in 1799, Mirza Abu Taleb Khan, wrote “… among them I met many pious Mussulmans, several of who possessed considerable property.” (10) The records at the Deeds Office in Cape Town, supports the fact that many Malays owned property in the central and upper part of the Cape Town during the first two decades of the administration of the British Government at the Cape of Good Hope.
On the other hand, according to Commissioner de Mist (11) and Theal’s commentaries on the administration of the Batavian Republic, (12) the Malays did not enjoy the freedom to worship in public. Public worship also included the right to build a mosque and to use it as a public place of worship. For the liberal de Mist, imbued with the spirit of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity,” of the French Revolution, there was far too much opposition on the Council of Policy for him to extend freedom of religion to anyone, other than the members of the Dutch Reformed and the Lutheran Churches. The Batavian government at the Cape of Good Hope was not in control long enough to enforce their liberal ideas nor did they have the support of the majority of the white inhabitants.
In the late 1790′s some Muslims, among them Tuan Guru (Imam Abdullah Kadi Abdussalaam), and Frans van Bengal petitioned the British authorities for a mosque site, but were refused. Barrow wrote, “… The Malay Mohomedans (sic), being refused a church performed their public service in the stone quarries at the head of the town. (13)” This statement by Barrow has not been corroborated by any other documentary evidence.
A statement by Samuel Hudson, who was chief clerk of the customs, confirmed the fact that permission was granted to build a mosque. Samuel Hudson was a keen observer of events and gives a graphic description of the people, their attitudes and events at the Cape during in the period from 1798 to 1800.
The heads of them (Muslims) have petitioned the government and obtained permission to erect a church or mosque for celebrating their public worship, so that in a few months we shall see a temple dedicated to Allah and the Mohametan religion openly professed. (14)
Theal stated that The Muslims petitioned General Janssen for a mosque site. This was granted because of the impending war against Britain. Although permission was granted for the building of a mosque, the actual building did not begin, because of the invasion and occupation of the Cape by the British. Later the Muslims building on this strength again petitioned the new British Governor Sir George Yonge to build a mosque. This was their petition:
To His Excellency the Right Honourable Sir George Yonge, Baronet, and Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, one of His Majesty’s most Honourable Privy Council, Governor and Commander in Chief of His Majesty’s Castle, Town and Settlement of the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and the Territories and Dependencies thereof, and Ordinary and Vice Admiral of the same.
The most humble Petition of the inhabitants of Cape Town professing the Mohometan faith:
The aforesaid humble Petitioners beg permission to approach your Excellency with all possible humility, and to represent to your Excellency that they labour under the greatest distress of mind by having no place of worship in which they may pay their adoration to God, conformably to the principles of their religion. They assure themselves your Excellency will admit nothing conduces so much to the good order of Society as a due observance of religious worship, and though they trust it will be allowed them that few enormities have been committed by the persons subject to your Majesty’s Government who profess their faith, yet they believe their being by your Excellency’s paternal indulgence furnished with the means of regular worship, that the manners and morality of their brethren will be greatly improved, and that they will thereby become more valuable members of society. They therefore implore your Excellency to grant then a little spot of unoccupied land of the dimensions of one hundred and fifty squareroods whereon to erect at their own expense a small temple to be dedicated to the worship of Almighty God. Your Excellency knows that the form of the religion requires frequent ablutions from whence it is indispensable that their mosque should be contiguous to water. A suitable spot is situated at some distance above the premises of General Vanderleur, and they humbly conceive there will be no objections to their little temple being there placed. They throw themselves at your Excellency’s feet, and beseech you to their humble and pious solicitations, and if your Excellency is pleased to give a favourable ear to their Petition they will by their conduct demonstrate they are not unworthy of your Excellency’s indulgence and protection.
And your Excellency’s humble petitioners will as in duty bound ever pray, etc., etc., etc.
Signed by “Frans van Bengal,” for himself and the rest of the inhabitants professing the Mohametan faith. (16)
The petition was signed by Frans van Bengalen in Arabic.
The request was approved by the Governor Sir George Yonge on January 31, 1800. Sir George wrote over the petition in his handwriting, “Approved.” ‘That was pending a report being prepared by the Proper Officer regarding the land described in the petition. Signed: ‘in G.W. Yonge, Government House, Jan’y 31 1800.’
On February 1, 1800, the Colonial Secretary, Andrew Barnard, wrote to the President and Members of the Burgher Senate:
Castle Cape of Good Hope
1 February 1800
Mr. President and Members of the Burgher Senate:
I am commanded by His Excellency the Governor and Commander in Chief to send you the enclosed petition from the Mohametan (sic) inhabitants of this place requesting that a piece of ground may be granted them for the purpose of erecting a place of worship thereon. His Excellency therefore desires that you will depute two of your members to examine the ground and report thereon if it may be granted without injury to the public or any individual.
I am, Gentlemen,
Your obedient servant, Signed A. Barnard. (17)
Unfortunately there is no record that the Burgher Senate inspected the ground or sent the Governor a report either approving or disapproving the request. Opposition by members of the Burgher Senate may have been responsible that the Muslims did not receive permission to proceed with the building of a mosque. By that time the Batavian Republic had taken over the Cape under General Janssens.
During the Batavian period form1803 to 1806, the Malays again petitioned for permission to build a mosque. Janssens true to his liberal attitude readily agreed. The Batavian administrators had a greater sense of tolerance than the Dutch East India Company officials towards the Malays, but they were also realists since they needed the assistance of the Malays to defend the Cape against the British. The mosque site was granted, on the condition that the Malays commit themselves to defend the Cape militarily (18). Janssens thereupon formed the Malay Artillery. The officers trained them to be a very efficient fighting force. However, before Janssens could execute this promise, the British occupied the Cape in 1806. The Malay Artillery fought bravely to resist the invaders that General Baird with no hesitation confirmed the promise made by Janssens. Theal noted:
The Mohamedan religion was never prohibited in South Africa, though during the government of the East India Company people of that creed were obliged to worship either in the open air or in private houses. Permission to build a mosque, which was granted without hesitation, and a commencement was about to be made when the colony was conquered by the English. General Baird confirmed the privilege granted by his predecessor, and very shortly there was a mosque in Cape Town. Another was build during the government of Lord Charles Somerset. (19)
The initial mosque may have been built in the stone quarry. This is located near Chiappini and Castle Streets. Little evidence remains of this mosque. This mosque could have been a temporary building. Since no land was granted to the Muslims to build a mosque, Somerset had noted later that the governor had the right to grant citizenship and to issue land grants to any person or group of people. Somerset granted the Malays permission to build a mosque. This mosque was the Auwal Mosque. Unfortunately this led to a disagreement in the Malay community regarding the leadership or the appointment of an imam at this mosque.
Tuan Guru (Imam Abdullah) died in 1807. His death resulted in a major dispute within the Malay community. According to letters written to the editor of the South African Commercial Advertiser, Tuan Guru did not want Jan van Boughies to succeed him as Imam.
Cape Town, 17th Feb., 1836.
Sir, – I present you my best compliments, hoping that you will hearken to my prayer. Sir, I have seen in the paper that they published, that my father, Imaum Abdulla, did not raise Achmat, who is Imaum now. I can assure you Sir, that my father called Imaum Achmat in, and made him promise that he would take care of me and of my brother, according to my late father’s wish; and therefore I wish to state to you the truth if I am called upon for the circumstance: but, Sir, you do not think it is pleasant for me to hear these uncomfortable circumstances. I can assure you, that my father having given the situations over to Imaum Achmat, so he acted according to my father Imaum Abdulla’s wish: and I can assure you that since my father’s death, Imaum Achmat treated us two as his own children; in fact, he could not have done better towards us; and may I wish that he may live twenty years longer in this world, for his is like a father and mother to me; my whole power is from him. Sir, I beg leave to say, also, that it is my place to stand at the head of all, because I had to promise my own father Imaum Abdulla, that we were not to stand before we were of the age of 40 years: but, Sir, because I am not studied through the books, therefore I gave it over to Imaum Achmat until I shall be able to take his place. And I can assure you that none of the others ever assisted me since my father’s death – neither Abdul Wassa, nor Jan of Bougies; as for Manzoor, I don’t count him at all – he is nothing.
And I wish, Sir, that the Almighty God will never change my heart from that church, or from Imaum Achmat, and May I wish that no one will bury me but Imaum Achmat, and myself had to promise my brother, on his dying bed, (my emphasis) never to leave Imaum Achmat, and that Imaum Achmat is to teach me exactly like my own brother. And therefore I shall stay with him as long as I live, please God that he may see me on the righteousness of the world. Honored Sir, may I pray of you that you will do justice to me and to Imaum Achmat, and may I hope that you will see into the case, whether it is justice. And may I pray to the Almighty God that your heart will be good enough to do what you can for me and my father Imaum Achmat.
I am Sir, your most obedient servant.
Prince Abdul Roove. (20)
This is the first evidence of a major split in the Malay community. Although most services were previously conducted in the houses owned by the Free Malays, before the building of the first mosque, some services were still conducted by other imams in their own homes. Many mosques were built at the death, of an imam, because the congregation could not agree on a successor, or if a successor was chosen an opposition faction would break away to form their own group and build a mosque. There is evidence in the Cape Archives of two major civil cases questioning the right of certain persons to be imams. (21)
PALM TREE MOSQUE or Langar:
This split in the Malay communtiy occured in 1807. Jan van Bhougies and Frans van Bengal broke away from Guru’s congregation to form a new congregation.
Since Tuan Guru stated quite clearly, according to Prince Abdul Roove’s the letter to the editor of the South African Commercial Advertiser, that he did not want Frans van Bengal as the imam of his congregation.
The free Malay community in Cape Town was growing rapidly in Cpe Town and numbered 1,130 in 1806. (22) By 1811 the number of Muslims would have been as high as 1,500, not counting the slaves. It is quite obvious that one mosque would have been too small to meet the needs of all the Muslims.
In 1811 the land on which the Auwal Mosque is located was donated to Tuan Guru’s congregation for the building of the first mosque.
Immediately after the death of Tuan Guru Jan van Boughies and Frans van Bengal (Frank) purchased the house in Long Street and took legal transfer of the property on November 30, 1807. The upper floor of the two-storey house was converted into a large prayer hall or langar. (23)
This was the first time that a house was converted for use as a mosque, since imams formerly used rooms in their homes, which was set aside as a prayer room. Because this house was located in “die Lange Straat,” houses that were later converted as mosques were called, “Langar.”
This has been the popular interpretation of the origin of the term. However, subsequent research discovered a much more plausible explanation of the use of the term “langar” at the Cape to describe places of worship which were not mosques. The Encyclopedia of Islam provides the following description.
In the Dutch Indies, two kinds of mosques have to be distinguised, the mosque for the Friday service (Jumah) – these alone were called mosque (masagijid, also mistjid) – and simple houses of prayer. This second category is found all over the country, especially in smaller villages and owes its origin to private initiative and partly to public efforts; they have native names (langar [Javan], tajug [Sum], surau [Malay]). The langar, or whatever it may be called, of the village, is a centre at which the salat (prayers) can be performed, but it also serves other purposes of general interest. The upkeep of the building is the affair of the community and in particular one of the tasks of the religious official of the village. The upkeep of the other langars, erected by private individuals , is left to them. The building stands on its own site and is maintained by the founder or his descendants. The owner, cannot, refuse admission to strangers who desire to use it for salat or as shelter for the night. Such private chapels are always found near Mohammadan seminaries (Jav. passantren). We sometimes find that these langars are endowned as as wakf (Jav wakap). The village langar on the other hand has a more public character.
The Mosques, i.e. the masjid djami, are found in larger places usually in those which are also centres of administration. Their erection and maintenance is regarded as a duty of the Muslim community. (24)
In 1811 Burchell noted that, “The Malays have also a house dedicated and supported by them. This latter building is nothing more than a private dwelling house converted to that use.” (25) This information refers to the house of Jan van Bougies and Frans van Bengal in Long Street. In 1811 Frans van Bengal left Cape Town permanently and made Jan van Bhougies the sole owner and imam of the mosque in Long Street. This house was then transferred to the sole ownership of Jan van Bhougies. (26)
Although the legend on the door of the house that is home to the Palm Tree Mosque says 1777, that date refers to when the house was built, not when it became a mosque or a langar.
One has to consider Jan and Frans visionaries and persons committed to the religion and their principles. They were aware of that the population was growing and and that the Malay community did not have the financial resources to build a mosque, so they literally put their money where their mouths were.
Frans van Bengalen was involved in the military when he assisted the Dutch against the British. He was the Javaansche Veld Priester in the “Auxillarie Artillerie.” We know that he witnessed the translation of Tuan Guru’s will from the Arabic (Malayu written in Arabic characters) to Nederlands. The original will was copied, by hand, in the presence of Frans van Bengalen on May 2, 1807. The other witnesses to this signature, was a person by the name of Watermeyer and the other witnesses were Enche Abdul Malik and Enche Abdul Wasing. (27)
Frans van Bengal was called a “Field Priest” in the street directories of Cape Town. He was an important personality at the Cape Malay community. He, together with the French officer, Madlener, led the Javanese artillery at the Battle of Blaauwberg in 1806. The other mention of Frans was in the records when he requested to manumit his slave, February 1789. (28)
Frans was one of those industrious slaves, who worked hard to accumulate his savings. By dint of good behaviour and determination and hard honest work to free him from the drudgery of slavery he bargained with his master for a price for his freedom. He was determined to raise the agreed amount of money, which he did and thus paid for his freedom. He continued with this attitude by raising more money, to become a fruit dealer and a fish seller. A few years later he purchased two slaves and a boat and furnished his house as those of other free Malays.
During this time slaves were apprenticed by their masters to become tradesmen. After they became qualified they were hired out to bring in a share of their labour to their masters. They were allowed to keep a portion for themselves. In this way many slaves were able to purchase their freedom.
Frans made it clear to his slaves that should one of them decide to embrace Islam, then that slave would be manumitted. He also made a condition with them that if they serve him faithfully over a specified period they would be freed and given sufficient money to start their own businesses. He was an honest man who kept his word. When the slave did not serve him faithfully, he was told, he would be sold. Several slaves received their liberty from him in this way. Business was good for Frans, and when the English took over the Cape in 1795 he was held in high esteem by the captains at the station, who recommended him as an honest person, who received work for several thousand rix-dollars at a time. Because of his stature as a respectable and honest businessman he made friends amongst the influential people of the Colony, like Admiral Sir Roger Curtis. He had become rich and deserved his honest gains. He was also instrumental in helping the Muslim community receive a grant of land on Lion’s Rump as a cemetery. Frans was often seen, when he was free from his numerous business endeavours using his leisure time working with his slaves building a wall around this cemetery to keep out the cattle that was always grazing at this sacred spot.
He intended to leave the Cape and had thus made over all his property to his wife and adopted children, and was determined to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca and to visit the grave of the Prophet Muhammad (O.W.B.P.) He had made several applications to captains of ships going to the east but have not been successful, until later in 1811, when he sold his half share in the Long Street Mosque to Jan van Bhougies and left the Cape permanently.
He married Mariam. At the time of their marriage, which happened sometime during the 1770′s? The name would have been Nederlands with an appelation “van de Kaap”. They had one son.
Frans’ name first appeared in the records when he manumitted his slave Februarij in 1789. He also signed the petition to Governor Janssens in 1794 for a mosque site, before the British occupied the Cape. He lived at 21 Longmarket Street, before he moved to Long Street.
Frans van Bengalen’s partner in the purchase of the Palm Tree Mosque was Jan van Boughies or rather, Enche Rajap Boughies. His will stated that he was a free man and his wife, Samida van de Kaap, a free woman. He was another one of those persons of whom there are many legends generated in oral history and void of documentary evidence. Jan van Bhougies was not White. The appellation “van Bhougies” was used because he came from Bhougies, in the East Indies.
The opinion that he was white was because his house was the first house in Long Street to have had a prayer room set aside as a mosque. Jan van Bougies owned this house at a time when Malays weren’t generally allowed to own land. Jan van Bougies was the only other person, besides, Tuan Guru, in South Africa to have transcribed the Quran from memory. The last page of the Quran, written in Malayu with the Arabic script, indicated that his monumental task was completed after Assar on the 14th day of Jamaadiel Thani (29) in the year of 1218 A.H. (30) of the Prophet (O.W.B.P.) (31) by Enche Rajab Bougies (Jan van Bougies), son of Jafaar Abu Nya Yakiem. The Quran (32) was passed on to Imam Mammat, (33) who was the successor of Jan van Bougies (Jan van Batavia).
The date corresponds to approximately September 30th 1803 A.D and the translation was made by Hajjie Achmat Brown.
Jan van Bhougies died in 1845, at the age of 112. This age must have been according to the Islamic calendar. This was quite an achievement to live to such a ripe old age. His will made in 1811 he described himself as a free person. He was at that time a man of property who accumulated enough money to have a half share in the purchase of the Long Street property, of which he later assumed full ownership. In 1848 his wife, Samida van de Kaap made her will in which she stipulated that the house in Long Street, used by her late husband, Jan van Bhougies, as a Mohammedan church should be left to the then priest, Maamat van de Kaap, elders, and deacons of the Church of Jan van Bhougies. After their deaths it shall not be sold, pawned or rebuilt, and it will remain the sole property of the Mohammedan congregation under the name of The Church of Jan van Bhougies. Jan van Bhougies also owned a house at 19 Long Street, which was worth £300 at that time. This is quite a princely sum of money in 1845. The administration of his estate was ordered by the Supreme Court. The file on his estate was closed on 11th July 1872.
Samida’s will transferred the property in Long Street, which housed the Church of Jan van Bhougies to Maamat, who was the sole survivor of all the persons named in the will, and who was then the imam.
Samida’s will led to a protracted civil case which, commenced on February 26th 1866, when the case of Ismail and others, Imams, Gatieps and Bilals of the said church came before Justice J. Bell.
“Mammat, the priest who was a member of the corps, was wounded in the battle.” (34) He died at the age of 104 in 1864. His obituary, in a local newspaper, said: “He was much respected by the Malay population, and deservedly so, having led a good life, and devoted his services to the cause of his religious calling with credit to himself and satisfaction to those with whom he came into contact.” The age is most probably according to the Islamic calendar. According to the Gregorian calendar he would be over 100 years old. He was listed in the street directories of Cape Town between 1811 and 1834 as a fisherman.
When the Javanese artillery was formed in 1804, Imam Maamat served under Madlener and Frans van Bengal, at the Battle of Blaauwberg. He died at the age of 104 in 1864 and his obituary, in a local newspaper, said: “He was much respected by the Malay population, and deservedly so, having led a good life, and devoted his services to the cause of his religious calling with credit to himself and satisfaction to those with whom he came into contact.” (35) He was listed in the street directories of Cape Town between 1811 and 1834 as a fisherman.
In 1862 Mahmat executed a deed, based on the will, appointing the defendants to be the imam, Gatieps and Bilals of the Church of Jan van Bhougies. However, he gave himself the right to dismiss any of those persons and appoint others in their stead. He also stated that the house should be transferred to those persons who were last mentioned in this deed and who were still living. Mamaat died in 1864. Between the transfer in 1861 and Maamat’s death, the plaintiffs, left the congregation, because of a dispute with Imam Maamat. According to the evidence the defendant, Ismail, performed all the duties of the Imam, because Imam Maamat was not able to perform those duties due to infirmity. He performed these duties with the full consent and support of the congregation.
The court held that Imam Maamat did not have the power to make the appointments by deed. Under the circumstances they were entitled to be held as duly appointed officers of the church and would be entitled to hold the premises in trust for the congregation. The plaintiffs also, did not lose their rights when they left the church to avoid confrontation with Imam Maamat, and were still entitled to join the service and the congregation at any time they desired. The judge also stated the both custom and law was proved that the senior Gatiep would succeed the deceased as imam. Lastly there is no provision in law or in custom that the imam has the sole right to appoint anyone to succeed him as imam.
The dispute in the mosque occurred when Gatiep with the greatest seniority, Hajjie Danie, returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca and started a campaign to change the manner in which the services were to be conducted. He obtained the key to the mosque and immediately excluded Imam Maamat from the mosque. Imam Maamat took legal action against Danie and others to re-instate him as imam and to have the keys return to him. This action resulted in Imam Maamat being return to his position as imam, which restored his control over the congregation. Danie and his congregation left the Mosque of Jan van Bhougies to establish their own “langar” in a private house. Maamat executed a second deed appointing Ismail as his successor and confirmed the other defendants in their previous positions as Gatieps and Bilals. Danie was the next senior Gatiep and Ismail was the Gatiep next in succession. This action effectively prevented Danie from again usurping the role as imam.
He died intestate, only a death noticed was filed. The death notice was filed on March 27, 1871. On March 27, 1871 an edict was published for a meeting to be held on May 9, 1871 regarding the Estate Late Imam Maamat. On June 9, 1871 the minutes of the meeting indicated that Letters of Administration was granted to Gatiep Moliat as Executive Dative with Kaliel Gafieldien, Mishal Kalieldeen, William Humphrey and Arthur Crowley as sureties. The liquidation account was filed on July 15, 1872.
Saartjie van de Kaap, the wife of Imam Achmat, who was one of Tuan’s Guru’s Ghateebs (36) donated the land in Dorp Street (Wallenberg) to build the Owal Mosque.
In 1811 Imam Achmat and Prince Abdul Raouf took over a three lot parcel of land on the corner of Buitengracht and Dorp Streets to build a mosque.(37) The site was owned by Saartjie van de Kaap. Her name indicates she was born at the Cape, because slaves were given names in that manner during the early reign of the D.E.I.C. The property was given to the Muslim community in perpetuity. She was the first female Malay land-owner in Cape Town. She gave the land as a gift to the Muslim community for the building of a mosque. The mosque (38) and a house were built on this site. The house was to serve as a rectory for the imam. Another house was added later on the site; on the corner of Buitengracht and Dorp Streets. Imam Achmat in his evidence, given to the Governor in 1825, confirmed the existence of this mosque. (39) The Auwal Mosque is regarded as the first mosque built in Cape Town. At this time it was not called the Auwal Mosque, it was called the Buitengracht Mosque. This mosque was built before 1814. General Craig gave the Malays permission to build this mosque. Contrary to popular opinion, and the date on the minaret, that the mosque was built in 1840, it was built earlier before 1814. It was built for Tuan Guru’s son, Abdul Raouf. However, Imam Abdul Raouf did not immediately assume leadership of the congregation. He only became imam on reaching the age of 40. (40) Imam Achmat was not to become imam after Guru’s death. However, he did become imam before Abdul Raouf reached the age of 40.
The land on which the Owal (Auwal) mosque is located and the adjoining house, is still registered in the name of Saartjie van de Kaap according to the records at the Deeds Office in Cape Town. The above property was first registered in the name of Saartjie van de Kaap on 13th February, 1809.
The properties were originally registered in the names of Douw Steyn. On December 16, 1777 they were transferred from the Estate of Douw Steyn to Jan Minnie, who later transferred the properties to Coenraad Frederick Faasen on September 30, 1784. Faasen transferred it ten years later to Coridon of Bengal on September 26, 1794. He appears to be the first Free Black owner of the property and may have set a trend for the acquisition of nearby properties by Muslims. Cathryn, also a Free Black, inherited the properties from her husband and on his death, became the sole owner of the property. Although Saartjie van de Kaap was already married to Imam Achmat the property was transferred to Saartjie in her maiden name. This didn’t make a real difference since Muslim marriages were not legally recognized. On February 13, 1809 Cathryn transferred the property to her daughter Saartjie van de Kaap.
Saartjie van de Kaap was an independent and strong willed lady who was able to run a household, raise seven children and run her own business at the same time. She has much to be admired when one considers the period during which she lived. The African Court Calendar and Almanac of 1811 listed her as owner of the Preserved Fruit Shop at 2 Boom Steeg. She also listed her as washerwoman at 28 Buitengracht Street. Another listing shows her as the owner of a retail shop at 20 Keerom Street. Her husband, Imam Achmet van Bengalen was listed as a Malay priest living at 42 Dorp Street. In 1821 she was listed as a seamstress at 2 Spin Steeg. Imam Achmet was listed in 1830 at 40 Dorp Street. The information indicates a lady with varied interests and business who was quite an entrepreneur for her day. It could have meant she owned these businesses at different periods, since that the family address was consistent with the location near the Owal Mosque in Dorp Street.
There still exists a belief that Saartjie van de Kaap was White. This was because of the official government position that only Whites or baptized Free Blacks could own property, both Cathryn and Coridon of Bengal were neither, although they still acquired freehold rights and became the registered owners of the property. Both Saartjie and Coridon were Muslims. They were able to purchase the properties and had it registered in their names. The information of the street directories indicate she was a woman with strong business acumen and was continually exploring new business opportunities. This act may have been responsible for her being thought of as a White person. It is rather unfortunate that the oral history and the myths surrounding the acquisition of these sites are not supported by documentary evidence. The other myth is the site was taken over by the Muslim congregation as early as 1794, when Coridon of Bengal bought this site.
Saartjie van de Kaap left the properties in her Estate to the Muslim community to be used as a mosque “as long as the government of the colony should tolerate the practice of the Mohammadan religion.”
She was blessed and fortunate to witness the building of a mosque on that site during her lifetime. According to Saartjie’s will there were four daughters, Noran, Somila, Jumie, and Rosieda and three sons, Mochamat (Muhammad), Hamien and Sadiek. Hamiem became an imam later. He was one of the signatories of a petition to Governor regarding the Khalifa.
It is interesting to note that many Muslims, whose last names was their father’s first name, thus Mochamat became Mochamat Achmat, born 1837, who in turn was the father of Gamja Mochamat Achmat, who died in 1915. This also follows the Islamic tradition but leaves out the “Ibn” (son of appellation). The other problem that one faces with the names of these individuals is that the White clerks who recorded there names on official documents had no idea how to spell them and would write the name as it it sounded to them. Another reason was the standard of literacy of these Muslims. They were not literate in Nederlands or in English so that they had to make a cross on official documents and were not always able to verify the correct information contained in those documents. The majority of them who left estates and wills, signed their names in Arabic, but had to trust their attorneys that they would implement their wishes correctly.
The following letters give a further insight into the problems of the Muslims community regarding the Imam at the Owal mosque.
I fall at your feet and entreat your forgiveness for thus intruding on your time, but I feel it my duty to add a few words. I can declare that Prince Emaum Abdulla, when he became weak, made Rujaap Emaum; who did not live long, at his death Prince Emaum Abdulla made Abdulalim, Emaum. I can also declare that before the death of this Prince, he sent for Achmat, and fully explained to him our Laws and Regulations, which Achmat swore to follow and never alter, it was also the wishes of this Prince – that Achmat would assist Abdulalim in performing his duties, this Emaum being very weak, and that Achmat would not leave him so long as he lived, which orders Achmat observed, until Emaum Abdulalim’s death. At the death of Emaum Abdulalim Serrdeen became Emaum; and at his death Achmat became Emaum. Before the death of the Prince Emaum Abdulla, he said to me and many other of his scholars – that it was his wish that we should all go to Achmat, and remain with him, and he would instruct and direct us in all things necessary which I did, and still remain with him.
This letter was signed by Abdolbazier. Similar information was contained in another letter written by Abdol Barick. (42)
I declare that when I was a scholar of Prince Emaum Abdulla, there was no church for our religion but afterwards there were so many Islams in the Cape that it was necessary to have a church; so Prince Imaum Abdulla made a church of the house of Achmat, which still stands; the second (Imam after) of Prince Imaum Abdulla was Rujaap, and I was a scholar of the Prince E. Abdulla. About this time Emaum Rujaap died; at which period Prince Emaum Abdulla made Abdulalim, Emaum; and me Clerk. It was Emaum Abdulalim’s wishes, that after his death Sourdeen should become Emaum, which took place; and I became under Priester, and Achmat was second of Emaum Sourdeen; so that at his death Achmat was Emaum. All I have to add is that from that time until now, I have never had reason of complain of our regulations. My prayers and supplications are for the welfare of our country and King, and I constantly offer up my prayers that the Almighty may shower down his blessings and prosperity on our Emaum, and all the worthy gentlemen of our Government.
I remain with respect, Honored Gentlemen,
Your humble servant,
In 1825 Imam Medien declared that there were two large mosques and five smaller ones in Cape Town. (44) The smaller ones would most probably be houses with prayer rooms. Imam Achmat confirmed this and added further:
I have officiated for many years, and for the last three I have been high priest. My predecessor, who died about three years ago, was the first to have been allowed to officiate and build a place of worship in Dorpstreet, where I reside. General Craig permitted him to erect it, and allowed the exercise of the Mohametan worship. This had not been permitted by the old Dutch government, but General Janssens gave authority for when the Dutch resumed the government, and when he enlisted the free Malays to serve as soldiers.
What number of places of worship has been erected? -
We have two regular ones that are acknowledged; the other is in Long-street. There was originally but one. The second was erected by a man named Jan; in consequence of a separation, he is not acknowledged by us. There are many persons who officiate as priests and instruct the people but they are not authorized to do so.
What number of people attend your mosque? –
About 50 attend every Friday, and there may be from 80-90 who belong to the mosque. There is no room for their families to attend. (45)
Imam Achmat states quite clearly that there were two established mosques in Cape Town; The Owal Mosque in Dorp Street and the mosque in Long Street. The latter one he states quite clearly was established because all split in the Malay community. It is also implied he would like to be responsible for “acknowledging” mosques and imams, hence his self-styled title, “high priest.” One can also infer from Imam Achmat’s statement that the first mosque, built in the quarry was not recognized as a mosque. He states clearly that the first mosque was the one in Dorp Street.
The Rev. John Campbell, who visited the Cape, wrote a description of the Jumah prayers held on Friday February 11, 1814 in the Auwal mosque.
On Friday, the 11th February, I visited a Mohametan (sic) mosque. The place was small; the floor was covered with green baize, on which sat about a hundred men, chiefly slaves, Malays and Madagascars. All of them wore clean white robes, made in the fashion of shirts, and white pantaloons, with white cotton cloths spread before them, on which they prostrated themselves. They sat in rows, extending from one side of the room to the other. There were six priests, wearing elegant turbans, a chair having three steps up to it, stood at the east end of the place, which had a canopy supported by posts, resembling the tester of a bed without trimmings. Before this chair stood two priests, who chanted something, I suppose in the Malay language, in the chorus of which the people joined. At one part of it the priests held their ears between the finger and the thumb of each hand, continuing to chant, sometimes turning the right elbow upwards and the left downwards, and then the reverse. After this form was ended, one of the priests covered his head and face with a white veil, holding in his hand a long black staff with a silver head, and advanced in front of the chair. When the other had chanted a little, he mounted a step, making a dead halt; after a second chanting he mounted the second step, and in the same way the third, when he sat down upon the chair. He descended in the same manner.
The people were frequently, during this form, prostrating themselves in their ranks as regularly as soldiers exercising. A corpulent priest then standing in the corner, near the chair with his face to the wall, repeated something in a very serious singing manner, when the people appeared particularly solemn; after which the service concluded. (46)
Further confirmation was the statement by Campbell was the statement, “… holding in his hand a long black staff with a silver head …” This “staff” was Tuan Guru’s tonka. The tonka is a staff which the imam holds in his hand during the sermon (khutbah). The silver head is the identification mark of Tuan Guru. Since Campbell visited the mosque in 1814, is clear evidence that the mosque was completed before 1814.
In 1822 William Wilberforce Bird noted that the Malays met in private houses and rooms. It appears that this civil servant was not aware that there were two mosques in Cape Town. It is strange that such a well known civil servant was not aware of the Auwal Mosque was built, so that in 1822 it went unmentioned in an account.
The Malays, who are supposed to amount to nearly three thousand, carry on their devotion in rooms and halls fitted up for the purpose and occasionally in the stone quarries near the town. One of their Imams is said to be a learned man, well versed in the Hebrew and Arabic tongues, and in Al Coran, which he chants with taste and devotion. It must be acknowledged with shame and sorrow, that Mohametanism makes great progress amongst the lower orders at the Cape. But where there is the greatest zeal, there will be the most effect. (47)
Bird clears up a very important point, that in spite of building the Auwal Mosque, the stone quarry continued to be used as a place of assembly and a place for prayer. It could also be because the original mosque was still there, and he simply thought the quarry was used as an “open air” assembly.
Tuan’s Guru’s sons, Abdul Raouf and Abdul Rakiep followed their father, but were only able to become imams when they reached 40. A person by the name of Isaac Muntar who appeared as a witness in this civil action in the civil action of Achmat Sadick and Others vs. Abdul Rakiep or Ragiep, August 28 to September 2, 1873; stated that Imam Abdul Roove was the first imam, although Imam Achmat van Bengalen was the imam but had the step aside when Imam Abdul Roove reach the age of majority (40 years). Witnesses also mentioned that Imam Abdul Rakiep was imam at the same time as his brother. Both of them became imams at the Auwal Mosque.
The court case, Achmat Sadick and Others vs. Abdul Rakiep verified this information, but it calls the mosque in dispute, the Buitengracht Mosque. The civil action was brought by the youngest son of Imam Achmat and Saartje van de Kaap, Achmat Sadick against Tuan Guru’s grandson, Abdul Rakiep, the son of Imam Abdul Roove. The plaintiffs, Achmat Sadick and Others, wanted to evict the Imam Abdul Rakiep, because he had become a Hanafee, since he was taught by Abu Bakr Effendi. Although Imam Abdul Rakiep was awarded the judgment with cost and thus won the civil suit. One could say he won the battle but lost the war, because he actually lost the role of imam of that mosque. The descendants of Tuan Guru moved to the Mosque in Main Road, Claremont, while the Achmat family resumed their roles as imams of the Owal Mosque. This was evidence in the book by Bradlow and Cairns on the family of Imam Achmat. Imam Mochamat Achmat’s will stated that he appointed his son, Amienodien Gamja imam at the “Mohammedan Church” corner of Dorp and Buitengracht Streets. The inference is that the present house on the corner of Buitengracht and Dorp Streets was a later addition.
The mosque that was called in the civil case, the “Buitengracht Mosque” and the Nurul Islam Mosque, located at 134 Buitengracht Street is not the same mosque. The following information will help to explain the history of the two mosques. The land on which the Owal Mosque is located is designated as Erf #2839. This parcel of land was transferred to Coridon van Bengal on September 26, 1794, and was later transferred from the Estate late Coridon van Bengal to Saartjie van de Kaap on February 3, 1809. Coridon was Saartjie’s father. The other lot, which is Erf # 2840 was transferred from Cathryn van de Kaap, the mother of Saartjie van de Kaap, to Saartjie van de Kaap on December 6, 1811. The mosque site is still in the name of Saartjie van De Kaap, when I examined the records at the Deeds Office in Cape Town. The other lot, Erf #2840, was owned by Achmat van Bengalen. That lot was on the corner of Buitengracht and Dorp Streets.
In the 1873 court case , Sedick vs Rakiep (Tuan Guru’s grandson) the Owal Mosque was referred to as the Buitengracht Street Mosque. The mosque at that time was located on the corner of Buitengracht and Dorp Streets.
The present Buitengracht Street mosque is Erf # 2797. (48) The Erf #2797 was transferred by JHM Isleb to Jassar Mohamed Saadien in 1905. Erf #2797 was subidivided into Erf #2797 (Lot B) and Erf # 2796. Erf #2797 or Lot B was later transferred from Jassar Mohamed Saadien to the Nurul Islam Congregation on September 30, 1912. On November 2 1928 The Noorel Islam Congregation sold that lot to Imam Gabebodien Hartley. On June 6, 1939 the property was transferred by Imam Gabebodien Hartley to the Trustees of the British Nizan of Afghanistan Society. This mosque is today called the Nurul Islam mosque. The records of the Deeds office show conclusively that the mosque could only have been built after 1912, when it was transferred to the Nurul Islam Congregation.
The Bulding of the Second Mosque
After the emancipation of the slaves there was a definite spurt in the growth of Islam. This led to further efforts to build another mosque in Cape Town. This mosque was built about 1850 in Chiappini Street.
Mayson describes a visit to the mosque in 1854:
There is only one mosque in Cape Town. This large, substantial but plain and unminaretted edifice has lately been erected with the concurrence and favoured by the patronage of the municipal authorities: with an implied guarantee that it was to be used by the Mohametans in common, irrespective of their misunderstandings. It is occupied by one section of them only. A smaller mosque was used before the present one was built; before its erection the Malays performed their religious services in the adjacent stone quarries. There are about twelve chapels or mosjids, for daily service, in the houses of superior priest. Each of these, as well as the mosque, contains a painted and arched recess at the end opposite the entrance, indicating the direction of Mecca; and is scrupulously clean. (49)
This description applies to the second mosque built in Cape Town. This mosque is the Jamia Mosque, located on the corner of Chiappini and Castle Streets, constructed about or before 1850.
This mosque site was granted by the British authorities in co-operation and exchange for their support in the border War of 1846 against the Xhosas. A description of their participation was given in an earlier chapter. Queen Victoria made good her promise of the mosque site as well as the rights to the land area in Faure, near the site of Sheik Joseph’s grave. The mosque site was originally owned by the Municipality of Cape Town and transferred to Imam Abdul Wahab in 1857. The two sites were granted in freehold to the Muslim community under the trusteeship of Imam Abdul Wahab. This mosque, because of the grant of the British authorities, had the British Coat of Arms above the Mighrab (or niche), and is the only one that had the feathers of the Prince of Wales above the mimbar (altar). For this reason the Jamia Mosque was sometimes called the Queen Victoria Mosque. (50) The first imam was Imam Abdulbazier, who was only Imam for a few months. He was succeeded by Imam Abdul Wahab in 1852.
This was the same mosque which Lady Duff Gordon visited on Friday, March 21, 1862.
I had just come from prayer, at the Mosque in Chiappini Street, on the outskirts of the town. A most striking site. A large room like the country ballroom with glass chandeliers, carpeted with a common carpet, all but a space at the entrance, railed off for shoes; the Caaba and pulpit at one end; over the niche, a crescent painted; and over the entrance door a crescent, an Arabic inscription and the royal arms of England! A fat jolly Mollah looked amazed as I ascended the steps; but when I touched my forehead and said ‘Salaam, Aleikoom,’ he laughed and said, ‘Salaam, Salaam,’ come in, come in! The faithful poured in, all neatly dressed in their loose drab trousers, blue jackets, and red handkerchiefs on their heads; they left their wooden clogs in company with my shoes, and proceeded, as it appeared to strip. Off with jackets, waistcoats, and trousers, with the dexterity of a pantomime transformation; the red handkerchief was replaced by a white skull-cap, and a long large white shirt and full white drawers flowed around them. How it had all been stuffed into the trim jacket and trousers, one could not conceive. Gay sashes and scarves were pulled out of a little bundle in a clean silk handkerchief and a towel served as prayer-carpet. In a moment the whole scene was as oriental as if the Hansom cab I had come in existed no more. Women suckled their children, and boys played among the clogs and shoes, all the time, and I sat on the floor in a remote corner. The chanting was very fine, and the whole ceremony decorous and solemn. It lasted an hour; then the little heaps of garments were put on, and the congregation dispersed, each man first laying a penny on a curious little old Dutch-looking, heavy ironbound chest, which stood in the middle of the room. (51)
In my interview with Imam M. Nacerodien in 1976 he stated that the mimbar and the tonga were the original ones that were used when the mosque opened in 1857. He claimed that the mosque was opened on November 9, 1857. He stated that this statement would be verified by an article in the Cape Argus of November 9, 1957, when they celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Jameah Mosque. Unfortunately I have not been able to verify these dates and the information.
The mosques in Cape Town were built in the same styles as the mosques in the East or in other Islamic countries. One reason for this could be the cost of building a mosque and the financial state of the Muslims. In 1861 an article on “Islam at the Cape” which appeared in the Cape Monthly Magazine, an unknown observer gives the following description about the Muslims of Cape Town:
Their mosques are assimulated externally as near as may be, to the style of Christian churches of the locality, and have precisely the appearance of the ‘Bethel’ of some English country place designed by the village carpenter. These structures are called, even by the Dutch, ‘Islamsche Kerk’, and we all remember that the priests, although they were probably put up to it, as a political manoeuvre, did actually petition the Colonial Parliament for a share of the sums voted for Ecclesiastical purposes.
The original building gave the appearance of a church. The only explanation I can offer for this is that the architect or the draughtsman was familiar with the appearance of a church and had never seen mosque.
A few years later a fourth mosque was built in Claremont. This mosque was built about 1855 (53) the site was donated by a Slamdien for the building of a mosque. A member of Abdul Raouf’s family became the imam at this mosque, and the trustee of the mosque was to be the imam at the Auwal Mosque in Dorp Street. Tuan Guru’s family became imams at this mosque. Their involvement at the Owal Mosque may have ended with the court case of Sedick vs Rakiep.
The evidence of the civil case, Sadick Achmet and Others vs. Abdol Rakiep indicated there was no Hanafee Mosque at the Cape by 1873. The Hanafee congregation decided to build a mosque. On December 12, 1881 Erf #2627 in Long Street was transferred from John Coenraad Wicht to the Moslem Sect Aghanaf. This mosque was completed shortly after it was acquired.
This has been an attempt to delineate the efforts to build mosques in Cape Town to serve the large and growing Muslim population during the administration of the British Government. Starting from a negative attitude in 1797 and developing towards a positive position, with the granting of the first mosque site in 1806. This grant acknowledged the Malays as an integral part of the population and de facto, their right to practice their own religion. Whether it was in fact an open admission of freedom of religion, which it appears to be, or it was an attempt to show the judicious and humanitarian attitude of the British authorities, is not clear. The development of Islam continued to grow and foster, and although it was a common policy of the British to grant church sites for all denominations, the Malays decided to apply for sites to ensure that this privilege applied to them as well. In spite of Theal’s assertion that another site was granted during the rule of Somerset, I have been unable to find any evidence of a mosque built during his administration. On the other hand, it may refer to the site of the Auwal Mosque. This site was not granted by Somerset, but he may have given them permission to build the mosque.
The last two sites were definitely an attempt by the British to offer the Malays complete freedom to practice their religion. British policies during this period seemed to have been more liberal, and definitely a positive reaction to a previous negative position as far as the administrations of various governors, and the Colonial Office, were concerned.
1. S.A. Rochlin, “The First Mosque at the Cape,” South African Journal of Science, XXXIII (March, 1937) pp 1100-1105.
2. F.R. Bradlow and M. Cairns, The Early Cape Muslims, (Cape Town: Balkema 1978)
3. I.D. du Plessis, “The Cape Malays, (Cape Town: Balkema, 1972)
4. Roos, The Plakaat Books of the Cape.
5. Tuan Guru
6. Charles Peter Thunberg, Travels in Europe, Africa and Asia Made Between the Years 1770 and 1779. 4 vols. (London: Richardson, Cornhill and Egerton, 1796) I, pp. 132-4.
7. George Forster, A Voyage Round the World. pp. 60-61.
8. Moodie, The Record.
10. Mirza Abu Taleb Khan, Travels in Asia, Africa and Europe, I, p. 68.
11. De Mist, Memorandum.
12. Records, V, p. 120.
13. John Barrow, An Account of Travels into the Interior of Southern Africa in the Years 1797 and 1798. (London: T. Cadell & W. Davies, 1801) p. 427.
14. Cape Archives A602/9, Book No. 9, Hudson S.E., Manuscript Diary
16. Cape Archives, BO/154, Item 17, Incoming letter
17. Cape Archives, BO/154, item 236, Covering letter
18. It was because of this commitment that the Malays were formed into the Javanese or Malay Artillery, as it has been indicated in an earlier chapter.
19. George M. Theal, The History of South Africa Since 1795, (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1915) 5 vols. I, p. 4190.
20. South African Commercial Advertiser, February 27, 1836. The letter by Prince Abdul Raouf is printed in full.
21. Achmat Zadick and Others vs. Abdul Ragiep, August 28, 1873. and the civil case of Mahmat vs. Danie, 1866
22. George M. Theal, The History of South Africa Since 1795, (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1915) 5 vols. I, p. 419-420
23. This was called the Palm Tree Mosque (also known as the church of Jan van Bhougies). It was called a langar since it was located in the “Lange Straat” or Long Street. See another explanation in this chapter.
24. “Encyclopedia of Islam,” E.J. Brill, (London: 1913)
25. Burchell, Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa, p. 55.
26. The information was obtained from records at the Deeds Office in Cape Town. The transfer took place on October 25, 1811. The house was later transferred from Frans van Bengal to Jan van Bhougies.
27. The will was written in Malayu using the Arabic script. It was witnessed by Frans van Bengalen on May 2, 1807.
28. Leibrandt, Requesten, p. 463.
29. The sixth month of the Islamic calendar
30. It is approximately September 30th 1803.
31. O.W.B.P. On Whom Be Praised refers to the Prophet Muhamad. Whenever his name is mention, a Muslim would say O.W.B.P.
32. This Qur’an is currently in the possession of my brother Imam Yaseen Harris. It was passed from Jan van Bhoughies to Imam Mammat. It was owned by my grandfather Hajjie Mohummad Ghanief Harries and then my father Imam Sulaiman Harris. We were fortunately to find a person who was able to translate the Malay, Hajjie Ahmad Brown.
33. He was appointed Imam after the death of Jan van Bhougies at the Palm Street Mosque.
34. Eric Aspeling, pp. 16-17. Maximilien Kollisch, pp. 36-37.
36. Assistant imams
37. This mosque was called “The Auwal Mosque.”
38. The building of this mosque on the corner of Buitengracht and Dorp Streets has caused some confusion., since the court records of Sadick Achmat and Others vs. Abdul Ragiep of August 28, 1873, refers to this mosque as the Buitengracht Mosque, whereas it was actually the Dorp Street Mosque or Owal Mosque,. The Nurul Islam Mosque in Buitengracht was not the one referred to in the court case. This latter mosque site was only transferred to the Nurul Islam congregation in 1905.
39. British Parliamentary Papers #50 of 1835, pp. 207-210.
40. South African Commercial Advertiser, February 27, 1836. The letter by Prince Abdul Roove is printed in full in this chapter.
41. South African Commercial Advertiser. February 27, 1836.
43. Ibid. Similar letters were published from Imam Achmat, Achtardeen and Hagt.
44. British Parliamentary Papers #50 of 1835, pp. 207-210.
45. British Parliamentary Papers, #50 of 1835, pp. 207-210.
46. John Campbell Travels in South Africa, (London: Flagg and Gould, 1816), pp. 327-328.
47. W.W. Bird, The State of the Cape of Good Hope in 1822. p. 68
48. Erf #2797 This lot was first transferred by deed of transfer # 160 on 28th June 1811. This land was transferred 24th October 1905 by JHM Isleb to Jassar Mohamed Saadien. Part of this lot was then sold (Lot B) and became Erf # 2796 by JM Saadien on 30th September 1912 to the Noorel Islam Congregation of Cape Town. Erf # 2796 was then sold on 2nd November 1928 by the Noorel Islam Congregation to Gabebodien Hartley. He then sold it on 6th June 1939 to the Trustees of the British Mizan of Afghanistan Society.
49. John Schofield Mayson, The Malays of Cape Town, (Manchester: John Galt, 1861), pp. 21-22.
50. Mayson, p. 32.
51. Dorothy Fairbridge, ed. , Letters From the Cape by Lady Duff Gordon, (London: Oxford University Press, 1927).
52. Mayson, p. 32.
Boeren Beschermings Vereeniging
(Farmers’ Protection Society)
In 1878 a section of the Afrikaans-speaking farmers of the Cape resolved to form an organisation for the purpose of ‘watching over the interests of the farmers of this Colony, and protecting the same’. It arose, in the first place, from opposition to an excise duty imposed on liquor by the Cape parliament in 1878. Later aims of the association were: ‘to endeavour to have all those with an interest in farming registered as parliamentary voters, and to watch against the abuse of the franchise’. J. H. Hofmeyr (‘Onze Jan’) was its leader and its first representative in the Legislative Assembly. On 24 May 1883 the organisation merged with the Afrikaner Bond under a new name: Afrikanerbond en Boeren Beschermings Vereeniging.
Boer Generals in Europe
During the Second Anglo-Boer War 30,000 farm houses were destroyed, and in addition 21 villages (Ermelo, Bethal, Carolina, Amsterdam, Amersfoort, Piet Retief, Paulpietersburg, Dullstroom, Roossenekal, Bloemhof, Schweizer-Reneke, Harte beestfontein, Geysdorp and Wolmaransstad in the Transvaal; Vredefort, Villiers, Parys, Lindley, Bothaville, Ventersburg and Vrede – the last mentioned partly – in the Orange Free State). In extensive areas not a single animal was to be seen. In the Free State , for instance, only 700,000 out of approximately 8,000,000 sheep remained and one tenth of the cattle. The speedy reconstruction of the former Republics was a pressing necessity. In terms of Article 10 of the Treaty of Vereeniging £3,000,000 was granted for this purpose and in addition loans at 3% (without interest for two years). This amount was considered to be totally inadequate by the representatives of the Boer people at Vereeniging, and a head committee (M. T. Steyn, Schalk Burger, Louis Botha, C. R. de Wet, J. H. de la Rey and the Revs. A. P. Kriel and J. D. Kestell) was elected on 31 May to collect further funds. Generals Botha, De Wet and De la Rey were sent to Europe for this purpose. After cordial receptions in Cape Town, Paarl and Stellenbosch they left for England on 5 Aug. 1902. Huge crowds welcomed them in London, and they were presented to King Edward VII. On the Continent they were likewise enthusiastically cheered by thousands of people. (The Hague 20 Aug., Amsterdam11 Sept., Antwerp 19 Sept., Rotterdam 22 Sept., Groningen 27 Sept., Middelburg 30 Sept., Brussels 10 Oct., Paris 13 Oct., Berlin 17 Oct.). In a letter to Joseph Chamberlain dated 23 Aug. they requested an interview to discuss, inter alia, the following matters: full amnesty for rebels; annual grants for widows and orphans; compensation for losses caused by British troops; payment of the war debts of the Republics. At the interview on 5 Sept. Chamberlain stated that if he should accede to these requests a new agreement with the Republics would have to be drawn up and that could not be done. Thereupon the Generals published on as Sept. ‘An Appeal to the Civilised World’ in which they asked for further assistance to alleviate the dire distress. The result was most disappointing. Up to Jan. 1903 the ‘Appeal’ brought in only £116,810. This was possibly due to the unwillingness of the nations to continue assisting the Boers, who were now British subjects, and to the fact that Chamberlain had announced in Parliament on 5 Nov. that the Government would grant further loans if necessary. De Wet returned to South Africa on 1 November, Botha and De la Rey on 13 December.
Boer Prisoners of War – Camps
The approximately 27,000 Boer prisoners and exiles in the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) were distributed far and wide throughout the world. They can be divided into three categories: prisoners of war, ‘undesirables’ and internees. Prisoners of war consisted exclusively of burghers captured while under arms. ‘Undesirables’ were men and women of the Cape Colony who sympathised with the Orange Free State and Transvaal Republics at war with Britain and who were therefore considered undesirable by the British. The internees were burghers and their families who had withdrawn across the frontier to Lourenço Marques at Komatipoort before the advancing British forces and had finally arrived in Portugal, where they were interned.
Prisoners of war were detained in South Africa in camps in Cape Town (Green Point) and at Simonstown (Bellevue), and some in prisons in the Cape Colony and Natal; in the Bermudas on Darrell’s, Tucker’s, Morgan’s, Burtt’s and Hawkins’ Islands; on St. Helena in the Broadbottom and Deadwood camps, and the recalcitrants in Fort Knoll; in India at Umballa, Amritsar, Sialkot, Bellary, Trichinopoly, Shahjahanpur, Ahmednagar, Kaity-Nilgris, Kakool and Bhim-Tal; and on Ceylon in Camp Diyatalawa and a few smaller camps at Ragama, Hambatota, Urugasmanhandiya and Mt. Lavinia (the hospital camp). The internees were kept in Portugal at Caldas da Rainha, Peniche and Alcobaqa. The ‘undesirables’, most of them from the Cape districts of Cradock, Middelburg, Graaf Reinet, Somerset East, Bedford and Aberdeen, were exiled to Port Alfred on the coast near Grahamstown.
In the Bermudas, on St. Helena and in South Africa quarters consisted chiefly of tents and shanties patched together from tin plate, corrugated iron sheeting, and sacking, and in India and Ceylon mostly of large sheds of corrugated iron sheeting, bamboo and reeds. The exiles, whose ages varied between y and 82 years, occupied themselves in various fields, such as church activities, cultural and educational works, sports, trade, and even printing, and nearly all of them to a greater or lesser extent took part in the making of curios.
The exiles in Ceylon and on St. Helena were the most active in printing. Using an old Eagle hand press purchased from the Ceylonese, the prisoners of war in Ceylon printed the newspaper De Strever, organ of the Christelijke Streversvereniging (Christian Endeavour Society), which appeared from Saturday, 19 Dec. 1901, to Saturday, 16 July 1902. Other newspapers, which they published, mostly printed by roneo, were De Prikkeldraad, De Krygsgevangene, Diyatalawa Dum-Dum and Diyatalawa Camp Lyre. Newspapers issued on St. Helena were De Krygsgevangene (The Captive) and Kampkruimels.
The range of the trade conducted among the prisoners of war is evident from the numerous advertisements in their newspapers. There were cafes, bakeries, confectioners, tailors, bootmakers, photographers, stamp dealers, general dealers and dealers in curios. An advertisement by R. A. T. van der Merwe, later a member of the Union Parliament, reads in translation:
Roelof v.d. Merwe, Shop No. 12, takes orders for men’s clothing. Has stocks of all requirements.
Another, by C. T. van Schalkwyk, later a Commandant and M.E.C., may be roughly translated as follows:
Here in Kerneels van Schalkwyk’s cafe a Boer
Be he rich or be he poor
For money so little its spending not felt
Can have his tummy press tight on his belt.
In religious matters the exiles in overseas camps devoted their efforts in the first place to the establishment of churches. In most of the camps building material was practically unprocurable, with the result that most of the church buildings were patched together out of corrugated iron sheets, pieces of tin, sacks, reeds and bamboo. Pulpits were constructed from planks, pieces of timber, etc. There were a number of clergymen and students of theology among the prisoners; with them in the forefront and with the help of others who had gone to the camps for this purpose, congregations were founded and church councils were elected. From these developed Christian Endeavour Societies, choirs, Sunday-school classes for the many youngsters between 9 and 16 years of age, and finally catechism classes for older youths. Many a young man was accepted as a member of the Church and confirmed while in exile. Attention was also given to mission work, and funds were collected by means of concerts, sports gatherings, etc. Many of the prisoners died in exile, and the burial services as well as the care of the graves and cemeteries were attended to by their own churches.
In the cemetery of Diyatalawa 131 lie buried, and on St. Helena 146; in the Bermudas and in India a considerable number also lie buried. Through the years the Diyatalawa cemetery has been maintained in good order by the Ceylonese. Boer prisoners of war in the Bermudas were buried on Long Island. The graves themselves are neglected and overgrown with vegetation, but the obelisk erected in the cemetery on the insistence of the returning prisoners after the conclusion of peace is still in fairly good condition. It is a simple sandstone needle on a pedestal of Bermuda stone. The names of those buried in the cemetery and those who had died at sea on the voyage to Bermuda are engraved on all four sides of the pedestal.
Cultural activities covered a number of fields. At first debating societies were formed, and from these there developed bands, choirs and dramatic groups; theatrical, choral and other musical performances were given, festive occasions such as Christmas, New Year, Dingaan’s Day (now the Day of the Covenant and the birthdays of Presidents Kruger and Steyn and of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands were celebrated. Judging by the numerous neatly printed programmes, many of the concerts and other performances were of quite a high standard. Celebrating Dingaan’s Day at Ahmednager (India on 16 Dec. 1901 the prisoners reaffirmed the Covenant. Beautifully art-lettered in an illuminated address, the text reads in translation as follows: ‘We confess before the Lord our sin in that we have either so sorely neglected or have failed to observe Dingaan’s Day in accordance with the vow taken by our forefathers, and we this day solemnly promise Him that with His help we with our households will henceforth observe this 16th Day of December always as a Sabbath Day in His honour, and that if He spare our lives and give us and our nation the desired deliverance we shall serve Him to the end of our days …’ This oath was taken by the exiles after a month of preparation and a week of humiliation in Hut No. 7.
Education received special attention and schools were established; bearded burghers and commandants shared the school benches with young boys and youths. The subjects studied were mainly bookkeeping, arithmetic, mathematics and languages, and fellow-exiles served as instructors. It was in these schools that the foundation was laid for many a distinguished career in South Africa, such as those of a later Administrator of the Orange Free State (Comdt. C. T. M. Wilcocks), a number of clergymen, physicians and others who, after returning to their fatherland, attained great prestige and became leading figures in the Church and social and political fields. Literary works were also produced in this atmosphere of religion and culture, such as the well known poem ‘The Searchlight’, by Joubert Reitz:
When the searchlight from the gunboat
Throws its rays upon my tent
Then I think of home and comrades
And the happy days I spent
In the country where I come from
And where all I love are yet.
Then I think of things and places
And of scenes I’ll ne’er forget,
Then a face comes up before me
Which will haunt me to the last
And I think of things that have been And of happy days that’s past;
And only then I realise
How much my freedom meant
When the searchlight from the gunboat Casts its rays upon my tent.
Sports gatherings were frequently arranged and provided days of great enjoyment, when young and old competed on the sports field, while cricket, football, tennis, gymnastics and boxing matches filled many an afternoon or evening. Neatly printed programmes for the gatherings and the more important competitions were usually issued.
Various daring attempts at escape were made, but few were successful. Five exiles – Lourens Steytler, George Steytler, Willie Steyn, Piet Botha and a German named Hausner – who succeeded in swimming out to a Russian ship in the port of Colombo (Ceylon), travelled by a devious route through Russia, Germany, the Netherlands and again Germany, and finally landed at Walvis Bay. One captive on St. Helena attempted to escape by hiding in a large case marked ‘Curios’ and addressed to a fictitious dealer in London. But he was discovered shortly after the ship left port and was returned to St. Helena from Ascension Island. Of those in the Bermudas two succeeded in reaching Europe aboard ships visiting Bermudan ports, while J. L. de Villiers escaped from Trichinopoly disguised as a coolie and made his way to the French possession of Pondicherry, from which he finally reached South Africa again by a roundabout route through Aden, France and the Netherlands. Among the exiles held in Ceylon two brothers named Van Zyl and a German did not return to South Africa, but went to Java, where they developed a flourishing farm enterprise with Friesland cattle. Among those held in the Bermudas a number went to the United States of America, where in some of the states such well-known Boer names as Viljoen and Vercueil are still found.
Repatriation of Boer Prisoners of War
As early as 1901 Lord Milner realised what a stupendous task the resettlement of close on 200,000 Whites involved, among whom were about 50,000 impecunious foreigners, as well as 1000.000 Bantu who, as a result of the Anglo-Boer War, had become torn from their usual way of life and had either been herded together in prisoner-of-war and concentration camps or scattered all over the Orange Free State and the Transvaal as refugees and combatants. These people had to be restored to their shattered homes and their work in order to become self-supporting. Milner wished Britons employed by the Transvaal mines and industries to be repatriated first. This began after the annexation of the Transvaal in 1900. By Feb. 1901 as many as 12,000 had already been repatriated, and by the beginning of 1902 nearly all of them had returned to the Witwatersrand.
To aid the resettlement of former Republican subjects, special Land Boards were set up early in 1902 in both the new colonies. They were also expected to help settle immigrant British farmers. From April 1902 the repatriation sections of the Land Boards were converted into independent departments in order to prepare for the repatriation of the Afrikaner population. The post-war development of the repatriation programme was adumbrated in sections I, II and X of the peace treaty of Vereeniging. In terms of sections I and II all burghers (both ‘Bitter-enders’ and prisoners of war) were required to acknowledge beforehand the British king as their lawful sovereign. Section X read that in each district local repatriation boards would be set up to assist in providing relief and in effecting resettlement. For that the British government would provide £3m as a ‘bounty’ and loans, free of interest for two years, and after that redeemable over three years at 3 %. The wording ‘vrije gift’, as the bounty was termed, gave rise to serious misunderstanding, and the accompanying provision, that proof of war losses could be submitted to the central judicial commission, created the erroneous impression that this bounty was intended to compensate the burghers for these losses. The eventual British interpretation, that the bounty was intended as a contribution toward repatriation, created a great deal of bitterness. Eventually it turned out that there was no question of a bounty, since repatriates were held personally responsible for all costs, the £3m being part of the loan of £35m provided by the British treasury for the new colonies.
After the conclusion of peace two central repatriation boards, one in Pretoria and the other in Bloemfontein, began to function, and 38 local boards were set up in the Transvaal and 23 in the Orange River Colony. The repatriation departments were reformed into huge organisations, each employing more than 1,000 men. The real work of repatriation came under three heads, viz. getting farmers back to their farms with the least delay; supplying them with adequate rations until they could harvest their crops; and providing them with seed, stock and implements to cultivate their lands.
The general discharge of prisoners of war in South Africa began in June 1902. Many overseas prisoners of war, especially those in India, were sceptical about the peace conditions and refused to take the oath of allegiance to the British Crown. In spite of the efforts of Gen. De la Rey and Comdt. I. W. Ferreira to induce them to return, about 500 of the 900 ‘irreconcilables’ were not to be persuaded until Jan 1904.
In July 1904 the last 4 Transvaalers were discharged from India, but in May 1907 two Free Staters were still there. There were 100 men per district to every shipload, and on their arrival they were first sent to camps at Umbilo and Simonstown, where they were given food and clothing. Those who were self-supporting were allowed to go home. Through judicious selection – land-owning families first and ‘bywoners’ (share-croppers) next – repatriation was made bearable. By the middle of June 1902 almost all the ‘bitter-enders’ had laid down their arms and were allowed to return to their homes, provided they could fend for themselves. In other cases they were allowed, like the prisoners of war, to take up temporary accommodation with their families in concentration camps until they were sent home by the repatriation departments with a month’s supply of free rations, bedding, tents and kitchen utensils.
By Sept. 1902 only the impoverished group was left in the camps. In due course relief works, such as the construction of railway lines and irrigation works, were started to employ them. However, a considerable number of pre-war share-croppers became chronic Poor Whites. Spoilt by their idle mode of existence during the war, many Bantu refused to leave the refugee camps, but when their food rations were stopped they soon returned to the firms to alleviate the labour shortage.
The road to repatriation was strewn with stumbling blocks. Nearly 300,000 ruined people had to be brought back to their shattered homes. Supplies had to be conveyed over thousands of miles of impassable roads and neglected railways, already heavily burdened by the demobilisation of the British army and the transport of supplies to the Rand. Weeks of wrangling preceded the purchase from the military authorities, at exorbitant prices, of inferior foodstuffs and useless animals, many of which died. The organisation was ineffective, and the authority and ditties of the central and local repatriation boards were too vaguely defined, leading to unnecessary duplication. Moreover, the burghers mistrusted the repatriation. By the end of 1902 most of the ‘old’ population had, however, been restored. Unfortunately the long drought which dragged on from 1902 until the end of 1903 made it necessary for many of the repatriation depots to be kept going until 1904, in order to keep the starving supplied on credit. From 1904 conditions gradually began to return to normal, and in 1905 repatriation was complete. A great deal of the £ 14m spent on it had gone into administrative expenses.
Sharp criticism was levelled against the repatriation policy, especially against the incompetence and lack of sympathy among the officials, and financial mismanagement. The composition of the repatriation boards was also suspect. On the other hand, agricultural credit came in with repatriation and prepared the way for the present system of Land Bank loans and co-operative credit. Milner himself considered the repatriation a success, although he conceded that a considerable sum of money had been squandered. Yet it was not the utter failure it has often been represented to have been. Milner deserves praise for his genuine attempt to resettle an impoverished and uprooted agricultural population and to reconstruct an entire economy. The accomplishment of the entire project without serious friction can largely be attributed to the self-restraint and love of order of the erstwhile Republican burghers.
The general mode adopted by the inhabitants of Cape Town for the disposal of their goods, wares & merchandise. If a shopkeeper or indeed our principal merchants find themselves hard run for cash they apply to the Vendue Master for a day for his sale which is regularly entered in a book kept at his office. If the occasion is immediate he gets handbills distributed round the town and affixed at the usual places and the clerks or salesmen have notice to make the sale known at all the auctions they are employed at in the intermediate time by which means it becomes [known] throughout the town. On the morning of the auction a boy is sent round with a brass dish to tinkle at each corner of the streets to give notice to the inhabitants that there will be a vendue at such a house and by way of encouragement he declares the goods will be sold without reserve. This is not always the case but when the necessities of the seller are great, and immediate the goods are exhibited and at half-past-nine business commences. The highest bidder becomes the purchaser. Sometimes there are two bidders and neither of them will advance a sixpence more. On such occasions the auctioneer takes several pieces of money from his pocket and cries even or odd. By this means they instantly decide who is the purchaser. The money is not paid at the time of the auction as in England & other places nor is any deposit made at the time of sale.
If the person is known or has any friend who will stand forward as his security he has the usual credit of two months after which period he must attend at an office established for that purpose and take up his auction bills. Some of the inhabitants meet with great indulgences from the manager of this concern who is a man of the World, loves to eat and drink of the best things a good providence provider for the sons of luxury and extravagance. A well timed present procures you another month’s credit perhaps two and some I am assured now let their accounts remain unsettled six months to the great injury of the principal Vendue Master who is allowed by government great privileges in the disposal of this kind of property. When the sale is concluded the Vendue clerk furnishes you with an extract from his Vendue list which is in general very correct the necessary deductions made for the expenses of the auction salaries duties stamps &c.&c.. This upon being presented to the Vendue Master he pays the amount deducting two and a half per cent for ready money and takes upon himself the whole risque of the property sold. Here is the whole proceeding of the seller. But what are the consequences to the buyer?
Many persons who attend these auctions have small shops which from having no capital they gradually furnish by these means and sometimes are very fortunate in their endeavours. Several respectable tradesmen in Cape Town of great property have begun by the same means and now have capitals to import their own merchandise to a considerable amount. Others who are the purchasers come with a determination to buy to enable them to hold an auction in a few days with the very articles they now purchase to raise money to take up their former Vendue bills. To them the scheme is a very ruinous one and which must evidently end in an immediate bankruptcy. They buy dear. They sell at their own sale without reserve. Of course they must lose considerably upon the first purchase thus: with the additional seven & a half per cent which is the usual expense unless you employ an agent and then it amounts to full 10 per cent. This must in a short time swallow up principal and plunge the unwary adventurer in a prison. Frequently there are very good speculations to be made at Vendues.
I have myself attended them constantly for eight or nine years and have many times purchased a variety of articles at these places twenty per cent cheaper than their first purchase from the manufacturer at home and though perhaps not in immediate demand a few months has brought a want of them and they have sold at a hundred and sometimes two hundred per cent profit. The wary old auction hunters who have established themselves by a perfect knowledge of the various articles brought to the hammer and who have some capital to begin with will ever be gainers as ’tis with them a never failing maxim to not purchase but when they are sure of advantage.
The principal amusement of the ladies of the Cape is attending these auctions and (they) will sit mixed-up among a variety of frowsy smells that would really make an English woman extremely ill for three or four hours listening to the low and not infrequently obscene jokes of the auctioneer whose chief object is to keep his audience in good humour which can only be accomplished by the witty slang of double entendres suited to the capacity of his motley hearers. There is a great deal of trick and knavery in these sales which the government would act wisely to put a stop to. They have attempted it but unfortunately have acted upon a plan started by some person who has mistaken the whole business and instead of remedying has only given a sanction to a system of corruption and left the errors of the whole where they found them.
One method too frequently practiced by the sellers is to have several of their friends that they fee by little presents at times to keep them steady in their services who run up their goods to a high price considerably more than their value and this is knocked down to them. The credulous and unwary seeing these old rocks whose judgment they know is infallible become purchasers bid and from one to another the mania spreads and by this trick a tradesman has disposed of his property to a very considerable advantage. another defraud upon government is constantly practiced. all purchases at public auctions above 100 rixdollars are obliged to be upon a stamp of a certain value which rises according to the amount of the sum purchased at one morning or afternoon’s sale. Now to avoid this: the wary buyer bids up to 99 rixdollars in his own name but the moment he finds he has upon his list to that amount the purchases in the name of his Wife his sisters Brothers and in short goes around the whole of his connections of relations & acquaintance(s). By this paultry means sometimes saves to himself 20 or 30 rixdollars in a day which is actually defrauding the government revenue of a very considerable sum annually and which might be easily prevented by permitting no person to purchase for others. another scheme is practiced but that carries with it its own punishment.
‘Tis not unusual for a man to become in the name of a second person the procurer of a great part of his own property. By this means he saves money at the rate of 30 per cent which may sometimes save his sinking credit by enabling him to make a good purchase by which he is assured he can make fifty to 60 per cent but this seldom happens and where it is not the case such exorbitant interest will only hurry him on to that rock he is perhaps striving to avoid. Upon the whole auctions are fraught with good and evil. It always affords a person a sure and speedy way of disposing of his property without trouble & at a certain expense. No waste of time in running after the proceeds of your sale. The Vendue Master takes that upon himself and the moment your goods are disposed of he pays you the whole amount. A person coming to the Cape of Good Hope a perfect stranger having no regular appointed agent will find it much to his advantage if he has no offer for what property he may bring that he thinks to his advantage to accept to try the state of the market by public auction. Here he is certain to have a guide that will be an unerring one for though he puts up his goods at auction he is not obliged to sell them unless he finds they will bring the price he expects to get for them. So far auctions are serviceable. On the other hand ’tis a temptation that has ruined many.
The idea of two or three month[s] credit is irresistible. The young the giddy can herein satisfy their wants with articles of dress & finery which from the shops they have not sufficient credit to procure. A thousand ways their imagination points out to them that will enable them to pay at the appointed time. The dreaded moment arrives no money no friend to advance it for them. The consequence is they have a suit instituted against them in the court. Sentence is past with a long list of expenses swelling the original bill to double its amount. This sentence is given from the Court of Justice to the Chamber of insolvency who put it in execution [as] soon as convenient by selling whatever property there is belonging to the person ’till a sufficient sum is raised to satisfy all demands. This is one of the ill consequences attending credit being given at auctions. Many others may be brought forward big with danger to the unwary frequenter of public sales. ‘Tis in my humble opinion opening a door which will ever enable the deep designing villain to prey with certainty upon the property of others.
There have been some few instances of it already but of this I am positive that were auctions conducted upon the same principles in England as they are at the Cape the Vendue Master would keep upon his legs twelve months thinking he had the wealth of Crossus. Half the paper currency in circulation passes through the hands of the auctioneer who is allowed by government 2 1/2 per cent for advancing ready money upon sales. Though this very money is what he has received as the proceeds from other sales which sometimes remain in his hands for a considerable time and draws out in small sums as the convenience of the owner may require it. Therefore he is making an amazing property by the interest of other peoples money. ‘Tis upon an average about 15 per cent per Year he receives for what money he advances. This I believe is considerably more than our pawn brokers are allowed even adding to the lawful the unlawful practices they make use of.
A great deal more might be said respecting Vendues and their good and evil tendency. These few remarks are the result of actual observation in a long residence at Cape Town. Auctions in the country are conducted in the same manner except it is considered a treat to which people flock for many miles round the country and according to the respectability of the person at whose house the auction is held an entertainment is provided if the company is very numerous. They eat from a clean cabbage leaf instead of a plate & each provides himself with a knife and fork for the occasion as these are seldom furnished by the proprietor of the auction . Sometimes these sales continue a week and those who come from a considerable distance remain the whole time generally providing themselves with a bed in their wagon which is their usual accommodation when traveling from the interior to the Cape Town.
These sales frequently occur as the Dutch Wills generally – if the surviving parties are young – provide for the children in this way. In case the surviving husband or Wife marries again the property is immediately sold by the Orphan Chamber the widow taking one half & a child’s share. The remainder is sealed in the above chamber for the benefit of the children when they arrive at twenty five or upon their marriage. therefore the frequency of public auctions & estates changing their original owners. ’tis a bad thing in respect of landed property as it prevents many proprietors from setting afoot improvements which would benefit the estate and beautify the face of the country could their property descend from father to son in regular succession but when he knows the improvements he makes and which ’tis probable he may not himself live to enjoy and at his death the seat of his pleasures of his enjoyments and his toils may go into the hands of his greatest enemy it prevents him doing a thousand things that he would otherwise would execute with pleasure.
In the Article of Estates selling by auction is somewhat different than other moveable property. When you put up a house or land the auctioneer says after having read the regular title deeds and transfer of the property to its present owners to show the intended purchaser his right to the estate to be sold. The proprietor as an encouragement to the bidders puts in so many hundred rixdollars which goes to the highest bidder. As the estate is run up on value there is a stated time for bidding which they seldom exceed.
When this time is expired the highest bidder is entitled to what they call the Strike Gelat though he may not be the purchaser. As the auctioneer says Mister – such name – has bid such a sum for the house or estate but the owner conceiving the property to be worth much more he begins at several thousand guilders more than the sum already bid and descends down unless someone cried (mine) before it reaches the sum originally bid by the first purchaser he must take it at his first price. But should any one cry mine the former purchaser retains the Strike Gelat and the person who says mine becomes the owner of the house or estate at the price he says mine. He produces his securities, signs the new transfer and within six Weeks pays his 4 per cent transfer duty to government and the business is concluded.
All bonds are registered and lodged in the castle and must be cancelled there which is done by cutting them several times across with a penknife and delivering them to the proprietor. Estates are generally sold upon three payments. The first in six weeks after the sale the second in six months and the third in twelve months. The periods are sometimes lengthened to three years and some keep the whole purchase money upon interest. The clerks to the auctioneers are all sworn in and the auctioneers are obliged to find good security for their fidelity and honesty to the principal Vendue Master – there are as I have pointed out many abuses in this department that call for the active interference of government. Since writing the above some new regulations have taken place. An order has been issued forbidding any person from selling at these Vendues goods upon commission unless they are kept separate entered in the real proprietor’s name and carried to account upon a separate extract as there has been some strange swindling transactions carried out in this way to the evident detriment of the Vendue Master and the public in general.
A person in debt to the Vendue Master by this means secured to himself the proceeds of property not his own and when the law insisted upon payment of his just debts the whole of his merchandise and effects were [taken] away. Now unless he sells them privately all accounts must pass through the hands of the Vendue Master who can assess the proceeds of such sales to reimburse the accounts standing open against him. A new system entirely is much wanted in this department framed upon such a plan as to secure the buyer from impostors and the seller from the many acts practiced against him and his property. At the same time to curtail the very heavy expenses attending public auctions and to prevent the Vendue Master from being a sufferer & by giving him such security that the percentage might be lowered which he might very well do as he has then no risque to encounter which at present is great.
The present Vendue Master is supposed to be the richest man in the colony and from the immense advantages he enjoys it is morally [...nearly...?] impossible he should be otherwise. I should suppose if the English retain this place many alterations must take place particularly in this department and I think none wants it more. Another abuse of auctions in this colony and at the same time an actual default in government instances of which I am fearful are too common even in those circles where one would naturally suppose their high situation would effectively preclude them from such dishonourable practices.
The government stores are not infrequently brought to the hammer. After a partial survey has been taken of them by persons whose interest it is to say and act as these men in power would have them. They find their account in this acquiesence by furnishing those articles they deal in and so become links in the great chain of peculation. At these sales a sample is produced bad enough from which the whole is sold and not infrequently bought in again and I am afraid finds its way under another head into the government stores again at the advance of fifty or a hundred per cent. I do not speak this from hearsay having more than once become the purchaser at these sales of articles no way damaged but equal in quality to those regularly served out for actual service. I do not exactly say the principle in these departments does this but if he has under him ones who act upon his authority and do these things without check or control he himself by his neglect and inattention becomes a party in the defraud. This is with prize goods so frequently the case.
They are intrusted to the care of men regardless of everyone’s interest save their own. I could produce proofs where things have been purchased at these sales & afterward changed by the connivance of the person intrusted with the management for articles of more than double worth and these resold at the next day’s sale. For example I will venture to say that in the disposal of one prize brought in from the Isle of France at least a tenth was plundered of the whole cargo by these very means to the injury of the captors and the advantage of these public pillagers who fatten on the spoil of the men who nobly venture their lives in the service of their country and shed their blood to fatten these reptiles at home who prey viciously upon the hard earnings of our naval defenders.
From such prize agents and their under puppets good Lord deliver us – the auctioneer too frequently has a fellow feeling in their depredations for knowing of the chicanery practiced he makes his advantage in becoming a party whenever he finds opportunity of getting a bargain at half its value he knocks it down and has it set on the Vendue roll in a friend’s name who countenances the deceit because he hopes of reaping the same advantage in some other article. To sum up the Whole with an incontrovertible proof every one knows What the salary of these men are and the manner in which they live which must necessarily take the whole of their income to support their appearances. Yet a few years find these men masters of horses inferior to none slaves rich furniture monies at interest and become sleeping partners in some of the first mercantile houses. I only leave impartial persons to judge how this is all accomplished and from it to show the necessity there is for some wise regulations to counteract these villainous proceedings and to prevent such depredations being made upon the property of the credulous & unwary. Another source of plunder by these auctions is in goods and merchandise sent out from England to merchants at the Cape.
When the market has been found overstocked they have been said to be damaged in the voyage or from some other cause or other a survey has been made by those mostly interested in making a good thing out of a seeming misfortune. The goods have been put up to public auction purchased in again by the very persons to whom they were consigned for a third of their first cost and the shippers have recovered the whole from the underwriters. How easily may this nefarious business be carried on in a far distant part of the world where there are no checks upon such a combination of villainy and that it is so I have had ocular demonstration. I should imagine an agent for underwriters upon a liberal establishment here would answer a good purpose particularly where the person appointed was of known integrity and had penetration and discernment to cope with these unfair speculators. Had that enlightened statesman the Earl of Macartney remained at the Cape a few years all these things would have been differently regulated but unfortunately we have had governors who had no eyes to see no ears but to listen to the most ready way of securing to themselves the one thing needful.
If we may judge from the numerous abuses not only in this but in other departments that have remained unattended to it will be the most convincing proof either of the inattention or inability of those whose duty and interest it was to have them as speedily as possible redressed. These practices by long use become almost sacred and woe to the man who had firmness or honesty (enough) to innovate upon long established customs. He must be above the common stamp of fortune getting mortals. His must be the Herculean task to cleanse this Augean stable – and bring the different departments of the colony into anything like regularity or order to curb the licentious spirit of peculation and establish the character of honor and honesty among those whose forlorn hopes are become stationary at the Cape of Good Hope.
Whilst there are bills brought forward at home to prevent mock and fraudulent auctions and to protect the respectable and fair trader in the disposal of his property it is to be hoped that the same endeavour will be used to check the same growing evil on the other side (of) the Water and to prevent as much as possible the possibility of injury being sustained by those who through necessity are obliged to trust their property to a public Auction – and the manifest injury sustained by government in the constant frauds practiced by both purchasers and sale(s)men at these places. I may venture to say many thousands of dollars annually in the article of stamps only. The ends of justice are frequently defeated by the combination of those persons who are set as guards upon the property they are to sell and the auctioneers.
The Insolvency Chamber undertakes to dispose of the goods chattels houses and slaves of all unfortunate persons who cannot pay their debts. The proceedings are short summary and the expenses attendant on them exorbitant. The day of sale arrives. The auctioneer has his friends who receive his account of those things he has commissions for on the part of others or wishes to purchase himself. These articles are too frequently knocked down at half their value to the evident injury of the man’s estate and also to the creditor for the laws of the colony are if a man becomes a bankrupt (he must) pay 10 shillings in the pound gives up all he has to accomplish this. The remaining ten shillings must at some future period by paid. Though at the distance of years the debt hangs over him in terrorism and is exacted whenever he is in ability to pay it and the Insolvent Chamber generally takes good care to have a fellow feeling with the creditors so that with expenses of auction and a variety of fees and exactions the debtor too frequently instead of paying twenty shillings to his creditors finds thirty will scarce clear him from the expenses attendant on these lawful and humane proceedings. Yet all is carried on with the semblance of justice. The forms are outwardly observed with – to the strict letter of the law but the tricks of office which are seldom dragged to the tribunal of the public escape notice, for whilst such facilities are allowed its officers to act corruptly there remains but little chance for honesty to find room amongst such an assemblage. I recollect once at the sale of some furniture belonging to an American vessel from Boston I wanted to purchase a convenience for my bed chamber of which there were several.
The person who had the agency a Mister T____ and myself were not on the best terms from some disagreement respecting official business. I attended the sale & saw one of the conveniences knocked down to a friend of Mr. Smith’s for twenty odd dollars. This was in the morning (in the course of the) afternoon sale another of these articles was put up. I went as high as thirty dollars. It was bought in by the (friend, agent?) which I thought somewhat extraordinary and happening to mention the circumstance in the evening before the purchaser of the one which was bought in the morning he said: “Yes my dear sir, but Mister Smith is my very good friend and we accommodate each other in this way,” and when I expressed my indignation at such a palpable fraud upon the property of another he was aware he had gone too far without trying his ground first and attempted to draw back with a paltry excuse of the article being damaged. This I knew was adding a lie to the crime as I had particularly examined it and found it a much better article than the one I had bid thirty dollars for in the afternoon sale. Here was a connivance with agent, auctioneer and buyer and I am confident when a man is not upon the spot to see the property fairly disposed of these tricks and rascally proceedings are pretty general at most of the Cape auctions. I conceived it a duty I owed to Captains Folges, the owner of the furniture, to mention the circumstances and upon the matter being investigated the only satisfaction he got was the article was damaged an assertion I had convinced him was untrue. It operated so forcibly on the American that Mynheer lost his credit with the American and I believe it was nearly the last agency he was honoured with.
Another very dishonourable mode is that of the friends of auctioneers looking out the prime articles laying them by ’till after the sale and have them put down by the auctioneer’s clerk at the very lowest price the inferior articles of this description have brought at the sale. This is done at most auctions where the actual proprietor is not on the spot to counteract such fraudulent transactions. These damning proofs I should presume are quite sufficient to open the eyes of those who have dealings with auctioneers and to set every engine at work to put an end to this iniquitous mode of plunder. Where many nay most of the trading Jews are concerned with the unprincipled salesmen and share no doubt the profits of their deep laid schemes of peculation. Every one must be aware how impossible it is to always guard against these depredations however much might be effected by a firm and persevering system to detect and bring to justice these pests to society who leave an honest and fair trader no chance.
As from their successful method of purchasing at these auctions they are enabled to under sell the upright conscientious shop keeper at least ten or fifteen per cent. What a manifest advantage! This is in many countries where the sales are quick ’tis a decent and reasonable profit – against all risks but here it puts an end to all fair speculation and gives the general trade of the colony into the hands of a set of sharpers whilst the honest plodding man finds himself without custom – becomes unable to make his regular remittance home so that in a short time his stock is brought to the scene of iniquity the public auction and he gets his name in the gazette. To sum up the business: their honesty is no match against such villainous combinations.
By Samuel E. Hudson 1806
The Vendue Master, more properly the Commissary of Vendues, was a civil officer of the Cape government and the only person in the colony allowed to sell by auction which was “a state monopoly.” By 1822, the Vendue Master employed four auctioneers, and a “proportionate number of clerks”; see W. W. Bird, State of the Cape of Good Hope in 1822 (Cape Town: Struik reprint of 1823 edition, 1966), pp. 44-45.
i. e. slave.
In New York, ‘”A credit of three, four, or six months, is usually given on sales by the piece. . .”‘ as quoted in Westerfield, “Early History of American Auctions”, p. 176.
Elsewhere Hudson modifies this, pointing out that only the English merchants managed to prosper, the Dutch inhabitants remaining the pettiest of shopkeepers, an observation buttressed by other travellers to Cape Town. William M. Freund points out that even the established Cape Dutch entrepreneurs, e.g. D. G. van Reenen, J. F. Kirsten, and W. S. van Ryneveld “all fared poorly under British rule.” Idem, “The Cape under the transitional governments, 1795-1814, “in R. Elphick and H. Giliomee (eds.), The Shaping of South African Society, 1652-1820 (Cape Town: Longmans, 1978), p. 215. Hudson was sometimes a solipsistic observer: what happened to him he often ascribed to some unidentified “many.” Possibly, this is his form of self-justification. An excellent example of this trait occurs in his essay on “Slaves,” when he informs us that generally the slaves at the Cape are well looked after: his own establishment of slaves is the only one cited, see Ray Bert Westerfield, “Early History of American Auctions-A Chapter in Commercial History,” Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences 23 (May, 1920): 159ff., esp. 193 et seq .; at this stage we cannot say how many of these findings are directly applicable to the Cape, nevertheless there are sufficient points of similarity to stimulate an investigation.
James Ewart, a contemporary of Hudson, confirms this: “…the females, if not engaged at home, attend the venduties or public sales, which they are extremely partial to, and where they are as busy trying to overreach each other in small matters as their husbands are in greater ones.” Idem, James Ewart’s Journal, covering his stay at the Cape of Good Hope (1811-1814) (Cape Town: Struik, 1970), p. 25; also see Bird, State of the Cape ,” p. 346.
Possibly this is a reference to the Publicatie issued in November, 1805, which prohibited auctioneers from buying articles for themselves by using accomplices in the audience as fake buyers. The legislation, among many restrictions, forbade the auctioneer from directing the attention of the audience to other objects and then suddenly and unexpectedly closing the sale, PB., 6: 275-76. When the British took over the Cape in 1795, one of their first acts was to confirm the office of Vendue Master; they also streamlined the tax structure somewhat; see Placcaat Boek, 5: 15. According to George McCall theal, this 1795 legislation was “a popular proclamation.” Idem, History of South Africa, 1:3.
The Court of Justice during the Dutch East India Company consisted of one chief justice and eight justices. Although this number varied see G. G. Visagie, Regspleging en Reg aan die Kaap van 1652 tot 1806, met ‘n Bespreking van die Historiese Agtergrond (Cape Town: Juta, 1969) pp 40 to 62; also see C. Graham Botha, Social Life in the Cape Colony with Social Customs in South Africa in the Eighteenth Century (Cape Town: Struik reprint of 1926 edition, 1973), p. 16; for a fuller treatment, see Bird, State of the Cape, pp. 9-16 and 249-281; the British administration introduced payment for the justices and reduced their number.
Shortly after Hudson wrote this, the Chamber of Insolvency merged into the Office of the Sequestrator, which, however, was also at liberty to sell by public auction the assets of the insolvent person; see Bird, State of the Cape, pp. 28-9.
i.e. Croesus, last king of Lydia, ruled c. 560-546 B.C., renowned for his great wealth.
Hudson might well be correct. Bird calculated that in 1822, there was 3,000,000 Rixdollars in circulation, State of the Cape, p. 35; elsewhere he tells us that “The gross amount of vendue sales” is “computed to be about 250,00 Rixdollars monthly,” Ibid, p. 45. During one year then, 3,000,000 Rixdollars would pass through the Vendue Office. The amount of money passing through the Vendue Office during one year was equivalent to all the money in circulation.
If we believe Hudson’s title to this set of Essays, the “long residence” could only have been 10 years; however, there is later, internal evidence which suggests that he returned to these manuscripts after 1806, see p. (000).
Bird augments Hudson’s description: “An auction in the country is an important event for the vicinage. It furnishes what is there extremely rare, a cheerful pastime. A wedding and an auction are the only occasions of lively assemblage. The resort of boers, with their families, from the neighbourhood, is general; from distant places frequent. The ladies repair to the vendutie, dressed as for a gay assembly. The men resort to it as they would to a fair or a country wake. “Idem, State of the Cape, p. 346, and also see pp. 347-8.
Possibly this was done for the good reason that the cutlery was on sale: James Ewart, however, suggests the cabbage leaf was not a universal phenomenon at rural auctions “Soon after dinner the auctioneer, who was by this time as drunk as his neighbours, commenced selling off the remaining articles which consisted of little more than the wretched utensils in which the dinner had been cooked and served up.. . Idem, James Ewart’s Journal, p. 83.
In the Cape colony a form of compulsory partible inheritance prevailed; in contrast to the same practice in colonial America, partible inheritance did not result in subdivision of the property itself. This practice ensured that the heirs in the Cape colony sold the ‘family farm’ and divided up the money. In colonial Andover, Massachusetts; land itself was divided up until there were many small holdings. These differences in inheritance customs gave rise to quite different settler persistence rates and geographical mobility patterns in the two areas; see Phillip Greven, Four Generations: Population, Land and Family in Colonial Andover, Massachusetts (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1970), pp. 83, 130, 230; and R. Cole Haris and Leonard Guelke, “Land and Society in Early Canada and South Africa,” Journal of Historical Geography 3 (1977): 135-53. Entail, which has now entered Afrikaner culture, was probably introduced by the 1820 settlers.
Many rural inhabitants took advantage of Vendues organized by the Orphan Chamber by bringing their own goods to such a sale, see ‘Interdictie’ 17th April, 1780, PB ., 3: 106. Some colonies in the New World also devised such safeguards for orphans. In Virginia, for instance, where mortality was quite high, at least in the first half of the 17th century, the father often took precautions that his children, and not his widow’s husband, would obtain their legacy. E. S. Morgan informs us that; “In making a will, men often named a guardian other than the mother to protect the child’s interests, and in addition, appointed feoffes in trust to see that the guardian did his job properly. Where a child was left without either parent, the county court appointed a guardian.” Idem, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (New York: W. W. Norton, 1975) p. 168.
i. e. Strykgeld [= bidder's premium]: Botha clearly explains the somewhat obscure mechanism of strykgeld: the landed “property was first sold by opslag, advance bidding, and then put up again and sold by afslag, or downward bidding. The bidder in the first instance did not intend to make the purchase, but rather to increase the final sum. For this service, he received a bonus, or as it was called, strykgeld. If on the downward bidding no more was offered than the price he bid, he was obliged to take the property. The risk was, however, negligible, and there was many a one who made a reasonable income by attending such sales regularly and receiving strykgeld. Advertisements of sales invariably stated that “liberal strykgeld” would be given, which naturally tended to bring many to the sale and also enhanced the purchase price.” Idem, Social Life and Customs, pp. 84-5.
According to Ralph Cassady, who wrote a global comparative study of auctions, this is called ‘upside down or Dutch’ bidding, and is only practiced in Dutch areas, although some fishing ports in England, where the Dutch had traded, also used the upside down system. It is heavily disputed whether the system favors the buyer or seller, however it does, concludes Cassady, save the auctioneer much time. Idem, Auctions and Auctioneering (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967), passim.
Westerfield suggests that much the same process was occurring in New York, only a decade later. In that city, however, there was no limit on the number of auctioneers: “As the auctioneers grew in number and wealth they became a powerful influence in the money market. They were directors in nearly every bank in New York and obtained almost indefinite lines of credit.” Idem, “Early History of American Auctions”, pp. 176-7.
i. e. goods seized in maritime war.
Former name of Mauritius.
Hudson would have been in a commanding position to observe such goings-on, after he became first Clerk of the Customs in the closing years of the eighteenth century.
George Macartney (1737-1806) was born in Lisanoore, Ireland. After being educated in Trinity College, Dublin, he entered the British Parliament, was knighted in 1764 and sent to Russia where he concluded a treaty with the Czar. Between 1769 and 1772 he was Chief Secretary for Ireland. Appointed Governor of the Antilles (West Indies) in 1775, he stayed there until 1780, when he was captured by the French and taken to France. After his release in 1781 he was appointed Governor of Madras, where he remained until 1785. Returning home to England in that same year, he spent a fortnight at the Cape. In 1792, he was sent as British Envoy to the Emperor of China. In 1797 he arrived at the Cape with a brilliant staff including John Barrow and the Barnards – Hudson’s employers, see Dictionary of South African Biography., 3: 551-552.
i.e. money; this is a reference to Sir George Yon ge, Macartney’s ill-fated successor, whom even the sanguine Theal castigates as “decidedly the most incompetent man who has ever been at the head of affairs in the colony…” Idem, History of South Africa since 1795, 1:71 et seq. Yonge was forced to leave the Cape ignominiously under heavy suspicion of, among other charges, an association with bribes concerning the slave trade to the Cape. Hudson loathed the governor, and made him the butt of his “new comic opera He would be Governor”; see “The diary of Samuel Eusebius Hudson, Chief Clerk in the Customs, Nov. 1798 – April 1800″ pp. 16 et seq., S.A.L.
Ellipsis in original.
Possibly a pseudonym, but there were several ‘Smiths’ in Cape Town at this time; possibly though, this one is William Proctor Smith who was listed in the 1800 street directory as “van America”, Eric Rosenthal, compiler, Cape Directory 1800 (Cape Town: Struik, 1969), p. 77. This bit of guesswork is buttressed in that some other Americans were settling at the Cape at this time, and setting up as merchants, see, for example, the Semple family from Boston, in Frank Bradlow’s “Introduction” to Robert Semple’s Walks and Sketches at the Cape of Good Hope (Cape Town: Balkema, 1968), pp. 1-3.
i. e. Dutch appellation = ‘Mister’, here a sarcastic usage.
The first British in SA
Sir Francis Drake rounded the Cape in 1580 and was probably the first Briton to see what he called “the fairest Cape in all the world”. But the first Englishmen to go ashore, a party led by James Lancaster, only landed at Saldanha Bay 11 years later. The Dutch and the English were interested in the Cape’s strategic position on the sea route to the East, and it was inevitable that one or the other would annex it.
In 1615 Sir Thomas Roe attempted to land some deported British criminals, but those who were not drowned or killed by Khoi were soon removed. In June 1620 captains Andrew Shillinge and Humphrey Fitzherbert formally annexed Table Bay for King James I, naming the Lion’s Rump King James’ Mountain. Their sovereign refused to confirm the act. It was left to the Dutch to act, after the wreck of the Haarlem in 1647. A previous visitor, Jan van Riebeeck, returned in 1652 to administer the territory for the benefit of the Dutch East India Company.
During the 18th century the rich Cape flora excited the interest of several British botanists who made long, arduous journeys through the interior in search of plants. Francis Masson, a Scot from Kew, arrived in 1772, a few months after the Swedes C P Thunberg and A Sparrman. Many plant species which Masson collected and classified remain European favourites. His work was continued by several British researchers, including W J Burchell, who arrived in 1810, after the Cape had become a British colony. About 8 700 South African plants are recorded in Burchell’s Catalogus geographicus plantarum.
William Harvey, who arrived in 1835 and later became Treasurer-General of the Cape Colony, produced his Genera of South African Plants in 1838. In collaboration with the German Otto Sender he produced the first three volumes of Flora Capensis, the work being taken over by the staff of the Kew Herbarium, London . This monumental work on the flora of the Cape was completed in England in 1933. British-born botanist, Professor H Pearson founded the National Botanic Gardens at Kirstenbosch in 1913. In its first half-century all three directors of Kirstenbosch, Profs Pearson, R H Compton and H B Rycroft, were of British descent.
The British occupied the Cape in 1795, but it was administered by the Batavian Republic from 1803 to 1806, before reverting to British control. The objective was to secure the trade route to India but British army units also kept Xhosa tribes at bay and allowed British influence to spread. The army was a safety net allowing government and education to develop and its presence encouraged the growth of eastern frontier towns such as Port Elizabeth, Cradock, Grahamstown, King William’s Town and East London.
Various governors attempted to keep the frontier peaceful, the most successful being those who sought to establish settlements as a barrier to incursions. The first group of settlers for this purpose arrived in 1820. It is a tribute to their courage that, knowing nothing of the country, they remained after the Voortrekkers had left. Many of their descendants are established in the Eastern Cape, where a distinct British culture is rooted.
This holds true for much of KwaZulu-Natal, where British settlement dates to 1824, when Lieutenant Francis Farewell obtained a grant of Port Natal and the surrounding country from the Zulu king, Shaka. This settlement was mainly for the purpose of trading. In 1835 the township of Durban was laid out on the site of Port Natal.
Two years later the first Boer settlers arrived, but their short-lived republic ended in 1843, when British sovereignty was proclaimed over Natal. Large parties of British settlers arrived in Natal from the late 1840s onward.
The British of the Eastern Cape and Natal were not content merely to settle. They adapted to a completely new environment and, imbued with the progressive spirit of 19th-century Britain, were often eager to alter and improve their new homeland.
South African agriculture benefited immensely. Agricultural machinery was introduced to a country which had few. The 1820 Settlers realised that the Eastern Cape and adjacent karoo were potentially good sheep country and merino wool became a leading export.
The British introduced sugar to the KwaZulu-Natal coastal belt and developed it into a major industry. Although deciduous fruit and citrus had long been grown in South Africa , the British were primarily responsible for the rise of commercial fruit-growing at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.
British explorers played a major part in opening up Africa’s interior. Early in the 19th century John Barrow traveled widely in the arid parts of the Cape Colony. Burchell reached the Vaal and Orange Rivers, and John Campbell explored north of the Orange. In the 1800s Farewell, James King, Henry Fynn and others explored Natal, and in 1835 Allen Gardiner became the first to describe the Drakensberg.
Robert Moffat established a settlement north of the Orange River and surveyed the greater part of the river’s course. In 1836 William Cornwallis-Harris and Richard Williamson journeyed through Bechuanaland and the western Transvaal. Francis Galton was apparently the first European to reach Ovamboland, and his friend Charles Andersson, the Anglicised son of an English father and a Swedish mother, traveled through the desert of the Kaokoveld to reach the Okavango in 1858.
The greatest of all explorers was the Scottish missionary, David Livingstone. In 1849, accompanied by W C Oswell, he arrived at Lake Ngami, and in 1851 reached the Zambezi River. In 1855, while traversing the continent from Luanda to the Zambezi delta, he was shown the Victoria Falls . Later he explored and mapped lakes Malawi and Tanganyika. Henry Hartley discovered gold in what is now Zimbabwe in 1867, and shortly afterwards the hunter Frederick Selous began his explorations from there.
British missionaries played a major part in the development of South Africa. They preached the gospel at a time when religious fervour ran high in Britain and they believed that Christianity and European civilisation were inseparable. They strove to introduce western ideas, including the inherent equality of man before the law, a notion which found expression in Cape law even before the emancipation of slaves in 1834. Five years later civil rights were extended to all in the Cape, a principle kept after responsible government was granted in 1872.
The breaking down of the legal colour bar was the greatest striving of the missionaries in the Cape. Exploration was an important second. English missionaries were early travelers to the Free State and former Transvaal, which Thomas Hodgson and Samuel Broadbent reached in 1823 coincident with a period of deep unrest. They settled among the Barolong who later helped the Voortrekkers after their cattle were stolen by the Matabele.
Missionaries founded many schools, including famed East Cape institutions such as Lovedale and Healdtown. Settler education was not neglected. Scottish missionaries and teachers resisted the plans of Governor Somerset to use the schools to anglicise pupils. Andrew Murray, Alexander Smith, William Ritchie Thomson, Henry Sutherland, George Morgan and Colin Fraser had an important part in strengthening and developing the Dutch Reformed Church. Of schoolmasters recruited by Somerset, James Rose Innes became the Cape’s first Superintendent of Education in 1839 and set about providing a firm educational grounding for people of all races. John Fairbairn and James Adamson founded the South African College in 1829, later to become the University of Cape Town.
The first South African newspaper, The Cape Town Gazette and African Advertiser, appeared on August 16, 1800 during the first British occupation. It was published in English and Dutch and later became the Cape Government Gazette, which has continued in modified form to the present day. The first unofficial newspaper, the South African Commercial Advertiser, was founded in 1824 by Thomas Pringle and John Fairbairn, settlers of Scottish descent. George Greig, the printer, was also a British settler.
The establishment led to a dispute about censorship which had far-reaching effects for the South African press. The paper was suppressed by Governor Somerset, but in 1829, an ordinance removed from the Government the power of interfering with the Press and made newspapers subject only to the law of libel.
This success led to the first unofficial Dutch newspaper, De Zuid-Afrihaan, being established in 1830. The following year the Graham’s Town Journal was launched in the East Cape. Press freedom was later accepted in other parts of South Africa, with the result that newspapers played an important political role.
The Cape developed a system of parliamentary government modeled on Westminster. In 1834 it received its first bicameral governing institution with the creation of a Legislative Council and an Executive Council. For the first time a clear distinction was drawn between legislative and executive functions.
As a result of agitation for a form of representative government, mainly by British colonists, the Cape in 1854 was granted an elected parliament. Another 18 years elapsed before the constitution was changed to provide for an executive chosen from the party which commanded the majority in the lower house, to which it was also responsible.
In 1834 the Cape received its first bicameral governing institution with the creation of a Legislative Council and an Executive Council. Until the end of the 19th century, in both the Transvaal (ZAR) and Free State republics, there was an elected Volksraad and an Executive Council with an elected President. Thomas François Burgers (above) was the second president of the ZAR.
The other territories also had representative governments. In Natal the colonists got theirs in 1856 and responsible government in 1893. Until the end of the 19th century, in both the Transvaal and Free State republics, there was an elected Volksraad and an Executive Council with an elected President. With Union in 1910 it was the Cape and Natal form of responsible parliamentary government which had served as the model for parliament.
English-speaking South Africans played a far greater role in politics prior to Union than afterwards. Between 1872 and 1910 all but one of the prime ministers of the Cape were of British descent. The influence of two, Cecil Rhodes and Dr Leander Jameson, was felt far beyond the borders of the Cape. By contrast, between 1948 when the National Party took office and 1990 when a decision was made to negotiate a democratic future the number of English-speakers who reached cabinet rank numbered barely the fingers of a hand.
An ambitious British imperialist Rhodes had by 1890 made Bechuanaland and the territory north of the Limpopo River part of empire. Most British immigrants to the Transvaal were denied full franchise rights. Rhodes used Jameson to raid the Transvaal in 1895 to stir rebellion but the venture was easily crushed. At the national convention of 1908-09 to draft a constitution for South Africa, English-speakers were well represented, among them being John X. Merriman, Jameson, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, Sir Frederick Moor and Sir Thomas Smartt.
Road-building was a great contribution of the British. The arrival of the settlers and the many frontier wars made good roads essential. The route to Grahamstown was the Cape’s main thoroughfare. An early engineering feat was the Franschhoek Pass, begun in 1823, followed in 1830 by the road over the Hottentots Holland range and named for the governor, Sir Lowry Cole.
In 1837 Scotsman Andrew Geddes Bain began to build an excellent military road across rugged terrain between Grahamstown and Fort Beaufort . The so-called Queen’s Road, was a continuation of the main route from Cape Town. The work led to Bain making palaentological fossil finds, many of them new to science.
John Montagu, who arrived at the Cape in 1843, helped establish a central and divisional road boards. Both were involved in systematically extending the road network. In the Free State and Transvaal road building awaited the revenue which accrued from gold mining.
Ports and coasts
In 1824 the British built the first lighthouse and in 1860 a start was made on a breakwater and docks at Cape Town. They were also responsible for the construction of all other harbours along the Cape and Natal coast.
The first railways operated privately around Durban and Cape Town. By 1885 there was a railway from Cape Town to Kimberley, built by British engineers to serve the diamond-fields, then being developed chiefly with British capital. The Transvaal and Orange Free State were without railways, and it was the progressive extension of railways by the colonial governments which led to rail development in the Boer republics.
By September 1892 Johannesburg was linked to Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London, two years before the line, sponsored by President Paul Kruger and built by the a Dutch company, was completed to Lourenço Marques, now Maputo.
Diamond-mining led to the establishment of South Africa’s first capitalist concern organised on a national basis, and very largely dependent on capital from Great Britain. This was De Beers Consolidated Mines, stated by Rhodes, son of a Hertfordshire parson, whose chief rival had been Barney Barnato, a London-born Jew.
The nature of the gold deposits of the Witwatersrand also favoured capitalist concerns. Were it not for the advanced technology and chemistry of the predominantly British Uitlanders, the finely disseminated gold could not have been extracted from the hard quartzite conglomerate of the Witwatersrand, the richest gold-field of the world.
Gold-mining revolutionised the economy of South Africa. They gave birth to manufacturing industries and boosted agriculture. Factories established directly or indirectly through British capital have drawn millions to the cities, transforming the demographic landscape.
The common law in South Africa is Roman-Dutch, derived from the 17th century law of the Netherlands. When the Cape was ceded to the British in 1806 the common law remained unaltered. In certain fields, however, English law, being seldom in conflict with Roman-Dutch law, was gradually absorbed into the South African system.
Reference has already been made to the role of the British missionaries in the field of South African law. They succeeded in persuading the Cape government to open the courts to people of all races, a policy eventually adopted throughout South Africa.
The British were always a minority group and their influence has come to be expressed through their control of major mining and industrial concerns rather than politics.
Source: South African Encyclopedia
South Africa is rich in genealogical source material much of which is easily available to researchers but tracing the arrival of British immigrants after 1820 can be frustrating and time consuming. This attempt to assemble available records concerning sponsored immigrants from 1823 to 1900 may prove useful to future researchers. Buy the E-Book now
It is as well to get immigration movements and policy into perspective right from the early days of the Dutch East India Company. Their decision to allow free burghers to farm land at Rondebosch marked the beginning of European settlement at the Cape and led to a constant trickle of immigrants to these shores supplemented from time to time by group immigration. With the exception of the Huguenots these groups were small and were made up of people with farming skills. There were also company servants and military men who took their discharge here, friends and relations who came to join established settlers and the odd traveller who decided to go no further.
Even before 1660, English names are found occasionally in the resolutions of the Council of Policy, like those of Thomas Robbertz “van Kint” (Kent), William Robbertson of Dundee, the “opper chirurgen van’t fort de Goede Hoop” and Patrick Jock and Jacob Born, two shepherds from Glasgow. English names, often misspelt, are scattered sparsely among those of Dutch burghers in early church registers and official documents like that of Anna Fothergill, wife of Sergius Swellengrebel, and George Gunn who married Maria Krynauw. It was, however, not until after the first British occupation in 1795 that Britons settled in significant numbers. Peter Philip gave an account of these early settlers in his book British Residents at the Cape 1795 to 1819 and in Supplementa ad Fainilia 16(3), 1979: “Discharged soldiers and sailors who were granted permission to remain at the Cape 1815 to 1824″.
In 1836 the Colonial Land and Emigration Board came into being and in 1840 Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners were appointed to:
provide accurate and easily accessible information on all aspects of emigration sell, in Britain, waste lands available in the colonies and use the proceeds of land sales to promote emigration. (This did not apply to the Cape where, by law, land had to be sold on the spot.) assist in the selection and removal of the right class of emigrants under proper conditions furnish periodical reports
These Commissioners regulated all emigration from Britain until 1873 and were able to give advice and assistance to colonial authorities on immigration policy and practice.
The Cape with much of its arable land already in private ownership, its many administrative problems, its continuous border unrest and its purely agricultural economy had little to offer immigrants and was largely overlooked in the great exodus to America and Australia.
After the many difficulties experienced by the 1820 Settlers, assisted immigration was suspended for nearly two decades except for the introduction of a group of Irish settlers in 1823 under a bounty system, and juvenile immigration from 1833 to 1839.
A committee for apprenticing juvenile immigrants was established in Cape Town in May 1833 with the Rev. John Philip as chairman and James Rose-Inner as secretary. They drew up rules for indenture and conditions of service and arranged for the youths to be received at the Slave Lodge in Orange Street, there to remain until apprenticed to suitable masters.
In 1837 Lady George Murray, secretary to the Children’s Friend Society in London, requested that the Slave Lodge be appropriated to the exclusive use of the society and renamed Victoria Lodge. Although the request was sympathetically treated the Governor was unable to allow exclusive use to the society as a number of old and infirm slaves remained in residence and the government had decided to establish a pauper asylum in the lodge.
A circular raised dais near Church Square in Bureau Street Cape Town, almost next to the slave lodge, marks the spot where imported and local slaves were auctioned under a fir tree. Perhaps as many as 100,000 human beings were sold and resold from this point. Yet unless one trips over the circular concrete marker, one is quite unaware of this spot. One has to stand above the marker to read it. Much, much more should be made of this historical site.
The old slave tree used to stand on this spot. We have one artist’s impression of this tree in 1830 from a SA boundpamplet entitled The Tourist. Peter Coates of the National Library has found excellent photographic evidence of where the tree stood. A fragment of the tree is in the Slave Lodge museum. Cannot the old slave tree be replaced with a graft from the world’s most famous freedom tree? When the Condor Legion bombed the town of Guernica in Catalonia in 1937s, one of the the only organic things left was Guernica’s famous “freedom tree”.
“The oak of Guernica”
The tree was also immortalised in Picasso’s painting of Guernica although he painted over most of it, leaving only a symbolic fragment in the middle of the painting. The present author has suggested to Richard van der Ross, when he was the former SA ambassador to Spain, that he acquire a slip of this tree to transplant on the spot of the old slave tree. The transplanting exercise would be a relatively inexpensive but poignant and symbolic way of raising the consciousness about Cape slavery. The “December the First movement” organizers have indicated they might arrange this event. Dr Ross has indicated that the townspeople of Guernica are very keen to cooperate. What follows is a description of one what must have been many human dramas which took place under the old slave tree.
In abridging the following description of a slave-sale, from an able article lately written on this subject by a cordial friend to our cause, it is necessary to explain that the person here designated by the name of Humanitas is a gentleman of high benevolent character and literary celebrity, who, on leaving Cape Town to visit a friend in the interior, consented to become the bearer of three thousand rix dollars to a clergyman resident at a town through which he was obliged to pass. It was in the course of this journey that he witnessed the scene which is described in the following narrative:
“A considerable number of persons had already assembled, and not a few of those whose countenances would have led the powerfully descriptive Shakespeare to have denounced them ‘villains.’ They were those whose whole contour seemed an index to their hearts, hard-formed, ill-favoured, and tanned to semi-blackness. The outragers of the laws of nature – the bold defiers of God ! bearing human forms, but in whose breasts flowed not a drop of human kindness – whose names and deeds will live in endless execration – whose calling all good men abhor, and which, by God’s providence, will, ere long, be blotted from our world as one of the foulest stains which mars the beauty of the Almighty’s moral and intellectual kingdom – they were slave dealers!
“A variety of articles were exposed for sale, over which Humanitas cast a careless eye; for, as they were composed chiefly of household requisites and implements of husbandry, there was not any thing in them calculated to engage his attention. Scarcely, however, had he finished his vacant survey of the above varieties, before his eye was arrested by another portion of property, ranged in a line with the horned cattle which flanked the enclosure, the whole of which was to be disposed of by the fall of the hammer. This was a group of unfortunate beings whose forefathers had been stolen from the land of their birth, and these their hapless progeny were, therefore, adjudged worthy to be branded by the opprobrious name, and treated with the barbarity, of slaves and beasts of burden.
“The spirit of Humanitas groaned within him, and his whole soul rose in indignation at the cruelty of his fellows, as he surveyed the sable group; for once he blushed to think he was a man, or that, as being such, he was classed with the unlawful retainers of his fellow-men in bondage. He viewed, through the medium of his own feelings, the unjust and inhuman system, a brief exhibition of which he now surveyed; and, while contemplating in his mind the fearful result which will, in all probability, at some future day, proceed from the explosion of so nefarious a system, he mentally deplored the present degraded state of society which such a scene but too powerfully witnessed.
“The deep feeling of his mind had thrown him into a state of absence so perfect as to have rendered him altogether indifferent to the things and persons by whom he was surrounded. From this abstraction he was roused by the plaintive and heart-rending moans of a female; he turned, almost mechanically, and beheld an interesting young woman of colour, standing apart from her companions in captivity, the intensity of whose grief might be better conceived of by the agony which shook her frame, then expressed by the cold language of narration. Close by her side stood another female, whose dress bespoke her of respectable connexions, but her countenance wore not the reprobatory hue (as some men seem to think a tawny skin is) possessed by the others, and yet her sorrow was not less intense than her’s whose complexion had made her a slave. In her arms she held a sweet infant, which at intervals she pressed to her bosom in convulsive agony, as she gazed with phrenzied emotion on the black for whom her tears flowed so profusely. The scene was, in all its parts, a painfully interesting and novel one. Humanitas felt it so; and, prompted by a strong desire to ascertain, if possible, the cause of so powerful a sympathy on the part of a white person, so unusual, even in the female breast, in the brutalizing regions of slavery, towards a slave, he enquired of some who were connected with the sale for a solution of the mystery.
“A few words informed the inquirer that the white person was the daughter of the late farmer, whose effects were not to be disposed of, and that the slave over whom she so affectionately wept was her foster-sister. From infancy they had been associates — in childhood they were undivided. The distinction which colour made in the eyes of some, to them was not known. The marriage of the farmer’s daughter was the first cause of separation they had every known, and even then a pain such as sisters only feel at parting was felt by each of them as they said — Farewell! She had retired with her husband to a distant part of the colony, and there received the mournful intelligence of her father’s death, and the account of the public sale of his property; included in this, she was certain, would be found the slave in question: her father’s insolvent circumstances rendered this unavoidable. With an affection which distance, fatigue, and danger could not affect, she had travelled four hundred miles, cheered by the hope of being able to purchase her freedom.
“The pleasing delusion which strengthened and encouraged her, during the fatigue and her toilsome journey, fled as she reached the spot where already her beloved foster-sister stood exposed for sale. Here she received the afflictive information that several regular traffickers in human beings were present, who were able and disposed to purchase her at a price much above what she was able to raise. Among this number was one from an adjacent town, who was fully acquainted with her worth, and who had declared his intention to possess her, although a sum should be set upon her head doubling the usual price of an ordinary slave.
“The voice of female sorrow is powerfully eloquent, and is ever sufficient to move the heart with pity and commiseration, excepting the hearts of villains and cowards. Humanitas felt it deeply now; but the unfeeling bands by whom he was surrounded experienced it not; no muscle of the hard evil-faced slave-dealers was moved; innumerable scenes of a similar description had calcined every vestige of humanity, and left nothing in their sordid breasts but the brutal or satanic avarice which their trade had begotten.
“While Humanitas was making his inquiries, receiving an answer, and commenting on the distressing circumstances, the sale was going on; a number of articles had been disposed of, and then a slave was brought forward. The rapacious individuals before referred to pressed round her, and, with a degree of cruelty and indelicacy which could only be displayed by such besotted and beastly-minded creatures, commenced their examination of her person, treating every bone and muscle, of a being which bore the image of the great Creator, as if a beast of burden had stood before them: she was soon disposed of; and then the slave to whom reference has been made already was brought out, and, after undergoing the same mode of scrutiny, was put up for sale.
“I will not attempt a description of the maiden glow of shame and modest indignation which passed over her fine open countenance, and lit up her large keen eye, as the treatment of the merciless dealers was forced upon her, nor the crushing agony which evidently wrung her soul, as she gazed, half-franticly, on her foster-sister, while the cruel jest and littleminded laugh curled the lips of those by whom she was surrounded. Oh ! no, no! – attempt here would indeed be idleness, if not profanity; the feeling heart can better conceive of it than the most eloquent and ready pen can find language to describe it.
“The sale proceeded with unusual spirit until it had reached the sum of two thousand rix dollars. There was evidently a strong feeling of rivalry among the dealers concerning the slave for which they were bidding. Having, however, reached the sum stated, they flagged gradually, the contest evidently subsiding; now after another ceased to bid, and, at length, two only maintained the strife. One was the agent of a clergyman’s lady, who, it was known, would treat her well; the other, the dealer, who had fully made up his mind to possess her for the purpose of letting her out as an animal of labour. Two thousand five hundred dollars was the last bid, and a pause ensued; the dealer was now the highest bidder; expectation was on the tip-toe; all eyes were turned towards the auctioneer, and “any advance?” was asked in an audible voice.
Silence continued, and the question was repeated – when the attention of the company was directed from the auction by the appearance of three figures who were seen descending the side of a mountain in the distance. It appeared as if they were hastening to the sale, and, the lot which was now up being an important one, the seller felt something like obligation to suspend the fall of the hammer until they reached the spot. The persons were soon discovered to be a gentleman on horseback, accompanied by two Hottentot servants on foot.
“A few minutes only elapsed, during which the auctioneer sipped some lemonade, to assist him the better to support his future garrulity, when the stranger rode up. A large military cloak enveloped his whole person, so as entirely to cut off all possibility of ascertaining who he might be. He almost immediately dismounted, and, giving his horse to one of his servants, surveyed the things around him with perfect indifference. The sale went on – another bidding was made by the agent – the dealer followed – the agent bid again, when, as if at once to close the protracted affair, the dealer shouted, ‘Three thousand rix dollars.’
This ended the struggle – the agent retired. ‘Once, twice,’ responded he who held the hammer – ‘is there no advance?’ He cast his eyes round the assembly with the inquisitiveness of his calling — neither wink, nod, or voice, gave answer to his question. A dead pause ensued — it was fearful, but short. The hand of the auctioneer was again raised – when the poor slave, in a tone of sublimated agony, shricked out, ‘Jesus, help me!’ and, clasping her hands wildly, fell senseless on the ground. The shriek of the unfortunate thrilled through the ear of the stranger, and entered his sour; and, while some simple measure was employed to restore her to animation, he looked round, as if seeing information concerning what he had heard and saw. His gaze caught the eye of Humanitas, who instantly recognized in him an old friend.
A brief but graphic explanation was immediately furnished; and, as the slave again returned to consciousness, the voice of the stranger was heard ‘Three thousand one hundred dollars.’ ‘One hundred more,’ shouted the dealer. ‘Another hundred,’ said the stranger. A look which would, had it been possible, have annihilated his person, was given by the dealer, as he vociferated, ‘Fifty more.’ ‘Another fifty,’ continued the stranger. ‘Fifty more,’ shouted the dealer. ‘One hundred more,’ echoed the stranger; ‘she is mine’ he added with spirited firmness, ‘at any price.’ The pulse of the mortified and enraged trafficker in human beings might have almost been heard as the unwelcome sounds saluted him. He had, however, proceeded as far as he dared, and therefore answered not the repeated call of the auction man. ‘One, two, three,’ at proper intervals, was repeated; and, at length, the hammer fell, the stranger being the purchaser at the sum of Three thousand four hundred and fifty rix dollars.
The business, although nearly terminated, was not yet closed. Payment was to be made, and immediate payment was demanded. The gentleman offered his checque on the bank at Cape Town; but the auctioneer, who experienced a degree of vexation at the disappointment which his friend (the dealer) had met with, determined to throw every possible obstacle in the way to prevent the bargain, and therefore refused the checque. The stranger looked perplexed, and argued the validity of the payment; but the hammer-man was inexorable.
“Humanitas marked the conduct of the man carefully, and, as he did so, he felt those pleasing emotions (for the existence of them he could not account), which the purchase of the slave by his friend had created, suddenly subsiding. At this moment, his thoughts rested on the sum of which he was the bearer to the clergyman, and, aware it could be replaced in a day or two, he presented the gentleman with it. Three thousand he produced from his pocket, and, in silver, they made up to the amount of fifty more between them; still the sum was not complete, and this modern Shylock demanded the whole, or its equivalent. The stranger hesitated a moment, and then drew forth a handsome gold watch and appendages, and, throwing the whole on the table, concluded the purchase.
“Still ignorant of her future fate, but as if happy to have escaped from the power of the slave-dealer, the weeping, trembling creature rushed forward, and fell at the feet of her purchaser. A scene followed which baffles all description: angels, in their messages of mercy to the sons of men, might have been arrested in their flight, to notice and applaud it; but the act received the approving smile of Him who is the God of angels. The stranger bended over the prostrate female, and, having raised her from the earth, took her hand and led her to her foster-sister, whose agony was still intense, to whom he presented her, saying, ‘Receive your friend, no longer as a slave, but as your companion; and, in your daily supplications at the throne of grace, forget not to implore a blessing on the head of Major M.’”
(The stranger was an officer in the East India Company’s service. He had come to the Cape for his health; and, while shooting on the mountains, was attracted by the crowd in the valley, and providentially arrived in time to perform the noble action, than which none is more imposing in the compass of history.)
By – Prof. Robert Shell
The Catholic history of South Africa is written large upon its coastline. Such names as Cape Cross, Conception Bay, St. Helena Bay, St. Blaize, Santa Cruz, Natal and St. Lucia tell us immediately how very Catholic their origin and development have been. In the second half of the 15th century several expeditions travelled down the west coast, successive explorers going farther south each time. Wherever they landed a stone pillar (padrão) surmounted by a cross was blessed and erected on shore, and we may well surmise that mass was said by a priest who accompanied the ships. A small church was built at Mossel Bay by Joao da Nova in 1501.
Within the next quarter of a century Europe underwent the Reformation. Its effects extended across the seas and little more is heard of Catholicism at the Cape for many years. In 1651 the Dutch settled in Table Bay. They were extremely anti-Catholic, and their hostility was strengthened by the arrival of Huguenot refugees. In 1660 a French bishop, wrecked in Table Bay, was forbidden to say mass on shore. Six Jesuit Fathers landed in 1685 on an astronomical mission, but though they secretly did what they could to attend to the spiritual needs of the few Catholics, they tell us they were not allowed to offer up the Holy Sacrifice on shore and that the Catholics were not allowed to go on board to hear mass.
From 1686 the Catholic Church disappears from the pages of South African history until, on as July 1804, Commissioner-General J. A. de Mist announced religous toleration. The ordinance declared: `All religious societies, which for the furtherance of virtue and good morals worshipped an Almighty Being, are to enjoy in this colony equal protection from the laws’. At once priests came from the Netherlands -Father Joannes Lansink, Jacobus Nelissen and Lambertus Prinsen. A room in the Castle was put at their disposal so that they could say mass for Catholic soldiers. But the following year Sir David Baird ordered the Catholic priests to leave the colony. Ten years passed before another attempt was made to enable them to return.
Lord Charles Somerset informed the Vicar Apostolic of the London district that `all religious denominations are not only tolerated, but entitled to equal privileges in the Colony, according to the fundamental laws of the Batavian Republic, guaranteed to the inhabitants by the capitulation’. But it was two years before negotiations on the admittance of a resident priest at the Cape came to anything. Bishop Edward Slater, a Benedictine, was appointed Vicar Apostolic, but permission for him to reside in Cape Town was refused by the authorities in Downing Street and so his assignment was as Vicar Apostolic of Mauritius and the Cape of Good Hope. He arrived in Cape Town on New Year’s Day 1810, but stayed only three weeks. Leaving Fr. Edward Scully in charge, he continued his journey to Mauritius, never to return. Conditions were such that some of the congregation wished to run the Church on Presbyterian lines. Churchwardens sought to dictate to the priest and to control all business, money and properties. This state of affairs persisted for more than ten years, and in consequence no priest stayed longer than a year or two before leaving in disgust; yet under Scully the foundation-stone of a small church in Harrington Street was laid on 28th October 1822. But the materials used were bad, repairs had to be effected even before the building was completed, and in the torrential storms of 1837 it was almost completely washed away.
On 24th August 1837 Mgr. Patrick Raymund Griffith, an Irish Dominican, was consecrated in Dublin as Bishop of Palaeopolis and Vicar Apostolic of the Cape of Good Hope. He arrived in Table Bay on Holy Saturday, 14 April 183 8, along with two other priests, Fathers Burke, O.F.M., and George Corcoran, O.P. Bishop Griffith’s territory stretched from Table Bay to Algoa Bay, from where he journeyed by ox-wagon to Grahamstown, taking seven days. Leaving Burke in charge, Griffith returned to Cape Town on horseback. There were only some 700 Catholics in and around the town, and his funds were meagre. He set up a school, appointing Dr. Aidan Devereux, who had followed him from Ireland, as principal. The barracks in the Castle, where a room had been put at his disposal, would not serve indefinitely as a church, and so he negotiated the purchase of the site on which St. Mary’s Convent and the Bishop’s House stands today, at the foot of Hope Street. All available funds were used in the building of St. Mary’s Cathedral.
On the recommendation of Bishop Griffith, the Holy See subdivided his vast territory. Dr. Devereux was appointed Vicar Apostolic of the Eastern Districts and took up residence at Grahamstown in 1848. Realising the importance of Catholic education, Devereux set out for Europe to obtain nuns for his mission field. At his urging, Pope Pius IX established yet another ecclesiastical division to the north, where Natal was gaining in importance. The care of the new territory was entrusted to the religious congregation of Mary Immaculate, thus ensuring financial support and continuity in personnel. In Paris, Devereux obtained permission for the missionary sisters of the Assumption to come and work in Grahamstown. There Mother Gertrude, familiarly known as ‘Notre Mere’, and her little band of six nuns opened South Africa’s first convent and a school in Jan. 1850. Three Belgian priests accompanied the Bishop and the pioneer nuns, enabling resident priests to be appointed at Port Elizabeth, Grahamstown and Fort Beaufort, and also travelling priests were sent to the outer districts. Fr. Van Cauwelaert went to Graaff-Reinet, Fr. J. J. de Sany to Cradock and Fr. Petrus Hoendervangers undertook the districts of Bedford, Richmond and beyond.
So Catholicism in South Africa at that time meant one bishop and two or three priests in Cape Town, George and Swellendam; a bishop in Grahamstown, and along with him Fr. Thomas Murphy, who a few months later was the first priest to visit Natal. At Fort Beaufort there were 90 Catholics; Fort Hare and Alice had 100 each; King William’s Town, Fort Grey and Fort Peddie 40 each; East London 30. Port Elizabeth, which had begun with only two Catholic families, now had two resident priests and 500 Catholics. At Uitenhage there were 80 Catholics, and in the wide territory served by Fr. Hoendervangers, Somerset East had 70, Richmond 20, Burgersdorp 50, Aliwal North 25, and Colesberg 20. In the garrison town of Bloemfontein, where he settled in 1851, there were about 70 Catholics.
In March 1852 the first band of oblates of Mary Immaculate arrived in Natal under Bishop J. F. Allard, O.M.I. The area entrusted to them stretched from the Great Kei River in the south to Quelimane in the north, and for this vast territory there were only five priests. They began at Pietermaritzburg, and Fr. J. B. Sabon, receiving the sum of £30 from his bishop, was sent to found the mission of Durban. Ten years later the first oblate missionaries crossed the Drakensberg from Pietermaritzburg into Basutoland and were joined in 1864 by the Sisters of the Holy Family, the pioneer nuns among the African people.
When diamonds were found on the Vaal River, the oblate Father Anatole Hidien went from Basutoland to the diggers’ camps round what is now Kimberley. The year 1874 saw the finding of gold at Pilgrim’s Rest, and Fr. Andrew Walshe, O.M.L, was sent there the following year by Bishop Charles Jolivet, O.M.I. (who had succeeded Allard), from Natal. Freedom of Catholic worship was granted in the Transvaal Republic in 1870, and thereafter priests settled at Potchefstroom and Pretoria.
The Catholic Church in South Africa owes much to the vision and zeal of Bishop J. D. Ricards, third Vicar Apostolic of the Eastern vicariate, who, in 1879, brought the Jesuit Fathers, not only to staff his school of St. Aidan’s in Grahamstown, but also to be the pioneers of the faith in Mashonaland. The Dominican sisters of King William’s Town – also brought by Bishop Ricards – joined the Pioneer Column in 1890, and by their devotion to duty and care of the sick have earned an honoured name. To Ricards we also owe the coming of the Trappists under Fr. (later Abbot) Francis Pfanner in 1879. He felt that if any effective missionary work was to be done among the non-European peoples, they would first have to be taught, not merely by word, but by the more effective force of example, the dignity of labour. Today Mariannhill with its cathedral church, round which are grouped many other ecclesiastical and educational buildings, is a show-place of Catholic mission work, and we find the spiritual sons of Francis Pfanner in the dioceses of Mariannhill, Umtata and Bulawayo as well as in countries overseas.
In 1886 a milestone was reached when Pope Leo XIII agreed to Bishop Jolivet’s recommendation and separated the diamond-fields and Basutoland to be a third vicariate under Bishop Anthony Gaughren, O.M.L, making the Transvaal a prefecture under Fr. Odilon Monginoux, O.M.I. About this time also the oblates of St. Francis of Sales began pioneer work in Namaqualand, where within a few decades Bishop Jean-Marie Simon of Pella made the desert blossom forth both materially and spiritually. Meanwhile Fr. Aloysius Schoch, O.M.L, the successor of Fr. Monginoux, was sent as the representative of Church and government to visit Cimbebasia, Windhoek and South-West Africa of today. As a result of his report this territory was also confided to the oblates of Mary Immaculate. Diamonds and gold and all the industrial development which followed brought a great increase in population, with an impetus in the sphere of education. The nuns of the Assumption, who had been the pioneers in 1849, were followed by the Irish Dominican sisters in Cape Town (1863) and Port Elizabeth (1867), by the Holy Family (Loreto) (1864), the pioneers in the Transvaal (1877), Dominican sisters of King William’s Town (also in 1877), including the separate branches at Oakford (1889), Salisbury (1890) and Newcastle (1896), Nazareth sisters (Cape Town) and Holy Cross in Umtata (1883), oblate Sisters of St. Francis (1884) and Precious Blood Sisters (1885). In the last decade of the century the Augustinians (1892), Ursulines (1895), Sisters of Mercy (1897) and Notre Dame in Rhodesia (1899) joined the increasing number of sisterhoods in the work of education, hospitals, and the care of the old and infirm and of orphans. In fifty years the numbers had increased from one congregation of nuns to seventeen. To these must be added the arrival of the Marist Brothers (1867) and the Christian Brothers (1897) for the education of youth.
The outbreak of the Second Anglo-Boer War in 1899 brought a severe set-back in practically all spheres of missionary labour. Apart from the fact that the missionaries, few in number, joined up as army chaplains, and the flow of priests from overseas was interrupted, the general work in town and country was upset. Plans for more intense development came after Union in 1910. The Benedictine Fathers took over the northern part of the Transvaal and the Servite Fathers came to help in Swaziland in 1913. The great majority of priests, brothers and nuns who were then working in South Africa were from oversea countries. So when the First World War broke out in 194, the mission field everywhere suffered and once more the ranks were depleted by the need for army chaplains.
Another important milestone was the establishment of the Apostolic Delegation of Southern Africa on 7th December 1922, and the following day Archbishop Bernard J. Gijlswijk, O.P., was consecrated in Rome. He chose Bloemfontein as the most central place for his residence. New vicariates and prefectures were established, and four new congregations of priests arrived. There was not only expansion, but also an intensification of missionary work. Priests were given the opportunity to learn the native languages and to devote themselves solely to work among non-Europeans. South African priests were trained for work among their own people. Seminaries were set up for the training of European and non-European students, and a son of South Africa was raised to the dignity of the episcopate when David O’Leary, O.M.L, was consecrated as bishop for the Transvaal in September 1925, followed a few months later by Bishop Bernard O’Riley in Cape Town.
During all this time the yearly increase in priests and religious was remarkable. From just over 300 priests in 1921, the number grew to over 4000 by 1936. Religious brothers and nuns doubled to over 4000 during the same period. In Basutoland progress was particularly noticeable. When the first oblates founded a mission there in 1862, they were a long way behind the Protestant missionaries who had established themselves thirty years earlier. Yet today Lesotho is the most fruitful of the Catholic mission fields in Southern Africa. The Canadian oblates took the work under their wing during the early thirties; priests and religious increased enormously; and when in October 1937 the 75th anniversary of the foundation was celebrated at Roma, there were over 3000 communicants each morning during the novena.
In 1962, the Church in Basutoland, which is organised under an archbishop at Maseru and bishops at Leribe and Qacha’s Nek, celebrated its centenary. Archbishop Emanuel Mabathoana, O.M.L, is the great-grandson of Moshesh.
Catholic schools, primary and secondary, throughout South Africa are noted for their examination successes as well as for their moral and character training. As in many countries abroad, Catholics are penalised by having to pay twice for education in most parts of South Africa. Whether it be in the day schools or night classes conducted by the first priests in the Eastern and Western Cape and Natal, or in the first convent schools in the diamond and goldfields, the Church has been the pioneer in education. The Sisterhoods stepped in to meet the need for the care of orphans and the destitute.
Archbishop Gijlswijk’s successor in 1945 was Mgr. H. M. Lucas, S.V.D. Since then several new ecclesiastical territories have been established and new bishops appointed. Since Bishop E. Slater, O.S.B., was consecrated m 1818 there have been (to 1973) 94 bishops in Southern Africa. The transfer of the Apostolic Delegate’s residence from Bloemfontein to Pretoria ensured that he was in immediate touch with the authorities to deal with matters of urgency. Questions of Bantu policy, education, etc. arose frequently and demanded an ever watchful eye. An achievement of Archbishop Lucas’s period was the building in Pretoria of a national seminary for the secular clergy, while a similar one was erected in Natal for African (native) students. The latter has since been moved to Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria.
Archbishop Lucas was succeeded in 1953 by Archbishop C. J. Damiano, followed in 1961 by Archbishop F. McGeough, by Archbishop John Gordon in 1967, and by Archbishop Alfredo Polendrini, who is also pro-nuncio to Lesotho, in 1972. The Roman Catholic population of the Republic, the former Protectorates and South-West Africa was as follows in 1971: White, 165 500; non-White, 1 971488; priests, 1909; brothers, 853; sisters, 6568, from 64 different sisterhoods.
Nine South Africans have been elevated to the espiscopate. By 1971 over 200 sons of South Africa had received the priesthood and over 800 women had entered the religious life. These numbers include Whites, Coloured people and Africans.
When Bishop P. R. Griffith, O.P., arrived in 1838 as the first resident Roman Catholic bishop in the Cape, he acquired a site at the top of Plein Street – Tanners’ Square – and began the building of St. Mary’s Cathedral in 1841. Completed ten years later, it is the mother church of Catholics in South Africa. (See St. Mary’s Cathedral). In striking contrast, Johannesburg, the City of Gold, was not able to build its cathedral until 1960. The influx of diggers and the subsequent expansion of the town had been so rapid that the need was for a number of small churches rather than a large cathedral. In time a central site was purchased, and the present Cathedral of Christ the King was built in Saratoga Avenue. (See Christ the King, Cathedral of.) In Durban, where the cathedral was built in 1903, commercial buildings have risen round it, and with the Indian market near by, the site has become unfit.
When sugar was first produced from cane in Natal in 1851, the colony seemed set for a major economic boom. But there was just one snag: the plantation owners lacked a source of cheap labour. At first they hoped that the indigenous people would be able to supply their needs.
But once it became obvious that toiling in the fields for the white capitalist held no attraction for most Zulu`s, planters began to turn their attentions elsewhere.
And they looked – as planters throughout the empire had looked – to India.
Davarum was 30 years old when he put his thumb-print to a document he could not even read: ‘We the adult male emigrants,’ it said, ‘do hereby agree to serve the employer to whom we may respectively be allotted by the Natal Government under the Natal Act No. 14 of 1859 and we all understand the terms under which we are engaged …’
Davarum – or Coolie No.1, as the recruiting officer named him, had no idea where Natal was, let alone the implications of Act No. 14 – but for 10 shillings a month he, and hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, were pre-pared to travel anywhere to escape the poverty and starvation of India.
On 12 October 1860, he and his wife (Coolie No. 2), and their two children (Coolies 3 and 4), joined 338 others aboard the Truro at Madras harbour. A few hours later, the dangerously overloaded vessel began its long journey to south-east Africa.
The fight for “coolie” labour
The go-ahead for Natal to recruit ‘coolies’ in Madras (and Calcutta ) followed protracted and often bitter negotiation between the governments of the colony, Britain and a far from-keen India. As far back as 1851, plantation owners had been demanding the importation of workers from India.
In 1855, Cape Governor Sir George Grey, acting on behalf of a group of Natal farmers, tried to ‘requisition’ 300 ‘coolies’ from Calcutta. Although the Indian Government turned down this request, it promised to reconsider once the colony had stipulated the terms of indenture.
In 1856 the Natal legislature passed an ordinance em-powering the Lieutenant-Governor ‘to make rules and regulations for Coolies introduced into this District from the East Indies’. But in the next year, much of India erupted in rebellion against the rule of the English East India Company that, for decades, had systematically plundered, taxed and exploited the country and its people. By the time the last mutineer had been blown from the muzzle of a cannon, rule in India had passed to the British Crown and, as memory of the horrors of war faded, Indians were given a greater say in the new system of government which developed. Mindful of the racist attitudes of white colonists in southern Africa, and therefore unconvinced that workers would be properly treated, the new Indian administration again turned down a Natal request for ‘coolie’ labour.
By 1859 the labour shortage in Natal had reached crisis proportions – and the ‘Natal Mercury’ proclaimed that ‘the fate of the Colony hangs on a thread, and that thread is labour’. Legislation was rushed through to enable colonists to bring in labour from India at their own expense, and also to allow the colonial government to introduce Indian labourers ‘at the public expense’. Although the government bore the major share of the expenses, planters to whom the labourers were assigned had to pay three-fifths of their passage money of some £8 per head, as well as certain other costs.
The contract, or indenture, provided that a labourer would be assigned to a particular planter for a period of three years (later amended to five years) and then be re-indentured, perhaps to the same planter, for another two years. After a residence in Natal of a further five years as a ‘free’ worker, the labourer had the choice of accepting a free return passage to India or of remaining in Natal on a small grant of Crown land. While they were indentured, their welfare was the responsibility of a ‘Coolie Immigration Agent’, who also assigned them to plantations.
Once on the plantation, treatment of the indentured labourer was not subject to the ordinary master and servant ordinance. Special regulations demanded that the employer provide food and lodging, clothing and any necessary medical attention. He was also obliged to pay wages of 10 shillings a month for the first year, followed by an annual increase of a shilling a month thereafter in each successive year. His workers’ welfare would be guarded by the Coolie Immigration Agent, who would visit each plantation at least twice a year. On the other hand, if a labourer missed work for what his employer regarded as an inadequate reason, a portion of his already meagre wages could be deducted as a fine. If he left his employer’s plantation without a signed Pass, he was liable to imprisonment. Once his five years of indentured service were over, the immigrant Indian was subject to the ordinary law of the colony. It was scarcely an attractive package, but ever-increasing pressure on the land in India led to growing impoverishment of a rural class that owned no land and was scarcely able to survive. Emigration, whether to Natal or any other part of the empire, was an act of desperation in an attempt to secure survival.
On 16 November 1860 the Truro dropped anchor in Natal Bay under the curious gaze of a crowd of white spectators who had come to see the arrival of the Indians. The Coolie Immigration Agent was not at the dockside because, to save money, the Natal Government had not yet formalised his appointment (they did not do so until two days later). Once ashore, the immigrants were herded by armed police into an uncompleted barracks with no toilet, washing or cooking facilities, set amid pools of stagnant water. Here they remained under guard for eight days (during which time four of them died), waiting for their new masters to collect them. The planters wanted only strong, healthy young men – and as rumours began circulating that families would be split up, some of the workers tried to abscond in a bid for freedom. The reaction of the authorities was to build high walls around the barracks.
Although the terms of the agreement between the governments of India and Natal stipulated that families were not to be separated, this did, in fact, occur: a 34-year old woman, Choureamah Arokuim (Coolie No. 99), arrived with her daughters, eight-year-old Megaleamah (Coolie No. 100) and three-year-old Susanah (Coolie No. 101). Although the family was originally assigned to Grey’s Hospital, just over six months later Magaleamah was apprenticed to A Brewer, and Susanah – perhaps aged four by this time – to Isabella O’Hara. Once assigned, the immigrants walked to their plantations, clutching a few pathetic possessions and their rations for the road.
At first, the plantation workers erected their own shacks and were able to cultivate small patches of the surrounding ground for their own account – if they were not exhausted by the day’s work. Later, however, planters were obliged to provide accommodation, building barracks, known as ‘coolie lines’, of corrugated iron, mud, or stone, in which the workers led a cramped and uncomfortable existence devoid of any privacy. A lean-to shed, generally without a chimney, was used for cooking the rations of rice, mealie-meal and ghee, a clarified form of butter.
About 250 grams of dried fish each week was their only luxury. Few barracks were provided with toilets, and analysis of samples of water used for drinking revealed them to be ‘quite unsafe for use’.
Before dawn every day, the sirdar (foreman) rang a bell or, more commonly, struck a bar of iron suspended from a tree, to wake the workers who, after an unappetising breakfast of cold ‘porridge’, marched to the fields so as to begin work as the sun rose. And they worked, planting, digging, breaking new soil, cutting, harvesting, carrying, building, until the sun set. There was a brief break for lunch, which was a repeat of breakfast. It was dark by the time they reached their homes, where they managed another brief meal before falling into exhausted sleep. Sundays were supposed to be free, but few planters observed this.
Also unobserved was the condition that employers of more than 20 Indians should provide elementary hospitals. The ‘hospital’ at the receiving depot lumped all patients` together – men, women and children – regardless of whether or not any were suffering from infectious diseases. Latrines were four holes in the ground, and there were neither water basins nor baths. Corpses were laid out in the open. By 1885 only three plantations had set up sick rooms, and these were worse than that at the depot.
Despite the appalling conditions, few complaints reached the courts. Principally, this was because the worker could not leave the estate without his employer’s per-mission, and because the over-worked Coolie Immigration Agent was unable to visit the estates as he was supposed to. When he did, he was rarely able to speak to the workers in private and, in the presence of employers and sirdars, the workers were afraid to complain, knowing that they could expect even worse treatment if they were found out.
If some part of the worker found peace in death, it was not his body. Cremation, customary in India, was not permitted. In Durban, some ground near a butchery was allocated as an Indian and African cemetery. Workers, anxious to return to work to forestall pay stoppages, sometimes did not bury the corpses deep enough, and they were rooted out and eaten by pigs that had acquired a taste for flesh from offal thrown out by the butchery. Not even in death was there dignity.
Tales of horror
The fact that ‘coolies’ were regarded as units of labour rather than people left them open to widespread abuse. In an editorial which aptly summed up the attitude of white colonists, the ‘Natal Witness’ commented: ‘The ordinary Coolie … and his family cannot be admitted into close fellowship and union with us and our families. He is introduced for the same reason as mules might be introduced from Montevideo, oxen from Madagascar or sugar machinery from Glasgow. The object for which he is brought is to supply labour and that alone. He is not one of us, he is in every respect an alien; he only comes to perform a certain amount of work, and return to India …’
Many did, in fact, return to India, carrying with them horrific tales of life on the sugar plantations of Natal.
Illegal punishments meted out by employers included flogging. A 10-year-old Indian shepherd, afraid to return to his employer because a sheep had strayed from the flock, was suspended from a rafter for two hours and thrashed with a hunting crop. When released, he ran away and was not seen again. His parents, who worked for the same planter, were beaten on suspicion of taking food to the boy at night. This was an extreme case, but the prevailing callousness is summed up in the case of a man called Narayanan, who returned to his hut one evening to find that his ill wife and child had gone. He walked the plantations for months, vainly searching for his family – until he eventually discovered that the authorities had decided, because of his wife’s illness, to return her and the child to India.
In 1871, confronted by reports and filed statements of abuses, India halted emigration to southern Africa – and the Governor-General of India explained: ‘We cannot permit emigration (to Natal) to be resumed until we are satisfied that the colonial authorities are aware of their duties towards Indian emigrants and that effectual measures have been taken to ensure that class of Her Majesty’s subjects full protection in Natal.’ A commission hastily set up in Natal recommended that flogging be abolished, medical services be improved, and that the Coolie Immigration Agent be given wider powers and the new title of Protector of Indian Immigrants. Once these recommendations had passed into Natal law, together with another that safeguarded the immigrants’ wages, the Indian Government allowed recruiting to resume, and the next group arrived in 1874.
Improvements, however, turned out to be mainly cosmetic and, although the Protector claimed that their fair treatment of immigrants ‘was a credit to the Natal Planters’, the Indian Government raised further objections, claiming that wages were far too low, and that unfairly large deductions were made when a labourer was unable to work because of illness. Living conditions were unsatisfactory, and many labourers were obliged to use water supplies that were dangerously contaminated.
By that time bigotry and discrimination were being increasingly written into the law. In Pietermaritzburg and Durban local legislation provided for the arrest of ‘all per-sons of Colour, if found in the streets after 9 o’clock (at night) without a Pass’. A law of the Natal Parliament restricted Indian rights by classifying them as ‘an uncivilised race’. Natal then unsuccessfully approached the Indian Government with its proposal that labourers should be indentured for the full 10-year period, which provoked indignant reaction. A Bengali newspaper declared: ‘The only difference between Negro slavery and coolie emigration is that the former was open slavery and the latter is slavery in disguise.’ Natal’s reaction was to cease issuing grants of land in lieu of passage money to Indians who had been resident for 10 years and who wished to remain.
Despite their many hardships, Indians, after serving their period of indenture, filled many positions in the colony, some of them to the great indignation and resentment of whites. They were active in agriculture, and by 1885 were virtually the sole producers of fruit and vegetables for Durban and Pietermaritzburg. Others established a fishing and fish-curing industry based on Salisbury Island, while yet others were occupied in coal mining and on the Natal Government Railways. Some went into domestic service or practised a variety of trades. In reply to demands that time-expired workers be repatriated, the Protector was able to say that ‘with but very few exceptions every industry in existence at the present time (1894) would collapse … if the Indian population should be withdrawn’. Their numbers were considerable, sometimes exceeding the total white population, and between 1860 and 1911, when the practice of indentured immigration ceased, some 152 000 Indians had entered Natal.
Known as Arabs or ‘Passengers’, and most of them Muslims from the state of Gujarat, they began to arrive in the 1870s and constituted the upper stratum of Indians in southern Africa. They associated with the indentured or ex-indentured Indians only so far as trade and labour required it. Yet, racial discrimination did not distinguish one from the other.
The ‘Passenger’ merchants arrived in Natal with considerable capital, and soon set themselves up as storekeepers selling not only to Africans and Indians but, increasingly, to whites. With their shops staffed by members of their families, ‘Passenger’ merchants were able to keep prices below the level the white trader regarded as the minimum on which he could make a profit.
When the first ‘Passenger’ merchants arrived, there were already 10 stores owned by ex-indentured labourers, whose customers were their still-indentured compatriots. By 1880, ex-labourers held 30 of the 37 retail trading licences issued to Indians in Durban – but, from then on, the assertion of the ‘Passengers’ was rapid: within five years, they owned 60 of the 66 Indian stores in Natal.
Wealthier, more confident and ambitious, they formed an elite group, members of which submitted the first petition of grievances to the Colonial Secretary in London. They complained, among other things, of the 9 o’clock curfew, of the lack of interpreters in many courts, of the absence of Indians from juries, and of police brutality and harassment. They also requested permission to open their shops on Sundays, the only time when indentured Indians could do their shopping.
Faced by white hostility and rejection, groups of ‘Passengers’ who in India would never have associated with one another, were drawn together in the fight for political and civil rights. Their situation grew more serious from 1893 when Natal was granted responsible government. It meant that appeals to England or to India were much less likely to succeed.
But in the same year of 1893 a young, London-trained lawyer named Mohandas Gandhi left India to act in a matter concerning two Indian merchants in southern Africa. In Durban, he bought a first-class railway ticket and took his seat in a coach where, during the journey, a white traveller objected to sharing with an Indian. Ejected after refusing to move to a third-class compartment, Gandhi spent a thoughtful night on Pietermaritzburg station, pondering over what he was to call the ‘most important factor’ in directing his future political life.
Article Source: Illustrated History of South Africa
Images: Acknowledgment – Natal Archives
Image Captions (From top to bottom):
Natal Immigrants – Port Natal
p Registers: Elliott Collection
In this sphere also the Albany settlers played an important part, commencing in 1824 with the struggle for the formal recognition of the freedom of the press, led by their champion, Thomas Pringle. Thereafter over half a century they energetically supported each successive step in the gradual constitutional development of the Colony from rule by an autocratic governor to full responsible government. Settlers figured very prominently in the various legislatures as representatives of the Eastern Province; several sons of settlers served as ministers of the Crown, and one of them, Sir Thomas Scanlen, became Prime Minister. In the civil service also many original settlers rose to high office, four being subsequently knighted for long and meritorious service: Gen. Sir John Jarvis Bisset and Comdt. Sir Walter Currie as soldiers, Sir Theophilus Shepstone and Sir Richard Southey as colonial administrators. Of these, Bisset and Southey were at one time lieutenant-governors
Celebrations and Memorials
In 1840 the first twenty years’ residence in the Colony was celebrated only at Port Elizabeth, but the beginning of the 25th year in 1844 witnessed festivities at Grahamstown, Port Elizabeth, Bathurst and Salem; and in April 1845 there were further celebrations at Bathurst and at Grahamstown, where the foundation-stone of the present Commemoration Church was laid. A full and varied week’s programme in Grahamstown marked the jubilee year, 1870, when the Memorial Tower (a prominent feature of the present City Hall) was commenced. Certain circumstances prevented any large-scale celebrations in the centenary year, 1920, but minor festivities took place at Port Elizabeth, Grahamstown, Bathurst and Cape Town.
The occasion was also marked by the foundation of the 1820 Memorial Settlers’ Association, whose primary object is now the active encouragement of immigration to Southern Africa. The centenary was, however, observed throughout the country in 1921 on a scale befitting its historical importance, more particularly at Grahamstown, where steps were taken to establish the Settlers’ Hospital and the Memorial in the High Street; at Port Elizabeth, where the foundation stone of the imposing Memorial Campanile was laid at the spot where the original settlers had landed; and at Bandhurst, where the present Memorial Hall was begun.
All the celebrations mentioned were always held on or as near as possible to io April, traditionally recognised as Settlers’ Day, as on that particular date in 1820 the first settlers from the Chapman had come ashore in Algoa Bay; but since 1952 the first Monday in September of each year has been designated officially as Settlers’ Day, a statutory public holiday, and annual festivities are now usually arranged for that day.
The incident mentioned above, when representatives of the Settlers presented a Bible to a party of Voortrekkers, is commemorated in the Bible Monument at Grahamstown. On a much bigger scale is the projected National Settlers ‘ Monument on Gunfire Hill near Grahamstown, of which the foundation-stones were laid in 1968 by the Prime Minister and his wife (Mr. and Mrs. BJ Vorster). Other memorials worth noting are: simple monoliths to the memory of the settlers generally at Port Alfred, at Highlands and at Kaffir Drift on the Fish River; the commemorative chapel to the Scottish party at Eildon in the Baviaans River valley; the equestrian statue at Durban in memory of the settler Dick King ‘ s famous 600 mile ride to Grahams-town through hostile territory; the statue of Sir Theophilus Shepstone in Pietermaritzburg, commemorating his many services to Natal; the memorial at East London to John Bailie, founder of that city; another at Hartley in Rhodesia, to Henry Hartley, pioneer, hunter and prospector in that area; and another monolith at Salem to Richard Gush, the courageous but unarmed saviour of that village during the Sixth Frontier War.
Source: SESA (Standard Encyclopedia of Southern Africa)
Now followed five years of bitter struggle and disappointment under the most primitive pioneering conditions, resulting in the almost complete collapse of the infant settlement. As habitations the people first used the tents loaned by the Government until reed-huts could be constructed, these being replaced gradually by thatched mud-cottages, followed later by more commodious farmhouses of stone or brick. Although vegetable gardens thrived wonderfully, the wheat crop failed utterly during the first four seasons; locusts and wild animals wrought considerable havoc, and depredations by the Xhosas from across the border quickly reduced the limited and rapidly dwindling resources of the settlers. Several also lost their lives in these almost continuous raids upon their property.
After protracted periods of drought, the efforts of four long and arduous years were literally washed away by what was referred to as ‘The Flood’ of October 1823, and the settlement now faced financial ruin and stark starvation. So desperate became the position that remission of the original wagon hire from Algoa Bay was granted; rationing on credit had to be extended for an extra season, and the hitherto strict prohibition against departing from the locations had to be lifted, at first by allowing people to move for limited periods to specified places on properly issued ‘passes’, and finally by removing entirely all restrictions on freedom of movement anywhere in the Colony. In response to a lengthy but restrained ‘Memorial’ signed by the leading settlers and dispatched to London, a commission of inquiry was sent out by the British government, which arrived in Grahamstown in February 1824 and submitted its reports and recommendations in the following year. During this stern testing period of adversity and frustration it was nevertheless found possible to establish several villages: Port Elizabeth and Port Kowie (now Port Alfred) on the coast, and others inland such as Bathurst, Salem, Sidbury, Cuylcrville, Clumber and Collingham; while Grahamstown, the military head-quarters, rapidly developed as the chief urban centre of settlerdom.
In spite of this unpropitious start the decade commencing with 1825 witnessed a gradual but marked improvement in the settlers’ lot, brought about by the implementation of certain recommendations of the commission of inquiry and by other important alterations in the settlement scheme which was originally founded on a purely agricultural basis. Thus extensions of the altogether too limited land grants, permission to acquire farms outside the locations, and the repeal of the hitherto total prohibition industry in particular, virtually founded by the settlers in 1826, soon became (as it has remained to this day) South Africa’s chief farming activity and the main economic prop of the Eastern Province.
After considerable agitation the Somerset Farm, hitherto a Government monopoly for supplying the military forces, was given up and the village of Somerset East founded in its place, as the centre of a rich farming area. Cottage industries such as spinning, weaving, candle-making, as also the founding of a textile mill at Bathurst and brick-, tile- and wagon-works at other places, aided materially in the general advance to prosperity.
Taking advantage of the freedom of movement accorded them, numbers of people became itinerant traders, while most of the skilled artisans moved to the recently founded villages or to the older established towns more to the west, soon settling themselves in reasonably profitable employment. Properly organised weekly fairs were also permitted at Fort Willshire in the Neutral Territory, where a lucrative barter trade was carried on with the Bantu, all under strict military control. So successful was this venture that later licences were granted to carry on itinerant trading operations by ox-wagon beyond the Colonial boundary. As explorers, hunters and traders, many settlers were soon moving as far afield as Tembuland, Pondoland. Natal and even Bechuanaland in the far north. By the end of 1834 the settlement at last found itself in a reasonably sound economic position, but the outbreak of the Sixth Frontier War shattered all hope of further progress for a time and reduced a large proportion of the populace to destitution once again; a fresh start had to be made.
On account of the loss of life and property resulting from the constant incursions of the Xhosa cattle-rustlers from across the border, permission was sought, and readily granted, to form what became in October 1822 the Albany Levy, a volunteer force of 600 men, both yeomanry and infantry. Its very existence certainly had a restraining influence on the invaders, but it was eventually realised that struggling farmers could not adequately perform patrolling duties as well, and after three years the unit was disbanded. After nine months’ strenuous campaigning the invaders were again expelled, but after this Sixth Frontier War the Xhosas were permitted to reoccupy the Neutral Territory. Heartily disgusted at this (to them) retrogressive arrangement, many of the Afrikaner farmers decided to join what became the Great Trek to the north, and in April 1837 a Bible was ceremoniously presented to a party of these Voortrekkers outside Grahamstown by Thomas Philipps, JP, on behalf of the settlers, as a token of regard and esteem for their departing fellow-countrymen.
Gloomy as the prospect appeared, and although many large public meetings of protest at the terms of peace were held and lengthy memorials were for-warded to the authorities, urging proper protection in future and compensation for past losses sustained, the settlers as a body elected to remain on the frontier, and as a consequence had to face in the following years the Seventh War (of the Axe), 1846-1847, and the Eighth War (of Umlangeni), 1850-1853. In all these three wars the great majority of the male inhabitants of Albany joined the various hastily formed volunteer units as combatants, while others materially assisted the regular troops as guides, interpreters and scouts, or as transport, ambulance and commissariat personnel. (In Natal also, where numbers of Albany settlers had established themselves, volunteers fought in the battles against the Zulus consequent upon the massacre of Piet Retief’s party by Dingaan in February 1838, several being killed.)
Apart from the heavy material losses sustained, it is worth noting that in the third of a century following on their arrival at Algoa Bay, no less than one in every twenty of the original male settlers, as well as several women and children, lost their lives in these recurring wars and intervening raids and forays, on the Cape Colonial frontier and in Natal – thus amply fulfilling the real object (to them undisclosed) of the whole settlement scheme, viz. the defence of the Cape’s eastern frontier. Although most of those settlers still living were too advanced in years to take an active part in the Ninth (and last) Frontier War, 1877-1878, some original settlers were still able to do so. Many of their descendants naturally participated in this final clash of arms.
In spite of all these troubles with the Bantu extending over a period of nearly sixty years following the settlers’ arrival, steady and solid progress, though frequently retarded, never actually ceased. One contemporary observer was prompted to remark that ‘apparently the British settlers could afford to be ruined every ten years’. As the Colonial boundary was moved eastwards, by successive stages, settlers and their descendants migrated in the same direction; other towns and villages were founded such as Colesberg, King William’s Town, East London, Queenstown, Burgersdorp and Aliwal North; and the Eastern Province eventually became firmly established as a settled and thriving part of the Cape Colony.
Religion, Education and Culture
Although only four ministers of religion (W. Shaw, W. Boardman, F. McClelland and S. Duxbury) had accompanied the original settlers from Britain, the community was on the whole deeply religious. It is not surprising, therefore, that many active congregations – chiefly Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, Congregational and Presbyterian – were soon formed; that within 25 years no fewer than 36 churches and chapels were built. In this younger and later group must be specially mentioned W. Miller, J. Ayliff, H. H. Dugmore and W. Shepstone. In the sphere of education, also, steps were immediately taken by the school-masters in the various parties to instruct the young. Thus within a month of its foundation Salem had its own academy, conducted by W. H. Matthews; Grahamstown soon supported several schools; while others were established in the recently founded villages throughout Albany. Some of the more affluent settlers even established private farm schools and engaged teachers to instruct the children of the surrounding countryside. Many of South Africa’s famous sons received their early education at these modest little seminaries.
Though pioneering in a wild and primitive country is hardly conducive to the maintenance or furtherance of any considerable degree of culture and enlightenment, the settler’s contribution in this sphere must be regarded as highly impressive, if one remembers that, at the time of their arrival and except in faraway Cape Town 600 miles to the west, cultural pursuits were almost non-existent. Here it is only possible to list the outstanding leaders in various fields who did so much to enrich the Colony’s cultural heritage: in poetry, Thomas Pringle, Mary Elizabeth Barber, William Howard and Henry Hare Dugmore; in history and reminiscences, William Shaw, John Ayliff, J. C. Chase, J. M. and B. E. Bowker and John Montgomery; in journalism, Robert Godlonton, proprietor and editor of the famous Graham’s Town Journal, in painting and the graphic arts, JF Comfield, Catherine Pigot, JE Ford, S. Turner and J. Hancock; in medicine, Doctors J. and WG Atherstone, AG Campbell, D. O’Flinn, R. Holditch and N. Morgan; in several branches of natural science, Dr. WG Atherstone, Mary Elizabeth Barber, J. H. and TH Bowker; and numerous highly skilled manual craftsmen such as goldsmiths and silversmiths, jewelers, engravers, clockmakers, marquetry workers and cabinet makers.
Photograph: Stephen William Griffin (1820 Settlers) – courtesy of Natal Archives