The term Huguenots is used nowhere in contemporary Cape sources for the French immigrants who settled in South Africa toward the end of the 18th century; in all official documents they are referred to as the French Refugees. Before the Edict of Nantes was repealed by Louis XIV on 17 October 1685 many Protestants had already left France. It is estimated that between 75 000 and 100 000 entered the Netherlands either to settle there or in transit to other Protestant countries. Even at the beginning of the 17th century some had chosen to live among people of their own religion and to leave predominantly Roman Catholic France.
After the visits of Rijckloff van Goens and Hendrik Adriaan van Reede to the Cape, it was decided to encourage the development of agriculture. On 3 October 1685 the Directors of the Dutch East India Company resolved to send free burghers to the Cape. Before this time only Company officials had been sent out, who became free burghers if they decided to remain. It was also decided that among these colonists French refugees of the Reformed religion could be included. Preference would be given to persons with some knowledge of viticulture and the making of brandy, and it was emphasised that they should be honest people who would then be considered Netherlanders.
The first invitation to go to the Cape went practically unheeded, but in October 1687 the Directors of the Company again decided to give the French an opportunity to go, with the promise that they could return to Europe after five years, and not, as had previously been stipulated, after fifteen years. Dutch free burghers were not released, however, from their obligatory stay of fifteen years. The French were also promised that one of their own ministers of religion would accompany them.
The first group of French arrived at Saldanha Bay in the Voorschooten in April 1688. Among them were Charles Marais and Philip Fouche and their families. The Oosterland arrived in Table Bay in the same month and brought the family of Jacques de Savoye, the Nortiers and the Taillefer(t)s. In the Borssenburg, which arrived on 12 May, were a group of Piedmontese. The Schelde, which brought the family Des Pres (Du Pre, Du Preez), cast anchor in Table Bay in June. The largest group left Rotterdam in the Berg China on 20 March and arrived on 4th August, but of the 34 passengers more than half did not survive the voyage. The Zuid Beveland, which arrived on 19th August, brought the minister, Pierre Simond. He helped Commander Simon van der Stel to establish the French on their small farms and on 17th October at Stellenbosch he delivered the first French sermon. He was himself given a farm between Stellenbosch and Drakenstein and a horse on which to visit his flock.
During 1689 further small groups of refugees arrived, amongst others in ‘t Wapen van Alkmaar (on 27 January); and on 6th May the brothers Pierre, Abraham and Jacob de Villiers from La Rochelle arrived in the Zion, having been sent because of their knowledge of viticulture. During the nineties ten more men and women arrived in the Vosmaer, while the Driebergen in 1698 and the Donkervliet and Westhoven in 1699 brought another handful of refugees.
Those arriving at the Cape before 1688 and after 1699 did not come in groups. In any case all officially supported immigration ceased after 1707 when W.A. van der Stel was dismissed. The number of French refugees cannot be precisely stated, since a number of ships’ lists are missing and it cannot always be established with certainty how many died during the long voyage. The lowest figure appearing in the sources is 155, Theal gives a list of 176, and others assert that about 200 French arrived at the Cape. Their proportion to the rest of the White population at the time is put at17 % by H. T. Colenbrander, and by D. B. Bosman at 15 %.
The reception of the French was very cordial. Simon van der Stel expressed his joy at their arrival. He observed that those who had come in the Schelde outdid the others in merit and eagerness to help. He praised the Flemish merchant Jacques de Savoye for his knowledge and industry, and since he had full command of both languages appointed him as heemraad. Since most of the French had no money or possessions, a considerable voluntary collection in money and stock was contributed by officials and burghers, and Van der Stel in a letter to Batavia dated 22 April 1689 asked that a collection toward the support of these poor people should be made at Batavia. The church relief board immediately obliged and sent 18 000 guilders, the contents of the poor-box on the island of Formosa, which the Company had lost in 1682. This money was distributed in April 16 by the Rev. Simond and the council of the French congregation according to need.
In spite of this assistance the first years were diffcult. The first winter and spring were cold and wet. Some complained about the quality of the farms which they had been given. Van der Stel did his best to satisfy them, but in the journal of 24 October 1688 he had it recorded that he had already had much trouble with the French free burghers, and that it would appear that these people were not at all as industrious as one had expected of them.
The holdings which Van der Stel had granted the French were interspersed among those of the Dutch free burghers, especially along the Berg River, but also at the foot of Simonsberg, Paarlberg and Diamantberg. The area formerly known as Olifantshoek now received the name of `De Fransche Hoek’ (the French Corner). Simond preached in Stellenbosch and Drakenstein on alternate Sundays, and in November 1688 Paul Roux was appointed as reader and schoolmaster in the French language at a salary of 15 guilders per month.
The French were however, not satisfied with their minister’s seat on the church council of Stellenbosch and the consistory of the Cape, but wanted their own church council. They delegated Simond with a deputation of four – Jacob (Jacques) de Savoye, Daniel de Ruelle, Abraham de Villiers and Louis Cordier – to put their request to the Council of Policy on 28 November 1689. Van der Stel was very indignant, and he and the Council refused the request. The Directors, however, discussed it at their meeting on 6 December 1690 and granted permission for the election of a French church council in Drakenstein. The explicit policy was, however, to scatter the French among the Dutch free burghers and to teach their children French as well as Dutch.
The first council of the French congregation was established on 30 December 1691. Claude Marais, Louis de Berault and Louis Cordier were chosen as elders, and Abraham de Villiers, Pierre Meyer, Pierre Beneset and Pierre Rousseau as deacons. In the beginning the French congregation of Drakenstein assembled in the house of one of the free burghers; later a shed was built, which collapsed in 1718. The congregation was then already engaged in drawing up plans for a new church, of which the first stone was laid on 6 September 1718. This building was consecrated in June 1720.
The complete disappearance of the French language can be ascribed to various causes. In the first place many of the French were already quite familiar with Dutch when they arrived at the Cape, and there were some families who had lived in the Netherlands for years. Among these were the Nels, who had lived at Utrecht since 1644, and the Du Toits who had lived at Leyden since 1605. The Malans (from 1625), the Jouberts (from 1645), and the Mesnards (from 1638, later called Minnaar), had also lived at Leyden, and the Malherbes (from 1618) had lived at Dordrecht. Secondly, there were among the French free burghers many young people and children, who quickly learnt the language of their new neighbours and fellow countrymen. Thirdly, the authorities did not encourage the use of French. Although until 1697 some proclamations still appeared in French as well, and although the French often wrote their letters to the authorities in French, the church council of Drakenstein was asked in 1709 to write no more letters to the Government in the French language. The departure of their own minister in 1702 also hastened the disappearance of French. Although the Company saw to it that Simond’s successor, the Rev. Henricus Beck, who arrived on the Reijgersdael in April 1702, could speak and understand French, in their letter dated 20 September 1701 to the Governor and Council of Policy they wrote that Beck was not to preach in that language `but only through visits, admonition and consolation to serve the aged colonists who do not know our language, so that French would in due course die out as if banned from use.’ At school no more instruction was to be given in French.
The new governor, W. A. van der Stel, did not interpret this letter from the Directors as prohibiting the use of French in the church, for the Rev. Beck was allowed to preach in French on alternate weeks. Paul Roux also read sermons in French and taught in French. When he died in 1723 there were still about 25 old persons who could understand no other language. Sermons in French became progressively rarer, and it can be said that the French language had died out by the time the second generation had grown up.
Much has been written about the influence of the French free burghers on their adopted country and the people. Since such influences cannot be measured with accuracy, such evaluations are necessarily subjective. According to Simon van der Stel, their influence on the development of viticulture and agriculture was small. After their arrival there was certainly an increase in quantity, but the quality did not improve appreciably. It is even more difficult to determine the French influence on the South African national character. Possibly a certain light-heartedness and quickness of wit may be attributed to the French infusion. The darker Latin type among Afrikaners may also be ascribed to French blood. The French and the already established Dutch and German colonists evinced the same love of freedom, the same independence and the same sense of justice. The influence of Calvinism left an unmistakable imprint on both population groups, so that as early as the beginning of the 18th century a sense of unity developed in the burghers’ struggle against Governor W. A. van der Stel.
Besides the new surnames which the French brought, many of the interesting names which they gave to their farms have been preserved, such as La Terre de Luc, La Dauphine, La Provence, Cabriere, Champagne and Non Pareille – names which still adorn the elegant gables and white gates of old Cape farms, where the architectural style and traditions which they developed along with their Dutch and German compatriots, and to which English influences later contributed, have been preserved.
Source: SESA (Standard Encyclopedia of Southern Africa)
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