The quest for information on our ancestors is on going and daunting task especially when you are looking for information that you think is not available or not well documented. Many people would be pleasantly surprised if they new how much research and data there is available for people living at the Cape as early as 1652.
A major source of reference is that of George McCall Theal whose volumes of rich history cover over two centuries of important historical works that are one a of kind.
Theal’s frank and often blunt description of authors work can be found in a number of his “Chronicles of the Cape ” and “History of South Africa”.
Below is a list of primary reading resources for Cape History extracted from Theal’s works. These books can be found in the National Library of South Africa as well as in private collections and University Libraries:
de Barros, Joano: Da Asia. Barros, who lived from 1496 to 1570, held important offices under the Crown of Portugal. From 1522 to 1525 he was Governor of St George del Mina on the West Coast of Africa, after which he became Treasurer of the Indian branch of the Revenue, Councillor, and Historian. The first decade of his work was published at Lisbon in 1552, the second in 1553, the third in 1563, and the fourth not until after its author’s death. In compiling the narratives of the first voyages Barros had the advantage of reference to the journals kept by the officers of the expeditions. The edition of his work in the South African Public Library was published at Lisbon in nine volumes in 1778. There is a Dutch translation of the Voyages of the First Explorers and of the successive Indian Fleets, published at Leiden in 1707.
Osorius, Hieronymus: De Rebus Emmanuelis Regis Lusitanice. Lisbon, 1571. This work has always been regarded as one of great authority. Its author, who was Bishop of Silves, was a man of high education, with a fondness for research and an exceedingly graceful style of writing. He lived from 1506 to 1580. His work covers a period of twenty-six years, the most glorious in the history of Portugal. There is a recent edition in three volumes in the original Latin in the South African Public Library, and I have also a translation in Dutch made by Francois van Hoogstraeten, and published in two volumes at Rotterdam in 1661. This translation is entitled Leven en Deurluchtig Bedrijf van Emanuel den Eersten, Koning van Portugael, behelzende d’ Ontdecking van Oost Indien, en derzwaerts de eerste Tochten der Portugezen, c.
Correa, Gaspar: Lendas da India. This work is well known to English readers from the translation entitled The Three Voyages of Vasco da Gama and his Viceroyalty, published at London for the Hakluyt Society in 1869. About the year 1514 Correa went to India, where, during the following half century, he filled situations which gave him opportunities of becoming well acquainted with what was transpiring. There, towards. the close of his life, he wrote his history, which is an account of the transactions of the Portuguese in the East during a period of fifty-three years. The manuscript was removed to Portugal in 1583, but the work was not published until 1858, when it was printed at Lisbon. The dates given by Correa differ considerably from those of Osorius and Barros. Thus he makes Da Gama sail from Lisbon in March 1497, while both Osorius and Barros state that the expedition left in July of that year. He differs also in many respects from those writers in his account of events.
van Linschoten, Jan Huyghen: various works published in 1595 and 1596. See first chapter. Eerste Schipvaert der Hollanders naer Oost Indien, met vier Schepen onder ‘t beleydt van Cornelis Houtman uyt Texel ghegaen, Anno 1595. Contained in the collection of voyages known as Begin ende Voortgangh van de Vereenighde Nederlantsche Geoctro- yeerde Oost Indische Compagnie, printed in 1646, and also published separately in quarto at Amsterdam in 1648, with numerous subsequent editions. The original journals kept in the different ships of this fleet are still in existence, from which it is seen that the printed work is only a compendium. While at the Hague I made verbatim copies for the Cape Government of those portions of the original manuscripts referring to South Africa, and I found that one or two curious errors had been made by the compiler of the printed journal. As an instance, the midshipman Frank van der Does, in the ship Hollandia, when describing the Hottentots, states, ” Haer haer opt hooft stadt oft affgeschroijt waer vande zonne, ende sien daer wyt eenich gelyck een dieff die door het langhe hanghen verdroocht is .” This is given in the printed journal, ” Het hayr op hare hoofden is als ‘t hayr van een mensche die een tijdt langh ghehanghen heeft ,” an alteration which turns a graphic sentence into nonsense.
Begin ende Voortgangh van de Vereenighde Nederlantsche Geoctroyeerde Oost Indische Compagnie, vervatende de voornaemste Reysen by de Inwoonderen derselver Provincien derwaerts gedaen. In two thick volumes. Printed in 1646. This work contains the journals in a condensed form of the fleets under Cornelis Houtman, Pieter Both, Joris van Spilbergen, and others, as also the first charter of the East India Company.
Journael van de Voyagie gedaen met drie Schepen, genaemt den Ram, Schaep, ende het Lam, gevaren uyt Zeelandt, van der Stadt Camp-Vere, naer d’ Oost Indien, onder ‘t beleyt van den Heer Admirael Joris van Spilbergen, gedaen in de jaren 1601, 1602, 1603, en 1604. Contained in the collection of voyages known as Begin ende Voortgangh van de Vereenighde Nederlantsche Geoctroyeerde Oost Indische Compagnie, printed in 1646, and also published separately in quarto at Amsterdam in 1648, with numerous editions thereafter. An account of the naming of Table Bay is to be found in this work.
Shillinge, Andrew: An account of a voyage to Surat in the years 1620-1622. I have been unable as yet to obtain a copy of this pamphlet in the original English. A Dutch translation, entitled Kort Dagverhaal van de Zee-Togt na Suratte en Jasques in de Golf van Persien, gedaan in het jaar 1620, en vervolgens, was published at Leiden in 1707. It is only twelve pages in length, but in it is recorded the declaration of English sovereignty over Table Bay and the surrounding country. A copy of the declaration is to be found in the first volume of the first edition of Barrow’s Account of Travels into the Interior of Southern Africa, published at London in 1801.
Herbert, Sir Thomas: Some Years Travels into Divers Parts of Africa and Asia the Great. The second edition was published at London in 1638, the fourth in 1677. The author when on his way eastward called at Table Bay in July 1626, and remained here nineteen days. Seven pages of a moderately sized volume are devoted to an account of this visit. He states that at Agulhas there was little or no variation of the compass, while in Table Valley he found the westerly variation one degree and forty minutes. Herbert’s description of the people, whom he called Hattentotes (sic), is in some respects hardly more correct than his estimate of the height of Table Mountain, which he sets down as eleven thousand eight hundred and sixty feet. The work is interesting rather as a curiosity than on account of any information to be obtained from it.
Hondius, Jodocus (publisher,-author’s name not given): Klare ende Korte Besgryvinge van het Land aan Cabo de Bona Esperance. A little work published at Amsterdam in 1652. This book fixes accurately the standard of the knowledge of South Africa possessed by Europeans in the year when Mr Van Riebeek landed. It professes to be a description of the country about the Cape of Good Hope, and was published by Jodocus Hondius,” maker of land and sea charts, whose name is a guarantee that all possible care was taken in the preparation of the work. The numerous authorities referred to in this early South African hand- book prove further that the compiler was not only well read, but that he spared no trouble to collect oral information from the officers of ships. And yet he knew absolutely nothing of any part of the country now comprised in the Cape Colony except the sea coast from St Helena Bay to Mossel Bay, and even that very imperfectly. Elizabeth and Cornelia or Dassen and Robben Islands he describes accurately, but of Saldanha Bay he could give no other information than the name and position. Table Bay and the country a few miles around he could delineate with precision, as he had information from persons who had been shipwrecked and had lived here for many months. That there was such a river as the Camissa he had no doubt, but he believed it to be an open question if it did not enter the sea much further eastward than Linschoten had placed its mouth. To the natives in the neighbourhood of the Cape he gives both the names Hottentots and Caffres, and says they were called Hottentots on account of their manner of speaking, Caffres from their being held to have no religion. Their personal appearance, filthy habits, manner of subsistence, clothing, weapons, and huts are fairly described, but the writer had no idea that they were a distinct race from those living on the east coast. He thought it probable, indeed, that they were degraded offshoots from the empire of Monomotapa. This was the extent of the knowledge of South Africa possessed by Europeans a century and a half after the Portuguese discovered the sea route to India. Grandson of the world renowned map maker of the same name.
Saar, Johan Jacobsz: Reisbeschryving naar Oost Indien. Translated from the original German, and published at Amsterdam in 1672. The author, a native of Nuremberg, was in the service of the East India Company from 1644 to 1660, When returning to Europe with the homeward bound fleet of the last named year, he visited Table Bay. In a pamphlet of eighty- eight pages he has given four to the Cape, but there is nothing of very much interest in them except an account of the conspiracy to seize the Erasmus, and this is more completely recorded in manuscripts in the Cape Archives.
Schouten, Wouter: Reys Togten naar en door Oost Indien. The second edition was published at Amsterdam in 1708, the fourth, large quarto with plates, in 1780. The author, who was in the service of the East India Company, called at the Cape on his outward passage in 1658. Of this visit he gives a short, but interesting account. When returning home in 1665 he was here for six weeks. He devotes a chapter to the observations which he made at this time, in which he describes the colonists and the natives, as well as the condition of the settlement. The book is well written, and the chapter upon the Cape is not the least valuable portion of it, though it contains no information which not also to be gathered in a more perfect form from the official records of the period.
Evertsen, Volkert: Beschrijving der Reisen naar Oost Indien van. Translated from the original German, and published at Amsterdam in 1670. The author was a German who entered into the service of the East India Company in 1655, and proceeded as a midshipman to Batavia. In the outward passage and again when returning to Europe in 1667 he called at the Cape. On the last occasion he remained here a month. His work is a pamphlet of forty pages only, but his account of the condition of the infant colony, though very short, is highly interesting.
van Overbeke, Aernout: Bym Werken. The copy in my possession is of the tenth edition, published at Amsterdam it. 1719. The seventh edition was issued in 1699. The author was the same officer who first purchased territory from Hottentot chiefs in South Africa. Some of the verses are written with spirit, but there is nothing in the book to give it an enduring place among the works of the Dutch poets. The volume contains also in prose a Geestige en vermakelijke Reys Beschrijving van Mr Aernout van Overbeke, naar Oost Indien uytgevaren voor Raet van Justitie. in den jare 1668. This is a comic description of a sea voyage, and would be quite useless for historical purposes, if it were not for the mention that is made of Commander Van Quaelberg. The character of that Commander is delineated therein identically the same as I found it to be from his writings. Mr Van Overbeke adds that even the Hottentots regarded him with aversion.
Dapper, Dr 0: Naukeurige Besehrijvinge der Afrikaensche Gewesten, &c. Amsterdam, 1668. This is a splendidly printed and illustrated volume of eight hundred and fifty large pages, and contains a great number of maps and plans. It was carefully compiled from the best sources of information. As far as the Cape settlement is concerned, Dapper states that his descriptions are principally from documents forwarded to him by a certain diligent observer in South Africa, to which he has added but little from books of travel. The twenty-nine pages which are devoted to this country and its people were prepared by some one who was not here at the commencement of the occupation, who had not access to official papers, but who had been in the settlement long enough to know all about it, and who was studying the customs, manners, and language of the natives. Such a man was George Frederick Wreede, who was probably the writer. The order of events is not given exactly in accordance with official documents, though there is generally an agreement between them.
Ogilby, John: Africa, being an Accurate Description of, &c. Collected and translated from most Authentick Authors. London, 1670. All the information of value in this large volume is obtained from Dapper, to whom the compiler acknowledges his indebtedness. It is, indeed, almost a literal translation of Dapper’s work, and contains most of his maps and plates. An extract will show how little was then known of the people we call Kaffirs :-” The Cabona’s are a very black People, with Hair that hangs down their Backs to the Ground. These are such inhumane Cannibals, that if they can get any Men, they broyl them alive, and eat them up. They have some Cattel, and plant Calbasses, with which they sustain themselves. They have, by report of the Hottentots, rare Portraitures, which they find in the Mountains, and other Rarities: But by reason of their distance and barbarous qualities, the Whites have never had any converse with them.”
ten Rhyne, Wilhelm: Schediasma de Promontorio Bonae Spei, &c. Schaffhausen, 1686. This little volume of seventy-six pages in the Latin language is the work of a medical man in the service of the East India Company, who visited the Cape in 1673. It consists of a geographical description of the country in the neighbourhood of Table Bay, and a very interesting account of the Hottentots. The author obtained his knowledge of the customs of these people from careful observation and from information supplied by a native woman in the settlement who spoke the Dutch language.
de Neyn, Pieter: Lusthof der Huwelyken, bebelsende verscheyde seldsame ceremonien en plechtigheden, die voor desen by verscheyde Natien en Volckeren soo in Asia, Europa, Africa, als America in gebruik zyn geweest, als wel die voor meerendeel noch hedendaegs gebruykt ende onderhouden werden; mitsgaders desselfs Vrolycke Uyren, uyt verscheyde soorten van Mengel-Dichten bestaande.
Amsterdam, 1697. The author of this book held the office of Fiscal at the Cape of Good Hope from February 1672 to October 1674. He states that he had prepared a description of the Cape and had kept a journal, but that upon his return to Europe he was robbed of the whole of his papers and letters. The Lusthof der Huwelyken is a treatise upon the marriage customs of various nations, and is compiled from the writings of numerous authors. The Vrolyke Uyren are scraps of poetry of no particular merit. Among them are several referring to South Africa. In the Lusthof der Huwelyken are eight or ten pages of original matter concerning the Hottentots, written from memory. The story of the murder of the burghers by Gonnema’s people in June 1673 is told, but not very correctly. An account of the execution in the following August of the four Hottentot prisoners is given, which agrees with the records, and is even more complete in its details. The story of the rescue of the Hottentot infant by Dutch women in the time of Commander Borghorst is also told more fully than in the journal of the fort. The names of the women are given, and it is added that one of them afterwards became the wife of Johannes Pretorius, who had been a fellow student with the writer at Leiden. It is also stated that the child was baptized, but died shortly afterwards. Several other items of information are given in these few pages more fully than elsewhere.
Tachard, Guy: Voyage de Siam des Peres Jesuites, Envoyez par le Roy aux Indes á la Chine, avec leurs Observations Astronomiques, et leurs Remarques de Phisique, de Geographic, d’ Hydrographie, & d’ Histoire. Paris, 1686. ( Par ordre exprez de sa Majesté .) Father Tachard was one of a party of six Jesuit missionaries, who accompanied an embassy sent by Louis XIV to the Court of Siam. The embassy arrived at the Cape in June 1685, and remained here for about a week. Some of the missionaries were astronomers, who were provided with the best instruments known in their day, including a telescope twelve feet in length. The High Commissioner Van Rheede tot Drakenstein, whom they found in supreme command, placed at their disposal the pleasure house in the Company’s garden, which they converted into an Observatory. They found the variation of the magnetic needle to be eleven degrees and thirty minutes west. From observations of the first satellite of Jupiter, they calculated the difference of time between Paris and the Cape to be one hour twelve minutes and forty seconds, from which they placed the Cape in longitude forty “degrees thirty minutes east of Ferro. During the time that some of the missionaries were engaged in making astronomical observations, others were employed in investigating the natural history of the country and the customs of its native inhabitants. They made the acquaintance of a physician and naturalist named Claudius, a native of Breslau in Silesia, who was here in the service of the East India Company, and who had been with several exploring expeditions in South Africa. From him and from the Commander Van der Stel they obtained a great deal of information, to which they added as much as came under their own notice. The missionaries found a good many people of their own creed in the colony, both among the slaves and the servants of the Company, but though no one was questioned as to his religion, they were not permitted to celebrate the Mass on shore. Father Tachard speaks in unqualified terms of the very cordial reception which the members of the embassy had at the Cape. They were astonished as well as gratified, he says, to meet with so much politeness and kindness from the officers of the government. On his return to Europe in the following year he called again, and was equally well received. He devotes about fifty pages of his very interesting book to South Africa, and gives several illustrations of natives, animals, &c.
Cowley, Captain: A Voyage round the Globe, made by the Author in the years 1683 to 1686. London, 1687. With several editions subsequently. The writer was in Table Bay for about a fortnight in June 1686. His work is a pamphlet of forty-four pages, six of which are devoted to an account of what he saw at the Cape of Good Hope. He has managed to compress a good deal of information into a very small compass.
de Graaff, Nicolaus: Reisen na de vier Gedeeltens des Werelds Hoorn, 1701. The author of this very interesting book was a surgeon, and in that capacity visited various parts of the world between the years 1639 and 1688. He was in Table Bay in 1640, 1669, 1672, 1676, 1679, 1683, and 1687. His observations upon occurrences at the Cape are entirely in accordance with the documents preserved in the archives. His calculations of heights are more accurate than those of any other early traveller. In 1679 he estimated the height of Table Mountain from his measurements at 3,578 Rhynland feet. He speaks at the same time of the Duivelsberg by this name. The book is admirably written, but contains no information of value that is not also to be found in the government records of the time.
Dampier, William: A new Voyage round the World, &c. The second edition in two volumes was published at London in 1697. The work was translated into Dutch, and a beautiful edition was issued at Amsterdam in 1717. In these volumes Dampier gives a very interesting account of his adventures between his departure from England in 1679 and his return in 1691. He was at the Cape for six weeks in April and May 1691, and fifteen pages of his first volume are taken up with an account of this visit. Four pages of an appendix to the second volume are devoted to an account of Natal, as furnished to the writer by his friend Captain Rogers, who had been there several times.
Moodie, D.: The Record ; or a Series of Official Papers relative to the Condition and Treatment of the Native Tribes of South Africa. Compiled, translated, and edited by D. Moodie, Lieut. R. N., and late Protector of Slaves for the Eastern Division of the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope. Cape Town, 1838. This work, now unfortunately so rare that a copy is only obtainable by chance, is a literal translation of a great number of original documents relating to the native tribes of South Africa from 1651 to June 1690, and from 1769 to 1809. A vast amount of labour and patience must have been expended in the preparation of this large and valuable book. I have not had occasion to make use of it because, first, the early records are now much more complete than they were when Mr Moodie examined them, and secondly, my aim was to collect information concerning the colonists as well as the natives. Nevertheless, it would be an act of injustice on my part not to acknowledge the eminent service performed by Mr Moodie in this field of literary labour forty years before the archives were entrusted to my care.
Lauts, G.: Geschiedenis van de Kaap de Goede Hoop, Nederlaansche Volkplanting. 1652-1806. Door den Hoogleeraar G. Lauts. Amsterdam, 1854. A pamphlet of 186 pages. The author had access to the Archives of South Africa at the Hague, and made good use of them. He was unacquainted with the country, and has made some very strange blunders, but his work as far as it goes is superior to anything previously produced in the colony.
de Jonge, J. K. J.: De Opkomst van het Nederlansch Gezag in Oost Indie. Verzameling van onuitgegeven Stukken uit het oud- koloniaal Archief. Uitgegeven en bewerkt door Jhr. Hr. J. K. J. de Jonge. The Hague and Amsterdam. The first part of this valuable history was published in 1862, the second part in 1864, and the third part in 1865. These three volumes embrace the general history of Dutch intercourse with the East Indies from 1595 to 1610. They contain accounts of the several early trading associations, of the voyages and successes of the fleets sent out, of the events which led to the establishment by the States General of the great Chartered East India Company, and of the progress of the Company until the appointment of Peter Both as first Governor General.
Rather more than half of the work is composed of copies of original documents of interest. The fourth part, published in 1869, is devoted to Java, and with it a particular account of the Eastern Possessions is commenced. The history was carried on as far as the tenth volume, which was published in 1878, but the work was unfinished at the time of the author’s death in 1880.
van Kampen, N. G.: Geschiedenis der Nederlanders buiten Europa. This is a work published in 4 octavo volumes at Haarlem in 1831. The references to the Cape Colony are incorrect, both as to occurrences and dates.
Source: Chronicles of the Cape Commanders by George McCall Theal – 1882
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