1820 Settlers


The problems the British acquired on their second occupation (the First British occupation being 1795-1802) - and in fact colonisation - of the Cape in1806 were manifold. The long-settled frontier-folk of Dutch descent were a fiercely independent and hostile group, and the encroachment of a warlike indigenous people, the Xhosa, into disputed territory added a disconcerting dimension to the security and protection of the Cape Colony. There had up until then been five Frontier Wars. It was the Slachter's Nek Rebellion of 1815 that alerted the British to the desire of the Boers to avenge the death of the conspirators by “driving the English into the sea”. The insurrection necessitated the stationing of British Settlers in the interior, since the rebellion had demonstrated the futility of relying on the assistance of the black indigenes.1 The problems for the British in the Cape Colony were compounded by the earlier incursions and raids of the Xhosa, who did not accept the Great Fish River as the colonial boundary. By 1808 they had completely occupied the Zuurveld; 1812 they had been expelled and the Great Fish River re-instated as the eastern frontier of the Colony. But the raids persisted and by 1817, of the hundred and five families settled in the region in the previous eighteen months, ninety had abandoned their settlements.2

The decision by the colonial government at the Cape to have a policy of immigration to the frontier had a military motive. However those settlers that were sought for were to be, in the main, ordinary fork engaged in everyday trades. It was envisaged that settlers would form a dense population along the banks of the Great Fish River that, in turn, was meant to determine the nature of the farming practices at the settlement. Each land grant of about forty Hectares (one hundred acres) for each immigrant family would only support agriculture and so discourage the pursuit of pastoralism. This was seen to be one of the failures of having the Boer population there, since transhumance as lifestyle led to a thinly populated frontier, and the presence of cattle attracted the Xhosa raiders and so compounded the problems of military protection. Settlers were to be formed of parties, the larger of which would form villages with the smaller parties adjacent to these. The place of origin of the settlers was also to be recognised in the physical location, Highlanders "not to be mixed up with any others as speak a different language"! 3 This was then the strategy for locating the 1820 Settlers in the Albany District at the Eastern Cape frontier.

The Settlers arrived as 'parties' under leadership of a man of standing, be that military or religious, or as a natural head of a family who plied a trade. Parties were sent off in all directions of the degrees of the compass from appoint in Bathurst, the spot marked by a Toposcope as memorial.

Initially they lived in tents, later rustic huts in the fashion of the indigenes, commemorated by Thomas Pringle in a poem, made of wattle and daub. The English came from the Georgian tradition, a stripped Palladianism made utilitarian, with symmetrically arranged windows around a central front door, often double-storeyed. At first materials were wattle-and-daub, clay blocks, or rammed earth, all under thatch, but as they familiarised themselves with the land and found stone to quarry this became the walling material of choice. Each settlement had its own place of assembly, usually a church, often of the newly established reformed Christian doctrine, such as the Methodists.

While initially the greatest threats to the new colonists were the vagaries of nature, their successes in settling and domesticating their surrounds attracted the attentions of their long settled black neighbours to the east, the Xhosa clans. The causes of what fomented the disturbances are many and complex, and much proffered by way of explanation.

The insurrections of 1834, resulting in the Sixth Frontier War and the first for the Settlers, thatched, wood-shingled or tarred tarpaulin roofs made way for imported Welsh slate to prevent the reoccurrence of the methods of driving out the inhabitants by torching the roofs with flaming spears. This also led to a greater involvement of the military in the building of the domestic and civic structures and a greater degree of fine craftsmanship, use of durable material and defensive devices by the populace. As peace returned and the products of the industrial revolution reached the shores, so roofs were replaced with corrugated iron and verandahs - with the characteristic stickwork or later cast iron 'broekielace' - were added.

  1. Edwards, I. E. 1934. The 1820 Settlers in South Africa. A study in British colonial policy.[ Imperial Studies No 9. Newton, A. P. (General Editor)]. London: Longmans, Green & Co. pp 46-47.
  2. Edwards, I. E. 1934. The 1820 Settlers in South Africa. A study in British colonial policy.[ Imperial Studies No 9. Newton, A. P. (General Editor)]. London: Longmans, Green & Co. pp 29.
  3. Edwards, I. E. 1934. The 1820 Settlers in South Africa. A study in British colonial policy.[ Imperial Studies No 9. Newton, A. P. (General Editor)]. London: Longmans, Green & Co. p. 61.