Sunday, July 22, 2007

Beware - Highly Offensive Content!!

You've been warned! (But let me hasten to assure you that the offensive statements are in historic documents, and I would like to make it very clear that I do not agree with them, or the demeaning words they use so freely!)

But I thought I would share the fruits of the ongoing Research K and I are doing into the History of this area, which started as a sort of vague curiosity about the origins of our houses, and has become a growing obsession. It is so thrilling hunting down clues and facts, and as we get into it, we find the most surprising things dove-tailing into place.

My interest has gone way beyond the houses, because I keep finding amazing old documents giving an idea of the social conditions and attitudes and lifestyles prevailing at the time. There are also some fascinating contradictions, which I really want to find out more about. One of them is the whole racial situation, which, being South Africa, seems to be rather complicated!

We have discovered that very early in the 1800s, quite a big portion of this part of town was granted by the British Crown to the London Missionary Society, who used the land to house freed slaves.


Next to their land, a portion was set aside in 1855 as a "Location for Native Strangers" (namely Xhosa and Mfengu workers) and across the valley, a location was set aside for "Khoi-Khoi" workers..... In those days they were referred to as Hottentots, and today they are often known as "Coloureds". What this boils down to is that, on Richmond Hill in the early 1800's, a totally multiracial society existed, which seemed to co-exist in harmony, (although as you read on, this will also be one of those contradictions). BUT it seems that already the Colonial Government was setting the ball rolling on what was to later be formalised as 'apartheid', because whites were able to buy their plots, but blacks and coloureds had to live in their respective locations, and were only able to lease their plots, they could not own them.

A visitor, James Backhouse went to Port Elizabeth in December 1838 and reported as follows:
"We visited a place near the town, appropriated by the Government, to the use of such coloured persons as are under the care of the London Missionary Society. (Khoikhoi), (Xhosa), (Mfengu), and persons lately liberated from slavery are located upon it. Several of the (Khoikhoi) are pious, and are members of the Independent Church. The houses are all of rude and temporary structure; those of the (Xhosa) and (Mfengu) are beehive huts, formed of sticks and rough grass".

(Now, having read the original documents, I can tell you that this quote, lifted off a site on History on the internet, has been seriously "sanitized", (and in place of all the tribal names in brackets, there would have been some terms which are now quite rightly considered hightly offensive and definitely NOT PC, but were in common usage at that time.

I guess I have been quite ignorant in a lot of ways. I have always known that the British Colonialists imported their horrendous snobbishness and class system wherever they went, because i grew up with that in what was then Rhodesia, and my father came from an upper class English family, so I am no stranger to that sort of "privilege is due to us" attitude, although I grew up despising and challenging it!

Yet whenever I thought of Apartheid at its worst, and thought of the bullying Police-State tactics and Laws, I always blamed it on the National Party, and Right Wing Afrikaaners.

That is one assumption that my research has challenged, and I have had to totally re-examine my misconceptions about the roots of Apartheid. Because the more I read, the more I realise that it was set up long before the term was invented, and the roots go way back to the British Colonial Government in the Cape Colony of the Early 1800s. The Nats may have refined it into the totally brutal "legalised" system it became, but the seeds were sown long before that.

Anyway, I thought I would share with you transcripts of a couple of documents from that time, which throw light on how people really felt and spoke back then. The content is very offensive in this day and age, I share it because it is real and to "sanitize" it for the sake of not being offensive would actually diminish the lesson to be learned from History, namely that we need to keep questioning values we absorb growing up, just because an attitude or term or law is in general use does not always mean it is acceptable!

They deal with the events and controversy surrounding the Frontier war of 1851, in which many of the Khoi-Khoi, who had lived and been educated on the mission stations, and been 'converted to Christianity', nonetheless rebelled and fought on the side of the Xhosa, against the British.

Firstly, here are 2 reports written in 1851 to the London Missionary Society, by A Robson, the Pastor from Richmond hill, and the other by the pastor in Grahamstown.

Report on missions in South Africa, London Missionary Society. 1851
Rev A. Robson, Port Elizabeth
“The year that has passed has been indeed an eventful one, both as it regards South Africa in its social and political relations, and likewise as it effects the cause of missions generally, as well as those connected with this auxiliary. Again has this country become the theatre of war. Again have the colonists on the frontier been subject to the loss of property and home, of relatives and friends. Again has the Christian Missionary been drawn from his station by the people whom he had been labouring for years to serve; and to the advancement of whose temporal and spiritual interests he had devoted his energies, -nay, even life itself. These, disastrous and afflictive as they are, would perhaps, from the known character of the Kafir, produce sorrow rather than surprise: but there is a feature of the present war unprecedented in any of those which have preceded it: that so many who have for years enjoyed the advantages of civilization, and who, it was hoped, had profited by the spiritual instruction they had so long enjoyed,- that these should be found allying themselves with the semi-barbarous Kafir, and engaged in open hostility to that country to which they had been for so many years united, is not With the causes which led to the present war and to the defection of a potion of the Hottentots, it is neither necessary nor proper to allude on the present occasion, as amidst the conflicting statements which have appeared, it would be difficult to arrive at a just conclusion.”
Rev NH Smit, missionary to ‘Graham’s town
“The past year has been signalized by events of no ordinary character. War and rebellion have been followed by a state of excitement, anarchy and confusion truly painful to witness. Difficulties with which the year was ushered in have accumulated to a fearful extent up to the present time; and even now our misery seems far from being at an end. Dark clouds with threatening aspect are still lingering over our heads, and appear still to increase in blackness and in size. This state of things has proved highly detrimental to the cause of missions in this part of the Colony. Displeasure, instead of being directed towards those Hottentots who have wickedly rebelled, has been extended towards the innocent, who in many instances been treated accordingly. Enmity to the London Missionary Society and its agents has been excited in some before friendly, and increased in those previously hostile, as if the society or its missionaries were to blame for the evil conduct of a few of their people. False rumours against the missionary and his people, from time to time, been circulated by wicked and designing men, and these have been but too readily received by not a few; while many from whom (owing to their Christian profession) better things might have been expected, instead of endeavouring to allay the excitement, have, forgetful of their responsibility, done all in their power to increase it. In consequence of threats uttered against some of my people, and injuries inflicted on others while going home at night, I have been obliged to give up, for the present,…some of our services.”


But the fascinating thing is, I had no sooner transcribed these, when I stumbled across the next document, which gives another side to the story... it is a poem, sent to someone in England, by a settler on the Eastern Frontier, written just after the Frontier war of 1851. (I have had to shorten it because it is INCREDIBLY long, but if you are interested, you can find the whole thing, plus lots more fascinating old documents etc HERE. on the 1820 Settlers website.)


a poem by William Hartley in 1852
TRIALS & TROUBLES OF THE 1820 SETTLERS
When we addressed you last in rhyme
We all enjoyed a peaceful time,
But now war rages thro the Land,
And bloodshed is rife on every hand:
The blacks stand up against the whites
Yet not for Freedom or for rights;
For Liberty they all enjoyed.
But they of gratitude are void.
And tho’ they have been treated well,
By Government - They now rebel!
And vilely seek to shed the blood
Of those who strive to do them Good,
Whose money has been freely given
To have them taught the way to Heaven.
Indeed the kafirs - all Ingrate,
Your Kindness can’t appreciate;
At all your Benefits they sneer
Attributing such acts, to Fear -
If Lenient, them they deem us weak;
And hence to overthrow us seek.
That they may get what is not theirs
And here Sir Wm. Molesworth Errs -
For we this Speech have lately read
But don’t concur, in what He said
About aggression Territorial
Upon the Blacks by Whites Colonial
As having been the fruitful cause
Of this, or of the previous Wars -
In this he makes the greatest Blunder -
Nay - this the Kafirs Love of Plunders!!
And by their often taking Life,
Which always has produced the Strife.
Our Gov., No Cause has given,
And here the Whites have ever striven,
Such dire disasters to avoid
By which so many are destroyed;
Sir Wm. cares not for our woes?
And knows but little of our foes.
For would he leave his Native Isle
And have experience here awhile
He soon would find by what he lost
That he miscounted had the cost.
And that the Kafirs for his Cattle
Would with him very soon do Battle!
Or by the most consummate stealth
Despoil him of that kind of wealth
If the home Government is wise
And don’t This Colony despise
A Depot ‘twill establish here
Of Troops for - and from India -
For it can ne’er possessions hold
with those we have, however bold
Kafirs are not the only foes.
Nor yet the worst who us oppose;
The Hottentots a worthless Race
And mostly given to drunkenness,
Are Now in arms against us found
And Saturate with Blood the Ground.
These last the most ingrate have proved
And what could ever them have moved
To act a part so Treacherous
Would be a mystery to us,
Did we not know, that some there arc
Who have incited them to War
By Preaching Politics and Rights
That their oppressors are Whites
And that the land which we possess
Belongs in Justice to their Race
Thus some in Holy Orders clad
Have made the Hottentots go Mad,
And evil and Confusion wrought,
And into general Ruin brought
Both Blacks and Whites by what they’re
taught.
Regarding these it strange appears,
That numbers who have been for years,
Domestic servants, or on Farms,
Are now opposed to us in arms!
And why we cannot tell the Reason
Except thro’ London Mission Treason,
For nearly all its members are
Engaged Against us in this War.
Yet not like Servants but like Sons,
or Children; they their little ones,
And wives by Whites have treated been,
(English and Dutch by whites we mean).
We “Settlers” whom they seek to kill,
Have never used the Black man ill.
But many have in person Gone
To make the Glorious Gospel known,
Amongst the tribes who us Surround;
While many others still are found,
Who tho’ not on the Mission Field
With liberal hand their substance yield
Their foes with Gospel truth to Bless
And turn them into Righteousness,
Yea, when the Kafirs wanted Bread,
the Settlers have supplied their need.
But what do they for this Return?
They Rob us and our Houses Burn -
Sweep off our Cattle and our Sheep,
And many Widows leave to weep!
O’er those who were their earthly stay
Snatched by their ruthless hands away.
Tis not these Savages Indeed,
Your Christian Sympathy who needs
So much as your own Countrymen,
Who are to ruin brought again,
The third time since the cruel war
Of eighteen Hundred thirty four -
War unprovoked by any Act
Of Ours that can be proved by Fact.
You who in happy England live
One half the truth can ne’er conceive
Of what our circumstances are
Or what we suffer by the War
In this Benighted distant Land.
With Blood polluted & fire-brand
We have not given the slightest cause
For this or for the previous Wars,
But have the Heathens welfare sought
Tho’ all our labour be for nought.
Some of our enemies at Home,
(As Fairbairn, Freeman, Stockenstroom)
Have tried to make the Blacks appear,
More “Sinn’d against - than sinning” here
But they are traitors to the Cause,
Of Truth, - justice - and Right Laws -
.........
When Truth is told, it will appear
That most of the Black forces here
Are Idle, and Improvident,
And have their hearts on Plunder bent
Tis thus their living they secure
Because no work they will edure.
In fact to tell the real truth,
They are dishonest from their youth
And we believe that they have been
Encourag’d on from sin to sin,
And in their habits vile confirmed,
By some who are their Pastors termed,
Who were of the Society,
Of London Notoriety.
And also of the Glasgow Sect
No longer who Command respect -
But whom we “Settlers” now reject
As those who have no right to claim
The honour of the British name.
And these are we dare to mention
As Instigators of dissension
May what we say attract attention.
We think a Renton, & a Niven
Have with a Read & others striven
That we should to the sea be driven
By Hottentots & Kafirs Joined.
.......
The men whose names appear above
Could ne’er have taught our foes to love
Their neighbour as they should have done
Or not to take what’s not their own,
If the pure Gospel had been taught
Truer converts never would have fought
Against the Whites, or been inclined,
To share the spoil our foes purloin’d
But now they are with Rebels Join’d.
..........
This happened on last Christmas Day
The Kafirs came in friendly way
As Yearly they were wont to do
And as the Settlers did not know
Of any Battle being fought,
Of Treachery they had no thought
And hence their foes they treated well
But soon they heard the Kafirs yell
And by their cruel hands they fell
But time would fail us to relate,
All that we here would wish to state
How that the Hottentots Revell’d
And many White Men were compell’d
With Wives & children with bare feet,
To make precipitate Retreat,
From Homes that once to them were sweet.
While others more unlucky still,
The Hottentots contrived to Kill,
Or rather Murder in cold Blood;
........
But deeply we Regret to State,
That Native Teachers who of late
Employed were by the London Mission
And least Suspected of Sedition
Amongst our enemies were found
And number’d with the Slain around
These last were of’ the Hottentots Race,
Who have performed a part so base.
........
The People foremost in Sedition
Belonging to the London Mission.
Of these events while treating here
It is but just we should refer
To a Small Tribe of Kafirs - who
Have fought against the White mans foe
With Bravery quite equal to
E’en that of Sturdy Englishmen,
And who to Whittlesea have been,
A welcome end in time of Need
(For they were taught a different Creed!)
By Wesleyans - whose converts all
Responded to the Governor’s call,
To put rebellious spirits down,
And many have they overthrown,
......
- Attention now we turn awhile
Towards the raid Kat River Vile!!!
The sink of every kind of Vice
And to Rebellion which gave rise,
After the first war was abated
The Hottentots were here Located.
And Government Anticipated.
That they a strong Defence would Be
Against the Kafir enemy
And certainly they did last War
Perform efficient service for
The Government - but now they are
With Ruthless Savages combined
Against their benefactors Kind.
For such the Whites have ever been
Tho’ same like Renton will, we ween
Strive on the Contrary to Show
But what they state is false we know
And are prepar’d to prove it; no -
But with our History to proceed
These Have Rebell’d - and Read
Who is of the London Mission Creed
With Renton, Niven, and some more
Whose names the Public are before
Remained with the Rebels Camp.
Yet not in order there to damp
Not yet to quench the wicked flame,
But be it spoken, to their Shame.
They seem’d - the rebels to caress
Not to reprove their wickedness
And at a time so critical
Preached Sermons quite Political!
......
We still are suffering from the War
and anxiously are looking for
More Succour from our Native land
For Rebels are on every Land
Committing Murders all around
And Spreading terror o’er the Ground
While on our Cape Horse Regiment Black
Who fought so well a few years back
No trust at all can now be placed,
For Numbers of them have embrac’d
The Rebels cause - While some Retire
In Battle - or Blank Cartridge fire -
Pity ye Noble Britons, then,
Your suffering fellow Country Men


Phew, well you WERE warned, we must have come a long way in this country, because in my childhood people still spoke like that, and now I can't read it without cringing, I find it toe-curlingly offensive!


It is interesting that W. Hartley portrays the missionaries as such liberals, because they also seem to have had some rather offensive attitudes towards the other races! What would really round this topic off, and balance any opinions one might form, would be written accounts of the attitudes prevailing amongst the ‘Hottentots’ and Xhosa at that time, and what motivated their actions.

(as a matter of interest, we went back to THIS graveyard today to make notes of names and dates, and photograph the headstones, now that we have a better idea of who is who, and we came across Rev Robson's grave!...... His headstone records that he died on March 14th 1866 at the age of 39.

In the same 1851 report to the London missionary society, there was also this section:
Death of Dr Chalmers…
The Committee feel bound to record in this report their sense of loss which the community at large, (as well as this Society), have sustained by his removal. For sixteen years he was connected with this congregation, and was ever found a liberal supporter of the Society…… In his profession, while ever ready gratuitously to visit and alleviate the sick poor without distinction of class or colour, he was often found the spiritual as well as the medical advisor of his patients.”
And we found his grave this morning....according to the headstone he died on 20th November 1850, also at the age of 39, which means, if he was working here for 16 years, that he must have arrived here as a young and newly qualified man of 23. Life was hard then, and it seems these men really did give of themselves for the sake of others, leaving aside any thoughts on whether they were misguided or not!

So the research goes on.....and for every answer we find, we seem to end up with more and more questions......watch this space!

2 comments:

Shirley said...

Ah, ain't history wonderful? I grew up being taught about the wars between the British colonist and the Maori here in NZ, which have now been "officially" revised to show the Maori in a far more favourable (and realistic) light.

RUTH said...

I guess it all depends on who's doing the writing and what slant they put on the facts as they see them. You're certainly finding some fascinating information.