King's College London
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I speak of Africa

The Dutch at the Cape of Good Hope

Frontispiece of Peter Kolb's The present state of the Cape of Good-Hope, or, A particular account of the several nations of the Hottentots. London: printed for W. Innys, 1731 [Rare Books Collection DT1813 KOL ]Frontispiece of Peter Kolb's The present state of the Cape of Good-Hope, or, A particular account of the several nations of the Hottentots. London: printed for W. Innys, 1731 [Rare Books Collection DT1813 KOL ]On 6 April 1652 three Dutch ships, the Drommedaris, the Reijger and the Goede Hoop, moored in Table Bay. They were under the command of Jan van Riebeeck of the Dutch East India Company, who had orders to set up a refreshment post for the Company at this site.

Mortality among the crews of European vessels making the arduous voyage to and from the Indies was notoriously high, with scurvy the principal cause of death, and the Company wished to establish a small settlement, where fruit and vegetables could be grown and a hospital provided for sick sailors. This small settlement is now the city of Cape Town.

While colonization was not the Company’s initial objective, it was not long before European emigration and settlement began to be encouraged. The Company needed enough permanent residents at the Cape to ensure that its refreshment post was protected from attack and that sufficient supplies of foodstuffs were always available for its ships. It was only a matter of time before some of the free settlers decided to leave the confines of the Company’s Cape Town post and venture inland as Trekboers (migrant farmers), independent pioneers in search of land, cattle and trading opportunities with the Khoi people of the interior.

By the time the German traveller Peter Kolb (1675-1726) wrote his account the Trekboers had established farming communities across much of the southern Cape. The frontispiece on display depicts an encounter between Dutch settlers and the Khoi, with Cape Town and Table Mountain in the background. The Dutch bow courteously to the Khoi (whom they called ‘Hottentots’, a term derived from the Dutch Huttentut, meaning a stutterer, in reference to the click consonants characteristic of their language). In reality the relations between the Trekboersand the Khoi were far from harmonious. The pastoralist and hunter-gatherer Khoi progressively lost ground to the settled farming practices of the Boers, resorting to cattle raids and armed skirmishes as their land was taken.

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