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I speak of Africa

The government of the Cape

In 1795 Great Britain was at war with republican France. When France invaded the Netherlands and established the Batavian Republic as a client state, Britain responded by despatching a squadron to the Cape of Good Hope and seizing control of the colony from the Dutch.

Extract from: Henry Dundas Melville. Sketches of the political and commercial history of the Cape of Good Hope :[manuscript] [1796] [FCO Historical Collection DT2042 DUN ]Extract from: Henry Dundas Melville. Sketches of the political and commercial history of the Cape of Good Hope :[manuscript] [1796] [FCO Historical Collection DT2042 DUN ]This manuscript of 1796 is believed to be the work of Henry Dundas, then secretary of state for war, and was circulated among his cabinet colleagues (the circulation slip bearing their initials has survived).

Dundas proposes that the Cape be governed with a light touch, that existing Dutch government structures be left as they are or changed only gradually but that the present ‘wretched system’ of high taxation be abandoned until the situation of the inhabitants ‘under a meliorated system of internal economy shall have put them in a position to bear these exactions’;

I lay it down as a fundamental principle that Great Britain must never attempt to hold possession of the Cape on the principles of a strict colonial connexion.

At this date Britain, preoccupied with its war with France, saw the Cape primarily as a strategic coastal staging post on the route to its Indian possessions. The British government viewed without enthusiasm the prospect of responsibility for the largely impoverished interior and its peoples, black and white.

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