Articles and Extracts

Article Extracts


“Leaving the Quagga Flats on the following morning, the convoy moved off in the direction of Rietvlei and later reached the Bushman’s River, whose steep and precipitous banks presented a formidable proposition to negotiate, reaching their camping ground, on what was later known as Woodbury, the farm of Mr Joseph Gush, MLA for Albany.

The convoy soon passes Dassie Klip, a particularly rough and rocky bit of road, and also dangerous, then over the “neck” through the bush-clad hills skirting the Komgha River, then onward past Nazaar, until they reached Seven Fountains, where two of the earlier parties had already been located, viz. Norman’s and Capt. Butler’s.”





Article found in South African archives, submitted by

Val Johnston.
This article gives a small insight to what life was like for the early 1820 settlers to South Africa.

1820 British Settlers

Some 60 parties of English, Scots and Irish immigrant families disembarked on the desolate shore of Algoa Bay, then on the eastern border of the Cape Colony, in 1820.

Lord Charles Somerset, the strong willed governor of the Cape, became convinced that only large-scale immigration - from Britain, since 'anglicization' was a part of official policy - could bring peace, or at the worst an armed neutrality, to the troubled border regions. These immigrants would farm the Zuurveld (named the Albany district in 1814) and provide a buffer between the Xhosa and the more settled White areas to the west. Of the 90 000 applicants, 4 000 were selected. The first shipload landed on 10 April.

Upon arrival in Algoa Bay, there were already a dozen large vessels anchored there. Ashore was a small-fortified barracks (Fort Frederick) occupied by a detachment of the 72nd Regiment and surrounded by tents and marquees in which the officers were billeted. The only signs of permanency were three thatched cottages and wooded houses, used as offices for the commissaries and officials involved in the immigration scheme. Here and there along the beach were large depots of farming implements, carpenters and blacksmith's tools and ironware. These settlers would be able to buy at a modest price.

Communications in those days were slow and faulty, and the authorities in Cape Town could only guess at the number of immigrants to expect. The camp (sited at the junction of what was to become Port Elizabeth's Russell Road and Main Street) was able to accommodate 1 500, but there were rations to feed only 2 000 people for a single month. Farmers in the Uitenhage and Graaf-Reinet districts had been persuaded to lend wagons, oxen and drivers to take the new arrivals to their allocated lands.

At first, all the wagons took the same route into the interior: along the coast across the Zwartkops and Koega Rivers, then north-east over the Sundays River, the Addo Heights and the Quagga Flats, and through Rautenbachs Drift on the Bushmans River, the western boundary of the colony. Assegai Bush was the parting of the ways for those in the procession. The nearest plots were 100km away: the farthest an intimidating 200km. Some of the parties had to lumber along the rugged track for almost a fortnight before they arrived at their destinations.

Those families who were to settle near the Great Fish River had, until now, been in blissful ignorance of the government's true intention in bringing them there. Warning bells sounded clear, however, when they took leave of Jacob Cuyler, landrost of Uitenhage who had accompanied them thus far. "Gentlemen" he said, "when you go out and plough never leave your guns at home." It dawned on the newcomer that they were to serve not as farmer but also as a kind of plain-clothes militia. In fact, a small contingent of troops had been stationed on the west bank, but the settlers fears were prove only to well founded.

Two poignant reminiscences show clearly their feelings of disappointment and loss. An anonymous settler, who was a child in 1820, wrote "I remember that while the wagons were being unloaded, prompted y curiosity, I ran down to the small river that was near, an on my return found my mother sitting on a large box and crying. On asking her what was the matter, she said she was afraid, she thought tigers and wolves would come through that night and eat us up."

Later, during that first, harsh season, a Captain Thomas Butler penned a letter describing his desolation. "My wheat" he wrote, "two months ago the most promising I ever saw in any country, is now cut down in heaps for burning... The rust has utterly destroyed it: not a grain have we saved. My barley, from the drought, and a grub, which attacks the blade, produced little more than I sowed. My Indian corn, very much injured by the caterpillar; cabbages destroyed by lice: the beans all scorched by the hot wind... Our cows are all dry from want of grass: not the least appearance of verdure as far as the eye can reach. Nothing but one great wilderness of faded grass. On Saturday whilst watching by the sick bed of my dear little girl- she had been bitten by a snake while running over the veld without shoes and stockings, and died. I was startled by the cry of wild dogs. I ran to the window and saw about thirty of these ferocious animals: before I could drive them off, they had killed twenty of my flock, which consisted of twenty-seven in all. I stood for a minute thinking of my misery, my dying child, my blasted crops, and my scattered and ruined flock. God's will be done. I have need of fortitude to bear up against such accumulation of misery."

For five years the settlers suffered bitter hardship. Many of them had no experience of farming: their allotments were too small: their implements rudimentary. There were locusts and droughts, the depredations of the Xhosa- and a ban on the recruitment of black labour. Most of them surrendered their struggle with the unforgiving land and drifted into the small settlements, many of which, like Grahamstown., had started as military garrisons.

But the scheme, in terms of the government's plans, was not an entire failure. The settlers added more than 10% to the total white population, and they indeed help create Somerset's buffer zone. And after 1925, matters improved with the establishment of bigger farming units, a relaxation of government restrictions and, above all, with the launching of what were to become a flourishing sheep industry.


Extracts from articles paint a formidable picture:


The next immigration scheme was the 1820 Settlers, which brought out approx. 4500 settlers. They arrived on board 21 ships, the first being the Chapman:, arrived in Algoa Bay on 09 April 1820. Among the settlers were artisans, tradesmen, ministers of religion, merchants, teachers,   bookbinders, blacksmiths, discharged sailors and soldiers, professional men and farmers. They were settled in British Kaffraria, where their first homes were the tents given to them by the government. They pitched their tents once they had chosen their piece of land. Their first task was to build a more permanent abode for their families, after which they started to till the lands. The government wanted them as farmers, but many settlers did not have farming experience. Soon the drift towards towns started and this is where these settlers started making their mark on South African society. They started a free press, schools, churches, and businesses. Those who had stayed on the farms eventually began to prosper.