A Complex Settlement

An orphanage in Amsterdam

An orphanage in Amsterdam. In the early years many orphaned girls came out to the Cape and probably formed the majority of the 55 European women in a free population of 259 at the Cape. Many became stammoeders of Afrikaner families.

At the Cape two traditions clashed. The European heritage of freedom, mobility and the questioning of secular and religious authority came up against the Eastern influence of slavery, hierarchy, status consciousness and – among the poorer Europeans – a phobia about gelykstelling, or social levelling, with slaves. Poor Europeans and defenceless slaves found themselves thrown together in a settlement whose natural beauty belied the tough and often cruel circumstances in which people had to survive.

On 6 April 1652, three Dutch ships arrived in Table Bay and some 90 Europeans disembarked. Living in huts and tents, they built a fort called Good Hope on the site of the present Parade. A year later they moved in, but in the following year Fort Good Hope’s mud walls started collapsing. A tiny settlement called De Kaap slowly began to extend its frontiers. Not far from the fort lay the Company Gardens and further south, at Rondebosch, the Company’s own farm and orchard. A big barn called Groote Schuur was built here. The first free burghers received farms on either side of the Liesbeek River. In 1666, work started on a structure called The Castle to replace the Fort Good Hope, but it was more than eleven years before most of it was completed. Initially church services, which were compulsory for Company employees, were held in the fort and subsequently in The Castle. It was only in 1704 that construction of a church was completed and services could be held there.

A first school, which took in slaves without age restrictions, was started in 1658. The pupils received ‘a tot of brandy and tobacco’ as incentive. The first public school, whose pupils were mainly children of Company servants, opened in 1663. Outside Cape Town the first public school was established in Stellenbosch in 1683.

For the first three decades most of the immigrants were single Dutch males. In 1688 a large party of French Huguenots, composed mostly of families, arrived. They now formed almost a fifth of the total European population. From the mid-1680s to 1729 a total of 289 Huguenots arrived. Apart from the French women, the female European immigrants were Dutch. Some of them were girls sent from orphanages in the Netherlands. In the eighteenth century most of the male immigrants were single Germans.

Free and unfree immigrants

The first free burghers

A struggle to survive

Burghers in government

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