Southey Family Collection, Kille Campbell Library, Durban

Southey Family Collection, Kille Campbell Library, Durban

The Southey Family Collection, Killie Campbell Library, Durban, consists of a small number of letters in typescript form made in 1949 by an unknown transcriber. These were selected from among letters in the very large Richard Southey Collection, also part of Killie Campbell Library holdings, presumably because they are letters to various family members remaining in Britain. However, for what specific purpose they were originally transcribed is not now known.

Some others of Richard Southey’s letters are to be found in the Cape Colony Letters, and the commentary for that collection and Southey’s letters in it should be read in conjunction with the more diverse Southey letter-writers in this one.

The Killie Campbell letters deal with the first decades that the Southey Party among the 1820 Settlers were in the Albany area, Eastern Cape. The original letters, like many others in the Richard Southey Collection, are in a very fragile condition, while those for which transcriptions were made are ones that focus on communications between family members and contain much observation on peoples and places, and are therefore appropriately included within WWW investigations. They cover the period 1820 to 1848. The transcriptions give a very good account of the original manuscript letters, although some specific readings are doubtful or queries in the transcriptions seem plainer to present-day eyes. As a consequence, they are very reliable for most purposes, but for very specific details of interpretation the original manuscript letters should be worked on.

The letters and the letter writers

Although small in number, just 17 of them, these letters contain important material relating to the earliest period of the 1820 Settlers, including the Southeys’ dealings with other settlers, various African peoples, and also members of the British colonial presence including Sir Harry Smith and Colonel Somerset. A particularly interesting aspect concerns observations of the so-called Kaffir Wars and the Southeys’ support for the racialised positions advanced by some of the settlers, including Robert Godlonton and also Harry Smith, and opposition to the more liberal views of another colonial administrator, Andries Stockenstroom.

The Southeys arrived in South Africa as leaders of a Party of 1820 Settlers composed by both family members and nearly fifty other people, and were originally from Devon, England. Members of the family in South Africa included:

George Southey senior, 1776 to 1831, the leader of the Party. His wife was Joan, 1782-1835, who appears to have remained in or returned to Britain. Their surviving children were: John, 1801-1818; Sophia, 1804-1880; William, 1806-1882; Richard, 1808-1901; George junior, 1810-1867; Elizabeth junior, 1812-1842; and Robert, 1814-1902. His parents were John Southey senior (1738-?1835) and Elizabeth Potter (1751-1820).

William Southey junior, grandson of John Southey.

George Southey junior, grandson of John Southey.

Richard Southey. grandson of John Southey. He was an officer during the Frontier Wars and worked closely with Sir Harry Smith at this time, later becoming his Secretary in Natal. He also was appointed to three important political offices in the colonial government, as Treasurer (1861–1864), as Colonial Secretary (1864–1872) and as Lieutenant-Governor of Griqualand West (1873-1875). He was a supporter of British imperialism and opposed Cape responsible government, and was retired from his post as Colonial Secretary when this was instituted. His term of office in Griqualand occurred during the period of the discoveries of diamonds and he was responsible for engineering the eventual British takeover of this territory from the local Griqua people. He is generally seen as a part of the more reactionary component of British settler population in the Eastern Cape.

John and Joan Southeys’ male children (and perhaps also their female ones, although there is no information about this) spoke Xhosa fluently and had considerable military aptitude, forming a Corps of Guides who worked with the British military during the Frontier Wars in the 1830s. It was during this period that George Southey, with his brother Richard and Smith also present, pursued, shot and deliberately killed Hintsa, the paramount of the Xhosa after he had escaped from the force commanded by Smith. Hintsa’s body was mutilated and trophies taken.

The letters deal with a range of interesting matters, including:

  • Staying in touch with family back in Britain and conveying news of family in South Africa
  • What South Africa is like, how in what ways they are establishing themselves economically, and countering the more ‘dismal’ view of life there being represented by some other settlers
  • The acquisition of land, farming and related matters
  • Expediting shared business matters and requesting favours from relatives in pursuing business matters that cannot be done South Africa
  • The ‘Kaffir war’ and associated negative views regarding ‘Kaffir character’
  • ‘Getting on’ in relation to the colonial hierarchy, particularly on the part of Richard Southey and his support for Sir Harry Smith and Smith’s approach

 

Last updated: 8 February 2017


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