Indentures of the Apprenticed Labourer Anna: 4 June 1835

Indentures of the Apprenticed Labourer Anna: 4 June 1835

Please reference as: Liz Stanley (2017) ‘Indentures of the Apprenticed Labourer Anna’ and provide the paragraph number as appropriate when quoting.


1.  The trace

Image 12-02-2016 at 15.411835

Graham’s Town June 4th

Six Months after date I promise to pay to Mr Hendriks, or his Order, the sum of 100 Rds for Value ?Rcd in the LIndentures of the Apprenticed Labourer Anna

Elizth Hockly

2.  The context

2.1 Elizabeth Hockly (1791-1862) was the mother of Harriet Townsend nee Hockly, who married [William] Dods Pringle, with the Pringle Collection one point of focus for WWW research. A Moore by birth and from a family of London jewelers and silversmiths, Elizabeth Moore married a well-known, highly skilled but financially unsuccessful silversmith, Daniel Hockly (1787-1835). They emigrated with their children to South Africa as members of one of the 1820 Settlers parties, living and working in Grahamstown, Port Elizabeth, Bathurst and Graaff-Reinet. Brought up to be involved in the family business, Elizabeth Hockly continued being economically active after reaching South Africa, including running a millinery business and a school. Daniel Hockly died in 1835, and soon after she and her seven children removed to Grahamstown, where she ran another school.

2.2 This trace, transcribed above with a photograph of it also provided, was almost certainly written after Daniel’s death, which had occurred when the family was living in Graaff-Reinet. It pertains to Elizabeth Hockly in Grahamstown buying in labour, although it is not specified in what way this labour would be used. However, likely possibilities are that Anna, whose labour the agreement concerns, would have carried out household tasks, been involved in looking after the younger Hockly children, and also carried out such work regarding the school’s pupils, some of whom were borders.

2.3  The agreement that forms the trace is dated 1835. It deals with matters of enormous import, concerning the ends of slavery in South Africa, and does so at a very human and focused level.

3.  The agreement

3.1 The agreement between Elizabeth Hockly and Mr Hendriks, who held Anna’s Indenture, involved a post-dated payment. This and the conduct of business of all kinds around credit was at the time if not the rule then almost so, constituting the structural basis of the financial exchanges and ‘lack of money’ (but not credit-worthiness) prevailing in the Eastern Cape of the 1830s and 40s. Paying either Hendriks or ‘his Order’ is part of the same economic context, for he could have – if so minded – sold on this future dated payment, as a kind of promissory note and therefore having a liquidity value, which might be around or under its ‘words on paper’ value (100 rix-dollars), depending on the circumstances.

3.2. Payment is specified in rix-dollars. The rix-dollar had been introduced into South Africa by the Dutch East India Company. When Britain took over the Cape its currency was partially used and then in 1826 in the Cape the pound sterling was formally adopted, although use of the rix-dollar was not abolished until 1841. Its value was about 1 shilling and 6 pence, so the payment agreed to was around 150 shillings and so £7.10s or £7 and 50 pence. In today’s terms, this is around £700-£1000, but in terms of labour earnings it is more accurately closer to £7000 for a six month period.

3.3 This post-dated sum of money is for ‘value’ relating to Anna and was ‘received’ from or produced by her labour. The payment, however, was to be paid to Hendriks and not to Anna.

3.4 Indenture involves a time-limited contract, one that is bonded and tied to a specified period of time in which the labour concerned is unfree and at the direction of the holder of the indenture. It can be seen as in some respects akin to slavery, although the bond is time-limited, there is a payment for the labour involved, often the role of both parties is specified on the indenture document, and usually there is some modicum of legal oversight and protection for an indentured person. In a sense, indenture encumbers labour rather than obliterates personhood. Slavery does both.

3.5 There was slavery in South Africa, instituted by the Dutch East India Company (the VOC). Many people entered via slaving routes from elsewhere in Africa into Cape Town and from there into other areas of the country. Others were enslaved through local Boer commando raids in more northern areas of South Africa, taking mainly young children who would grow up knowing no other lives. The result was an economy, particularly in its farming aspect, that was deeply marked by slavery. It was a point at issue between British colonial rule and Boer farmers, who were major users of slave labour, when slavery was formally ended in British dominions, and in South Africa in 1834. A four year transition period was the result. Regardless, there was deep resentment about this, and it became one of the factors under pinning the so-called ‘Great Trek’ northwards by significant numbers of Boers in 1836-1840. [For an excellent overview, see contributors to Elizabeth Eldredge and Fred Morton (eds, 2010 revised edition) Slavery in South Africa].

3.6 Clearly the meaning of this document is heavily inflected in the specific context of South Africa, although the legal arrangement and its prescriptions were familiar at that time in the European context too. For instance, ‘bondagers’ and annual fares at which bonded labour could be hired had been common and persisted in some areas and occupations through to the later nineteenth century in the European context; and while the terms and regulation of apprenticeship have changed, apprenticeships still exist now. In the 1830s, both existed in the UK in forms that would have been recognisable in South Africa generally and the Eastern Cape specifically.

3.7 What is involved regarding this particular document is not indenture as such, but Henriks passing on for payment the labour of Anna as an ‘apprenticed labourer’. However, that indenture is involved and key to it is made clear. Thus the word ‘Indenture’ has been carefully inscribed as such, with the crossed out L in front of the word suggesting that Mrs Hockly had been going to write ‘labour’, before she, or someone in the room with her, indicated otherwise.

3.8 Indentures in the UK context often related to bonded apprenticeships in skilled trades, although in these latter instances someone’s labour could not be disposed of in the same way: their work could be directed, but in the wider sense not their person. In Anna’s case, while the indenture is said to be with regard to apprenticed labour, the lack of further specificity about this indicates it would have been of an unskilled or semi-skilled kind, rather than seen as ‘a trade’.

3.9 Two, or rather three, systems of labour control overlap here: indentured labour, apprenticeship, and unnamed but hovering in the background – but for those involved omnipresent – slavery and its commutation after its formal abolition into bonded and indentured forms. Slavery was ended in South Africa on 1 December 1834; slaves were then ‘apprenticed’ to their owners for four years, supposedly to enable them to learn trades, and their former owners to have a period of transition (which was for most of them largely ‘life as before’). This agreement, around Anna’s indenture and Anna’s apprenticeship, represents a point of significance in the gleaming eye of the tiger of change.

4.  Whiteness and its Others

4.1 Though spare of words, this trace is rich in meaning because of the wider context and what was happening to Anna and many other people in the same position as her during 1835, sketched above. But what does the note of agreement tell or imply specifically about whiteness and its relationship with its Others?

4.2 At a macro level, it is easy to summarise that what occurred was slavery’s abolition but with the four year ‘transition’ actually involving a similarly constituted labour system for those who were indentured. But in life, in Grahamstown, in June 1835, and concerning the recently widowed Elizabeth Hockly, the indentured Anna and the shadowy Hendriks, it takes on richer and more complicated hue. Mrs Hockly was ‘a grafter’ both before and after marriage, she was recently widowed, had little income and many children but considerable resourcefulness. Anna and the thousands of other indentured labourers in South Africa were leaving something worse, slavery, for something that might have been better (who knew otherwise at the time), and in Anna’s case this could perhaps have given her the new skills often invoked as the rationale for the four year indenturing. The practical terms of the ensuing relationship – that is, how it was actually lived out and worked out over that six month period of time – are unknown. There are few remaining signs of Elizabeth Hockly’s period in Grahamstown and this is the only one pertaining to people (other traces are receipts and bills). There is no further sign of Anna nor glimpse of any other servants or labourers. This throws attention back onto the note of agreement.

4.3 The agreement that the note records was between Hendriks and Hockly only. The financial exchange was between Hendriks and Hockly only. The labour that the payment was for was Anna’s and its value was ‘Rcd’, that is, it was to be received by Mrs Hockly and it was not pre-dated but was to be received incrementally from Anna day by day over the six month period of the agreement.

4.4 In terms of the written document, the agreement was between Hendrik and Hockly, while Anna as a person with the right to dispose of her own labour does not exist in terms of the labour conditions and relationships it inscribes. In this sense, it follows slavery. However, as already noted, what happened ‘in life’ for these people and Anna especially may, or may not, have mapped directly onto this.

4.5 Certainly Anna had no direct part in the agreement made between Hendriks and Hockly, because her labour and in a sense her person under the terms of indenture were at Hendriks’ disposal, with these being passed on to Hockly. Slavery might have been abolished, but at this stage only barely, and with considerable back-stepping. The world of full personhood was reserved for those who possessed whiteness and who were male. Consequently it needs to be recognised that Mrs Hockly had gained such public legal personhood because of the death of her husband Daniel – before this, she would not have made the agreement on her own behalf.

4.6 But of course the public sphere was not the only sphere of activity in which relationships, including labour relationships and black/white ones, played out. The Annas of this world were rarely, and only reluctantly, ciphers in the way this note of agreement inscribes; and also not all white people conducted their relationships in binary person/nonperson ways. It is then worth considering that working for Mrs Hockly might really have had an apprenticeship aspect to it, or it might not, and no evidence exists to draw conclusions either way.

4.7 The agreement concerns Anna’s labour, while she herself is an acted upon absence within this document. However, although inscribed here as though a cipher, in life Anna would have been agentic within what was possible in the circumstances for her.

4.8 But alas, Grahamstown Anna’s working life both before and after the date of this agreement remains unknown. In the remaining papers there is very little about Mrs Hockly, nothing at all about Anna or anyone else who worked in the household. However, another Anna, born to freed but then indentured Mozambique slaves, became a nursemaid in Cape Town looking after Ettie Schreiner’s adopted children (Ettie was Olive Schreiner’s sister and the children were those of their older sister Alice, who had died suddenly as a young woman). This Cape Town Anna subsequently became a senior figure in the Good Templars temperance organisation and also ran a number of homes to help destitute and pregnant young women. From the abolition of slavery on, the fortunes of members of Anna Tempo’s family improved, although of course for many other people things remained repressive and sometimes became worse than they had been before.

4.9 Whether the fortunes of Grahamstown Anna were similar to or different from those of Cape Town Anna and her parents is not known. What is known concerns just the agreement, the trace. Once more attention is returned to the note of agreement itself and the sets of relationships and activities that it represents, while keeping firmly in mind the complexity of how these matters might have turned out in practice.

Last updated: 29 December 2017