The 1820 Settlers arrive, 15 & 16 May 1820

The 1820 Settlers arrive, 15 & 16 May 1820

Please reference as: Liz Stanley (2017) ‘The 1820 Settlers arrive, 15 & 16 May 1820’ and provide the paragraph number as appropriate when quoting.

1. The Southey Party and the ‘clan’ letters

1.1 An 1820 Settler party from Somerset in England to the Eastern Cape was led by George Southey; they sailed in the Kinnersley Castle and after arrival were located in what was then called Lower Albany. Their arrival along with many others was part of a British government sponsored scheme to encourage emigration to one of its newer colonies. This had the aim of settling people in the frontier area and thus for them to act as a buffer group between the rest of the Cape colony and the Xhosa and other inhabitants to the east and north, something which the 1820 settlers themselves were initially unaware of.

1.2 George Southey snr (1776-1831) was described in immigration documents as a gentleman of Wellington, Somerset, and as ‘a plain, respectable man’ by fellow-emigrant Thomas Philipps. Wellington was a centre of the depressed woollen industry, and Southey informed the Colonial Department in his application to emigrate that there were ‘many industrious men with families in this neighbourhood who would be glad to embrace the opportunity, and they are not disaffected persons… if they could get constant employment’. Southey paid the deposits for six indentured servants and there were four free settlers in the party of forty-nine people in total.

1.3 The Southey Party embarked at Bristol in the Kennersley Castle, a regular transport ship which left on 10 January 1820, and reached Table Bay on 29 March and Algoa Bay on 29 April. The Party was located on land at a tributary of the Bush River. Some details of everyone in the Party can be found on the 1820 Settlers website (, while the Southeys were as follows: Southey family: George 39. wife Jane 39. children Sophia 16, William 13, Richard 11, George 9, Elizabeth 7, Henry 4, Canon 1. Also Elizabeth Skinner 30 (perhaps a servant, George snr married her after his first wife’s death).

1.4 The self-described ‘Southy clan’ collection ( consists of a small set of letters that were picked out and transcribed in 1949 by an unknown transcriber, with a typescript produced. They are described as having been selected to point up family bonds. The original letters exist in the wider (and large) Richard Southey collection, with many of its letters fragile and difficult to work on without further damaging them. In addition, the so-called ‘clan‘ letters, albeit in a 1949-produced transcript/typescript, are interesting in their own right, because they were selected so as to demonstrate family connections. This means that they need to be read with family bonds between the writer and their addressee in mind and these bonds will have influenced both their content and also their form or structure.

2. The 15 and 16 May 1820 letters

2.1 The two letters for discussion here are ‘a set’ on their own, as the second letter comments on the first. Their addressee is John Southey in Wellington. The first is a letter from his grandson William, and the other immediately following is a connected letter from John’s son George, William’s father.

2.2 The context is that measles and quarantine had kept the Kennersley Castle in Table Bay for some weeks before it proceded to Algoa Bay (later Port Elizabeth) and landed its passengers. Those who could bought tents, horses, oxen and vehicles or made arrangements to hire the latter. They were led to the area of the land that had been allocated.

2.3 The two letters in question were written just over two weeks after first landing. They are addressed to known people (Dear Grandfather, and Honord Parents, John and Elizabeth Potter Southey), who presumptively would have wanted reassurance that their loved ones were well and the new circumstances were favourable, and confirmation that family bonds continued despite the writers having migrated. Such concerns shape the letters and are a demonstrable aspect of their content too, and at the same time they are indicative of a point of view or stance concerning how this ‘new world’ was represented in the within-white context at this first contact point in time.

3. William Southey to Grandfather

May 15th. 1820
Dear Grandfather

I am happy to inform you that we arrived safe at Algoa Bay the 29th of April & arrived at our destination the 12th of May we lay Quarrentine 3 weeks in Table Bay on account of our having the Meesels on board. We have now every prospect of edoing well & all the Party is very well contented we are situated on the banks of Kowi river & our land extends to the banks of another river which I know not the name of. We have plenty of Timber sufficient for every purpose we are about 30 miles from GrahamsTown about 8 from the Great Fish river & about 20 from its mouth & the Kies Kamma which is about 70 miles to the East of the Great Fish river is now our eastern boundary; we have very excellent land & fit for any purpose,

I am
Your Affectionate Grandson
Wm” Southey

I sent to you from the Cape of Good Hope & from St Jago.

3.1 The first, shorter letter is from William Southey (1806-1882) to his grandfather. It provides the basics, things he is ‘happy to inform’ his grandfather about. It has a date, but no address it is from. It seems a duty letter and rather rote – happy arrival, all safe, excellent prospects, much timber, excellent land. William was 13 and writing to the family patriarch so this is not surprising. What is more so is that he had written twice previously, so duty indeed.

3.2 William’s letter is much concerned with the where and the what of the land but in idealised or sanitised terms. It is also notable that, in a context of many shapeless days at sea, and packed eventful days after landing, there is such certainty about dates. 29 April and Algoa Bay loom large and are sharply defined, and ’arrived at our destination’ on 12 May presumptively refers to the Bush River land allocated to the party, confirmed in his father’s letter.

3.3 The longer letter, joined to William’s, is from George, John’s son. It begins as an added note, with a one sentence correction of William regarding distances and an addition on family health. This forms the join between the two letters.

4. George Southey to Honord Parents

4.1 George Southey’s letter then ‘starts’ properly. It is addressed to both of his ‘Honord Parents’, although the outside address on the folded letter is to John Southey, as was at the time formally correct.

[What follows is in George Southey’s hand]

cannot say that Wms distances from the different places is correct as tis not measured and its only reports

We are all in good health Sophy is grown very lusty, Harry(?) & George is grown much (?) we have not one sick person in the party

[Continued next page]

Honord Parents

We are at last arrived at our destination I like the country very well and am quite satisfied with my prospects & there is no danger of wanting for anything I am to have 1000 Acres of Land where I think proper to take it; which is more than I expect ever to inclose. And as we take the Land along the Valeys (which are narrow) the hills will be unoccupd. so that we can keep any number of cattle on them as they are covered with good grass, this part of the country is nearly open & as fit for the plow as a Field in England and the low ground covered with grass higher than my knees, hundreds of acres of which I have burnt to get rid of it as hay is of no use at this season and I think will not be in the summer as this grass must have stood all the season, we have no wood except near the water & there only in small patches so that I shall try to secure all I can which I am afraid will not be 50 acres I have not seen nor heard of any wild beast in this part of the country – except Deer, which are plenty, & 1 Zebra shot by one of Mr Holders party which they supposed had left the herd to foal as she was near her time of foaling. As I trusted to Wm’s writing I have wrote in haste the above incorrect scrawl I shall therefore begin again and tell you that we landed in Algoa Bay the 2nd of May & was provided with tents 3 of which I bo^t^ at 2£ each to take with me

On the 4th Waggons was procured to take us on our Journey (each waggon is drawn by 10 or 12 Oxen (a boy going before & leading the first pair in bad or dangerous roads) the driver riding on the front of the waggon with a whip long enough to reach the fore ones,) & about 2 in the afternoon we started & went till night when we again encamp’d & the next – morning we crossed (        ) river where we halted to – refresh & in the afternoon crossed Cooks river & stopt for the night, on the 6th we crossed the Sunday river I should have told you that the way of travling is to go about 3 or 4 hours & then turn out the oxen to feed for 2 or 3 hours then go on the rest of the days journey turn the oxen out till night then tye them to the waggon all night & about day li(ght) (let) them feed again if there be time, on the 7th we(e started at ?) 3 in the morning, travled ‘till about sun rising ((1 or 2 words torn away)) hours & then went on till near night & we had 40 (miles t)o go without seeing house or water  the roads on level ground are as good as in England but down some of the hills very bad indeed   7th & 8th we(r)e easy journeys & on the 9th we had 4 or 5 miles to Grahams Town staid there the 10th & bought 40 Sheep at 5/6 each (English) the wool is short but finer than any I ever saw in England. 11th got within 5 or 6 miles of this – place & arived on the morning of the 12th, to Morrow I am going to Grahams Town to buy cows which are about 20/ or 30/ English each, I will write again soon

Your effectionate son
Geo Southey
May 16th 1820
10 at night

Near Grahams Town
Cape of Good Hope

Mr John Southey

4.2 George’s letter too prioritises providing information about land. He indicates the large quantity of land, reckoned in acres rather than the local unit of morgen, that had been allocated and also emphasises its quality as being as ’fit for the plow’ as land in England. Both were later, for nearly all of the 1820 settlers, shown to be misleading: The quality of the soil was poor, the area had severe seasonal patterns, prevailing weather was initially misunderstood, few of the settlers were experienced agriculturalists. Many soon migrated to the small towns. Others, among them the Southeys and also the Pringles, did extremely well in stock and sheep farming (see also the Pringle-Townsend letters).

4.3 The date that William provides for the Algoa Bay arrival is the ‘factual’ one. But George is otherwise very precise, so perhaps 2 May was when all the Southey Party were on land, as then he provides day by day detail leading up to the dating of his letter as 10 PM on 16 May 1820.

4.4 In this part of his letter, the details given about the journey act as a kind of travelogue, leading George’s parents through their first landing and then the day by day journey, including him buying sheep en route when they arrived in Grahamstown, and in the brief four days since arriving at the Bush River burning some land for clearing, and being immanently about to set off to buy stock in Grahamstown. This was the next day, 17 May 1820, and thus both George’s ’hasty scrawl’ on William’s letter, with his realisation of its insufficiency prompting his own more detailed contribution.

4.5 Speed in evaluating the land allocated and starting to work it was necessary because, apart from the provision of some seed and other items, the settler groups otherwise had nothing other than what they brought and could produce. Many were unable to cope with thin soil, drought, ‘sour’ grazing, stock lung disease, flash floods. Others almost immediately left for the frontier towns and resumed the trades they had pursued in Britain – the silversmith Daniel Hockly and the milliner and school-teacher Elizabeth Hockly being cases in point (see Pringle-Townsend letters).

4.6 The letter finishes immediately ‘the business’ in it is concluded. There is but a brief formal sign-off. There is, however, an address to ‘direct’ letters to – Albany, near Grahamstown.

5. Where are they?

5.1 In neither of these letters is the land peopled at all. Indeed, seemingly it does not even have ‘any wild beast’, let alone persons. The Southey Party travel though an empty landscape, in which there is just the wagons and oxen with their driver and the boy who leads the trek group wending its way. Where are they all? Are there no timorous, curious, covetous, angry, eyes looking at them? No beasts! None? Come off it!

5.2 But the most perplexing absence for a present-day reader is that there are no other people visible, nor do William or George comment on anyone they met at Algoa Bay, or en route, or in Grahamstown, or subsequently. Surely, even if the driver and the boy were white (by no means certain), the Southeys would at some point for the very first time have seen someone who was black in those 16 or 17 days since arriving and have found this interesting, alarming, disturbing, curious, or which gave rise to some other emotion that would make it a notable sighting. But there is instead silence, there is absence from the page, absence from all pages of these earliest Southey letters.

5.3 This is at the very least curious. Was is it perhaps because these were phlegmatic people who never mentioned anything very real to each other? Or lack of a language in which to express such things? Or because the dialogic aspects of the letter-writing involved inhibited anything other than formalities and surfaces from being included? Or something else, some other factor or factors? Whatever, it had begun, that process of many in the settler communities not seeing and not recognising the full humanity of the ‘others’ that they had dealings with.

5.4 Did they ever ‘see’ these others in the full sense of the word? Or did the landscape remain empty of ‘people’ in the full sense of that word?

6. An 1835 PS

6.1 William Southey is remembered now mainly because he was present when his younger brother George jnr, at the command of Sir Harry Smith, shot and killed the unlawfully detained Hintsa on 12 February 1835. Hintsa was the King of the Gcaleka sub-group of the Xhosa nation from 1820. George Southey jnr in a sense saw Hintsa, in a sense not. By 1835 he was a fluent Xhosa speaker, but he could not hear the fleeing Hintsa’s ‘mercy’ plea. It is said that he or William or both of them cut off one of Hintsa’s ears as a mememto.

(Southey Family Collection, Kille Campbell Library, img 1919,1920)

Last updated: 29 December 2017