1820 settlers just after arriving

The 1820 settlers just after arriving

An interesting book was published a couple of years ago on the very first two or three years after the 1820 Settler group arrived in the Eastern Cape, written by Ralph Goldswain, a descendent of one of the 4000 or so settlers. It takes the form of extended extracts from published reminiscences, diaries and letters by a range of the settlers linked by commentary from Goldswain and makes for extremely interesting reading. Among other things, it conveys the small world aspects of their lives, arriving in ignorance of earlier outbreaks of violence as Xhosa people resisted the white incursions onto their land, being in a sense protected because of the institution of a ‘no go’ area for both white and black groups, and oblivious of the fact that their turn to pastoralism following crop failure and floods brought them into direct competition with the displaced Xhosa groups. And as the interface between these groups and the settlers increased, so the potential for competition, hostility and violence also increased. Two other things caught my eye.

One is that Sophia Pigot’s journals, discussed in earlier blogs, are described rather dismissively as those of a protected upper class young lady who wrote only about the genteel activities associated with this. My own interpretation has been by reference to the at-the-time prevailing conventions for journal-writing as compared with letter-writing, not to mention the conventions for writing as such. To me, what she wrote about is certainly conventionalised, but less by class factors and more by those concerning the different genres of representation. But this aspect is still worth thinking through.

The other is that a brief discussion of something one of the settlers, Henry Ellis, did appears in Chapter 4 and caught my attention because of the reference to this at the end of the book. An inveterate reader of references and footnotes, what I read was that his letters supposedly appear in a compilation edited by Robert White called ‘Cape Colony Letters 1795–1880’ in the Bodleian library, with an archive reference number provided. No! While the reference number is correct, the rest is not. Robert White’s letters are in this archive collection,  it does not have the dates in its title, White did not edit it, and nor did anybody else; and there are no letters at all in it by or about Henry Ellis (and for the correct details click here). Very tantalising, as the letters sound interesting. Late stage confusion of references is something that can happen to anyone, so this is a reminder to check all references and then check them again.

Ralph Goldswain 2016 Roughing It: 1820 Settlers in their Own Words. Cape Town: Tefelberg.

Last updated: 7 February 2019