Anne Barnard Letters, National Library of South Africa, Cape Town / Robinson 1973

Lady Anne Barnard letters, NLSA Cape Town/Robinson 1973

Please reference as: Liz Stanley (2020) ‘Collections: Anne Barnard’ and provide the paragraph number as appropriate when quoting.

1. Anne Barnard and her letters

1.1 The letters, diaries and journal of Lady Anne Barnard (1750-1825) are well-known. A member of the Scottish aristocratic Lindsay family and a socialite of influence as well as prominence, in her 40s she married the younger Andrew Barnard (1762-1807), who through her social contacts and patronage circles became Colonial Secretary in the Cape when Lord Macartney was appointed as its first civilian governor, in the later 1790s. Unusually for a woman of her class, she travelled with her husband to the Cape and in the absence of  Macartney‘s wife became his official hostess in the new colonial administration’s social circles in Cape Town. The Barnards were resident there from May 1797 until the administration changed in 1802/3.

1.2 Macartney resigned due to ill-health and left earlier, in November 1798. He was replaced first by General Francis Dundas, a nephew of the politician Henry Dundas who was the minister in charge of the colonial office (in 1802 becoming Lord Melville), and then by Sir George Yonge. Andrew Barnard was out of post following the Treaty of Amiens, which concluded war with France and returned the Cape to Dutch governance. Anne Barnard consequently returned to Britain in 1803 preparatory to her husband doing so and to lobby for a new appointment for him. Andrew Barnard followed a year later when the Cape reverted to governance by the Netherlands following the Treaty. When the Treaty was broken by France and its allies, Britain then re-occupied the Cape. Dundas returned to political office, and eventually Andrew Barnard received a new appointment. This was a re-appointment to his Cape Secretary post. In early 1807 he went back to the Cape, where he died in May that year.

1.3 Anne Barnard kept diaries and wrote many letters and was an accomplished artist whose paintings and drawings have been subsequently published. Her diaries and letters give an unparalleled insight into the first British civilian administration and the kinds of ideas its personnel held. She was unusually independent-minded and liberal for her time and class and often comments in a low-key way about the vagaries of other people including in relation to matters of race and ethnicity.

1.4 This includes comments on different African peoples and also ‘the Dutch’ of Cape Town and the farming ‘boores’ in its hinterland. Consequently both her diary and her letters are sources of considerable information concerning relationships between European and African groups, differences between the group of ‘native’ whites as compared with the British newcomers, and contending ideas about how best to conduct relationships with African peoples that existed between the colonial administration personnel.

1.5 While sometimes her ideas and viewpoints are expressed in ways now seen as unacceptable, frequently they appear surprisingly ‘modern’. For instance, she adopted her husband’s mixed-race daughter, Meyndrina Christina Douglas, known as Christina, born after Anne’s return from the Cape when he was there for a year or so without her. And in her Will she left a significant part of her estate to Christina and to the two girls who were daughters of Andrew Barnard’s two (pre-marriage) illegitimate sons, Henry and Andrew Hervey, as well.

1.6 Anne Barnard’s Cape diaries have been transcribed and published in an edition which has become a standard reference point. The version of this she edited as a journal for a more public readership has also been published. Her letters are rather less well-known. Two main sets of letters relevant to WWW research have survived.

1.7 A significant number were originally in the Melville/Dundas papers but later sold and donated by the purchaser to the National Library of South Africa in Cape Town. These letters were written to Henry Dundas, who was a former suitor and later friend in high places, for in the 1790s Dundas was Secretary for War and the Colonies and the dispenser of a vast array of patronage positions, as was usual for the time. He was the source of Barnard’s appointment, through Anne Barnard’s influence. The other relevant set of letters were to Lord Macartney, written mainly after his return from his governorship of the Cape (he died in 1807 from the illness that had led him to resign from this post).

1.8 Anne Barnard’s letters to Henry Dundas have been published in a number of editions, and in particular there is an exemplary presentation of them by AM Lewin Robinson (1973). Her letters to George Macartney were published in the 1920s, edited by Dorothy Fairbridge (1924) according to the rather unsatisfactory practices of the day, with the original letters now dispersed. In due course the WWW collections pages will cover both of these sets of letters, but not those in the National Library of Scotland and the Balcarres papers of the Lindsay family to other correspondents. The emphasis is on her letters to Dundas and Macartney, because of their close and important association with the Cape Colony in the very earliest period of its administration by Britain.

1.9 The first set to be researched by WWW are Anne Barnard’s letters to Henry Dundas. It is by no means ideal to work from published sources. However, in the case of the Dundas letters, Robinson’s edition is unusually scrupulous and exact in fully following the written practices of the letter-writer. This work was carried out when, because of travel restrictions due to the coronavirus, it was not possible to work on the originals. The details recorded from them focuses on how Anne Barnard responded to matters of ethnicity and race and how these things were inscribed in her letters to him.

1.10 These overall can be seen as reports or dispatches from a particular point of view to Dundas, in which she saw herself as keeping him in touch with issues, people, developments, at the Cape, at this time a new acquisition for Britain. At the point she was writing it was officially seen in largely military/strategic terms, and this is different from her emphasis in writing to Dundas on likely future economic possibilities and settlement potentials.

2. Anne Barnard to Henry Dundas

2.1 As noted above, WWW consideration of Anne Barnard’s letters to Henry Dundas is based on the 1973 edited collection by Robinson, for logistical reasons. An earlier comparison of Robinson’s transcriptions with the original letters showed that he was meticulous in following very closely the exact form that the manuscript letters took with regard to such things as punctuation, the use or absence of capitalisation, variations in spelling and other typical practices by the letter-writer. The original intention was to work on the originals, so when this became impossible it was decided to proceed using Robinson’s work as the base. At a future point, this will be checked against the manuscripts. These are largely composed by the Lady Anne Barnard collection in the National Library of South Africa (NLSA) in Cape Town, added to by Robinson with a small number of pertinent letters from other sources, with appropriate referencing information contained in the WWW database records.

2.2 There are 39 letters in the Robinson edition, mainly but not entirely by Anne Barnard to Henry Dundas, supplemented by a long internally dated journal record of a journey that she and Andrew Barnard with accompanying escort took. This involved them travelling the areas in the Cape Town hinterland to Swellendam, Saldanha Bay and return in a month long tour by horse-drawn wagon and horseback, then by ox wagon.

2.3 Many of the Dundas letters are extremely long (from around 4000 to around 9000 words) and can contain a number of internal dates as well as that placed at the heading. They were written over a long period of time. The earlier letters and the later ones were written while Anne Barnard was in London or the Dublin area, the remainder when she was in Cape Town or elsewhere in the Cape.

2.4 A number of the letters in the Robinson edition had supplementary notes or other documents sent with them, and these are numbered as a, b, c, et cetera of the numbered-letter concerned. This has been followed in the WWW records.

2.5 The account of the tour is not numbered in the Robinson edition, presumably because it was seen as a journal and different in kind from a letter. However, while presumptively it was written as a journal and has a number of internal journal-like dates, it was addressed to Anne Barnard’s sisters, and has asides and points of direct address to them. Consequently it has been treated as a ‘kind of letter’ and assigned a number and sub-numbers within the overall date-order of the letters. Originally, she kept daily memorandums and intended to write these out for Henry Dundas. However, the happenstance of a precipitous wind led to the fleet in Cape Town sailing unexpectedly, and this meant that she did not complete this and sent Dundas a short holding letter instead. The original memorandums no longer exist. However, she wrote a parallel version using the same format for her sisters Margaret and Elizabeth. While the original of this also no longer exists, a version was published after her death. It is this that the Robinson edition provides, and it has been drawn on in the WWW database as well.

2.6 It was by no means unusual at that point in time for journals to be written as though a number of connected letters and addressed to particular individuals, and that letters were written over long periods of time with internal dates and thereby formed a kind of journal. As many of the WWW letter-writers (including Anne Barnard herself) comment, they had necessarily to wait for ‘opportunity’ to dispatch, which might arise only after the long periods of time, and so their writing practices followed accordingly.

2.7 Important aspects of the Barnard/Dundas letters as a set are as follows:

i. In addition to their length, the detail and report- or dispatch-like characteristics of most of Anne Barnard’s letters to Dundas are striking. Their tone is both friendly and familiar on the one hand, and on the other also careful and at points ingratiating. As well as the conventional formality and observation of hierarchy of the day, the sense comes across that she is always aware of Dundas’s position as a powerful politician able to dispense patronage in the form of posts, cross-cut with the privilege of expression by someone who was the former object of his affection and indeed his offer of marriage.

ii. Although relatively few in number when compared with some WWW collections, the contents of Anne Barnard’s letters are not only varied and illuminating, but also provide important insights into the earliest period of British administration of the Cape. She was open to new impressions, people and information and in the main responded to people as she found them rather than according to conventional thinking.

iii. Much of the substantive contents of the Cape letters is concerned with the small world of the British administration and garrison in Cape Town and its unfolding relations with the existing populace and in particular its ‘Dutch’ component. Sometimes this is gossip and immersed in personalities, but frequently it concerns wider matters considered in a thoughtful way. At a number of points, the Barnards travel in the Cape peninsula and then later in its hinterland, and these letters are particularly interesting because they consider a much wider cross-section of peoples.

iv. At points the internal tensions of the small world of the British presence at the Cape led her to become over-zealous in complaining to Dundas about Major-General Dundas and then Sir George Yonge on Andrew Barnard’s behalf. A letter with content adding up to reprimand was received from Dundas, to her dismay. However, the main quality of the letters overall is that of observation and friendly report.

v. Demonstrably Anne Barnard did not share prevailing British military disparaging ideas about the local ‘Dutch’ population (in part associated over generations with people connected with the Dutch East India Company, in part a more flotsam and jetsam mixture of Huguenot, Portuguese and other groups). Rather, she made a point of establishing good social contacts with leading members in Cape Town and living in its immediate hinterland, as well as with the geographically, economically and socially more distant farming or boer population, and found many things and people to admire. Equally clearly, she found many things to criticise among the British military and governance personnel, as well as to like.

vi. The British administration was located in a Cape Town enclave shared with the military, and this in turn was an enclave within an enclave shared with ‘the Dutch’ as the other whites in the town. At points the presence of slaves and other black servants is recorded, but Anne Barnard became accustomed to this.

vii. Disturbed by slavery and recording her perturbed first sight of slaves returning from work when arriving in Cape Town, Anne Barnard quickly treated its existence as a fact of contemporary life in the Cape. In many ways the parallel is with the contemporary sharp hierarchies of class, and at points she comments on it thus.

viii. As both the Dundas letters and the journal/letter of the May 1798 tour for her sisters make clear, she was aware of the large scale of slave-owning in the Cape area by both ‘Dutch’ and ‘boor’ people, their reluctance to labour themselves, and their dependence on black labour.

ix. Anne Barnard’s letters also describe and comment on race matters more generally concerning African peoples of different kinds. Her accounts of meeting ‘Hottentot’ [Khoi], ‘Caffre’ [Xhosa] and ‘Boschemen’ [San] people are non-judgemental and to a degree unracialised, being largely descriptive or else writing against the grain of views by other people, and in summary, she seems to see and write of people in ethnic rather than racial terms.

x. As noted above, the Dundas letters cover Anne Barnard’s two visits in the Cape peninsula environs of Cape Town. There is also the very interesting record in the shape of the journal/letters sent to her sisters of a tour to the Cape hinterland outside the peninsula, travelling as far as Swellendam and then cross-country to Saldanha Bay and back to Cape Town. There are some of her most interesting comments about matters of ethnicity and race in the latter, and a particular highlight is her account of two days spent at the Moravian Mission settlement at Genadendal in the Overberg.

xi. Anne Barnard’s journal/letter of the tour in particular casts an acute eye on more structural aspects of the relationship between white ‘natives’ and black people. It conveys in some detail, the dependence of the white ‘natives’ [that is, ‘the Dutch’ and ‘the boors’] on black labour and having no intention of doing the work themselves.

3. Anne Barnard to Lord Macartney

3.1 A discussion of this set of letters will follow in due course.

4. Some useful references

Dorothy Driver. 1995. Lady Anne Barnard‘s Cape Journals and the Concept of Self-Othering. Pretexts, 5 (1-2): 46-65. [An insightful discussion of Anne Barnard’s writing style in her journals by a leading figure in work on South African women’s writing.]

Dorothea Fairbridge. ed 1924. Lady Anne Barnard at the Cape of Good Hope, 1797-1802. Oxford: Clarendon. [Macartney letters]

Kannemeyer and A. M. L. Robinson. 1949. “The Lady Anne Barnard Letters in the South African Library” Quarterly Bulletin of the South African Library 4.

Margaret Lenta. 1991. “All the lighter parts: Lady Anne Barnard’s letters from Cape Town.” ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 22, no. 2: 57-71. [By an important figure in Barnard scholarship, this article offers a very readable overview of the letters.]

Margaret Lenta. 1992. “Degrees of Freedom: Lady Anne Barnard’s Cape Diaries.” English in Africa 19(2): 55-68. [By an important figure in Barnard scholarship, this article provides a very readable discussion of the diaries, including their relationship to the journal, with which the diaries are sometimes confused.]

Margaret Lenta and Basil Le Courder. eds 1998. The Cape Diaries of Lady Anne Barnard 1797–1798. Cape Town: Van Riebeeck Society.

Margaret Lenta and Basil Le Courder. eds 1999. The Cape Diaries of Lady Anne Barnard 1779-1780. Cape Town: Van Riebeeck Society.

Jessica Murray. 2012a. “Venturing to launch a woman’s opinion”: a feminist reading of selected letters of Lady Anne Barnard.” South African Journal of Cultural History 26, no. 1: 33-50. [A close reading of some of the Barnard letters, which sees them as strung between colonial superiority and gendered subordination.]

Jessica Murray. 2012b. ““I write after the impression has been partly wiped away”: Gender and the politics of memory in selected excepts from Lady Anne Barnard’s Cape writings.” Scrutiny2 17(2): 44-54.

AWL Robinson. Ed 1973. The Letters of Lady Anne Barnard to Henry Dundas: from the Cape and elsewhere, 1793-1803, together with her journal of a tour into the interior and certain other letters. Cape Town: AA Balkema. [Dundas letters]

AM Lewin Robinson with Margaret Lenta and Dorothy Driver. Eds 1994. The Cape Journals of Lady Anne Barnard. Cape Town: Van Riebeeck Society.

Liz Stanley (2020) ‘Lady Anne Barnard to Henry Dundas, 11 June 1798′

Stephen Taylor. 2016. Defiance: The Life and Choices of Lady Anne Barnard. London: Faber & Faber. [Excellent popular biography covering the whole of Anne Barnard’s extraordinary life and the relationships and influence she had with various of the good and great of her day.]


Last updated:  2 April 2020


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