Tepa’s contract of hiring and service, 20 Sept 1845

Tepa’s contract of hiring and service, 20 Sept 1845

Please reference as: Liz Stanley (2020) ‘Tepa’s contract of hiring and service, 20 Sept 1845′ www.whiteswritingwhiteness.ed.ac.uk/Traces/Contract-Sept-1845/ and provide the paragraph number as appropriate when quoting.

1. On 20 Sept 1845

1.1 This photograph shows a document dated 20 Sept 1845 (Pringle, 1/179; 10,6679). It is a contract of ‘hiring and service’ made between Tepa, described as a Tambookie, and an Eastern Cape farmer, William Dods Pringle (known as Dods). It provides the governing framework for them entering into a contract under the terms of Ordinance 49, a piece of Cape Colony legislation which had been passed in 1828 together with Ordinance 50. As the form of words used suggests, it regulated the act of hiring, as well as acts of service.

1.2 ORDINANCE 49, 1828 Under its provisions, prospective black migrants into the Cape could granted passes for the purpose of seeking work; and all employment for more than a month had to be registered as contracts, of which this document is an example. Contracts for more than a month had to be put in writing and could not exceed a year. Its provisions remained in force for many years including when this particular contract of employment was entered into.

1.3 ORDINANCE 50, 1828 This repealed the so-called ‘Hottentot Proclamation’ of 1809. It freed Cape people from the pass system and specified that their children could not be apprenticed without parental consent. Ordinance 50 remained in force until the Masters & Servants Ordinance of 1841. This latter included workers of all races, as ‘servant’ was defined as any person ’employed for hire, wages, or other remuneration to perform any handicraft or bodily labour in agriculture or manufactures, or in domestic services’. It imposed a fairly stiff fine per month where someone was illegally detained by an employer, with its principal purpose the protection of children. At the same time, it had a draconian racialising purpose in defining in criminal terms any breaking of a contract by a person in service or who left before its term was completed.

2. The contract of service and hire

2.1 Looking closely at the document and its contents helps in teasing out some of the complexities. Words in bold are direct quotations from the contract.

2.2 Contract of service and hire under the 49th Ordinance between William Dods Pringle and Zwaartbouy – The contract takes the shape of a printed form, with the required information-providing sections completed by George Aldwych and assented to, in providing their signatures, by the two parties to the contract. This triumvirate of people appears right at the start of the document, so that although it is signalled as a contract between Zwaartbouy/Tepa and Pringle, Aldwych plays an instrumental and agentic part. That Dods Pringle or his farm managers had printed forms on hand suggests that hiring the labour of people who were from areas other than the immediate vicinity was a fairly routinised matter. Fairly similar forms completed with a later date than this example also exist in the Pringle collection, but where the printed component takes slightly different shape. However, these still mention Ordinances 49 and 50 even though the latter had been overtaken by the 1841 provision. Perhaps a large number of forms had been obtained when the ordinances were first passed, and these were simply used until they ran out.

2.3 20 Sept 1845 – Although the form shown in the photograph derived from the 1828 legislation, the contract is dated precisely as having been entered into on ‘20 Sept 1845’. Although not overtly spelled-out in these terms, the importance of the precise date inheres in the legislation and is added to later in the document by specifying the length of the contract. That is, under Ordinance 49 a contract of hire and service (aka employment) could not exceed twelve calendar months in duration. This was to prevent black hired labourer from having entitlement to stay in places designated as white owned.

2.4 George Aldwych, Field Cornet – The contract details have been entered onto the form by George Aldwych, who is specified as being a Field Cornet. The Field or Velt Cornets were local officials who carried out a variety of legal and administrative tasks and were elected by the local citizenry (which was all male and white). It is his presence in the document and his signature which certifies that the conditions for the contract had been met. That is, the form indicates that assenting to a contract between them by Tepa and Pringle was not sufficient in legal terms, which required the authorising provided by the Field Cornet as a place-holder within a legal system.

2.5 Zwaartbouy alias Tepa – The name of the person being hired is stated to be ‘Zwaartbouy’, but this is then added to with ‘alias Tepa’. In fact the so-called alias is the offensive Zwaartbouy, that is, ‘black boy’, a depersonalising covering term used to refer to black men which avoided having to learn people’s actual names and so confront their humanity and individuality. The result of how it is phrased means that his actual name of Tepa is treated dismissively, and the alias of Zwaartbouy is a depersonalisation. This may or may not indicate how Tepa himself was actually treated during the terms of his hire. Some employment contexts were appalling, while others treated hired workers well.

2.6 Agreed himself – The document carefully notes that Tepa ‘agreed himself’ to the contract, which makes clear that, according to the person completing the form, there was no coercion involved. That a contract was willingly entered into on both sides, and specifically that coercion was not involved from the white/hiring side, had been one of the purposes of Ordinance 49 when first enacted. Intentions and purposes on the one hand, and practices and outcomes on the other, over time were not coterminous. That is, legislation which started out with liberalising intentions could and often was used later for retrograde purposes.

2.7 Zwaartbouy alias Tepa… a Tembookie of Kwesha’s Tribe – Tepa’s name and his community associations are then provided in more detail, in writing that he was a Tambookie, and a member of a group of people at the time known as a ‘tribe’. ‘Tribe’ was/is a term that was a European invention to name complex large-scale social connections they did not really understand. In general, while the term Tambookie was in wide usage, it is likely that the people concerned came from diverse ethnicities and areas and had clustered together as refugees from invasions or massacres or warfare. Kwesha was clearly an important personage in ethnic and organisational terms, but no more has been discovered about him.

2.8 In the quality of a cattle herd for 12 calendar months – ‘In the quality’ means in the capacity of a cattle herd, equivalent to being a shepherd. What Tepa was being hired to do is specified, along with the period that his labour was being for contracted for. He was being hired to herd cattle, apparently an unskilled job, but one which in fact required a lot of skill and know-how, and also bravery because there were marauding animals and also marauding people who would be interested in stealing cattle and prepared to use violence in doing so. A herdsman lived with his cattle while they were his responsibility, sometimes over many months. The duration of the contract is carefully specified because, under Ordinance 49, twelve months was the longest that labour contracts could be issued for. This from the white governance side was to ensure that contracted workers did not build up any entitlement to stay longer on a particular farm. It. could also have benefits from the side of the workers concerned, enabling them to leave what might be unsatisfactory circumstances

2.9 The mark of Zwaartbouy alias Tepa – An X or mark from Tepa has been made, although its presence is partially obscured by George Aldwych’s writing around and over it. A mark was legally required and acceptable from those who were not literate. Affixing Tepa’s mark, the equivalent of his signature, does two things in a legal sense. One is that it signifies he was actually present, a condition which was necessary under legislation of the time; and the other is that he agreed or assented, that there was no coercion, a proof of which was also required by legislation of the time. Aldwych’s writing around and over Tepa’s mark adds to the sense of co-presence.

2.10 Agreed and bound himself to pay the said Zwaartbouy for said service… One Heifer… and to provide… sufficient food and decent clothing during the Continuance of this Contract – The payment that was due from Pringle, the hire, is carefully specified. It consists of a heifer, a young female, and so which could be expected to produce offspring and therefore increase the value of the payment, and also ‘sufficient food and decent clothing’, both of which would have had reasonable value at that time. And this latter was ‘during’ the continuance of the contract, not a one-off payment at the end.

3. What of whiteness?

3.1 What does this document add up to concerning whiteness?

3.2 Historically labour had occurred as part of a wider social relations and was embedded within interpersonal arrangements and most often tied to social structures and statuses as a form of fielty within a local system of governance. Thus, for example in Swaziland, someone would give their labour at particular times or for particular purposes, and in return there would be a system of military protection and/or political patronage which recompensed this, as embedded in regional and Swaziland-wide social structures and social practices. A succession of occurrences disrupted such arrangements for many people, including warfare, drought, crop failures, epidemics of illnesses among animals as well as people, the incursions of white migrants, so that survival for many required recourse to employment by farmers and other settlers.

3.3 Within settler communities, in this case in the Cape, a governance structure as indicated by the Ordinances, and by the agentic presence of Aldwych and the Field Cornet system, joined together British and Boer forms of local governance. It provided the framework within which hiring of labour on farms and in other places took place. It consisted of regulation, classification and recording within a bureaucratic administrative system, with regulation backed by a state-licensed system of control and where deemed appropriate punishment for infringements.

3.4 For someone to be hired, in this instance to herd cattle, this required them to encounter and engage with externally originating interlinked abstractions ­– governance, the law, a contract, labour, a wage. Yes, these took a material form in the shape of recompense for labour which was assigned a value, a payment for service rendered. And this was often given after the event where monetary sums were involved, although within the duration of the event in the form of food and clothing where these were specified as part or all of the payment. Consequently, the whys and wherefores of all these things must have seemed deeply mysterious and what impinged would have been the day-to-day matters of relations between farm managers and owners and their hired workers.

4. On 26 April 1849: Pringle on the one part, Lewins on the other

4.1 Another legal document involving Dods Pringle and also concerning hire provides a reminder that in practice local complexities existed along with a more controlling aspect. It demonstrates that the white population too was subject to administrative regulation and the structures of governance, even though the objects of this might be those who were black and Other. It is a legal agreement or contract entered into by a young white would-be farmer James Dalrymple Lewins with William Dods Pringle, and is dated 26 April 1849 (Pringle 1/3; 1,6086-8). Specifically, it concerns Lewins hiring or leasing Pringle’s Cheviot Fells farm for a five year period.

4.2 Among an array of other conditions to which this agreement was subject, it states that ‘no unhired Natives shall be located between the Homesteads of Cheviot Fells and Clifton’, both of which farms and farmhouses were owned by Dods Pringle. How is this statement to be interpreted, what is its meaning? It might mean that Pringle wanted the clause included so as to stop Lewins doing something that was outlawed under the Ordinances; that is, he might encourage squatters on the land who were not tied by contract to specific employment on a specific farm for a specific period. More strongly, it might mean that there was such a group of unhired people presently located in the area between the two homesteads or farmhouses and that Lewins was to remove them. It might also mean that there was a community or ‘location’ of black people living there that included both those present lawfully and those who were unlawfully so, and that the unhired should not be added to by Lewins. But who were they and why were they there?

4.3 The backcloth is that the Pringle farms abutted onto what was called the Ceded Territory, a large area of the Eastern Cape that was intended and legislated to be the preserve of neither black nor white, first enacted by colonial administrators immediately before when the various 1820 Settler groups were given land. Pringle’s farms, considerably added to over time, were quite literally on the frontier and consequently subject to many raids for purposes of warfare or cattle rustling, incursions of black groups wanting access to land they had earlier had possession of, refugee groups seeking somewhere to live, and also people passing peaceably through from one place to another. They are all likely to have contributed to those referred to as ‘unhired’.

4.4 How did the so-called ‘locations’ where many black people came to live originate? There are a number of sources, including native ‘reserves’ introduced in the Boer republics to corral groups of black people; areas which were constituted from ancestral lands and fiercely protected against white incursions; groups of people who were both workers and squatters living on the edge of white settlements; refugee groups; and the mixed groupings of people referred to above who occupied land which was ‘between’ what was actively owned by proprietorial whites. The clause in the contract between Pringle and Lewins was there to actively guard against more permanent settlement that could give people rights over the land they occupied, and also to legislate that only the hired, and thereby classified and regulated, should have occupancy. The clause is trying to deal with those who were ‘out of place’ in the sense of evading regulation and control. Land and labour coincided, but uneasily and potentially conflictually.

4.5 There is no further relevant information in papers in the Pringle collection other than that Lewins was killed in what seems to have been a border raid incident not long after. Living on the frontier at this time was a dangerous business. However, the contract of service and hire for Tepa, and the farm lease and hire agreement for Lewins, taken together convey that in the later 1840s in this part of the Eastern Cape there was a fairly extensive apparatus for regulating the presence and absence of black groups and communities on ‘white’ land. Some of the people being regulated might have had associations with the land in question over generations previously, but who Ordinances 49 and 50, intended on one level to be more liberal, in practice treated as alien and foreign.

4.6 Into this already complicated situation of what can be summarised as white ownership of black land entered migrant labourers needing employment of the kind that would give them a hire and recompense for their contracted labour, and they were usually propelled into this this by economic or political circumstances or both, although soon the attractions of a labour market providing hire to enable the purchase of desired goods came to exert its own draw. And as this document shows, there were legal provisions built into routine legal and governance practices that prevented members of the white settler community from breaking ranks and harbouring people ‘unhired’.

4.7 What this tells of whiteness concerns the legal and governance apparatus that surrounded both land and labour and which originated from within the settler community to provide them with both; and this could in some circumstances regulate the behaviour of other white people as well as black. It also tells of the creation and regulation of locations, of classification and dehumanising, of Othering, of earlier liberalising intentions turns to regulatory hawkishness, and of the ordinarily mundane character of the legal provisions that tied members of the settler community into this.

Last updated: 11 January 2020


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