Galy’s pass, 20 February 1844

Galy’s pass, 20 February 1844

Please reference as: Liz Stanley (2020) ‘Galy’s pass, 20 February 1844’ and provide the paragraph number as appropriate when quoting.

(Pringle 11 / 2, 6692)

1.The context

1.1 The document shown here is a pass dated February 1844. It is one of a number of passes from around this date in the Pringle Collection (see the Collections area on the WWW webpages). It concerns a man, Galy, who is named, with his age and appearance and other personal information provided, including that he was a Tambookie. Where it was issued, when, and by whom, are also specified. In spite of the bold confidence with which its status is asserted in the heading ’PASS.’, followed by the small print strictures about legalities beneath, it is by no means obvious what all this meant, in particular what it meant in Glen Lyden, near Cradock, in the Eastern Cape, in February 1844.

1.2 ‘The pass’ as a means of regulating and constraining the presence and absence of black people has become synonymous with segregation and apartheid and with the period from 1948 National Party election victory up to the ending of pass legislation in 1986. However, this is to fetter its existence to a particular time-period and thereby to limit its meaning. In fact the existence of passes, indeed the existence of a pass system, exceeds this at both ends of the spectrum. Passes have a long history from well before the later 1940s, and in the shape of identity documents and associated regulatory categorisations of people have a postmortem existence too.

1.3 Passes are important in their own right because they were so instrumental in governance, regulation, constraint and also punishment. In the form of the pass system, the pass was one of the foundational features of racialisation and its regulation over time, together with the contract, the location, the sign. People, land, labour, material existence, were all conscripted. People, that is, people of a particular kind, land of a particular quality, labour of a particular hue, material existence for some. But earlier, things were different although beginning to take shape. Systems existed, but were patchy, different in the different colonial states, changed over time, happenstance brought variations, infringements were frequent on both sides. They did things differently, what happened around 1844 is not the same as what happened between 1948 and 1986.

1.4 Discussion here focuses on the period around 1844, and locates Galy’s and similar passes of the time in their historical context.

2. The pass

2.1 A slightly truncated transcription of the pass is:


Name of person to whom this Pass is granted       Galy of Kweshas Tribe
Sex.                  Male
Age.                 About 45 years
Tribe.               Tambookie
Height.              5 ft 6 1/2 In
Colour.             Yellow
Feature.           Oval
Distinguishing Marks, (if any.)                             None
Name of Wife, (if any.)                                            None
Number and Name of children, (if any.)               Kaatje

Given by me at Glen Lyden the District of Somerset
This 20th day of February 18 44

Geoe Aldrich
Field Cornet

2.2 Looking closely at Galy’s pass, the small print indicates that its existence came from Ordinance 49, a piece of legislation enacted in the Cape Colony in the 1820s to control movements of people and labour, with parallels in the Boer Republics of the Free State and Transvaal. But what is its relationship to the connected legislation known as Ordinance 50, and this in turn raises a question about its relationship with labour contracts.

2.3 By good fortune, a labour contract from the same period exists that is also signed off by the same person, George Aldrich, a local Field Cornet []. This is a September 1845 contract between Tepa, also a Tambookie, and a Glen Lyden farmer, Dods Pringle.

2.4 Expressed very simply concerning these ordinances, the pass is a document which permitted the movement of the person or persons albeit in a circumscribed way, while the contract was an agreement between two parties usually about labour and payment. Almost immediately a puzzle arises. This form has provision in its printed headings for a date to be recorded when the pass was given, and Aldrich has provided this. But there is no heading on the form to include an end-date, although passes elsewhere in the settler colonies were intended to permit movements within only very constrained time parameters. The specific circumstances can help unpack this.

2.5 Glen Lyden was on the frontier. This is meant very literally: the Pringle farms were in Glen Lyden and this traversed the borders between the Cape and the territories beyond. The Pringles had arrived as one of the 1820 Settler groups, unwittingly to be located in the buffer zone between the settled areas of the Cape and the territories at dispute on its frontiers. The particular land allocated to the Pringles was this, with the other settler groups located further within the Cape. Not far to the east of Glen Lyden and the Cradock administrative district were the territories inhabited by the group of people known to the settlers as Tambookies.

2.6 From Mager 2013, p.254: “Figure 1. Map showing the territory forfeited by Maphasa in 1852. Source: Correspondence of Lieut. General the Hon. Sir George Cathcart, K.C.B., relative to his military operations in Kaffraria until the termination of the Kaffir War, and to his Measures for the future maintenance of peace on that frontier, and the protection and welfare of the people of South Africa. Second Edition (London, John Murray, 1857).”

2.7 ‘Tambookie’ is the settler version of the San name for the abaThembu people, who, as the map shown here indicates, occupied the area east of the boundary of the Cape Colony. There were four lineages or clans within the Thembu – the amaTshatshu, the amaNdungwana, the amaHala, and the amaGcina. Ndarala was chief of the amaGcina by the 1850s, having replaced his father, Qwesha. However, even before this there were skirmishes and disputes between the Thembu and both the Boer and the British colonial presences, and also between the different Thembu groups. For people variously out of favour, disenchanted with the political unrest, engaged in border raids, or wanting the payments that employment by local settlers would provide, the Glen Lyden farms and the wider Cradock districts were a magnet. At the point that Galy’s pass was given him by Field Cornet George Aldrich, Qwesha was still an important figure in the Thembu hierarchy.

2.8 These factors explain the puzzle of why Galy seemingly belongs to two different ‘tribes’, recorded on the form as Kweshas [Qweshas] and Tambookie, and keeping in mind here that the term ‘tribe’ was invented by outsiders to describe something they didn’t really understand. Its first mention is given as part of Galy’s name or identity and is not a tribe in the usual sense but shows he is member of a lineage or clan; it acts here as a kind of surname and is the equivalent of, for example, Donald MacGregor. The second ‘tribe’ mentioned indicates the people or nation he belongs to and is the equivalent of, for example, Scotland. Therefore recording it in two ways like this indicates quite a large measure of tacit knowledge about Galy’s and wider Tambookie circumstances on the part of George Aldrich, the local official who completed the form.

2.9 The details Aldrich has provided indicate that Galy had a daughter, Kaatje, with no age given for her, suggesting that she was very young; and that he has no wife, rather than a wife who is recorded as being elsewhere. It was of course not unusual that married women might, for example, die, including in childbirth and from postpartum fever. What is unusual is that a wifeless father should take care of his young daughter to the extent of travelling with her from their home circumstances and over the border of a settler area, presumptively for employment purposes. As already noted, there are other passes archived as part of the same collection, the Pringle Papers. However, there is no pass for Kaatje among them, which raises the question of what the criteria were for passes being required of some persons but not others, remembering that in that time and place working age might start as early as 6 or 7. While most likely the explanation is that Kaatje was an infant and did not need a pass, this makes the puzzle of her father looking after her with no other family member in the frame more puzzling.

2.10 Galy is described as being about 45, 5 foot 6 inches tall, with an oval face and yellow complexion, having a daughter, not having a wife. He is so to speak looked upon by a disembodied official eye and described for the reader of the pass, presumptively a white settler reader who needed to know its legality in relation to being able to recognise the person of Galy. Galy himself has no agentic presence and he makes no mark in the literal or the figurative sense of the word. He is looked upon and written upon. This is very different from labour contracts under the same ordinances, with the form for a labour contract having a printed heading to record a mark or signature so as to indicate both the presence of and the agreement by the person concerned, as shown regarding the aforementioned contract between Tepa and Dods Pringle.

2.11 Why the difference, given the Cape legislation was so closely linked?

3. Passes, contracts

3.1 A pass is attached to a person, a person out of place. While the person is identified around them belonging to different groups – in Galy’s case, a personal lineage and also a people or nation – neither the place that Galy is travelling from nor the place he is going to is identified. Aldrich certifies that Galy is legitimately ‘there’, but without this there being specifically pinned down. In a sense, the pass here is a way to legitimise movement from one place to another, which latter is in a formal sense unsanctioned until certificated.

3.2 The contract at this point in time in the Cape ordinances is a kind of extrapolation: once out of (black) place, it legalises someone’s labour being pinned to another (white) place for a certified period and a certified payment. Movement followed by containment through regulation. Racialisation often depends upon the bureaucratisation of everyday life and labour in this way.

4. After, for the Thembu

4.1 Tensions between the Thembu groups increased when Mtirara, the Thembu paramount, came of age, with this impacting earlier distributions of power and encouraging weaponizing. Lesser chiefs entered into arrangements with Boer farmers who traded guns for cattle, leased land etc. Qwesha’s downfall came from encouraging trade in guns and cattle with the Boers, then being on the losing side. Violence came from the intermeshing of Boer guns, Thembu internal disputes, and the British treaty system. Relatedly, his defeat in the War of the Axe was the end for a senior Thembu leader, Maphasa. At the end of this war, in late 1852 Governor Sir George Cathcart proclaimed the forfeit of Maphasa’s land and that his people were to be dispersed.

4.2 No wonder that in some areas of southern Africa subsequently the word Tambookie became used of loose groupings of people who were refugees from warfare.

5. Passes in other places, other times

5.1 In another Trace, passes in the Transvaal for more routine kinds of movement from A to B, for example as signed off by Mary McCorkindale, the aunt of Kate Forbes, are discussed. There were also different kinds of passes, with a letter in the Forbes Collection among other things concerned with the attempt to introduce a Transvaal system of certification and regulation in 1880, and changes in the more everyday routine kinds of passes over time, and there is a Trace on this too.

6. Useful reading

C. Crais, 1992 The Making of the Colonial Order: White Supremacy and Black Resistance in the Eastern Cape, 1770–1865 (Johannesburg, Witwatersrand University Press)

E. Elbourne, 2003, ‘The Sin of the Settler: the 1835–36 Select Committee on Aborigines and Debates over Virtue and Conquest in the Early Nineteenth Century British White Settler Empire’, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 4:3, pp. 1–49.

Anne Mager (2013) Colonial Conquest and the Tambookie Frontier: The Story of Maphasa, c.1830–1853, Journal of Southern African Studies, 39:2, 251-270, DOI: 10.1080/03057070.2013.795808

Anne Kelk Mager (2014) Gungubele and the Tambookie Location 1853–1877: End of a Colonial Experiment, Journal of Southern African Studies, 40:6, 1159-1176, DOI: 10.1080/03057070.2014.968996

Richard Price, 2008, Making Empire: Colonial Encounters and the Creation of Imperial Rule in Nineteenth Century Africa (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

R. Ross, 2014, The Borders of Race in Colonial South Africa: the Kat River Settlement, 1829–1856 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

T. Stapleton, 1994, Maqoma: Xhosa Resistance to Colonial Advance 1798–1873 (Johannesburg, Jonathan Ball).

T.J. Stapleton, 2001, Faku: Rulership and Colonialism in the Mpondo Kingdom (c.1780–1867) (Ontario, Wilfred Laurier University Press).


Last updated: 30 January 2020


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