Mar 3, 2011

Unofficial historical facts about the Cape – South Africa (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1

Lancaster proved a real leader. He landed and personally opened negotiations with the Khoikhoi by distributing presents. Soon trading was under way. From Davys Lancaster knew of the Dutch ambush and took suitable precautions - at no time were more than five or six men bartering, whilst a guard of thirty men stood by with loaded weapons. The result was complete harmony in trade relations. On 29 October the squadron left.

Only five weeks after the departure of the English, on 3 December 1601, a Dutch squadron arrived in Table Bay. Consisting of three ships under the command of Joris van Spilbergen, they had made their land fall too far north; in beating south Van Spilbergen noticed the entrance to a large bay, the present Saldanha Bay (then unknown). Believing this to be the Aguada de Saldanha, where he had no intention of touching after De Houtman’s unfortunate experience, Van Spilbergen continued southward and in due course sighted Table Mountain. Assuming he had discovered a new bay, Van Spilbergen anchored in it and called it “Tafel Baay”.

Thus both Saldanha Bay and Table Bay received their names in error: the genuine Aguada de Saldanha, which the English continued to call “Soldania” for many years, is known today by the name given to it in error in 1601, whilst the bay far to the north, which De Saldanha had never seen, is known as Saldanha Bay.

In the same way that the D’Almeida affair discouraged the Portuguese from using Table Bay, so the massacre of De Houtman’s men in 1598 decided the Dutch against using the bay. Fleet after fleet of Dutch ships sailed round the Cape, sometimes stopping at Mossel Bay on the outward voyage, but mostly continuing past the South African shore without pause.

It was left to the English to utilise the bay that the Portuguese had found and the Dutch named. For some twenty years a succession of English fleets called at Table Bay. Almost all belonged to the English East India Company, and they were commanded by some of the most famous Englishmen of the day, including Lancaster, Sir Henry and David Middleton, Sir Edward Michelborne, and Richard Hawkins.

The prime purpose of the English visitors was to obtain fresh water, and - if possible - fresh meat. Water was no problem at all and every ship was able to obtain its fill, but fresh meat depended largely on the current relations with the Khoikhoi. Thus Sir Henry Middleton, in 1604, bartered some 187 sheep, and relations were very cordial, since all trading took place within easy reach of armed men from the ship. Then Middleton made the mistake of sending a dozen unarmed men in land to barter cattle. They bought and paid for the cattle, but the Khoikhoi could not resist the temptation to take them back forcibly from this weak party. Middleton immediately sent an armed party, which returned with a hundred head of cattle of which they had taken possession. This brush temporarily ruptured relations, but when the next year’s fleet amity was restored.

As the same ships called again and again, the Khoikhoi began to recognise individual sailors with whom they formed tenuous friendships.

The English too, were learning the diplomatic way of dealing with Khoikhoi. John Jourdain, who visited the Cape in 1608, says:
“And many times, having sold them to us, if we looked not the better to them they would steal them again from us and bring them again to sell; which we were fain with patience to buy again of them, without giving any foul language, for fear lest they would bring us no more. As likewise, if they stole anything, if it were of small value, we would not meddle with them but suffer them to carry it away; which they took very kindly, in so much that they brought such plenty down, more than we were able to tell what to do with all…”
Nevertheless, all barter was at the whim of the Khoikhoi, and fresh meat could not be depended on; nor for that matter could the sailors obtain fresh fruit or vegetables. Was it not worthwhile establishing a settlement at the Cape?

In 1608 John Jourdain had also written:
“… being planted and sown in due times, and kept as it ought to be, if this country were inhabited by a civilised nation, having a castle or fort for defence against the outrage of these heathenish people, and to withstand any foreign force, in a short time it might be brought to some (civilisation) and within a few years able of itself to furnish all ships’ refreshments…”
Whilst this was perfectly true, Sir Thomas Smythe, founder of the English East India Company, considered it too expensive. In his opinion the problem was really one of communication: since the English could make nothing of the Khoikhoi language with its clicks, why should the Khoikhoi not learn English?

So when the Hector dropped anchor in Table Bay in May 1613 on her homeward voyage, Captain Towerson was in possession of confidential instructions. The usual quota of sick men were landed, and soon the Khoikhoi made their appearance. Towerson invited the Khoikhoi chief Corey (Xhore), and some of his men aboard the Hector, where he wined and dined them. Complete trust was soon established and Corey became a regular visitor to the Hector. Powerson had little difficulty, when he finally weighed anchor, in keeping Corey and one of his men aboard, probably blind drunk.

The two Khoikhoi proved difficult prisoners, and Corey’s companion starved himself to death on the voyage. Corey survived, for he was made of sterner stuff - besides he was extremely inquisitive. Arriving in England, Corey was given ‘red carpet” treatment, for he lodged in Smythe’s house and the latter supervised Corey’s lessons. Attired as a gentleman of fashion, Corey went everywhere with Smythe, and everywhere he was a sensation: he attended performances of Shakespeare’s plays at the Globe Theatre, and was even presented to the King.

Unfortunately his English lessons seem to have been somewhat unsuccessful, though Smythe suspected that Corey understood more than he admitted, and was deliberately appearing stupid. But time passed, and Smythe was still not able to converse with his guest in English. Eventually Smythe accepted that the attempt had failed, and in February 1614 Corey sailed for the Cape once more aboard the Hector.
They reached Table Bay in June 1614 to find the beach deserted. This was a direct result of Corey’s kidnapping, for since he had disappeared the Khoikhoi had been very cool towards the English. Corey was accordingly taken ashore and set free. Magnificent in a suit of brass armour, which had been made for him in England, and carrying a brass spear, he set off for his kraal, promising the ship’s captain to return with cattle.

Corey did not come back, confirming the captain’s fear that the Khoikhoi would not accept Corey back, but would kill him. The fear was groundless - invulnerable in shining armour, and returned from the dead, Corey was not only accepted but venerated. However, Corey had had enough of England - he kept well clear until the disgruntled English fleet sailed

Not only had Smythe’s scheme failed with Corey, but he had damaged the trading pattern at the Cape, for Corey knew the real value of copper now, and the exchange rate for cattle was to rise steeply from then on. But one does not get to be the head of a large commercial enterprise without being resourceful, and Smythe had another shot in his locker.

The story continues here (final)



as sourced from chapter 2 from the book: The unofficial history of the Cape, by Jose Burman
Copyright 1992 by Jose Burman
First Edition in 1992 by Human & Rousseau (Pty) Ltd
State House, 3-9 Rose Street, Cape Town
Cover illustration by Tony Grogan

ISBN: 0-7981-2968-9