Mar 3, 2011

Unofficial historical facts about the Cape – South Africa (Part 3)

Continued from Part 2

Click here if you’ve missed Part 1

In 1611 Thomas Aldworth, one of the senior merchants who visited the Cape wrote a personal letter to Sir Thomas in which he said:
“It seems desirable to me to advise your Worship of one thing which appears to be very important, which is to establish a settlement at the Cape of Good Hope, which could easily be done by carrying out, each year, on the ships coming here, a hundred men to leave there in passing… and if his Majesty were pleased to commission four or five prudent persons of London to choose a hundred each year from those sentenced, and send them to the new settlement, without doubt the said convicts would not lack friends who would give each of them eighty ducats which would suffice for their transportation.”
The idea of “transportation” was not entirely new, for as long ago as 1597 Queen Elizabeth’s parliament had passed an act authorising judges to sentence wrongdoers to transportation as an alternative to the death sentence. With the lack of new foreign settlements, this law had not been put into operation, but Smythe now decided to use it.

Accordingly we find King James granting a reprieve in January 1615 to seventeen Newgate men who had been sentenced to death. They were handed into the custody of the English East India Company,and sailed from England in February 1615 - the first party of English convicts ever to have been “transported”.

The fleet reached Table Bay on 5 June 1615 - a good voyage, since they “only buried three or four men”. There were, however, some thirty “sick and crazy”. A meeting of ship’s captains was held to decide whether to land the convicts. There was disagreement so eventually Captain Keeling of the Dragon, into whose custody the convicts had been given, agreed to land only ten of them.

The names of the Huguenots who came out to the Cape in 1688 are common knowledge, and every 1820 Settler is carefully recorded in our history; but how many people know the names of the first South African settlers - those of 1615?

According to Samuel Purchas in his book Purchas his pligrimes the ten men landed at the Cape were Henry Cocket, Clerke, John Crosse, Brand, Bouth, Hunnyard, Brigs, Pets, Metcalfe, and Skilligar. On the instructions of the Fleet Council the men chose a leader. Their choice fell on John Crosse; nor was this surprising, for in an assembly of petty thieves three factors singled Crosse out: firstly he was a gentleman rogue; secondly, he had twice killed men in duels; and he was a highwayman - the elite among robbers.

The Fleet Admiral, Walter Peyton, admitted that the supplies given to the unfortunate Cape settlers were distinctly meagre: each man was given a weapon in the form of a half-pike or cutlass, as well as two knives, but no firearms were provided. Each was allowed a canvas knapsack, three pounds of bread and some fish. Some of the more compassionate passengers provided them with a little wine and brandy. Enough canvas for a small tent was provided, as well as half a peck of turnip seeds and a spade. The convicts were given a lecture on the magnanimity which had spared their lives, and made to promise that they would undertake a journey of discovery into the hinterland. Having thus discharged its duty, the fleet sailed for India on 20 June 1615, with the consciousness of a job well done.

Fortunately for the first Cape settlers they were not left entirely to their own resources when the fleet sailed. Three days earlier the Merchants Hope had arrived from India, and she still lay at anchor in the bay. That same afternoon Edward Dodsworth, captain of the Merchants Hope, came ashore in search of refreshments for his crew. Dodsworth knew Corey personally, having been aboard the Hector when Corey was kidnapped. He now wished to obtain sheep and cattle. Unfortunately Corey was nowhere to be seen, as the Khoikhoi had retired discreetly to their kraal a few days before the fleet sailed. Dodsworth accordingly asked Crosse to fetch Corey.

Anxious to please Dodsworth, Crosse sent four of his men off to Corey’s kraal. But either the Khoikhoi were afraid of more kidnappings, or they suspected the men left behind by the fleet, for the Newgate men were attacked, three being seriously injured. While the surgeon of the Merchants Hope was attending to the wounded men, Crosse made the most of his opportunity - he suggested to Dodsworth that if the latter would give him four guns, he would fetch Corey. To this Dodsworth agreed and Crosse and his men marched off.

The mere sight of firearms proved enough, and Corey came meekly back to the bay. Corey claimed to be delighted to see Dodsworth and sent some of his followers to bring cattle. He apologised for not coming earlier, but stated that his friends had restrained him, presumably from fear of losing him again. Taxed with the attack on Crosses men he blamed other tribes of Khoikhoi.

Then Corey asked why the Newgate men had been left behind. Dodsworth told him that Sir Thomas Smythe had sent them and that others would be coming. Corey asked whether the men would have firearms, and Dodsworth assured him they would have four guns. Corey shook his head: “Six, give them six and they can live at my kraal and help me against my enemies.”  When Dodsworth sailed he left not only firearms and powder for the Newgate men, but also the ship’s longboat, so that Crosse could retire to Robben Island until his wounded men recovered.

With the departure of the Merchants Hope a veil descends on Crosse and his merry men. Actually the prospects were not good, for the party was too small to have an impact on the Khoikhoi, and the choice of convicts as settlers was unsound.

On 19 March 1616 Captain Martin Pring arrived in Table Bay in the Gift, on his way back from the Indies. Corey came down to the beach a couple of days later and told him that Captain Crosse was living on Robben Island with eight men and a boy. Pring sent a pinnace over to the island, and it returned with three men in it. Their report was illuminating:
“… on Saturday last Captain Crosse with two others, their boat having split in pieces (on landing) made a Gingada (raft) of timber and had gotten halfway betwixt the island and the ship when two whales rose up by them, one of them so near that they struck him on the back with a wooden spit; after which they sank down and left them. Captain Crosse thus terrified with the whales, and benumbed with the water, returned to the island; and having shifted a shirt and refreshed himself, adventured the second time, giving charge to one of the company to have an eye on him so long as he could see him. This fellow saith he saw him a great way from the island, and on a sudden lost sight of him, which is the last news of him.”
Pring sailed with the three convicts, leaving the others still on the island. The three who sailed with Pring suffered a miserable fate. No sooner had they reached England than they deserted ashore, stole a purse to obtain money, and were caught. They were hanged.

As for the men left on Robben Island, their fate is a mystery. When the 1616 fleet under Benjamin Joseph reached Table Bay three months later, there was no sign of any survivors. Joseph was particularly in interested in the whereabouts of Crosse and his men, since he carried three more convicts as reinforcements. Although unable to find Crosse, Joseph decided to leave the reinforcements, but when they learnt of his intentions they begged him on bended knees to hang them instead. Joseph however, said he had no instructions to hang them but he did have instructions to leave them, and this he did, sailing on 20 June.

Fortunately for them the Swan was delayed for a couple of days and Captain Davys (De Houtman’s one-time pilot) took pity on them and carried them away to India.

The final chapter in the drama was written by Walter Peyton, who called at the Cape again in 1617. He records that “the black gent” (Corey) told him that a couple of the convicts were killed by hostile Hottentots, and the rest (amongst whom he mentioned Crosse) were taken away by a Portuguese ship. Peyton was dubious about this story, particularly as no Portuguese ships ever came to the Cape, and reports:
“but Corey nor none of his consorts never returned unto us, the reason whereof I cannot imagine except they have murdered the Newgate men we left there outward bound and now their guilty consciences accuse them, fearing revenge.”
The climax of the English attempts to take over the Cape came on 3 July 1620, when two English fleets lay at anchor, under command respectively of Andrew Shillinge and Humphrey Fitzherbert. There was also a Dutch fleet present and the two English admirals were told that the Dutch intended establishing a post at the Cape that year, after which the English would have to pay for all refreshment, including water.

To forestall this, and without any authority, Shillinge and Fitzherbert proclaimed the Cape to be territory annexed by King James, and erected a beacon of stones on Signal Hill which they named “King James His Mount”.

But the English had just suffered their first mauling at the hands of the Khoikhoi when eight men of the Rose were ambushed and killed. So King James ignored the unauthorised annexation and the initiative passed to the Dutch who duly colonised the Cape in 1652. The English had lost their opportunity to take the Cape - a costly omission, which would require two expeditions and a pitched battle to remedy.
--- THE END ---

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