Cape Colony

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Cape Colony
Kaapkolonie  (Dutch)
Anthem:  God Save the King (1795–1837; 1901–1910)
God Save the Queen (1837–1901)
Suedafrika 1885.jpg
The Cape of Good Hope in 1885
Status Crown colony of the British Empire
Capital Cape Town
Common languages English, Dutch [lower-alpha 1]
Khoekhoe, Xhosa also spoken
Ethnic groups
Dutch Reformed Church, Anglican, San religion
Government Self-governing colony under Constitutional monarchy
George III
George IV
William IV
Edward VII
George Macartney
Walter Hely-Hutchinson
Prime Minister  
John Charles Molteno
John X. Merriman
Historical era Imperialism
1822 [1] 331,907 km2 (128,150 sq mi)
 1822 [1]
 1865 census [2] [3]
 1875 census [3]
 1891 census [3]
 1904 census [3]
CurrencyPound sterling
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Flag of the Netherlands.svg Dutch Cape Colony
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg British Bechuanaland
Union of South Africa South Africa Flag 1910-1912.svg
Basutoland Unofficial Basutoland Ensign.svg
Today part of Namibia [lower-alpha 2]
South Africa
Lesotho [lower-alpha 3]
Map of the Cape of Good Hope in 1885 (blue). The area of Griqualand East is large, while the southern half of Bechuanaland Protectorate has been annexed as British Bechuanaland. SouthAfrica1885.svg
Map of the Cape of Good Hope in 1885 (blue). The area of Griqualand East is large, while the southern half of Bechuanaland Protectorate has been annexed as British Bechuanaland.

The Cape Colony (Dutch : Kaapkolonie), also known as the Cape of Good Hope, was a British colony in present-day South Africa named after the Cape of Good Hope, which existed from 1795 to 1802, and again from 1806 to 1910, when it united with three other colonies to form the Union of South Africa.


The British colony was preceded by an earlier corporate colony that became an original Dutch colony of the same name, which was established in 1652 by the Dutch East India Company (VOC). The Cape was under VOC rule from 1652 to 1795 and under rule of the Napoleonic Batavia Republic from 1803 to 1806. [4] The VOC lost the colony to Great Britain following the 1795 Battle of Muizenberg, but it was acceded to the Batavia Republic following the 1802 Treaty of Amiens. It was re-occupied by the British following the Battle of Blaauwberg in 1806, and British possession affirmed with the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814. The Cape of Good Hope then remained in the British Empire, becoming self-governing in 1872.

The colony was coextensive with the later Cape Province, stretching from the Atlantic coast inland and eastward along the southern coast, constituting about half of modern South Africa: the final eastern boundary, after several wars against the Xhosa, stood at the Fish River. In the north, the Orange River, natively known as the ǂNūǃarib (Black River) and subsequently called the Gariep River, served as the boundary for some time, although some land between the river and the southern boundary of Botswana was later added to it. From 1878, the colony also included the enclave of Walvis Bay and the Penguin Islands, both in what is now Namibia.

It united with three other colonies to form the Union of South Africa in 1910. It then was renamed the Province of the Cape of Good Hope. [5] South Africa became a sovereign state in 1931 by the Statute of Westminster. In 1961, it became the Republic of South Africa. Following the 1994 creation of the present-day South African provinces, the Cape Province was partitioned into the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, and Western Cape, with smaller parts in North West province.


VOC settlement

An expedition of the VOC led by Jan van Riebeeck established a trading post and naval victualing station at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652. [6] Van Riebeeck's objective was to secure a harbour of refuge for VOC ships during the long voyages between Europe and Asia. [6] Within about three decades, the Cape had become home to a large community of vrijlieden, also known as vrijburgers ('free citizens'), former VOC employees who settled in the colonies overseas after completing their service contracts. [7] Vrijburgers were mostly married citizens who undertook to spend at least twenty years farming the land within the fledgling colony's borders; in exchange they received tax exempt status and were loaned tools and seeds. [8] Reflecting the multi-national nature of the early trading companies, the VOC granted vrijburger status to Dutch, Scandinavian and German employees, among others. [9] In 1688 they also sponsored the immigration of nearly two hundred French Huguenot refugees who had fled to the Netherlands upon the Edict of Fontainebleau. [10] There was a degree of cultural assimilation due to Dutch cultural hegemony that included the almost universal adoption of the Dutch language. [11]

Many of the colonists who settled directly on the frontier became increasingly independent and localised in their loyalties. [12] Known as Boers , they migrated westwards beyond the Cape Colony's initial borders and had soon penetrated almost a thousand kilometres inland. [13] Some Boers even adopted a nomadic lifestyle permanently and were denoted as trekboers . [14] The VOC colonial period had a number of bitter, genocidal conflicts between the colonists and the Khoe-speaking indigenes, [15] followed by the Xhosa, both of which they perceived as unwanted competitors for prime farmland. [14]

VOC traders imported thousands of enslaved people to the Cape of Good Hope from the Dutch East Indies and other parts of Africa. [16] By the end of the eighteenth century the Cape's population swelled to about 26,000 people of European descent and 30,000 enslaved people. [17] [18]

British conquest

In 1795, France occupied the Seven Provinces of the Dutch Republic, the mother country of the Dutch United East India Company. This prompted Great Britain to occupy the Cape Colony in 1795 as a way to better control the seas in order to stop any potential French attempt to reach India. The British sent a fleet of nine warships which anchored at Simon's Town and, following the defeat of the VOC militia at the Battle of Muizenberg, took control of the territory. The United East India Company transferred its territories and claims to the Batavian Republic (the Revolutionary period Dutch state) in 1798, and went bankrupt in 1799. Improving relations between Britain and Napoleonic France, and its vassal state the Batavian Republic, led the British to hand the Cape of Good Hope over to the Batavian Republic in 1803, under the terms of the Treaty of Amiens.

In 1806, the Cape, now nominally controlled by the Batavian Republic, was occupied again by the British after their victory in the Battle of Blaauwberg. The temporary peace between the UK and Napoleonic France had crumbled into open hostilities, whilst Napoleon had been strengthening his influence on the Batavian Republic (which Napoleon would subsequently abolish and directly administer later the same year). The British, who set up a colony on 8 January 1806,[ citation needed ] hoped to keep Napoleon out of the Cape, and to control the Far East trade routes.

The Cape Colony at the time of British occupation was three months' sailing distance from London. The White colonial population was small, no more than 25,000 in all, scattered across a territory of 100,000 square miles. Most lived in Cape Town and the surrounding farming districts of the Boland, an area favoured with rich soils, a Mediterranean Climate and reliable rainfall. Cape Town had a population of 16,000 people. [19] In 1814 the Dutch government formally ceded sovereignty over the Cape to the British, under the terms of the Convention of London.

British colonisation

The British started to settle the eastern border of the cape colony, with the arrival in Port Elizabeth of the 1820 Settlers. They also began to introduce the first rudimentary rights for the Cape's Black African population and, in 1834, abolished slavery; however, the government proved unable to rein in settler violence against the San, which continued largely unabated as it had during the Dutch period. [20] The resentment that the Boers felt against this social change, as well as the imposition of English language and culture, caused them to trek inland en masse. This was known as the Great Trek, and the migrating Boers settled inland, eventually forming the Boer Republics.

Skirmish during the Xhosa Wars Lucas1861, pg061 A SKIRCMICH IN THE OPEN.jpg
Skirmish during the Xhosa Wars

British Immigration continued in the Cape, even as many of the Boers continued to trek inland, and the ending of the British East India Company's monopoly on trade led to economic growth.

At the same time, the long series of Xhosa Wars fought between the Xhosa people in the east and the government of the Cape Colony as well as Boer settlers finally died down when the Xhosa took part in a mass destruction of their own crops and cattle, in the belief that this would cause their ancestors to wake from the dead. The resulting famine crippled Xhosa country and ushered in a long period of stability on the border.

Peace and prosperity led to a desire for political independence. In 1853, the Cape Colony became a British Crown colony with representative government. [21] In 1854, the Cape of Good Hope elected its first parliament, on the basis of the multi-racial Cape Qualified Franchise. Cape residents qualified as voters based on a universal minimum level of property ownership, regardless of race.

Mossel Bay on the Indian Ocean, 1818 Visite, pg164 Mossel Bay on the Indian Ocean.jpg
Mossel Bay on the Indian Ocean, 1818
Table Bay, Cape Town, circa 1832 Samuel Walters - merchantman Duke of Lancaster.jpg
Table Bay, Cape Town, circa 1832

Executive power remaining completely in the authority of the British governor did not relieve tensions in the colony between its eastern and western sections. [22]

Responsible government

In 1872, after a long political battle, the Cape of Good Hope achieved responsible government under its first Prime Minister, John Molteno. Henceforth, an elected Prime Minister and his cabinet had total responsibility for the affairs of the country. A period of strong economic growth and social development ensued, and the eastern-western division was largely laid to rest. The system of multi-racial franchise also began a slow and fragile growth in political inclusiveness, and ethnic tensions subsided. [23] In 1877, the state expanded by annexing Griqualand West and Griqualand East [24] – that is, the Mount Currie district (Kokstad). The emergence of two Boer mini-republics along the Missionary Road resulted in 1885 in the Warren Expedition, sent to annex the republics of Stellaland and Goshen (lands annexed to British Bechuanaland). Major-General Charles Warren annexed the land south of the Molopo River as the colony of British Bechuanaland and proclaimed a protectorate over the land lying to the North of the river. Vryburg, the capital of Stellaland, became capital of British Bechuanaland, while Mafeking (now Mahikeng), although situated south of the protectorate border, became the protectorate's administrative centre. The border between the protectorate and the colony ran along the Molopo and Nossob rivers. In 1895 British Bechuanaland became part of the Cape Colony.

However, the discovery of diamonds around Kimberley and gold in the Transvaal led to a return to instability, particularly because they fuelled the rise to power of the ambitious imperialist Cecil Rhodes. On becoming the Cape's Prime Minister in 1890, he instigated a rapid expansion of British influence into the hinterland. In particular, he sought to engineer the conquest of the Transvaal, and although his ill-fated Jameson Raid failed and brought down his government, it led to the Second Boer War and British conquest at the turn of the century. The politics of the colony consequently came to be increasingly dominated by tensions between the British colonists and the Boers. Rhodes also brought in the first formal restrictions on the political rights of the Cape of Good Hope's black African citizens. [25]

The Cape of Good Hope remained nominally under British rule until the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, when it became the Province of the Cape of Good Hope, better known as the Cape Province.



Tallis Map of the Cape Colony, 1850. 1850 Tallis Map of the Cape Colony.png
Tallis Map of the Cape Colony, 1850.

The districts of the colony in 1850 were:


Population Figures for the 1865, 1875, 1891 and 1904 censuses. [3] Groups marked "nd" are Not Distinguished in the censuses for those years.

Population group1865 Census [3] 1875 Census [3] 1891 Census [3] 1904 Census [26] [3]
Black nd*287,63939.89838,13654.871,424,78759.12
White 181,59236.58236,78332.84376,98724.68579,74124.05
Coloured nd*196,56227.26310,40120.32395,03416.39
Asian nd*nd*1,7000.1110,2420.42

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Boers</span> Descendants of Afrikaners beyond the Cape Colony frontier

Boers are the descendants of the Dutch-speaking Free Burghers of the eastern Cape frontier in Southern Africa during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. From 1652 to 1795, the Dutch East India Company controlled this area, but the United Kingdom incorporated it into the British Empire in 1806. The name of the group is derived from "boer", which means "farmer" in Dutch and Afrikaans.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of South Africa</span> South African history

The first modern humans are believed to have inhabited South Africa more than 100,000 years ago. South Africa's prehistory has been divided into two phases based on broad patterns of technology namely the Stone Age and Iron Age. After the discovery of hominins at Taung and australopithecine fossils in limestone caves at Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, and Kromdraai these areas were collectively designated a World Heritage site. The first nations of South Africa are collectively referred to as the Khoisan, the Khoi Khoi and the San separately. These groups were displaced or sometimes absorbed by migrating Africans (Bantus) during the Bantu expansion from Western and Central Africa. While some maintained separateness, others were grouped into a category known as Coloureds, a multiracial ethnic group which includes people with shared ancestry from two or more of these groups: Khoisan, Bantu, English, Afrikaners, Austronesians, East Asians and South Asians. European exploration of the African coast began in the 13th century when Portugal committed itself to discover an alternative route to the silk road that would lead to China. In the 14th and 15th century, Portuguese explorers traveled down the west African Coast, detailing and mapping the coastline and in 1488 they rounded the Cape of Good Hope. The Dutch East India Company established a trading post in Cape Town under the command of Jan van Riebeeck in 1652, European workers who settled at the Cape became known as the Free Burghers and gradually established farms in the Dutch Cape Colony.

The written history of the Cape Colony in what is now South Africa began when Portuguese navigator Bartolomeu Dias became the first modern European to round the Cape of Good Hope in 1488. In 1497, Vasco da Gama sailed along the whole coast of South Africa on his way to India, landed at St Helena Bay for 8 days, and made a detailed description of the area. The Portuguese, attracted by the riches of Asia, made no permanent settlement at the Cape Colony. However, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) settled the area as a location where vessels could restock water and provisions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Great Trek</span> 1836–1852 Boer migrations away from the British Cape Colony

The Great Trek was a Northward migration of Dutch-speaking settlers who travelled by wagon trains from the Cape Colony into the interior of modern South Africa from 1836 onwards, seeking to live beyond the Cape's British colonial administration. The Great Trek resulted from the culmination of tensions between rural descendants of the Cape's original European settlers, known collectively as Boers, and the British Empire. It was also reflective of an increasingly common trend among individual Boer communities to pursue an isolationist and semi-nomadic lifestyle away from the developing administrative complexities in Cape Town. Boers who took part in the Great Trek identified themselves as voortrekkers, meaning "pioneers", "pathfinders" in Dutch and Afrikaans.

The year 1870 in the history of the Cape Colony marks the dawn of a new era in South Africa, and it can be said that the development of modern South Africa began on that date. Despite political complications that arose from time to time, progress in Cape Colony continued at a steady pace until the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer Wars in 1899. The discovery of diamonds in the Orange River in 1867 was immediately followed by similar finds in the Vaal River. This led to the rapid occupation and development of huge tracts of the country, which had hitherto been sparsely inhabited. Dutoitspan and Bultfontein diamond mines were discovered in 1870, and in 1871 the even richer mines of Kimberley and De Beers were discovered. These four great deposits of mineral wealth were incredibly productive, and constituted the greatest industrial asset that the Colony possessed.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Trekboers</span>

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This is a survey of the postage stamps and postal history of Bechuanaland Protectorate.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Afrikaners</span> Southern African ethnic group descended from predominantly Dutch settlers

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">South African Wars (1879–1915)</span> Series of conflicts

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The Cape Colony was a Dutch United East India Company (VOC) colony in Southern Africa, centered on the Cape of Good Hope, from where it derived its name. The original colony and its successive states that the colony was incorporated into occupied much of modern South Africa. Between 1652 and 1691 it was a Commandment, and between 1691 and 1795 a Governorate of the United East India Company (VOC). Jan van Riebeeck established the colony as a re-supply and layover port for vessels of the VOC trading with Asia. The Cape came under VOC rule from 1652 to 1795 and from 1803 to 1806 was ruled by the Batavian Republic. Much to the dismay of the shareholders of the VOC, who focused primarily on making profits from the Asian trade, the colony rapidly expanded into a settler colony in the years after its founding.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jacobus Wilhelmus Sauer</span>

Jacobus Wilhelmus ("J.W.") Sauer, was a prominent liberal politician of the Cape Colony. He served as Minister in multiple Cape governments, and was influential in several unsuccessful attempts to enshrine equal political rights for black South Africans in the constitution of the Union of South Africa. He was also a strong early supporter of women's rights and suffrage.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Invasion of the Cape Colony</span> British invasion of the Dutch Cape Colony in 1795

The Invasion of the Cape Colony, also known as the Battle of Muizenberg, was a British military expedition launched in 1795 against the Dutch Cape Colony at the Cape of Good Hope. The Dutch colony at the Cape, established and controlled by the United East India Company in the seventeenth century, was at the time the only viable South African port for ships making the journey from Europe to the European colonies in the East Indies. It therefore held vital strategic importance, although it was otherwise economically insignificant. In the winter of 1794, during the French Revolutionary Wars, French troops entered the Dutch Republic, which was reformed into the Batavian Republic. In response, Great Britain launched operations against the Dutch Empire to use its facilities against the French Navy.



  1. Dutch was the sole official language until 1822, when the British officially replaced Dutch with English. [lower-alpha 4] Dutch was reincluded as a second official language in 1882.
  2. Penguin Islands and Walvis Bay
  3. Basutoland was annexed to the Cape Colony in 1871, before becoming a Crown colony in 1884. See "Lesotho: History". The Commonwealth. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
  4. Farlam 2001, pp. 87–88.


  1. 1 2 Wilmot & Chase 1869, p. 268.
  2. Cape of Good Hope 1866, p. 11.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Malherbe 1939, p. 1038.
  4. Heese 1971, p. 15.
  5. Keltie & Epstein 1920, p. 222.
  6. 1 2 Hunt 2005, pp. 13–15.
  7. Parthesius 2010.
  8. Lucas 2004, pp. 29–33.
  9. Worden 2010, pp. 94–140.
  10. Lambert 2009, pp. 32–34.
  11. Mbenga & Giliomee 2007, pp. 59–60.
  12. Ward 2009, pp. 322–342.
  13. Greaves 2013, pp. 36–35.
  14. 1 2 Stapleton 2010, pp. 4–6.
  15. Adhikari, Mohamed (27 September 2010). "A total extinction confidently hoped for: the destruction of Cape San society under Dutch colonial rule, 1700–1795". Journal of Genocide Research. 12 (1–2): 19–44. doi:10.1080/14623528.2010.508274 . Retrieved 10 April 2022.
  16. Worden 2010, pp. 40–43.
  17. Lloyd 1997, pp. 201–206.
  18. Cana 1911.
  19. Meredith 2007, p. 1.
  20. Penn, Nigel (22 May 2013). "The British and the 'Bushmen': the massacre of the Cape San, 1795 to 1828". Journal of Genocide Research. 15 (2): 183–200. doi:10.1080/14623528.2013.793081 . Retrieved 10 April 2022.
  21. Evans 1993, p. 576.
  22. Oakes 1992.
  23. Parsons 1993.
  24. Dugard 2006, p. 136.
  25. Ziegler 2008.
  26. Hancock 1962, p. 219.


Further reading

  • Beck, Roger B. (2000). The History of South Africa. Westport, CT: Greenwood. ISBN   0-313-30730-X
  • Davenport, T. R. H., and Christopher Saunders (2000). South Africa: A Modern History, 5th ed. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN   0-312-23376-0.
  • Elbourne, Elizabeth (2002). Blood Ground: Colonialism, Missions, and the Contest for Christianity in the Cape Colony and Britain, 1799–1853. McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN   0-7735-2229-8
  • Le Cordeur, Basil Alexander (1981). The War of the Axe, 1847: Correspondence between the governor of the Cape Colony, Sir Henry Pottinger, and the commander of the British forces at the Cape, Sire George Berkeley, and others. Brenthurst Press. ISBN   0-909079-14-5
  • Mabin, Alan (1983). Recession and its aftermath: The Cape Colony in the eighteen eighties. University of the Witwatersrand, African Studies Institute.
  • Ross, Robert, and David Anderson (1999). Status and Respectability in the Cape Colony, 1750–1870 : A Tragedy of Manners. Cambridge University Press. ISBN   0-521-62122-4.
  • Theal, George McCall (1970). History of the Boers in South Africa; Or, the Wanderings and Wars of the Emigrant Farmers from Their Leaving the Cape Colony to the Acknowledgment of Their Independence by Great Britain. Greenwood Press. ISBN   0-8371-1661-9.
  • Van Der Merwe, P.J., Roger B. Beck (1995). The Migrant Farmer in the History of the Cape Colony. Ohio University Press. ISBN   0-8214-1090-3
  • Worden, Nigel; Van Heyningen, E.; Bickford-Smith, Vivian (1998). Cape Town: The Making of a City : an Illustrated Social History. David Philip. ISBN   978-0-86486-435-2.

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