Sept. 19th, 1849. — On board the Neptune. Simon’s Bay, Cape of Good Hope. Last night I wrote down my congratulations to Africa, and drank her health with enthusiasm.
The case is this — The colonists here are not content, and never were content, that their country should be made a penal settlement. The assumption that they were so was a lying pretence of the English newspapers, and a fraud of Earl Grey, the Colonial Minister. This “statesman” had publicly declared, two years ago, that no colony, not heretofore a penal one, should be made a receptacle for convicts without its own consent; on which promise the colonists here, like simple fools, had been relying; but the statesman afterwards, by the clandestine method of an “Order in Council,” just made the Cape a penal colony, and let the honest inhabitants know of it after he had settled everything and chartered a ship to carry the first cargo of felony to their shores. So, during the whole of our five months’ voyage, a most vehement excitement has been growing and spreading all over South Africa. The people have forced the Legislative Council to dissolve itself — the Governor, Sir Harry Smith, was compelled a month ago to promise that when the Neptune should arrive, he would not suffer one convict to land; and the colonists themselves, tradesmen, merchants, butchers, bakers, inn-keepers and all, have combined to a man in an universal “Anti-Convict Association,” vowing that they will neither employ any convict, sell anything to any convict, give a convict a place to lay his head, or deal with, countenance, or speak to, any traitor who may so comfort or abet a convict, from the governor down to the black coolies and boatmen. As we were so long at sea, the excitement and effective organisation had time to grow strong — newspapers, public meetings, pulpits, had been loud and furious; and so, when we, all unconscious, sailed up False Bay to-day, the Cape was fully ready for us. Before we made the harbour of Simon’s Bay (which is a small basin inside False Bay, about twenty miles from Capetown), the Neptune was known by her signals, and a boat from the shore hailed us. It was the harbour-master of Simon’s Bay bringing Dr. Dees a note from the governor, ordering him to cast anchor in the bay, and neither to go ashore himself nor suffer any communication between the ship and the shore till further orders. The same gentleman brought a bundle of Cape newspapers, that we might see the doings of the “Anti-Convict Association,” and how impossible it is for the cargo of felony to be unloaded here. Doctor Dees sends his despatches to the governor.
The harbour-master also handed me a letter from ——; and a gentleman who came off with him, introduced himself to me as Dr. Stewart, “health-officer” of the port; gave me some newspapers which he had brought for me, and told me, that so far as I am concerned there is no objection to my landing on the part of the people — that they understand quite well how I happen to be here, that none of this agitation, “of course,” has reference to me and so forth — adding somewhat of an apologetic nature about the popular violence. I told him I was delighted to find the colonists so determined to resist the abominable outrage attempted by “Government” — that they were completely in the right, and hoped they would stand out to the last extremity — that as to myself, though everybody indeed knew I was no felon, yet I could not expect the people here to make distinctions in my favour: they were engaged in a great struggle, involving the very existence of their society, and could not afford to attend to particular exceptions. He seemed surprised at my warmth; but I was willing to let the first Cape man who spoke to me, know what I think of the business.
The harbour-master informs me that every one at the Cape, knowing we had left Bermuda five months ago, had concluded that the ship must have gone down with all hands, and that so the Colony would be saved the struggle it has been preparing for. In fact, several clergymen have been praying to God in their pulpits, to avert the infliction, and, complacently remarking in their sermon upon the presumed loss of the Neptune, with every soul on board, as one of the most special Providences yet recorded. The same harbour-master tells me that about a week since, the Swift, a man-of-war brig, touched here and took in provisions, on her way to Sydney, having on board O’Brien, Meagher, O’Donoghue and MacManus — that he was the only person who saw them, and that the Swift remained but one day and part of the next.
Martin and O’Doherty were not on board: they, I presume, were stowed away in a common convict-ship. Being proprietors of newspapers, the “Government” wish to visit them with the uttermost disgrace of felony. This is because an honest man, armed with a newspaper, is the most dangerous enemy the persons called Government can have in Ireland at present; therefore, they do us the honour to dishonour us as far as they are able.
It was nearly dark when we got into the land-locked basin called Simon’s Bay; it seems to be surrounded by steep gloomy mountains; about a dozen large ships are in the bay, and the lights of the town appear within a quarter of a mile — a quarter of a mile, yet as far off as the Aurora Borealis: for it seems pretty certain that I shall never set foot upon African ground.
This is assuredly, in one point of view, a great disappointment to me: no man can guess what our ultimate destination may be: probably Australia; and of Australia I have ever felt the utmost abhorrence. It was always a matter of wonder to me that free emigrants with their families — people who might go if they liked to Dahomey or Whidah, or Nova Zembla, or Tierra del Fuego, went voluntarily to settle in a penal colony and adopt it for their country. To live among natural unsophisticated savages, though it were in Labrador or the Sahara, would be tolerable; but to dwell and rear one’s children amongst savages who are outcasts of civilisation, savages de-civilised — savages uniting more than the brutality of Timbuctoo with all the loathsome corruptions of London, is a nauseous and horrid idea. Yet I have inured myself to a wonderful indifference, and actually feel small concern about the whole matter. I am right well content that I so peremptorily forbade my own people to come out to the Cape to meet me for the present; and so long as it is but myself I have to care for, and my health stands firm, I find that I reck but little to what point of the compass this ominous ship shall next direct her bowsprit. Most strangely I feel this night a sort of joyful sensation — a pleasing sub-excitement — a warm glow in the region of the præcordia, that makes my blood to tingle. We have just fallen in here upon a very pleasant conjuncture in British colonial affairs; and if matters be, indeed, as I divine they are, we are going to see a handsome piece of work.
Plainly, the Governor of the Cape cannot take it upon him to send the ship away — certainly not to another colony — without orders from England; and we may lie here in a kind of moral quarantine for six months, before any decisive order arrives. Then there are many guesses, all equally probable, what that order will be: whether we are to be forwarded to Australia, brought back to Bermuda, summoned to the Thames, forced in upon the Cape, or consigned to some unheard-of country in the Pacific, or I know not where.
It is certain that the men in Downing Street will, with a very bad grace, yield to the Cape demands. I think they can hardly make up their minds to do it at all; the first impulse of Englishmen, in such cases, is always to bully. Yet, if they force this matter, it will be worse for the poor prisoners themselves, who are like to be dealt with on the footing of wolves or Caffirs. About the whole affair there is an utter and glorious uncertainty. The people, I trust, are in no uncertainty about their course of procedure.
The convicts do not yet know how the land lies, and are still making sure of going ashore to-morrow; but the “authorities” of the ship are looking blank at the thought of being imprisoned here, they know not how long. As for Dr. Dees, he is in pitiable consternation. The anxieties of his long voyage, and this unlooked-for reception, operating on a weak constitution and nervous temperament, threaten to make an invalid of him. He expected to meet here his brother, who is surgeon in Admiral Reynolds’s ship; but just three days before we arrived, the admiral was replaced by a commodore, and his ship sailed for Plate River. On the whole, the poor creature seems quite distracted to-night, and can hardly speak without weeping. That he, a British officer, executing the orders of his sovereign, should be regarded, on his arrival at a British colony, as if he were the captain of a Malay pirate ship! So we all have our own peculiar grievances.
Down plunges the Neptune’s bow anchor with its rattling chain cable, making the old ship quiver. Where next, then — in Moreton Bay or Port Philip, at the Falkland Isles, at Blackwall, or once more under the Bermuda cedar boscages — will that anchor make its next plunge? Gentlemen of Downing Street, here is a little matter for you to adjust, with your red tape, or other appliances. I have nothing to do with it; the onus is upon you; therefore I will quietly take a smoke, and wish you a difficult deliverance.
So we cast anchor, and wish for the day.
20th. — The sun rose to-day, quite as usual, without any apparent anxiety upon his countenance — “all unconcerned with our unrest” — and showed us where the ship is riding. Simon’s Bay is a cove, or recess, on the west side of the great False Bay, enclosed by rugged hills, from 800 to 1,400 feet in height; and the town, with its dockyard building, is built round the head of the bay, on the steep face of the hill, like a small Genoa. At one end of the town a deep ravine brings down a stream from the mountains, and close to its mouth stand a few trees. Several handsome houses, hotels, a good many shops, a church, a small barrack, a range of navy store-houses, make up the whole town; and three or four gardens have been made to climb up the abrupt acclivity behind, though for some of them the soil must have been carried up, not in carts, but in hods. There is about as much pasture near the water edge as might feed three cows. The trees are now in full leaf, and the grass, and the gardens, and the heath upon the mountains are all as green as emerald. The hills are everywhere tufted with low copse, the aborescent heaths of the Cape, and in some places are purple already with the wild geraniums, that make a South African wilderness to blossom like the rose. To the north, rising over all the rest, peeps one shoulder of Table Mountain, and on the eastern side of False Bay (about fifteen miles off), is a vast range of high and shaggy mountains, with splintered peaks and naked precipices. Along the head of False Bay lies a level tract of sandy-looking land; and beyond that, ridge rising over ridge, the far-off mountains of the interior, some of them with snow yet lying on their rugged and fantastic summits.
Simonstown is in evident excitement to-day; there is a public meeting, attended by a good many Capetown members of the “Anti-Convict Association,” who instantly posted down to hold a solemn council of war, in full view of the enemy. In Capetown itself, a great gong they have in the town-hall was last night made to sound in funereal wise (one beat in every half-minute), by order of the municipal authorities of the city; and this dismal tolling is to go on, day and night, while the Neptune remains within the limits of the colony. Simultaneous meetings are in all districts; orators roaring, and clergymen cursing louder than ever. The entire community seems to have but one thought, one purpose — the colony is bristling itself up into one resolute, strong-bristhng porcupine to repel the touch of this felonious gang. More Power!
We shall not hear to-day the decrees of the anti-convicts; but every one tells us there is absolute unanimity; so that I can guess there will be but little moderation.
Dr. Dees has received, this evening, a note from the governor acknowledging the receipt of the despatches, but intimating that he does not intend, for all the despatches, to relieve the doctor of his charge, nor to allow any one on board the Neptune to come ashore; that the doctor is therefore to consider himself under the orders of the commodore — who has his frigate lying at anchor beside us, and has supreme command over everything that is afloat in these waters — and to wait for further despatches from England.
21st. — Everything goes on favourably. The meeting yesterday resolved on applying the anti-convict “pledge” rigorously. The pledge is against selling anything to anybody on board the Neptune, or to anybody who will so deal, or to any one who will assist any convicted felon to land, or enable him to live when landed — or to the government, or anybody for the government, so long as the Neptune even remains afloat within the waters of the colony. All the Simonstown shopkeepers were made to sign this pledge on the spot, though sore against their will; for this little town depends wholly on the dockyard and the custom of men-of-war’s men. Watch has been set on shore (men with telescopes, called Committee of Vigilance) to keep a constant eye upon the Neptune and the boats to and fro — also, on the Simonstown shopkeepers, who need watching too. The commodore, indeed, yesterday sent us fresh beef for all hands, but a message with it that he could not hope to supply us for more than a day or two, as, if found out, he would get no more beef for himself and his crew. Indeed, he “threw in” this supply by stratagem, as they do for blockaded towns — ordering two days’ beef at once for his own ship, then slipping half of it over his deck into a boat on the side furthest from the town, and so to the Neptune.
The road to Capetown lies close along the beach, winding round the base of the mountains, being, in fact, the sea-sand moistened and hardened by the tide. Along this road there is now a continual posting, riding, and running. Two or three military persons one being Quarter-master General, and two medical officers, came on board the Neptune to-day, sent by the governor, to inspect. After they had examined the fore part of the ship, the state of the sick, and so forth, Dr. Dees came to me, saying the inspecting-officers wished to see me. Just as I was answering their questions about my health. Dr. Dees, who stood close by me, suddenly fell down, moaning and writhing in a frightful manner.
I thought it was a fit of epilepsy; but six hours have gone by, and he has never come to his senses, nor ceased from convulsive movements of the limbs. I fear the poor fellow will die. Lord Grey’s colonial experiment has destroyed him at any rate.
The excitement on shore seems to increase every hour. A cart of bread, on its way from Capetown for the supply of the navy, was stopped by a mob outside that town, and the governor was obliged to send with it an escort of troops.
I have got Cape newspapers for the last two months, and have been reading the proceedings of the various anti-convict associations within that time. In the remote parts of the colony the indignation and firm resolution of resistance are, if possible, more powerful and universal than even at Capetown. The Dutch inhabitants, who are three to one, are more desperately enraged than the English, and seem perfectly willing to resist by arms; indeed, they are so thoroughly disaffected to the British Government that they desire nothing better than a fair pretext for a quarrel. Both races, however, are unanimous upon this: the “pledge” has been adopted at all meetings; and nobody who travels through the country is to get provisions or lodgings for his money, or pasture for his bullocks, without producing a certificate in Dutch and English from the Anti-Convict Association of his own district that he is a pledged man — the pledge itself being printed in both languages on the back of the certificate. In some regions exclusively Dutch, the farmers flocked to the meetings from a distance of forty and fifty miles across mountains and Karroos, as they call the barren deserts of this country — “These simple people,” says the newspaper, “did not know what a convict was — had never heard of Earl Grey, or a Colonial Office, or Downing Street” — but when the matter was explained to them, how that a shipload of convicted criminals, Bandieten, from England and Ireland were sent by Graaf Grey to be let loose upon their country, and when the orators enlarged upon the circumstances and way of living of these colonists, dwelling on lonely farms, the men often from home for weeks together — often traversing unfrequented plains and mountain passes with their bullock-waggons as they carry their produce to the seaports — and when they reminded them that heretofore they have never needed lock or bar by day or night, nor felt a moment’s uneasiness when absent from their families — and then pictured the horrors of this bandit invasion, and told them terrific stories of the atrocities of Australian bush-rangers, until their imaginations were excited to the utmost, and they thought of Lord Grey’s “exiles” as a band of preternatural desperadoes, coming with an express mission to rob, ravish, bum, and murder — Donner en blitzen! the worthy farmers, in hot Dutch wrath, not only adopted the pledge by acclamation, and signed it on the spot, but swore, gutturally, lifting their hands to heaven, that they never would submit to this wrong — would renounce their allegiance rather, and take up their rifles to repel the felon invasion with more hearty goodwill than ever they had marched against Caffirs. And the stout Boers are like to be as good as their word: I trust they are — one would gladly fall in upon some comer of the world where men who threaten loud have some notion of putting their threats into execution.
It is to be remarked that the Dutch farmers here are all well-armed, all practised shots — never heard of a “Disarming Act,” and having been at various times organised in militia corps against the Caffirs, have some touch of military discipline, and a wholesome taste for powder and ball. Nobody ever explained to them that they herein commit a crime, and that he who commits a crime gives strength to the enemy.
In many districts, after the public meetings, they went straight to their places of worship, heard an Anti-Convict sermon, and prayed that the judgments which threaten the land might be averted. After describing one meeting of this sort, the newspaper breaks forth — “And thus ended the 18th of August. May it long be remembered in Zwartland. May fathers at their rising up and at their lying down, etc., etc.” Indeed, I have not seen more heroic phraseology anywhere, not even in the Nation, than these newspapers supply. They uniformly denounce the whole scheme as a deliberate fraud of Earl Grey (which it is), and charge him with direct Iying throughout. They say if the high-wrought civilisation of Britain breeds such a mass of crime, Britain ought to deal with her criminals herself, and not turn colonies which were established and peopled with quite other views and other hopes, into sinks or common sewers of felony — they say the Cape, like every other community, has its own delinquents to keep in order, and can neither afford to take charge of imported scoundrelism, nor bear to inoculate its society with fresh varieties of villainy — and surely in all this they say only what is right and reasonable. The British Government claim to be entitled to palm some of their convict rascality upon the Cape, because they supplied troops to save the Cape from Caffirs — but, say these newspapers, you did this to uphold British supremacy in Southern Africa, not to protect our households — and though it were not so, still we say, take your troops, take your ships: we will defend ourselves from the Caffirs; at the very worst, we prefer Caffirs to convicts.
Was there ever, since the beginning of the world, a juster cause than these colonists have now, to stir their blood?
But the agitation by no means confines itself now to the anti-convict question. On every side a cry is rising for a representative government, with control over supplies — they will be ruled no longer by red-tape puppies in Downing Street, and a British legislative coimcil at the Cape. Here is a resolution passed at a meeting in Worcester district, on the 11th August — (Mr. Petrus Jacobus de Vos, in the chair) —
“That the system by which the colony is at present governed is arbitrary and unjust in its nature, and that a more liberal system of government ought to be substituted. Further, that the present legislature has become un-adapted to the wants of the colony, and ought to be superseded by a representative constitution.”
Some similar resolution is now passed at every meeting.
In the meantime the “government” here is completely paralysed: the members of the legislative council have resigned: the executive council never meets; and the Colony is virtually without any government at all. The people are quietly but effectually taking all affairs into their own hands: all the banks and insurance offices have given notices that they will have no dealings with anybody who is not pledged, or who may supply the government in any manner, until after the Order in Council, making the Cape a penal colony, shall have been cancelled: and Sir Harry Smith, to “re-establish confidence,” has taken a questionable step — proclaimed that he is about to issue a government paper currency, to be advanced on such security as “a board of officers” shall approve, and to be exchangeable for taxes.
All this I have culled out of the newspapers: the agitation seems to have gone forward with still increasing violence till the day the Neptune sailed into port: and matters are now growing worse (or better) every day.
22nd. — No more fresh meat. The “Committee of Vigilance” found out the commodore’s manoeuvre, and now the people refuse to supply meat, or anything else, to the commodore himself or to any ship of the squadron — or any branch of the naval department. There are four ships of war lying here, with about nine hundred men, and they are all reduced to salt rations as well as we. By good luck there is great abundance of excellent fish in this bay: and one of the frigate’s boats has just drawn a noble draught of them. So we are supplied with fresh fish for to-morrow.
The Association at Capetown are now directing their whole energies to one point, to coerce the governor, by absolute starvation of the public services, to send the Neptune at once, somewhere, anywhere, out of the waters of the colony. They are applying the non-intercourse pledge in all its force. Contractors for the supply of all government departments have as one man declined to fulfil their contracts, preferring to forfeit the penalty in their bonds. Government has advertised for new tenders (by big painted placards, for no printer will print for a convict government) — not one tender sent in.
Even at Simonstown the people are compelled to enforce the pledge. The Neptune’s steward went ashore to-day, by a circuitous route, going first to the Minerva, an East Indiaman lying near us, then to the shore in the Minerva’s boat. He went to butcher’s shop; asked for mutton; the boy in attendance said he would sell him two pounds: steward said he wanted a leg of mutton; boy did not know; would call his master. The master came, and the steward pretended to fall into a violent passion. He was the steward, he said, of the Minerva; and were his cabin passengers, ladies and gentlemen from Madras, to be starved because a cargo of damned rascally convicts were lying in the bay? For all his passion, the butcher put him to a strict cross-examination, to make sure that he did not belong to the Neptune; and eventually the steward carried off the leg of mutton
This is all, perhaps, a rather serious business, and likely to be more serious to those whom it may concern; but there is much excellent amusement in it, I laugh over the newspapers till tears stand in my eyes. I laugh on the poop at every fresh piece of news that comes on board as the agitation develops itself; and sometimes I laugh for half-an-hour in my bed.
24th. — Nothing but fish to eat yet; but I hear the commodore has resolved to ride on forays by night, and drive a creaght from the farms. The governor takes no notice of the Neptune now at all. The doctor still very ill, in a state of constant nervous excitement, with occasional violent paroxysms.
25th. — There is a dismasted ship Iying in the Bay — the old frigate Seringapatam; and to her, one hundred and twenty of the prisoners were transferred yesterday evening, which must certainly give much more air and room to those who remain. We seem to be preparing to spend the summer here.
To-day the poor doctor was removed in one of the frigate’s boats, stretched upon his bed, to the naval hospital on shore. I believe he will never leave it.
Our old skipper went ashore to-day, taking a brace of pistols with him. He found the people very quietly disposed; only they would “hold no intercourse” with him — he walked into several shops, tried to buy a tobacco pipe, a glass for his watch, a fresh roll of bread, but in vain; they would hold no intercourse. He went into the house of a poor woman, who keeps a small bakery and confectionery shop, and who has hitherto lived by supplying the men-of-war with fresh breakfast bread. She told him, with tears, that she was utterly ruined — that the farmers and millers had ceased sending flour or grain to Simonstown, that but one baker could now keep his oven hot, and was restricted to selling at each house what would feed its known inmates only. While they talked, the baker’s cart came up; the captain begged her, as she was buying for herself, to get two loaves more, and sell them to him; but she protested, in the greatest agitation, that if she even asked for such a thing, she would get no more bread for herself. He came on board again, declaring he had never met with such fools in his life; our skipper belongs apparently to that numerous class of persons who cannot understand how sane men, Britons too, professing Christianity, and living in the nineteenth century, can bring themselves, on mere public grounds, to refuse to turn a penny. He is an old East India captain, and knows a sure way, he tells me, to bring these people to reason — namely, to give “three dozen all round” to the colonists, and a double allowance to the clergy.
26th. — The Commodore has driven a prey of bullocks; he sent out a boat’s crew last night; and before morning they drove into Simonstown a herd of cattle; a fife and drum headed the procession, playing one of the jolly airs to which seamen are accustomed to “walk away” when they raise a topgallant-mast. The “Committee of Vigilance,” keeping vigil all night upon a balcony, were astounded. The commodore, of course, pays for the cattle, and herein differs from a stark moss-trooper. An officer who was on board to-day tells me the sailors of the frigate are growing highly excited against the rebellious colonists, and that the gunner’s mate being on shore yesterday evening, and hearing a man talking on the street about the infamous government design of sending convicts among them to corrupt their morals, and violate their daughters, came up to the indignant patriot, “Ah! you be hanged; you’re one of the curséd anti-convict lubbers,” said he, and he gave the man a blow between the eyes that felled him where he stood.
There is no relaxation of the blockade, however, shopkeepers here will absolutely sell nothing to anybody belonging to the ships of war or the Neptune. Simonstown, indeed, must go to ruin, if the struggle last long, and the inhabitants are complaining bitterly; but public opinion is inexorable.