27th Sept — On hoard the “Neptune,” Simon’s Bay. — The Captain went up yesterday to Capetown, and returned this evening, bringing me three letters from home, the reading whereof drove clear out of my head, for an hour or two, convicts and anti-convicts, the Cape, the commodore, the governor and all.
The captain came from Capetown in an omnibus, which contained two gentlemen coming down to relieve the “Committee of Vigilance” on the balcony, and take their turn with the telescopes. They did not know who their fellow-traveller was, and their talk was all of the Neptune and the felons. When he told them he had been at Simonstown, and had seen the ship, they urged him with questions — had he seen me, J. Mitchel? — had he heard that I had declared the colonists were right, and ought to persevere? Was it true that I walked about on the poop, where the captain walks? etc. He told them that was true enough, as any one might see from the street at Simonstown.
He describes the excitement at Capetown as being extremely violent; business is nearly at a stand, and many hundreds of persons are thrown out of work. Some families are preparing to wind up business, selling their property, and declaring they will fly the country. New buildings are stopped; debts called in: everyone thinks that howsoever this affair ends, it will go near to destroy the colony. An impression prevails that the emigrants who have been assisted to come here for years past by government funds were in fact some of Lord Grey’s convicts in disguise; and the farmers who had hired them as servants and labourers are now dismissing them ignominiously. These poor creatures, of course, flock into Capetown, and add to the ingredients of turbulence that are now fermenting there. Capetown is a city somewhat larger than Kilkenny, peopled by three or four distinct races, English, Dutch (constituting the ruling caste), Malays, Hottentots, and a very large number who are half Dutch and half of the ferocious Malay breed; these are the artisans, boatmen, coolies, servants, and the like. Here are materials for plenty of rough work.
The anti-convicts are now divided into two parties; one, the “moderates,” being willing to let the government, the army and navy, and even the Neptune, be supplied with provisions until the decisive despatch arrives from England, but then (if the despatch be unfavourable) to enforce the “pledge,” and use every means of resistance — the other, the immoderates (and only genuine anti-convicts), insisting on the governor, and all his satellites, being instantly excommunicated, unless he sends the Neptune to sea at once, waiting for no despatches. These are the great majority.
28th. — Poor Dees, whom the governor would not relieve, has been relieved by another authority. He is dead.
29th. — Military guard changed to-day: a party from the 73rd regiment has come on board, under charge of a non-commissioned officer. Our two smoking officers have gone to smoke on shore.
30th, Sunday. — The “Bishop of Capetown,” by name Dr. Gray, came on board to-day and preached to the convicts on the main deck. I had the curiosity, whilst he preached, to walk near enough to hear how he addressed them. Mr. Stewart, the “instructor,” never says, “my brethren,” but always “my men”; which I suppose is the custom of convict chaplains: for though preachers say that we all have sinned, yet it would be truly monstrous if convicted sinners were allowed to think themselves brethren to a minister of the gospel. We all have sinned, indeed; theoretically — or rather it is the etiquette for us to say so, in our polite intercourse, as it were, with the Almighty. To my surprise, however, the bishop called the poor convicts, “My dearly beloved brethren.”
After service he inquired for me: the captain came for me, and as he, in the doctor’s absence, is my head jailor, I went with him into the after-cabin, and was introduced to the reverend man. He is a young man for a bishop, but wears a highly orthodox shovel-hat, and a very peremptory silk apron girt round his loins. I found him a most agreeable person: he heartily approves of the anti-convict movement: told him I was glad to hear that — that I also approved of it. He declared that if the colony were but a little stronger it would rise in arms at once upon this argument — to which I said bravo! This circumstance, however, he mentioned not explicitly as his own episcopal recommendation, but as the universal feeling of the people. We conversed for nearly half an hour, and I was sorry when he went away.
Oct 1st. — The people of Simonstown, I fear, can hold out no longer. Shopkeepers, it is said, have begun to fly from the place, and bills are appearing in the windows. Most of them, indeed, are opening their shops again, a very superficial examination being enough to satisfy the traders that all is right. Even in Capetown, though they still refuse all intercourse with government, or any of the departments as such, yet they will sell goods to any one as an individual. There are no tenders yet for new contracts, and the victor of Aliwal is in sad straits.
In the country parts the excitement and irritation increase daily. The presence of this plague ship in their waters acts on the colony Uke some acrid irritant introduced into a living body — there is fever and pain till the peccant matter is got rid of — the people really cannot bear this poisonous blister of felony: they get no rest at night, but are waylaid in dreams by atrocious convicts — they are now actually urging and obsecrating the governor daily to send the ship at least out of the bay and beyond the Cape horizon, with orders to cruise off this fearful coast until the expected despatches arrive — that is for three, four, or five months. This he has announced he cannot legally do — the Attorney-General so advises him — for the Cape also has an Attorney-General — whereupon the anti-convicts have laid the case before some dozen eminent lawyers, Dutch and English, who unanimously affirm that he can legally do it. And so the anti-convicts say he ought to do it, must do it, and if he will not do it, they will apply the pledge machinery to him in all its power — will absolutely refuse to let anything be purchased for his private use, even by individuals — they will cut off his gas, will turn off his water, will create on all sides a vacuum around (and inside of) the government and all official persons; so that the thing, it is hoped, must collapse. Various mischievous rumours heighten the perturbation. One day it was said that a few of the most unspeakable felons had made their escape from the Neptune by swimming, and had straightway dispersed themselves over the country on their errand of plunder, blood, and ravishment.
In the meantime the governor has, they say, so far complied with the Association as to promise decidedly that if the final order of the Colonial Office be to land the convicts, he will not be the instrument of inflicting so great an injury, but will resign. Therefore, we are likely to he here the whole summer, till February or March next — while his resignation goes to England, and a new governor comes out.
What complicates the business greatly, and adds materially to the Downing Street difficulty, is that the Australian colonies are also up in arms against the admission of any more British felony there. A ship that lately arrived at Sydney roused an opposition nearly as strong as we see here now, but not so well organised; for that governor at once landed the prisoners and shut the gates of government house against a deputation coming to remonstrate. And there are two or three shiploads of convicts, including that which holds Martin and O’Doherty, now at sea on their way to N. S. Wales, or Van Diemen’s land — for on Britain’s convict-ships the sun never sets — and it is hard to guess whether these will be suffered to land their cargoes when they arrive. If we should be sent forward, therefore, to any part of Australia, it would be only another experimental trip: and the worthy colonists there also might bid us pass on. At worst we cannot go much farther from home: if my kidnappers make me sail any farther on that tack, I shall only be coming round upon them at the other side: which is one advantage of inhabiting a spherical body or spheroid, not heretofore noticed by the learned.
Several persons have come to see me, either out of simple curiosity — having heard that there is a felon of a rather unusual sort to be seen here — or from a kinder motive. A young midshipman of the Castor frigate came on board the other day, introduced himself to me, and said he was an Irishman: so we had some talk thereupon. A Church of England clergyman, named Sandberg, by birth a German, being on his way from India, and making some stay at the Cape, has been several times on board, and has preached, he says, to the prisoners, between decks. He offers me the loan of books, and is otherwise polite and attentive. Also, several others, whom I forget.
Oct. 12th. — Our good colonists are growing frenetic. Rumour and rage, and “preternatural suspicion,” are driving them mad. The last week seems to have been hurrying matters forward to some violent issue. Finding that the ship was not ordered away, nor likely to be, and that the published opinions of Dutch jurisconsults were disregarded, as well as the published harangues of the clergy and the published prayer adopted in the Jews’ synagogue — and that both army, navy, government, yea, and the very convicts, were actually feasting on Cape beef and mutton, though at some inconvenience to the providers, and not without a display of force — seeing all this, and imagining that all was lost if the ship were allowed to await Lord Grey’s decision, the anti-convicts convened a great open-air monster meeting yesterday, and have solemnly resolved to shut all shops, and to deal with nobody but their own customers and pledged persons. They really hope to make it impossible for the governor to subsist the convicts, or even himself while he harbours the convicts. The resolution is printed, and posted everywhere, by way of proclamation; and one hour after it was promulgated yesterday, every shop in Capetown was shut up. A courier was sent post to Simon’s Bay, with a copy of the new edict, and injunctions to enforce the observance of the pledge most rigorously from this day forth. Simonstown, therefore, is once more inaccessible. The unanimity with which all this business goes on is wonderful. Even the “moderates,” though they deprecate such an extreme measure, say they will act with their countrymen. Nobody, in fact, dares to disobey the plebiscitum. Here it is: —
At a special meeting of the Association, held in the Town Hall this day, Thursday — J. J. L. Smuts, Esq., in the chair — moved by J. Fairbairn, Esq., seconded by Thos. Sutherland, Esq.,
That in consequence of the bad faith of the Right Hon. the Earl Grey, and of his attempts to make this colony a penal settlement, against the wishes and in defiance of the petitions, remonstrances and protests of the inhabitants; and in consequence of the detention within the limits of the colony of the ship Neptune, with convicts on board, whose destination is the Cape of Good Hope, on the ground of a professional opinion given by her Majesty’s Attorney-General, as to the illegality of sending them away, which the whole of the other members of the Bar have pronounced to be erroneous, society in this colony is rapidly falling into disorder, from one end of the country to the other, and the local government is fast becoming, by reason of this disorder and dissatisfaction, less and less capable of fulfilling the duties of a free government, and less and less capable of protecting the lives and property of the frontier and other inhabitants, should any troubles arise among the native tribes and people on the borders:
Therefore, it is the duty of all good and loyal subjects of her Majesty, at once from this day to suspend all business transactions with the government, in any shape or upon any terms, until it is officially declared that the Neptune, with the convicts on board, will go away as soon as all necessary supplies for her voyage can be put on board — and that all intercourse and connection between private individuals and his Excellency and heads of the victualling departments shall be dropped from this day — the merchants, auctioneers, bakers, butchers, shopkeepers, and all other good and loyal people dealing only with such private individuals as they know and clearly understand to be unconnected with those departments by or through which supplies, sufficient to afford a pretext for the detention of the convicts, may possibly be obtained.
And that, the measures already taken for this purpose being too slow for the urgency of the case, it is recommended that after this moment all shops and stores shall be closed as for a solemn fast, except for the accommodation of ordinary private, and well-known customers that his Excellency may no longer be in doubt as to the impossibility of detaining the Neptune with her convicts within the limits of this colony.
Possibly, the wisdom of this last procedure may be questionable. Certainly, it is not to be thought of that the governor of a maritime colony, having plenty of ships and troops at his disposal, can be coerced by mere starvation to do what the popular will dictates. He may be inconvenienced, and the troops may be made hostile to the country; but all that will not make it “impossible” to retain the Neptune in Simon’s Bay for a few months, or even years. Here she will assuredly stay, notwithstanding what they call the urgency of the case, till the English despatch comes in; therefore it may be that the course proposed by the “moderates” is the wiser course, to let matters go on quietly, in the meantime (content that felony is kept afloat) reserving extreme measures of resistance to meet the actual atrocity of landing the cargo, if this should be attempted.
I have a strong suspicion, however, that these “moderates” would still be moderate to the last, and that if the preservation of the Cape depended upon them, it would be a lost country.
When we came in here at first, the chief leader of the movement seemed to be a Mr. Ebden; but he has been backsliding into moderatism, and is superseded by a newspaper editor, named Fairbairn, a man of much ability and energy, and a most immoderate opponent of convicts. Ebden’s portrait, lately hung up in the public hall of meeting, has been thrown down and dishonoured. Artists are now engaged on a grand historic piece representing the public meeting of yesterday, with Mynheer Smuts in the chair, and Mr. Fairbairn in the act of moving the great resolution interdicting the governor from fire and water. There is talk of martial law; and, in fact, any moment of excitement now may give excuse for it. Capetown streets are always crowded; there are continual open-air meetings; and the smallest act of imprudence, on either side, might bring about a collision whose issue it would be hard to foresee.
One result of the present movement seems likely to be a true national spirit: this common danger threatening their country, common risk and loss in repelling it, mutual help and counsel against one and the same treacherous foe — the very certificates, in Dutch and English, that carry travellers of either race through every valley, kloof, and plain, in the wide continent, opening all doors and all hearts to an enemy of Graaf Grey — these are the influences that have power to make an accidental aggregation of settlers become a national brotherhood instinct with the vital fire of liberty, and can transform the sons of English and of Dutch fathers into a self-dependent, high-spirited nation of South Africans. So be it! There will be one free nation the more.
I drink to-night, with enthusiasm, in red wine of Cape vines, the health of the future South African Republic.
I have procured from shore a dozen of very tolerable wine — for they do not seem to regard their pledge as applying to me — and am disgusted at their practice of selling their own red wine with a seal upon its cork bearing the legend “Port,” and their white as “Sherry.” And they actually manufacture and drug their grape-juice to make it resemble what the English drink for port and sherry in their own country. It is a mean, narrow-minded, and altogether British proceeding — the South Africans ought to have respect to the produce of their own vineyards, be it good, bad, or indifferent — and some of it is bad enough. At any rate, they ought to call it Cape wine, designating the kinds according to the district or vineyard that yields them. Has not Drakenstein as good a sound as Rudesheim? or Houtbaai as Côte d’Or? When the Republic is established, they must reform this altogether.
13th. — The blockade at Capetown has grown very strict. Three persons have been detected supplying things to the government secretly, and so turning a clandestine penny, to the prejudice of the common weal. Their names and crimes were instantly blazoned on the comers of all the streets — intercourse with them was suspended (opteschorten) — all communications with them cut off (aftesnyden). One of them owned houses — all his tenants forthwith bundled up their effects, and fled as from plague-infected dwellings. Another attended a bullock sale, and bid for a lot — it was knocked down to him — he had the money in his hand to pay for it, when he was recognised as one of the traitors; the lot was forthwith put up again. The name of one of these unfortunate persons is Benjamin Norden, touching whom I extract an advertisement from the Zuid Afrikaan: —
NOTICE. — It is suspected that a person named Lery, or O’Leary, from George, is purchasing articles for Benjamin Norden. (Signed) Alexander Miller, 13 Heerengracht. 12th Oct., 1849.
The Cape newspapers, I observe, never mention my name: they cannot afford to let the public mind dwell upon the fact that there is anything on board the Neptune but a mass of incarnate burglary, thievery and corruption. They call us all “the unhappy men.”
It is now generally supposed, by the naval persons here, that the last anti-convict movement will at last compel the governor to suspend the Constitution (such as it is), and proclaim martial law — or rather put aside all law, and take what he wants as in a hostile territory. My own impression still is that he will be able to maintain the public establishments without that odious proceeding: besides, he has none of the usual excuses for such an outrage, because the people are quite peaceable, every man only exercising his undoubted right over his own shop or warehouse. Nevertheless, Sir Harry, having a garrison of three of four thousand men to feed, would be already in sad extremity but for one or two desperately loyal individuals who are coming to his relief. There is a certain Captain Stanford, who has a large estate in Swellendam, and he has placed 2,000 head of cattle, besides sheep without number, at the governor’s disposal: but soldiers have to butcher the meat, to bake the bread, to build ovens to bake it in, and to endure incessant volleys of civilian laughter all the while. There was, by chance, in Table Bay, a vessel called the Rosebud, laden with flour for Port Natal: the governor laid hands on it, paid the freight to Natal, and brought the flour on shore — but soldiers had to row the boats: the black boatmen would hold no intercourse.
All this while the commodore, who is our governor at Simonstown, and absolutely rules everything afloat, quietly provides store of sheep and bullocks by repeated raids. In the mornings I can count, through a glass, the tired brutes lying or grazing on a small patch of grass in front of his door.
18th. — Mr. Stewart, the “instructor,” went a few days ago to Capetown, and took up his lodgings in a hotel: he has just returned on board, having been obliged to walk half the way because when they recognised him at Wynberg he could get no horse or conveyance for hire: says he left the hotel voluntarily; but if he had stayed another night, would have been turned out. He went into a woollen draper’s shop, to purchase materials for a waistcoat; the cloth was folded and papered up for him, when someone came in who knew the convict-instructor: there was a whispering with the shopkeeper for a single instant, and then Mr. Stewart was informed that he could not be supplied. He asked, with high indignation, if their pledge required them “to deny clothing to a minister of the gospel to cover his nakedness?” This strong way of putting the case staggered the wooden draper, who had not considered the matter in that precise point of view: he said he would step over and consult Mr. Fairbairn (the newspaper editor aforesaid), and on coming back said positively the thing could not be done. Mr. Fairbairn sent word to Mr. Stewart that he might go to the governor for waistcoats. Sir Harry Smith, victor of Aliwal, was the man to supply the convict department.
Intelligence has arrived of the effects produced in remote places, Graaf Reynet, Grahamstown, etc., by the announcement that the accursed Neptune had actually cast anchor in Simon’s Bay. “Solemn fast” everywhere: windows hung with crape; bells funereally tolling: government officers placed under a complete interdict, until the bandits leave Simon’s Bay. Butchers and bakers say to them— “We deal not with the dead: you are no more (for the Neptune floats in Simon’s Bay) — and it is impossible that departed spirits should need bread or beef. We cannot take money from ghosts; therefore avaunt, in the name of God! — the convicts ride at anchor in Simon’s Bay.”
Almost all the justices of the peace throughout the country, who are paid officers of the government, are pouring in their resignations; and great numbers of persons called Field-comets are doing the same. I do not well understand the office and duty of these Field-comets: but whoever they are, they cannot think of holding any sort of communication with Sir Harry Smith till the Neptune leaves the Bay.1
There is a functionary named Montague, secretary to the governor; and a very great man of the kind. He is just now on an official tour through the interior; and though he has been accustomed to distinguished receptions at all the district capitals upon such occasions — local authorities turning out to meet him with trumpets, or such other instruments of noise as they have — now he can hardly get horses to hire, or lodgings to sleep in. Horses they will give him to return to Capetown, but none to proceed; and he reckons himself fortunate if he can borrow two chairs under a cattle-shed to spend the night, and dry bread enough to keep the life in him. To give him even so much, I regard as a culpable dereliction of principle.
The Apollo, a large troop-ship, is come into the bay, and is moored within a cable’s length of us. She is a frigate; carries four hundred men of the 59th regiment, and is bound for Hong Kong. Her arrival is chiefly important in that the splendid military band plays every morning and every evening, making the soft air thrill and tremble with delightful melody of march or waltz.
Her arrival, however, is said to be regarded by the governor as important in another point of view; he may need the soldiers to quell a rebellion, and he may need the ship, to send her to St. Helena or Rio for provisions. So she is to remain here a few weeks, with her band.
19th. — The shops of Capetown are still shut up; but I gather from the papers, that the natural effects of a stoppage of business have begun to be felt severely — small tradesmen, journeymen, porters, all, in short, who depend on their daily wages, are suffering: a few days ago the coolies went to the governor in a body three hundred strong to demand work and food; the governor, it seems, sent them to Mr. Fairbairn, Mr. Fairbairn bade them go to Benjamin Norden, Benjamin Norden sent them to Mr. Sutherland. Now this is not the way to feed capons, much less coolies; and I fear if the struggle last long the labouring classes will tire of it altogether: they will think anti-convictism is good, but daily bread is better: shopkeepers, too, unless rich, must soon give way, for rent and taxes cannot be paid out of closed shops. All this is unfortunate; and I am truly sorry for the colonists — the violent demonstrations they have already made may provoke the Downing Street ruffians to persist in swamping the country with felons, just because it is too weak and too poor to resist them effectually — mean, cruel, and treacherous tyrants!
Mob-work has fairly begun. Mr. Norden was attacked by a violent mob in the streets, and his house was afterwards beset and the windows broken. He fired on them, but nobody was wounded. The very same evening a number of Malays fell upon Mr. Fairbairn at his house at Greenpoint, beat him, and destroyed a good deal of furniture. The persons who committed this last outrage were evidently employed by government people, for those of them who have been identified turn out to be officers’ servants. The governor avails himself of these riots to begin coercion: he has just issued a proclamation forbidding assemblies in the streets “under pretence” of discussing political questions (as if the public interest in the matter were all a pretence) and intimating that the police have orders to disperse all such assemblies. This is his first step — the next may probably be to prosecute Mr. Fairbairn and other newspaper editors, and suppress their papers: such is the way of governments. If Sir Harry Smith, now, would order his Attorney-General to indict the worthy Fairbairn for sedition before a prudently selected jury, composed of his own creatures and dependents, with the gunner’s mate of the Castor as foreman, I imagine Fairbairn would soon be a convict instead of an anti-convict. But I do not believe Old Sir Harry would condescend to this species of ruffianism. He is a downright soldier, and no “Ameliorative Viceroy.”
I fear, I fear the colony is not strong enough to resist coercion, and to scourge this British redcoat into the sea. The whole Cape population, white, black, and brown, scattered over a vast territory, is under 200,000 — and they are not able to reproduce the grand drama of Boston, Saratoga, and Yorktown, just yet. And their cause is more righteous — the outrage sought to be put upon them a thousand times more grievous. But justice and right do not always prevail in this world, nor often. “That which is crooked cannot be made straight, and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.”
23rd. — I have just learned that the Cape convict question is about to be still more complicated. One of Lord Grey’s despatches to the governor mentions that the “Government” were about to send out to the Cape the wives and families of the Neptune convicts. In fact, when the list of recommended prisoners was made out at Bermuda for transmission to England, two or three months before the Neptune came to Bermuda, each man was asked whether he was married, in what parish and county his wife and family resided, and whether he wished them to be brought out to him at the Cape, “Government” paying half the expense. The married men all availed themselves, I was told, of this offer: the names and residences of their wives, etc., have been in Lord Grey’s hands now more than half a year; and it is quite possible that these poor helpless women and children are even now at sea, on their way to this hospitable clime. The inhabitants of the Cape are now looking out for their arrival by every fair wind that blows into Table Bay. What kind of reception awaits the poor souls, the following extract from the proceedings of the anti-convict people indicates: —
The report of the Simon’s Bay Committee having been read — it was unanimously
Resolved — That Messrs. Hablutzel & Hugo, Butchers, at Simon’s Bay, have broken the Pledge.
Moved by H. Sherman, Esq., seconded by P. Law, Esq.,
That this meeting being of opinion that the intention of Earl Grey to send to this colony the wives (or reputed wives) and families of convicts as referred to in his despatch to the governor of this colony, dated 18th July, 1849, would be highly injurious to the interests and moral welfare of the community. Resolved, that they will not under any circumstances knowingly employ, admit into their houses, or establishments, work with, or for, or associate with any of the afore-mentioned wives and families of convicts, and that they will drop connexion with any person who may give them employment.
A resolution was proposed by Mr. Fairbairn, the consideration of which was ordered to be postponed — till a special meeting, to be held on Thursday at 10 o’clock.
(Signed) J. J. L. Smuts, Chairman.
And the stupid rogues in Downing Street, who work all this woe and ruin, still call themselves the “Government,” and do not, and will not, go and hang themselves.
1 Field-Cornet — Veldt-Cornet — is the Boer local registrar. In wartime it is part of his business to assemble the Commando — that is, the farmers of his official district — equipped for the campaign.