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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter LXVIII. - The Boers

I MENTION the Boers first because they were the first white settlers. At the beginning say 1646 they were burghers gathered within the lines of Cape Town to guard the important place of call for the ships of the Dutch East India Company. It was when they increased in number and spread out over the neighbouring districts that they called themselves "Boers" or "Farmers." As adventurous farmers they had quarrels with Holland as they had long subsequently, for less good reason I think, with the British Government. The Dutch policy from the beginning was to make colonial possessions directly profitable to the Mother Country, or in effect to deal with them as if they were private estates of the United Provinces, and all the settlers in them, white or coloured, were tenants at will. To this day that policy in a modified manner is carried out in regard to Java and Sumatra. Now the Dutch burghers of Cape Town, when they got beyond the lines and seized upon farms, with long gun in one hand and Bible in the other, naturally objected to being treated as tenants at will. So there were frictions, and out of these evolved the desire among the Boers to wander out further and further so as to escape the yoke of the Mother Country and the monopolistic restrictions of the Dutch East India Company.

They came to South Africa full of bitter memories of Alva and the Spanish Inquisition, and with the stern Protestantism which had been steel-hardened in the fires of religious persecution and in the desperate struggle for national existence, which did not end with the collapse of Spanish power after the defeat of the Armada and the death of Philip. Louis XIV. of France took up and renewed the contest between Roman Catholicism and Protestant- ism, which from the race point of view, was also a death or life contest between Northern and Southern Europe. England and Holland sheltered the fugitives who escaped from the disgraceful and terrible persecution which followed the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by the French king. Holland sent a batch of the refugees to the Cape, and there they introduced the culture of the vine, and readily amalgamated with the Dutch population, who had the same creed and form of Church government as themselves, and whose ancestors had gone tli rough the same fiery furnace.

Amalgamation intensified the ultra-Protestantism of Boers and Huguenots, and yet, when under the Union Jack they enjoyed more security and better rule than they had ever had before,, they thought themselves ill-used. As the earliest white settlers they looked upon themselves as the divine-right inheritors of all the wild land which lay before them, and their confident pioneer bands that went forth to conquer new lands, spoke of continuing their victorious march until they reached Jerusalem. They entirely forgot that without the help of Queen Elizabeth and the defeat of the Armada by her navy, the heroic struggle of the Dutch for faith and country would have been in vain ; and that the all-conquering and persecuting schemes of Louis XIV. were brought to nought at Blenheim and Ramillies by Marlborough, the greatest of English- born generals, in whose complicated character the extremes of greatness and meanness met and blended. They refused to look at the fact that British rule was founded on the double right of conquest and purchase, and that Java had been surrendered after having been justly taken possession of. Another more important fact of which they lost sight was that without having the British power at their back they would be in peril of being overwhelmed by the natives, and, if Britain withdrew, of seeing South Africa seized by some more truculent and despotic Power.

There were Boers and Boers, with a broad line of distinction dividing them, and yet in affairs of State and Church they all were a united body. The people of Dutch, French, and mixed Franco-Dutch descent in Cape Town and its adjoining districts had before my time learned to speak English, and took care that their children should be well educated. Cape Colony in 1866 had two elective Houses of Parliament. It was the transitional stage of representative Government. Responsible Government which enabled Parliament to change Ministries, and gave the Legislative Assembly unlimited powers in financial matters, had yet to come, and all the Boer members were working to bring it about. They felt it a grievance that the salaries of the higher officials should be beyond their reach and review, and that these officials should be appointed by the Crown and mainly Englishmen, whom they accused of putting on "side," and looking presumptuously down on the numerically predominant and, in faith and morals, the less faulty people. The Dutch who possessed adequate knowledge of English and other requisite qualifications received many minor, and some of the higher, official appointments. There were, for instance, three judges of the Supreme Court, and of these one was an Englishman, one a Scotchman, and one a Dutchman. The Attorney- General was an Irishman, and the Colonial Secretary was Mr Southey, a nephew of the poet's, and Sir Philip Wodehouse was Governor and High Commissioner. Theoretically imperfect as it was, the Governmental machinery in the hands of the high officials appointed by the Crown was worked with impartiality, efficiency, and cheapness. Responsible Government brought with it ever increasing expenditure, with official spoils and political predominance for the foes of English rule.

The Church of Scotland and her offshoots have the same organisation as the Dutch Reformed Church. The Shorter Catechism and the Catechism of the Synod of Dort are much alike in their exposition of doctrines. Scotchmen, therefore, had no difficulty in joining the Dutch Reformed Church, while the Church of England put in the Colony the foolish barrier of confirmation against outsiders joining it. Because of religious community, Scotchmen understood far better than Englishmen did the real inwardness of Boer character and projects. The Boers looked upon the intrusion of the Church of England into their country as an aggravation of their subjection to a foreign Power, and they were irritated still more by the air of superiority the intruding clergy had assumed. Lord Bishop of Cape Town, Lord Bishop of Grahamstown, Lord Bishop of Natal, aye, and Lord Bishop of the Free Orange State all lords in virtue of patents from Queen Victoria very reverend deans, venerable archdeacons, and so on; how fiercely the Boers resented all this brave show of superiority! And how they grinned when Bishop Colenso was deposed, and his deposition was legally declared invalid; and how they mocked when the Bishop of the Free Orange State fled from canonical trial, and when my ship acquaintance, Dean Williams, kept the Bishop of Grahamstown out of his cathedral! Henry Grey, Bishop of Cape Town, did the work of a man of God in giving the South African Episcopal Church a higher and nobler character than the one with which the intrusion started. The Boers compared their own ministers, educated at Edinburgh and Leydon, very unfavourably with the first squads of English Church ministers. There can be no question about the fact that the ecclesiastical grievance acted as a dividing factor from the first establishment of British rule down to the late big war. In gathering themselves up for that war, the Boers indiscriminately used, or abused, Church organisation, nachtmaals, or communion gatherings, and masonic lodges. They proved themselves as astute in conspiring skill, as they were brave in fight, and obstinately tenacious of their policy of separation and independence.

I believed the Boers to be a genuinely religious people, and that their family worship, church attendance, and domestic life in the older settled districts testified to that effect. Wherever they trekked, they got ministers as soon as ever they settled down. But in practice their religion had crooks and corners. They had Scripture, they thought, for making all coloured people as descendants of Ham their servants or slaves. The only slavery the law of the Colony ever recognised was that of the Malays; and out of their bondage the Malays emerged with their religion unimpaired, and I think I may add, with improved morals and civilised habits. It was in the process of taking possession of what they called waste lands that the Boers committed the deeds which Dr Livingstone and other missionaries so loudly and justly denounced; but when they took possession and established their authority, the natives found them to be far less oppressive masters than their former chiefs or conquerors had been. The Boers are not by nature a cruel or hard-hearted people. But they believed that the slavery of the children of Ham was ordered by divine decree, and their belief suited their personal interests. They hated British missionaries, and abolitionists, and they had as their motto, "Put out the light," when extending their conquests or securing them. "Put out the light" meant to keep missionaries, tale-bearing traders, and news- paper men in ignorance about their actions. They received compensation for the emancipation of their legal Malay slaves, but the mode of payment, unhappily adopted, added to their grievance. They should have been paid in hard cash, instead of in promises to pay, which many of them foolishly sold for a small part of their value to cunning money brokers before they had matured.

Beyond the neighbourhood of towns, the Boers did little for the cultivation of the soil. They had, indeed, in districts without markets and means of transport, no inducements for raising more crops than were needed on their separate farms. Soil cultivation was more congenial to the vineyard French immigrants than it was to the Boers, and for a generation or two these growers of grapes and producers of wines did not spread themselves far away from Cape Town. The liking of the Boers was for pastoral farming. Cattle, horses, sheep, and goats they raised in huge numbers. A Boer's idea of bliss was to have a grazing farm of such an area that he could not see from his house the smoke of a neighbouring Boer's chimney. He wanted to be monarch of all he surveyed, and irresponsible lord of the natives within his bounds ; and, as a rule, he managed to be what he desired. As a rule, too, when his earth -hunger was satisfied, and his authority was established, he was a mild despot to his natives, although he might scold them and crack his bamboo whip at them like the tyrant he was not. In his family he was father, priest, and as much of a king as his good wife and his daughters allowed him to be. When his sons grew up, and wished to be married and settled, they went forth to acquire farms of their own in the approved appropriating fashion, and only one remained with the old folk. In this manner, before and after the great treks consequent on the abolition of slavery in Cape Colony, the Boers spread themselves out widely, and took possession of the land.

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