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Cape Colony

The Cape Colony, part of modern South Africa, was established by the Dutch East India Company in 1652, with the founding of Cape Town. It was subsequently occupied by the British in 1795 when the Netherlands were occupied by revolutionary France, so that the French revolutionaries could not take possession of the Cape with its important strategic location. An improving situation in the Netherlands (the Peace of Amiens) allowed the British to hand back the colony to the Batavian Republic in 1803, but by 1806 resurgent French control in the Netherlands led to another British occupation to prevent Napoleon using the Cape. The Cape Colony subsequently remained in the British Empire, becoming self-governing in 1872, and united with three other colonies to form the Union of South Africa in 1910, when it was renamed the Cape of Good Hope Province.[1] South Africa became fully independent in 1931 by the Statute of Westminster

The Cape 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, also known as the Gariep River, served for a long time as the boundary, although some land between the river and the southern boundary of Botswana was later added to it.



Dutch East India Company (VOC) traders, under the command of Jan van Riebeeck, were the first people to establish a European colony in South Africa. The Cape settlement was built by them in 1652 as a re-supply point and way-station for Dutch East India Company vessels on their way back and forth between the Netherlands and Batavia (Jakarta) in the Dutch East Indies. The support station gradually became a settler community, the forebears of the Afrikaners, a European ethnic group in South Africa.

The local Khoikhoi had neither a strong political organisation nor an economic base beyond their herds. They bartered livestock freely to Dutch ships. As Company employees established farms to supply the Cape station, they began to displace the Khoikhoi. Conflicts led to the consolidation of European landholdings and a breakdown of Khoikhoi society. Military success led to even greater Dutch East India Company control of the Khoikhoi by the 1670s. The Khoikhoi became the chief source of colonial wage labour.

After the first settlers spread out around the Company station, nomadic European livestock farmers, or Trekboeren, moved more widely afield, leaving the richer, but limited, farming lands of the coast for the drier interior tableland. There they contested still wider groups of Khoikhoi cattle herders for the best grazing lands. By 1700, the traditional Khoikhoi lifestyle of pastoralism had disappeared.

The Cape society in this period was thus a diverse one. The emergence of Afrikaans, a new vernacular language of the colonials that is however intelligible with Dutch, shows that the Dutch East India Company immigrants themselves were also subject to acculturation processes. By the time of British rule after 1795, the sociopolitical foundations were firmly laid.

In 1795, France occupied the Seven Provinces of the Netherlands, the mother country of the Dutch East India Company. This prompted Great Britain to occupy the territory in 1795 as a way to better control the seas in order stop any potential French attempt to get to India. The British assumed control of the territory following the minor Battle of Muizenberg. The VOC transferred its territories and claims to the Batavian Republic (the Revolutionary period Dutch state) in 1798, and ceased to exist in 1799. Improving relations between Britain and Napoleonic France, and its vassal state the Batavian Republic, led the British to hand the Cape Colony over to the Batavian Republic in 1803 (under the terms of the Treaty of Amiens).

Map of the Cape Colony in 1809. 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 Britain and Napoleonic France had crumbled into open hostilities, whilst Napoleon had been strengthening his influence on the Batavian Republic (which Napoleon would subsequently abolish later the same year). The British, who set up a colony on 8 January 1806, hoped to keep Napoleon out of the Cape, and to control the Far East trade routes. In 1814 the Dutch government formally ceded sovereignty over the Cape to the British, under the terms of the Convention of London.

The British started to settle the eastern border of the colony with the arrival in Port Elizabeth of the 1820 Settlers. In 1854, the Cape Colony received representative government, and in 1872 under Prime Minister JC Molteno, responsible government. The discovery of diamonds around Kimberley in 1870 led to a rapid expansion of British influence into the hinterland under colonialists such as Cecil Rhodes. The ill-fated Jameson Raid curbed this expansion somewhat until British victory following the Second Boer War 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 Afrikaners, a division that replaced the earlier tensions between the eastern and western halves of the Cape.

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

Governors of the Cape Colony (1652 1910)

The title of the founder of the Cape Colony, Jan van Riebeeck, was "Commander of the Cape" (initially called "opperhoof"), a position which he held from 1652 to 1662. He was succeeded by a long line of both Dutch and British colonial administrators, depending on who was in power at the time:

Commanders of Dutch East India Company colony (1652 1691)

  • Jan van Riebeeck (April 7, 1652 May 6, 1662)
  • Zacharias Wagenaer (May 6, 1662 September 27, 1666)
  • Cornelis van Quaelberg (September 27, 1666 June 18, 1668)
  • Jacob Borghorst (June 18, 1668 March 25, 1670)
  • Pieter Hackius (March 25, 1670 November 30, 1671)
  • Albert van Breugel (acting) (April, 1672 October 2, 1672)
  • Isbrand Goske (October 2, 1672 March 14, 1676)
  • Johan Bax dit van Herenthals (March 14, 1676 June 29, 1678)
  • Hendrik Crudop (acting) (June 29, 1678 October 12, 1679)
  • Simon van der Stel (December 10, 1679 June 1, 1691)

Governors of Dutch East India Company colony (1691 1795)

  • Simon van der Stel (June 1, 1691 November 2, 1699)
  • Willem Adriaan van der Stel (November 2, 1699 June 3, 1707)
  • Johannes Cornelis d Ableing (acting) (June 3, 1707 February 1, 1708)
  • Louis van Assenburg (February 1, 1708 December 27, 1711)
  • Willem Helot (acting) (December 27, 1711 March 28, 1714)
  • Maurits Pasques de Chavonnes (March 28, 1714 September 8, 1724)
  • Jan de la Fontaine (acting) (September 8, 1724 February 25, 1727)
  • Pieter Gijsbert Noodt (February 25, 1727 April 23, 1729),
  • Jan de la Fontaine (acting) (April 23, 1729 March 8, 1737)
  • Jan de la Fontaine (March 8, 1737 August 31, 1737)
  • Adriaan van Kervel (August 31, 1737 September 19, 1737) (died after three weeks in office)
  • Dani l van den Henghel (acting) (September 19, 1737 April 14, 1739)
  • Hendrik Swellengrebel (April 14, 1739 February 27, 1751)
  • Ryk Tulbagh (February 27, 1751 August 11, 1771)
  • Joachim van Plettenberg (acting) (August 11, 1771 May 18, 1774)
  • Joachim van Plettenberg (May 18, 1774 February 14, 1785)
  • Cornelis Jacob van de Graaff (February 14, 1785 June 24, 1791)
  • Johannes Izaac Rhenius (acting) (June 24, 1791 July 3, 1792)
  • Sebastiaan Cornelis Nederburgh and Simon Hendrik Frijkenius (Commissioners-General) (July 3, 1792 September 2, 1793)
  • Abraham Josias Sluysken (September 2, 1793 September 16, 1795)

British occupation (1st, 1797 1803)

  • George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney (1797 1798)
  • Francis Dundas (1st time) (acting) (1798 1799)
  • Sir George Yonge (1799 1801)
  • Francis Dundas (2nd time) (acting) (1801 1803)

Batavian Republic (Dutch colony) (1803 1806)

  • Jacob Abraham Uitenhage de Mist (1803 1804)
  • Jan Willem Janssens (1803 1806)

British occupation (2nd, 1806 1814)

  • Sir David Baird (acting) (1806 1807)
  • Henry George Grey (1st time) (acting) (1807)
  • Du Pre Alexander, 2nd Earl of Caledon (1807 1811)
  • Henry George Grey (2nd time) (acting) (1811)
  • Sir John Francis Cradock (1811 1814)
  • Robert Meade (acting for Cradock) (1813 1814)

British colony (1814 1910)

  • Charles Somerset (1814 1826)
  • Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin (acting for Somerset) (1820 1821)
  • Richard Bourke (acting) (1826 1828)
  • Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole (1828 1833)
  • Thomas Francis Wade (acting for D'Urban from 10 Jan 1834) (1833 1834)
  • Benjamin d'Urban (1834 1838)
  • Sir George Thomas Napier (1838 1844)
  • Sir Peregrine Maitland (1844 1847)
  • Sir Henry Pottinger (1847)
  • Sir Harry Smith (1847 1852)
  • George Cathcart (1852 1854)
  • Charles Henry Darling (acting) (1854)
  • Sir George Grey (1854 1861)
  • Robert Henry Wynyard (1st time) (acting for Grey) (1859 1860)
  • Robert Henry Wynyard (2nd time) (acting) (1861 1862)
  • Sir Philip Edmond Wodehouse (1862 1870)
  • Charles Craufurd Hay (acting) (1870)
  • Sir Henry Barkly (1870 1877)
  • Henry Bartle Frere (1877 1880)
  • Henry Hugh Clifford (acting) (1880)
  • Sir George Cumine Strahan (acting) (1880 1881)
  • Hercules Robinson (1st time) (1881 1889)
  • Sir Leicester Smyth (1st time) (acting for Robinson) (1881)
  • Sir Leicester Smyth (2nd time) (acting for Robinson) (1883 1884)
  • Sir Henry D'Oyley Torrens (acting for Robinson) (1886)
  • Henry Augustus Smyth (acting) (1889)
  • Henry Brougham Loch (1889 1895)
  • Sir William Gordon Cameron (1st time) (acting for Loch) (1891 1892)
  • Sir William Gordon Cameron (2nd time) (acting for Loch) (1894)
  • Hercules Robinson (2nd time) (1895 1897)
  • Sir William Howley Goodenough (acting) (1897)
  • Alfred Milner (1897 1901)
  • Sir William Francis Butler (acting for Milner) (1898 1899)
  • Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson (1901 1910)
  • Sir Henry Jenner Scobell (acting for Hely-Hutchinson) (1909)

The post of High Commissioner for Southern Africa was also held from 27 January 1847 to 31 May 1910 by the Governor of the Cape Colony. The post of Governor of the Cape Colony became extinct on 31 May 1910, when it joined the Union of South Africa.

Prime Ministers of the Cape Colony (1872 1910)

No. Name Party Assumed office Left office
1 Sir John Charles Molteno Independent 1 December 1872 5 February 1878

2 Sir John Gordon Sprigg Independent 6 February 1878 8 May 1881

3 Thomas Charles Scanlen Independent 9 May 1881 12 May 1884

4 Thomas Upington Independent 13 May 1884 24 November 1886

Sir John Gordon Sprigg (2nd time) Independent 25 November 1886 16 July 1890

5 Cecil John Rhodes Independent 17 July 1890 12 January 1896

Sir John Gordon Sprigg (3rd time) Independent 13 January 1896 13 October 1898

6 William Philip Schreiner Independent 13 October 1898 17 June 1900

Sir John Gordon Sprigg (4th time) Progressive Party 18 June 1900 21 February 1904

7 Leander Starr Jameson Progressive Party 22 February 1904 2 February 1908

8 John Xavier Merriman South African Party 3 February 1908 31 May 1910

The post of prime minister of the Cape Colony also became extinct on 31 May 1910, when it joined the Union of South Africa.



  • 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, Elizabeth van Heyningen, and Vivian Bickford-Smith (1998). Cape Town: The Making of a City. Cape Town: David Philip. ISBN 0-86486-435-3.

External links

af:Kaapkolonie ca:Col nia del Cap da:Kapkolonien de:Kapkolonie es:Colonia del Cabo fr:Colonie du Cap fy:Kaapkoloanje ko: it:Colonia del Capo he: sw:Koloni ya Rasi lt:Kapo kolonija hu:Fokf ld nl:Kaapkolonie ja: no:Kappkolonien pl:Kolonia Przyl dkowa pt:Col nia do Cabo ro:Colonia Capului ru: sh:Kolonija Rt dobre nade fi:Kapmaa sv:Kapkolonin tl:Kolonya ng Kabo tr:Cape Kolonisi uk: zh:

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