Until the Birds of Prey have Consumed them Away

  • Part 4 in the series on Black and White South African Allies

gallows♦ Frontier, Cape of Good Hope Colony, 17 January 1799

—When the much respected Adriaan van Jaarsveld appears at the Magistrate’s Office in Graaff-Reinet town on this day, he is promptly arrested. He was the leader of Frontiersmen on Commando some years before. Allegedly, Adriaan has fiddled a number on the mortgage papers relating to his farm and has failed to respond to a previous summons relating to the matter. Magistrate Bresler is the ex-Dutch East India man that the citizens had begged the British Governor not to appoint over them. They much preferred a proper Englishman. Their distrust of the late Company is total. The bankrupt Dutch East India Company was formally dissolved in 1796. It had never really cared about its underlings in South Africa anyway.

Bresler dispatches Adriaan to the Cape for trial accompanied by a dragoon guard unit. Not far outside town, they are intercepted by Marthinus Prinsloo and some other armed men. Marthinus is the political Leader of the Volksstem (Voice of the People), which would pass as a political party in 21st century terminology. However, the Cape is under British military rule. Marthinus is also an ancestral brother-in-law in the author’s family.

Marthinus warns Adriaan that he will die or be deported when he gets to Cape Town, but Adriaan insists that he be allowed to go and stand trial. In the end the guard surrenders Adriaan under protest, and they all return to Graaff-Reinet where all the men offer to contribute to pay suitable bail for Adriaan’s release. Bresler is adamant that Adriaan’s release is illegal and advises Governor Dundas of the situation.

Given that the British Army of 1799 is obsessed with Napoleon and the French Revolutionary Jacobins, the governor sees this as akin to the French Revolution and dispatches his special Khoekhoe Army of Intimidation under General Vandeleur. This is the event already described in Part 3 of this series, though without the above background.

Treachery and the Disaster it Begets

The unhappy Frontiersmen are given to believe that, if they present themselves, they would receive amnesty and their situation would be heard  by British General Vandeleur. Nothing could be further from the truth. On 6 April 1799, when they duly present themselves, Vandeleur arrests a lot of these Afrikaner men on a charge of rebellion and ships them in the aptly named HMS Rattlesnake to Cape Town. The men include Marthinus Prinsloo, Adriaan van Jaarsveld, and the author’s ancestral brother Willem Grobler. They are incarcerated in the Cape Castle (below).

The Cape Castle

As related in Part 3, Dundas now declares Martial Law and forces most frontiersmen to hand in their arms and ammunition [1]. On 24 May 1799, Gen. Vandeleur puts a reward of £200, dead or alive, on the heads of the Coenraad de Buys, our direct ancestor Coenraad Bezuidenhout, and five others [2]. Just to make matters clear, the British governor has hereby put a price on the head of the step-father of the most powerful Black king, Ngqika.

What follows is the complete disaster explained in Part 3, based on the truly shameful ignorance on the part of the British Military Government about matters on this distant frontier. We shall pass over that piece of disgraceful history and pick up the story after the end of the Third Frontier War. The men consigned to the Castle are still right there.

After the war is settled in October 1799, and Britain has paid tribute to men with spears as explained in Part 3, Governor Dundas appoints the reviled ex-Dutch East India Company Magistrate Maynier (See Part 2), removed in 1795, as High Court Judge, Bookkeeper of the Loan Bank, and Government Commissioner over the Afrikaners in both Swellendam and Graaff-Reinet [3]. He is now the absolute master of the Afrikaners outside the Cape Town area. The combination of insult and injury is extreme for the Frontiersmen.

Until the birds of prey have consumed them away

In December 1799 a new British Governor, Sir George Yonge arrives at the Cape and Dundas goes back to his role as Lieutenant Governor. Having languished in the Cape Castle for more than a year, the group of Frontiersmen taken prisoner by Gen. Vandeleur are finally tried in June 1800. Adriaan van Jaarsveld and Marthinus Prinsloo are the first and second listed prisoners.  The State Prosecutor demands [4] that the first eight prisoners,

…be punished with the halter at the Gallows until Death ensueth, Further the Corpses of the four first prisoners, being dragged to the Out Gallows, there to be hanged again, in order so to remain until the birds of prey shall have consumed them away,…

The men are found guilty and on 3 September the sentence is announced [5]. In  a “huge gush of leniency” towards these unfortunate men, the crown decides that their bodies may be buried under the gallows, rather than to have them consumed away by the birds of prey. Ancestral brother Willem Grobler is to be forced to watch the execution and must then be banished from his homeland for ten years. All this, because of a changed digit on a mortgage document combined with a Dutch East India Company magistrate. The men were certainly out of line releasing Adriaan van Jaarsveld from custody, but not a shot was ever fired in the whole process. What an “incredible rebellion”, and what an incredible response. And it lost Britain half of its colony and disgraced the relevant British general.

The Afrikaner-amaRharhabe Friendship

Di_Capelli_-_Ngqika_(1803)In the middle of 1800, Sir George Yonge sends the hated Magistrate Maynier and his understudy, Somerville, to the young amaRharhabe King Ngqika to discuss the matter of a possible peace treaty with the British. This happens during the period that Coenraad de Buys and our ancestor Coenraad Bezuidenhout are still with Ngqika. The two British representatives take every precaution to ensure that their messages go only to Ngqika and do not fall in the hands of the two Coenraads. Ngqika refuses to receive them personally. Despite this, the response from Ngqika is insightful. We quote verbatim Ngqika’s response from the letter [6] that the two British representatives write to the Governor on 14 August 1800:

…the Principal Grounds on which he would consent to make Peace must be the Release of the Prisoners confined in the Castle who he said were his Allies, & without this he could have no Faith in any Peace

This is the clearest evidence on record that the legitimate leader of the powerful amaRharhabe House of the amaXhosa nation sees the long-settled Afrikaners as his friends and allies. A simple understanding of the amaXhosa “Royal House” system reveals why. At this time, Ngqika is much more powerful than the Great House of the amaGcaleka across the Kei River, while he considers both his uncle Ndlambe and the various other Suurveld Xhosa minor right hand houses as rebels; this while these latter groups are a permanent threat to the Frontier Afrikaners.

The Treaty of Amiens

On 1 April 1801, Governor George Yonge is removed from office in the wake of charges of corruption. Major-General Francis Dundas is once again to take care as Governor. Fate has provided him the opportunity to correct the tragic mistakes of his first term of office, not the least of which has been the appointment of Maynier and the incarceration of the Frontiersmen.

On 12 October 1801, Dundas receives the following instruction [7] from Downing Street:

I am to signify to you the King’s Commands that you are, on the receipt of this Dispatch, to abstain from the Commission of all Hostilities against the Subjects of France or of her Allies.

The Treaty of Amiens by J.C. ZieglerThe imminent Treaty of Amiens with Napoleon has changed the calculus! Upon this, Dundas elects to continue the detention of the men in the castle, but he does not carry out their sentences, despite having been ordered to do so by Lord Hobart in Britain [8]. Could it perhaps be that Dundas is worried about what he did to these men in his first term?

Boer and Brit see eye to eye.

When matters again sour on the frontier, Dundas sends a competent British Officer, Major Sherlock, to Graaff-Reinet. In this latest unhappiness, the Frontiersmen have actually started shooting at Magistrate Maynier, who is holed up in Graaff-Reinet. When Sherlock sends an emissary to the Frontiersmen gathered at some distance outside town, he gets a surprise. This time the Frontiersmen have documented the outrages against them on the part of Maynier and show up in person to deliver the document.

A view over the Kamdebo from the mountains above Graaff-ReinetSherlock sends this letter to the Governor, along with some equally damning comments of his own [9], stating that  Maynier is “…detested by the Officers who have been stationed here.”  It has taken a competent fighting British soldier to understand the concerns of men who have had to fight for their existence all of their lives. Maynier is suspended from all his roles and his actions investigated. It is the end of his “Jean Jaques Rousseau” reign. Finally, fighting Boer and fighting Brit see eye to eye regarding facts on the ground.

Dundas sees the Light

During the next few months, Governor Dundas appears to have a significant shift in personal conviction. Sherlock is the first Englishman with management responsibility to be placed in the east of the country and reports directly to Dundas. Possibly Dundas is getting a clearer picture of the actual situation on the Frontier. Likely, we shall never know. What is clear, however, is that with this comes a dramatic shift in policy:

1.  There shall be no punishment for the frontiersmen who have opposed Maynier, despite the fact that they have actually fired at the Magistrate’s office.

2.  This presents Dundas with a major conundrum. He has had 18 frontiersmen languishing in the Castle for nearly three years, waiting to be executed and banished for transgressions much lesser than those he has just forgiven. No facts have changed. The only difference is that a properly qualified person has actually come to see for himself what is up on the  Frontier. Accordingly, on 12 December 1801 Dundas writes to Colonial Secretary Lord Hobart in London, pleading for clemency. In fact, he suggests a full remission of the sentences! [10]:

… feelings of humanity, by reason of their long imprisonment, give the Prisoners a claim to some modification as to the Capital part of their punishment, if not a full remission of their sentence. [They] obeyed without hesitation the summons to deliver themselves up together with their arms and ammunition, having assembled at the place appointed for that purpose, conceiving (as I have reason to believe they did) that they should meet with forgiveness from Government […] all which considerations incline me to think that lenity ought, if possible, to be shewn to the Prisoners…

AmaCoverThis present author suspects that, with Dundas’ uncle no longer the Colonial Secretary in Britain to “run cover” for him, he may in fact be looking for a useful political way to “make the whole mess [he himself had caused] go away”. He has retained the colony, though admittedly by paying tribute to men with spears.  The men on the border have been pacified by positive measures. In fact they have happily ridden out on commando under the leadership of British Army Major Sherlock. A Boer commando riding out under British leadership is an entirely new concept at this point. All of this proves that the Frontiersmen have never been opposed to proper government; they have been opposed to incompetent government.

The complete story of the disastrous First British Occupation of the Cape of Good Hope may be read in AmaBhulu – The Birth and death of the Second America.

Die Kaap is weer Hollands

This Afrikaans phrase, implying all is well again, translates directly as “The Cape is Dutch again“. It applies at this point, because, on 30 April 1802, a letter [11] is sent from London to Governor Dundas. It reads:

Sir,- I have the honor to transmit to you herewith His Majesty’s Royal Sign Manual directing you to deliver the Settlement of the Cape of Good Hope with the fortifications thereof in the state in which they now are, to such Person as shall be authorized to receive the same on the part of the Batavian Republic, […]

Under the Treaty of Amiens between Britain and France, the Cape is to be given back to the Dutch Batavian government and be allowed to service all ships. The Afrikaner captives are all to be released; all except Adriaan van Jaarsveld. He has died in British hands, just as Marthinus Prinsloo predicted in 1799 he would.

Marthinus’ stay in the Cape Town Castle jail earns him the nickname “Kasteel” (Castle), a sobriquet that he will in time pass on to his son, Hendrik, whom we shall meet in due course. Marthinus has survived his first “rebellion.”

The British Empire, however, has a long memory, as we shall duly see in Part 5. And it shall lead to 150 years of intense resentment.


  1. G. McCall Theal, Records of the Cape Colony, Vol. 3, (1898), p.230; Criminal claim etc. etc. We quote from the: “…all the Inhabitants of that part of the District Graaff Reinet, the Field Commandants and Field Cornets, and also those that had obtained Certificates from General Vandeleur only excepted, were required to deliver up to the Commanding Officer the Arms and Ammunition in their possession.
  2. G. McCall Theal, Records of the Cape Colony, Vol. 5, (1899), p. 49
  3. G. McCall Theal, The History of South Africa (1795 – 1834), (1891), p. 47
  4. G. McCall Theal, Records of the Cape Colony, Vol. 3, (1898), p. 269; Criminal Claim and Conclusion made and demanded by the Fiscal versus Marthinus Prinslo and his Accomplices
  5. G. McCall Theal, Records of the Cape Colony, Vol. 3, (1898), p. 295; Sentence of the Court
  6. G. McCall Theal, Records of the Cape Colony, Vol. 3, (1898), p. 212; Extracts from a Report of the Commissioners Maynier and Somerville to Sir George Yonge, 14 August 1800
    1. McCall Theal, Records of the Cape Colony, Vol. 4, (1899), p. 82; Hobart to Maj. Gen. Dundas, 12 Oct. 1801
  7. G. McCall Theal, Records of the Cape Colony, Vol. 3, (1899), p. 480; Hobart to F. Dundas, May 1, 1801
  8. G. McCall Theal, Records of the Cape Colony, Vol. 4, (1899), pp. 98-101; Sherlock to Dundas, 30 Nov. 1801
    1. McCall Theal, Records of the Cape Colony, Vol. 4, (1899), p. 114; Letter from Dundas to Lord Hobart
  9. G. McCall Theal, Records of the Cape Colony, Vol. 4, (1899), p. 282; Letter Lord Hobart to Dundas

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