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The British Era
(page 1)
On 9 July, 1795, a squadron of the British fleet under Admiral Keith Elphinstone sailed into Simon's Town harbour, which the VOC had neglected to fortify.

Major-General James Craig and his infantry went ashore and negotiations began, but broke down in early August. A regiment of Khoe soldiers, sent out by their masters to do battle at Muizenberg, retreated after a brief skirmish and the town surrendered.

The cause of the British invasion was war with Napoleon. The Dutch King had fled and a puppet regime established in Holland. Britain sent troops to the Cape before revolutionary France could capture the strategic port. It was intended as a temporary occupation, until Napoleon was defeated, and the British returned the settlement to Dutch rule when peace was established in 1803.

In January 1806, however, hostilities resumed and the British returned to the Cape, landing to the north of the city at Blouberg. The Scots Highlanders, blowing their pipes, advanced and the mercenaries hired to oppose them fled.

The British remained a 'temporary force' until 1814, when the comprehensive peace following Waterloo gave the Cape to Britain. Up until that time, and for some years to come, the British were content to keep the status quo - perhaps to the surprise of the local people.

The administration of the VOC was retained, the legal system remained Roman-Dutch law and Dutch was used widely in government. The early Governors - like Lord Charles Somerset (1811-26) - were themselves landed aristocrats and had much in common with the powerful Cape land owners. Furthermore the Burgher Senate continued to run the town. The VOC was gone, with all its autocratic restrictions on trade, to be replaced by a British authority with a surprisingly light touch.

The British garrison - at times numbering 8000 personnel - helped to stimulate the local economy and British troops defended the eastern frontier where the trekboers had encountered the powerful Xhosa.

By 1820 only 757 British people had settled in the Cape. Meanwhile the economy had strengthened and farmers were reaping the rewards of favourable tariffs for wine exports to Britain.

Perhaps the most memorable impression of the British in these early years was of aristocrats based in India arriving with servants, to banquet with the Governor and set off on shooting expeditions into the interior.

In all other respects the town continued along Dutch lines, indeed with greater freedom and political participation than they had enjoyed under the VOC. There was, in the first twenty to thirty years, considerable continuity with the past. This suited the British, who wished to minimise administration costs and avoid confrontation.

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Heritage Sections
· Culture ·
· Environment ·
History · Society
Personalities · Areas

In this period of Cape History:



Reform Movement

Afrikaner Reaction

A City Develops

Imperial Capital

The Rise of Prejudice

Boom Years

The End of British Rule


Bibliography & Contacts


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