| The British
| 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
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
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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· Culture ·
In this period of Cape History:
A City Develops
The Rise of
The End of British Rule