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Shipping and the Economy of Cape Town in the 1700s
On average, seventy ships per year docked at Table Bay, 64% of them owned by the VOC. Since ships generally rested at Cape Town for 20 to 30 days, one can easily imagine how very diverse were the streets of Cape Town in the eighteenth century.

Visitors commented on the 'babel' of languages and great range of currencies in use. For at least one visitor it was too much. The granddaughter of Jan van Riebeeck visited Cape Town in 1710 and she wrote 'one sees here all sorts of peculiar people who live in very strange ways' (Worden et al Pg. 39).

Visitors were the main economic lifeblood of the town. The attraction of profits drew many burghers to switch from farming to trading. By 1731 there were 21 lodging houses. Carpenters did a roaring trade, helping to patch up ships.

There must have been great excitement in the city when the sound of the cannon was heard from Signal Hill to announce the arrival of ships. The townsfolk would await news of the fleet as a corporal scurried down the hill, first carrying the details to the Governor.


Many homes maintained large stocks of goods to sell to sailors (shops contravened VOC rules, but officials turned a blind eye to home trading) and they stocked goods from Asia and Europe.

Cape Town thus became known for tobacco, cottons, wines, rice, tea, silks and chintzes. As the town grew more wealthy some of the finery began to adorn local homes too. In this gathering economy there was work in a wide range of trades and the economy grew and diversified.


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