Lady Anne’s journals were revised from her original diaries and produced for the interest of her immediate family and friends. They were never intended for publication. However, they are invaluable for the light which they cast on ‘the interesting domestic particulars of life in Cape Town’, dealing with matters which male writers ignored. In addition, her place in society, as wife to the secretary of the first British governor of the Cape and the latter’s official hostess, gave her access to a wide range of classes and people. Although carefully censored, her journals, enhanced by the quality of her writing, give a unique of view of life at the Cape at the end of the 18th century.
He upbraided me much, Anne Elizabeth Barnard more and at last was so insolent to me that he fortunately provoked me to do what I never did to any thing before in my life, to give him a box on the ear which had instantaneously a good effect, as it gave him an awe of me for the moment, which I was sorry afterwards he ever could have felt in that way. A little reasoning after this, convinced him that as I could hardly procure a Bed for Miss Barnard, I could not ask one for him; he did not see that, at first, or why he might not have slept with Miss Barnard, or PaweIl or any body. However on promising that he should visit us on shore next day if he behaved well he permitted us to depart, Doctor Patterson, his Wife and Sister together with Capt. Urmston filling the Boat, the first in low spirits from having seen nothing (as he said) but misery and want of comfort in the Town with infinite difficulty of obtaining any place to put his head in; I afterwards found that the difficulty arose out of a droll ‘mal entendu’ [misunderstanding] of the Doctors who expressed himself when asking for Lodgings for himself and two Ladies in such a manner as to make the Dutch believe them two Ladies of a certain description being extremely strict on such plurality’s they all drew up, and chill’d our sweet Doctor into perfect despondency.
The evening was now fine. . .. the Boat set off from the Ship and in half an hour we row’d up to the quay having left Hudson12 to take care of the animals… the plants & Young Obstreperous, we ascended by a flight of steps, perhaps of a ruder quality than I had seen before and were wished Joy of being now on Terra Firma. Tho’ at above six thousand miles distance from every object of our affections ourselves only excepted to ourselves.
The Captain proceeded on with us to Mr. Stromboms, while the Doctor with his Ladies proceeded on to the abode he had provided for them. “And this is Africa” said I, raising my eyes up to the immense height before me, 3,500 feet or more. . . “and we are here. . . what a wonderful thing this life is, with the power of acting as we fancy or fancying we act as we please how impelled & Governed are we by combinations of circumstances which often decide for us so oppositely from what may be called our natural taste!”
But I foresaw that I should have plenty of time to ruminate on all this fore Africa and I separated, and I pressed on. The path to the Town for t passengers was thro’ a large parade ground; as we approached it an enclosed Square caught my eye with a building at the upper end of it and one or two Gallows’es erected before it, on ground which seemed to have been raised for the purpose of rendering the whole the more conspicuous. It was a place altogether sufficient to make an honest person tremble, how much more then must a Rogue have been struck with the Cape Court of punishment, and I may add of Torture, tho’ it has never been applied to that purpose by the English since they were Masters of the place, but the dutch laws for the Natives and for the Slaves still continuing in force (according I suppose to the Articles of Capitulation) I heard that there had been lately some executions of black people for heavy crimes, which executions d been so contrary to our ideas of humanity, that it was expected the gush would endeavour to abolish Torture altogether, by which they could very much displease the dutch for reasons we shall afterwards come 13• I very heartily prayed for this and pressed on.
The first indications of Slavery to my free born eyes, and of the opposite ranks in human life, here trotted past us; it was evening, the time when the laves sent by their Masters to gather wood, at a distance perhaps of 8 or 10 miles from Town, return with their bundles, the poor fellow sets off each morning before day break, without shoes or Stockings, and but a very scanty proportion in general of other covering, each has a handkerchief d round his head, chiefly of a crimson check pattern, the only bit of clothing that a slave is rarely seen without, he carries with him his provisions for the day which he eats when he gets to the farthest point of his journey. Sleeps a few hours during the heat then searches about for wood load his pole, (a long stick slung across his shoulders) to which at each d he ties his bundle of faggots, and heavy would the double load be, were not that one of the bundles is his own he sells it therefore for his private e, and I hope gets enough to buy him tobacco & to feed his Wife and 1d supposing they are not also the property of his Master which is generally the case, policy rather than humanity leading the dutch constantly to buy families rather than individual Slaves as they find them happier, more honest and more attached.
New to me as the appearance of those poor Slaves were, I could not help ling more pity for them than I thought perhaps that I was justified for afterwards, when I saw the kind manner in which the Stromboms and some of my acquaintances treated theirs. . . so much the reverse of what I have heard of the hardships shown to those in the West Indies. We had only reached the parade when a Gentleman made up to us, it was our host, Mr Strombom and he was followed by Dr. Hazelton,14 in both I was disappointed for the better, in the first I expected to find an oldish danish Merchant more of the French than of the English Man, in the last a steady Physician skilful and Technical in dress, phrase & appearance, with great ability and worth however. In Mr. S. I saw a very good looking young Man, the reverse of graceful or easy, but very civil, foreign, and Rosy. While the doctor instead of being like a Doctor was far more of the Invalid general or worthy quarter Master with a very handsome countenance in which there was a good deal of Ireland & a share of Scotland . . . Mr Strombom was followed by his chaise & four to carry us to his House, but the feeling of hard land, steady & firm underfoot was so delightful and the pleasure of looking about one so great, that I begged to walk on and sent my maid & Pawell in the Carriage. “You must call on my good old Friend Mother de Wit” said Capt. Urmston. I resisted believing that Lord Macartney was there, but she could not receive him, so he went to her Sons, and in I was hauled rather against my dignity, to see this old Lady en passant.
Edited by A.M. Lewin Robinson with Margaret Lenta and Dorothy Driver
Dr Antony Lewin Robinson was director of the South African Library from 1961-1981, and was responsible for the acquisition of some of the original Lady Anne Barnard letters for the library in 1948. He made a special study of them over the years that resulted in the publication of The Letters of Lady Anne Barnard to Henry Dundas 1793-1803, in 1973.