Jeremiah Goldswain was born in Buckinghamshire, England in 1802. In early nineteenth century England young people were faced with unemployment and hundreds of them chose to leave Britain because they heard that work was waiting across the sea. When the British government’s plan to assist emigration was announced the response from boys like Goldswain was overwhelming. Against the advice of his parents, the young boy, aged 17, joined a party that sailed to the Cape of Good Hope on board the “Zoroaster”, arriving in Simon’s Bay on 30 April 1820.

An early sketch of Grahamstown

Goldswain was part of a party of 28 under the leadership of William Wait. After arriving at Algoa Bay the party travelled to a location called Raven Hill on the banks of the Bushman’s River, where they built a house for Mr and Mrs Wait and helped with sowing crops and planting fruit trees. In 1821 Goldswain found employment as a sawyer, the trade he had performed in Britain. In 1822 he married Eliza Debnam who had arrived with her parents in 1820.

Settlers cottage in Albany
Settler’s cottage in Albany

In the years that followed Goldswain was farming but was also actively involved in the Frontier Wars as a driver of an army transport wagon. He and his family’s daily life continued under constant threat of danger. He died in Grahamstown in 1871 and left us with an honest record of the life of a British settler in Albany during the first years of the settlement when the issue of White or Black occupation of the frontier still lay in the balance.

Xhosa man throwing a spear

Despite his lack of formal education, Goldswain nevertheless had enough literary vigour to write a record of forty years’ experiences in a language which is almost a new version of English. Journals written phonetically in his Midlands-English dialect have awakened the interest of linguists as well as historians. His journal is written with beguiling, naïve candour.

Goldswain’s Handwriting

Extract from the text

“……had killed severel of the traders and that they ware driving all the Cattle and sheep out of the Colney into Kaffer Land: the next Morning 26th. I left my fatherinlaws for home caled on the Rev S Young at Salem to asatain if the report wich we had heard wa true: he said that he feared that it was to true and wished me to com in and take sum refreshment and wait untill his Servent and others that had gon to Grahams Town 15 Miles to know the sertntey of it [returned?]. I in­formed him that I had my wife and Six Children in the Waggne: he wished them all to com in. I went to the Wagen and informed my wife and she wished for ous to go on with out informing Mr. Young and that I could apolige for leveing without informing him the cause as we wished to go as far as Mr. Leaches [Leech] that night about 12 Miles from Salem. We left and had not procead more then half a Mile before I thought that I heard sum one calling to me: I sprung up on the wagon Chest and saw Mr. Young running and holding his sides calling out at the top of his voice: Goldswain hare you mad? I said: I hope I ham not. He said that he beleved that I was if I pursisted in Going on. I said that I wished to git to Mr. Leches [Leech’s] at the Crecer [Kareiga River] so that we mite beable to git home erley the next Morning: no you shall not go on untill we hear from Grahams Town and them you will have time to go thear if you are a little late: so we ware forst to return to Mr. Youngs. We out spand the Oxen and tied them up to the wagon and soone the partey returned from Grahams Town and brought Letters stating that they Kaffers was in Great forse in the Kowie Bush and that they Kaffers had murdred two or three men close to G. Town: they two Mr. Eselens [Eastland] was sent to inform Mr. Leech and to pursuade him and his famley to com in to Salem as quict as posable. They found Mr. Leech at home and they prepared to com to Salem but begun to think that they Kaffers was not so neer: they kiled a sheep and bakeda plum cake: they Oxen ware in spand: by this time it was quit dark. Mrs. Leech went to the Wagon to put in a dress and as she was at the frunt of the Wagon she saw a Kaffer Loocking into the hinder part of the Wagon. Informing Mr. Leech they all went out and saw they Kaffer coming up they Wagon drift close to the House: they fird at them and drove they Kaffers back but they caled out in duch to Mr. Leech that altho they had driven them back they wold com over they sanddrift and that they ware com for they Cattle and that they wold have them. They came over and drove all they Cattle round the house and they three men ware sepreated: one of the Eastlands and Mr. Leech was driven from the house and had to retreat to Salem 12 Miles. My Wagon and Mr. T King snr. was standing under the Garden fence of the Mission House neer to the Chaple they Wagons betwen, the two. I and Mr. King with our farnleys ware invited to go into the Chaple but Mrs. G. at this time injoied but a verey poor state of health so that I was not agree to it as I had just left they Chaple and saw in the Chaple English Duch Hottentots Bushuners &c and what of the wormth of the wether and so many Natives stoed to gather it was irnposable for her to stay in thear. We all ware afraid that they Kaffers wold com and trie for they Cattle and horses as we had heard firen not far from Salem so I tuck my gun out of the wagon and sude sentrey over the two Wagons untill half past eleven oclock. I had just been to the Chaple to see if [there was a]ney news: I laid down under the Wagon about five minetes when I heard two Guns fierd at sume distence and the voice calling out for helpe. Eight or twelve men went to meet them and found that it was Mr Leech and Mr. Eastland wich had been dreven from the House and stated that wen they left they Kaffers …”

Sketch Map to Illustrate Goldswain’s Chronical 1820-36



Una Long was a Fieldworker in History at Rhodes University, where she was charged with the task of locating, and securing for the Cory Library, privately owned unofficial manuscripts relating to the history of South Africa.