The opening of the first Cape Parliament, 1 July 1854
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The British captured Cape Town from the Dutch in 1795. This was the period of the French Revolutionary War and British held the Cape to protect their trade routes to and from India, China and Australia. It was returned to the Dutch for a short period but in 1814-15 it was ceded to the British as a result of the Congress of Vienna that split the spoils of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.
The Dutch had been in the Cape since Jan Van Riebeck's colony in 1652. French Protestants, Huguenots, arrived in the 1680s and many South Africans trace their names to that period - De Villiers, Le Roux and Du Plessis.
In 1819 Parliament gave grants to people willing to settle the Cape - not unlike the £10 passages to Australia after WWII. The British were followed by Germans, Poles and Swedes.
Britain enacted anti-slavery legislation but the Dutch wanted to keep slaves even though they lived under English law. Here was the basis of the confrontation between the British and the Boers, the Dutch farmers.
In the early 1800s, English was rarely spoken or understood in the Cape. Even the Low Dutch spoken in Europe would not have been easily interpreted. The local Dutch spoke a harsh and an abbreviation of the original. It took 30 years before English became established and that was because it was used in the law courts, the stock exchanges and most importantly, in education. The pupils in the Church and the London Missionary Societies' schools were singing their hymns - thus elementary theology - and learning their rotes in English. Schooling became in all colonies, including the Cape, the single most important offering of the British.
Sir John Herschel, the astronomer, introduced a plan to establish a new education system in the colony. There would be 25 schools and help for a further 25 run by missionaries. The British were determined to stay and stamp every aspect of the settlement with their institutions - government, law and education. The Dutch felt beleaguered. For example, when in 1839 Herschel planned to build an observatory the Dutch complained that the English would not even leave their stars alone.Back to top