For the domestic character of the Boer we will consult the Scandinavian traveller Sparrmann, who gives us one of the earliest sketches of the Boer "at home." Though the illusion that the industrious and cleanly Hollander was merely transplanted from one soil to another is somewhat dispelled, the picture is generally acknowledged to be a true one.
"It is hardly to be conceived," he wrote in 1776, "with what little trouble the
Boer gets into order a field of a moderate size .so that . . . he may be almost said
to make the cultivation of it, for the bread he stands in need of for himself and
his family, a mere matter of amusement. . . . With pleasure, but without the least
trouble to himself he sees the herds and flocks which constitute his riches daily
and considerably increasing. These are driven to pasture and home again by a few
Hottentots or slaves, who likewise make the butter; so that it is almost only with
the milking that the farmer, together with his wife and children, concern themselves
at all. To do this business, however, he has no occasion to rise before seven or
eight o'clock in the morning. . . . That they (the Boers) might not put their arms
and bodies out of the easy and commodious posture in which they had laid them on
the couch when they were taking their afternoon siesta, they have been known to receive
travellers lying quite still and motionless, excepting that they have very civilly
pointed out the road by moving their foot to the right or left. . . . Among a set
of beings so devoted to their ease, one might naturally expect to meet with a variety
of the most commodious easy-
When viewing this study of rustic indolence, we must remember also the conditions
under which it was found. The natural fertility of the Country, the demoralising
influence of slave-
"The amusements of the people were few. . . Those who p05sessed numerous slaves usually had three or four of them trained to the use of the violin, the blacks being peculiarly gifted with an ear for music, and easily learning to play by sound. They had thus the means at hand of amusing theirselves with dancing, and of entertaining visitors with music. The branches of widely extended families were constantly exchanging visits with each other. A farmer would make his waggon ready regularly every year, when half the household or more would leave home, and spend a week or two with each relative, often being absent a couple of months. Birthday anniversaries of aged people were celebrated by the assembling of their descendants, frequently to the number of eighty or a hundred, at the residence of the patriarch, when a feast was prepared for their entertainment. These different reunions were naturally productive of great pleasure, and tended to cement the friendship and love of those who otherwise might seldom see each other. The life led by the people when at home was exceedingly tame. The mistress of the house, who moved about but little, issued orders to slaves or Hottentot females concerning the work of the household. If the weather was chilly or damp, she rested her feet on a little box filled with live coals, while beside her stood a coffee kettle never empty. The head of the family usually inspected his flocks morning and evening, and passed the remainder of the day, like his helpmate, in the enjoyment of ease. When repose itself became wearisome, he mounted his horse, and, with an attendant to carry his gun, set off in pursuit of some of the wild animals with which the country then abounded. The children had few games, and, though strong and healthy, were far from sprightly."
A dislike for the English seems to have been felt by the Cape Dutch very early. This dislike later hostilities must have heightened; but as far back as iSi6 we learn that even shrewd and sensible farmers were heard to declaim against our methods of scientific agriculture, and resist all efforts at its introduction into their work. One of them, when informed of the saving of time and labour that certain implements would effect, answered with characteristic conservatism. "What," said he, "would you have us do? Our only concern is to fill our bellies, to get good clothes and houses, to say to one slave, 'Do this,' and to another, 'Do that,' and to sit idle ourselves and be waited upon. As to our tillage, or building, or planting, our forefathers did so and so and were satisfied, and why should not we do the same? The English want us to use their ploughs instead of our heavy wooden ones, and recommend other implements of husbandry than those we have been used to; but we like our old things best."
This preference for the old instead of the new has been the rock on which friendship
between Briton and Doer has split. All ideas of reform have been met with suspicion-
Mr. Nixon tells a story of an equally conservative Boer. This worthy went to a store at Kimberley with bundles of tobacco for sale. The Boer carefully weighed them out with some scales of his own that were evidently an heirloom. The storekeeper reweighed the bundles, remarking on the antiquity of the scales, and observing that they gave short weight. He suggested the use of the store scales as the standard for computing the price, which was to be fixed at so much a pound. But the Boer would not hear of it. 'No," said he, "these were my father's scales, and he was a wise man and was neyer cheated, and I won't use anybody else's." The storekeeper dryly rcn~arked that he did not desire to press the matter, since he found himself a gainer by £12 in consequence of the Boer's conservative instincts!
Many writers urge that the Boer is naturally uneivil, that he lacks the true feeling
of hospitality. The original Doer, before he was seized with a hatred for the British,
was more justly speaking lacking in civility than what we term uncivil. He knew nothing
of the art of being obliging to his fellow-
"The Dutch farmer is in some respects very unlike his supposed counterpart in England.
His pursuits are pastoral, not agricultural, for in most parts of South Africa the
want of irrigation renders the cultivation of cereals impossible. His idea of a
'farm' is a tract of at least 6ooo acres, over which his flocks and herds can move
from one pasture to another. His labourers are' all natives, and though, before the
advent of storekeepers, he used often to make his own clothes, boots (veld-
"Although he is incredibly ignorant, and very self-
The most unpleasing trait in the Boer character is his calousness, amounting to brutality, in the case of natives and of animals.
It must always be remembered that in discussing the early Boer we are discussing the peasant, and that neither his ignorance nor other shortcomings must be viewed in comparison with the failings of persons of a higher social grade. When the Boers left the Cape Colony they had no knowledge of what the word education meant. Tbe state of public education in 1837 was deplorable. There were missionary schools and a few desultory teachers, who had in very few cases the mental or the moral qualities to fit them for the task of instruction. The most they did was to teach the young idea how to read or scribble its name. For this they received trifling fees, but doubtless these fees were no more trifling than the services rendered. Such free schools as existed, and were nominally supported by Government, were so indifferently managed that they were treated with contempt, even by the farmers. So long as they could thumb out their favourite passages of the Psalms, and sign what few documents they required, they were content. Of their ignorance they were even inclined to be proud. Their own notions of geography and history seemed to them infinitely preferable to any that might be offered, and in this state of blissful ignorance they trekked away from Cape Colony to learn no more. When they started forth, some, it is averred, imagined by steadily working north they would reach Jerusalem; others, covered with faith, and armed with gospel and sjambok, sincerely believed that eventually they would reach the Promised Land.
|The Growth of the Transvaal|
|The Web Thickens|
|The Zulu War|
|Isandlwana, an hour by hour account|
|Affairs at Home|
|The First Anglo Boer War|
|Between the Wars|
|The Fate of SGT Elliot|
|The Siege of Pretoria|
|The Reform Movement|
|The Critical Moment|
|The Fate of the Raiders|