The 1820 Settlers Landing

Wagon crossing driftThe governor of the Cape, Lord Charles Somerset, planned an agricultural settlement in the Eastern Cape as a ‘buffer’ between the Xhosas and the Cape Colony. This would reduce the need for the military to maintain the frontier. The Xhosas had already occupied the area between the Bushmen’s River and the Great Fish River by the end of the 1700’s. They believed that the land belonged to the entire community, but then the Dutch trekkers arrived there and claimed the land as farms for their own use.

There had already been five wars, between 1779 and 1818, between the Xhosa people and the white farmers in the Eastern Cape, as a result of boundary disputes. The Dutch farmers knew that the land in this area was not suitable for cultivation, but better suited for stock farming and yet they avoided it because of Xhosa cattle raiding.

Since unemployment was a growing problem in Britain after the Napoleonic Wars, Lord Somerset’s scheme seemed to offer a solution to both the problems in the Cape and in Britain. On 12 July 1819, the British government voted £50,000 for a scheme that would take as many people as possible to South Africa. The government promised settlers their own farms in South Africa. The idea of starting a new life in a new land held a romantic appeal to many who were struggling to make a living in Britain.

On 10th April 1820, the Chapman, which was the first of the settler transport ships, arrived in Algoa Bay. In the same month, the Nautilus, the Ocean, the Kennersley Castle and the Northampton also arrived with emigrants seeking to start a new life in the Eastern Cape. Within weeks, the first parties departed for the Albany district seeking to make a new life for themselves.

Sir Rufane Donkin arrived on June 6 to superintend the settlement of the emigrants. On this day he named the embryo town after his late wife, Elizabeth Donkin.

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Text:  R Hift                                                                                                                                                                   Photographer:  PE Library

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Last updated:
3 October 2012 7:51