The Birth of a Plural Society

  • T. R. H. Davenport
  • Christopher Saunders


European association with southern Africa began with the Portuguese circumnavigation of the Cape of Good Hope at the end of the fifteenth century. With rare exceptions, however, the Portuguese did not land there, preferring to frequent Saint Helena and east coast havens rather than put in at the ‘Cape of Storms’. Although the English, French and Dutch East India Companies all considered establishing a base during the seventeenth century, only the Dutch did so. On 6 April 1652, Jan van Riebeeck arrived with three ships to settle in Table Bay. The high sickness and mortality rates among sailors reflected in the Cape Journal of the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) show what chiefly lay behind the decision, for the worst cases on record were very severe. Three vessels which arrived on 18 February 1726 had lost between them 251 men out of a total of 557 on board; another two which arrived on 15 February 1732 had lost 370 out of 439; and Moodie records that in 1771 twelve ships lost between them 1,034 men — approximately half their crews — chiefly from scurvy. The continuing need for a vegetable garden and a hospital, which Van Riebeeck was instructed to establish, is not hard to understand.


Eighteenth Century Race Attitude White Mother Plural Society Human Problem 
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Bibliographical Notes

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Copyright information

© T. R. H. Davenport and Christopher Saunders 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • T. R. H. Davenport
    • 1
  • Christopher Saunders
    • 2
  1. 1.Rhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa
  2. 2.University of Cape TownSouth Africa

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