CAPE OF GOOD HOPE.
The following account of the inhabitants of this settlement is given by a late traveller.
The education of youth has hitherto been very much neglected: the government never hit upon any successful plan for the establishment of public schools; and the individual had no other ambition but that of qualifying his sons, by writing and accounts, to become servants of the Company. This body of merchants had a number of persons in their employ, who were very ill paid. Their salaries, indeed, were sufficient to afford them a bare subsistence ; but it tacitly allowed them to negotiate for themselves: the consequence of such a conduct was, that each became a kind of petty dealer. Each had his little private shop in some corner of his house. The most paltry articles were in the list of their commodities for sale ; and those who ranked high in government, and assumed a string of full-founding epithets to their names, felt no sore of indignity in retailing the produce of their gardens ; not indeed, avowedly, but through the medium of their slaves. In fact, the minds of every class, the Governor, the Clergy, the F[?]l, and the Secretary of the Court of Justice excepted, were wholly bent on trade. Knopman, or merchant, was a title that conferred rank at the Cape, to which the military even aspired. On this subject the ideas of the Dutch differ widely from those of the Chinese, who have degraded the merchant into the very lowest order of their society.
That portion of the day, not employed in the concerns of trade, is usually devoted to the gratification of the sensual appetite. Few have any taste for reading, and none for the cultivation of the fine arts.–They have no kind of public amusements, except occasional balls ; nor is there much social intercourse but by family parties; which usually consist of card playing or dancing. Money-matters and merchandize engross their whole conversation : yet none are opulent, though many in easy circumstances. There are no beggars in the whole colony, and but a few who are objects of public charity. The subsistence for these is derived from the interest of a fund established out of the church superfluities, from alms, donations, and collections, made after divine service, and not from any tax laid upon the public. Except, indeed, a few colonial assessments for the repairs of the streets and public works, the inhabitants of the Cape have little drawback on their profits, on the produce of their labour.
It has been the remark of most travellers, that the ladies of the Cape are pretty, lively, and good humoured ; possessing little of that phlegmatic temper which is a principal trait in the national character of the Dutch. The difference in the manners and appearance of the young men and the young women, in the same family, is inconceivably great. The former are clumsy in their shape, awkward in in their carriage, and of an unsocial disposition; whilst the latter are generally of a small, delicate form, below the middle size, of easy and unaffected manners, well dressed, and fond of social intercourse; an indulgence in which they are seldom restrained by their parents, and which they as seldom turn to abuse. They are here indeed less dependent on, and less subject to, the caprice of parents than else where. Primogeniture entitles to no advantage; but all the children, male and female, share alike in the family property. No parent can disinherit a child without assigning, on proof, on at least of the fourteen reasons enumerated in the Justinian Code.
By the law of the colony, a community of all property, both real and personal, is supposed to take place on the marriage of two person unless the contrary should be particularly provided against by solemn contract made before marriage. Where no such contract exists, the children, on the death of either parent, are entitled to that half of the joint property, which was supposed to belong to the deceased, and which cannot be withheld on application after they are come of age.
It is but justice to the young females of the Cape to r emark, that many of them have profited much more than could be expected from the limited means of education that the place affords. In the better families, most of them are taught music, and some have acquired a tolerable degree of execution. Many understand the French language, and some have made great proficiency in the English. They are expert at the needle, and all kinds of lace, knotting, and tambour work, and in general make up their own dresses, following the prevailing fashion of England brought from time to time by the female passengers bound to India, from whom they may be said to “Catch the manners living as they rise”
Neither are the other sex, while boys, deficient in vivacity or talent ; but, for want of the means of a proper education, to open their minds, and excite in them a desire of knowledge, they soon degenerate into the common routine of eating, smoaking [sic], and sleeping. Few of the male inhabitants associate with the English, except such as hold employments under the Government. This backwardness may be said to be owing in part to the different habits of the two nations, and partly, perhaps, to the reluctance that a vanquished people must always feel in mixing with their conquerors.
Citation: Glasgow Advertiser (Glasgow, United Kingdom), 23 April 1792, available at the Scissors and Paste Database, http://www.scissorsandpaste.net/90.