1840 - Johnson, J. Pitts. Plain Truths, Told by a Traveller [New Zealand sections] - [Cape Town] p 1-7

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  1840 - Johnson, J. Pitts. Plain Truths, Told by a Traveller [New Zealand sections] - [Cape Town] p 1-7
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[Cape Town]

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WE quitted the Downs on the 6th of May, and arrived in Table Bay, Cape of Good Hope, on the morning of the 8th of August, after a passage of three months of as beautiful weather, and as favourable breezes, as commonly fall to a man's lot: but owing to the vessel (a merchant brig) being very deeply laden, the voyage, which is often performed in two months, occupied us ninety-two days. At a distance of from forty to sixty miles, in fine clear weather, may be distinguished, in approaching the Cape of Good Hope, a remarkable eminence called the Table Mountain; so termed from its summit being a flat horizontal surface, from which its side descends in an almost perpendicular manner. When the top of the mountain is covered with a white fog, it is the certain indicator, during the winter months, of a strong northwest wind, which, blowing immediately into the teeth of the bay, prevents any vessels getting out, sometimes drives them on shore at the head of the bay, and, often lasts from eight to ten days at a time. We suffered from one of the gales for six days; during which period it was impossible for any boat to quit the shore, except with imminent danger to the lives of the men, and the loss of the boats; or for any boat, to quit a ship to proceed on shore. As much as eighty guineas was offered by the captain of the Vine brig, to take him off to his vessel with an anchor and cable, which did not lie above two hundred yards from the jetty,

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but without effect. One vessel, the Amelia barque, went on shore; but was luckily got off, without any serious damage, in the course of a week after the cessation of the gale. On the first appearance of the cloud, the signal is hoisted at the harbour-master's office, to strike lower yards and topmasts, and make everything snug for a breeze. Most of the vessels in the harbour drifted more or less; we ourselves parted two anchors and cables.

Table Mountain is 3657 feet above the level of the sea. On the top is a basin of most beautifully cool water. To the westward of Table Mountain, and separated from it only by a valley, is another eminence called the Sugar loaf, or, more commonly, the Lion's Head; and contiguous to it another termed the Lion's Rump. They are so denominated from their resemblance, (when you take a general view of the whole,) to that animal, with its head erect. On the Lion's Rump is a flag-staff, which signals to the town the approach of all vessels coming to, and passing the port, together with their numbers, from whence they come, &c. To the eastward of Table Mountain, separated from it only by a chasm, is another hill denominated the Devil's Head; from a superstitious supposition of the sailors, that when it partakes of the fog which, de temps en temps, envelopes the Table Mount, violent gusts of wind issue from it; whereas the violence of the breeze is attributable to the confined space of the chasm, which separates the Devil's Head from Table Mountain, through which the wind rushes. In the immediate neighbourhood of the Lion's Head, are the celebrated vineyards of Constantia, now the property of an Englishman.

At the base of these hills, which form a kind of amphitheatre around it, in Table valley, is situated Cape Town. There is only one landing-place; a wooden jetty extending some feet into the bay, on which are some cranes for the hoisting up of goods brought alongside in the boats.

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Very good water is here conducted by pipes, by which means the shipping is easily supplied with water. Close to the jetty, at the east end of the town, stands the castle and principal fortress which defends the whole of this side of the town: it accommodates a great number of the military. About half a mile from thence, in the south part of the town, are the new barracks; a very commodious building. At the west end of the town stands another, but smaller fort, which commands the entrance to the harbour. The appearance of the town from the shipping is exceedingly pleasing. The town itself is kept very clean; the streets are mostly broad and well paved, and intersect each other at right angles. The houses, which are mostly built of stone, and in the Dutch fashion, are spacious and convenient; but, from the proximity of the stables to the domicile, added to the dirt of the slaves, have not, in general, the most agreeable effluvia. They seldom exceed two stories, owing to the prevalence of the south-east winds in the summer season, as it should have been mentioned before, that the fog enveloping Table Mountain during the summer months, is the same indicator of a south-east wind, as it is of a north-wester in the winter, or quaade mousson. The roofs are in general covered with shingles or tiles. The Governor's residence is a commodious building; but much cannot be said for its elegance, as it was built by the English prior to its being ceded to the Dutch, 1801. It is situated towards the south part of the town, and nearly in the centre of a most beautiful garden, in which the English and Dutch floral taste are both combined to heighten its charms. This is a public lounge; and the band of one of the regiments stationed in Cape Town plays there every Sunday afternoon. Near the top of the principal walk is a small menagerie, containing some two or three lions, a tiger, and some jackalls; on the opposite side are three or four very fine ostriches.

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The coloured inhabitants of the Cape are mostly strong, stout, and athletic; but from the trifling cost of both wine and spirits, their minds and bodies are totally enervated. It is no uncommon thing to see these unfortunate beings almost destitute of clothing, rolling about the streets.

The descendants of the Dutch and English are hospitable, sober, intelligent, and friendly people, willing to assist a stranger with their advice and influence. In Cape Town there are churches of nearly all denominations. The farmers, in visiting Cape Town with their produce, come in large covered waggons, drawn by sixteen, eighteen, and sometimes, when the roads are very heavy, as many as twenty oxen to each waggon. They are generally driven by some slave sitting on the forepart of the waggon, and with a very long whip, which, from its size, he is obliged to hold in two hands, guiding them with admirable dexterity; but, on entering Cape Town, they are obliged to have a boy to lead the first pair of oxen, as several accidents happened through their being alarmed by the noise that everywhere assailed their ears on entering a crowded thoroughfare, after quitting the almost death-like silent bush.

The oxen are well formed, and large boned animals, capable of undergoing a great deal of fatigue; and, from the sandy nature of the country, I should say, much more serviceable than horses on a journey. They are generally first broke in to work at the age of two and a half years, and continue fit for burden until they are eight years old; after which time they are fattened up to kill. Horses are active, hardy, serviceable, and capable, like the oxen, of undergoing great fatigue. A horse may be bought as low as five pounds. I had a most excellent one for one hundred and fifty-six dollars (11l. 5s.). The sheep have much improved within the last ten years; as large quantities of rams and ewes have been taken there from England

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and Australia, by which means the wool, that a short time since would only sell for about eight pence per lb. in the English market, will now realize two shillings; consequently rendering the farmer, by his wool alone, 200 per cent, richer than he formerly was; and, inasmuch as the wool, instead of being of a less value than the carcase, is so much improved, his wether, instead of being sent to the butcher at eighteen months or two years old, will be kept till it is seven; thereby improving the quality, and increasing the weight of his sheep.

There are but few of the Cape farmers of the present day continue breeding what is generally termed the Cape sheep, I mean the sheep with the enormous tail; one of which was shown to me by a butcher there which weighed twenty-eight pounds. The mutton in the Cape is generally very good; but from the necessity, owing to the warmth of the climate, of killing the animals on the morning of the day on which it is to be eaten, the meat is generally tough. As to the beef, I find, of course, the same fault. Prime joints of both are sold by the butchers at twopence per lb. 1 Bread at five pence the quartern loaf: sugar, tea, vegetables, and fruit extremely reasonable. They export to the Mauritius horses, corn, flour, salt-beef, and wine. To England, wine, dried fruits, hides, tallow, horns, hoofs, skins of wild beasts, tobacco, and whale-oil. To the Australian Colonies brandy, wine, dried fruits, tobacco, corn, flour, salt beef, candles, and soap. Its imports are sugar and rum from the Mauritius. From India, various Oriental goods, sugar, tea, and segars. From England,

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large portions of manufactured goods; but being a free port, it is open for its supplies to all nations. It manufactures for export both soap and candles. 2

There are races twice a year on Green Point; a large plain at the west end of the town, on the extremity of which stands the light-house. They are well attended; and many of the horses that run are imported from England. There is a theatre; but, of course, the performances are very ordinary. The spectators seemed to me to be principally composed of military officers, sailors, and nymphs of the pave.

Before quitting these notes on the Cape, I must notice the gardens belonging to private individuals, which certainly surpass all I have ever seen before. There is one in particular belonging to a German baron, who has made a large fortune by manufacturing snuffs and segars, which does the owner infinite credit. The plumage of the birds is very magnificent; but they have no song! The wild flowers have most gorgeous colours; but they have no scent! or rather, to use the words of a gentleman who holds a high situation there, "the birds are beautiful, but songless; the flowers lovely, but scentless; the women proud and senseless; the men ignorant and moneyless." The chameleon, so long noted in fable, is very frequently found on the Lion's Rump.

At a distance of about twenty miles from Cape Town, is situated Simon's Town, on the border of False Bay, which is now made into a naval station, the importance of which is very great. There is a naval and victualling yard here. In closing, it may not be amiss to give the resolution passed by the ministry on the re-capture of the Cape in

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1806, -- "That no foreign power, directly or indirectly, should obtain possession of the Cape of Good Hope, for that it was the physical guarantee of the British possessions in India."

We quitted Table Bay on the 6th of October, to proceed to Swan River, on the western coast of New Holland. Vessels proceeding from the Cape to New Holland, generally run down in the parallel of about 40° south latitude, as they catch the south-east winds, which are immediately in their favour. On the 8th of November, at 8 A.M., we anchored off the town of Fremantle, in Gage's Roads.

1   The shipping is supplied with good beef and mutton at three-halfpence per lb. Rents in Cape Town are very high, as is also clothing. To any person emigrating there, I should recommend a good stock, particularly of linen. Good carpenters, bricklayers, stonemasons, painters, blacksmiths, &c, may meet with constant employment at 5 rix-dollars a day, equal to 7s. 6d. sterling.
2   A whale-fishery has been established some eight or ten years in Table Bay, which has been attended with great success; during our stay there, they killed three or four within the bay, even within Robbin Island, a small island situated in the mouth of the bay.

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