A film-play written by Patric Tariq Mellet ©
The story of Louis van Mauritius takes place against the following backdrop.
From 1652 – 1834 slavery was a formal institution in the Cape Colony and spread across South Africa as the Boers trekked into the interior to set up new colonised territories after abolition of slavery in 1834. Even in the Cape Colony, after emancipation, so-called ‘prize slaves’ continued to be brought in until 1856 and were then placed with employers under long indenture contracts which differed very little from slavery. Between the years 1652 – 1808 there were 63 000 first generation slaves brought to the Cape and then at least another 8000 ‘prize slaves’ from 1808 – 1856. Their children and successive grandchildren were born into slavery. (These figures do not include those many unrecorded slaves brought to the Cape nor the thousands of indigene Khoena and San frontier slaves and other indigene African slaves taken by Boer commandos beyond the borders of the Cape).
The first generation slaves brought from other lands include 17 315 slaves from India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh; then 42 150 slaves from Africa, Madagascar and Mauritius; and a further 13 545 from South East Asian territories such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Formosa and other places. In 1806 British rule replaced the rule by the United Dutch East India Company under the Batavian Republic.
This story of 1808 has everything dramatists dream of – an amazing array of characters, tragic childhood, love, anger, dissatisfaction, a revolutionary world climate, the meeting of different cultures, a tavern conspiracy and intrigue, clandestine organisation, a tragedy, comedy, a rebel campaign, betrayal, a military clash, internment and interrogation, a turncoat, courtroom drama, a prison escape, brutal executions, slavery conditions and the quest for equality and freedom. It is an amazing story of a freedom seeking rebellion by the victims of the terrible system of slavery at the Cape.
Louis of Mauritius (1778 – 1808), the main character in this story was only five years old when William Wilberforce formed the Abolition Society in England in 1783. At this time slaves were still pouring into the Cape now mainly being trafficked from East Africa. The practice continued to grow and after British rule in 1806, slave prices increased fourfold. By the time Louis turned ten years of age, the French Revolution had erupted and the declaration of the rights of man circulated widely. This had a great impact on the Cape. Within the next decade abolitionists such as Dr Johannes van der Kemp were active in the Cape and slave revolt and disobedience spread.
In Louis’ teen years the world was erupting. A series of events unfolded that would have a major influence on the destiny of Louis of Mauritius. In 1791 rebellion broke out in St Dominique in the Caribbean which by its successful conclusion in 1804 claimed over 300 000 lives on both sides. Led by Toussaint l`Overture against the French colonists the revolution established the first black republic of rebel slaves which they named the Republic of Haiti.
In 1794 the abolition of slavery was also declared in France. In 1794 the Maroon War in Jamaica by runaway slaves followed by the Feron Slave Revolt of 1796 in Grenada in the Caribbean against the British sent ripples throughout the slave-reliant colonial world including the Cape. Another conflict that had an impact on all British colonies was the United Irishmen`s Rebellion which erupted against British Rule in Ireland. The first British governor at the Cape in 1806 had been in Ireland during this rebellion which had been put down by the same Dragoons which put down the revolt by Louis of Mauritius.
The impact of the ructions in Europe was first felt in the Cape when it was occupied by the British in 1795. Having just returned the Cape back to the Batavian Republic in 1803 Britain and France were again at war with Batavia in the French camp. Thus the war visited the Cape Colony. Then ironically the military resistance against the British occupation forces at the Battle of Blaauwberg saw the fiercest resistance by conscripted slaves, Free Blacks and Khoena who were indispensable to the French aligned colonial forces. Having overpowered Dutch Batavian forces at the Cape and releaved its government from the Council for Asiatic Possessions of the Batavian Republic (Jakarta) in 1806 the British took over the Cape permanently by purchasing the Colony from the Dutch as part of the peace treaty. In 1807 bowing to the relentless campaign of William Wilberforce and others, the British Parliament also voted to outlaw the transoceanic trade in slaves.
Previously the Cape was under the control of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). The VOC rule in the Cape since 1652 came to an end in 1795. The VOC collapsed under the burden of debt in 1798. Louis was working on the Table Bay waterfront at this time which was a mine of information about what was going on around the world. The seamen’s grapevine of stories would have had the young Louis enthralled. At this time Louis was hired out to work as a coolie – a porter or stevedore, which also gave him the chance to mingle with other slaves in similar circumstances.
The October Revolt in 1808
Over a few fateful days in October 1808, the year after the British bowed to the abolitionist campaign of Wilberforce and others by its Parliament voting to stop the transoceanic slave trade, a remarkable Slave Rebellion involving almost 340 participants took place at the Cape of Good Hope. Setting out from a farm named Bird’s Song (Vogelgezang) in the Swartland two columns of slave rebels imprison the farmers on 34 farms and released the slaves while moving on Cape Town where they aimed to remove the colonial government by force and replace it with freed slaves. The revolt was halted by Lord Caledon’s Dragoon cavalry and all participants were captured.
Hastily before the unique mass ‘treason trial’, the executions and the punishments that followed, Governor du Preez known as Lord Caledon, who had been taken completely by surprise, sought to downplay this event in communications to his superiors and to the British Crown. A major set of contradictions stands out between Caledon’s initial evaluation contained in a letter to Viscount Castlereagh on 11 November 1808 and the information that came out in the course of the trial. So much was this the case that Lord Caledon exercised a veto of much of the outcomes of the trial.
Lord Caledon presented the events as just ‘a slight disturbance to the tranquility at the Cape’. He painted it as a folly visited upon its unsuspecting participants who really did not know what was happening to them. He presents Louis as a misguided foolish slave unduly influenced and encouraged by a couple of Irish vagabonds. Notably while the court found one of the Irishmen, Michael Kelly, to be guilty of treason and he was given the death sentence, Lord Caledon reversed this and the scoundrel, clearly a turncoat, was set free. Of 16 death sentences handed down by the Court, Caledon set aside 11. He took great pains to lessen the magnitude of what had occurred. James Hooper, the other Irishman was executed along with slave leaders Louis, Abraham, Cupido and Jeptha. The mass of followers were said to have been tricked by just a handful of people.
The matters which arose in the trial and the convictions and sentences passed, contradicted Lord Caledon’s approach. The information put before the Court showed that despite the setbacks and failure of the revolt, it was relatively well organised and that a critical number of participants clearly knew what they were doing and why they were following this course of action. It was an organised quest for freedom and had the hallmarks of military style insurrection.
The largest ever Treason Trial in South Africa’s history took place in 1808 as a result of those few fateful days and, only the 1956 Treason Trial involving Nelson Mandela and 156 defendants ever came near in size and gravity to the 1808 trial.
Caledon moved quickly to intervene at the end of the trial with a combination of pardons and interpretations of the event, seeking actively to downplay matters so as to align the outcomes and punishments with his original assessment which contrasts starkly and glaringly with the story that emerges from the treason trial. Caledon was highly aware of the sensitivity of slavery in British politics coming so soon after Wilberforce’s victory in Parliament.
This is the story of Louis and those few fateful days in October 1808 and the Treason Trial and executions that followed. It was a historic moment that had major repercussions in the years that followed. The event is muted in South African history.
Prominent UCT historian Nigel Worden in his appraisal of the event in a newspaper feature article celebrating the 200th anniversary of the event, in October 2008, says:
“It (the 1808 rebellion) was an amazing feat of organisation, given the poor communications of the time, lack of any military experience, the long distances covered between town and countryside, difficult terrain, and the complexity of the plan itself. Added to this is the relative orderliness and discipline of the operation and the extent to which it had proceeded before it was checked, by the mounted, armed and most experienced military force of the times. For a small group of committed conspirators to have achieved this is quite phenomenal, given the context”.
THE FILM PLAY
Scene 1 (Port Louis, Isle de France, also known as Mauritius)
Just after the midnight hour in the morning of 29 October 1780 in the harbour of Port Louis, Isle de France, also known as Mauritius, a young woman sneaked her way onto the French Ship Marie Claire. She has done this a number of times before as the lady love of her dashing young French Ensign, long since back in France. He had promised to fetch her on his next voyage but had not turned up since. In fact he had promised her the earth.
Now three years later Eve was determined to meet up with him and show him their handsome young son conceived on one of their wonderful nights of passion. This time she and the young boy she carried on board were stowaways who hid away in the same corner of the hold, piled high with provisions, where she and her Ensign lover would meet for their trysts. Alongside the provisions were all sorts of goods from South East Asia bound for the merchants in Europe.
She had given the young 4 year old lad something to keep him sleeping least he give away their presence. In the hold next door to the provisions hold was a keep holding 40 souls bound for sale as slaves. The ship was not designed for carrying slaves but the trade in what was called ‘Black Gold’ was lucrative and the ship’s Captain had purchased these slaves to fulfill an order and this cargoi were as good as bought. The Captain expected casualties along the way but if he could at least get two thirds of these strapping and talented bodies to the destination, he would make a tidy fortune.
The ship has been made ready to leave at 5 bells and all were asleep after the revelry some hours earlier.
Once settled in, Eve waited and on the five bells she heard the Busan’s whistle and the ship’s crew came to life and felt the ship shudder and bob as it glided out of Port Louis and headed out to the high seas. The young boy stirred a few times and murmured, but in their hiding places penned in by sacks of provisions and in the din of the wailing of the wretched souls in the keep alongside them, Eve did not have to worry.
Scene 2 (a storm at sea leads to tragedy)
Mauritius was now far from sight and Eve and her son were still well hidden. When the boy awoke she had him venture to another spot behind the sacks so that he could urinate. Eve fed him some bread smeared with fat and slivers of goats cheese and then again gave him a sleeping potion in some milk. She had to make sure that when they were found the Captain would have no choice but to take them to France. She was sure that once there, her beloved Ensign would claim her for his own and be overjoyed to see and hold their son.
The ship by this time was now bouncing and lurching and rocking on the stormy sea. It was a frightening night and Eve was thrice knocked off her feet and clutched wildly with one hand at the beams, the sacks and anything that would keep her steady and safe. At the same time using the other hand she tried to hold her sleeping young boy in place in the makeshift bed-come-hammock that she had made from material strung between two bulwarks in a gap behind the sacks in the corner. There was only place there for one and this space protected and steadied the lad from all but the rocking; and he slept throughout.
Eve’s balancing act came to an abrupt end when the ship literally went into a violent fall between two swells of the sea outside. Her head sharply hit against a beam as she catapulted into the air and fell to the floor with a thud. At the same time two sacks came down on her pinning her to the floor and crushing the life from her.
Scene 3 (on board the Marie Claire the boy stowaway and dead mother is discovered)
The sea had calmed and outside on deck the crew were cleaning up, repairing masts and sails under an already tense morning sun. There was no land in sight. The groans from the keep, holding the slaves, were only broken by the occasional shouts of anger or anguish from among those in that wretched condition. Then a child’s screaming pierced the air and all on deck, not least of all the Captain were visibly startled.
The sedative had worn off and the hungry child began fumbling about calling for his mother in the dark. He felt her leg and arm and its lifelessness and her silence left him frightened. His sniffing and sobbing quickly grew into a crescendo of high pitched screams of terror.
The Captain ordered a party of the crew to go and find who was screaming like a lanced piglet and bring the culprit up on deck.
Soon the child was brought up on deck shortly followed by two of the crew carrying the lifeless body of Eve and unceremoniously the dumped the corpse on deck.
The Captain was flabbergasted. He immediately broke out in a litany of profanities cursing all stowaways, bitches and whores, and then lamented the fact that he had a little bastard brat on board. The boy had the features of a Mulatto and spoke a childish version of the Creole French common around the harbour district’s mixed pot of free blacks, suspected pirate crews, opportunist merchants, underclass creoles and marooned European seamen.
Though bruised and battered, the lifeless body of Eve showed her to be a rather beautiful Mulatto wench and from her attire he assumed her to be one of the many sugar girls that hung around the bars frequented by seamen. Why she chose to stowaway and on his ship and with her bastard brat he could not fathom. All amount of questioning his men produced no answers.
He commanded that one of the slave women be brought on deck and cleaned up and then be ordered to care for the brat and some make shift quarters be created for the two of them, preferably below decks near the provisions hold. They were to be fed the same diet as the other slaves, and the toddler would be entered into the ship’s record as a slave. He named the child after Port Louis. The Captain decided there and then that he would recoup his losses and make a little profit by selling little Louis on the ship’s arrival at the Cape of Good Hope. The ship’s Captain assumed the boy to be 3 or 4 years old. This is how Louis van Mauritius was enslaved.
Scene 4. (the quayside at Cape of good Hope waterfront – sale of Louis van Mauritius into slavery)
On arrival at the Cape of Good Hope the Captain of the Marie Claire immediately made it known that he had a male toddler Mulatto slave to dispose of and sought a suitable buyer who could raise the child and prepare him for a gainful life of service.
Willem Kirsten the locally born son of a successful German settler and his wife Maria Catharina Grove whom he had married only three years earlier answered the call for a buyer and the young motherless lad, named Louis, became the property of the couple and was registered as Louis van Mauritius.
The Kirsten couple were fascinated with the young slave and intrigued by the Captain’s story of his discovery as a stowaway. Willem and Maria were determined to get the best out of the young boy and to do so they agreed that he should attended classes with a teacher. Thus the young slave Louis joined a small group of 3 other young slaves who sat at the back of a class of 12 children from the homes of European Burghers.
Louis however was never baptised and was neither brought up with the Christian faith nor was he an adherent of the Muslim faith which was becoming popular among some slaves after the original conversions carried out some time earlier by Sheik Yusuf of Macassar and his followers. Louis like many slaves found their spiritual solace in the popular syncretic sub-culture faith that mixed Asian and African shamanism with bits of Christian and Islamic beliefs and prayers. Ancestors and Saints were called upon to enter their lives fortunes and they in times of distress would visit a spiritual guide whom they called a Dukun or by the creolised version Doekum. Louis would later testify that he did however believe in and tried to live by the basic tenants of the Christian faith which fascinated him as did its contradictions. His problem he articulated was that he saw Christians as slave owners and he was a slave.
But by the time Louis reached the age of 10 the Kirstens put him to work. He could speak Dutch well, read a little bit, count, but he could not write. He was put to work as an urban slave fetching, carrying, cleaning and interacting with the commercial interests of Mr Kirsten as a messenger and porter. Mrs Kirsten also ensured that he carried out household chores, the raising of chickens, collection of eggs, milking and so on.
By all accounts Louis led a confused drab and lonely life as a slave in the Kirsten home. He long for and romanticized his mother. In fact all of his life he sought a mother figure. It was a liberal paternalistic slavery regime in the Kirsten household in comparison to what young Louis saw elsewhere on his errands and particularly when visiting farm areas transporting goods. At times he would feel that he was part of this family but every day he would also be jolted into reality that he was a slave, their slave – the property of Mr and Mrs Kirsten.
Scene 5 (Louis meets the love of his life – Anna Steenveld, a Free Black woman)
Louis was 20 years old when Master Willem sent him down to the Waterfront for a week as a rented hand to assist with the loading and transporting of newly arrived wares for the Pachthuis or tavern in Strand Street. During breaks he would sit outside watching people in the busy street and would day-dream about all sorts of things that took his fancy. Anna Steenveld and her seemingly endless family lived nearby and she was the sister-in-law to the tavern keeper.
Anna took pity on young Louis and would bring him food during his breaks. On the second day coming up alongside of him she could see that he had this faraway look on his face. “Penny for your thoughts”, she said to him in Dutch. This unleashed a torrent of things and soon she found Louis to be a great conversationalist – a talker and a listener. She was amazed at his ability to remember things. Louis had found the caring mother-figure woman that he sought in his life.
Despite a huge age gap, the matronly Anna and Louis soon grew so fond of each other. After that amazing week pased by, Louis would by hook or by crook always find a way to keep visiting. The young Louis also started to flirt with Anna and everyone took to calling Louis “Anna se Jonk klonkje”. By this time in his life it was not just an affectionate mother that Louis was seeking. His arms and loins ached for a woman and his heart ached for a consummate love. At Anna Steenveld’s place Louis did not feel like a slave, nor did he feel like a ‘boy’ as all slaves were known – he was momentarily a ‘man’ – even although technically he was a ‘rent boy’.
Anna always had food ready for Louis and Louis had a habit of making things – little presents, for her. When Anna did not see Louis for a while, she found herself feeling down and took to asking her brother–in-law to hire him again from Willem Kirsten under some pretext. It was on one of these occasions when he was required to sleep over that Anna said that there was no need for him to sleep rough on the kitchen floor but that he would find it more comfortable sharing her bed. Louis did not need to be further persuaded and in this way they began what would be their lifelong love relationship as de facto man and wife.
Louis an Anna really loved each other and hated the fact that because he was the Kirsten’s slave they were kept apart. Slaves had no right of marriage. Indeed slaves could used for breeding purposes either by masters choosing suitable breeding mates to produce the kind of slave offspring that they wanted or in fact to have what they called ‘carnal conversation’ themselves with the female slaves and thereby get them pregnant. It also popped up here and there that female owners or wives or daughters of owners also had relations with slaves.
Louis and Anna were an odd couple in many ways but they truly loved each other. Anna a grandmother already, but a really glamourous grandma at that, and him a strapping young and handsome man who could have had any lady he wanted, had been a free man.
Scene 6 (Separation of the Kirstens and Louis becomes a rent-boy slave)
In 1803 at around the age of 23 there was upheaval in the Kirsten home and with it came the kind of good luck break that Louis and Anna needed. Willem and Maria Kirsten had drifted apart and sought a Judicial Separation which was granted in that year. As a result of the separation terms, Louis of Mauritius became the property of his Mistress Maria Grove Kirsten.
Maria Kirsten like many a European widow or separated women of her times became reliant on various income streams, one of which was to rent out their slaves. Louis who had already been rented out on many occasions by Willem Kirsten was thus initially rented out away from home at a fixed rate paid to Mrs Kirsten. He worked as what was called a “Coolie” or porter come-stevedore and through this activity the previous lonesome life in and around the Kirsten home, cut-off from the realities around him, came to an end.
Louis began mingling with other slaves, Free Blacks, and indentured indigene Khoena. He began to see the full harshness of the slavery system as he travelled more and more to farmlands. The feelings of imposed inferiority and the servitude in the Kirsten household though not as harsh as that which he now witnessed had left him bothered and uncomfortable. When he went out of town on the wagons to deliver goods from the Waterfront to outlaying farms he witnessed great cruelty by farmers towards slaves and he himself was at the receiving end of their vicious behaviour. His discomfort turned to anger.
This new status as a ‘rent boy’ on a permanent basis was like manna from heaven for Anna and Louis. This led them to hatch a plan that would allow them to live together as man and wife.
A few weeks after the Kirsten’s separation, Anna approached Mrs Kirsten to hire the services of Louis on a long term basis and she agreed to rent Louis from Maria Kirsten at a monthly fee of 12 Rixdollars. Anna had worked out that between jobs that she was taking on and the work that Louis would earn from sub-leasing him they could easily pay Maria Kirsten the 12 Rixdollars per month. This allowed Louis to move out of the Kirsten home to cohabit with his wife Anna.
It was a peculiar scenario where Louis effectively was the rented husband of his wife. Anna was both wife and Mistress. This was not the only oddity of the relationship because Louis at around 23 years of age was a very young man whereas Anna probably twice his age not only had children but also had grandchildren. They already had put up with the playful jibes equivalent to “Toy Boy” from those around them and this now grew in crescendo. The two were deeply in love and each had a respect for each other as had not been seen before by those around them. They did not care a damn about what others had to say and in many ways after the din toned down they looked like any other Free Black couple.
Scene 7 (a lone slave among Free Blacks at the Strand Street Pachthuis pub)
Louis new home with Anna Steenveld was in a very lively part of town – namely 18 Strand Street where they rented the rooms beneath the balcony at Stadler’s house which was near Windell’s livery stables. Next door his brother-in-law Abraham Anthonissen ran a licenced Pachthuis or pub. Louis, though a rented slave, only worked for his wife in name but mostly was an assistant at the Pachthuis working for Abraham. Louis also utilised money that he had saved over time to buy three horses which he then hired out to generate an income. The entire extended family contributed to collectively pay for the rented premises.
Anna and Louis home was not a quiet place like the Kirsten’s home. HereAnna and Louis formally known to everyone around him as a slave, shared home with Philida, Anna’s mother, and with Anna’s two married sisters Rachel and Jacoba, their husbands and their children. Anna’s oldest daughter Silvia was also married and had children and they too lived in the same establishment. It was Jacoba’s husband Abraham Antonissen who owned the Pachthuis business. At this time Jacoba had three of the ten children that she bore in her marriage until 1819. Abraham the Free Black pub-owner was well off enough to employ a European Knegt (labourer) who would later marry his eldest daughter Johanna. He too lived in this Free Black household.
It clearly irked Louis that he and another elderly slave Oude Baatjoe were slaves and not free people in the household. In Baatjoe’s case he was paying off a debt towards his manumission where Silvia Antonissen held the title deed of ownership. At this time he was still paying off the 80 Rixdollars that was his manumission price. He had already paid off 60 Rixdollars. Besides the payments towards rent, food and family upkeep Anna and Louis had to also generate 12 Rixdollars a month for his rental and he had no hope of manumission because this income was widow Kirsten’s lifeblood. The household mainly spoke Dutch and just a little of the basics of English.
When Louis van Mauritius was not tending to his horses or taking on odd jobs stevedoring he spent much of his time at the Tavern serving customers and engaging in discussions with them. From his early days of schooling he had an enquiring mind. He puzzled over how it came to be that he became a slave and what life might have been like if he had stayed in Mauritius. He wondered about his mother and his father. He did not harbour anger towards the Kirstens and believed that he had been treated fairly well, although he could not accept being a slave and always felt that his fate was not in his hands. He witnessed the terrible conditions of slaves on farms and had seen the punishments meted out. He saw the slave auctions and the public executions by hanging, garrotting, impalement and crucifixion and could not accept that this should be allowed to continue without challenge. He knew that at any time Mrs Kirsten could sell him into such a state. His life was not in his own hands.
This was the scenario when Louis was faced with some very difficult decisions which would lead him into a struggle where he took his life into his own hands and where only two scenarios could pan out – victory or death.
Scene 8 (cameos of local and international events that impacted in terms of influence on the course of action taken by Louis and his co-conspirators)
Dutch Batavian rule by the VOC had come to the end and in 1806 the British took control over the Cape Colony. The new British Governor along with his crack troops the Royal Dragoons were veterans of ruthlessly putting down the revolt known as the United Irishmen’s Rebellion. Du Preez known as Lord Caledon took up the Governorship of the Cape doing so against the backdrop of slave rebellions throughout the colonial world of the French and British.
News and detail of the famous Haitian Revolution and its hero Tousainte L’Overture spread throughout the colonies and also reached the Cape of Good Hope.
In 1807 the British Crown denounced and outlawed the slave trade on the high seas and the Royal Navy started to patrol the known slaver routes to disrupt the trade. They developed naval platoons made up of men from the West African Kru people, known as Kroomen as well as crews made up of Siddis from East Africa. These were based at British naval ports along the African coast and that of her islands. One such port was at Simonstown on the Cape Peninsula. Seized cargoes of slaves now were called ‘Prize Slaves’ or ‘Liberated Slaves’ and were brought to the Cape where their eventual freedom had to be bought by giving 14 years of their lives as indentured labour. It was little more than slavery under a different name.
On the Cape Eastern Frontier the rebel Khoena under the leadership of first Klaas and then David Stuurman took root and scored a series of victories. The great military commander Makana the son of an amaXhosa man and Khoena woman was also making a name for himself as a resistance leader. The non-conformist European missionary Dr Johannes van der Kemp took up the cause of the cruelly treated frontier slaves and indentured Khoena. All four of these men also campaigned against the conscription of Khoena youth into colonial militia’s. Lord Caledon had his hands full with these ‘troublesome’ leaders. What they did not need at this point was for another resistance front to open up amongst slaves. To make his troubles worse, a troublesome priest, Dr Johannes van der Kemp was agitating for abolition and a judicial enquiry into brutality against the Khoena in the farmlands of the eastern frontier.
The new British administration had inherited a very restless and shaky Cape. Only a few years previously it was indeed regiments of conscripted Khoena, slaves and Free Blacks that put up a good fight against the British invasion at Bloubergstrand. The British were less worried about the local European colonists who proved to have no fight in them.
All of these global and local events were hot points of discussion wherever men sat eating and drinking. It is also easy to see that in the closing years of the 18th century and opening years of the 19th century anyone considering a slave revolt would have been presented with the best conditions within which to Act. The abolitionist movement in England could already smell a victory for emancipation of slaves in the near future. The Irish resistance, the French Revolution and the Haitian Revolution were still amongst the biggest news stories.
Louis and his friends conversations at the pub on many a day included talk of revolt and the possibility of the same occurring in Cape Town.
When Louis came home he would relate all of these stories with large dollops of his own annimated flair to Anna. She was enthralled but as time went on and the stories became more intense and she nervously saw where it was heading. She knew her man too well. She knew that this wagonload of ideas had a destination and she began to fear for him and fear for losing him. But she did not stop him. She loved him for who he was.
Scene 9.(Introduction to Abraham van der Kaap, Irishmen James Hooper and Michael Kelly, Jephta van Batavia and Adonis van Ceylon)
The Strand Street Pachthuis (pub) brought Louis van Mauritius into contact with a former servant of a ship’s Captain, who had jumped ship and was dodging the authorities in Cape Town – James Hooper, a 26 year old Irishman. To avoid detection he would move around and on many occasion Louis would give him shelter. Louis was also the friend of another creole slave owned by Jan Wagenaar – Abraham van der Kaap. Abraham was vital to Louis friendship with James Hooper because he could speak good English whereas Louis could not. The trio shared experiences and had many a discussion about world events concerning revolts of slaves, servants and oppressed national groups. Abraham was Louis key to communicating because Louis had by this stage lost his command of the creole French and only spoke the low Dutch-Creole Patois common amongst slaves.
The group were later joined by another Irishman who had been discharged from the Company’s Military Service and to have left the Dover Castle East Indiaman on which he was a passenger when she touched at the Cape on her homeward bound voyage. Like Hooper he was also not lawfully in the Colony. Effectively he deserted his ship and lived by his wits in Cape Town – 24 year old Michael Kelly. This fellow Kelly was a scallywag character and had a visibly shifty way about him. He was loud and daring in his talk – a bit of an arrogant braggart prone to exaggeration and the small group had their misgivings but he also had that loveable roguishness about him too. So it was that Michael came into the inner circle – something the group would live to regret.
Soon the broad discussions turned to the conditions of slaves at the Cape and the personal experiences of Louis and Abraham. Louis related the brutal harshness experienced by the slaves at rural farms and small towns. This was contrasted with the more liberal approach of urban slave owners. Louis through his work of transporting goods from the waterfront to farms and small towns nurtured a strong friendship with a slave in the Malmesbury district at a farm named Vogelgezang. The slave’s name was Jephta van Batavia and they had originally met when Jephta also worked as a ‘Coolie’ on the waterfront in Cape Town. Jephta would often contrast the slave experience there with the harsh conditions faced on the farm under his master Petrus Louw. Jephta also knew all of the comings and goings of Petrus Louw and was able to say with some certainty when he would be away from home for a few days. Jephta further related how gullible Mrs Jacomina Louw was and tantalized the two Irishmen in describing Louw’s flirtatious daughters.
It was through meetings between these five, and another deserter slave Adonis van Ceylon, that the nature of the conversations turned from admiring resistance to slavery abroad, and then coming up with a plan for a revolt of slaves in Cape Town. Louis network of friends amongst the urban slaves was small and the chances of betrayal was high as there was no common cause bonding slaves in the urban environment. Jephta on the other hand did have a rural network of slaves across a number of farms and these laboured under a harsh regime and the bonds of common cause were great. The vast majority were slaves from East Africa and its interior. The other large group were locally born slaves and a scattering of Indian and South East Asian slaves. Others were indeed de facto indigene slaves from various Khoena clans.
Scene 10. (the plan for mustering rebel slaves and overthrowing the seat of authority and freeing of slaves)
Through the now clandestine discussion between these friends a plan emerged, to first canvas support and incite groups of slaves on the farms in the Malmesbury/Swartland area to join in a revolt. Many of the slaves in this area were what were known as Mazbieker slaves. They were east and central Africans who were captured and incarcerated in the slaver station in Mozambique before being shipped out and sold at the Cape and in Brazil. They suffered the worst of slavery conditions and punishments at the Cape and, they were responsible for providing the most backbreaking labour. Jephta and Louis had their trust but still they kept a tight leash on how much information was shared, using the need to know principle.
All in all, 34 farms were identified for participation in the revolt. Louis and Abraham mobilised support during the winter and groups of slaves on each identified farm were to overpower their masters, take them as prisoners and seize their weapons for use in the later attack on the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town. Only key personalities were informed so that groups could be groomed without them actually knowing the plan. It was envisaged that not all the slaves would take the risk, so a bogus document was drawn up both to bamboozle farmers and to assure reluctant slaves that the Governor had ordered the slave-owners to the Castle from which they would be despatched back to Europe and that the governor will then give the slaves their freedom.
The plan elaborated how after they had mustered the slaves and taken farmers and their families as prisoners, they would move in three columns down through Koeberg to rendezvous at Salt River just outside of town before they would move on together towards Cape Town. They needed a day and a half to the furthest point, a sleepover and a day and a half back to the outskirts of Cape Town befor the final assault on 28th October 1808.
Their first focus in reaching their destination would be to overpower the defence battery at the breakwater, seize the powder magazine and turn the fire power on the Castle. At this point they would offer to negotiate with the Governor with a set of demands. However if the demands were not met they would boost their numbers by freeing prisoners from jail and through an all-out fight they would seize power and proclaim their freedom. Louis van Maritius would replace the Governor and James Hooper would be installed in high office when a new government was formed by the victorious slaves.
Ever since his childhood encounter with his first sea Captain, Louis had an infatuation with the rank and persona of a sea Captain. Michael and James encouraged Louis that he could pass for Captain Don Louis from Spain and as such he would be able to fool the female household on the Louw farm. The finer details of the plan included Louis dressing up as the Spanish sea Captain, while Hooper and Kelly would pose as English officers, and Abraham and Adonis would accompany them as servants. A wagon and drivers would be hired for the task ahead. To pay for the wagon, drivers, uniforms complete with epaulettes, and cutlasses, Louis would sell his three horses.
Thus was born Don Louis, Commander of the slave resistance forces. Louis had purchased for himself a blue jacket with red collar and cuffs, a large and a small sword, two gold and two silver epaulets and some ostrich feathers so that he could fully play the part of Don Louis, a Captain of a Spanish man’o war. In the course of the revolt Louis had a horse and seized firearms too.
They planned to set out to travel to Vogelgezang farm early on the 25th October to initiate the uprising over the 26th and 27th of October 1808 and by the evening of the 27th October to ready themselves for the final push and attack on 28th October.
Scene 11 (the plan unfolds – journey and events at Vogelgezang farm)
On that first fateful day on 25 October 1808, the leading party set out together with the wagon crew who knew nothing about the plan and they were also joined by another supporter at the last moment. They had basic provisions for the two day journey consisting of bread, meat and brandy. Their wagon was drawn by 8 black horses. David, a slave of Hendrik Matfeld from whom the wagon was hired, was the driver and Adonis, slave of Johan Hendrik Schultz, was the wagon leader. They at this stage knew nothing of the mission. Also with Louis and Hooper was a slave deserter Adonis, who arranged to join Louis. The party set off from Anna Steenveld’s house. Anna bid Louis an emotional goodbye without giving anything away. It would be their last embrace. As she watched the wagon roll out and her Louis riding off the tears quietly rolled down her cheeks.
Abraham and Michael Kelly joined the party in Salt River and until they were well away from the town limits Louis and the others played the subservient role with James Hooper playing the white master. They stopped at an outspan at Brakke Fontyn and changed their clothes and personas. The light brown skinned Louis of Mauritius – Don Louis, cut a fine figure in his uniform complete with ostrich plumes on his hat, epaulettes on his shoulders and cutlass at his waist, flanked either side by the bogus British officers – Hooper and Kelly.
When they arrived at the Vogelgezang farm on the following afternoon on 26th October 1808 their timing was perfect. Farmer Petrus Louw, as expected per the plan, was away on business and his wife Jacomina and her five children were absolutely taken in by the ‘Spanish Captain’ Don Louis and ‘English officers’. She laid on the finest hospitality for her guests.
Michael and James engaged in outrageous mutual flirtation with the two oldest girls while Louis (who had a way with mature woman) leaned heavily on Abraham for support in developing a rather embarrassing Spanglish and Dutch lingo when communicating with Jacomina. Louis had to be very careful not to raise suspicion by communicating in his Cape Dutch patois. It was a jolly and animated night of male and female company with great farm hospitality, much wine and brandy. Louis and Abraham maintained their sobriety.
During the night the two Irishmen with much liquor consumed started making excuses to Louis saying that they were going to move on to the other farms to oversee similar success and would see him along the way. They exited the house through the window in the early hours. Effectively they skedaddled. (From that point on the two Irishmen scarcely featured anymore in the revolt)
Louis and Jephta showed the rather inebriated Jacomina Louw the bogus document in the early morning of the 27th while the dawn just started. It purported to be from the Fiscal that all owners and slaves were to immediately come to the Castle of Good Hope. Louis with his sweet talk via Abraham’s interpretation tried to make her feel comfortable with the contents.
Jephta speedily mustered the nine slaves and one Khoena servant on the farm. At this point Louis broke into his normal Cape Dutch and the pretence of being Don Louis the Spanish sea Captain evaporated. As the penny dropped, a shocked Jacomina protested but she and the children were taken captive and the group proceeded to the next farm, and then to the next and the next. The revolt was launched and there was no turning back.
Scene 12 – (The course of the Revolt part 1)
On the morning of 27thth October the insurgent leaders, according to plan now, split into two groups rather than three so as to cover all 34 of the identified farms from Malmesbury to Tygerberg to Salt River and, from Malmesbury to Koeberg to Salt River. Louis took the lead of the one group and Cupido of Java took leadership of the other. Louis assessed the men and appointed Lieutenants and gave each specific instructions that evolved from his overall plan. It was no mean feat to commandeering 34 farms and bring them into the two speedily moving columns without delay.
Abraham of the Cape having observed that the Irishmen had dropped their bravado and disappeared on a pretext was now beginning to get jittery. He was sent on ahead to be at hand to assess the situation at various identified farms.
On each farm the two columns either duped the farmers with the bogus notice or overpowered them or both. Weapons were seized and distributed to trusted mutineers. They met little resistance from the shocked European farmers and by and large Louis and the other leaders asserted strong discipline in the ranks. There was a small degree of manhandling and humiliating the prisoners but only two incidents stand out as a breakdown in discipline and conduct.
In one incident one old farmer was beaten severely and dragged by his hair and there was one case of rape of a farmer’s wife. (see next scene)
Women and children were taken as prisoners and the aged transported on seized wagons. To control the farmers and their sons numbering 40 in all, these were bound and also hoisted onto their seized wagons.
It was important for the success of the rebellion that the journey took no more than a day. By nightfall of the same day – 27th October 1808 they had to be at the outskirts of Cape Town. This required much discipline and speed of movement.
Around 340 slaves and indentured Khoena servants had joined the columns of rebels. While remarkably a thread of discipline was a mark of the revolt and no blood was shed there was however a degree of damage done to farm property as well as some minor burning, looting and slaves who helped themselves to food and drink. Some taunted the farmers and their families about “who was boss now” and about how they had been treated in the past.
But at all times Louis seemed to have kept control and the plan had with a few tactical alterations been followed. On horseback he moved up and down the columns giving orders and encouragement. Abraham took charge of the second column.
Scene 13: (Behaviours during the engagement between Rebels and Farmers>)
To give some insight into the action on the farms as the revolt unfolded the following would later emerge during the treason trial.
After the action at Vogelgezang farm one of the next farms to be liberated was that of Willem Basson. He too was not at home but Johannes Arnoldus Basson was set upon and bound and all were quickly assembled. The Slaves seized the guns, powder, lead, and took provisions. The rebel slaves entered the upstairs room of the master’s house and attempted to bind the arms of Mrs Basson and another ‘Christian’ Engela Smith who also lived on the property but the ‘rope’ made of the material from a tent which they shred was too short. In the confusion the two made a dash and escaped. With Arnoldus bundled into a wagon it was moved into the growing column of 12 other wagons carrying slaves, prisoners and possessions seized. They also had 5 saddle horses and many of the slaves were now armed with guns.
Another farm that they proceeded towards was that of Pieter Basson, but then they happened to meet Pieter on the road with his wagon. Louis of Mauritius, Cupido of Ceylon and Adonis of Java each armed with a sword, called on him to surrender and then grabbed him to the ground and he was tied up and bundled onto his wagon. They went on to his farm to collect his weapons, ammunition and slaves.
The farm of Johannes Louw the son of Jacobus Louw from Vogelgezang was yet another that was raided, where they seized a lot of money, weaponry, ammunition and many slaves were liberated. As weaponry – guns and swords, and ammunition was seized, the arms were passed around to the slaves and Louis continued to identify the most reliable and talented for resistance roles.
At the farm of Pieter van der Westhuizen, Louis dispatched four of his armed men to the field to collect the slaves who were busy reaping the barley. Pieter van der Westhuizen was bound and bundled onto a wagon. They entered his house and commanded Pieter’s wife to lead them to everything of value. The clothes and the contents of the wine cellar was distributed as was the guns and ammunition.
Van der Westhuizen was incensed and cried out – ” Oh God what befalls me? “ Louis of Mauritius sarcastically responded – “So you now want to think of God? ”
It was at this stage in the confusion and exchanges that Cupido of Java stole away pushing Jacoba Baard, Pieter’s wife, in front of him while placing the muzzle of his gun to her breast. He had spotted her in the distance as she had just successfully concealed one of her children in the bushes. Cupido marched her away into one of the outhouses nearby and proceeded to rape her. This was one of only two excesses that would later be raised in the Treason Trial.
The insurgents, moved from one farm to another following the same pattern where they bound the ‘Christians’ (slave owning free-men), declaring that such were the orders of the Governor and Fiscal, and liberated the guns, wagons, and horses, and freed the slaves. Some slaves became active participants while others just passively went along with the rebels. The slaves were heard to shout Woza! Woza! The fired shots outside and inside the houses, broke the windows, chests, and trunks to pieces, and helped themselves to whatever took their fancy.
Cupido of Java and Jonas of the Cape proceeded through Koeberg and Tygerberg in the direction of Salt River with the column under their joint command going to all of the farms in their path. At one stage the two joint commanders split off on two routes and then joined back up together again. Louis took the shortest and straightest route via Blouberg valley to Salt River.
At Christian Storm’s farm he was surprised in the middle of the night when his house was broken into. The rebels stripped the house of valuables, bound him almost naked and threw him into a wagon. At Adriaan Louw’s, Drooge Valley, the rebels seized Adriaan Louw, who was over 70 years old and dragged him by the hair and hit him with the butt of a musket on his head. He was further dragged outside and hit with a sword. He and 5 other farmers who the rebels were finding hard to control were then left, bound up in a wagon, in the custody of a Hendrik van Niekerk.
In the afternoon of the 27th Abraham van der Kaap had joined up with the column under the joint leadership of Cupido of Java and Jonas of the Cape.. At the place of farmer Arend de Waal, whom Abraham had assaulted, Abraham of the Cape told a slave girl Samina who was crying through fear, “Do you cry for a Christian? “ The term “Christian” was used to refer to free citizens, their masters.
He went on to say that the rebels on the next day “will hoist the bloody flag and fight to be free, and then you can say ‘sy’ or ‘jij’ to your madams and masters”.
Using ‘YOU’, ‘HE’ or SHE (Jij, Hy or Sy in Dutch) were too familiar words, only to be used by equals. Slaves were forbidden to be familiar in addressing their masters and madams or even in referring to them. Thus to address or reference ones owners as you, he or she was certain to be met with punishment for insolence. The proper address had to be “U” or “BAAS” or “MADAM”. To use “Sy” or “JiJ” as was later reported to Court required the Courts to send out a strong deterrent signal. These expressions of “Sy” and “Jij” became the watchwords for the 1808 Slave Rebellion.
Scene 14 (the plan unravels and the rebel columns are attacked by the Dragoons)
During the journey on 27 October the rebel slaves were in good spirits and the air was punctuated with the rebels walking up close to the wagons carrying the farmers and their wives and having loud conversations with each other referring to their captives as “Sy” and “Hy” and turning to their captives saying “En jij…. Jij loer nogt”…or “Jij! Ja jij Oubaas…jij”.
Abraham, Cupido and Adonis with their column of slaves, wagons and prisoners had arrived at the agreed meeting place but were in no mood to wait for Louis and decided to move on. Abraham of the Cape still worried about Hooper and Kelly’s assessments of their chances remained unsure of how to proceed. Cupido and Adonis had in fact assumed a greater leadership role. They said that Louis would catch up with them and that they should just keep moving on. So they did just that but moved forward at less of a speedy pace.
Before moving on to Salt River the leaders had agreed on the outspan meeting place for the entire leadership near or at Grendel. When Louis van Mauritius arrived there, on the late afternoon of the 27th October, he expected to see Hooper, Kelly, Abraham, Jephta, Cupido and Adonis. There was nobody at the meeting place. No signs that Hooper and Kelly had been there but some signs that the latter had arrived but had moved on.
Louis could only assume that they had gone on ahead of him and that he should pick up the pace and move on in haste. But he for the first time was left flustered and nervous. This had been a team effort and at this crucial stage it was important for the team to meet and plan. Each of the leaders were required to give an assessment and each had important tasks for the final push on the Battery and Castle in the early hours of the next morning. Louis was reliant on these role-players and as he moved forward he sent out scouts to locate the other leaders but they were nowhere to be found. The forward march lost traction and the two columns were not tightly together any more.
There was an eerie foreboding in the air and Louis could feel it. In fact, after leaving Vogelgezand farm James and Michael parted company supposedly by accident. James was apprehended by a Dragoon at the Saldanha Bay post. Michael Kelly in a separate incident not witnessed by James Hooper was also said to have been apprehended on his way to try and get on a ship in Saldanha Bay. There was no intention on the part of these two to meet at the outspan. They had also tried to influence Abraham of the Cape who for a while had gone missing but eventually joined up with Cupido and Adonis.
On his way after leaving the outspan and moving towards Salt River Louis column ran into farmers Pieter Joubert and Wium Lategaan, with their waggons. They were easily overpowered and taken prisoner. Louis and a few men then went to the nearby home of Hendrik Prehn where they at first overpowered him but while attempting to tie him up he struggled free and grabbed a gun. Prehn fired a shot in the direction of Louis and some others but the shot did not hit anyone. However it immediately dispersed the group who left Prehn and hastily moved back to the column.
It had grown dark and everyone was tired after the long day of events but they pressed on.
Scene 15 (prelude to Louis arrival at the outspan)
Louis’ worries and Abrahams fears were well founded. Indeed news of the rebellion had reach Governor du Preez, the Irish Peer known as Lord Caledon. Around 10 o’clock p.m. on the 27th October news had come to Lord Caledon via a farmer who had escaped.
Immediately he ordered Brig’ General Wetherall to get ready and despatch a Squadron of Cavalry (Dragoons) under Major Spearman to engage the insurgents and bring the revolt to an end. It was also possible that Michael Kelly had opportunistically sent word that he would cooperate by providing valuable turncoat information in return for leniency. After he had separated from Hooper and Hooper literally walked into the arms of the Dragoons. Though Kelly would later appear in the trial as an accused he was the only ‘leader’ found guilty of High Treason who was mysteriously released after the trial and given a free passage back to Ireland.
However they had come by their information, Caledon’s men new exactly where to engage the rebels. Lord Caledon was furious and took the entire episode very seriously. He called for a calming of fears and labelled the rebels as ignorant rabble with misguided motives.
It is also clear that James Hooper had very early on foreseen that such a huge scale revolt would not go un-noticed and he like Kelly was familiar both with the reputation of the British troops of Lord Caledon as well as their mobility as a cavalry that moved with great speed and deadly firepower.
Hooper shared his fears with Abraham telling him that he is sure that many troops would be despatched and Abraham would be a fool not to abandon his quest. Some of the Europeans on the farms had gotten away and raised the alarm. James Hooper and Abraham knew that without any element of surprise their endeavour was doomed and in any case the unity amongst the rebels would quickly disappear as many had believed the story of the false notice from the Governor.
Around midnight Abraham on first hearing the advancing hooves of the Dragoons horses turned to Cupido and Adonis and shouted that it was of no use to stand and fight. He called on them to retreat to the bush – tomorrow is another day to fight. They did not get far when they ran straight into the arms of Lord Caledon’s men. The column itself came to a halt with most just rendered speechless in the face of the cavalry and their flaming torches with raised guns and sabres. On hearing Abraham’s shout the more conscious rebels quickly scattered and made a dash for freedom. Some reached as far as Blouberg and Tygerberg in their retreat while others moved towards the South Peninsula. Over the next few hours the Dragoons had rounded most up.
Scene 16 (interception by the Dragoons and the escape of Louis)
In the early hours of the morning of 28th October Louis and his column were on their way to link up with the column of Cupido and Adonis at Salt River. But the Dragoons by 4 am had already captured most of the first column of rebel slaves. Louis column walked straight into the awaiting cavalry and infantrymen.
By midnight the first engagement with Abraham’s column had taken place and by 4 am most were detained. By about 2 am Louis column shared the same fate. Those rebels in retreating after the surprise engagement crossed paths with Louis column warning him that they were being pursued. . Louis of Mauritius and a few others on horseback made a quick getaway travelling in the direction of the South Peninsula.
On seeing the Dragoons come out of nowhere the rebel slaves began arguing with each other. For the most part, those who had been duped by the bogus order were the first to break ranks. As the Dragoon cavalry appeared from the dark many of the rebels froze and put up no further resistance while others ran in all directions before being rounded up
In a short while 326 rebels were marched in defeat to two internment camps around Fort Knokke. The leaders were removed and incarcerated at the Castle.
Louis made his way to Diep River where he sought refuge with friends of his dear wife Anna, – a couple by the names of Frederik and Betje Arendse. They however, fearful of the consequences of aiding and abetting the fugitive, betrayed Louis by sending a secret message to the local Field Cornet, Colyn.
Louis was a step ahead however when he overheard the distraught old couple talking to someone and sending him on his way. Louis quickly made his escape to Wynberg. But it was here that he was eventually tracked down and cornered by a detachment of Khoena Militia under white command at a Tavern. Louis was pounced upon, pinned down and bound. He was then taken to Cape Town under guard where he was kept separate from the other leaders at the Castle for interrogation. The rest of the rebels were interned at Fort Knokke and Maastricht.
The rebels who sought to overthrow the British government at the Cape and replace them with a freed slave government were to face swift justice. In how it proceeded there was a fine line between interrogation and torture on the one hand and judicial procedure on the other. Through a process of interrogation over the next week Lord Caledon had separated three categories of rebels. The Treason Trial was hastily convened and broken up into a pre-trial and trial and the rebels were categorised. The first category was the 5 leaders, the second 47 diehard rebels suspected of being the backbone of the rebellion, and then final category was the rest of the 274. In the case of the latter these were subject to a fast-tracked part of the trial, sentenced and given over to their owners with a verdict of punishment as the owners saw fit. The 52 were subjected to a more drawn out trial by the so called ‘Court of Justice’ which concluded by the end of December 1808.
Scene 17 (Trial and punishment)
A minutely detail record of the Court of Justice exists where the main charge was High Treason, Public Violence and Disorder. The 5 leaders and 47 others were tried in the Court of Justice using the infamous dual process of Courtroom drama coupled with extractions of confessions under torture. Only one person was found not guilty. His Majesty’s Fiscal William Stephanus van Ryneveld Esquire, was Prosecutor for the Crown.
This gave some credibility to a trial keenly followed by abolitionists who were highly influential at the time, having secured an end to the slave trade declared in the Parliament in London in the previous year. An array of charges ensured that everyone charged would be assured of conviction. The pre-verdict and releasing of the majority into the custody of their masters for punishment killed two birds with one stone. It appeased the proponents of rough justice outside of the public gaze and it also gave an impression of clemency and a new liberal order while giving some credibility the Lord Caledon’s earlier letter dispatched to London that downplayed the revolt as a foolish little hiccup in an otherwise peaceful and orderly colony.
As would naturally occur under circumstances where confessions were extracted, Louis and James contradicted each other at times in Court, but Louis stood by his beliefs in explaining himself and argued in mitigation that he kept discipline in the course of the revolt. He established that he was sincere in his opposition to slavery and believed that he conducted himself well even although the courts labelled the act of rebellion an evil, foolhardy and irresponsible deed.
In his trial Louis testified – “I had heard that in other countries all persons were free, and there were so many black people here who could also be free and that we ought to fight for our freedom and then – enough!”
Louis made it clear that his was a political stand by military means in the cause for freedom.
The Court heard too that Abraham had made the statement which defined the revolt – he it was reported had made a statement to a gathering of some of the rebels on the eve on the afternoon of the 27th October 1808, “tomorrow when the bloody red flag of battle goes up and the fight for freedom is complete, you will be able to address your owners as ‘sy’ and ‘Jij’ (she and you).” The court saw this as a heinous act of arrogance, insolence and incitement.
The Court rejected both Louis account of his exemplary conduct and motivations and indeed the evidence showing no fatalities and a relatively disciplined revolt. It was put across that this was a major disorderly act of rebellion and high treason rather than the simple disturbance of the tranquelity at the Cape that Lord Caledon had communicated to his friend the Viscount early in November.
As a result of this Treason Trial, sixteen of the rebels were condemned to death by the Court, but the Governor, Lord Caledon, intervened to commute 11 of the death sentences to lengthy imprisonments and hard labour and only 6 were eventually convicted of High Treason and only 5 being given death sentences. All others were held to various charges of public violence and disorder. Caledon was at pains to demonstrate that he was a fair man in his new position in this new territory controlled by Britain. However the identified ringleaders – Louis van Mauritius, James Hooper, Abraham van der Kaap and Jephta van Batavia were sentenced to hang for their leadership of the act of rebellion.
The only other death sentence was passed on Cupido of Java who had committed the purely criminal offence of rape.
Michael Kelly, identified as a ringleader who had also be charged with High Treason, however mysteriously in terms of the silence in the record of his true role, escaped any sanction whatsoever and left the Cape pardoned and bound for Europe. In the record Caledon just states that Michael Kelly and Adonis of Ceylon, would have their conviction suspended until His Majesty’s pleasure will be known. It would seem that he was rewarded as an informant and collaborator.
The other 46 slaves were given various heavy sentences including imprisonment on Robben Island. Many of these slaves were from Mozambique – the Mazbiekers who were the most down-trodden of slaves at the time. While it is notable that there was a ‘rainbow` element to this rebellion, involving locally born slaves, slaves from the East Indies, Europeans, and indigene Khoena, it is clear that the most fertile ground for rebellion was the East African slaves of the wheat-belt farm fields because they were at the bottom of the exploitation and cruelty pile in the Cape. Of the 51 who were handed down the severest sentences 14 were Mazbieker slaves and 17 locally born creole slaves. The rest were from Mauritius, Siri Lanka, Java, Bougies, Malabar, Bengal, Batavia and Madagascar. One was an indigene Khoena farm labourer. Urban slavery had already began to metamorphous into an almost wage labour mode whereas rural slavery was raw, harsh and humiliating where slaves had little to lose but their chains.
The majority of the slaves who participated in the revolt were given over to their owners for “correction” by Governor Lord Caledon.
Scene 18 (Louis escape)
Louis wife Anna to whom he was so dearly attached, as she was to him, suffered great anxiety and depression during the course of the uprising, his capture and trial. The stress got to her and she had a fatal heart attack and died toward the end of the trial.
The imprisoned Louis was devastated and heartbroken. With bowed head he cried into his hands…. “Anna, dear Anna…. dear, dear Anna my love. I did this all for freedom and you.” Thus ended the most unlikely love story between an old Free Black woman and the young gentleman she rescued from slavery by renting him from his mistress.
Louis’ grief gave him a new energy. He desperately wanted to bid a proper goodbye to Anna at her grave. Boldly he managed to escape from prison at the Castle while awaiting sentence and was determined to mourn his love in freedom and to place flowers on her grave.
On the run sympathisers gave him shelter and food but he was forced to be ever on the move. Lord Caledon was fearful that this fugitive would become as popular a legend amongst slaves as the Stuurman brothers were amongst the Khoena resisters on the eastern frontier and the Khoena-Xhosa Itola, Makhana amongst the amaXhosa resisters. He could not afford to divide his attentions to two different fronts of resistance, so a price was put on Louis head.
But no legend was to develop. Louis’ time ran out and he was betrayed as he laid the flowers on the simple grave of his beloved Anna. Dragoon cavalry surrounded the gravesite and infantry guards appeared from the shadows of the night to arrest him. Louis was apprehended and returned to face execution. A handsome reward was belatedly paid to the man who betrayed Louis. The sum was 50 Rixdollars.
Scene 19 (Execution)
Caledon’s final order was signed on 29 December 1808 to be carried out immediately. The Court of Justice sentences on the leaders were modified only slightly in the cases of the five sentenced to death. The modification on the original sentence was simply that after execution their bodies should not be quartered. Louis of Mauritius, James Hooper, Abraham of the Cape, Cupido of Java and Jephta of Batavia were all executed by hanging. Their bodies were ordered to be affixed to stakes in specific public places along main roads as a demonstration of deterrence.
The body of Louis of Mauritius was affixed to a stake and held in place by chains at the punishment poles near the citadel in Salt River, the place of execution reserved for slaves. The same was done with James Hooper’s body at the gibbet just across from the Castle next to the Grand Parade. In the case of Abraham of the Cape his body was subjected to the same on the Koeberg Road in the farming district. Jephta of Batavia’s body was hung in chains on the stake on the Main road through the Zwartland farming district near to Vogelgezang farm and the same occurred in the case of Cupido of Java at Tygerberg. The bodies were ordered to remain there to be consumed by the birds of the air.
Closing Fade-Out and Notes before credits.
Modern times – A youngster walking along a path on a farm is stopped by a white farmer and in front of a group of farm workers is told to get off his farm or else. The workers get agitated at the farmers tone. The youngster with a scowl on his face stares down the farmer, lifts his arm and points his finger at the farmer and just utters one sharp word – “Djy”. (Freeze)
- In 1808 the transoceanic slave trade was abolished and in 1812 a Slave Protector was appointed at the Cape to look after the interest of slaves in law.
- In 1825 another small slave revolt – the Kouebokkeveld Insurrection took place and rocked the Cape establishment.
- In 1825 the Xhosa-Khoena resistance leader Makana imprisoned on Robben Island drowned in an escape bid….his co-warrior the Khoena Chief David Stuurman who led the last Khoena war of resistance, successfully escaped Robben Island but was captured and exiled to Australia.
- In 1834 Emancipation of Slaves was declared and in 1838 former Slaves who underwent the compulsory 4 year apprenticeship were finally freed.
- In 1856 the importation of ‘Prize Slaves’ came to an end and by 1870 all compulsory 14 year indenture periods for ‘Prize Slaves’ had run its course
- Today more than 65% of the population of the Western Cape can celebrate being ancestors of diverse slaves forcibly brought to South Africa from Africa and Madagascar, India, Sri Lanka and Bengal; and from throughout South East Asia. THESE DESCENDANTS ARE BORN OF A PEOPLE WHO ROSE ABOVE ADVERSITY.
George McCall Theal; Records of the Cape Colony (36 Vols) Volume 6; William Clowes and Sons ltd; London; (1900) – Hugo de Villiers; Commanding the Archives – A discourse analysis of the 1808 Slave Rebellion at the Cape; Historical Approaches 5; (2007) – Jackie Loos; Echoes of Slavery; David Phillip; Cape Town; (2004) – Karen Harris; The Slave ‘Rebellion’ of 1808; Kleio 20; (1988) – Nigel Worden; The day Cape Slaves made themselves masters – The 1808 Rebellion a dramatic shift in the nature of resistance; Cape Times; (2008) – Robert Ross; Cape of Torments; Routledge & Kegan Paul; London; (1983)
© Patric Tariq Mellet
This script cannot be used in anyway without permission. It is a work-in-progress – the dialogue is being developed to run alongside the 19 scenes that make-up the script. The script follows the documented historical accounts and where there are gaps a sensitive fiction was developed to engance the storyline. I would welcome a skilled dialogue developer and an editor to collaborate with me on the finalization of the script. Movie producers and directors are also welcome to contact me.