Written history of the area that became Cape Colony and later Cape Province of South Africa began when Bartolomeu Dias, the Portuguese navigator, discovered the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, and Vasco da Gama in 1497 sailed along the whole coast of South Africa on his way to India. The Portuguese, attracted by the riches of Asia, made no permanent settlement at the Cape. But the Dutch, who, on the decline of the Portuguese power, established themselves in the East, early saw the importance of the place as a station where their vessels might take in water and provisions. They did not, however, establish any post at the Cape until 1652, when the Dutch East India Company sent out a small garrison under Jan van Riebeeck. Riebeeck landed at Table Bay and founded Cape Town. In 1671 the first purchase of land from the Hottentots beyond the limits of the fort built by Riebeeck marked the beginning of the Colony proper.

The earliest colonists came for the most part from inferior classes or displayed indifferent character, but as the result of the investigations of a commissioner sent out in 1685 a "better" class of immigrants arrived. About 1686 a number of the French refugees who left their country on the revocation of the edict of Nantes augmented the European population. This small body of immigrants had a marked influence on the character of the Dutch settlers. These Huguenots, however, owing to the policy of the Company, which in 1701 directed that the schools should teach exclusively in Dutch, ceased by the middle of the 18th century to maintain a distinct identity, and the knowledge of French disappeared.

Advancing north and east from their base at Cape Town, the colonists gradually acquired — partly by so-called "contracts", partly by force — all the land of the Hottentots, large numbers of whom they killed. Besides those who died in warfare, whole tribes of Hottentots disintegrated in epidemics of smallpox in 1713 and in 1755. Straggling remnants still maintained their independence, but the mass of the Hottentots took service with the colonists as herdsmen, while others became hangers-on about the Company's posts and grazing-farms or roamed about the country. In 1787 the Dutch government passed a law subjecting these wanderers to certain restrictions. The effect of this law was to place the Hottentots in more immediate dependence upon the farmers, or to compel them to migrate northward beyond the colonial border. Those who chose the latter alternative had to encounter the hostility of their old foes, the Bushmen, who inhabited the plains from the Nieuwveld and Sneeuwberg mountains to the Orange River.

The European colonists also, pressing forward to those territories, came in contact with these "Ishmaelites" — the farmers' cattle and sheep, guarded only by a Hottentot herdsman, offering the strongest temptation to the Bushman. Reprisals followed; and the position became so desperate that the extermination of the Bushmen appeared to the government the only safe alternative. "Commandoes" or war-bands set out against them, and hunted them down like wild beasts. Within a period of six years the commandoes allegedly killed or captured upwards of 3000 Bushmen. Out of the organisation of these commandoes, with their field commandants and field-cornets, grew the common system of local government in the Dutch-settled districts of South Africa.

The Dutch colonists also imported slaves from India, Indonesia, Madagascar and Mozambique. From these slaves descend the Cape Coloureds, who presently form the majority of the population in the current Western Cape Province of South Africa.

But neither the hostility of the natives, nor the hard struggle with nature necessary to make agriculture profitable on Karoo or veld, slowed the progress made by the colonists, as much as the narrow and tyrannical policy adopted by the Dutch East India Company. The Company closed the colony against free immigration, kept the whole of the trade in its own hands, combined the administrative, legislative and judicial powers in one body, prescribed to the farmers the nature of the crops they were to grow, demanded from them a large part of their produce, and harassed them with other exactions tending to discourage industry and enterprise. (See the article on History of South Africa.) Hence that dislike of orderly government, and that desire to escape from its control, which characterized for many generations the boer or farmer class of Dutch settlers — qualities utterly at variance with the character of the Dutch in their native country. Seeking largely to escape oppression, the farmers trekked farther and farther from the seat of government. The Company, to control the emigrants, established a magistracy at Swellendam in 1745 and another at Graaff Reinet in 1786. The authorities had declared the Gamtoos river, circa 1740, as the eastern frontier of the colony, but trekkers soon crossed it. In 1780, however, the Dutch, to avoid collision with the warlike "Kaffir" tribes advancing south and west from east central Africa, agreed with them to make the Great Fish river the common boundary. In 1795 the heavily taxed burghers of the frontier districts, who received no protection against the Kaffirs, expelled the officials of the East India Company, and set up independent governments at Swellendam and at Graaff Reinet.

Also in 1795, the Netherlands having fallen under the revolutionary government of France, a British force under General Sir James Craig set out to Cape Town to secure the colony for the Stadtholder Prince William V of Orange - a refugee in England - against the French. The governor of Cape Town at first refused to obey the instructions from the prince, but on the British proceeding to take forcible possession he capitulated. He did so all the more readliy due to the fact that the Hottentots, deserting their former masters, flocked to the British standard. The burghers of Graaff Reinet did not surrender until a force had been sent against them, while in 1799 and again in 1801 they rose in revolt. In February 1803, as a result of the peace of Amiens, the colony came under the control of the Batavian Republic, which introduced many needful reforms, as had the British during their eight years’ rule. (One of the first acts of General Craig had been to abolish torture in the administration of justice.)

The history of Cape Colony continues in the following articles:

History of Cape Colony from 1806 to 1870

History of Cape Colony from 1870 to 1899

History of Cape Colony from the Second Anglo-Boer War: 1899 - 1910

Original text from http://1911encyclopedia.org -- needs further editing for political sensitivity and NPOV.