The brilliant prospect of comfort and affluence, visions of fertility and abundance, whipped up unthinkable enthusiasm among Britain’s starving multitudes. Emigration to the Cape became an all-absorbing topic in the British press, including the London Times, with the most exaggerated statements concerning the fertility of the country, the happy conditions of peace and plenty awaiting all those fortunate to move there.
Basically, the British are a cynical people. By no means all were infatuated with these glowing descriptions of the Cape as the new land of golden opportunity. The great cartoonist George Cruikshank published several ferocious cartoons warning against emigration to “the Cape of Forlorn Hope.” One showed settlers being eaten alive by savages, cobras and a boa constrictor!
But the momentum was now in full swing. Parliament voted £50 000 for the transport of 5000 emigrants to the Eastern Cape. One hundred acres of land were offered to each settler of means, a further hundred acres for every male labourer he took with him. Title to the land, however, would only be issued after the ground had been occupied for three years. The Imperial Government would provide free passage and provisions.
Lured by the lavish promises that they would be going to the Promised Land, nearly 90 000 applications were received, but only 3487 were selected. These proved an odd bag. The Mountforts, whose ancestors fought at the Battle of Hastings, were among them; small squires; retired military officers, physicians, surgeons; peasants; artisans; farm workers; craftsmen; silversmiths; clerks; shop assistants; teachers and many more.
After lengthy delays because of the bad weather, the first of the 24 settler ships, each of about 400 tons, sailed down the icy Thames in December, 1819. Few eyes could have been dry as the ships slowly pulled away from the familiar sights and sounds of home – for many, never to be seen again. The voyage out took three months. There were a few deaths – and some births. Expectations continued to run high.
The first reality dawned when the ships called in at False Bay on a wintry day in April, 1820. The black hills and general desolation sparked wide dismay. Having taken on fresh provisions, they continued on to Algoa Bay, to be welcomed there by British soldiers and Boer farmers. Some were taken to Albany, others located between the Bushman’s and Fish River.