The Trials and Tribulations of the English South Africans

Cultural Heritage

Many of these settlers were to give their names to South African history: Ayliff, Bowker, Daniels, Chase, Cock, Currie, Godlonton, Southey, Scablan, Shepstone, Shaw: it was they, these British settlers, who laid the foundation for modern South Africa.  On the whole a refined, religious people who insisted on a sound education for their children, they added to the cultural heritage of their new homeland in many ways.  They produced poets, writers, artists and journalists; produced prosperous merchants; provided skills, crafts, administrators.

Before their arrival, education was a huge problem.  In February 1812, of 3400 White children living on the vast Eastern Frontier, only 100 went to school.  Then Andrew Murray, a master of arts from Aberdeen University, came to the Cape, heading the most valuable cargo ever seen in SA: six trained schoolmasters.  It was these men, Murray, William Robinson, Alexander Smith, James Rose Innes, John Taylor and George Morgan, who were to found schools and stimulate everywhere the thirst for knowledge in SA.  It was men from Scotland, too, who at a time of scarcity gave the Dutch Reformed Church some of its most notable ministers.

Most of the great roads of South Africa were planned and carried out by English-speakers, among them Andrew Geddes Bain, responsible for that great engineering feat, the Bain’s Kloof Pass, and Colonel J. Mitchell, responsible for the famous Mitchell’s Pass, giving access through the mountains to the district of Ceres.

Sir William Guybon Atherstone carried out the first operation in SA under anaesthetic – and identified the first diamond found at the Cape.  Sir John Coode pioneered SA’s earlier harbour works.  Astronomer Sir David Gill made the Cape Observatory world famous.  Sir Leige Hulett opened up Zululand for sugar.  Cape legislator Hercules Crosse Jarvis promoted the building of Table Bay Docks.  John Paterson established the Standard Bank of SA in 1862.<


There were so many more: the great British architect, Herbert Baker, commissioned by Rhodes to rebuild and restore Groote Schuur, later to design the Union Buildings in Pretoria; John X. Merriman, possibly the most influential English-speaking statesman the country has produced; the world-famous palaeontologist, Robert Broom; the equally famous anthropologist, Raymond Dart.[2]

There was Alfred Milner who cut his name deep into SA, both for good and ill.  In the “good” column we must list the creation of the Milner Kindergarten, the nickname given to a group of exceptionally gifted young graduates from leading British universities, mostly Oxford and Cambridge, brought to SA by Milner in 1900.  These young men between them laid the foundations of the SA public service; and prepared the way for the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910.[3]  All were later to attain great distinction, either in SA or on the world scene.  Among them were Patrick Duncan, who remained on to become the first South African named as Governor-General; Richard Feetham, later to become one of SA’s most distinguished judges; Lionel Curtis, destined to become first Town Clerk of Johannesburg; and a variety of others.

These Englishmen, and many, many more, have loved and helped build a great South Africa, helped make it the most advanced country in all Africa.  The gifts they brought with them were rich indeed.  Would all that they brought with them, achieved, sacrificed, fought for, be preserved in any ANC/SA Communist Party government?  In this crisis period, there is nothing more important for South Africans – all South Africans – to ask themselves than that question.

Originally published November/December 1990; republished October 2011