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German Settlers to the Eastern Cape

The Cape Town

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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Early in January 1859, the Peter Godeffroy -- fourth of the six ships taking the peasant farming families to East London -- called in at Table Bay to take on fresh supplies. By now vegetables and fruit would have become all but exhausted, the water needed replenishing while fresh meat was wanted.

Boats rowed out to meet the ship, some carrying supplies while others brought agents to speak to the passengers. A young couple from Brandenburg came forward to negotiate with one of the agents. They were Heinrich and Caroline Michael.

Caroline was still a teenager, although already a mother. It could have been the surprise of this pregnancy which had caused them to decide to emigrate in the first place. The baby was born while still at sea and so they already had an extra life to worry about by the time they reached Cape Town.

After some negotiation, the Michaels agreed to the terms offered and were accompanied ashore. It is not sure what happened to them next. What is certain is that the agent accepted to pay the bounty fee for the voyage, and Heinrich Michael entered into a new contract to work the debt off over a period of years.

It would have been a difficult decision to make because, if they had continued on their journey to East London, they were assured of a free building plot plus 20 acres of agricultural land at £1 per acre, as well as two more acres for their baby.

On the other hand, they would then have had to repay the £12 10s. bounty for the voyage and the further £22 debt incurred for the land -- all of this over a ten year period, beginning in just four years time.

They would also have had to labour hard to acquire the money to buy agricultural tools and seeds, and to build a house over their heads -- and soon more children would arrive and their struggles could only worsen.

Although their disembarking at Cape Town meant they had to forgo the offer of land in British Kaffraria, there were nevertheless advantages: an immediate roof over their heads, no major debt to repay other than perhaps the cost of the voyage, and immediate employment with a ready salary from the start.

They accepted the offer, collected their luggage and left the ship. It would seem that they worked their way to the Caledon area -- either immediately or later -- and would eventually have another three children.

Heinrich alas would die only eight years later. Caroline would then remarry, this time to a Swede -- Henry Anderson -- and together they sought their fortunes in the newly discovered diamond diggings of Kimberley.

The Michaels were not the only family to disembark at Cape Town. At the end of November 1858, the Wandrahm had already called at Table Bay, and several families had accepted offers to work on vineyards in Wynberg.

When the Wilhelmsburg, the Peter Godeffroy and the Johann Caesar called in, each was visited by agents who signed up more families. Some went to work in shops, some became herders and not a few found employment on the many vineyards around Wynberg and Constantia.

There was nothing untoward about these visits to the ships and persuading some families to disembark. Indeed, the action was in accord with the Cape Parliament's Act 8 of 1857 which had legislated for such immigration to provide a supply of much needed labour.

The Government Gazette which followed the Act had stipulated that such immigrant labourers -- but especially vine-dressers and wine makers -- should be sought out in Europe. Several Germans aboard these ships fitted this description.

In March 1859 a letter from William Berg -- Johan Godeffroy's attorney in Cape Town -- was tabled before Parliament, giving the total number of German immigrants disembarking at Table Bay as "about two hundred".

They had given "such general satisfaction" that "many residents of town and country" were begging for the introduction of more such people. This request would be acted upon so that, between 1860 and 1883, regular shipments of German agriculturists would arrive in southern Africa.

Heinrich and Caroline Michael, as well as the others who had chosen to disembark at Cape Town, had made a fortuitous decision. Those immigrants who continued their journey to East London and British Kaffraria would not fare so well.

Indeed, their adventure quickly declined into a sorry tale of broken promises, bureaucratic blunders and heartbreaking hardship which saw the venture -- begun with such hope -- reduced often to tears.

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