Object DomicileShelf number: DG9
Iziko Social History Centre, 17 Church Square, City Centre, Cape Town, South Africa -33.92514300156871 18.421716573648155
On loan from the Department of Defence to the William Fehr Collection, Iziko Museums of South Africa (The Department of Defence owns the Castle of Good Hope, and therefore everything in it)
Object OriginThe work was made on a journey aboard the ship, Sir Edward Hughes. The voyage begun in Sutton Harbour, Plymouth (50.368317 -4.133051442858207) and ended at the Cape (-33.928992 18.417396). The object is determined to have been made between 23-02-1797 and 05-05-1797.
Plymouth is a city on the south coast of Devon, England. During the Industrial Revolution, Plymouth grew as a commercial shipping port; handling imports as well as exports of local minerals such as tin, copper, lime, china clay and arsenic. It also served as a departure point for passengers travelling from England. It is presumed that Lady Anne and Andrew Barnard set sail aboard the Sir Edward Hughes, which departed from Sutton Harbour; travelling from the North Atlantic Ocean to the South Atlantic Ocean en route to Cape Town.
The woman first documented to have climbed Table Mountain (and who allegedly swam naked in its rock pools) meticulously depicts the journey that brought her to the Cape. At the age of forty-two, she married a man twelve years her junior, for love, so it was claimed. This woman seems to have been a character of note. Under her adventurous side, and the charm that landed her in positions of privilege, there resided a shrewd desire for power. Lady Anne Barnard, wife of colonial secretary Andrew Barnard, arrived in the Cape in 1797. She is remembered for her diaries, journals and artworks of her observations of life in colonial Cape Town in the late eighteenth century. These observations begun on her voyage, taken with her husband upon the Sir Edward Hughes.
This pencil sketch is titled Mrs Saul, a fellow passenger. We don’t know much about Mrs. Saul herself - except for the fact that she had been a fellow passenger on board from England going to visit he husband in the Cape - or about Lady Anne, as she embarked on this journey.
What could have been going through the head of Lady Anne and her husband as they prepared to settle in a foreign country? What were they expecting from their new lives in South Africa? Was it, perhaps, a prosperous place that simply had much room for improvement? Or was it a dark continent, overrun by ‘savages’ that should be approached with fear? Was she feeling courageous, or fearful, or full of excitement? And is there any way in which this portrait could help us think about her state of mind?
A Port Secure from Misery
During the late 1700s, a feeling of travel and change was in the air in England. The public attitude towards the world, in general, was changing. It was during this time that the world began to expand into a new hemisphere, and the best seller of the year reflected this: A Voyage Towards the South Pole and Round the World: Performed in His Majesty’s Ships the Resolution and Adventure, in the Years 1772, 1773, 1774 and 1775 (Masson, 1948: 87). Many experienced travellers docked at the Cape of Good Hope on their way to and from the East. Accounts of many of these travels were published and made available to the public, who sought information for their own possible travels or were simply curious about worlds they knew nothing about (Masson, 1948: 153).
It was with mixed emotions that Andrew and Lady Anne Barnard stood together on the deck of the Sir Edward Hughes. On the 23rd of February 1797, the ship set sail from Plymouth, England, towards the Cape. The couple’s new life, with Andrew as newly appointed colonial secretary and Anne as unofficial ‘first lady’, awaited them across the ocean. They took on board with them fresh plants and geranium cuttings from Mr Mason, botanist to His Majesty the King. The plants included three kinds of strawberries, which were to be in Mr Hudson’s special care throughout the voyage. The taking of these typically English plants to the Cape was part of Lady Anne’s wider scheme to engage the sympathies of the colonists (Masson, 1948: 158). Anne also brought with her a large supply of drawing paper, sketchbooks, paint from Newman’s of Gerrard Street and quantities of writing paper.
It appears that, prior to her voyage, Lady Anne consulted many of the accounts of travels to the Cape, and people, about the social and political climate of the place she would soon call home. Similar to most of her contemporaries, she would have visualised the Cape as a ‘wild and dangerous no man’s land where the lion roamed in unchallenged majesty’ (Masson, 1948: 153) and where ‘the human race had only a precious foothold and fierce yellow-skinned dwarfs hunted wild beasts with their bows, and arrows, and brown-skinned nomads wandered about with herds of cattle’ (Masson, 1948: 153).
According to Admiral Pringle, the Cape was said to be the worst situation that was possible for the devil himself to contrive (Barnard, 1953: 6). Pringle painted a picture of a desolate place – ‘no rivers, no water, torrents in plenty from the mountain tops, but nothing in the bosom of the earth’ (Barnard, 1953: 7).
It was only in John Malcolm’s (aide-de-camp to Sir Alured Clarke) letters home that they learned that Cape Town was ‘clean and regularly well build’, that the men ‘are rather heavy, but in general, good-humoured and rather friendly’ (Masson, 1948: 154). With regards to society in Cape Town, Malcolm wrote that there was too much of a sober and sedate nature to please the palate of an Englishman.
A particular remark from Malcolm that gave Anne food for thought was this:
The slaves appear in general happy [sic] and, I believe, with a few exceptions are well treated. There are numbers of Malays at the Cape, who is [sic], like their countrymen, remarkable for their spirit of revenge, ungovernable rage and desperate fury, which often occasions their running amuck. In such cases, they dishevel their hair, tear their clothes and dart into the most frequented streets with a dagger in their hands and kill all they meet indiscriminately until they are put to death themselves. (Masson, 1948: 154)
It can be assumed that Lady Anne and her husband spent much time on their voyage trying to imagine the future that awaited them in the Cape. She documented these thoughts upon arrival in her letters. In a hopeful tone, she writes:
Now that there is a fixed government and a certain allowance for all, they can send down to the shore. Less will probably be raised this year than will be necessary to make things very cheap, but industry will be doubled next year, more slaves will be got, more cattle taken into the yoke, and plenty, I think, will ensue. (Barnard, 1953: 14)
The couple’s journey aboard the Sir Edward Hughes was a long one, in a closely confined space. Anne often spent time during the voyage writing journals and creating art. It was through these that it becomes possible to obtain a fairly clear idea of how the couple experienced the voyage. Madeleine Masson states that while Lady Anne was by no means a draughtswoman, her sketches are neat and precise and possess the same clarity that characterises her writings (1948: 160). The ship was typical of the ‘wooden walls’ of its time, and it was noted that its timbers often creaked and groaned (Masson, 1948: 160). There was little comfort between the decks, and the passengers, including the Barnards, spent as much time as they could in the fresh air above. It is noted that, despite her initial dread, Lady Anne found sea life full of interest and amusement (Taylor, 2016: 212). Naturally, within this confined space there was no better place in the world for Lady Anne to study her fellow passengers. This allowed Lady Anne to pursue one of her favourite occupations: character analysis (Masson, 1948: 160).
Mrs Saul, a Fellow Passenger (1797) is a pencil sketch created by Lady Anne during this voyage. Mrs. Ceilia Saul was a passenger from England, going out to the Cape to surprise her husband, Lieutenant Thomas Saul of the 8th Light Dragoons (Barnard et al., 1999: 137). Mrs. Saul was described by Lady Anne as amiable, an Irishwoman whom the gentlemen enjoyed teasing (Collingham, 2017).
The image, measuring only 23,5 x 15 cm , is delicately drawn to reveal a woman whose face we cannot see. Mrs Saul is seated in what we can presume is a wooden chair, facing away from the viewer, who is, in this case, Lady Anne. What she is looking at is not drawn in, and we are left to assume. Perhaps the ocean. Perhaps she was simply daydreaming about being reunited with her husband. Perhaps she was overcome with melancholy or hopelessness. Perhaps she was taking a nap.
Lady Anne documents the journey that led to this artwork in letters to Henry Dundas, Secretary for War and the Colonies. The expedition was described by Barnard as a prosperous one (Barnard, 1953: 1), with the couple sailing from the 23rd of February until the 5th of May.
According to Lady Anne, the passengers ‘got on like lambs’ (Collingham, 2017) for the most part. Ultimately, she appeared to be in good spirits throughout the journey, apart from the affects of two unpleasant fellow passengers, whom she identified as Captain Campell and his Dutch wife.
As part of their daily routine, the passengers assembled at two o’clock in the ship’s cuddy to dine. Much of Lady Anne’s writing from this time is centred on the dry weather they experienced on board, as well as their mess-mates, who numbered about twenty-four (Barnard, 1953: 2).
Whilst the name Lady Anne Barnard does not carry much notoriety in young minds of today, she was a prominent figure in upper-class eighteenth-century society. During her four years at the Cape of Good Hope, she chronicled her life in journals, letters and artworks. After her death, she left six volumes of unpublished autobiography in the shape of journals and letters – with a stern injunction that her writings were never to be published. These writings contain detailed descriptions of people, places and events from her time spent in the Cape – a feminine narrative that is uncommon in Cape Town’s history. Lady Anne felt an obligation to record an experience that would not normally have been available to women in Britain, but she frequently apologised for doing so (Lenta, 1992: 56). She was telling stories in contexts completely unfamiliar to her readers, but of great interest nonetheless. Because of this, she could not omit from her writings, for example, descriptions of plants and geological phenomena (Lenta, 1992: 56), as well as her experiences of the voyage. The drawing of Mrs Saul, in this sense, allowed her readers to imagine themselves in her position, on board towards a new life. She was equally bound to include discussions of the Cape Dutch and the indigenous people (the Khoi, the San and the Xhosa people), whom she described in offensive and racist terms, and the large slave population.
The bulk of literature that is available about Lady Anne Barnard, which highlights her life in the eighteenth century, tends to focus on the social aspects of her life, with little to no mention of the Barnards’ role in South African politics. Because of this, information about Lady Anne is one-dimensional at best. The portrayal of her life in Cape Town, often through her own images and words, juxtaposes the very real repercussions of slavery and colonialism that we still face today. This leaves us, in our current political climate, to wonder – why should we remember her? And if we do remember her, what should we remember? Does decolonisation, in fact, not mean disregarding the Lady Annes of the world? Or at least making their stories less prominent?
There is a strange dichotomy in writings about Lady Anne Barnard, wherein she is described as a kind spirit but also someone deeply involved and interested in politics. Within the context of colonial South Africa, these descriptions seem to be mutually exclusive. It is hypothesised by Madeleine Masson that had Lady Anne remained in the ‘social galerie’ of the eighteenth century, she would be remembered today as someone who had been an inconsiderable puppet on the European stage (1948: 8), if at all. Instead, she made the decision to ‘become an instrument in the evolution of a great political concept’ (Masson, 1948: 8). Lady Anne believed in making herself agreeable to the original colonists, the Dutch, as the British were seen as invaders and, with few exceptions, adopted a ‘sulky and ill-affected attitude” (Taylor, 2016: 221). This is not to say that Lady Anne was not a multifaceted being, but her role in politics often falls to the background. It is, after all, because of Lady Anne’s connections that her husband was offered the post in the Cape.
A shift in location catapulted Lady Anne into our colonial history and into our history books. Ultimately, now, she is remembered. Race, however, takes a backseat in the retellings of her time in the Cape, despite it being an inescapable feature of the Cape (Taylor, 2016: 221). A census conducted in 1798 put the colony’s White population at around 21 000, with some 26 000 Black slaves, mostly from Mozambique and Madagascar – Cape Town itself was estimated to have a population of about 6 000 settlers and 12 000 slaves (Taylor, 2016: 222). Masson (1948: 8) writes that in her texts Lady Anne gave a ‘perfect picture of the settlement and the time’. Of course, this needs to be unpacked, given the large slave population overlooked in this ‘perfect picture’.
The narrative in which Lady Anne finds herself has become the most prominent narrative of South African colonial history. Because of this, the narrative of thousands of unnamed slaves are left unwritten in the story of women like Lady Anne and their ‘African’ adventures. Lady Anne wrote from a viewpoint of privilege and power and, ultimately, as a settler. To take these writings as fact, and as the single narrative of the time, is problematic, to say the least. This does not mean that these writings should be disregarded and completely abandoned, but our cultural and academic attention should shift towards the massive slave population that is often reduced to a footnote within these narratives.
Masson, M. 1948. Lady Anne Barnard: The Court and Colonial Service under George III and the Regency. London: Allen & Unwin.
Barnard, A. 1953. Letters and Journals. Cape Town: The Standard Press.
Barnard, A., M. Lenta and B. le Cordeur. 1999. The Cape Diaries of Lady Anne Barnard, 1799–1800. Cape Town: Van Riebeeck Society.
Collingham, L. 2017. The Hungry Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World. London: Random House.
Lenta, M. 1992. Degrees of Freedom: Lady Anne Barnard’s Cape Diaries. English in Africa 19(2): 55–68.
Taylor, S. 2016. Defiance: The Life and Choices of Lady Anne Barnard. London: Faber & Faber.