Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Edward Blount, author of Notes on the Cape of Good Hope Made During an Excursion to that Colony in the Year 1820, recommended travelling on horseback as the most independent mode of travel, even though it did not offer the comfort and accommodation of the wagon. But he cautioned that taking along a servant to take care of the horse was "an indispensable prerequisite", because the local inhabitants regarded any attention to the horse other than feeding and watering as "unnecessary trouble".

Though the roads were "good and hard", indifferent surveying could compel the traveller to travel twice the distance to reach his destination, he wrote. Also, the distance was measured in time. For example, going from Cape Town to "Hottentots Holland" was said to be a journey of six hours.

The author recommended that the traveller carried letters of introduction to the magistrates of the different districts through which they had to pass. The traveller was assured that he would receive a polite and friendly reception. "They all speak English," he added.

It was quite a sight to see the farmers’ wagons tackling the two mountain passes French Kloof and Hottentots Holland Kloof. Going through the Hottentots Holland Kloof, "a tremendous pass", the wagons tilted from side to side and oxen were at times compelled to jump from rock to rock. And the gusts of wind howling through the mountain were enough to fill man and beast with dread. Fortunately, the wagons were built low and strong.

The author discovered that 100 miles eastwards the soil improved and substantial farms had been established. There farmers lived carefree and self-sufficient lives which were "never luxurious, but always sufficient". They had their own sour wine, their "coffee" was burnt barley and they sometimes made tea from a plant growing on the mountain.

Their gardens were small and ill-kept, as they placed little value on fruit and vegetables. Pumpkins and watermelons the author described as growing almost spontaneously. Some potatoes and cabbages were grown. Apricots and nectarines grew wild.

The farmers looked upon a newly arrived threshing machine "with amazement" as they found "newfangled inventions" "objectionable". Their fathers had lived in barbarity and ignorance and their sons were content to follow the lifestyle of their ancestors.

There were no inns in the Cape interior in those days and travellers rode from farmhouse to farmhouse, of which there were not many. The author said he never met with a cold reception, except when he arrived at an inopportune time. Usually the traveller was greeted with a "good day" or "good night", followed by an invitation to come into the house. The stable was shown to the traveller where his horse would be provided with the fodder the farmer had available.

Supper was a grand meal. Mutton, roasted or boiled, was served with potatoes swimming in sheep-tail fat. But the author did not find it disgusting or unpalatable. White bread, which was often sour, was served. There was a large tureen of rice-milk, boiled with sugar and cinnamon, described as "a savoury mess".

Sometimes a bad sour wine was served or water of dubious quality. But little of either was drunk.

The food was eaten rapidly, and as soon as the tablecloth was removed, the host and guests retired to their featherbeds, which the author found uncomfortable in the warm climate. Each bed was provided with six pillows, also stuffed with feathers.

Then there were the fleas and other vermin to contend with.

The only breakfast a farmer took was a dish of coffee or burnt barley and his pipe. The traveller could ask for bread and butter and perhaps an egg. The first meal was at 11am. It was similar to the supper but not as substantial.

Then it was time to ask for one’s horse and pay "the master of the house", kiss the women of the house — or not, as one chose, and leave. The cost was seldom more than three rix dollars.

The author believed the farmers were large and corpulent because of their meat diet, aggravated by a life of inactivity.

With their pipes in their mouths they could be seen lounging for hours on the front stoep. They seldom worked in the field and never walked if they could ride. As a result their life expectancy was short.

The author was not optimistic about the future economic development of the Cape. It would take many years before the interior would offer any economic prospects, he wrote. Towns would have to be built and settlers would be needed to boost the growth.

"Until then, the interior of the Cape would have to remain what it is, an uncultivated wasteland only able to support a small population."

The book will be auctioned online at www.jellyfishtree.com.

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