The Cape of Good Hope, also known as the Cape Colony, was a British colony originally established in 1795 in present-day South Africa and Namibia, named after the Cape of Good Hope. The British colony was preceded by an earlier Dutch colony of the same name, the Kaap de Goede Hoop, established in 1652 by the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch lost the colony to Britain following the 1795 Battle of Muizenberg, but had it returned following the 1802 Peace of Amiens. It was re-occupied by the British following the Battle of Blaauwberg in 1806, and British possession affirmed with the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814. The Cape of Good Hope then remained in the British Empire, becoming self-governing in 1872, and uniting with three other colonies to form the Union of South Africa in 1910. The colony stretched from the Atlantic coast inland and eastward along the southern coast, constituting about half of modern South Africa: the final eastern boundary, after several wars against the Xhosa, stood at the Fish River. In the north, the Orange River, also known as the Gariep River, served as the boundary for some time, although some land between the river and the southern boundary of Botswana was later added to it. From 1878, the colony also included the enclave of Walvis Bay and the Penguin Islands, both in what is now Namibia.
The earliest known human remnants in the region were found at Peers Cave in Fish Hoek and date to between 15,000 and 12,000 years ago. Little is known of the history of the region’s first residents, since there is no written history from the area before it was first mentioned by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias in 1486. Vasco da Gama recorded a sighting of the Cape of Good Hope in 1497. In the late sixteenth century, Portuguese, French, Danish, Dutch and English ships regularly stopped over in Table Bay en route to the Indies. Table Bay, for over one hundred years known as Saldanha (named after one of Afonso de Albuquerque’s sea captains), became a convenient harbor on the long, hard and dangerous sea voyage to the East. These ships traded tobacco, copper and iron with the Khoikhoi in exchange for fresh meat. Letters were left and exchanged with ships sailing back to Europe. Frequently, packets of letters were left under postal stones inscribed in French, Dutch and Danish, which became the first, unmanned, post offices of the Cape. The first message recorded as having been passed from one vessel to another by leaving it under Post Office Tree (Mossel Bay) was in 1601. Letters are known from 1619 (the earliest known was inscribed in English), but the earliest government postal system was set up by the Dutch in Cape Town on September 28, 1791.
In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck and other employees of the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oost-indische Compagnie, or the VOC) were sent to the Cape to establish a way-station for ships travelling between Batavia (Jakarta) in the Dutch East Indies and the Netherlands. Fort de Goede Hoop was established at this time (later replaced by the Castle of Good Hope). The settlement in the area which later became Cape Town grew slowly during this period, as it was hard to find adequate labor. This labor shortage prompted the authorities to import slaves from Indonesia and Madagascar. Many of these became ancestors of the first Cape Coloured communities. Under Van Riebeeck and his successors as VOC commanders and later governors at the Cape, an impressive range of useful plants were introduced to the Cape — in the process changing the natural environment forever. Some of these, including grapes, cereals, ground nuts, potatoes, apples and citrus, had an important and lasting influence on the societies and economies of the region. The support station gradually became a settler community, the forebears of the Afrikaners, a European ethnic group in South Africa.
The native Khoikhoi peoples in the region had neither a strong political organization nor an economic base beyond their herds. They bartered livestock freely to Dutch ships but, as Company employees established farms, the Khoikhoi became displaced in the ship-related commerce. Conflicts led to the consolidation of European land holdings and a greater degree of Khoikhoi society breakdown. Military success led to even greater Dutch East India Company control of the Khoikhoi by the 1670s and the Khoikhoi became the chief source of colonial wage labor.
The area around the Company station in-filled and nomadic European livestock farmers, or Trekboeren, moved more widely afield, leaving the richer, but limited, farming lands of the coast for the drier interior tableland where they competed with the Khoikhoi cattle herders for the best grazing lands. By 1700, the traditional Khoikhoi lifestyle of pastoralism had disappeared and following British rule in 1795, the establishment of the Cape’s socio-political foundations were firmly laid.
In 1795, France occupied the Seven Provinces of the Netherlands, the mother country of the Dutch East India Company. This prompted Great Britain to occupy the territory in 1795 as a way to better control the seas in order stop any potential French attempt to reach India. The British sent a fleet of nine warships which anchored at Simon’s Town and, following the defeat of the Dutch militia at the Battle of Muizenberg, took control of the territory. The Dutch East India Company transferred its territories and claims to the Batavian Republic (the Revolutionary period Dutch state) in 1798, and ceased to exist in 1799. Improving relations between Britain and Napoleonic France, and its vassal state the Batavian Republic, led the British to hand the Cape of Good Hope over to the Batavian Republic in 1803, under the terms of the Treaty of Amiens.
In 1806, the Cape, now nominally controlled by the Batavian Republic, was occupied again by the British after their victory in the Battle of Blaauwberg. The temporary peace between Britain and Napoleonic France had crumbled into open hostilities, whilst Napoleon had been strengthening his influence on the Batavian Republic (which Napoleon would subsequently abolish later the same year). The British, who set up a colony on January 8, 1806, hoped to keep Napoleon out of the Cape, and to control the Far East trade routes. In 1814 the Dutch government formally ceded sovereignty over the Cape to the British, under the terms of the Convention of London.
The British started to settle the eastern border of the colony, with the arrival in Port Elizabeth of the 1820 Settlers. They also began to introduce the first rudimentary rights for the Cape’s Black African population and, in 1833, abolished slavery. The resentment that the Dutch farmers felt against this social change, as well as the imposition of English language and culture, caused them to trek inland en masse. This was known as the Great Trek, and the migrating Afrikaners settled inland, forming the “Boer republics” of Transvaal and the Orange Free State.
British immigration continued in the Cape, even as many of the Afrikaners continued to trek inland, and the ending of the British East India Company’s monopoly on trade led to economic growth. At the same time, the long series of border wars fought against the Xhosa people of the Cape’s eastern frontier finally died down when the Xhosa partook in a mass destruction of their own crops and cattle, in the belief that this would cause their spirits to appear and defeat the whites. The resulting famine crippled Xhosa resistance and ushered in a long period of stability on the border.
Stamps were first issued by the Cape of Good Hope colony on September 1, 1853. These were two triangular stamps — the first issued in the world — showing the allegory of “Hope”, in denominations of one penny in brick-red and four pence in deep blue (Scott #1-2). They were printed by Perkins, Bacon & Company in London. The original die for these stamps was cut by William Humphrys, an engraver employed by Perkins Bacon. Sheets of a special handmade paper, measuring 282 mm by 536 mm, were used to print 240 stamps per sheet and issued imperforate. The rate of postage within the colony was 4d for a half ounce letter and 1d for a newspaper.
Peace and prosperity led to a desire for political independence. In 1854, the Cape of Good Hope elected its first parliament, on the basis of the multi-racial Cape Qualified Franchise. Cape residents qualified as voters based on a universal minimum level of property ownership, regardless of race. The fact that executive power remained completely in the authority of the British governor did not relieve tensions in the colony between its eastern and western sections.
On February 18, 1858, two new stamps were issued: a six pence in pale lilac (Scott #5) and a one shilling in yellow green (Scott #6). The six pence rate was for payment of half ounce letters to Great Britain and the one shilling rate was for postage to some foreign countries. On September 15, 1860, the rate for local letters in Cape Town was reduced to 1d. A similar reduction was made in Port Elizabeth on May 1, 1861. On April 1, 1863, the rate to Great Britain was increased to one shilling, if sent by mail packet, and reduced to four pence, if sent by private vessels.
Due to a shortage of one penny and four pence stamps, a local printer, Saul Solomon & Company, was employed to provide a supply of one penny and four pence stamps, and these were issued in February 1861 (Scott #7 and #9). It was then discovered that a consignment of stamps from London had already arrived, on May 5, 1860, although the bills of lading had gone astray. A year later the cases with the stamps from London were claimed. The locally-printed stamps are often called the “Wood Blocks” as the stamps were engraved on individual pieces of steel (called a cliché) and then glued to wooden blocks for printing. Errors were caused by a cliché of each value being accidentally mounted in the plate of the other value, resulting in one color error per sheet of 64 — a blue penny stamp and a red four pence stamp.
The colony’s last triangular stamps to be issued were released in 1864. These were replaced later that year with a design that portrayed the allegorical figure of Hope seated with a ram and vines. Until 1893, this was the only design in use (with many surcharges) except for the triangulars which were demonetized on October 1, 1900.
In 1872, after a long political battle, the Cape of Good Hope achieved “Responsible Government” under its first Prime Minister, John Molteno. Henceforth, an elected Prime Minister and his cabinet had total responsibility for the affairs of the country. A period of strong economic growth and social development ensued, and the eastern-western division was largely laid to rest. The system of multi-racial franchise also began a slow and fragile growth in political inclusiveness, and ethnic tensions subsided. In 1877, the state expanded by annexing Griqualand West and Griqualand East.
However, the discovery of diamonds around Kimberley and gold in the Transvaal led to a return to instability, particularly because they fueled the rise to power of the ambitious imperialist Cecil Rhodes. On becoming the Cape’s Prime Minister, he instigated a rapid expansion of British influence into the hinterland. In particular, he sought to engineer the conquest of the Transvaal, and although his ill-fated Jameson Raid failed and brought down his government, it led to the Second Boer War and British conquest at the turn of the century. The politics of the colony consequently came to be increasingly dominated by tensions between the British colonists and the Afrikaners. Rhodes also brought in the first formal restrictions on the political rights of the Cape of Good Hope’s Black African citizens.
In 1893, a 1 penny stamp was issued portraying Hope standing (Scott #60), and in 1898 and 1902, this design was reused for ½ penny (Scott #59) and 3 penny (Scott #61) values. The sitting Hope stamps continued to be issued until 1898.
When Vryburg was occupied by the South African Republic in October 1899 stamps were issued for use in the occupied city by overprinting stamps of the Cape Colony reading Z.A.R. and a new face value (Scott #N1-4). Z.A.R. is short for Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek, the name of the republic in Afrikaans. After Vryburg was captured from the Boers, the British issued provisionals in May 1900 by overprinting Transvaal stamps with V.R. SPECIAL POST (Scott #5-8).
During the Boer siege of Mafeking, from November 1899 until May 1900, provisionals were issued by the local British administration. In March 1900, available stamps of the Cape of Good Hope (Scott #162-166), Bechuanaland Protectorate (Scott #167-170, #173-175) and British Bechuanaland (Scott #171-172, #176-177) were overprinted MAFEKING BEGSIEGED and a new face value. Two stamps of local design — a 1 penny stamp featuring Sgt. Major Goodyear on a bicycle and two 3 pence stamps portraying General Robert S.S. Baden-Powell, all in blue — were issued in April 1900 (Scott #178-180). I do consider the Vyburg and Mafeking issues to be separate entities from the Cape Colony but since the Scott catalogue lists them with those of the Cape of Good Hope (and they are too expensive, I believe, for me to ever add examples in my own collection), I include them in today’s article.
Scott #62 was released in January 1900, 1 penny stamp in rose picturing Table Mountain and the Arms of the Colony. This was the first Cape of Good Hope stamp not portraying the allegory of Hope. The last general issue for the colony, released between 1902 and 1904, was a set of nine values portraying King Edward VII (Scott #63-71).
The Cape of Good Hope remained nominally under British rule until the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, when it became the Cape of Good Hope Province (Provinsie van die Kaap die Goeie Hoop in Afrikaans), better known as the Cape Province (Kaapprovinsie), with Cape Town as its capital. All Cape stamps except the triangulars were valid for use in all of the Union until they were demonetized on December 31, 1937, along with the issues of Transvaal, Natal and Orange River Colony.