Slavery in South Africa

Cloete era:1778-1885

Another sixteen slaves from the farm Nooitgedacht were brought to Constantia. The combined labour force of 32 slaves had to tidy up the neglected estate.

 

Numerous slaves tended the livestock on the farm - horses, pigs, sheep and chickens, as well as doing the other labour required. By December 1788, there were 50 male and 10 female slaves. Only on the largest and wealthiest estates like Groot Constantia did slaves have specific duties. Records give an impression of the varied duties of the slaves.

 

August van Bengale was a body-servant, probably Hendrik Cloete’s. Sabina van de Kaap was probably the body-servant of Hendrik senior’s wife, Hester Anna Lourens. There was a chef and assistant, two house slaves, four female house slaves, a coach driver, a stable-slave, a horse-slave, a cattle-herd, a shepherd, two gardeners, three cellar-slaves and 30 labourers. Many of the slaves were born at the Cape. Others came from the Indonesian Archipelago, the island Nias near Sumatra and Madagascar.

 

Slaves continued to be the backbone of the labour force on the farm and by 1818 there were a total of 85 slaves on the farm, some coming from Bengal. In 1819 a total of 74 slaves lived and laboured at the farm. In 1820 there were 83 slaves, of which 59 belonged to Anna Catharina Scheller.

 

The remainder belonged to her son and her son in law. In 1824 Jacob Pieter Cloete bought Groot Constantia from his mother. At an auction of Anna’s moveable property, he bought 18 of her slaves. In that year he owned approximately 39 slaves.

 

Slaves were hired out to other farms to generate additional income for their owners. For instance, wine farmers hired them out to grain farmers during the harvesting period, or when their own work schedule could afford it. This practice was not followed at Groot Constantia. Not all the slaves on the farm did agricultural and domestic work. In 1780 Hendrik Cloete senior at Groot Constantia had an orchestra of fifteen slaves who played music in front of his bedroom window in the mornings.

 

In 1800, it was probably also the slave orchestra who supplied the music at the wedding of Hendrik Cloete junior’s oldest child, Hester Anna, and Petrus Michiel Eksteen in 1800. The wedding ball and supper were given at Groot Constantia, with about eighty guests attending. The Groot Constantia orchestra is not the only example of enslaved musicians.

 

Twenty-five years later, in 1825, the Dutch traveller Martin Teenstra visited Klein (de Hoop-op-) Constantia. He and his party were surprised by march music, expertly played by a brass band of sixteen slaves who belonged to Mevrouw Colijn, widow of Lambertus Colijn. After the emancipation of slaves the widow Colijn disbanded the orchestra and sold the instruments. Living conditions for slaves varied. A wealthy farm like Constantia/Groot Constantia had separate buildings used as slave quarters, namely the original Van der Stel outbuildings that were turned into slave quarters and stables.

 

Food for slaves also differed. On Groot Constantia an ox or fat hamel was slaughtered weekly for the slaves. They usually had bread with butter or herring for breakfast, meat at midday and vegetables for dinner. The slaves also consumed up to 560 litres of wine monthly. A cook and assistant, slaves themselves, prepared food for the slaves at Groot Constantia.

 

The cook and assistant were specifically purchased for this task. No records on the medical condition of slaves at Groot Constantia prior to 1814 exist. Documents from the years 1814 to 1817 show that the slaves were given medical attention. The treatment given by Dr Liesching of Cape Town, presumably the German-born Frederich Ludwig Liesching, one of the most prominent local physicians) included Spanish fly plasters, plasters, ointments, tartar emetic, drops, mixtures, eye water, pills, laxatives and English salt.

 

The following slaves are mentioned as receiving medical attention: Jonathan, Rachel, Victorie, Sara, Pallas, La Fleur, Clarissa, Martha, Laay and her child, Apolline, Phillis, Christina, Christine, Saartje, Stein, Zaatjie, Domingo, Mathijs, Juliana, Manasse, Frederik, Manassa, and some slave boys. Dr Siegfried Fraenkel attended to the slaves in 1816. They were Lys and July, and especially Apolline.

 

Apoline was under Fraenkel’s care from September to December in that year, at a cost of 121 rixdollars. This amount includes a cost of 10 rixdollars for an operation Fraenkel eventually performed on Apolline. The slaves were reputed to be friendly and talkative. They were allowed to guide visitors around the farm and earn money in this way. The Cloete's provided for certain slaves in their wills.

 

Hendrik Cloete senior provided for certain slaves in his last testament. The male slaves Filies, April, Jephta and Philip had to be set free, but also had the choice of living at the home of one of Hendrik’s children. They had to be cared for and had to be able to live a comfortable life.

 

The body-servants August van Bengale and Sabina van de Kaap would be allowed, as soon as they reached the age of sixty, to lodge at one of Hendrik senior’s sons. In 1781 and 1800 Hendrik Cloete junior and his wife Anna Catharina Scheller drafted joint wills. In the first will they stipulated that the female slave Amilie van Batavia had to be set free, but the stipulation was not repeated in the second will.

 

In 1824 Anna Catharina drafted her last will. The female slave Joelie had to be set free and could live with any of Anna’s children. Joelie’s daughter, the slave Eva, could go with her and could live with her. However, Eva had to be appraised. Anna stipulated that certain other slaves had to be set free, and they could choose with which of Anna’s children they wanted to live. They were the female slaves Heda, Stein and Lalatsie.

 

In 1834 all slaves in the Cape were emancipated, but were apprenticed to their owners for another four years, “to prepare them for freedom”. It is not known what happened to Jacob Pieter’s slaves after 1838. The emancipation of slaves resulted into huge labour shortages on the farm.

Deed of sale between previous owner Jan Serrurier (1778) and Hendrik Cloete. (c) Iziko Museums of South Africa Social History Collections.Groot Constantia sketched in 1789 by Lady Anne Barnard, depicting the Groot Constantia homestead and the garden. Image from the Cape Town Archives Repository (CAR).

The French painter MJ Milbert's impression of the homestead in 1812. Image from the SA library.

A sketch of the farm made in 1846 by a French visitor.

Groot Constantia Wine (1791). Produced by Hendrik Cloete sr. (1725-1799). (c) Iziko Museums of South Africa Social History Collections.