Although a few of the first enslaved people brought to the Cape by the VOC were captured from West Africa, most enslaved people were brought from societies around the Indian Ocean Basin. Slaves were brought from Madagascar, Mozambique and the East African coast, India and from the islands of the East Indies such as Sumatra, Java, the Celebes, Ternate and Timor.
Places of origin
The first slaves at the Cape arrived on 28 March 1658 on board the Dutch ship, the Amersfoort. This group was captured by the Dutch from a Portuguese slave ship that was on its way to Brazil. Of the 250 slaves that were captured, only 170 survived the journey to the Cape.
Most of the slaves on board the Amersfoort were originally captured by the Portuguese in present-day Angola. The second group also came from West Africa. On 6 May 1658, 228 slaves from Dahomey (now Benin) arrived at the Cape on board the Hassalt.
These two groups were the only slaves who came from West Africa. The Cape Colony was part of the Dutch East India properties and governed by the Dutch East India Company, better known as the VOC. The VOC and Dutch West Indian Company had an agreement that the VOC would limit its slave raiding to regions east of the Cape.
The slave trade to the Cape was controlled by the VOC. Burghers were not allowed to trade slaves in their country of origin. The VOC sent out slave ships to trade slaves and bring them to the Cape Colony. These slave expeditions went mainly to Mozambique and Madagascar.
A second source of slaves was the VOC’s return fleets from Batavia and other places in the east which sailed around the Cape on their way to Europe. VOC officials could not take their slaves with them when they returned to the Netherlands, because slavery was not allowed in the Netherlands. Many of these officials sold their slaves at the Cape because they could get a better price for their slaves at the Cape than in the East Indies. Foreign ships on their way to the Americas from Madagascar also sometimes sold slaves at the Cape.
The Indian subcontinent was the main source of slaves during the early part of the 18th century. Approximately 80% of slaves came from India during this period. A slaving station was established in Delagoa Bay (present-day Maputo) in 1721, but was abandoned in 1731. Between 1731 and 1765 more and more slaves were bought from Madagascar.
In 1795, the Cape Colony became a British colony before it was returned to the Dutch in 1802. During this first period of British rule, South-East Africa became the main source of slaves. This trend continued with the return of the Dutch who continued to buy slaves from slave traders operating in present-day Mozambique.
Prior to the first shipment of slaves to the Cape, on the Amersfoort, there were already a few slaves in the Cape colony.
A shipping route from Indonesia and Madagascar to Cape Town, the route which many slave ships took to the Cape.
A more detailed map (including place names etc) of the origins of slaves can be seen at the Iziko Slave Lodge (only main routes shown). Although the coastal/ocean routes are marked, many slaves were brought from inland locations to be traded at the coast.
A vessel carrying slaves displayed at the Iziko Slave Lodge. As many slaves as possible were crowded into the lower decks of the vessels transporting them, receiving enough provisions to keep them alive enough to sell. ... "At their outfit they are amply provided with casks for water, and the desks [are] fitted up in a particular manner to secure them [the slaves] below, upon their attempting to rise upon their masters. Baricades and manacles and whips are ready for the refractory; and death is dealt all around with the most unfeeling barbarity and upon very slight occasions, as examples to the rest.. the mortality must be great. I have frequently heard of small vessels losing on a voyage from Mozambique 130 to 200 slaves merely from bad treatment, want of room, want of water and provisions and everything that could make such a slate bearable."
- Samuel Hudson, a resident in Cape Town in the early 1800s
Transportation of slaves took many forms. Here Philippe Monges illustrates vessels (although much smaller than some known depictions of larger slave vessels) ready to embark on the sea journey. From the exhibition Words of slaves, places of memory by Phillipe Monges in association with the Shackles of memory project.