Monday, 15th. None of the Ships in the Offing are yet arrived. Desirous as we must be of hearing news from England, I detemmin’d not to wait the arrival of these Ships, but took the advantage of a breeze of wind from the West-South-West; weigh’d and stood out of the Bay, saluted with 13 Guns, which Complement was return’d both by the Castle and Dutch Commodore. The Europa Saluted us as we passed her, which we return’d. This Ship was to have sail’d with or before us, but not liking the opportunity she lay fast. At 5 in the Evening anchor’d under Penguin or Robin Island in 10 fathoms water, the Island extending from West-North-West to South-South-West, distant 1 1/2 or 2 miles.
In the Morning saw a Ship standing into Table Bay, under English Colours, which we took to be an Indiaman; at Noon Latitude observed 33 degrees 49 minutes South; Cape Town South 20 degrees East, distant 7 miles. As we could not Sail in the Morning for want of wind, I sent a Boat to the Island for a few Trifling Articles we had forgot to take in at the Cape, but the people on shore would not permit her to land, so that she return’d as she went, and I gave myself no further Trouble at it. Mr. Banks, who was in the Boat, was of opinion that it was owing to a mistake made respecting the rank of the Officer commanding the Boat; be this as it may, it seems probable that the Dutch do not admit of Strangers landing upon this Island least they should carry off some of those people which, for certain crimes, they Banish here for Life, as we were told was done by a Danish Ship a few years ago. But they might have a better reason for refusing our Boat to land, for it is not improbable but what there might be some English Seamen upon this Island whom they had sent from the Cape while we lay there, well knowing that if they came in my way I should take them on board; and this, I am told, is frequently done when any of His Majesty’s Ships are in the Bay, for it is well known that the Dutch East India Ships are mostly mann’d by Foreigners.
Remarks on Cape of Good Hope
The Cape of Good Hope hath been so often discribed by Authors, and is so well known to Europeans, that any discription I can give of it may appear unnecessary. However, I cannot help observing that most Authors, particularly the Author of Mr. Byron’s voyage, have heightened the picture to a very great degree above what it will bear; so that a Stranger is at once struck with surprise and disappointment, for no Country we have seen this voyage affords so barren a prospect as this, and not only so in appearance, but in reality.
The land over the Cape which constitutes the Peninsula form’d by Table Bay on the North, and False Bay on the South, consists of high barren Mountains; behind these to the East, or what may be called the Isthmus, is a vast extensive plane, not one thousand part of which either is or can be cultivated. The Soil consists mostly of a light kind of Sea sand, producing hardly anything but heath; every inch of Ground that will bear Cultivation is taken up in Small Plantations, consisting of Vineyards, Orchards, Kitchen Gardens, etc. Hardly any 2 lay together, but are dispers’d from one another at some Distance. If we may judge from circumstances, the Interior Parts of this Country is not more fertile; that is, the fertile land bears a very small proportion to the whole. We were told that they have settlements 28 days’ journey inland, which is computed at 900 English Miles, and thus far they bring Provisions to the Cape by land. It is also said that the Dutch Farmers are so dispers’d about the country that some have no neighbours within 4 or 5 days’ Journeys of them. Admitting these to be facts, and it will at once appear that the Country in General cannot be very fertile, for it would be absurd to suppose that they would raise provisions at such an immence distance, where the trouble and expence of bringing them to Market must increase, in proportion, could it be done nearer. The Dutch assign another reason for being obliged to extend their Scattered Settlements so far in land; which is, they never disturb the Original native, but always leave them in peaceable possession of whatever lands they may have appropriated to their own use, which in some places is pretty Extensive, and that probably none of the worst, by which good Policy the new Settlers very seldom if ever meet with any Disturbance from the Natives; on the contrary, many of them become their Servants, and mix among them, and are useful members to Society.
Notwithstanding the many disadvantages this Country labours under, such is the industry, economy, and good management of the Dutch that not only the necessary, but all the Luxuries, of Life are raised here in as great abundance, and are sold as cheap, if not cheaper, then in any part of Europe, some few Articles excepted. Naval Stores, however, do not want for price any more here than they do at Batavia; these are only sold by the company, who have a certain fix’d exorbitant Price, from which they never deviate.
The inhabitants of the Cape Town are in General well bred and Extreamly Civil and Polite to all Strangers; indeed, it is their Interest so to do, for the whole Town may be considered as one great Inn fitted up for the reception of all Comers and goers. Upon the whole, there is perhaps not a place in the known World that can Equal this in Affording refreshments of all kinds to Shipping. The Bay is Capacious, pretty safe, and Commodious; it lies open to the North-West winds, which winds, we are told, very seldom blow very Strong, but sometimes sends in a Great Sea, for which reason Ships moor North-East and South-West, and in such a manner as to have an Open Hawse with North-West winds. The South-East winds blow frequently with great Violence; but as this is right out of the Bay it is attended with no danger. Near the Town is a wharfe built of wood, run out a proper Distance into the Sea for the Conveniency of landing and Shipping off goods. To this wharfe water is convey’d in pipes and by means of Cocks. Several Boats may fill water at one and the same time. The Company keeps several large Boats or Hoys to carry goods, provisions, water, etc., to and from Shipping, as well Strangers as their own. Fuel is one of the Scarcest articles they have, and is brought a long way out of the Country, and Consists of Roots of Trees, Shrubs, etc. Except a few English Oaks which they have planted, this Country is wholly destitute of wood, except at too great a distance to be brought to the Cape. In the Article Timber, Boards, etc., they are chiefly supply’d from Batavia.
3 of the winter months, viz., from the middle of May to the middle of August, the Dutch do not allow any of their Ships to lay in Table Bay, but oblige them to go into False Bay, where there is a very safe Harbour, and every other Conveniency both for their own Shipping and Strangers, and where every produce of the Country can be had as cheap as at the Cape Town. The Dutch, I am told, never Deviate from this custom of sending their ships to False Bay at this Season of the Year, notwithstanding there had not a Gale of wind hapned for many years that would have put them in the least Danger in Table Bay.
Table Bay is defended by a Square Fort, situated on the East side of the Town, close to the Sea beach, together with several other out works and Batterys along the Shore of the Bay on each side of the Town. They are so situated as to be cannonaded by Shipping, and are in a manner defenceless against a superior land force. The Garrison at present consists of 800 regulars, besides Militia of the Country, which comprehend every man able to bear Arms. They can, by means of Signals, alarm the whole Country in a very short time, and then every man is immediately to repair to the Cape Town. The French at Mauritius are supply’d with large Quantitys of Provisions from the Cape, viz., Salted Beef, Biscuit, Flour, and wine. While we lay in the Bay 2 Store Ships belonging to the King, of the Burthen of 50 or 60 Gun Ships, and a Snow, sail’d for that Island Loaded with Provisions, besides a large (King’s) Frigate we left in the Bay taking in her Cargo. The Provisions contracted for this Year by the French were Salt Beef, 500,000 pounds; Flour, 400,000 pounds; Biscuit, 400,000 pounds; and Wine, 1,200 Leagers.