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Muster Roll 1713 - introduction


This muster roll is that of the Free Settlers compiled on 31st December 1713, that is those not in the emply of the Dutch East India Company. In his History of South Africa 1652 to 1795 G.M.Theal writes:

In 1713 a terrible calamity fell upon the country. In March of this year the small-pox made its first appearance in South Africa. It was introduced by means of some clothing belonging to ships' people who had been ill on the passage from India, but who had recovered before they reached Table Bay. This clothing was sent to be washed at the Company's slave lodge, and the women who handled it were the first to be smitten. The Company had at the time about five hundred and seventy slaves of both sexes and all ages, nearly two hundred of whom were carried off within the next six months.


From the slaves the disease spread to the Europeans and the natives. In May and June there was hardly a family in the town that had not some one sick or dead. Traffic in the streets was suspended, and even the children ceased to play their usual games in the squares and open places. At last it was impossible to obtain nurses, though slave women were being paid at the rate of four to five shillings a day. All the planks in the stores were used, and in July it became necessary to bury the dead without coffins.

For two months there was no meeting of the court of justice, for debts and quarrels were forgotten in presence of the terrible scourge. The minds of the people were so depressed that anything unusual inspired them with terror. Thus on the 10th of May two doves were observed to fall to the ground from the parapet of the governor's house in the castle, and after fluttering about a little were found to be dead, without any injury being perceptible. This was regarded by many as an omen of disaster. The very clouds and the darkness of winter storms seemed to be threatening death and woe. During that dreadful winter nearly one fourth of the European inhabitants of the town perished, and only when the hot weather set in did the plague cease.

The disease spread into the country, but there, though the death rate among the white people was very high, the proportion that perished was not so large as in the town. It was easier to keep from contact with sick persons. Some families living in secluded places were practically isolated, and the farmers in general avoided moving about.

The burgher rolls are not to be regarded in any year as more than approximately correct, but, in common with all other contemporary documents, they bear witness to the great loss of life. According to them, in 1712 the number of colonists—men, women, and children—was one thousand nine hundred and thirty-nine, and in 1716, three years after the cessation of the plague, notwithstanding the natural increase, only one thousand six hundred and ninety-seven. The records of the orphan chamber show that the board was perplexed with the administration of the large number of estates that fell under its management, and in many instances had a difficulty in the division of property, especially in cases where families had become wholly or nearly extinct.

Among the Hottentots the disease created the greatest havoc. Of the Europeans who were smitten, more recovered than died; but with the Hottentots, to be ill and to die were synonymous. The Hottentots of the Cape fled across the mountains, declaring that the Europeans had bewitched them. But as soon as they got beyond the settlement they were attacked by tribes of their own race, and all who could not get back again were killed. The probable object of this slaughter was to prevent the spread of the disease, but if so, it failed. Then the wretched creatures sat down in despair, and made no attempt to help themselves. They did not even remove their dead from the huts. In Table Valley it became necessary to send a party of slaves to put the corpses under ground, as the air was becoming foul. Whole kraals absolutely disappeared, leaving not an individual alive.

The very names of many of the best-known tribes were blotted out by the fell disease. They no longer appear in the records as organised communities, with feuds and rivalries and internal wars, but as the broken-spirited remnant of a race, all whose feelings of nationality and clanship had been crushed out by the great calamity. The farmers who had been accustomed to employ many hundreds of them in harvest time complained that none were now to be had. Strangers who had visited the colony before 1713, and who saw it afterwards, noticed that the Hottentot population had almost disappeared. From this date until the Bantu were reached by the expansion of the settlement, the only difficulty with natives was occasioned by Bushmen. Owing to the isolation of these people, they escaped the disaster which overtook the higher races.

The transcript of this particular roll contained only one division heading, that of Drakenstein. It was easy to determine that, as usual, it began with the inhabitants of Stellenbosch, but the division I have place between Drakenstein and the Cape is rather more arbitrary.

Richard Ball

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