Looking afresh at published transcriptions of slave and other transactions, whether in book or other form

Anyone researching the early decades of the settlement at the Cape usually quickly encounters several readily available publications of transcriptions or summaries of the settlement’s contemporaneous records.

Some are books, others are published in academic and society journals, others are published simply as lists in spreadsheets or Adobe’s portable document format (pdf).

If you spend any time using these publications, you quickly come to realise that not everyone worked from the original record ­- and many transcriptions are merely copied from one publication to the next. You also quickly learn that none is without error or misinterpretation.

Those working from the original records would have encountered difficult paleography made worse by time-induced degradation, many variables in spelling, along with varying degrees of proficiency and clarity in handwriting skills. The result was that the transcriptions and/or summaries were far from error free.

Those used most frequently with respect to slaves and free-blacks ‘vrijswartes’ are:

  • Böeseken, Anna J.: Slaves and free blacks at the Cape 1658-1700, amongst a huge body of work
  • Cairns, Margaret: Reviewed addendum in Slaves & free blacks; also numerous articles in Kronos, Capensis, Familia, Vassa, etc.
  • Hattingh, J.L. (Leon): Kronos: A.J. Böeseken se Addendum van Kaapse slawe- verkoopstransaksies: Foute en regstellings
  • Kronos: Kaapse notariële stukke waarin slawe van vryburgers en amptenare vermeld word, 1658-1670; Eerste vryswarters in Stellenbosch
  • Shell, Robert C.-H. Changing Hands: Slave Transactions: Cape Slave Transactions, 1658-1731 (based on research by Prof R Shell)
  • Heese, H.F. Groep sonder grense, die rol en status van die gemengde bevolking aan die Kaap, 1652-1794
  • Cape Melting Pot (Groep sonder grense translated and updated by Delia Robertson)

Anna Böeseken and Margaret Cairns

Böeseken and Cairns worked from the original records, each producing a huge body of work which, quite understandably, were not entirely without error whether in transcription or interpretation.

Notable was their unearthing of 22 volumes, comprising more than 1,300 sale transactions, mostly of slaves, known as the Transporten en Schepenkennis (1652-1700) (Tn&S) at the Deeds Office, and having them moved to what is now the Western Cape Archives and Records Service (WCARS). These were published as Addendum 2 in Slaves and Free Blacks.

Male historians were often quite disparaging of their work. Hattingh (a darling of researchers in some ethnic groups) used a scoffing tone when describing the excellent reviews their work received from other historians, and he was in particular scathing about Anne Böesken’s Slaves and Free Blacks, picking out errors in the Addendum compiled by Böeseken and reviewed by Cairns with insulting and misongynistic ad hominem commentary.

The consequence has been that many modern researchers are dismissive of Böeseken and Cairns, overlooking their work entirely, or expressing reservations about it. They often point to other researchers, who rarely worked in the original record, and who used Böeseken and Cairns work as sources.

J.L. (Leon) Hattingh

Hattingh also worked from the original record and he too has produced a large volume of work, although not in the league of Böeseken.

His contributions to correcting and republishing the Tn&S records first recorded by Böeseken and Cairns are very useful indeed. They are, however, not without error and/or sometimes confusing notations.


Marie van Bali/Maria van Angola

Let us look at the entries for just one individual Marie van Bali – whom I believe to be Maria (var.) van Angola (see her page on the website: add link here]:

There are two references to her in Slaves & free blacks.

p.28: A year before [Wagenaer's] departure he sold the slave Mary, possibly from the island of Balie, to the sergeant Johannes Coon. He was paid Rds 70 or ƒ210 for her - a considerable sum of money. [Footnote p.28: In the document she was called a “Baelse slavin”]

p.126: 1.5.1665: Marie van Bali, sold by Zacharias Wagenaer to Johannes Coon.

Böeseken (p.28) says she was possibly from the island of Bali which she deduced based on her footnote 24 (same page), i.e. In the document she was referred to as a Baelse slavin. As you will note, Hattingh records her without any place of origin.

It is worth further scrutinising the term Baelse. Böeseken never uses it again in Slaves & free blacks and on p.126 she describes her as Marie van Bali. When recording other slaves from the island, they are described without exception as van/from Bali/Balij. The term is never used contemporaneously in either the Resolutions or the MOOC (cf. Tanap.net).

It would be necessary to have access to the original record to confirm firstly if indeed Marie’s origin was recorded, and secondly if the word used was Baelse or something else. Given the vagaries of the paleography, it is far from a stretch to think it could actually have been Angoolse.

This hypothesis fits into the known facts about Zacharias Wagenaer and slaves from Bali in general:

    • Zacharias Wagenaer did not bring a slave named Marie van Bali (var.), nor indeed any Balinese slaves, when he arrived from the east on 30 January 1662.

    • Just like his predecessor Jan van Riebeeck, Wagenaer preferred Angolan slaves to those of any other African origin. He found slaves from the east to be very expensive.

    • Up to 1700, a total of 11 Balinese slaves are recorded at the Cape. Aside from Marie van Bali [sic], the first slave from Bali recorded was in 1676. The remaining Balinese slaves in this period arrived between 1695 and 1700.

Hattingh twice refers to this transaction, in neither instance does he record her origin or provenance. In Foute & regstellings he takes issue with the fact that the price of the slave and the occupation of the purchaser are left out of the addendum, but fails to mention that this information is included earlier on page 28.

Coon was appointed company sergeant shortly after his arrival (10 July 1664, C.3, pp.41-43) which probably explains Böeseken’s translation on page 28. He was provisionally appointed vendrich (var.) on 16 April 1665 (C.3 pp.63-80), barely a month before he purchased Marie (var.) from Wagenaer. In this role he was responsible for oversight of the companies workers, viz. de dagelijcxse toesicht over 't arbeijtsvolck.

1.5.1665: Die prys van 70 Rds. is in die addendum uitgelaat. Johannes Coon se beroep word in die document as "vaendrigh" aangedui wat beteken dat hy 'n amptenaar van die V.O.C, was. Dit word in die addendum verswyg.

In Kaapse notariële stukke 1658-1670, no place of origin or provenance is recorded. However, Hattingh referenced CTD 2, p.249 but then describes it as verlore i.e. lost. This is to me quite confusing. Did he or did he not have sight of the original record when making his transcription? If he did, how and when did it become ‘lost’? If he did not, how do we know where he got the transcription and whether or not it was complete?

1.5.1665 CTD 2, p.249 [Verlore]

Die edele heer Zacharias kommandeur, verkoop aan mons. Johannes Coon, vaandrig, ‘n slavin Marie vir 70 Rds. [Geen ouderdom vermeld.]


Robert C.-H. Shell

In both Changing Hands and in the collation made from his research known as Cape Slave Transactions, it is quite plain that Shell rarely used the original records for slave and property transactions. His sources predominantly are the works of Böeseken and Hattingh. Only in some instances does he cite the Tn&S as his source.

Frequently therefor, any errors in transcription, or misinterpretation of the record that occur in Böeseken or in Hattingh are perpetuated without correction by Shell.

Shell’s source for the 1665 sale of Maria (var.) van Bali (Angola) by Zacharias Wagenaer to Johannes Coon in both Changing Hands and Cape Slave Transactions is Böeseken’s Slaves and free blacks.

Heese, H.F. (Hans):

In Groep Sonder Grense, Hans Heese used a mix of the original record, published and unpublished material material as sources. All were clearly identified.

Mansell Upham

On this website, First Fifty Years, I have relied extensively on published transcriptions of slave and property transactions. However and most importantly, I have received enormous help from Mansell Upham in the interpretation and often the correction of transcriptions which he provides from his own, unpublished, transcriptions of numerous original records.

My own developing understanding of the record and my ability to interpret it, would be nowhere if I had not had his guidance and help.

Upham is by far better at reading the paleography of the period – with all its complications – than any other person I know. And his encyclopaedic and intimate knowledge of the record, the people and the places of the period, mean that his interpretation of the record is without peer. I apply the lessons I have learned from him daily, and as best I can, but I remain a neophyte by comparison.

Going forward

As I am able, I will continue to add transcriptions or images made from the original record.

I may from time to time add further examples to this page.


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