Chapter 1 - History and Adventures of a Cape Farmer and his Family by Mayne Reid

The Boors.

Hendrik Von Bloom was a boor.

My young English reader, do not suppose that I mean any disrespect to Mynheer Von Bloom, by calling him a “boor.” In our good Cape colony a “boor” is a farmer. It is no reproach to be called a farmer. Von Bloom was one—a Dutch farmer of the Cape—a boor.

The boors of the Cape colony have figured very considerably in modern history. Although naturally a people inclined to peace, they have been forced into various wars, both with native Africans and Europeans; and in these wars they have acquitted themselves admirably, and given proofs that a pacific people when need be can fight just as well as those who are continually exulting in the ruffian glory of the soldier.

But the boors have been accused of cruelty in their wars—especially those carried on against the native races. In an abstract point of view the accusation might appear just. But when we come to consider the provocation, received at the hands of these savage enemies, we learn to look more leniently upon the conduct of the Cape Dutch. It is true they reduced the yellow Hottentots to a state of slavery; but at that same time, we, the English, were transporting ship-loads of black Guineamen across the Atlantic, while the Spaniards and Portuguese were binding the Red men of America in fetters as tight and hard.

Another point to be considered is the character of the natives with whom the Dutch boors had to deal. The keenest cruelty inflicted upon them by the colonists was mercy, compared with the treatment which these savages had to bear at the hands of their own despots.

This does not justify the Dutch for having reduced the Hottentots to a state of slavery; but, all circumstances considered, there is no one of the maritime nations who can gracefully accuse them of cruelty. In their dealings with the aborigines of the Cape, they have had to do with savages of a most wicked and degraded stamp; and the history of colonisation, under such circumstances, could not be otherwise then full of unpleasant episodes.

Young reader, I could easily defend the conduct of the boors of Cape colony, but I have not space here. I can only give you my opinion; and that is, that they are a brave, strong, healthy, moral, peace-loving, industrious race—lovers of truth, and friends to republican freedom—in short, a noble race of men.

Is it likely, then, when I called Hendrik Von Bloom a boor, that I meant him any disrespect? Quite the contrary.

But Mynheer Hendrik had not always been a boor. He could boast of a somewhat higher condition—that is, he could boast of a better education than the mere Cape farmer usually possesses, as well as some experience in wielding the sword. He was not a native of the colony, but of the mother country; and he had found his way to the Cape not as a poor adventurer seeking his fortune, but as an officer in a Dutch regiment then stationed there.

His soldier-service in the colony was not of long duration. A certain cherry-cheeked, flaxen-haired Gertrude—the daughter of a rich boor—had taken a liking to the young lieutenant; and he in his turn became vastly fond of her. The consequence was, that they got married. Gertrude’s father dying shortly after, the large farm, with its full stock of horses, and Hottentots, broad-tailed sheep, and long-horned oxen, became hers. This was an inducement for her soldier-husband to lay down the sword and turn “vee-boor,” or stock farmer, which he consequently did.

These incidents occurred many years previous to the English becoming masters of the Cape colony. When that event came to pass, Hendrik Von Bloom was already a man of influence in the colony and “field-cornet” of his district, which lay in the beautiful county of Graaf Reinet. He was then a widower, the father of a small family. The wife whom he had fondly loved,—the cherry-cheeked, flaxen-haired Gertrude—no longer lived.

History will tell you how the Dutch colonists, discontented with English rule, rebelled against it. The ex-lieutenant and field-cornet was one of the most prominent among these rebels. History will also tell you how the rebellion was put down; and how several of those compromised were brought to execution. Von Bloom escaped by flight; but his fine property in the Graaf Reinet was confiscated and given to another.

Many years after we find him living in a remote district beyond the great Orange River, leading the life of a “trek-boor,”—that is, a nomade farmer, who has no fixed or permanent abode, but moves with his flocks from place to place, wherever good pastures and water may tempt him.

From about this time dates my knowledge of the field-cornet and his family. Of his history previous to this I have stated all I know, but for a period of many years after I am more minutely acquainted with it. Most of its details I received from the lips of his own son, I was greatly interested, and indeed instructed, by them. They were my first lessons in African zoology.

Believing, boy reader, that they might also instruct and interest you, I here lay them before you. You are not to regard them as merely fanciful. The descriptions of the wild creatures that play their parts in this little history, as well as the acts, habits, and instincts assigned to them, you may regard as true to Nature. Young Von Bloom was a student of Nature, and you may depend upon the fidelity of his descriptions.

Disgusted with politics, the field-cornet now dwelt on the remote frontier—in fact, beyond the frontier, for the nearest settlement was an hundred miles off. His “kraal” was in a district bordering the great Kalihari desert—the Saära of Southern Africa. The region around, for hundreds of miles, was uninhabited, for the thinly-scattered, half-human Bushmen who dwelt within its limits, hardly deserved the name of inhabitants any more than the wild beasts that howled around them.

I have said that Von Bloom now followed the occupation of a “trek-boor.” Farming in the Cape colony consists principally in the rearing of horses, cattle, sheep, and goats; and these animals form the wealth of the boor. But the stock of our field-cornet was now a very small one. The proscription had swept away all his wealth, and he had not been fortunate in his first essays as a nomade grazier. The emancipation law, passed by the British Government, extended not only to the Negroes of the West India Islands, but also to the Hottentots of the Cape; and the result of it was that the servants of Mynheer Von Bloom had deserted him. His cattle, no longer properly cared for, had strayed off. Some of them fell a prey to wild beasts—some died of the murrain. His horses, too, were decimated by that mysterious disease of Southern Africa, the “horse-sickness;” while his sheep and goats were continually being attacked and diminished in numbers by the earth-wolf, the wild hound, and the hyena. A series of losses had he suffered until his horses, oxen, sheep, and goats, scarce counted altogether an hundred head. A very small stock for a vee-boor, or South African grazier.

Withal our field-cornet was not unhappy. He looked around upon his three brave sons—Hans, Hendrik, and Jan. He looked upon his cherry-cheeked, flaxen-haired daughter, Gertrude, the very type and image of what her mother had been. From these he drew the hope of a happier future.

His two eldest boys were already helps to him in his daily occupations; the youngest would soon be so likewise. In Gertrude,—or “Trüey,” as she was endearingly styled,—he would soon have a capital housekeeper. He was not unhappy therefore; and if an occasional sigh escaped him, it was when the face of little Trüey recalled the memory of that Gertrude who was now in heaven.

But Hendrik Von Bloom was not the man to despair. Disappointments had not succeeded in causing his spirits to droop. He only applied himself more ardently to the task of once more building up his fortune.

For himself he had no ambition to be rich. He would have been contented with the simple life he was leading, and would have cared but little to increase his wealth. But other considerations weighed upon his mind—the future of his little family. He could not suffer his children to grow up in the midst of the wild plains without education.

No; they must one day return to the abodes of men, to act their part in the drama of social and civilised life. This was his design.

But how was this design to be accomplished? Though his so-called act of treason had been pardoned, and he was now free to return within the limits of the colony, he was ill prepared for such a purpose. His poor wasted stock would not suffice to set him up within the settlements. It would scarce keep him a month. To return would be to return a beggar!

Reflections of this kind sometimes gave him anxiety. But they also added energy to his disposition, and rendered him more eager to overcome the obstacles before him.

During the present year he had been very industrious. In order that his cattle should be provided for in the season of winter he had planted a large quantity of maize and buckwheat, and now the crops of both were in the most prosperous condition. His garden, too, smiled, and promised a profusion of fruits, and melons, and kitchen vegetables. In short, the little homestead where he had fixed himself for a time, was a miniature oasis; and he rejoiced day after day, as his eyes rested upon the ripening aspect around him. Once more he began to dream of prosperity—once more to hope that his evil fortunes had come to an end.

Alas! It was a false hope. A series of trials yet awaited him—a series of misfortunes that deprived him of almost everything he possessed, and completely changed his mode of existence.

Perhaps these occurrences could hardly be termed misfortunes, since in the end they led to a happy result.

But you may judge for yourself, boy reader, after you have heard the “history and adventures” of the “trek-boor” and his family.