After these interventions, both for and against the scheme, some four thousand settlers began to sail for the colony in the winter of 1819 (a thousand more sailed soon after). How they collectively fared depends upon one’s perspective.Each party had been “promised 10 acre plots, rent-free for 10 years, arrangements for victualling, for the paying of ministers. The standard undergraduate introduction to South African history—Leonard Thompson’s (1995)—announces that the settlers “did not prosper as the government intended.” After “a few years more than half of them had abandoned their lots and became merchants and artisans in the military post at Grahamstown, or in…Port Elizabeth” (55).For in urging the poor family to emigrate abroad, Castlereagh goes on to promise a “Garden of Eden” and “second Paradise” in South Africa, claiming that “Bread & Milk grows upon trees” in the colony, and that “the Rocks are all Roast Beef & the hailstones are plum puddings & rain water is as strong as gin!!” Mocking the paradise envisioned in booster literature, Cruikshank suggests that the settlement scheme remained nothing more than a cynical attempt by Castlereagh and the Tory-led Parliament to unload poor and hungry Britons on African shores. “Of the emigrants, 36 per cent were men, 20 per cent women and 44 per cent children” (Lester 49).“The operation,” as one historian recently put it, “was probably the most callous act of mass settlement in the entire history of empire” (Mostert 533).As the debate over South African immigration continued, the rhetoric surrounding it took a curious detour into domestic politics.On 16 August 1819, mere months before the immigrants set sail for South Africa, agitation over the “unbearable” condition of labor came to a head in St. On this infamous day, after state-supported militiamen, some of whom had fought against Napoleon at Waterloo, attacked and killed a number of unarmed protesters at the gathering—violence that outraged “every belief and prejudice of the ‘free-born Englishman’—the right of free speech, the desire for ‘fair play’, [and] the taboo against attacking the defenceless” (E. Thompson 689; 1963)—the so-called “Peterloo Massacre” was born: a journalese coinage linking class struggle at home, on St.Peter’s field, outside Manchester, in the largest working-class protest yet “seen. Peter’s field (“Peter-“), with international struggle across the English Channel, on the battlefields of Waterloo (“-loo”).
For in the wake of the Napoleonic wars, and in the period immediately preceding Parliament’s announcement of the settlement scheme, the “burden of an enormous national debt, drastic changes in industry and agriculture brought about by the Agrarian and Industrial Revolutions, the distress of returned, disabled and jobless soldiers, the collapse of markets created by war, general disillusionment so intrinsic a part of war’s aftermath, and, lately, the failure of the American cotton crop, had brought unemployment and economic distress”—especially among the poor and working class—“to an unbearable point” (Meiring 2).
Despite the spendthrift proclivities of Britain’s elites—including George IV (1762-1830), the Prince Regent, whose drug and eating habits, drinking, and extravagance came to symbolize the overindulgences of the era—British laborers confronted a situation that “seemed worse than anything they had known” (Williams 182).
Faced with hunger, palpable class divisions, a lack of parliamentary representation, and the specter of joblessness, on the one hand; and intolerably long working hours and low wages when fortunate enough to find employment, on the other, workers and their supporters began to appropriate “the images, the rhetoric, and the tone of the antislavery movement” to draw attention to domestic suffering (Gallagher 4). Although the trading of (mostly black) slaves had been abolished in 1807, many social reformers and Radicals began to protest that a form of white slavery was festering at home—and, partly for this reason, the rhetoric of domestic distress and the rhetoric of foreign settlement came to be intertwined. One of the contingents of workers carried a banner that read “,” thus conflating the buying and selling of slave labor overseas with the buying and selling of seemingly “free labor” at home (Marlow 119; emphasis original).
Other scholars maintain that South Africa entered “a whole new epoch” (Mostert 524) after the arrival of the settlers, and that Britons, from this point on, began to have a “disproportionately large impact” on the development of the colony (Keegan 61).
Although a relative sideshow in what James Belich calls the “Settler Revolution,” a “remarkable explosion of the nineteenth century that put the Anglophones on the top of the world” (9), the metropolitan, abolitionary sensibility that the settlers established in the interior of the region became “as much a landmark in the colonial mythology of South Africa as the Afrikaner’s Great Trek a decade and a half later” (Keegan 61).