Lady Duff Gordon's Letters from The Cape

Lady Duff Gordon (Lucie) traveled to Cape Town in the 1860s, and chronicled her trip with letters home, which are available from various sources as "Letters from the Cape."

From that volume:

From ship board on the way to the Cape:

The children swarm on board, and cry unceasingly. A passenger-ship is no place for children. Our poor ship will lose her character by the weather, as she cannot fetch up ten days' lost time. But she is evidently a race-horse. We overhaul everything we see, at a wonderful rate, and the speed is exciting and pleasant... We tried to signal a barque yesterday, and send home word 'all well'; but the brutes understood nothing but Russian, and excited our indignation by talking 'gibberish ' to us; which we resented with true British spirit, as became us.

From a location 25 miles or so inland from Cape Town:

I asked... whether there were any REAL Hottentots, and he said, 'Yes, one;' and next morning, as I sat waiting for early prayers under the big oak-trees in the Plaats (square), he came up, followed by a tiny old man hobbling along with a long stick to support him. 'Here', said he, 'is the LAST Hottentot; he is a hundred and seven years old, and lives all alone.' I looked on the little, wizened, yellow face, and was shocked that he should be dragged up like a wild beast to be stared at. A feeling of pity which felt like remorse fell upon me, and my eyes filled as I rose and stood before him, so tall and like a tyrant and oppressor, while he uncovered his poor little old snow-white head, and peered up in my face. ... 'Father, I hope you are not tired; you are old.' He saw and heard as well as ever, and spoke good Dutch in a firm voice. 'Yes, I am above a hundred years old, and alone--quite alone.' I sat beside him, and he put his head on one side, and looked curiously up at me with his faded, but still piercing little wild eyes. Perhaps he had a perception of what I felt--yet I hardly think so; perhaps he thought I was in trouble, for he crept close up to me, and put one tiny brown paw into my hand, which he stroked with the other, and asked (like most coloured people) if I had children. I said, 'Yes, at home in England;' and he patted my hand again, and said, 'God bless them!' It was a relief to feel that he was pleased, for I should have felt like a murderer if my curiosity had added a moment's pain to so tragic a fate.

This may sound like sentimentalism; but you cannot conceive the effect of looking on the last of a race once the owners of all this land, and now utterly gone. His look was not quite human, physically speaking;--a good head, small wild-beast eyes, piercing and restless; cheek-bones strangely high and prominent, nose QUITE flat, mouth rather wide; thin shapeless lips, and an indescribably small, long, pointed chin, with just a very little soft white woolly beard; his head covered with extremely short close white wool, which ended round the poll in little ringlets. Hands and feet like an English child of seven or eight, and person about the size of a child of eleven.


I believe these were written in 1860 or 1861 (the letters do not have years, and I've not spent the work to figure it out with certainty, but this is probably very close).

More like this

It's Friday and I feel a poem coming on. Down By The Salley Gardens Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet; She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white feet. She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree; But I, being young and foolish, with her would not agree. In…
The Bottleneck Years by H.E. Taylor Chapter 10 Table of Contents Chapter 12 Chapter 11 The Funeral, July 23, 2055 I don't remember my mother. We had recordings of her singing, that is all. She died when we were young and dad never remarried. He raised us alone. He was a grumpy old ecologist with…
The Bottleneck Years by H.E. Taylor Chapter 27 Table of Contents Chapter 29 Chapter 28 UNGETF, December 8, 2055 I looked forward to the first meeting of Group 7 with some trepidation. According to my email update it was on the seventh floor of the MacDonald building which housed the municipal…
In May of 1861, George Henry and Sarah Church set out on their honeymoon, into an unfamiliar frontier. They loaded their cart with a variety of comforts, from a stack of homemade potato pancakes to Milton's Paradise Lost and a tome of "Grecian mythology." Then, hitching up their team of oxen ("…

She sounds like a decent lady, someone who would be understood and appreciated today.

That mental case Dave Mabus weighs in.

I swear, someday we're going to read about him setting fire to an ice cream truck or something.

Must ... not ... feed... troll.
Must resist...

By John Swindle (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

Exactly. And, it is a pretty good checklist of the details of Anglo-centric racism of the day.