Van der Stel’s expedition had generally laid to rest tales of great cities and civilisations in the northern interior, and this halted exploratory efforts for a while, but as described by Valentyn in his ‘Beschryving…‘, as early as 1705, Landrost Johannes Starrenburg was despatched northwards to attempt to barter trek-oxen from the Khoi and complaints were recorded of one Dronke Gerrit, presumably a colonist, who raided the kraals on the Olifants River to take stock by force. Starrenburg was moderately successful in his trading efforts, but once again had to concede defeat and return from the Olifants without reaching Namaqualand due to persistent drought, which recurred constantly, with only the odd year of plentiful rainfall in between.
However, in 1712 a rumour of a large incursion by thousands of Namaquas did the rounds in the Piquetberg region. A force of soldiers and burghers under Jesse Slotsbo was sent northwards to investigate. His name, as well as that of two presumed others in his party, were engraved on the walls of the cave at Heerenlogement, as well as Slotsbo’s at Klipfontein (Berghfontein) even further north. The rumour proved to be false and no signs of unrest were found. However during the ensuing period, great plagues broke out of unidentified diseases (presumably European imports) among the Khoi tribes. Barely mentioned in print, several unauthorised trading expeditions had reportedly been made by free burghers, the resulting plunder and pillage causing further upheaval among the Khoi and motivating them to rather slaughter and eat their stock instead of having them plundered by the Dutch. An unsuccessful and unrecorded trading expedition by Ensign Rhenius was made in 1721 to endeavour to swell the ranks of the Company’s draught animals.( Mossop p135) A second trip to Namaqualand by him in 1724 found the Khoi vastly reduced in numbers and almost without stock as the Bushmen had taken advantage of their weakened state and robbed them mercilessly. Although they were within two weeks’ travel distance of the Great River, the persistent drought and their guides’ description of the difficulties ahead made Rhenius decide to abort the expedition once more.
There are plentiful records in the Cape Archives of ‘trading expeditions’ by farmers from the Piketberg area – one of which in 1738, reportedly reached the Orange River and went beyond it (Smith, 1995) . Sufficient to say that these ‘privateering’ forays were occasions of stock theft and murder on a considerable scale. Two further expeditions are recorded in 1739; the second a strong force led by I P Giebeler, who left his name and that of one of his companions at Herenlogement. They encountered numerous ‘Bushmen’ in the vicinity of Mierhof’s Kasteel, and though at first friendly overtures were made to the locals, once a huge crowd had collected, a charge of grape-shot was fired from a cannon into the crowd, followed by a volley of musket fire. A large number of men and women were killed and the colonists then went on a rampage, to prove ‘they were free to do as they pleased, they could be savage and wanton. Some of the most brutal ones seized the small children by the legs and crushed their heads against the stones’. (Mentzel p309)
In 1760 Governor Ryk Tulbagh granted permission to a Piquetberg farmer, one Jacobus Coetse, to embark on an elephant hunting expedition northwards. His dictated report is very basic and he just mentions crossing the Olifants and Buffels rivers before passing the ‘Copper Mountain’ and reaching the Orange river after a further twelve days travel, which he is thought to have crossed at Goodhouse (Gudaos). He penetrated Namibia along the Lion (Houm) river and met up with the Great Namaqua tribes, who were reported to have crossed the river some 20 years previously. This may have been either due to the imported diseases that were rampant among them, or possibly they wanted to get further away from the Company’s dominion – as Coetse mentions that they were not pleased to see a white face. The hunter returned unscathed, but largely unsuccessful, except for (a European) officially confirming the presence of the Great River and penetrating overland into Namibia for a considerable distance.
Coetse’s account awakened fresh interest in northwards exploration, and shortly after his return, Hendrik Hop, a Stellenbosch burgher, asked for the governor’s blessing to finance and lead his own expedition across the Great River. This was granted and in the winter of 1761, Hop, accompanied by the map-maker Carel Brink, Coetse, as well as the gardener/botanist Johan August Auge and a number of other Europeans and Khoi – almost a hundred people in all – departed along the by now well-trodden route to the north. Brink’s map was certainly an achievement, but otherwise the expedition proved to be just another chase after the chimera of a ‘tribe of pale people with long hair, who wore linen clothing’.
By 1775 the long tentacles of the Cape settlement had already reached the Orange/Gariep. At least three loan-farms had been granted by the governor on the banks of the river, including one at Pella, and it is mentioned by Wikar that some extensive hippo hunting had taken place near the ‘Company’s Drift’ (Ramansdrift) which had made the animals very wary of humans. Wikar, an intelligent and observant man who had landed himself in gambling trouble and deserted from the Company’s service, befriended one Claas Barend, who had a kraal near Dabenoris, and who had just returned from a trading trip in Namibia. With him and another Khoi headman, one Ouga, with whom Wikar forged a sort of brotherhood, they journeyed almost five hundred kilometres east upriver, hunting and visiting different clans/tribes along the way. Wikar is the source of much valuable ethnographical information on the Khoi of the region, as well as describing his routes, animals and plants, besides recording vernacular placenames.
During this period, Francis Masson, a Scot in the employ of George III at Kew Gardens, was sent to the Cape on several plant collecting expeditions between 1771 and 1795 during which he reached the area around Niewoudtville and the Hantam in 1774 and later ranged as far north at the Kamiesberg and east as far as the colonial boundary permitted, on occasions in the company of the great botanist, C. P. Thunberg, who also left some descriptions of his travels scattered throughout his written work. Thunberg was very much Masson’s mentor in matters botanical and he is known as the ‘father of Cape botany’. On the other hand, while his geological and botanical observations were thorough and detailed, he paid little attention to routes and general geography, so it is difficult to follow their journeys. Masson’s own contributions to botany and especially horticulture, were enormous, but unfortunately he left only some fifty pages by way of written records of his travels. Still, he was the first Englishman to journey inland and leave descriptions of the people, plants and places he visited, which were published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1776. His later attempts at travel were hindered by William Paterson’s suspected spying reputation, as the latter had been aboard Admiral Johnstone’s fleet in 1781 when they attacked five Dutch ships in Saldanha Bay. Masson was prevented from approaching the coast by the governor and had to confine himself to inland areas.
Young William Paterson, another Scot of humble descent, somehow came to the notice of the Countess of Strathmore, who was an ardent botanist with a private garden of exotic plants. She commissioned the young man to undertake some four journeys, extending over 2 years and some 9000 kilometres of travel. Two of these were towards the northwest, and in both instances, Paterson crossed the Orange River. He was accompanied by Sebastian van Reenen, as well as other unnamed persons on his first trip in 1778. He took the unusual route of first going east as far as the Gouritz River mouth, then backtracking and crossing the Langeberg towards Warmwaterberg and on through Karoopoort to the Tanqua Karoo towards present-day Calvinia. From there he wended his way westwards via Niewoudtville and Garies and ended up at Goodhouse on the Orange. His return journey followed the more conventional route past Vanrhynsdorp, Klawer and Piquetberg. On his second journey in the following year, he met up with Gordon andthe farmer and hunter, Pieter Pienaar (who figured in several travelogues of the period) at Herenlogement, but they went their separate ways northwards, arranging to meet again in Namaqualand on the Swartdoring River, where they also encountered Wikar, who was returning, pardoned, to the Cape. From here they pioneered a different route, towards Kookfontein, and the mouth of the Buffels River, near present day Kleinsee. The pair became the first Europeans to reach McDougall’s Bay, where they found a brackish tidal spring which succoured them as they were in desperate need of water by that time. Paterson records that they found a few deserted huts on the beach at what is now Port Nolloth; the absent inhabitants had obviously been hunting seals on the nearby islands, but he describes the terrain as ‘ the most barren country I ever saw – several of our Hottentots complained and wanted much to return’. They pressed on towards the Orange, and were fortunate to find a good pool of water at the bottom of a dry waterfall in the Holgat River. This had to last them until they reached the estuary. They explored the estuary and coastal reaches and crossed the river by boat, where they met bands of Strandlopers on the northern bank, but came to the conclusion that the mountains on either side of the river would make travel upstream too difficult, so they retraced their steps along the barren coastal route to Kookfontein. Gordon went off to explore eastwards, while Paterson made his way to Ramansdrift, where he crossed into Namibia and ascended the Lion River for some distance to Verloorkoppie near Warmbad some months before Gordon did a similar trek. Fearing a rise in the river after severe thunderstorms in the region, he turned back, crossed the Orange and started the return journey, but made a detour past Louriesfontein to a place still identifiable as Kubiskow. His brief, matter-of-fact travel journals make interesting reading and are a valuable record of flora, fauna, peoples and the region, while his albums of illustrations remain a mystery to this day as the artists have not been identified.
Also in 1778, the most thorough and competent explorer of them all, Robert Jacob Gordon, then captain of the Cape Garrison, accompanied Governor van Plettenberg on his inspection trip to the north-eastern frontier of the colony. They parted company in the Karoo and Gordon struck out towards the Hantam, reaching as far north as Loeriesfontein, whence he proceeded west towards present-day Niewoudtville and Vanrhynsdorp after which he followed the Olifants River to its estuary at Papendorp. Gordon’s journal of this journey is not particularly readable as it consists mainly of bearings, distances and meteorological data, all of which is particularly valuable to latter-day scientists and geographers. His second journey the next year, took the more travelled route as far as Garies and then towards the coast south of Hondeklip Bay. After meeting up with Paterson’s party in the vicinity of Grootmis, they made their way towards the estuary of the Orange, as related above, but Gordon sent one of his wagons directly north to intercept the river higher up. The intrepid Pienaar was also sent off on his own along the river course to meet up with the main party later. His travelogue is filled with interesting observations and incidents as they make their way past Pella, Onseepkans and Aughrabies (apparently missing the main falls), alternating between hunger and thirst, then plenty in the form of hunted rhinoceros and giraffe along the river. They found the Einiqua and Koranna, as well as Bushman people to be shy but friendly and Gordon had generally cordial relations. His intention of meeting up with the Briqua (Bechuana) people was realised and he found that he was even able to communicate with them due to his knowledge of Xhosa.He followed the course of the Orange southeastwards into the Bo-Karoo to the vicinity of Prieska, by which time he was convinced that the river corresponded with the one he had named on his previous approach from the southeast. On his return journey he crossed into Namibia and followed the route of Hop and Paterson to the vicinity of Warmbad, but decided to abort further exploration as it was midsummer and the likelihood of drought in Namaqualand was strong. Gordon’s journal of this second trip is written in easy, informative style, which makes it eminently readable. The data gathered by him enabled him to draw superb maps of the region which surpassed anything previously done by his predecessors. Gordon made one further journey of which part took him into the vicinity of Clanwilliam before heading eastwards. His subsequent fall from grace during the English takeover of the Cape in 1795 and suicide, was a sad end to this talented man of many facets.
The indefatigable Francois le Vaillant was another gentleman adventurer who was just rested up from his first journey along the Cape south coast, and who now set his sights on traversing Africa from south to north! He departed for the by now fairly well-known wilds of the west coast and Namaqualand in 1783 – all the while pretending to traverse the great unknown, but leaving a moderately entertaining and very detailed account of his trials along the way. A number of historians and geographers questioned whether he had in fact reached the Orange River, but the ornithological evidence suggests that he may even penetrated for a short distance into Namibia, although his accounts are wildly exaggerated and embroidered. Le Vaillant added nothing to the sum of geographical knowledge, but his zoological collection contained many new species and his writing continues to amuse the reader.
One of the last Cape adventurers was a private citizen, one Willem van Reenen, brother of the man who had accompanied Paterson, who financed a well-organised expedition at the end of 1792 with the sanction of Governor Sluysken, and during the next nine months they penetrated as far as Rehoboth in Namibia in search of fabulously rich gold deposits which were rumoured to exist there. Their hopes were dashed; all they brought back were extensive samples of copper ore.
Finally, after the British takeover of the Cape, the young private secretary of the governor, John Barrow, was tasked with investigating the extent of the colony. He made three journeys, of which the second in 1798, went north by the now well-travelled route along the Olifants and as far north as the Kamiesberge. While his trek was in no ways a journey of exploration, he defined the boundaries of the colony and with very little skilled assistance in the field, he produced his famous map – at that time the only map available to the new masters of the Cape, as Gordon’s fine efforts had disappeared. Barrow, like Gordon, was a man of lively intelligence and interests, with some advanced views on geology and other natural sciences. His writings are unmistakably the factual report of a civil servant, marred to some degree by his unrelenting criticisms of the Dutch colonists
Barrow, J (1801 & 1804) An Account of Travels into the Interior… Cadell & Davies
Bradlow, F R (1994) Francis Masson’s Account of Three Journeys, Tablecloth Press
Forbes, V S (1965) Pioneer Travellers in S. Africa, Balkema
Forbes, V S & Rourke, J (1980) Paterson’s Cape Travels, 1777 to 1779, Brenthurst Press
Mentzel, O F, (1944) A Geographical and Topographical Description of the Cape…Vol 3, VRS
Mossop, E E (1935) Journals of Wikar, Coetse and van Reenen, Van Riebeeck Society
Mossop, E E (1947) Journals of Brink and Rhenius, Van Riebeeck Society
Paterson, W (1790) Narrative of Four Journeys…, J Johnson
Raper, P E & Boucher, M (1988) Robert Jacob Gordon, Cape Travels 1777 to 1786, Brenthurst Press
Smith, A B (1995) Einiqualand, UCT Press
Theal, G M (1964) History of South Africa, Vol 3, Struik
Thunberg, C P (1986) Travels at the Cape of Good Hope, Van Riebeeck Society
Valentyn, F (1726) Beschryving van de Kaap der Goede Hoope… Vol 5, Johannes van Braam, Amsterdam, Gerard onder de Linden