Dating the book of revelation gentry
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).
In a parodic political cartoon entitled “A Strong Proof of the Flourishing State of the Country” (1819), the illustrator George Cruikshank (1792-1878) stretched the rippling effects of these events in Manchester even further afield: the cartoon posits Peterloo as the primary catalyst behind the South African settlement scheme. In Cruikshank’s illustration, situated behind a hungry family of British commoners and Lord Castlereagh (1769-1822), then Foreign Secretary and leader of the Tories in the House of Commons, a sketchy yet unmistakable image of the Peterloo Massacre appears—an image of “Manchester Slaughter” juxtaposed to a second, and clearly farcical, image of obese British immigrants, smiling from ear to ear, happily settled on southern African soil.
As the waifish mother of the family laments the tragedy of Peterloo (“What would my Grandfather say if he were alive and could see his children driven from their Native Country by Starvation and the point of the Bayonet!
In 1819, after the announcement, in July, of an ambitious, government-sponsored settlement scheme to the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony, Britons openly debated the potential merits and pitfalls of the venture. You are likewise destitute, in the case of illness, of any sort of medical assistance; perhaps you may reckon this a blessing; but that is for your consideration” (qtd. Skeptical of sustained infrastructural cover on the Cape frontier and also suspicious of a Rousseauian return to a more perfected state of human existence before the advent of European modernity, in Africa, Griffin believed the settlers would “all feel the bitterness of wandering upon a foreign land, friendless, homeless [and] penniless” (70).
A “booster” notice in (1819), the naturalist William John Burchell (1781-1863), who had already toured southern Africa and testified before the House of Commons on the region’s suitability, describes “a beautiful and delightful country, issued with every diversity of scenery and surface, abounding in herbage, wood and water, and having a soil capable of feeding large herds of cattle” (qtd. Less sanguine observers, however, predicted an abyss for the scheme. If critics in Britain had been fully cognizant of the challenges awaiting the immigrants, hostility to the scheme might have been more pronounced.
For example, in (1819), the pamphleteer James Griffin reasoned: “You give up your country, your friends, and all the polish of European society [in South Africa]. Booster literature conveniently failed to mention that the farm plots assigned to the settlers were intended to serve as a buffer between “more established western regions of the colony” and ama Xhosa and ama Thembu communities further east, African polities who had recently lost the territory to European commandoes (Pereira and Chapman xiv).
The 1820 settlement scheme to South Africa marks an important conjuncture both for the colony’s internal development and for the rhetoric of immigration in the internal politics of Britain.
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).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).”), Castlereagh tells her rail-thin husband that, in the Cape of Good Hope, one can “live like a Prince & grow fat as a hog”—clearly an allusion to the gluttonous habits of the Prince Regent.Tragedy in Manchester is thus juxtaposed against a colonial farce.Some believed the scheme was simply devised to displace Britain’s poor and unemployed onto foreign shores—and though the four thousand applicants (out of some forty thousand) selected for the scheme represented “a neatly sliced section of early nineteenth-century British society in all its layered complexity from parish indigent to gentry,” the depressed climate at home fostered an impression that Parliament was solely attempting to displace the lower orders of society abroad (Mostert 520).