Last year (2009) marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. For those who don’t know, it was his theories and research that provided a scientific base for understanding how life on earth has become so diverse. The exciting but rathe
r unknown bit of information related to this is that on his Voyage around the world, Darwin spent a bit of time at the Cape Colony. He arrived to stay in Simons Town and corresponded with naturalists at the Cape whilst adding to his research. Among the people he met here was Sir John Herschel, the leading British scientist of the day. Herschel revealed the geological origins of the greater Cape area to Darwin as well as gave him an introduction to the local Floral Kingdom: Fynbos. Although not all that much was published about the encounters at the Cape, some notes on Fynbos were made. Fynbos as an icon of diversity would probably have intrigued Darwin more if he had a little more time to spend here.
embers of society taking sexual advantage of enslaved women. What doesn’t get much airtime are the historical interracial romances which involved willing partners – and there are many of these.
The juiciest bit of scandal that we have so far discovered involved Hester Jansz. She was a Dutch woman married to Gerrit van Ewijck and living on Mauritius , which was a Dutch outpost even before the Cape was settled by the Dutch. Perhaps Gerrit just didn’t do it for her! Or perhaps it’s true that some white women just prefer black men! But whatever the reason, in 1691 Hester had an adulterous relationship with her slave. Imagine the scandal in the outposts in that time when this relationship was uncovered.
We don’t know the name of the slave nor do we know what fate befell him in Mauritius , but Hester van Ewijck was sent to The Cape for judgement and was sentenced to be flogged and to serve five years in chains. The question that must be asked is whether this was a normal sentence for adultery or whether it was more severe because her chosen partner was a slave.
Jan Van Hunks was a retired sea captain who liked to smoke his pipe in the mornings and used to do so on the slopes of the mountain now called Devil's Peak. He smoked there because his wife used to chase him away when smoking in the house. One day as he was sitting there enjoying his smoke, a s
trange looking man appeared and asked him for a light. He gave the man a light, and for some reason the man asked him for a smoking contest.Van Hunk agreed. They started puffing away trying to defeat each other, and after a while the cloud of smoke covered the whole of the mountain like a giant table cloth. (This still happens today when the South Easterly wind is blowing.)
Eventually the stranger conceded defeat and stumbled away, coughing and spluttering off the mountain. As the man was leaving Van Hunk caught sight of his red, barbed tail sticking out from underneath his jacket and realised he had been puffing away with the Devil. The mountain is today still called Devil's Peak and every time the southeaster blows and the mist covers the mountain, it is called the table cloth.