South African Military History Society


Past Meeting: Johannesburg February 14th, 1980

On a wet St. Valentine's day, Prof Marcus Arkin addressed 37 members and guests on the subject "All at Sea - John Company's Adventures in South African Waters", which as he pointed out was more a maritime than military history by nature. In 1794 the English East India - "John Company" - established an agency at the Cape of Good Hope primarily to ensure that the Company-owned island of St. Helena was adequately supplied, but also to protect the Company's monopolistic interests in the East. Any ships wishing to trade east of the Cape had to first obtain the Company's permission, and it was hoped that an agent on the spot would help control clandestine trading, particularly in tea. Cape Town however, was not a port of call for Company's ships, which stopped only at St. Helena and goods for and from the Colony had to be trans-shipped at St. Helena.

The first agent at the Cape was John Pringle, who disputed the Navy's selling of prize goods of Eastern origin from seized vessels at the Cape as being in breach of the Company's Charter and succeeded in forcing non-perishables sold at the Cape to be re-exported. He also had elaborate anti-smuggling penalties instituted, which backfired once when the Company had to pay fines for its own sailors caught smuggling silk handkerchiefs in order to enable the short-handed ship to sail.

Joseph Luson became the agent in 1815 and it became his lot to arrange for the supplying of St. Helena during Napoleon's enforced stay. Not only did the population of St. Helena double but the Navy at St. Helena curtailed fishing from the island and only alloed the use of Company owned ships to transport the necessary provisions to the island.

A few months after Napoleon's death, Luson died and was replaced by William Hawkins early in 1822. The Charter Act of 1813 curtailed John Company's monopoly and except for the tea trade (which yielded GBP14,5 million during l8l4-l829), the Company's interests started to diminish. In 1835 the last tea sales were held at the Cape and in Feb. 1836 St. Helena became a Crown Colony; John Company's agency closed a few months later at the Cape.

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During the evening, Col. Arthur Johnston of the Boy Scouts of South Africa presented to the Museum one of 1000 numbered copies of a map of the defences of Mafeking during the siege, which was drawn by Baden-Powell and was only discovered in England in 1976.The proceeds of the sale of these maps are to go to furthering Scouting in Southern Africa. (J.M.)

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Future Meetings: Johannesburg.

Thurs 13th March Capt J.G. Orford - "Methuen - Man of the West" (Covering the battles of Ysterspruit and Tweebosch).

Thurs 10th April Annual General Meeting and Film Show

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Know your Museum Evenings.

The next two evening talks in this series are:-

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The Treasurer wishes to remind all those who have not yet paid their subscriptions please to pay them as soon as possible.

Rates: Single members R5-00 Family members R7-50

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Annual General Meeting

Formal notice is hereby given that the next Annual General Meeting of the South African Military History Society will be held at 20h00 on Thurs. 10th April 1980 at the S.A. National Museum of Military History.


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