Households of the Cape, 1750 to 1850 : inventories and the archaeological record

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The purpose of the research was to study changes that occurred in the material culture of the Cape during the period when the British took over control of the colony from the Dutch. There were three phases for investigation: the colony under the Dutch East India Company in the 18th century, twenty transitional years of interim British and Netherlands governments between 1795 and 1815, and the Cape as a British colony after 1815. An historical archaeological approach was applied to material remains surviving from those years, such as excavated artefacts, documents and buildings, that assumed these sources of material culture reflected the larger cultural, or cognitive, contexts in which they were conceived, made and used. Particular emphasis was placed on examination of household inventory manuscripts (lists of fixed and moveable properties, goods and chattels). Selected information from the inventories of more than 800 households was recorded, and further detailed analysis made of seventy-nine documents. Room-by-room appraisals indicate the layout (house plan), room numbers (house size), room names and activities (functions of spaces) within the house. These probate records thus provided invaluable information about houses, their contents and the placement of objects within the household, and could be investigated from the level of individual rooms on the day of appraisal to a range of houses over a number of years. By constituting the documentary evidence in a form compatible with assemblages of excavated artefacts, as a series uf space and time blocks, integrated information provided enhanced material cultural detail. Patterns were observed through time and across a range of regional and socio-economic situations. The first period covered a "I Dutch" Cape under the control of the eastern arm of the Dutch East India Company, but households were organised in a way distinctive to the Cape. Then there was a short period of relative freedom from governmental control, as transition was made from Dutch to British colonial status and trade options broadened, resulting in the wealthier urban households reflecting fashion, and to the benefit of many farmers. Finally, the Cape was fully incorporated into the networks of the British Empire, undergoing widespread adaptations to colonial society and changes in the material culture of households.

Bibliography: p. 193-208.