The growth of Cape Town commerce and the role of John Fairbairn's Advertiser, 1835-1859

Master Thesis


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

University of Cape Town

This thesis basically traces the expansion of commerce in Cape Town with particular reference to company growth from 1835 to 1859. Situated within the field of economic history, the nature of the study is primarily economic, though it attempts to avoid any narrow economic determinism, accepting the basic premise that the most useful method remains an inter-disciplinary approach. The content, however, acknowledges the importance of class in historical interpretation. The commercial bourgeoisie (defined as wholesale merchants, wholesalers-retailers and financiers) thus assumes a central place in discussion here. Yet, inextricably bound up with the history of commerce during the period is the editorial role of John Fairbairn. This connection was immediately apparent, once one began reading Cape Town's leading newspaper, the South African Commercial Advertiser, of which Fairbairn was sole editor between 1835 and 1859. His comments in the paper's editorial columns reveal his intense interest in and his identification with commercial developments. His commercial orientation, whether in debates concerning the advantages of free trade, slave emancipation, the usury law, joint-stock companies or in his reporting of relevant extracts from overseas newspapers, government economic statistics and company reports, led to the coupling in this thesis of the role of John Fairbairn with the history of commerce. Indeed it is the years of Fairbairn's sole editorship which provided one of the most important reasons for the chronological framework employed in the study, viz. 1835-1859. Despite the importance with which historians regard Fairbairn, it is surprising how little his role in the economic sphere has been acknowledged, when considering the vigour of the economic campaigns he conducted in his newspaper.

Bibliography: pages 217-231.