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British Rule
British Occupation The Reform Movement Afrikaner Reaction
A City Develops Imperial Capital The Rise of Prejudice
Boom Years The End of British Rule Conclusion
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British Occupation

British forces landed on the Cape Peninsula in June 1795, and occupied Cape Town. Their purpose was to secure the settlement before it fell into the hands of Napoleon.

After the Battle of Waterloo (1814) the Cape formally became part of the British Empire. British administration brought economic benefits to the Cape, but Governors were content to allow the life of the colony to continue much as before.


Simonstown, where the British landed
The Reform Movement

A British middle class developed in the city built on the profits of trade. They embraced the ideals of the liberal reform movement - the end of slavery, free trade, education, public health, sport, charity and political debate.

With the support of ambitious new government officials, the reform movement set in progress significant developments in the city, developing business, modernising the city, encouraging the press and societies, sport and infrastructure.

Missionaries led a revival in church going, welfare and education.


Interior of British Middle Classs Home
The European population of Cape Town did not take easily to the new mood of liberalism and change, particularly emancipation.

A conservative counter-movement began in response to liberalism, with its own newspapers and societies. The Dutch Reformed Church became a centre of this culture which took on a distinct identity as 'Afrikaners'.

A more dramatic reaction to British liberalism was the Great Trek, a 'walk out' on British rule as thousands of Afrikaners set out to establish independent lands beyond the Vaal river.


The Great Trek
A City Develops

With the end of slavery, the British developed the terms 'coloured' and Malaya for non-Europeans.

A new society evolved, with poor immigrants from the UK seeking work in the city. Former slave owners built areas that became slums for the poor. These areas were multi-racial.

Thus dramatic contrasts developed between the middle class with their regency townhouses and carriages and the artisans living in slums.


Bertram House

After years of campaigning the middle class finally won the right to self-government, culminating in fully 'Responsible Government' in 1872, by which Cape Town became the capital of the Cape Colony.

The parliament buildings were completed in 1885, and are still in use today.

Only property-owners could vote and a more conservative era began that favoured commercial interests over the interests of the poor. The liberal era began to wane.



Towards the end of the century, the liberal influence began to diminish.

Political power had shifted to the local population, which was mostly conservative and Afrikaans and the Empire was also losing its liberal instincts.

Newspapers voiced a more hostile attitude towards the poor and the government emphasised policies of 'control' rather than poverty alleviation.


Crest of the City

The development of infrastructure at the Cape and into the interior, particularly the harbour and railways, came just in time to benefit from a series of economic booms. First the discovery of diamonds, then gold and finally the South African war.

With these came unprecedented immigration and urban growth. The growth of slums and the fear of disease led the authorities to develop the first township for non-Europeans.


Inscription to Cecil John Rhodes

The first years of the twentieth century saw the building of some of the city's grandest buildings.

But the air of confidence and leisure covered increasing use of race discrimination that was creating frustration among coloured people.

In the aftermath of the South African War, Britain agreed to a peace put forward by a national convention that created the modern South Africa and brought peace, but excluded the black majority.


The City Hall - built 1905

When the British arrived in 1795, Cape Town was a small 'Company Town'. By 1910 it was an imperial capital of 200,000 people.

Business had grown dramatically and a liberal tradition had been established that created a flourishing and broad society.

But by the end of the century prejudice was on the rise and discriminatory policies were put in place to control the rapidly growing population.


Queen Victoria

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