Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Anthony Beale


If I should need to write a novel in a hurry
It would have to be about my ancestor,
Captain Anthony Beale, adventurer and rogue,
slaver, seaman, pioneer. He was
an officer,  but not a gentleman.
The BEIC sent him to St Helena island
soon after it was colonised, his task,
to subdue the rabble that had collected there.
Other governors had failed, but Beale
no stranger to the lash, soon
whipped the ruffians into shape.
There weren’t too many of them anyway.

But then the Dutch attacked,
He tried to chase them off
by rolling rocks down on them from the heights.
The Dutch retreated but returned in force.
He thought it best to flee. He took a ship,
went to Brazil, hired a sloop and set out
to warn all British ships that St Helena
had been captured by the Dutch.
By chance he met some naval ships,
and with their help reclaimed the island for the Crown.
The Company were not amused. They cut his salary;
 demoted him from Governor to storeman.
He took this opportunity to cook the books,
got caught and got the sack,
Now Beale was forced to till the soil and
sell his house, ( I’m sure
it wasn’t  at a loss.)

It wasn’t long before this little isle,
in mid-Atlantic was again the scene
of strife and battle.  Some malcontents,
Beale among them, started an insurrection.
The rebellion was soon put down,
the instigators executed, most of them.
but Beale, although condemned to death,
 contrived to talk his way into a milder sentence,
Instead of being hanged, he would be exiled.
He was never to go back to England.
And that is how our family came to be
settlers and have remained settlers to this day.

(As for Anthony, he came to a sticky end,
poisoned by one of his slaves,
an early victim of  decolonisation.)

This is a not very successful attempt to write a poem about my ancestor Anthony Beale. I found his story in  an account of the  history of St Helena. All the happenings in the early years were meticulously recorded in the records kept by the BEIC. Re-reading the account of the events and writing the poem made me wonder how much it might have affected the history of South Africa, if Anthony Beale had not chanced to meet that British Naval vessel when he was trying to warn ships not to stop at St Helena while he was on his way back to England.

At that time the Dutch East India Company were not very happy with the station they had established at Table Bay. They had found that the harbour was not at all safe. The weather was inclined to be very stormy. There was always the danger of shipwreck when rounding the Cape. The indigenous population were unfriendly; livestock was always being stolen and then fighting would break out.  That is why an expedition was sent to St Helena. The intention was to drive the British out and establish an alternative station there.  Perhaps they even intended to move Van Riebeeck and co.to St Helena. After successfully capturing the island the Dutch force returned to the Cape leaving just a weakened garrison to defend it. They didn't expect to lose it again so soon.  If  the Dutch had established themselves there, it would have had a profound effect on the BEIC. They might have been squeezed out of the Spice trade and lost much of their wealth. It would have had an even more profound effect on development of the Cape Colony. Fewer Dutch ships would have stopped there.  The settlement might have been abandoned. It would certainly not have grown the way it did. The Portuguese might even have taken over in the Cape.

In school, we learnt all about Simon van der Stel, Ryk Tulbagh,Wolrade Woltemade and so on, but nobody is ever taught about Anthony Beale and the naval captain who chased off the Dutch and recaptured St Helena.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Seeing the past differently

Last night I was suffering from a bout of insomnia.  Lying awake, I started to muse on the past. I had been reading a book about a woman teaching young college students and how she became involved in their development towards maturity and independence, This made me think of  the time when I was the same age as those students. I remembered, particularly, the year when I lived in a  flat with three friends I knew from University.  How I looked up to the other girls!  They seemed  so  sophisticated and confident, especially two of them, Shirley and Erica, who were close friends and had known each other from schooldays. They always seemed to know exactly how they wanted everything to be. They always knew what was the latest trend in books, films or pop music. Their clothes were always stylish. The two of them together set the tone and took the lead. They made the rules about meals, shopping, shared expenses,who was invited to our flat etc. etc. The other girl and I simply did what they wanted. Looking back I see that I was treated rather like a younger sibling, someone not quite competent. I wasn't bullied exactly, but my wishes and opinions were not much taken into account.

Now, so many years later, I suddenly perceive the four of us in a different way. I think of the behaviour of the other girls and see them as bossy and self-centred rather than clever and confident, somewhat immature, not particularly so for their age, but certainly more so than I. After leaving University I had found a job, so  I was the only one earning my own living. Though I could always depend on my parents to help me if necessary,  I was, already, almost financially independent. The others were still completing their studies and had well-off parents who paid  all their expenses, I had always had holiday jobs and while studying, did part-time tutoring for pocket money.  I was the one in a stable relationship, was contemplating marriage and was more sexually experienced. I  also came from a very literary family and was better informed and better read than most of my contemporaries. Now looking back I can't understand why I felt at all inferior. I see myself now as the  more grown-up one and the other girls as less mature. How interesting to find that the past is not fixed and that although our memories may not change in themselves they can take on  quite different aspects when we revisit them in old age.