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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versión On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versión impresa ISSN 0041-4751


WESSELS, Andre. The Bailie's Party trilogy: Karel Schoeman (and MD Nash) and the 1820 British Settlers. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2020, vol.60, n.4-2, pp.1243-1257. ISSN 2224-7912.

A year before the 1820 British Settlers bicentenary, three books dealing with the history of these pioneers were published. The Bailie's Party trilogy was completed by the renowned, prolific and award-winning Afrikaans author (of both fiction and non-fiction) Karel Schoeman (1939-2017) and published posthumously by Protea Book House in 2019. Schoeman consulted a large number of sources in writing these three comprehensive books, but the core of the books is based on the research that was previously done by Mrs MD Nash (1928-2010). Karel Schoeman is a famous Afrikaans author of novels such as By fakkellig (1964), Na die geliefde land (1972) and Verliesfontein (1998). Many of his novels are of an historical nature, with events taking place against the background of, for example, the Anglo-Boer War. Parallel to his works of fiction, Schoeman in due course also produced several history books, including Bloemfontein: Die ontstaan van 'n stad 1846-1946 (1980), and the "Vrijstatia" series of source publications, as well as a series of eight books on the Cape, during the era of the Dutch East India Company. It was while working as head of the Special Collections at the then South African Library (now the National Library of South Africa) in Cape Town, that Schoeman met MD Nash. Marjorie Diane ("Dee") Nash was, for many years, head of the Cultural History Division at the Albany Museum in Grahamstown (now Makhanda), and later worked as an editor for a publishing company in Cape Town. In her capacity as a descendant of the 1820 Settler John Bailie, she researched his history, together with that of the 1820 Settlers in general. This led to the publication of Bailie's Party of 1820 Settlers: A collective experience in emigration (1982), which Jeff Peires described as having "revolutionised 1820 settler historiography". More publications followed. When Nash retired, she donated all her research material, documents and unpublished manuscripts on John Bailie and the 1820 Settlers to Karel Schoeman, in the hope that one day he would be able to use it in some way. Schoeman's Bailie's Party trilogy is the end result, with Schoeman indicated as the author on both the covers, as well as on the title pages of the books, but with the additional inscription, "based on the original research of MD Nash". Proceeding from the assumption that it is not possible to understand the development of what is since 1910, a unified South Africa, without taking into account the role played by the 1820 British Settlers, it is the purpose of this article critically to evaluate Karel Schoeman's Bailie's Party trilogy, inter alia, by regarding it in the broader context of both Schoeman's other historical works, and the existing 1820 Settlers' historiography. Thus, brief reviews of the work produced by both Schoeman and Nash are provided, as well as a review of the 1820 British Settler emigration scheme and the concomitant Settler historiography. The books in the Bailie's Party trilogy are then reviewed and where necessary, compared with other sources on the 1820 Settlers. In the first book in the trilogy, The old world 1757-1819, Schoeman/Nash provide a socio-cultural background with regard to the settlers who emigrated to South Africa. The Bailie family history is traced and the emigration scheme and the people who were involved are discussed. Throughout, the European background of both the Bailie family and the members of the other Settler groups is traced, in an effort to understand the cultural heritage they brought with them to what is today South Africa. The second volume, The new land 1820-1834, focuses on the Bailie Party's trip to the Cape Colony, the Eastern Cape frontier area where they settled, the challenges they encountered and how they dealt with them. In the third book of the trilogy, The frontiers 1834-1852, the role of the Bailie family in the Albany district of the Eastern Cape is further expanded, including the Sixth Frontier War (1834-1835), the death of Lieutenant Charles Bailie (the eldest son of John), the Bailies and Algoa Bay, and their life in the Transgariep (the present day Free State Province) and in Natal (KwaZulu-Natal). From this "warts and all" account of Bailie's Party and other 1820 Settlers, it emerges that the emigrants were intrepid people, but they were also fallible. However, they learnt the hard way, and thanks to their tenacity, indomitable spirit, courage and determination, they were in due course, to a lesser or greater extent, successful. Their work led to the establishment of towns and cities; the expansion and development of agriculture, educational facilities; and of language and culture in general. Small wonder, then, that a liberal political tradition in due course developed in South Africa; that Xhosas for many years dominate(d) African politics in South Africa; and that English today, exactly 200years after the arrival of the 1820 Settlers, (still) remains the dominant language of government and business. Thanks to Schoeman, Nash's research has been given another lease of life. The Bailie's Party trilogy can be linked to work already done on Bailie's group of Settlers, as well as the other Settler groups, and is an invaluable addition to the 1820 Settler historiography in general. To Schoeman, the past has always been "another country", asking to be discovered, studied and understood in all its complexities. The Bailie's Party trilogy bears witness to the immense amount of thorough research that Dee Nash undertook in the course of many years, and Karel Schoeman's ability to shape that research - together with all his additional research - into a comprehensive and readable set of books that will indeed contribute towards a better understanding of South Africa's colonial past. The trilogy in no way glorifies colonialism, but makes it clear how complex a phenomenon colonialism is, and that its roots and impact should be studied in an unbiased way, should one wish to understand the history of South Africa (where all inhabitants share a common colonial past), as well as the history of all other former British and other colonies.

Palabras clave : 18th and 19th century England; 1820 British Settlers; Bailie's Party; John Bailie; Cape Colony; frontier region; Sixth Frontier War; historiography; Karel Schoeman; MD Nash.

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