Franco Frescura


During the first half of the nineteenth century British expatriate communities residing in the Cape, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, began to make increasing demands upon their Home government for the devolution of administrative powers to local councils, and for a measure of self-determination independent of the British political system. Their realities, they argued, were no longer those they left behind in England, and, as local residents, they were better equipped to understand and to deal with local problems. The Colonial Office, for its part, was placed in an ambiguous position. On the one hand a reduction in the operational budget of colonial administration would have been a welcome relief to the British treasury, while, on the other, the British had only just managed to outlaw slavery, and the repercussions of this policy had still to be fully understood. To a certain degree British colonial policy was still guided by a liberal concern for the welfare of indigenous nations under their administration, and the prospect of allowing emigrants to deal with such people on an ad hoc basis did not sit well with the visionaries of a greater British Empire. A series of expensive colonial wars in Africa, New Zealand and India had already shown that the combined civilizing influence of missionaries, traders and administrators as a tool for colonialism was preferable to military conquest, and that in South Africa at least, colonials guided by vested interests could not be trusted to maintain a Pax Britannica. As Warneck pointed out, "Without doubt it is a far more costly thing to kill the (indigenous population) than to Christianise them" (1888), and the British did not relish the added expenditure of rescuing foolish expatriates from the often warranted retribution of angry tribes.

The wisdom of this policy was amply demonstrated as late as 1877 when the British were forced to intervene, through military force, in the affairs of the Transvaal, to end its civil war and to save its white, mostly Dutch-speaking, expatriate community from annihilation at the hands of the BaVenda and BaPedi kingdoms.

In the Cape the first steps towards local autonomy were taken in 1853 when the colony was granted a bicameral Parliament empowered to legislate on domestic matters, though subject to a veto by the British Colonial Office. In 1872 this was extended to establish what became known as “Responsible Government”, which gave the Cape control over most aspects of colonial administration (Thompson 1990). The most notable exceptions were foreign policy and control of Imperial troops, which remained firmly in the hands of the Colonial Office in London. This arrangement was not unique to the Cape, and echoed events elsewhere in the British Empire, where emigrant populations were given greater autonomy over their own affairs; Canada in 1840, the Australian territories from 1840 onwards, and New Zealand in 1854. In many ways the Colonial Service was able to act as a binding force for Empire, and often the positive lessons learned in one colony could be duplicated in another. For example, the restructuring of the Cypriot Post Office in 1878, headed by Somerset French, had a direct bearing upon the postal affairs of the Cape after French was transferred to the Colony in 1880.

Following the proclamation granting the Cape Responsible Government, a number of Ministerial Divisions and Departments were established, and although these were structured as independent administrative units, in reality they acted as part of a larger, interactive whole. Thus, although in the case of postal services, the General Post Office was the Colonial Department primarily charged with the task of maintaining postal and telegraphic communications within the Cape, as well as between the Colony and the rest of the world, its duties often overlapped with a number of other services. The Division of the Prime Minister, for example, was responsible for foreign affairs as well as the conduct of war, both of which had implications for the postal service. The Army usually ran its own separate post office, while the Colonial Administration expected its own official documents and letters to pass gratis through the postal system.

In some instances the Department of Native Affairs conducted a rudimentary postal service in the so-called Native Territories prior to the establishment of a formal postal infrastructure. The Railway system not only transported mails and ran a series of Travelling Post Offices as part of its rail service, but in many instances the local village or town post office was located on railway property and the stationmaster was employed as the postmaster. The relationship between the Post Office and Railway Departments was strengthened further by the development of a countrywide telegraph infrastructure whose spread was, in many ways, symbiotic with the growth of a railway network across southern Africa. The Post Office, in its turn, acted as an extension of the Treasury by collecting personal taxes below ₤10, and by selling licenses and revenue stamps on its behalf. Thus it becomes important to consider all of these Departments as part of a larger interlocking system of colonial administration and postal infrastructure.

This paper does not attempt to deal in detail with all aspects of the Cape Colonial Administration, but only with those Departments that can be perceived to have had a direct bearing upon its postal services. All other Departments are mentioned briefly in passing.


This acted as the channel of communication between the Governor of the Cape of Good Hope and the Government of the Colony. All Minutes submitted to the Governor in Council were recorded by this Department, and the decisions taken by the Council were conveyed to the Ministerial Division concerned by the Secretary to the Prime Minister. The Department also dealt with all communications between the Cape Government and outside agencies, including the Imperial Government, other British Colonies, neighboring territories, foreign states and their Consuls (Kilpin 1910).

The Department was also the medium of communication between the Government of the Cape and the two Branches of the Legislature. All instructions involving the Civil Service as a whole emanated from the Prime Minister's Office.

The Prime Minister's Department was abolished on 1 July 1891 when its duties were transferred to the Department of the Colonial Secretary, but it was re-established on 8 March 1894. On 1 June 1904 the post of Secretary to the Prime Minister was abolished and the office was placed under the charge of the Chief Clerk, but on 6 June 1905 the position was once again re-established. The following persons served as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony:

1872   Sir JC Molteno, KMCG
1878   Sir J Gordon Sprigg, KCMG
1881   Sir TC Scanlen KCMG
1884   Sir Thomas Upington, KCMG
1886   Sir J Gordon Sprigg, KCMG
1890   Rt Hon Cecil J Rhodes PC
1896   Rt Hon Sir J Gordon Sprigg, PC, KCMG
1898   WP Schreiner, QC, CMG
1900   Rt Hon Sir J Gordon Sprigg, PC, GCMG
1904   Rt Hon Dr L S Jameson, CB
1908   Hon JX Merriman

At the end of 1908 the administration was again re-organised, and from 1 January 1909 the functions of this Department were merged with those of the Colonial Secretary. As a result of this reconstruction some of its duties were allowed to lapse, although the majority continued to be performed by a member of the Colonial Secretary's Office, acting as Departmental Secretary to the Prime Minister. The following persons were appointed Secretary to the Prime Minister:

1887   Sydney Cowper
1890   WH Milton (acting), Department abolished on 1 July 1891
1894   WH Milton, Department re-established on 8 March 1894
1896   Sydney Cowper (acting)
1897   Sydney Cowper, post abolished on 1 June 1904
1904   R Sothern Holland, Chief Clerk to the Prime Minister
1905   RH Harrison (acting), post re-established on 6 June 1905
1908   AH Harrison (acting)


The functions of this Department fell under the Office of the Prime Minister, and extended to all indigenous inhabitants of the Cape under Colonial rule. The office of Secretary for Native Affairs was created by the Responsible Government Act of 1872, but when this was abolished in 1893, the administration of Native Affairs was brought under the Office of the Prime Minister. Local administration was given over to Inspectors whose official communications were made through the Civil Commissioners of their respective districts. The following persons were appointed Secretary for Native Affairs: C Brownlee in 1872, W Ayliff in 1879, JW Sauer in 1881, Sir JA de Wet in 1884, PH Faure in 1890, and John Frost in 1893. Under Secretaries for Native Affairs were HER Bright in 1878, and J Rose Innes in 1881. This latter office was abolished in 1897.

Before 1 July 1902 the Transkein Territories were divided into the Chief Magistracies of Transkei, Tembuland, Pondoland and Griqualand East. However in terms of Proclamation No 112 of 1902 they were amalgamated and placed under one Executive Head, the Chief Magistrate of the Transkeian Territories, resident at Umtata.

Two years later the Better Administration of Justice Act (No 35 of 1904) abolished the judicial functions previously exercised by the Chief Magistrate, and on 1 July 1904 Proclamation No 180 of 1904 brought the administration of the Transkei directly under the control of the Secretary to the Department of Native Affairs. However the Chief Magistrate for the Transkeian Territories remained at Umtata, while an additional Assistant Chief Magistrate, for the Territories of Griqualand East and Eastern Pondoland, was stationed at Kokstad. The following persons were appointed Chief Magistrate of the Transkeian Territories: Capt Blyth in 1885, Major Sir Hanry G Elliot (Chief Magistrate, Tembuland) in 1890), Col WEM Stanford in 1902, and AHB Stanford in 1907.

In 1906 the jurisdiction of the Courts of Chief Magistrate and Assistant Chief Magistrate was restored in cases of divorce and separation. In July 1907 the Colonial Government rationalised many of its administrative functions, and on 1 July 1908 the Department of Native Affair's Accounting Branch was transferred to the Treasury. The office of Assistant Chief Magistrate for the Territories of Griqualand East and Eastern Pondoland was also discontinued from the same date.


This Department was used to administer a variety of governmental functions which, in their time, had no clear field of jurisdiction or were considered to be too minor to warrant a Department in their own right.  These duties varied from time to time, and have included the following:

      • Divisional Courts and their officers, later moved to the Attorney-General’s Office
      • Convict Stations and Prisons, previously under the Colonial Secretary’s Office, were transferred to the Commissioner for Crown Lands in July 1879. On 1 January 1888 these were briefly returned to the Colonial Secretary’s Office, and in February 1889 they were moved to the Attorney-General’s Office. Major prisons were located at the Breakwater, in Cape Town, Tokai, George, Robben Island, Klutjes Kraal, Shark’s River and East London.
      • Public Health, Hospitals and Asylums. In 1892 a Department of Local Government and Health was established, and the following year the first Medical Officer of Health was appointed for the Colony.
      • Population registers, as of 1 January 1895
      • Collection of agricultural statistics
      • Cape Colonial forces, as of 1 July 1904
      • Registration of voters, and the holding of Parliamentary elections
      • Patents and copyright applications
      • Immigration, passports and naturalization of citizenships
      • Import and export of weapons and explosives
      • Printing contracts for the Civil Service, excluding the Railways

The following persons have served as Colonial Secretaries since the establishment of Responsible Government: Sir JC Molteno in 1872, Sir J Gordon Sprigg in 1878, Sir TC Scanlen in 1881, Jonathan Ayliff in 1884, John Tudhope in 1885, Henry William Pearson in 1889, JW Sauer, formerly Secretary for Native Affairs, in 1890, PH Faure, formerly Secretary for Native Affairs, in 1893, Dr TNG Te Water in 1896, Dr TW Smartt in 1898, WP Schreiner, QC, in 1898, T Lynedoch Graham, QC, in 1900, Arthur Douglass on 19 February 1902, Sir PH Faure again on 30 May 1902, Col CP Crewe on 22 February 1904, Sir PH Faure again on 10 June 1907, and NF De Waal on 4 February 1908. Four of the above, Sir JC Molteno in 1872, Sir J Gordon Sprigg in 1878, Sir TC Scanlen in 1881 and WP Schreiner QC, in 1898, filled this position at the same time as that of Prime Minister for the Colony, while Sir J Gordon Sprigg in 1878 and Sir TC Scanlen in 1881 also served as Attorneys-General.


The duties of this Department increased substantially following the introduction of Responsible Government in 1872. Before this time the Colonial Treasurer had served as the depositary of revenues for the Crown, charged with their safe custody and their issue under a fixed set of regulations. After 1872 the position was charged with the proper and prompt collection of revenues, and was assigned duties approximately equivalent to those of the British Chancellor of the Exchequer. This included control of the Departments of Customs, Licences and Stamps, Income Tax, Excise, Posts and Telegraphs, the Agent-General for the Colony, and the Audit Offices. It was also responsible for the compilation of the Statistical Register and, following the abolition of the office of Government Actuary, with all work connected with the Life Insurance Acts, Friendly Societies, and companies.

The following persons have served as Treasurer after the establishment of Responsible Government: H White in 1872, J Miller in 1878, HW Pearson in 1880, CW Hutton in 1881, Rt Hon Cecil J Rhodes in 1884, Sir J Gordon Sprigg also in 1884, JX Merriman in 1890, Sir J Gordon Sprigg in 1893 and again in 1896, JX Merriman in 1898, Rt Hon Sir J Gordon Sprigg in 1900, EH Walton 1904, and Rt Hon JX Merriman in 1908.


The first postal services were established by the Dutch in 1792, and were carried on, in a somewhat desultory fashion, by the British when they formally took over the Colony in 1806. Matters were improved after 1815 with the appointment of Robert Crozier, but the outline of its subsequent structure only began to emerge after 1851 under the leadership of Johannes Le Sueur. Following his dismissal in 1865, there followed a period of stagnation, and development only resumed after 1873 under George Aitchison and his deputy Somerset French. It was they who, in addition to the primary tasks of collecting and delivering mails, extended the duties of the Post Office to cover Money Order, Postal Order, Postal Draft, and Savings Bank services. In time it also sold revenue stamps, issued licences, received Income Tax payments, and collected Customs Dues on letter packets and parcels received from countries outside the South African Customs Union. Under Responsible Government, the functions of this Department fell under the Ministerial Division of the Treasurer.

The following persons were appointed Postmaster-General of the Cape of Good Hope after 1872: Charles Piers in 1869, George William Aitchison in 1873, Sir Somerset Richard French in 1892, and William Thomas Hoal from 1908 through to 1910 when he was appointed the Union’s first Postmasters-General.

From 1873 an extensive telegraph system came into operation in southern Africa, and after 1898 telephone exchanges had been established at eighteen major centers. For the purpose of administration the Head Office in Cape Town was divided into three principal divisions:

      • A General Secretariat,
      • The Accounting Branch and
      • An Engineering Branch

The daily administration of postal, telegraphic and telephone affairs was conducted on a regional basis, with the Colony being divided into five Districts whose control lay with a Surveyor and District Engineer.

By 31 December 1908 the Post Office Establishment employed some 5163 persons at 1065 post offices throughout the country. Its budget for 1908 included a total of ₤547,366 in revenue, and an expenditure of ₤648,111. The deficit was largely owed to capital expenditure incurred in the establishment of a new telephone service. Mails were carried by means of trains, motor trucks, animal-drawn carts, horses, camels and foot-runners over a distance of 6,134,636 miles. Services provided by the Cape Post Office also included:

  1. The Inland Travelling Post Offices. The first travelling post office (TPO) was inaugurated, on a trial basis, in 1882 under the personal supervision of Somerset French. When it was instituted on a regular basis on 14 May 1883, it ran daily from Cape Town to Victoria West Road, later known as Hutchinson. After the railway line to Fourteen Streams was opened on 1 December 1890, the TPO service was extended to this point. At this stage the stretch from Cape Town to De Aar became formally known as the Western TPO, while the De Aar-Vryburg line was designated as the Northern TPO. Some confusion may have arisen in this regard as railway maps of the time followed their own nomenclature and designated the Noval's Pont-Pretoria link as the "Northern System". However, from a post office standpoint this was not correct and a distinction between the two needs to be made (Goldblatt 1983: 116). The following inland Travelling Post Offices were operational in the Cape:
    • Albany TPO, from 1893 to 1898
    • Eastern TPO, from 1 February 1896 through to Union
    • European Mail, from about May 1894 through to 13 October 1899
    • Midland TPO, from 1890 through to Union
    • Midland TPO 22, from September 1901 through to15 June 1902
    • North-Eastern TPO, from 1 February 1897 through to Union
    • Northern TPO, from about December 1890 through to 12 October 1899
    • Transvaal TPO, from May 1894 through to Union
    • Western TPO, from 1882 through to Union
    • Zwartkops Sorting Tender, from August 1893 through to 1898
    Travelling post offices moving inland from Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London were designated as the DOWN train, while those travelling in the opposite direction were designated as the UP train.
  1. Subsidised Ocean Mails Services. The first contract for the conveyance of mails between the Cape and Britain was awarded to the General Screw Steam Shipping Co, and on 27 January 1851 its ship, the Bosphorous, made the first delivery of contract mail to the Cape. However this service soon ran into difficulties, and after some delays the contract was re-awarded to the Union Steamship Co, whose vessel, the Dane, made its first delivery to the Cape on 29 October 1857. In June 1876 the contract was equally divided between the Union and the Castle lines, and, after negotiations, on 8 March 1899 the two lines merged their interests. In time the ocean mail services were extended to include the following lines:
    • An Ocean Mail which linked Table Bay to Britain once a week in each direction, the service being performed by the Union Castle Company. By 1910 the average duration of the voyage was 16 days 15 hours. The contract was subsidised to the sum of ₤135,000 per annum, this being shared by the United Kingdom, the Cape Colony, the Transvaal, the Orange River Colony, Natal, Southern Rhodesia and the Bechuanaland Protectorate. The contribution made by each country was proportional to their use of the service. The Cape Post Office administered the contract on behalf of the contributing countries.
    • Ocean Post Offices were established by the Cape Colony on all the vessels engaged on the mail service. Mails to St Helena and Ascension Islands were conveyed by the "intermediate" steamers of the Union Castle Company, which provided a monthly service under an agreement with the Imperial Post Office.
    • A weekly mail service with German South West Africa was maintained by steamers of the Woermann and Houston Lines.
    • Mails for Port Nollath were conveyed on a weekly basis, by steamers of the Woermann and Houston Lines and by the SS Nautilus.
    • Mails for the Nyasaland Protectorate, Zanzibar, British East Africa and Aden were conveyed by the German East African Line of steamers under contract to the German Government. They were dispatched from Durban about once every four weeks, and from Delagoa Bay about once a fortnight.
  1. Non-Subsidised Ocean Mail Service. These included the following:
    • Mails between South Africa and Mauritius were conveyed by the Union-Castle Company once in every four weeks in each direction.
    • Mails between Table Bay and the Australian Colonies and New Zealand were conveyed by steamers of the Shaw-Savill and New Zealand Shipping Companies sailing about once a fortnight.
    • Additional mails between Table Bay and the Australian Colonies and New Zealand were conveyed by steamers of the Aberdeen, Blue Anchor, White Star and German Australian Lines sailing about every four weeks.
    • Mails between Table Bay and Portuguese West Africa were conveyed, once a month, by the Empreza Nacional de Navegacao Company, and occasionally by the Union-Castle Company.
  2. Money Orders. In 1862 a Money Order business was established by the General Post Office, allowing for a maximum draw of ₤40 per Order. A Telegraph Money Order system was also available to allow for the rapid transmission of small sums of money within South Africa.
  1. Postal Orders were introduced in 1882 and were used primarily by the public to remit small sums of money. The British Postal Order, which had currency throughout the Empire, was substituted for the Cape Colony Order in 1908. Postal Orders ranged in value from 6d through to ₤1-1s, better known as a Guinea.
  1. Postal Drafts. The Postal Draft System came into operation in 1886, allowing the public to draw upon debtors in the Cape Colony, Natal, Basutoland and the Orange River Colony for any sum not exceeding ₤10. Under the provisions of the Postal Drafts Act of 1885, presentation of a Postal Draft to the person upon whom it was drawn had the same force and effect as a legal demand.
  1. Post Office Savings Bank was established in 1884, and by 1908 the number of Post Offices open for the transaction of Savings Bank business was 362.
  1. Telegraphs. The first Telegraph system was established by the Cape of Good Hope Telegraph Company, and was purchased by the Cape Government in 1873. The network eventually extended to every major town and village in the Colony, and for many years the systems of the adjoining territories was initiated and run by Cape officials.
  1. Cable Communication. By 1910 three submarine cables had been laid between South Africa and Europe. These included:
    • The East Coast cable to Aden, via Mozambique and Zanzibar.
    • The West Coast cable from Cape Town to St Paul de Loanda, via Mossamedes and Benguella.
    • The cable from Cape Town to Madeira, via St Helena, Ascension and St Vincent.
    • Direct cable communication also existed between Durban and West and South Australia, while the Eastern Telegraph Company had an overland line running from Great Britain to Australia, via South Africa.
  2. Telephone and Private Wires. The first telephone exchange in South Africa was established in Port Elizabeth in 1882, and made provision for 25 subscribers. However the service soon flourished, and by the time it was extended to Cape Town in 1885, it catered to a total of 164 subscribers. By 1898 telephone exchanges had been established at Cape Town, Claremont, Cradock, East London, Grahamstown, Kalk Bay, Kimberley, King William's Town, Mossel Bay, Oudtshoorn, Paarl, Port Elizabeth, Queenstown, Rondebosch, Sea Point, Simon's Town, Worcester, and Wynberg. Several of the principal towns in the Colony were connected by telephone trunk lines and an inter-colonial telephone system connected Kimberley to Bloemfontein and Mafeking to Johannesburg.
  1. Official Posts. At the outset the Cape’s postal service was intended primarily to provide colonial administrators and the military with a rapid and efficient method of communication between Cape Town and the outlying districts of the Colony, and although the Post Office eventually came to provide important infrastructural support for the growing colonial economy, many aspects of this service survived for the next two centuries. One of them was the Official or Free Post, where a number of officials in the Cape Colonial Administration had the right to forward their letters for free through the post, provided these were mailed during the course of official duties and in the official capacity of the sender. Although outwardly this seemed to be a sensible, and even necessary arrangement, the system was always open to abuse, and over the years a number of cumbersome arrangements were introduced, usually to little avail. The worst culprits appeared to be the elected officials to the Cape Legislature, some of who ran it as a lucrative side-line to their parliamentary duties, and went so far as to view it as one of the prizes to be won in an election. Despite these problems, the Colonial Administration stuck dutifully to the principle, no doubt realizing that no alternative system could be possible, and an Official Free post remained a feature of the colonial system right through to Union in 1910 (Goldblatt 1983).

Throughout these years the Post Office attempted to curb these losses to its income by introducing a number of cumbersome regulations, none of which appeared to have the desired effect. One of these was the drafting of a list, containing the names of all those officials entitled to use the Official Free service. Although this too was cumbersome, and was rapidly dated, it established the guidelines for subsequent policy. Most of the names elsewhere in this article would have appeared on this list, as well as those of members of the Cape Legislature.


The Attorney-General was entrusted with the prosecution of all crimes and offences committed in the Colony. He also acted as advisor to the Government in all legal and constitutional matters and, as Minister, controlled a Department charged with the administration of justice. From 1885 this included investigations into the illegal diamond trade; from 1887 the management of the Deeds Registry Office; from 1888 to 1894 the control of the Convict’s Department; from 1889 to 1894 the control of prisons; and from 1894 the administration of Divisional Courts, Resident Magistrates, Justices of the Peace, Field-Cornets and all Cape police forces. A Solicitor’s Office had previously been established in Grahamstown in 1864, and a Crown Prosecutor was appointed for British Bechuanaland in 1877.

The following persons served as Attorney-General after 1872: Sir JH de Villiers in 1872, S Jacobs in 1873, Andries Stockenstrom in1877, Sir Thomas Upington in 1878, JW Leonard in 1881, Sir TC Scanlen also in 1881, JW Leonard in 1882, Sir Thomas Upington in 1884, J Rose-Innes in 1890, WP Schreiner in 1893, HH Juta also in 1893, WP Schreiner in 1894, Sir Thomas Upington in 1896, TL Graham in 1898, R Solomon also in 1898, Sir J Rose-Innes in 1900, TL Graham in 1902, V Sampson in 1903, and H Burton in 1908. Two of the above, Sir TC Scanlen in 1881 and Sir Thomas Upington in 1884, filled this position at the same time as that of Prime Minister for the Colony. Masters of the Supreme Court included JH Hofmeyr in 1878, J Foster in 1892, GA Reynolds in 1896, and JGB Heyneman in 1908.


The Office of Commissioner of Crown Lands and Public Works was created by Act No 1 of 1872, upon the first introduction of Responsible Government. The Commissioner was charged with the administration of Land Laws in the Colony, and with the administrative control and supervision of all Public Works. These included Government railways, buildings, public road, communications, bridges, tolls, ferries, lighthouses and harbours, as well as control over the Colony's natural and mineral resources, geological exploration, irrigation and, strangely, immigration.

This situation continued thus until 1 September 1892 when the Offices of Crown Lands and Public Works were separated into two branches. On 1 July 1889 the office of Secretary for Lands and Mines was abolished, and control of the entire office reverted to the Assistant Commissioner. On 1 September 1892 all matters connected with Lands and Mines were transferred temporarily to the Treasury pending the formal establishment of a Department of Lands, Mines and Agriculture as a separate Ministerial Division.

Government Notice No 1069, of 30 October 1893 separated the Public Works Department from the Railways, while Act No 14 of 1896 transferred control of all matters relating to Ports and Harbours to the Treasury, while retaining the lighthouse service under the aegis of Public Works. In July 1903, in another strange pairing, the administration of Immigration was transferred from the Commissioner of Public Works to the Secretary for Agriculture.

In 1908 the Department of Public Works was re-organised. The Divisional Officers at Kimberley, Cradock and Worcester were abolished; the Office of the Divisional Engineer at Kokstad was transferred to Umtata, and the whole of the Transkei brought under its control; and the area of control under the Divisional Office at King William's Town was extended westward. The remaining Districts of the Colony were brought under the direct control of the Head Office in Cape Town. The continued depression of the Colonial economy in 1909 forced the abolition of the posts of Chief Engineer and Architect.

The following persons served as Commissioner of Crown Lands and Public Works for the Cape of Good Hope: C Abercrombie-Smith in 1872, JX Merriman in 1875, John Laing in 1878, JX Merriman in 1881, F Schermbrucker in 1884, Right Hon Cecil J Rhodes in 1890, and Sir James Sivewright in 1898. The following were appointed Commissioner of Public Works: John Laing in 1893, Sir James Sivewright in 1896, JW Sauer in 1898, Dr TW Smartt in 1900, A Douglass in 1902, Dr TW Smartt in 1904, and JW Sauer in 1908.


During the colonial era the transport infrastructure of the Cape was heavily reliant upon the use of animal-drawn wagons. Shipping did provide an useful alternative to the more ponderous forms of land travel, but a lack of suitable harbours along the southern and eastern coasts limited the movement of goods to and from the South African hinterland. Consequently, when a railway system began to be developed in the Cape from 1859 onwards, its potential as a tool for the colonization and development of the subcontinent was immediately understood.

In 1859 Governor of the Cape, Sir George Grey, cut the first sod of the Cape Town-Wellington Railway, a privately-owned line whose capital was raised through public subscription. This was opened for traffic in 1863, but was eventually purchased by the Cape Government ten years later, in 1873, for ₤773,900. In 1863 construction was begun on a second privately-owned line, between Salt River Junction and Wynberg. This was opened for traffic in 1864, and it too was purchased in 1873 by the Cape Government for ₤75,000.

In 1872 the Cape Government commenced the construction of railways under the control of the Public Works Department, and the following year the Railway Department was formally constituted with WG Brounger as its first Railway Engineer and Head of the Department. In 1875 the Railway was separated into three: the Western, the Midland and the Eastern System.

The first major routes to be opened were those linking Cape Town to De Aar, designated the Western System, and Port Elizabeth to De Aar, known as the Midland System. The lines were begun almost simultaneously in the 1870s and were both completed on 31 March 1884. Thereafter the Western line was pushed rapidly northwards, reaching the Griqualand diamond fields in 1885 and Mafeking in 1894. The eastern frontier was served by a line linking East London to Aliwal North, designated as the Eastern System, which was fully opened on 8 September 1885. The three systems were connected on 8 February 1892 when the Middelburg Road-Stormberg Junction line was inaugurated. The line linking the Cape's railway system to the Orange Free State and the Witwatersrand via Naauwpoort took a while longer to achieve, and only reached Bloemfontein on 17 December 1890, the KiGariep on 17 May 1892, and Johannesburg on 15 September 1892. This was designated the Northern System. In 1902 TS McEwen was appointed General Manager of Government Railways and Harbours.


Most of the functions appertaining to agricultural affairs in the Cape originally fell under the Division of Public Works, but these were restructured on 1 September 1892 into a new Ministry for Lands, Mines and Agriculture. This controlled all matters connected with agricultural and pastoral activities in the Cape, and included the administration of legislation appertaining to animal diseases, the improvement of breeding stock, the dairy industry, viticulture and wine-making, and the establishment of experimental stations. Other functions which fell under this Ministry included the Surveyor-General’s Office, Fisheries, Guano Islands, and Crown Forests.

The following persons have served as Minister for Agriculture: John X Merriman, Treasurer of the Colony, in 1892, John Frost, Secretary of Agriculture, in 1893, Sir PH Faure in 1896, AJ Herholdt in 1898, Sir PH Faure in 1900, John Frost in 1902, Arthur J Fuller in 1904, CP Crewe in 1907, and FS Malan in 1908.

The following persons were appointed Surveyor-General after 1872: A de Smidt in 1872, L Marquard in 1889, JT Thorne in 1892, CLHM Jurisch in 1902, H van Reenen, acting in 1904, and AH Cornish-Bowden, acting in 1905 and confirmed the following year.


This paper appeared in the Cape and Natal Philatelic Journal (Vol 11, No 4:44, December 2007: 108-113) under the title of The Cape Colonial Establishment, 1872-1910.


KILPIN, Ernest F. 1910. The Cape of Good Hope Civil Service List, 1910. Cape Town: Cape Times Limited.
FRESCURA, F. 2002. The Post Offices of the Cape of Good Hope, 1792-1910. Johannesburg: Archetype Press.
GOLDBLATT, Robert. 1983. The Official Post and the Official or “Free” Letter Stamps of the Cape of Good Hope. Johannesburg: Postmark and Postal History Society of South Africa, Occasional Paper No 4.
THOMPSON, Leonard. 1990. A History of South Africa. New Haven: Yale University Press.
WARNECK, Gustav. 1888. Modern Missions and Culture: Their Mutual Relations. Edinburgh: James Gemmell

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