In a broader project, I work on topics related to slavery and the experience of the enslaved at the Cape in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries.

In earlier research, I focussed on runaway enslaved people who deserted their owners, evading recapture for days or even years. Through a full series of court sentences complemented by a selection of trial records, my chapter ‘Just Deserters’ (2016) shows the role of crime, work, ethnic background and social interaction in facilitating both escape and recapture in the eighteenth-century Cape.

In the 2021 article ‘When Cape Slavery Ended’ (co-authored with Johan Fourie, Lisa Martin and Hans Heese) we provided a wide-ranging look at the enslaved population at the time of emancipation, made possible by the detailed, individual level records generated in the process of emancipation.

Following this, co-authors Johan Fourie, Lisa Martin, Robert Ross and I are now focussing specifically on the occupations of the enslaved in a chapter entitled ‘‘The effect of industry rather than of necessity’: Slave occupations and capitalism at the Cape.’

The first decades of the nineteenth-century saw the introduction of newspapers into the Colony. The South African Commercial Advertiser, De Zuid-Afrikaan, the Grahamstown Journal and the government’s own publication – The Government Gazette – provide another window through which to view historical slavery. I am currently co-supervising doctoral research on enslaved, apprenticed and contract labourer runaways as advertised in the Cape newspapers, and working with an MA student on the adverts of slave sale and hire posted in the 1830s.

Future work: Freedom’s cost

At the Cape, manumission through self-purchase was a route to free status. During the Dutch East India Company period, manumission by (self)purchase was not a civil right as it was in parts of the Atlantic World. Legislation changes in the nineteenth-century, by which time the Cape had been conquered by the British and drawn into the British empire, meant that at least in theory the enslaved had the opportunity to purchase their freedom from masters. My future research plans include investigation into this aspect of enslaved agency in the British Cape Colony in the period preceding emancipation, and the conflicts over free status pursued by the enslaved and imported apprenticed recaptured Africans.

Table Mountain and Cape Town by Jan Brandes, 1787. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.