• LOCATION 8 | Museum Audio Guide: Home to South African Wine

    Entrance Hall: Body Servants

    Entrance Hall: Body Servants on Cape Town audio tour Museum Audio Guide: Home to South African Wine

    Narrator: There are two information boards here in the entrance hall. Go over to the one on the left and you’ll find a picture of Hendrik Cloete Senior with a slave standing behind him, dressed in livery.

    Here’s Thys again.

    Thys: There is only one drawing of a Groot Constantia slave, and that’s a well-known one with Hendrik Cloete sitting on his chair with a slave...that’s his body servant…standing next to him holding a pipe so that Mr Slave Owner can smoke his pipe.

    That slave must probably be…August from Bengal because August from Bengal was an endeared slave and when Hendrik Cloete Senior died he stipulated that August had the choice to go live with any of the children and he had to be looked after for the rest of his life.

    Narrator: It’s a peculiar contrast this. Cloete had an endeared slave, but casually tacked 16 people onto the list of possessions that came with the house. The intimate relationship between a body servant and his or her helps to explain it.

    Thys: There was a female body servant and a male body servant and they were at the beck and call of their owners, and they had to look after…let’s say…the physical wellbeing of their owners, and quite obviously, as this picture illustrates, hold the pipe. He was too lazy to hold it himself. And they probably had to help them through their daily toilet, so they were really body servants.

    Narrator: Slaves endured brutal treatment at the Cape, but this aspect of Groot Constantia’s own history hasn’t been thoroughly investigated by scholars yet. We do know something about their day-to-day life.

    Thys: Hendrik Cloete Senior gave an account of the slaves and what they eat and what they drink. They had a selection of fish, red meat, vegetables, and even wine. I made a calculation and…that worked out to 250ml of wine each day, per slave.

    Thys: They had medical treatment. There were two doctors responsible for them during the 19th century, a Dr Bailey and a Dr Liesching…two of the foremost doctors in the Cape…Slaves were black gold and they were treated as such.

    Narrator: We don’t know if this treatment was motivated by compassion or by a business-like attitude to maintaining property. Either way, gentle treatment by one owner didn’t offer much security, because slaves were casually inherited, sold and exchanged.

    When Cloete bought Groot Constantia with its 16 slaves in 1778, they had already been sold twice that year. When the Indian diarist Mirza Abu Taleb Khan arrived in Cape Town in 1799, he made some money by selling his body servant, who he then left behind.

    Aubrey: The rules regarding the slaves at the Cape were announced in the form of Public Notices.

    Narrator: That’s Aubrey Springveld, an archivist and historian who has traced his own ancestry back to slaves.

    Aubrey: These were read from the Castle’s balcony and then attached to trees and displayed around town. Any slave who stepped out of line was punished in public to serve as a warning to the others…The punishment was meted out on a platform with a pole on it…Sentences included flogging, being chained to a stake and burnt to death, or having ears and hands cut off. A woman in one specific case had her breasts torn off with red hot pincers.

    Narrator: When you’re ready, go into the drawing room. Its entrance is opposite the entrance to the study. Then play track nine.

Museum Audio Guide: Home to South African Wine