Month: August 2015

The case of James Erith and the revolting settlers

James Erith had spent some months petitioning the colonial office to be allowed to lead a party of settlers, first to America and then to the Cape when that opportunity opened up for 1820. It was clear he was keen to be something of an empire builder and also that he saw his role as a leader of men, not a foot soldier. He eventually secured passage for himself, his wife Jane and their two young daughters, his cousin Robert Robinson and his young family, along with eight other young men all of whom were to be indentured to him for some years after settling. For this he raised the princely sum of £105 (well over £4000 today) paid to the government to set against expenses, tools and rations until the settlement was established.
Thomas Baines painting of the landings
His party, aboard HMS Brilliant arrived at Algoa Bay on 15 May 1820 and it may be that they were already in dispute but the cracks were definitely showing as early as that June when there were complaints to the provisional magistrate, C. Trappes, that rations had not been drawn, they were infested with vermin and the whole party was suffering with bowel complaints due to unclean water. Twice Mr Trappes intervened to settle the differences between the party and Erith, once on behest of the men and then because Erith claimed his party were in a state of mutiny!
excerptEventually forced to intervene again, Trappes called a day to hear grievances and even found work for some of the party in order that they might afford some shoes, and gave out rations charged against Erith’s account.
Some ten weeks into the settlement, the authorities¬†(and who knows what unrecorded conversations took place) decided that parcels of land had been wrongly allocated and that as a result, several parties had to move. Erith’s party was told to relocate to Waay Plaates, which Erith describes as having been abandoned both by the Dutch because of its proximity to the native border and thus at a great risk from cattle raiders, and also by Mr Damant because it was rocky and barren. He was not at all happy. Erith decided to sit it out on his original allocation citing conflicting authority and that the move was motivated by nothing more than private revenge, accusing Trappes and the Landdrost, Rivers, of oppression and injustice. He resisted attempts to move him, claiming illness, firing on those sent to evict them, and destroying wagons. Eventually authority prevailed, knocked down the house Erith had built, evicted him and released his party from their obligations.

There followed several years of correspondence from Erith and Jane, his wife, claiming redress for losses suffered, relief from destitution, and legal grievances against all those involved in what they saw as the architects of their misery.
They eventually sought leave to return to England, separately, he to continue his grievance, she because she was destitute. In September 1827 James is in Lambeth, still petitioning, still complaining:
It’s not yet clear whether Jane and the children did return to England, but it appears that James died in 1868 back in South Africa.


Erith’s story

Mocavo have finally proved useful. They have digitised a whole raft of South African journals and official records including several volumes of “Records of the Cape Colony”, among which we find nearly all the correspondence relating to James Erith’s disputes with his party and the colonial government. Erith was the lead member of the party of settlers joined by Robert Robinson and his young family but said party also fell apart with disputes and recriminations soon after landing at Algoa Bay.

It’ll take a while to read and extract the story to tell but it’s quite an exciting development.

Stay tuned.


Not much, but I found a website detailing some of the descendants of James Robinson, principally through his daughter Adelaide and her marriage to Henry Havill. I’ve emailed the owner in the hope we can exchange a bit of info and I can get a better picture of the Robinson family in Kent.

Still absolutely no sign of the earliest Philip’s birth though.