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Cities through ancient documents

Front page of L'Univers de Jules Janin - reproduction © Norbert Pousseur

The Cape Town at the Cape of Good Hope around 1840


Cape Town around 1840 - engraving reproduced and digitally restored by © Norbert Pousseur
The port of Cape Town, unsigned engraving




Text and engraving from the book
"L'Univers collection des vues les plus pittoresques du globe" by Jules Janin - edition ~1840


This is the name of the southern promontory of Africa, discovered in 1487 by the Portuguese navigator Barthélemi Diaz, and then crossed by Vasco de Gama, who was going to plant the Portuguese standard on the coast of Asia. This land has belonged in turn to Portugal, Holland and England: it is bounded to the west and south by the ocean, and to the east by the Grand-Poisson river and the Caffre country; it is covered by bare mountains; between these mountains lie several waterless and deserted plains.
The southern end of the promontory forms Table Bay: on the southern shore and at the foot of the mountain rises the city of Cape Town. This city presents an almost perpendicular front of three thousand five hundred and eighty feet above the bay. To the west is Lion Mountain: you would indeed say from a distance a stone lion beating its flanks with its tail; to the east rises Devil Mountain. The town lies on the slope of a hill on the south-western side of the bay; it is regularly built, the streets are watered by streams of running water, and it has twelve hundred houses and eighteen thousand five hundred inhabitants, both white and black.

The main rivers on the west coast of this colony are the Elephant River and the Bez River. The Elephant River flows northwards from the foot of the mountain range, while the Bez River rises from the heights of the Darkenstein Valley and flows into St Helena Bay. Table Bay, False Bay and Saldanha Bay are the main bays on this coast.
The entrance to this last harbour, which is vast and convenient, is through a curtain of granite hills, and is no less than three thousand lines wide; it is about seventy-five thousand metres north of the western end of the cape.

The Cape is located in a temperate climate, where extreme cold and heat are rarely felt. The land cleared by the Dutch is extremely fertile, the countryside is very beautiful and the Company's garden is a delightful spot. The inhabitants of the colony's districts are mainly Dutch, for it was settlers from Holland who first came to Cape Town in 1651; many are also of German origin. From 1680 to 1690, a considerable number of French Protestants, persecuted in their own country, came to settle at the Cape of Good Hope; finally, Sweden and Denmark sent several of their children to this hospitable land. On the other hand, there are very few English, who have remained the masters of this colony since 1814.
On the other hand, in the town itself, you will meet many English people. Some wear uniforms, others trade, the slaves are Malays or Hottentots; the Malays, with their long, shiny hair, despise the Hottentots. In the city, fish are plentiful, but water is scarce; in the countryside, all the fruits of European orchards are abundant; wheat, barley, rice, tobacco and countless herds are the products of this land. As it lies in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are the opposite of those in Europe: December and January are the warmest months, June and July the coldest. At midday the sun is in the north, so the northern side of the mountains is much hotter and drier than the southern side. The stars of the sky are like the flowers of the earth: they have changed places and appear in the opposite position. The Cape has never been able to see the stars of the Great Bear, but it does have the Southern Cross, and several beautiful stars that Europe will never see. God has given each man his flower in the field and his star in the sky.

Winter and spring are the most delightful parts of the year. The city of Cape Town is subject to impetuous winds, which remind it that it was originally called the Cape of Storms. It is an important point for England, because, placed on the route to India and at the end of the African continent, the Cape of Good Hope is the rendezvous for all the ships crossing the Indian Ocean and passing from the Indian Ocean into the Atlantic.

Translation from French by Deepp Pro

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