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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: July 2009

4 - The Cape Cauldron: Strategic Site in Transoceanic Imperial Networks


The “Cape Cauldron” evokes the nautical perspective of the turbulent meeting of the southeast Atlantic and southwest Indian Ocean waters, a treacherous zone for ships sailing between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and a region where they had to touch land to take on fresh water and supplies. It was perilous to attempt this voyage without reprovisioning. Thus the Cape of Good Hope and other safe harbors for anchoring in this oceanic zone became strategically vital nodes in European transportation networks throughout the age of sail. The Cape had a long history of being one of these sites. After its settlement by the Dutch East India Company in 1652, it eventually developed into the Company's sole settler colony outside the Indies archipelago that resulted in a Dutch-speaking elite and slave-based society that survived the break up of the Company empire. The Cape Cauldron also refers metaphorically to the unsettling and destabilizing effects the forced migration of convicts, exiles, and slaves had on the settler society at the Cape of Good Hope.

From the outset the VOC settlement of the Cape aimed to produce victuals and supplies for Company fleets plying the oceans between Europe and the Indies. Company officials at the Cape had to negotiate relationships with established Khoekhoe polities in the region. They used various strategies from cooperation to outright hostility to fulfill the Company's basic requirements from this imperial node.

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