In “Donald Moodie and the Origins of South African Historiography,” Robert Ross provides an illuminating account of the political agenda which drove Moodie's impressive labor of archival research, transcription, and translation to produce The Record—a title which, abbreviated in this fashion as it normally is, neatly establishes the aura of neutrality which he intended for his compilation of documents. Sections of The Record appeared in print between 1838 and 1841. A decade earlier Moodie had begun to assume the mantle of historian, but his activities then are little known. It appears also that his motives were somewhat different from those behind the later crusade. At a time when the social sciences were embryonic, and Cape historiography was still undeveloped, Moodie's interest was engaged by the relations subsisting between the indigenes and colonists. As investigator he employed certain methods of the fieldworker, notably the oral interview.
Moodie has attracted a novelist, but not yet a biographer. In what has been published concerning him thus far, the man remains elusive. The entry in the Dictionary of South African Biography was prepared by the chief archivist of Natal and describes in a few short paragraphs his life before The Record and his transfer to that colony in 1845. Born in the Orkney Islands in 1794, Moodie entered the Royal Navy in 1808. A lieutenant at the time of his retirement on half pay in 1816, he left for India in 1820 but remained instead at the Cape, where his brothers Benjamin and John had settled. The next fifteen or so years, which the DSAB dispatches in a few lines, is the period which is of interest here. During that time he married Sophia Pigot and experienced bouts of insecurity respecting employment—aspects of his personal life with some relevance for the course of action he pursued.