Friday, 27 November 2015

‘To do the Cape’: Samuel Daniell’s representation of African peoples during the first British occupation of the Cape

Volume 43, January 2014, Pages 28–38
Feature: The art of travel and exploration


Samuel Daniell’s time in Southern Africa between 1799 and 1803 is reconstructed.
The political context of the first British occupation of the Cape is described.
The ideological aspect of Daniell’s representation of African peoples is clarified.


Samuel Daniell’s African Scenery and Animals of 1804–5 is justly celebrated in the literature of art history as one of the most beautiful accounts of African life of any time, but has been rather neglected by other historians. This paper considers how this major project is likely to have taken shape, situating it in the context of the first British occupation of the Cape in order to reveal the ideological dimensions of his representation of African peoples. The paper argues that Daniell’s visit to the Cape from 1799 to 1803 is likely to have been inspired by his relatives’, William and Thomas Daniell’s work in India, notably their Oriental Scenery of 1795–8, and that his view of Southern Africa developed as he travelled through the sub-continent in the company of British officials. At a time before Britain had any formal colonial ambitions at the Cape, its officials developed distinct images of the three main population groups occupying the territory – the Dutch colonists (the ‘Boors’), the Xhosa (so-called ‘Kaffers’) beyond the borders, and the Khoisan (so-called ‘Hottentots’ and ‘Bushmen’) whose fortunes contrasted strongly whether they lived inside the colony, in conditions of slavery on Boer farms, or outside the colony in a state of freedom. Daniell gave visual form to these images, notably through the classical language of art, and so expressed the turmoil on the frontier as a contest between the Enlightenment terms of liberty and oppression.


  • Samuel Daniell;
  • Cape Colony;
  • First British Occupation;
  • Boers;
  • Xhosa;
  • Khoisan