David Stuurman: The South African Chief Who Was Exiled by the British for Offering Refuge to Escaped Slaves

David Stuurman was a Khoi chief and political activist, who played a significant role in the resistance against Dutch and British colonial administration in the Eastern Cape of South Africa..

David Stuurman: The South African Chief Who Was Exiled by the British for Offering Refuge to Escaped Slaves

Born around 1773, David Stuurman grew up during a time when the Khoi and San people faced systematic dispossession of their lands by the colonialists. As a young man, Stuurman experienced the harsh treatment and physical abuse inflicted upon his people firsthand. One incident, reported by the Bethelsdorp missionaries, described how Stuurman was brutally whipped and left tied to a wagon under the scorching sun.

In the 1790s, during the second Xhosa War, Stuurman and his brother Klaas, the chief, along with other Khoi in the region, left the farm they were indentured on and joined forces with the Xhosa tribes in their resistance against the colonists.

When the British took control of the Cape from the Dutch East India Company in 1795, they attempted to entice the Khoi to return to settler farms and servitude, promising better treatment from the Boer farmers. However, the Khoi were determined to fight for their freedom and rejected these offers.

In 1802, Klaas Stuurman spearheaded a significant armed rebellion against the Uniondale field cornet, aiming to restore Khoi independence. In an attempt to restore peace following the skirmish, the colonial Governor granted land to Stuurman and his comrades.

Following the death of his brother in 1806, David Stuurman assumed leadership and offered refuge to indentured Khoi laborers who suffered abuse at the hands of white farmers, as well as those Khoi individuals who resisted subjugation and refused to be conscripted into commandos. This act of defiance was viewed as a direct challenge to the authority and control of the colonial powers. When Stuurman declined an invitation to appear before the colonial authorities, they cracked down on his settlement.

Xhosa Wars

Despite putting up a fight, Stuurman and his followers were overpowered by the more sophisticated weapons of the colonists. Many Khoi were bound into service, their livestock and land confiscated. Stuurman, along with three others, was imprisoned in Cape Town in early 1809 and later sent to Robben Island, the notorious prison island.

Stuurman’s first escape from Robben Island occurred in December of the same year, using whaling boats to reach the mainland. Although most escapees were recaptured, Stuurman managed to make his way back to the Eastern Cape, continuing his resistance against colonial rule.

However, Stuurman’s freedom was short-lived. During the fifth Xhosa War, he was once again captured and sent back to Robben Island, where he was subjected to hard labor. Yet, his indomitable spirit remained unbroken. On August 9, 1820, Stuurman escaped from Robben Island for the second time, this time during a prison mutiny.

Upon reaching the mainland, Stuurman was recaptured and faced trial for his crimes, particularly as a repeat escapee from Robben Island. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on the penal settlement in New South Wales, Australia. In December 1820, he was imprisoned in Robben Island and chained to a wall until his transportation order to Australia could be carried out.

In April 1823, Stuurman, along with 11 other South Africans, was aboard the convict ship Brampton, which arrived in Sydney. Despite efforts by his wife to petition Queen Victoria for his release, Stuurman remained in exile. After six years of compulsory government work, he was eventually allowed to work for wages. However, on February 22, 1830, David Stuurman passed away in the General Hospital in Sydney and was buried in the Roman Catholic section of Devonshire Street Cemetery.

David Stuurman: The South African Chief Who Was Exiled by the British for Offering Refuge to Escaped Slaves

In South Africa, David Stuurman is remembered and honored for his resistance against colonial oppression. His legacy lives on through a statue in Pretoria’s National Heritage Monument Park, as well as the renaming of Port Elizabeth International Airport to Chief Dawid Stuurman International Airport.

Mr Madu
Mr Madu
Mr Madu is a freelance writer, a lover of Africa and a frequent hiker who loves long, vigorous walks, usually on hills or mountains.

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