By Dawn Denton
Lady Anne’s five years in the Cape gave this quiet part of the globe some life, excitement and the best parties at the Castle – and in fact, in the whole colony.
The British flag was seen flying in Table Bay for the fist time in 1591, but it wasn’t until 1795 when the British finally took over governance of the Cape, that it officially became a colony of the British Empire. Lord Melville, who was the Secretary for War and the Colonies, and the minister chiefly responsible for the annexation of Cape Colony, called the Cape his ‘favourite child’. He thus thought carefully about those he appointed to govern it.
Scottish Writer, Artist and Socialite
Lady Anne Barnard, a Scottish writer, artist and socialite, was an intimate friend of Lord Melville. When she surprised everyone by marrying a much younger Andrew Barnard, who had very few skills and future prospects, she almost begged Lord Melville for a position in the government for her husband. After sending numerous letters and finally meeting with Melville in person, Andrew Barnard was appointed as Colonial Secretary of the Cape.
On the 4th May 1797 Lady Anne and her husband Andrew, stepped off the ‘Trusty’ in Cape Town, having set sail from Plymouth on the 23rd February.
Andrew was to be second in charge after the Governor, Lord Macartney, and so the Barnards moved into the Castle of Good Hope. Macartney’s wife did not accompany her husband on this remote posting in Africa, so it fell to Lady Anne to take on the official role as hostess to the Governor, and First Lady of the settlement. It was a role she was not thrilled about, but she took it on to “make the best of all existing circumstances.”
In one of her first letters to Lord Melville, Lady Anne wrote, “In a week or two I shall invite all who wish to be merry without cards or dice, but who can talk, or hop to half a dozen black fiddlers, to come and see me on my public day, which shall be once a fortnight, when the Dutch ladies (all of whom love dancing, and flirting still more) shall be kindly welcomed. As I wish to make my guests happy without being ruined by their drinking half a hogshead of claret every party. Ducks and chickens, etc., they shall have, but as turkeys are one pound apiece, I shall not fly at any of their excellencies.”
Lady Anne was an accomplished amateur artist and enjoyed working with oils, but it was her sketches of Cape Town, from her perspective from the ramparts of the Castle, that gave us a clear picture of the town. These have been given to the South African Public Library by the Earl of Balcarres and Crawford – her father’s family.
As a talented travel writer and gifted diarist, she wrote about life in the Castle, the country, the people she met, passing ships, local politics, important events and trips into the interior, especially to Stellenbosch and Paarl. Through her letters we have a clearer understanding and deep insight into life in the 18th and 19th centuries in the colony, which have helped historians piece together a more accurate timeline.
Anne was witty, well educated, charming, affectionate and had social qualities that made her stand out in a crowd. She understood human nature and she was able to draw everyone in with her magnetism and storytelling. She was even able to pacify the ‘prickly’ Burghers and their wives, who were traditionally ‘insubordinate’. All who visited Government House were invited to her balls, which she held on the first Thursday of every month. She was the life of the party and always the perfect hostess. At one party, while entertaining some dignitaries visiting the colony, a problem arose in the kitchen which meant the food was to be delayed. One of the kitchen servants whispered discretely, “My Lady, you must tell another story – the second course won’t be ready for five minutes.” And without ‘missing a beat’ she launched into a story to distract from the late second course.
The Cape Loved Anne
All in the Cape were charmed by her. She invited everyone she could, to dine with her at the Castle – from tribal African chiefs and their entourages, and prominent Burghers and their families, to naval officers and colonial dignitaries. She entertained them lavishly with local and ‘exotic’ foods and wines, introducing her guests to foods they had never seen or tasted before. Mr Fiscal van Ryneveld, a local Burgher was especially charmed by her. He was highly amused when she presented him with a ‘rustic’ sort of gift of a piece of salted beef which she described as prepared “pas mes propres mains”.
Lady Anne was an active member of the literary society in Scotland and injected some of this culture into life in the Cape. She helped set up the amateur dramatic society (it was usual to have one in all British colonies). But Lord Wellesley, who stopped in Cape Town en route to India, did not approve. He sent private letters to Andrew Barnard, in which he wrote that the theatricals would “render the younger branches of the Public Service indolent, dissipated and intractable…”. But not everyone disapproved. In fact, even the Boers from inland were relaxed and accepting of the goings-on in town and were not averse to participating.
The Dutch East India Company, or in Dutch the ‘Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie’ (VOC), had ruled the Cape with a stiff and status-sensitive formality, but Lady Anne brought a sense of fun. This helped break down barriers and soften disagreements between the different communities. Anne was so loved that many would arrive at Government House at 7am to share a gin with her while she enjoyed her breakfast. She was popular in her capacity as a formal hostess to officials, with the local population and with those passing through on their way to India.
Lady Anne and Andrew remained at the Cape until January 1802 when they returned to England.
Andrew was reappointed colonial secretary in 1806 and returned to the Cape, but Lady Anne chose to stay in London and join her husband after a couple of months. Sadly, Andrew contracted tick bite fever and died at 42, on a farm near Cape Town soon after his arrival.
Andrew and Anne did not have any children of their own, which was a source of great unhappiness for Anne, but Andrew’s legacy live on with his illegitimate child, who came from a relationship with an African slave when Anne was in London. When informed of her husband’s infidelity, soon after he died, she was unconventional in her acceptance of the child. She blamed herself for leaving her husband ‘like a widower’ in the Cape, so she sent for the six-year-old Christina Douglas to join her at 21 Berkley Square in London. Christina eventually worked as a scribe to Anne, taking notes for her memoirs. Anne took in two more illegitimate grandchildren. Andrew had fathered two boys before he married Anne, and each of these boys placed a girl in Anne’s care.
Anne became more of a recluse as she got older, and spent most of her final years writing, painting and drawing. She never wanted her memoirs published and to this day, they have never been.
Anne died in her home in London on the 6th May 1825. The three girls in her care were the largest recipients of her will, and her two nephews received her home, 21 Berkley Square.
Lady Anne has been celebrated and remembered in a number of ways. In 1772 she wrote the much-loved Scottish ballade ‘Auld Robin Gray’, which she published anonymously in 1783. She only acknowledged her contribution to the song two years before she died in a letter to her friend Sir Walter Scott. And in Cape Town, the main chamber in the Castle of Good Hope is known as “Lady Anne Barnard’s Ballroom”. A road in Newlands, where Anne and Andrew had made their home in the Paradise cottage after they moved out of the Castle, is “Lady Anne Avenue”. The foundations can still be seen in Newlands Forest today. And in the Claremont civic centre, there is a carved sculpture of her in the foyer. The Barnards’ country house, The Vineyard, which they bought and moved into in 1800, survives as part of the Vineyard Hotel & Spa, where many of Lady Anne’s paintings and illustrations are on display.
Anne’s Impact on the Cape
Although her time in Cape Town was brief, Lady Anne Barnard made a significant impact on the cultural and social life in the Cape colony. Her parties at the Castle of Good Hope were remembered for years after she left, but most importantly, she harmoniously brought the people of the Cape together with the British Empire.
You can meet Dawn, the owner of Celebrate Southern Africa, in the article, Meet Dawn, as well as listen to one of her stories about how Thunder and Lightening Came to Live In the Sky on the Celebrate podcast (also available on iTunes, Spotify, RadioPublic and Stitcher)