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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Story Never Ends... our 1820 Settlers

So yes, the Neverending Story as we know it has (temporarily?) come to an end, which is rather sad. We had so much fun with it! But I got to thinking over the weekend and realized that Life is the Neverending Story, and that there are many tales and many faces and many turns...

Perhaps having another birthday had something to do with this philosophical lightbulb moment. (It's always a good time, amongst the fun and festivity, to revisit the year past and focus on the year ahead.) Still, I found myself remembering a long-ago dream, one I'd tucked away in a quiet place, waiting for the moment to discover and explore and shape it.

And what, you ask, has that to do with The Neverending Story? Quite simply... everything. I am, first and foremost, "Proudly South African" as our national motto proclaims. But I am also good, solid 1820 Settler stock. For as long as I can remember I have had an affinity with those intrepid and hardy folk who emigrated to the "Cape of Good Hope" and found hardship, poverty and tribal conflict instead of the "land of milk and honey" they had been promised. Within this heritage are countless Neverending Stories of courage, of hope, of determination, and of a legacy passed down in the resilience and enduring humour still found among the 1820 settler descendents.

So here then, amidst the innumerable tales, lies another Neverending Story - the characters, the lives, the struggles of these intrepid folk who settled a frontier and founded a legacy that transcends the temporal measures of this world.

On 10th April 1820 the first of the naval transport ships, The Chapman, arrived in table bay. On board
was my ancestor, George Futter, who was in fact a shoemaker and little suited to agricultural endeavors, let alone on a "wild frontier" which had little agricultural potential. Like many of the settlers, he had no agricultural inclination or experience and, in a country suited to pastoral farming rather than crop husbandry, was doomed to failure and poverty by the very settlement scheme that promised to prosper him.

Albany in 1820 was not the dream many anticipated. Lack of experience and knowledge and an unfamiliar and drought plagued environment would surely have been enough for any settler to deal with. But the frontier was also a shifting, volatile thing. Immigrants settled hopefully on land allocations way too small for subsistence, utterly oblivious to the fact that their primary role was was to create an agricultural community (an impossible task in itself given the land and their ignorance, and the impractically small allocations) which would act as a "human wall" against the Xhosa tribes across the river.

The Xhosa - or Kaffres as they were then known - were a somewhat loose grouping of various tribes inhabiting the Albany region at that time. Many of them had been driven south and westwards by the depredations of powerful tribes such as the Zulu and the Matebele. With the stronger tribes behind and the settlers ahead, the stage was set for an extended conflict exacerbated by colonial governance and the political power aspirations of individuals within the colonial administration.

This then the dream - to honor the Neverending Story that emerges from the struggles and failures and victories of a group of some 4000 souls misled by their own government and whose very survival hinged on their ability to dig deep and overcome.

"We must take root and grow or die where we stood."

I have started, then, my tribute to those who took root and from which I have grown - a series drawn from these Neverending 1820 Settler stories entitled "A Hot, Wild Land". But there are "stories within stories"... What makes a man leave all that his familiar and take his family to the "other end of the earth"? Why would a woman choose an uncertain future in an unknown land? How did the wild hot land shape the lives and futures of those who dared?

I have decided to dedicate this blog to the telling of those tales, to bring to life the characters that already whisper their stories and set the scene for the unfolding of the individual novels.

Walk with me. Share the moments and the courage, the individual tales that bring each of "my" characters to their destiny on the shores of A Hot, Wild Land.

Most of all, I hope you have as much fun as I do!

Take care,