Research

Institutions, Settler Newspaper Poetry, and the Making of Colonial Identity in 1820s South Africa

Image: 'The British Settlers of 1820 Landing in Algoa Bay' by Thomas Baines, 1853. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Albany Museum, Grahamstown. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Image: 'The British Settlers of 1820 Landing in Algoa Bay' by Thomas Baines, 1853. Oil on Canvas. Courtesy of the Albany Museum, Grahamstown. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Lara Atkin (UCD)

This case study focuses on the literary culture of the Cape Colony during the 1820s. The 1820s was an important period in the cultural life of the Cape Colony: the lifting of Dutch restrictions on trade and the concurrent migration of British traders and settlers to the colony led to the formation of a middle-class intelligentsia dedicated to the cultural as well as material improvement of the colony and its inhabitants. In the 1820s, the colony's independent newspapers and literary periodicals emerged in parallel with the establishment of a range of cultural institutions modelled on 'British precedents for the cultural mobilisation of the educated middle-class' (Shum 2012: 200). These were the South African library (1822), the South African Museum (1825), and the South African Institution (1829). There are two interlocking strands to this research. First, what role did institutions and periodicals play in helping to forge a South African national identity amongst the anglophone settlers of the colony based around British notions of civilisation and cultivation? Second, what can we learn about the affective relationship of the anglophone settlers to both the colony and the metropole from an examination of the occasional verse published in early newspapers and periodicals, particularly in the South African Commercial Advertiser (SACA). Working with a previously unexamined archive of newspaper poetry, this part of the case study argues that British settlers used newspaper poetry as a means of voicing an ambivalence to the project of colonial state-building in which they were also participating.

Works Cited

  • Shum, Matthew. 'Writing Settlement and Empire: The Cape After 1820'. In The Cambridge History of South African Literature. Ed. Derek Attridge and David Attwell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Pp. 185-203.

Publications and Presentations:

  • Atkin, L. ‘Literary Institutions in 1820s Colonial South Africa’. ‘Institutions as Networks Workshop’. Royal Society of Antiquaries, London. 13 July 2017.
  • Atkin, L. ‘No longer a disunited, wavering and temporary assemblage of adventurers': Settler Newspaper Poetry and the Making of Colonial Identity in1820s South Africa’. BARS 2017 Romantic Improvement. University of York. 27 July 2017.
  • Atkin, L. ‘The South African “children of the mist”: the bushman, the highlander and the making of colonial identities in Thomas Pringle’s South African poetry’. Yearbook of English Studies. Special issue ‘Writing in the Age of King William IV’. Ed. Maureen McCue, Rebecca Butler, and Anne-Marie Millim (forthcoming July 2018).