The Great South African Trek

C.H.N. Routh records the travels and travails of the Boer pioneers

Heresies in history die hard; and the worst kind of school text-book, oversimplified and written down to the intelligence of the weakest pupils, helps to perpetuate popular errors. “Palmerston (we learn) fought the first Chinese War to force opium on to China,” or “The object of the Continental System was to starve out Great Britain. ...” A heresy that bears a charmed life teaches that the Great South African Trek was brought about by the abolition of slavery in 1833. The contention is that fury at the British government’s interference in the Boer way of life by this attack on their cherished system of slave labour, resentment at the financial losses incurred through inadequate compensation, and irritation at the inefficient machinery by which that compensation was to be paid, moved the frontier Boers to leave the colony in order to preserve slavery. Evidence is wholly against this reading. No doubt abolition increased the general irritation and added its quota to the growing resentment against the British government, but abolition itself would never have caused the Great Trek, and it cannot be regarded as the primary cause for the emigration.

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