Patrick Meredith Grogan, MA


A Swiss Federal Scholarship-holder from 2010 to 2012, Patrick Grogan completed his MA in African Studies at the University of Basel with a focus on History and Social Anthropology. A South African from the Eastern Cape city of Grahamstown, he obtained his Bachelor of Arts (BA) with distinctions in History and German Studies from Rhodes University in 2008, before completing a BA Honours degree in German Studies in 2009 at the same university, where he also worked as a teaching assistant in the first half of 2010. He will embark on a PhD research project at the University of Basel’s Graduate School of History from October 2012.

MA Thesis

‘Improving’ the Cape Colony, 1815-1821: The Perspectives of Sir Jahleel Brenton

This thesis is an analysis of the writings contained in the five-volume collection ‘The Transactions of Sir Jahleel Brenton at the Cape of Good Hope”, which is stored at The National Archives of the United Kingdom in London. It is argued that these – an amalgam of travel writing, official correspondence, proposals and observations – can, collectively, be seen to represent an attempt by Brenton, the Cape Colony’s Naval Commissioner between 1815 and 1821, to project a vision for the colony’s ‘improvement’ at a time when its political future as a permanent British possession had been but recently confirmed. As conceived by Brenton, ‘improvement’ was not a vague notion, but would consist in a precisely-defined and multi-faceted modernization project intended to propel the Cape from a state of underdevelopment to a prosperity underpinned by a productive agricultural sector both stimulating and stimulated by expanded domestic commerce, a flourishing export trade and a growth in population and urban settlement. Brenton was confident that the Cape’s climate and soil would set few limits to ‘improvement’, but believed that this potential would remain unfulfilled until the Cape Dutch ‘Boors’ – before the arrival of the 1820 Settlers, the colony’s single large group of European settlers – were encouraged to abandon their subsistence lifestyle for commercial cultivation. Likewise, he hoped that slavery and other forms of coercive labour would be abolished as a necessary first step in ‘civilising’ (ex-)slaves and indigenous Khoikhoi to become similarly productive agriculturalists and artisans. As such, it is shown that Brenton’s conception of ‘improvement’ was as much a vision of economic and commercial development as it was of socio-cultural ‘progress’ towards and acculturation to what he regarded as typically British habits of ‘energy’ and ‘industry’ – a work ethic amongst its inhabitants which he deemed fundamental to the colony’s future prosperity.