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Southwell & District Local History Society Established in 1983

The 1820 Settlers

The Revd John Thomas Becher is best known for his involvement with the 19th Century Poor Laws and the establishment of Southwell Workhouse.  However, it recently came to the notice of our member Rob Smith that he was also actively engaged in another social project that encouraged emigration to South Africa.

In 1819 Parliament voted £50,000 for the emigration plan, which in total involved about 4000 persons.  Many of these were paupers, but there were others with skills or qualities of leadership calculated to provide a mix of emigrants with a good chance of success, primarily as agriculturalists. Whilst the stated main aim of the plan was to reduce the burden of poor relief on parish coffers, it is clear there was a secondary purpose to provide something of a ‘human shield’ as a buffer between the main body of European colonists in the western and middle regions of the Cape of Good Hope and the frequently hostile native Africans to the east. The emigrants arrived by Navy transport vessels during 1820 and so the combined parties became known as the ‘1820 Settlers’.

There were two parties from Nottinghamshire itself and parties from Norfolk and London that included people from Nottinghamshire. The main Nottinghamshire party of 158 settlers was led by Thomas Calton and it became known as Calton’s party. Unfortunately, Calton himself died shortly after their arrival, but under his replacement they took up residence near Torrens River, a tributary of the Kowie, which flowed into the Indian Ocean at what is now Port Alfred. Their location, named ‘Clumber’ after the country estate of the Fourth Duke of Newcastle, a principal sponsor of the emigration plan, was fairly central within the settlement near to what was temporarily the administrative centre called Bathurst.

Settlers from several parties, including Calton’s, began to take up residence at a central location a little to the west of Bathurst. The area was made up chiefly of extensive farmlands. Benjamin Keeton from Southwell, a participant in Calton’s Party, purchased Lombard’s Post in the area and between the Sixth and Seventh Frontier Wars donated part of his land to the provision of a School-Chapel. Because of his generosity he was permitted to attach the name Southwell to them after his home town. The surrounding area became the ‘Field Cornetcy’ of Southwell, a retained Dutch notion similar to an English ward but with a community defensive capability under the auspices of a field cornet, in this case one William Gray. Benjamin was the son of Mary Keeton (née Becher) and thus the name Becher carried on in Africa and appeared periodically in subsequent generations.

A resident of Southwell, South Africa, Doris Stirk, wrote a very interesting history of the settlement and her family have kindly allowed Rob to copy the book, which contains a foreword by him, putting her history into context.  The book was published in the autumn of 2015.  Rob Smith is currently involved in a much wider piece of work in researching and writing a detailed history of the 1820 Settlers.  There is no doubt that this is an important piece of history that few people have been aware of, and with the 200th anniversary fast approaching we hope to rectify this gap in our knowledge.

Southwell Settlers

A history of the town of Southwell in South Africa


Doris Stirk

With a foreword by Rob Smith of

Southwell & District Local History Society

Price £6.50

See Publications page