The Country of South Africa is about ½ million square miles, the 25th largest in the world shaped like a large potato some 1200 miles long from Capetown in the Southwest to the Limpopo River bordering Zimbabwe & Mozambique in the northeast and 400 to 600 miles wide from the Atlantic & Indian Oceans in the south and southeast to the Kalahari Desert in the north. South Africa was unknown to Western Europe until the first Portuguese explorer, Diaz in 1488, first rounded the Cape and entered the waters of the Indian ocean.
A decade later, in 1497, the Portuguese explorer, De Gama, sailed past the Cape all the way to India’s west coast. This newly discovered southern water route to the Fareast quickly became the preferred route for all the oriental trade to European markets. Portuguese traders were successful at significantly undercutting the prices of Venetian traders for oriental goods.
Over the next 20 years, Portuguese caravels were able to successfully block all shipments of oriental goods into the middle east via the Red Sea, thus creating an absolute monopoly on growing oriental trade into Europe. The Venetian traders could no longer compete especially with the stiff tariffs the Egyptians charged for passing through the Suez region. Other European trading nations soon followed such as the Dutch, the Danes, the French, the Germans and the British.
The Dutch East Indian Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC) were the first to establish a supply and rest station at Cape Town in 1652 for Dutch traders. The Dutch initially used slaves from India, the Spice Islands (NEI) and Madagascar. The colony grew slowly over the next 150 years or so, attracting additional Dutch farmers, some German settlers and even a group of French Huguenots about 1686. During the period from about 1720 to 1770 some 12000 to 15000 mainly Dutch Boer trekkers began migrating eastward out of Cape Province into what later became known as the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. They slowly settled the interior, while fighting off native Xhosa tribes (pronounced Sosa) when encountered along the way. In 1795, the British took over control of the Cape colony to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Revolutionary French, then handed it back to the Dutch in 1803, but promptly annexed the colony in 1806 when the Dutch East India Company declared bankruptcy.
During the next 25 years or so, the Boers became increasing disenchanted with the inept bumbling of the British administration and control and were seeking greater political autonomy. This culminated in the Groot Trek ( or the Great Trek of 1836, when some 12000 additional Voor trekkers and Boer trekkers migrated further east, out of the Cape Colony to populate the areas of Natal, Transvaal and the Orange Free State regions. The Boers established a Natalia Republiek in 1839, but it was short lived and was overthrown by the British in 1843 and established as a British Colony the following year because the English were fearful of the Boers obtaining a salt water port on the Indian Ocean, with access to shipping.
Further Boer independence was gained when a second Republic, the Orange Free State was officially proclaimed in 1854, followed shortly in 1858 by the First Boer Zuid Afrikaanesche Republiek (or ZAR) , located in the Transvaal region in the northeast and also known as the Transvaal Republiek. Although the British considered the entire South African region within their colonial sphere, they had willingly granted the Afrikaans autonomous self government albeit under British suzerainty.
Over the next few years a number of smaller shortlived republics were also absorbed into the ZAR. All this began to change, beginning with the discovery of diamonds in the Griqualand, west of the Transvaal, in 1869. After many hostilities with British forces during the late 1870’s the first ZAR Republiek fell to the British in 1877 and the Transvaal region was annexed to the British Crown Colony of South Africa.
Then, from 1877 to 1881, continued fighting and further skirmishes finally led to the Afrikaaners defeating the British forces in 1881. Britain then signed an armistice and now referred to the territory as the Transvaal State. However, the Afrikaaners considered all this as the resurrection of a restored ZAR and ruled the area as such for the next 20 years. When gold was first discovered in 1886, the British once again took a renewed interest in the Transvaal region. Friction increased as the Afrikaaner’s continued to view the ZAR as their rightfully independent republic, while the British still viewed the Transvaal and the Orange Free State as part of the British Cape Colony.
The Boer War between the two groups broke out in 1899 and concluded in 1902, which led to the final demise of the short-lived Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek as well as the other Boer Republiek, the Orange Free State. Some 27,000 Boer woman & children died in British interment camps as a result of these brutal hostilities.
Except for a single limited issue (consisting of only 837 pieces of Een (1) Pond gold coins in 1874, no other coinage was minted under the First ZAR. So, the only circulating coinage for the fledgling Republic were issued during the last decade of the second Republiek’s existence, beginning in 1892. The Boers utilized the British monetary system, minting 1penny,3 Pence, 6 Pence, 1 Shilling, 2 Shilling, 2 ½ Shilling & 5 Shilling pieces. Circulating gold coinage (known as half Pond & Een (or one) Pond issues were also struck. The coinage was struck for only 6 years, from 1892 to1897 for all denominations except the following.
No pennies were struck in 1895 through 1897, but a final mintage of Pennies were struck in 1898. Een (one) Pond coins were also struck in 1898 & 1900. The gold coins were struck in .916 fineness while all other denominations except the Penny were struck in .925 fineness or sterling.
An effigy of the last President of the ZAR Republic, Paul Kruger, appears on the obverse of all these coins. Kruger’s name has subsequently been utilized as the denomination for all of today’s modern South African Republic gold coins (ie. the Krugerrand, pictured). Of the eight denominations issued, 5 depicted the Lion, an Afrikaaner and a covered wagon on the obverse, symbolic of the enormous struggle of the Boer Trekkers to settle this vast untamed region.
~ Tom Deeth
All coins pictured (except the Krugerrand on page 10) are from the collection of our President, Owen Wright .
First published in The Shoreline June 2009