London – Capital of Culture

London, as a rule has never been an industrialised town and, other than in the harbour, there was little work for unskilled labour so the spectre of poverty was ever-present, especially among the black people. In spite of the lack of natural resources, the economic conditions in the town improved over time and a few industries were established to serve the growing population.  A small sweet-manufacturing concern, J. & C. Wilson and Co., was to grow rapidly from a small factory in 1895 with a staff of 5, to a profitable industry employing a largely white female labour force of 20 by 1920.


The most successful businesses were those which catered for the agricultural interests and needs of both black and white farmers in the hinterland. Black farmers kept cattle and sheep and grew millet, maize and pumpkins, success depending on the onset and dependability of the rain during any particular year.  All the major firms, such as Peacock Brothers, Dyer and Dyer, Malcomess and Co. and Mosenthals, purchased agricultural products from both white and black farmers.  The East London Chamber of Commerce, which was formed in 1877,


worked towards getting improved facilities at the harbour and to assist agriculture.  Agriculture proved to be an important part of the East London economy. The first white farming communities of any significance were the German Settlers of 1856 – 1860. They were given only 10 acres on the outskirts of the town and quarter acre lots closer to the urban settlement. They struggled to make the small plots productive, growing mainly vegetables, keeping cattle for milk and butter and chickens for eggs.  Much of the work fell to the women as many of the men supplemented income by seeking work in the town.


This was extremely hard work and a local resident, reported that in 1872 he recalled seeing the “German vrouws coming early in the morning from the German village of Panmure with their great loads of vegetables on their backs and with their baskets filled with flowers, eggs or butter …  A Scottish settler group and more German immigrants, who arrived in the 1880s, were also given small allotments on which they had to try and scrape a living, with fruit and vegetables being their main crops. Many found it difficult and some of the men took up alternative employment, leaving the women living alone and having to manage the farming operations. This was born out by information from oral interviews: Franz Faix, who had some land near Gonubie, went transport riding “as many did then” ; Robert Mackenzie, Clement Green and Josef Pachonick, also from Lilyfontein and Gonubie, undertook building and house painting in and around.


There was little in town to supplement their incomes, sometimes living away from home for long periods;31 John Nowell and Robert Hector had to leave their farms as they could not make them pay.32 Not all were successful in obtaining work and an underclass of poor whites made an appearance. Larger farms were granted west of the Buffalo in the Kidds Beach area which specialised in fruit at an early date. On a trip with her husband to Chalumna in 1879, Mary Wyche reported that they were given pineapples, good peaches and the largest apples she had ever seen. Farmers supplied them with oranges, lemons, pomegranates, watermelons, sweetmelons and ‘tangerines called narties here’. The vegetables were potatoes, cabbages and pumpkins and there was always milk and butter available. 33 East London was the main market for their produce, so for the town dwellers, fresh fruit and vegetables were easily available and reasonably inexpensive. A healthy diet was therefore within the means of most of the inhabitants of the town. There was major growth in the production of wool from the 1 890s and much of the town’s economy became based on this commodity. By 1913 there were 39 firms dealing with aspects of the wool trade. 34 In spite of the increase in wool production, the farming population in the surrounding rural areas did not have an easy time and this reflected on that sector of the town’s economy which depended on trade in the rural areas. Disease in livestock was a problem which the farmers had to face. Commissions of Enquiry were appointed in 1877, 1878 and 1883 to investigate the problem of the diseases of sheep and cattle in the Eastern Cape. Reports from the Colonial Veterinary Surgeons in 1890 and 1893 further articulated the problems. In some cases the losses had been ruinous for the farmers. 35 During the 1890s, the locusts made their appearance and caused havoc in the Eastern and Midland Provinces of the Cape.  Scab among sheep and goats also caused enormous losses among farmers with Acts being passed in Parliament to try to control the disease in 1886, 1888, 1889, 1890 and 1894 but with little success as testified by the Scab Disease Commission of 1894. 37 The Chairman of the East London Chamber of Commerce, who had been connected with the wool trade for 16 years, reported that there had been a

March 2, 2018


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