Beggars Bush: A Perambulation through the Disciplines of History, Geography, Archaeology, Literature, Philology, Natural History, Botany, Biography & Beggary

Albany Cape Province South Africa Beggars Bush 1832

Presently the name of an unoccupied farm and State Forest Nature Reserve in the Albany Division of Cape Province, South Africa. The situation is very similar to the earlier “frontier” sites at Philipstown, County Offally and Charles River, Virginia.

Albany is the area south and east of the Great Fish River. The first Europeans to settle the area were trekboers in the 1770s. It was known as the Zuurveld (sour grassland) from the characteristic of the grass to lose nutritional value after about 4 months grazing.
The area became the scene of conflict in the 1780s between Dutch East India Company and the Xhosa, and then between the British and Xhosa & Khoikoi, in the British Army’s first introduction to “bush warfare”. Between 1779 and 1878 there were Nine Frontier Wars. From 1811 the British adopted a policy of driving the Xhosa across the Fish River, and a series of frontier forts was erected. The name Albany was imposed in 1813, probably after the birthplace in New York of Jacob Cuyler, the landrost (governor).  The motto on the coat of arms of the Division is “Take Root or Die” taken from a phrase in an autobiography of an early settler describing his necessary attitude on arrival. There were continual disputes between the English administration, English & Boer settlers and Xhosa. The area was settled by 4,000 largely unprepared English emigrants in the 1820s. They were led to expect something like the Home Counties. Some came as families with silver and dinner services that they abandoned when they were landed on the beach and transferred to ox wagons driven by Boers with whom they could not communicate. The land distribution system also created many landless labourers and squatters.

The farm is part of the furthest extension inland of the land grants made in the 1820s, about 6 miles north west of Grahamstown the frontier capital. It consists of a rectangular plot of 839 hectares first surveyed in 1827 and allocated to another party of settlers who either died, returned home and did not take up their allocation. It was then allocated to Peter Clarke Daniel, who had an interesting history. Born in Dublin in 1777 to a family of goldsmiths, he married and had a child in Dublin but by 1806 had moved to Soho, London, where he had his own premises as a jeweller. In London he started a relationship with an Ann Mitchley, and by 1818 had four children by his wife and four children by her. Daniel departed for the Eastern Cape in 1820 with both his wife and Ann Mitchley, described as a servant, and all their children, aboard the “Sir George Osborne”. It is an indication of the unsuitability of many of the colonists that the leader of their party was his brother in law, Edward Turvey, a Drawing Master from The Strand. He appears to have turned back as Daniel became leader of the party before they arrived at Grahamstown. He seems to have established himself there as a jeweller and was prosperous enough to buy other property in the town. As a goldsmith he may also have been engaged in money-lending. He had six more children there by Ann Mitchley, but none by his wife.

The grant of the farm land which became known as Beggars Bush did not take place until 1832. It was originally, and more prosaically, called Daniel’s Location. The occupation and real ownership of the land are complicated. The Register at Grahamstown shows that ownership of Plot 337, “now known as the farm Beggars Bush” was transferred to Ann Mitchley on 21st February 1836, and there is Transfer of that date in which Daniel acknowledges a payment of £100 from her. However, a receipt for quitrent dated 1st November 1832 records a payment made by Mitchley of rent for “the place called “Beggars Bush” bought by her on the 28th of June last of Mr Peter Clark Daniel”. Mrs Daniel died at Beggars Bush in 1833, but Daniel & Mitchley did not marry. She seems to have lived at Beggars Bush, with her children and one or more of Daniel’s legitimate children.

The site is isolated, and the old buildings include a blockhouse which was built before 1842. It is cut into by wooded kloofs [valleys] which were used by the Xhosa as cover on cattle raids. It would have been very exposed in the 4th Kaffir War of 1834-6, when most women and children abandoned the countryside for Grahamstown. Robert Godlonton in his account of the Kaffir Wars wrote that “At Mr P. C. Daniel’s, at Grobelaar’s Kloof, they attacked his kraal on two successive nights and in both instances escaped with booty”, and that on the last day of the war “a party of the enemy, computed to be 40 strong, suddenly poured down from the woody heights above Grobelaar’s Kloof . . . and succeeded in carrying off 200 cattle belonging to several English settlers who had formed themselves into a party for mutual protection.” Godlonton was the polemical pro-settler editor of the Grahamstown Journal, and although probably exaggerated there is no reason to doubt these attacks occurred. On 12st July 1838 Ann Mitchley petitioned the Governor in Capetown, stating that:

“She had been plundered in and since the War by the Kaffirs, and others, of cattle, horses, goats, Indian Corn [maize], pumpkins, etc., to a large amount and is reduced from comparative opulence to penury, having a family of ten children and suffering under a dangerous, long and expensive illness, and asked to be paid for two horses loaned to the Government . . . one of which had bever been returned”.

She died in 1838 leaving all her possessions to her “dear friend Peter Clarke Daniel, with whom I have for many years resided”.  Daniel remarried within two year, but three years later was divorced, having started an affair with another woman aged about 21, with whom one of his and Mitchley’s daughters testified he had “slept” at “Beggars Bush”. He then lived with her and had five more children before they married two years before his death in 1852.

By 1842 Beggars Bush had been transferred to a William Ogilvie. A history of the Ogilvie family described “Beggars Bush” as his “country seat”. That may be too grand but it may have been a weekend retreat as much as a working farm. Certainly Daniel had other sources of income. The farm passed through many hands, several of whom have gone bust. Various schemes have been attempted but it has poor soil, is affected by drought, and isolated. As of 2008 it was unoccupied awaiting renovation.

William Jervois, Archivist to the 1820 Settlers Society informs me that the adjacent piece of government land, at the top of the mountain on the eastern boundary of the farm, was called Beggar’s Bush Outspan – a public stopping place for ox wagons going up the mountainside towards Governor’s Kop. He is unable to find any record of the earliest use for this, and it is unlikely that it predates the farm.

The frontier setting is consistent with the early examples in County Offaly, Ireland and Charles River, Virginia, and with the literary usage. It is possible to connect P C Daniel with two highly likely sources for knowledge of the name. He lived about a mile from Beggars Bush in Dublin. It is therefore likely he was aware of the place name. Family tradition has it that his father inherited “the Beggars Bush estate” from his mother, Elizabeth Byas, widow of David Byas of Sword Parish, Dublin. Given that the there are substantial records of ownership of land at Beggars Bush in the Pembroke Estate archives this seems unlikely, though they may have owned or rented land there. Alternatively, his later residence in Soho coincides with a revival of the Fletcher & Massinger play The Beggars Bush under the name The Merchant of Bruges at Drury Lane, in the seasons of 1815 and 1816, as part of Edmund Kean’s triumphant “Shakespeare Season”. Kean is recorded as playing the romantic lead Florez and there were 17 performances in 1616. As Kean was the sensation of London nobody living in the city and engaged in cultural life could have been unaware of the play. This is only a few years before Daniel departed. The same applies to Ann Mitchley, who may have been the person who gave the name to the farm.

It is unlikely that the name was been taken to South Africa by soldiers from regiments who had passed through Beggars Bush Barracks, Dublin as the barracks were only built in 1827, which gives a short window of opportunity and there is no military connection with the farm.


Mostert, N., Frontiers, London 1992

Godlonton, R, A Narrative of the Irruption of the Kafir Hordes Into the Eastern Province of the Cape of Good Hope, 1834-1836, Cape Town, (1836)


private communications and documents from William Jervois, Resident Genealogist, Albany Museum, Grahamstown and Margaret Stocker to whom I am immensely grateful for a wealth of original material relating to P C Daniel, Ann Mitchley, and later occupiers of the farm.

Posted: March 13th, 2011 | Filed under: Places | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

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