Port Elizabeth of Yore: Hume senior & junior left their mark

While both David Hume and William Hume might have been prominent in their own right, there were stark differences between them. David, Williams’s father, could be classified as the rugged explorer type whereas William, his eldest son of David, was urbane, suave and cultured. Being a politician, these attributes are required in spades. In truth they counted for naught as he backed the wrong political horse, The Eastern Cape Separatist League. This did not stymy his career or ambitions as will be shown below.

Main picture: William Hume

David Hume

Born about 1797 in Berwickshire, Scotland, he arrived in the Cape Colony in 1817 as one of the settler party of 195 Scottish labourers brought out by Benjamin Moodie.  

According to Dr. A.J. Clements, little is known about Hume’s early years after he landed in Cape Town. However it is known that in 1823 he was in the Eastern Cape chopped wood at Long Hope, a farm on the west bank of the lower Bushman’s River. Clements notes that “became of Two fellow immigrants who also later established reputations as frontiersmen, Robert Schoon and William McLuckie, were also chopping wood at Long Hope. The fate of all three during those early years were closely tied to the fortunes of Benjamin Moodie.”

In 1822, the three friends gained their independence and Hume moved to Grahamstown. From there he gradually spread his wings. After showing his independent streak by leaving his homeland at the age of 20, David would once again take a decisive step. In 1827 when David was 30, the acting governor, General Bourke, granted licences for Europeans to trade beyond the colonial border. On hearing the news, David was one of the first to apply for a licence in spite of having no knowledge of the business, not capital for that matter.

David Hume – Pioneer, trader & explorer

Two years later in 1829, David felt sufficiently confident to travel beyond the Colonial border. Based upon this admittedly limited experience, he consented to escorting the Wesleyan missionary, James Archbell, across the Vaal River to a meeting with the Zulu chief, Mzilikazi. It was now that he would become renowned as an inveterate pioneer and explorer. His explorations during the next several years were truly remarkable. For the purposes of this blog, details of these trips are not enumerated but David travelled extensively in eastern Botswana and the north western Transvaal, further north in fact than any previous European.

Furthermore, it was largely the result of Hume’s favourable report that the scientifical expedition of Dr Andrew Smith set out for the north in 1834 with Hume as his guide. As if this was sufficient in one man’s lifetime Clements claims that Hume had stated to have heard about the fabled Lake Ngami long before David Livingstone “discovered” it. Due to the difficulty in raising funds for an expedition to search for it, this elusive discovery evaded him.  

A man cannot survive without a sponsor. To survive Hume established a trading post at New Lattakop (Kuruman) which he found to be a very viable proposition. How and why Hume got involved in such as desolate area is unknown.  Hume was have used his trading post as central collection point because from 1830 onwards he would trek to Grahamstown annually with collections of ivory, ostrich feathers, skins, curios and lion cubs which he sold on auction on Grahamstown’s Market Square. Clements maintains that it was largely due to the quantity of material shipped down by Hume that Grahamstown was established as the main trading centre for the interior. To underline the enormity of these sales, Clements provides the example of a sale on the 2nd April 1861£ when Hume sold 10 180kgs of ivory for £5259 in addition to ostrich feathers, karosses and curios realised £543.

Besides being an exceptional hunter, Hume had phenomenal strength who often used to tussle with Dr. Edwin Atherstone, another powerful man. This strength was recognised as far as Matabele where he was known as “The Lion.”

In 1829 Hume married Margaret Perse of Grahamstown. She claimed to be a descendant of Robespierre, the Frenchman who invented the guillotine. She often trekked with her husband and their daughter. Margaret Ann was born at Kuruman in 1839. In 1854, Hume was elected as one of Grahamstown eight commissioners. He purchased a farm “Seven Oaks” at the bottom of Howieson’s Poort and he also owned a house in Grahamstown.

According to Clements, “It was here in Grahamstown that he died on 2 April 1884 at the age of 66. He was buried in the Baptist section of the Grahamstown cemetery just behind the railway station. His grave carries the inscription from Omar Khayyam:

“And Bahram,

that great Hunter,

The Wild ass stamps o’er his head,

But cannot break his sleep”.”  

David Hume had two daughters and two sons.

William Hume

The saga of the Hume’s now continues with the eldest son, William Hume, who was sent overseas for his schooling. Apart from his date of birth and location being 1837 and Grahamstown, like his father, no details of his early life have survived.  It is presumed that William returned to Grahamstown after completing his education. Buttressing this view was the fact that he was promoted to lieutenant in the Grahamstown Rifle Corps in 1861. He played the violin frequently with John Henry Featherstone, who subsequently eloped with William’s sister, Margaret Ann as the proposed marriage did not meet with David’s approval

Hume became a citrus farmer farming in the Sunday’s Valley. During the later 1860s, William relocated to Port Elizabeth and it was during his early years in Port Elizabeth that that William organised the planing of Port Jackson willows in order to stabilise the driftsands which were menacing the town. Little did he realise that these bushes themselves would become a menace. During this period, William was a merchant which he succeeded in. With his political awakening, he entered politics and was elected as an MLA [Member of the Legislative Assembly] for Port Elizabeth from 1874 to 1875.

Hume’s political philosophy espoused the separation of the Cape into two entities. In line with this belief, Hume applied for membership of the “Eastern Cape Separatist League.” This organisation strove for the creation of a separate colony for the white settlers of the Eastern Cape. Like many an ideal, the devil is in the detail. In this case it was appointment of a capital with some favouring Grahamstown as the political centre and others Port Elizabeth. Notwithstanding this division, both factions were ultimately defeated by a strong liberal coalition based in Cape Town and the western half of the Cape Colony which strongly opposed any racial and regional divisions.

This political movement was rejuvenated, resurrected and reinvigorated when Lord Carnarvon of the London Colonial Office attempted to strengthen colonial control over Southern Africa by corralling all the region’s states into a British Confederation. Sensing the opportunity which presented itself, the remnants of the Separatist League saw in this policy a means of reviving the movement for a separate British Eastern Colony.

According to Wikipedia, “Hume was unique, among these leaders, in that he rejected the Confederation plan, foreseeing that it would lead to war and instability. He was also notable for remaining unmoved by the speeches and arguments of the imperial agent James Anthony Froude, unlike the majority of his colleagues. In addition, he joined the majority of the Cape’s elected representatives in defending the Cape’s democratic independence, under the current system of “responsible government”, and rejecting outside interference from London. The end result was that he sided with the locally elected Cape government, in opposing the imperial moves to enforce confederation, and was widely reviled by separatist leaders like Jock Paterson as having betrayed his political allies.”

Today William Hume is not revered for his support for the Separatist Movement.  Instead he is remembered by one of Port Elizabeth desirable beach suburbs being named after him. When Hume was Chairman of the Harbour Board and this entity was the owner of this land, the suburb of Humewood was founded.

It should also be noted that Hume was the first President of the Port Elizabeth Club as well as being the chairman of the city’s Chamber of Commerce.


Humes Left their Mark by Dr A.J. Clements (Eastern Province Herald, 4 July 1983)

William Hume – Wikipedia


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