Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Leper Institute in the Baakens Valley

Prior to 1839 there was no proper accommodation in the Eastern Cape for lepers or destitute persons. Lepers were confined, often in jails in appalling conditions, pending their transfer by ox wagon to the leper institution at “Hemel en Aarde” which was some distance away in the Caledon district.

This blog covers the creation, operation and closure of the Leper Institute over the period 1839 to 1846.

Main picture:  Map of the Leper Institute, Gubb’s farm and the Baakens River

As the Lieutenant Governor had indicated that it was his intention to establish an institution for lepers from the Eastern Districts at either Graaff-Reinet or Somerset East, on 28 August 1838 the Civil Commissioner of Uitenhage wrote to the Acting Government Secretary, Hougham Hudson, advising that there were eleven lepers at Uitenhage for whom he sought the usual authority to remove, either to “Hemel en Aarde“, or such other institution as the Lieutenant Governor should indicate. He mentioned that either Graaff-Reinet or Somerset East would be better than ”Hemel en Aarde” as the cost of transport to either of the former towns would be considerably less than to the latter. The lepers were, pending removal, being housed in a mud hut which was in such a state that a new building would have to be erected (at some considerable expense) if they were to remain there any longer.

On 3 September 1838, Hudson replied that the Lieutenant Governor was contemplating “such an arrangement“. However, it took some time for the “arrangement” to be finalized and it was not until May of the following year that lepers were removed from Uitenhage to Port Elizabeth. One hopes that they were not the same people; for if they were, in the meantime, no doubt, the poor souls had been kept in the mud hut.

So far as paupers were concerned, there was a pauper institution connected with the Somerset Hospital, but as it would not be able to cope with paupers from the whole Colony for much longer, the Governor was of the opinion that one or more similar establishments should be established in the Eastern Districts, on a small scale, into which paupers from that part of the Colony could be admitted. So far as people of colour were concerned, he thought that it might be possible to obtain their admission at one or other missionary institution on payment of a moderate sum per head for their maintenance.

Rufane Vale in the Baakens Valley

On 14 November 1838 the Acting Lieutenant Governor, Colonel John Hare, submitted the following places to the Governor for consideration for the establishment of a leper institution:

  • A government building at Graaff Reinet could be appropriated. However, the Civil Commissioner there objected to this;
  • A building which Henry Ulyate proposed to erect on his farm near the mouth of the Kleine Montjes River. One of the objections to his proposal was that his terms were “very extravagant“;
  • Hougham Hudson’s house and farm near Port Elizabeth. Its owner felt that it was “most eligible” as it was near the sea, a medical man and magistrate were on the spot and “the Situation is so retired that all communication with both Town and Country might easily be prevented“;
  • The building at “Cypher Fontein” which had recently been occupied by the Cape Corps could be converted for use as a leper institution. It was, however, felt that this was unsuitable as the building was too close to the public road and an establishment of such a nature on the farm would inhibit the sale of the remaining part of the farm.

On 30 November 1838 the Governor advised Colonel Hare that he had considered the four proposals and that it appeared to him that Hudson’s proposal was by far the most suitable. He suggested that Hudson be approached for a more detailed statement of his terms.

Hougham Hudson was a member of Dyason’s party which had been located on the right bank of the Torrens River.   In 1821 the party broke up and Hudson moved to Graaff-Reinet where he was appointed Clerk to the Landdrost’s Office and Postmaster. He remained in those offices until 1826 when he was promoted to District Clerk, Registrar, and Assistant Guardian of Slaves at Uitenhage. At the end of 1827 he was made Clerk to the Commissioner-General and on 24 January 1828 he was appointed Resident Magistrate of Port Elizabeth. On the death of the Resident Magistrate of Uitenhage in 1831, he acted as Resident Magistrate of both places until 1 July 1834. On the 25th of that month he was appointed Agent-General to the Blacks and acting Resident Magistrate of Albany, and in September of that year he was appointed Acting Secretary to the Lieutenant Governor, in addition to being the Agent General.

Map of Mill lands and Fort’s grazing

In the space of thirteen years his income from government appointments rose from £22 10s. to over £500 per annum. As may be expected, his rapid rise in the civil service and his high salary did not escape the vigilant eye of the press, the last straw apparently being the appointment of his seventeen-year-old son as his clerk at a salary of £150 per annum. The Grahamstown Journal considered the last appointment to be “quite as objectionable as any act which ever disgraced the most corrupt period of our colonial history“, called it a “public scandal” and over the next few months it and its readers engaged in “knocking” Hudson.

On 27 December 1838 Hougham Jnr. wrote to the Commercial Advertiser, trying to justify everything, which only made matters worse. In his letter he mentioned that his father had been “ruined by a fire“. This was followed by a rather sarcastic letter which appeared in the Journal of 7 February which, inter alia, alleged that no sooner had Hudson been granted “one of the most valuable erfs” in Port Elizabeth, than “it was discovered that the ground attached to the Jail was too confined to admit of any further buildings, and that there was no recourse but to allow the patriotic Hudson to build additional Jails on his own grant, for which he was and still is induced reluctantly to ‘accept’ a goodly rent from the Government. ” This was during the time that he was the Resident Magistrate there.

A resident of Port Elizabeth wrote to the Journal on 12 February 1839 that the fire referred to by Hudson Jnr. had burned down a house which was two to three miles from the town. It had consisted of three small rooms, kitchen, etc., and the ruins of an old mill. The property had been vacant for some time past and was to hire at 25 Rix dollars per month. The nearest water was the Baakens River, which was not only brack for most of the year but was about a quarter of a mile (about 400 metres) from the house and at the bottom of a precipitous hill. This property was now let to the government as a hospital or asylum for infirm or indigent persons of the coloured classes at a rent of 100 guineas per annum.

The following month another letter from a Port Elizabethan appeared, detailing Hudson’s various salaries and rents from assets, including the rent of a mill and house near Port Elizabeth which were let to government (without tenders having been called for) for a leper institution at £105 per annum – according to the correspondent it had previously been let for £18 per annum. The last letter on the subject appeared on 16 May 1839. It was dated 1 May and reported that Hudson and his son had visited the property to see what the water situation was like. The correspondent wrote, “The late copious rains which have so inspirited our farmers, have not failed to bring water as well as grist to the mill. So good an opportunity was not, therefore to be lost, for holding a survey upon the new ‘Leper Institution’, to report on the fitness of the mill for the purposes of such an establishment, as well as to show, beyond the possibility of doubt, how judiciously government had acted in agreeing to pay £80 or £90 per annum, more than any private individual, and above all, to see and taste the water.” “As might be surmised,” he continued, “abundance of water of the best quality” was found. He also remarked on the fact that the doctor of the Port Elizabeth district had not been included in the inspection; instead, the Acting District Surgeon of Uitenhage, Hudson’s “personal friend and tenant“, had gone along.

In any event, Hudson was quite happy to provide the more detailed statement which had been requested by the Governor. In his capacity of Acting Government Secretary, he would have been aware of the fact that the Governor was considering the establishment of an asylum for paupers in the Eastern Districts, and he expressed the opinion that it would be most economical to have both leper institution and pauper establishment at the same place, but a little distance apart, and one overseer or superintendent could look after both. His original proposal had been that he let his dwelling house and land at the back of the Donkin Monument at Port Elizabeth for accommodation of lepers and that he erects cells for lepers on the land. He now offered, in addition, a good stone building with ground along the Baakens River, which could accommodate ten to twelve paupers (or more), and the overseer. There industrious paupers could cultivate gardens and erect huts close to them. He was also prepared to erect sheds or cells for more than thirty lepers, to the satisfaction of the authorities, and was prepared to lease the whole to Government for from five to seven years at a rental of £100 or £105 per annum, depending on building costs. If the number of persons increased after a year, he would, if required, build more rooms for paupers or cells for lepers, on being allowed a proportionate increase in rental for same. At the end of the lease he would not re-let or sell the property without offering it to Government first. If, however, Government had a better plan for paupers, he would adhere to his original offer.

On 21 December the proposal was forwarded to the Governor who advised on 4 January 1839 that it had his approval and Colonel Hare was authorized to take the necessary steps to put it into effect.

The latter accordingly wrote to the Civil Commissioner at Uitenhage, J.W. van der Riet, on 22 January advising him of the Governor’s decision. Van der Riet was to take over Hudson’s buildings and the land near the Baakens River as soon as they were in good tenantable repair. Once this had been done, he had to make the necessary arrangements and provide for the reception of destitute persons from Uitenhage, and once the sheds or cells had been erected for the lepers, he had to arrange for any lepers in Uitenhage or Port Elizabeth to be removed there. He was authorized to enter into an agreement with Hudson for the hire of the premises for a period of seven years and to employ a sober, competent person as superintendent. He was also to call for tenders to supply the institution with rations, clothing, etc., for the year and to frame instructions for the guidance of the superintendent: these were to be forwarded to Colonel Hare for approval. In reply Van der Riet suggested that Richard Tee Senior be employed as superintendent.

Advertisements were placed in the Government Gazette of the Eastern Province of 5 February 1839 calling for tenders for the supply of articles required for the use of the Institution. Samuel Kerr submitted a tender to supply mattresses and pillows, which was accepted, and a tender by William Matthew Harries to supply the rest of the articles which were required, was successful.

Windmill in the Baakens Valley

Hudson’s land was leased from him for a term of seven years from l April 1839. This consisted of a piece measuring 103 morgen and 315½ square roods (88.6732 hectares) which had been granted to Johan Gottfried Schlemmer on 1 July 1825 and an adjoining piece of sour grazing ground, Lot 8, measuring 7 morgen, 15 square roods and 67 square feet (6.0178 hectares) which already had a windmill on it when it was granted to Hendrik Woest on 4 February 1819. The windmill, which by 1889 was in ruins, was the source from which the present Port Elizabeth suburb of Mill Park took its name. The land, which was described as being “at the back of the Monument“, was in fact quite far from the Donkin Monument – about two kilometres as the crow flies – beyond what is now St. George’s Park. The northern boundary of the land was the grazing lands of the Garrison at Fort Frederick, while its southern and south-eastern boundaries were traversed by the Baakens River. Along the river on the south-eastern boundary there was a strip of arable land of a quarter morgen (about 2,000 square metres). (Schlemmer’s land was later the site of Gubb’s Location.)

By 8 April quarters had been provided for an overseer and a dozen or more destitute persons and thirty lepers. Orders were given to the Civil Commissioners of Albany and Somerset to cause paupers in their districts to be removed to Uitenhage from where they were to be lodged in the Institution and on the 22nd of that month Van der Riet was informed that Richard Tee had been appointed Overseer of the Institution at a salary of £40 per annum.   As the land was taken over on the first, presumably his appointment dated from that date.

Van der Riet reported on 15 April that he had seven lepers and five destitute sick for whom he had no accommodation and who ought to be removed to the Institution. He suggested that paupers from Albany and Somerset be sent directly to Port Elizabeth, rather than via Uitenhage.27 As His Honour was in agreement, orders were given accordingly.

As had been reported in the Grahamstown Journal, the Acting District Surgeon of Uitenhage, Dr. J.W. Fairbridge accompanied by William Fleming, Justice of the Peace (in the absence of the Civil Commissioner), had inspected the Institution on 30 April 1838. Fairbridge reported (to Hudson as Acting Government Secretary) that he had found the buildings in good order for the reception of thirty-two lepers and twenty-four other inmates (besides accommodation for the overseer), who could be moved there immediately. He reported further that the buildings were located in a healthy position and the place was abundantly supplied with water of good quality. His report does not mention that he had been accompanied by the Hudsons as the correspondent of the Journal had alleged.

At the beginning of May, Van der Riet prepared the list of instructions for the guidance of the overseer and matron or nurse of the Institution. These provided that no person was to communicate with any inmate without the consent of the overseer who was to satisfy himself that nothing improper was supplied to any inmate; the allowance of food and necessaries was to be fixed by the District Surgeon and no wine or spirits was to be used except by the order of medical personnel; inmates were to keep their quarters clean unless they were prevented by illness, or by the order of a surgeon and they were to take turns in chopping wood, fetching water, etc.; the overseer was to see to it that all healthy persons arose at sunrise and cleaned out their rooms. Lights and fires were to be extinguished at nine of an evening, unless required by the sick; the overseer was to distribute rations fairly and without favour; the destitute were at liberty to take exercise by walking within a mile (about 1½ kilometres) of the house, but they were not to absent themselves or go beyond the river without the permission of the overseer; the lepers were on no account to leave their dwelling. However, the overseer was to allow them time during the day to go to the river (but not to cross it) and those who wished to walk could do so in the kloof east of the location at stated periods; the overseer was to keep a journal of the daily occurrences at the institution and produce it to the person appointed to examine it and to provide Government with a monthly report of the number of destitute and lepers.

They were followed by fifteen others who arrived from Grahamstown the following day. As all the arrivals were in a deplorable state and almost naked, shirts, shifts and blankets were requisitioned from the contractor.

The inmates had hardly been there a week when some of them started complaining that they were ill. Richard suspected that they had measles and he immediately reported this to Dr. James Chalmers, the Acting District Surgeon, whose response was that he had not received any orders concerning the Institution, but that he would write to the authorities about the matter. Richard then went to Dr. Minto who said that he knew nothing about the Institution and it appears that he was not prepared to do anything either as he said to Richard Tee that he supposed that Dr. Chalmers would be appointed to visit the Institution. Poor Richard then did not know what to do. He approached the Clerk of the Peace, Mr. F. Gie, who said that he could not do anything.

In the meanwhile, more of the inmates were complaining of headaches and sore throats. To resolve the impasse, on Saturday the 11th, Richard Tee sent one of his sons to Van der Riet to inform him of his predicament. The latter immediately wrote to Gie who then requested the reluctant Dr. Chalmers to visit the Institution in order to ascertain whether or not measles had broken out amongst the inmates. This the doctor eventually did on the Monday morning when he found that Richard’s diagnosis had been correct and that four of the lepers had measles.

At the end of May there were twenty-two lepers and six destitute persons in the Institution. By July the Institution had already been enlarged by the addition of two huts and it had been found necessary to build a further two. However, labour proved to be a problem as no one was  willing to work amongst the lepers and Richard was compelled to use his own men to build the  huts and cut thatch for them so that the growing population of the Institution could be accommodated. By the end of that month several of the inmates had commenced gardening, which they were encouraged to do, as it gave them something to do.

Another problem, besides that of inmates who had measles, was that of discipline. The inmates quarrelled amongst themselves, and Richard was compelled to handcuff Hendrek Koese. One Monday he found that Koese had decamped during the night and had gone to Port Elizabeth where he had complained to the Revd. Francis McCleland, the clergyman at St. Mary’s Church, and the Magistrate because Richard Tee had caused his wife to be sent to prison. Richard had laid a charge against her as she had “Dacker” [dagga or marijuana]  in her possession which, he said, if given to the inmates, would have done “more mischief among them than a bottle of Brandy

Prior to the beginning of October 1839, no clergyman had visited the Institution. However, some time before, in the absence of Dr. Chalmers who had gone to Cape Town, Dr. Minto had tended the sick as locum tenens and on Sunday mornings he would spend some time with the inmates, reading and explaining the Scriptures to them. Richard found that the conduct of the inmates improved considerably after the visits. During October the Revd. Mr. Edwards, one of the Wesleyan preachers, visited the Institution twice and declared his intention of visiting the Institution on a weekly basis.

During November the Revd. Mr. Edwards and the Revd. Mr. Robson took turns in visiting the Institution, the former visiting every Thursday and the latter every Monday. During the month John Armstrong of Port Elizabeth, who was destitute, was admitted. He was discharged during March the following year as “cured” but was re-admitted the following month. The date of his final discharge is not recorded. Dr. Minto continued his visits on Sunday mornings when he would read and talk to the inmates and they were very sorry when he left during August 1840; Mr. Robson was then attending to the religious needs of the inmates.

Mrs. Fleming, a “Colonist” and destitute lunatic from Somerset, was also admitted during November. Lunatics were admitted to the Institution but were usually transferred to the local prison if they disturbed the other inmates. As she was suffering tremendous mental illness, her actions were intolerable. As an exemplar of her behaviour, she disturbed the sick and endangered the buildings by throwing her clothes onto the fire. In exasperation, it was decided to transfer her to Cape Town.

Another admission during November was one William Smith, from Grahamstown, who was blind. He was a bricklayer by trade.

On 3 October 1839 Richard Lewis Davies had requested permission to practice medicine in the Colony. This was granted by the Colonial Medical Committee on the 8th and by December of that year he had been appointed the Superintending Surgeon of the Institution.

During December, the Acting Resident Magistrate of Port Elizabeth, William Lloyd, sent five lunatics to the Institution after Richard Tee had previously indicated that he would not be able to receive them, not because he did not have room for them, but because he had no secure place to  put them. As they were in such a deplorable condition, it would have been impossible to keep them with the other inmates. Richard reported that the Magistrate was, however, “determined” to send them, and it seems that Richard was just as determined not to receive them. Dr. Davies gave Richard a  certificate to the effect that they were unsuitable as inmates and, on that basis, Richard sent them back.

According to Richard the “Bay Gentry” were very much against the Institution. In his opinion they were “a set of Envying fools” and were just jealous of the good rental Hudson was getting for his property. His attitude was that he did not care what they thought, and their opposition did not bother him in the least.

During January 1840 James Staines laid a complaint with Lloyd that he had brought a destitute black woman from Uitenhage, with a letter from the Civil Commissioner to Richard. According to him, he had been told to leave her at Richard’s house as it was intended that she be placed in the Institution. However, it appears that it was late when they arrived and Richard refused to receive her unless Staines took her out to the Institution, the result being that the woman was still at Staines’ house and he had had to furnish her with food. Furthermore Richard had allegedly in no way interested himself in the woman. “Now this man is so perfectly independent and so very impudent when called on to do his simple duty“, Lloyd wrote to Van der Riet, and as the Magistrate had no authority over the Institution, he thought it would be better to advise Van der Riet of Richard Tee’s conduct, rather than subject himself to Richard’s “impertinence” by speaking to him. (It would seem that he was still smarting from the rebuff to his authority by Richard when the latter had refused to accept the five lunatics he had sent to the Institution.)

In his letter the Magistrate referred to an incident which had happened a short while before when he had sent Richard a letter relating to some people who were to be sent to the Institution as lepers. Though Richard had heard the constable who was delivering the letter say it was “on Service” from the Magistrate, he had mounted his horse and had made the constable follow him to the Institution before he would “condescend” to accept it. Lloyd felt that such conduct could not be beneficial to the public service. Van der Riet replied that Staines had received three shillings from him to convey the woman to the Institution (and by implication not to Richard’s house). However, he regretted that Richard’s conduct towards the Magistrate had not been as it should and he had suggested to Government that “for the Good of the Public Service“, a clause be added to the Instructions for the Superintendent of the Institution. Whether this was in fact done and what the clause was, is unknown.37

In February 1840 F.H. Kunhardt & Co. of Cape Town, in response to a requisition from the Government Secretary, submitted to him a list of medical instruments they were able to supply for the Institution. An order was placed for the instruments with the exception of some silver catheters (the elastic ones were “amply as useful as the expensive Silver Instruments“, was the advice of Kunhardt & Co.). However, none of the instruments reached the Institution as on 20 March the contractors reported that they had been forwarded by the steamer Hope which had been wrecked, presumably with the loss of all cargo. The contractors had not insured the shipment and sought to escape liability on the basis that Government had not authorized insurance and farther, from the accounts of the previous contractors, it appeared that no charge for insurance had been made. Their hope that they would not be held liable for the loss was a forlorn one as on the report there is a pencilled note to the effect that the loss was their own fault as the advertisement which had been placed for the supplies stated that the articles were to  be forwarded at the risk of the contractor who was to be allowed a reasonable cost for transport and further, the previous contractors had always included insurance, without charge.

A year after the first inmates had been admitted, the number of inmates totalled fifty-three of whom twenty-eight were lepers and twenty-five were destitute and infirm persons.

Boy Tarentaal, who had been admitted in May 1839 “for medical aid”, was the only person to be discharged from the Institution by Richard. A year after his admission, he had recovered to such an extent that, every morning after receiving his rations, he would leave to work on the beach at Port Elizabeth and would not stay at the Institution.  At night he would arrive, drunk, asking for his discharge. Richard had reported his conduct to Dr. Davies on several occasions, but the doctor refused to discharge him, saying that he was still lame. As a result, Richard took matters into his own hands and rode to Uitenhage where he told Van der Riet what was going on. The latter told Richard to discharge the man himself, which he did, with the result that he was working for his living “and Doing very well”, according to Richard.

Richard and his Superintending Surgeon do not seem to have always seen eye to eye, at least during the early years of the life of the Institution. He would often remonstrate with Dr. Davies for discharging persons who though well, would not be able to support themselves once they had left. The result of this was that some of the persons who had been discharged had resorted to begging and were wandering the countryside in a state of starvation. In one instance an old leper woman who had had her arm amputated, had been discharged by the doctor, despite Richard’s protestations that she would not be able to provide for herself and that she could be useful at the Institution, leading blind people about the place. However, the doctor’s view was that once people were well, they had to leave and get their living as best they could. Soon complaints were made and it is possibly as a result thereof that the Governor, during February 1841, held an inquiry at Port Elizabeth concerning the Institution.

At the inquiry the Magistrate had made what Richard later described as a “deep cutting and undeserved reproach and remark” to the effect that he, Richard, was disqualified from holding the position of Superintendent in view of the fact that he had been convicted of manslaughter. This Richard had denied, of course, but in consequence he had been forced to admit “with shame” and “with feelings of deep remorse”, that it had once been his unfortunate lot to have been a convict and as such he had been sent to Robben Island for twelve months, but for assault, not manslaughter.

On 25 February Richard addressed a memorial to the Governor in which he set out his side of the story, being “explicit in mentioning facts and Dates, that the inquiry which your Excellency was pleased to state would be made on your Excellency’s arrival in Cape Town may be instituted without trouble or delay.” In his memorial Richard stated that he was proud “to think that I have it in my power with Confidence to assert that“, since his release from prison, his “Conduct has ever since been such as to have merited the Approbation of all in Authority and of my fellow Townsmen and I defy any one to step forward and cast the slightest remark on my Character as a Husband a Father or a Citizen and were it necessary I could procure and produce the Testimony of all the Inhabitants of this place and Uitenhage (excepting perhaps one only) in my favor, ...” He was fifty years old at the time and describes himself as “one bowed down with old age and sorrow.”41

After making the necessary inquiries and the record of the court proceedings having been examined, the Governor found that the impression which the Magistrate was under, was “perfectly erroneous.” He said that there was no impression in his mind at all unfavourable to Richard. On the contrary, as a result of his inquiries he believed that the assault of which Richard had been convicted had been committed while he was in a state of violent excitement, the result of the intemperate use of liquor, and that the imprisonment on Robben Island had had a  “salutary effect on his character and conduct.” There was therefore nothing to disqualify him  from holding the position of Superintendent.

During August 1840 there was an outbreak of smallpox at the Institution and over the next few months six lepers, six paupers and the wife of one of the lepers died of the disease. Strangely enough, to Richard it appeared that the lepers who had recovered from smallpox seemed to be better than they had been before they contracted the disease.

Meanwhile Richard had been having endless problems with the blind William Smith. He would ask to be allowed to go to Port Elizabeth, ostensibly to attend Church or to bathe in the sea, but Richard soon found that his real purpose was “more to get Drunk than anything else“. After Richard found this out, he refused him permission to leave the Institution and he then started quarrelling with everybody and nothing satisfied him. One day he beat the man who looked after him and tore his shirt to pieces as he had offended him in some way. In fact his behaviour deteriorated to the point that the other inmates were unwilling to help him as they were afraid to go near him.

During March 1841 Dr. Davies ordered Richard to take Smith and another man out of the old mill and to put them into one of the rooms of the house which had boarded floors. Smith beat the poor man so much that Richard was forced to remove him so that Smith had the room to

himself. Though blind, Smith had a short time before left the Institution during the night and gone to Port Elizabeth. On Richard’s remonstrating with him, he retorted that he was not a prisoner and that he could leave whenever he pleased and further, would do as he pleased as Richard was not his master. This disruptive behaviour was very bad for discipline and some of the other inmates started playing up as well. Something clearly had to be done and Richard felt that unless he had some way of punishing the troublemakers, he had little chance of establishing order again. He felt that stocks would be the answer and Van der Riet agreed that he should have something of the sort when he discussed the matter with him.

The stocks were made during May and Richard reluctantly had to use them when on the evening of 15 May he caught one of the paupers, who had long been in the habit of leaving the Institution at night and going to Port Elizabeth, on his way there with some pieces of soap and four rations which he had stolen from the other paupers. He was put in the stocks until the following morning when he begged to be released and promised never to steal again, nor to leave the premises without permission.

Smith absconded on 15 May and only returned on Monday, the 17th. On the following Saturday he was about to leave again when Richard surprised him and told him that if he persisted in going, he would put him in the stocks. Smith flew into a rage and dared Richard to do so, which he did, but only after a fierce struggle. He was left there all night and the following morning he begged to be set free, promising never to leave the Institution again without permission and not to disturb the other inmates again. The stocks seem to have cooled him off for his conduct improved after that – for a while at least.

The Institution appears to have been inspected regularly.   For example, on 30 April 1841 it was inspected by the Magistrate, Civil Commissioner and Dr. Davies.

Labour was still a serious problem. Richard’s own servants who had worked for him for two years there had grown tired of it and had left him. Others were afraid to work amongst the lepers and he had no one but his wife to help him. If he wished to have something done at the Institution, he had to get his sons and his own labourers to do it. When any of the inmates died he was obliged to have the corpse carried to the grave by his own people at his expense as the inmates could not afford it. It is not known whether his appeal to Hudson for some allowance for the expenses he incurred and for a servant to assist him met with any success. There is probably no doubt they met with a great deal of sympathy.

In August a male Hottentot who was suffering from smallpox was admitted at the request of the Magistrate as there was no place provided in Port Elizabeth for such persons, and the Magistrate did not know what to do with him. Richard had no objection at all to admitting him and he was accommodated in a spare room in the old mill where he recovered. He was discharged the following month.

That same month, September, Smith and the person who had previously been put in the stocks absconded during the night and made their way to Port Elizabeth. More problematical was the fact that at that time the Hottentot who had smallpox was still at the Institution.   Richard, for obvious reasons, had given strict instructions that no one was to leave the place. For their disobedience he put them both in the stocks, but not before Smith had been able to draw his knife and threaten to cut the first person who laid hands on him. With the assistance of one of his sons, Richard managed to subdue him. However, in the ensuing struggle Smith had managed to cut the son on one of his fingers before they could get the knife off him. Smith was kept in the stocks for three days and three nights, on rice water, and this seemed to have the desired effect as his conduct improved thereafter, but not for long for before many months had elapsed he was up to his old tricks and it was not long before he landed in the stocks again.

ln March 1842 Smith was still troublesome and Richard, with some justification one feels, as “all the rest of the people put together are not so much trouble to me as this one man his temper is so bad and he is so Dissatisfied …”, was wishing that he “could get him put to some other place.” Strangely enough, his conduct improved a little over the next few months and he was “not so quarrellsome as formally.”

By June that year Richard was able to report that “The people are all going on tolerable well and Amusing them self in their little Gardens.”

Hudson visited the Institution in July and since the visit Smith’s conduct had been much better – no doubt Hudson had had a word or two to say to him as he had received Richard’s monthly reports and he was aware of Smith’s little escapades.

Early one Sunday morning in November Smith disappeared again. Richard found him on the Flat with a Fingo at six o’clock that same morning and asked him where he thought he was going? Smith replied that he was on his way to church and refused to return to the Institution. He only returned the following Tuesday.

Matters had not improved by the following August when Richard reported that “the blind man Smith, he is again as bad as ever always making troubles and fighting with some of the people. I am at a loss to know what to Do with him …” The Magistrate had advised him to lock Smith up, but he did not have a suitable place for that purpose. Smith would sneak off at night when the other inmates were asleep and spend two or three days away in Port Elizabeth “in any loose company” he met up with.

Smith would often turn on the old man who led him about, quarrelling and fighting with him, particularly when he had been taken to church and his guide afterwards refused to take him around Port Elizabeth instead of taking him back to the Institution. In September the old man and an old woman absconded; Richard felt that Smith was the cause of the old man leaving and though he made inquiries about them he was unable to find them again. By now Smith’s conduct had come to the attention of Colonel Hare who referred the matter to the Commandant to see whether anything could be done by the Magistrate to prevent a repetition of Smith’s improper conduct.

At the end of November Richard reported that all the inmates who were able to do so were “amusing” themselves in their gardens and that things were going pretty well, with the exception of course, of Smith. On the 26th of that month Richard had caught Smith and one Hogg, “a lazy fellow that is strolling about Port Elizabeth“, on their way to the town. He managed to get Smith back to the Institution and reported the matter to the Magistrate who sent for Hogg and severely reprimanded him. Richard had an idea that it had been Hogg who had helped Smith to leave the Institution in the past, but it was the first time that he had been able to catch him in the act as Smith had, until that day, always absconded during the night.

Smith again left during the night of 24 December and on the 27th Richard heard that he was in Port Elizabeth where he was being kept by a coloured woman, Mary Gordon. By then Richard had had more than enough of him and he sent one of his men to Smith with the belongings he had left behind, with the message that he would not take him back again unless he was ordered to do so by someone in authority. He considered that Smith had forfeited all claim he had on Government through his repeated bad conduct, and he had seen the Civil Commissioner on the matter who supported his actions. As for the other inmates, they were very happy that Smith was no longer an inmate at the Institution. In his report that month, Richard Tee had a reason to feel relieved. He ended his report for the month by saying that he had “reason to be glad he is away and I hope he will not be sent to me again.”  Unfortunately, his elation was to be of short duration for Smith was like the proverbial bad penny.

On 12 January 1844 Smith addressed a letter to Van der Riet alleging that Richard had ill­treated him. He claimed that Richard Tee’s son, Richard Junior, had threatened and assaulted him. He also purported that he had been prevented from attending church as well as being left for four days without any medical treatment. Van der Riet referred the matter to the Clerk of the Peace at Port Elizabeth, Mr. Gie, and requested him to let him have an explanation from Richard. Gie was also to explain to Smith (he originally wrote “that man”, which he deleted and replaced with “him”. Clearly Smith’s reputation had preceded him. The absurdity of addressing complaints to him as he was aware   that these should be addressed to the authorities at Port Elizabeth. Gie referred the matter to Richard who stated that Smith’s statement was false and that he was “ready to meet Smith before the Resident Magistrate if he had any complaint to prefer...”

Shortly after this Smith had been re-admitted on the order of the Resident Magistrate, but not before he had expressed his regret at leaving and at his bad conduct as well as promising to conduct himself in future according to the rules and regulations. Richard was obviously not keen to have him back and he tried to keep him away by offering to give him the rest of his rations if he remained with Mary Gordon, but she would not have a part of it.  Before the Magistrate and Richard she declared that “Smith’s conduct was such that she would not let him stop at her house if she got three pounds Sterling per week with him”!

Smith had not been admitted many days when he was up to his old tricks again. After he returned from one of his trips into town, he assaulted the man who attended him. This time, acting on the orders of the Magistrate, Richard took Smith, the man who had been assaulted and two witnesses to the Court House where the Magistrate gave Smith a severe reprimand and threatened him with punishment if he should be brought before him again. His conduct improved a little after this – for a while.

On 6 July 1844 he absconded again and on his return from Port Elizabeth on the 9th, Richard had the door of his room made fast at night. On the night of the 20th, not being able to get out by the door, he broke a small window in the gable and let himself down by a rope. He was found next morning, not far away, groping about, very bruised and battered. It is surprising that he had not injured himself badly as the terrain in the vicinity of the Institution was rather precipitous. Since then he had been rather quiet. “I think he is sore from falling about“, was Richard’s wry comment.

The Colonial Secretary, John Montagu, visited the Institution on Monday, 14 October 1844.45 He went to the Cape from Van Diemen’s Land in 1843 and introduced sweeping penal changes.

He had obviously learned a thing or two from his stay in the Australian Colonies! His plan included removing all convicts from Robben Island and using it instead to house all the Colony’s lunatics, chronic sick and lepers. The convict establishment was broken up in 1845 and the transport ship Gilbert Harrison was chartered to take the last military convicts under sentence of transportation to Van Diemen’s Land.

So, when on 16 December 1845 Van der Riet sent in a schedule of tenders for the provisions for the Institution to the Acting Secretary to the Lieutenant Governor with a recommendation that the tender of the present contractor, Frederick Eastes (the husband of Richard’s daughter, Sarah), be accepted as he had up to then given satisfactory service, he was advised that the tenders would only be accepted provisionally as it was Government’s intention to remove the lepers to Robben Island.

In the meanwhile, Richard was still having problems with the intractable Smith who continued “to make his escape in the night” and, by means unknown to Richard, managed to find the road leading into town. However, something occurred on 13 July 1845 which seemingly curbed Smith’s wanderlust for after that month there is no further mention of him in Richard’s monthly reports. On that day, between eleven and noon, as he was rambling amongst the bushes and rocks, Smith fell into a ravine: had not some bushes broken his fall, he would probably have been killed. Richard was unable to get him out with the help he had at the Institution and had to send to his house for assistance. Smith was lifted out of the ravine with a great deal of trouble and once he had been taken to his room, Richard fetched Dr. Davies who came immediately and bled him. By the end of the month Smith was recovering fast and Richard expressed the hope that “this will be a good lesson for him” – apparently it was.

At the end of that year the inmates totalled forty-seven of whom twenty-two were lepers and twenty-five were classed as destitute and infirm. At that stage Richard was able to report, “All going on pretty well.”

On 8 January 1846 Montagu wrote to Van der Riet advising him that the necessary arrangements had been made for the reception at Robben Island of all “Lepers, Lunatics and chronic sick” and that the lepers from “Hemel & Aarde” had already been removed there.

Van der Riet was to engage a passage for the inmates of the Institution from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town where they were to remain on board, without further charge, until the Robben Island boat could be sent to take them directly to the island. They could be accompanied by their children and could bring all their bedding, clothes, etc. Those who had crops in their gardens which they could not gather would be compensated for them.

Richard was to have the property cleared up after it had been vacated, have it prepared for delivery to Hudson, was to remain in charge until the owner had taken deliver, and was to be paid his salary until the property had been handed over.48 Hudson was also advised of Government’s intention to remove the inmates of the Institution and that the rental would be paid to him until the lease expired on 31 March 1846.49

However, some of the inmates refused to go to Robben Island and Van der Riet was instructed to inform them that they would no longer be able to rely on Government’s support. He was to visit them and to explain that they would be better off on the island than they had ever been at the Institution. This was clearly a reflection of Government’s determination that they should all go to a location where disruptive elements could be easily controlled.

On 15 January Van der Riet reported that Mr. Salmond was prepared to provide a passage for the inmates to Cape Town at a cost of £140. The Governor felt that this was very high but was prepared to pay the amount on condition that Salmond took all those who were prepared to  go as apparently some were still refusing to do so.

The Institution closed its doors on 30 January 1846 when the inmates departed and Richard subsequently disposed of the medicines which were left at a public sale. The contract with Hudson provided that the mill and buildings on the property had to be handed back in “good tenantable repair” as they had been taken over in that state and had to be handed over in like condition.

Lloyd reported to Van der Riet on 21 February 1846 that he had seen Richard who had told him that the buildings were undergoing repairs, whitewashing, etc., which were expected to be finished before the end of the following week when the property would be handed back to Hudson.


A Genealogy of the Tee Family of Norfolk by Brian Tee Senior

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