Port Elizabeth of Yore: Thomas Ferreira – The First White Inhabitant

Historically the arrival of the 1820 Settlers obscures the fact that Algoa Bay, as the outpost was then called, had already been settled; by not many, however. In total there were no more than a dozen farms, but they covered the whole area from Cape Recife to the Gamtoos River and they were occupied by Dutch speaking Afrikaners. Amongst this hardy band of Trek Boers was Thomas Ignatius Ferreira. Of Portuguese extraction, his father is the progenitor of the vast Ferreira family in South Africa.

Ferreira settled in Algoa Bay 44 years prior to the arrival of the 1820 settlers and was banished from the area 17 years before the settlers arrival.

Main picture: 1803 Gesigt van Fort Frederick en Algoa Baai by Willem Bartolome Eduard Paravicini Di Cappelli

Perhaps Thomas Ferreira was not the very first white inhabitant in Algoa Bay as the cohort of pioneers settled here in roughly the same period. Then why arbitrarily select Thomas Ferreira as representing the first white inhabitant? The dearth of official records as well as these settlers lack of literacy has confounded the determination of primus inter pares i.e., first amongst equals.

Ultimately the deciding factor was the quantity of information available on each candidate. On the side with a paucity of information lay most of them with nothing much known apart from the significant dates in their lives – birth, marriage and death. That made the task foreboding. Then a candidate unwittingly raised his hand. In that right hand he clasped a montage of records of his dauntless life. All interesting but not all favourable. Part fearless and adventurous nature and part dyspeptic mien, both would define him but surely not necessarily for the better.

Thomas Ignatius Ferreira was unwittingly at the nexus of race, language, religion and civilisation. How he would handle these idiosyncrasies would determine how posterity would view his actions.  

First Portuguese Resident in the Cape

Thomas Ferreira was a son of Ignatio Leopold, who was born in Lisbon circa 1696, and became the progenitor of most Ferreiras in South Africa. As a consequence of the discovery of gold in Brazil, Lisbon served as the distribution point of the precious metal and flourished in the ninth decade of the seventieth century. The church and the nobility just grew richer and wealthier while the ordinary Portuguese citizen grew steadily poorer. This situation apparently reinforced Ignatio Ferreira’s decision to enter service in the English East Indian Company as a sailor.

Ignatio was appointed as a sailor on the Chandos, a ship of the English East India Company that was on a return journey to England from Bengal, when on the night of the 16th of June 1722, during a fierce north westerly gale, she was beached near to the Castle in Table Bay. Among the sixty-eight of the ship’s complement of seventy men who managed to reach the shore, was Ignatio Ferreira.

Ignatio decided to remain in the Cape and entered service as a soldier for the VOC [Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie] but also hired himself out as a “knecht” or servant to various burghers. Ignatio, whose first name in the Cape swiftly took the form Ignatius, was in all probability a Roman Catholic, which the Protestant faith accepted before he married Martha Terblanche in Stellenbosch on the 6th November 1735. He was then a bachelor of approximately of forty and she a youngster of about eighteen.

Ignatius and Martha’s marriage was fruitful. Amongst the eleven children was Thomas Ignatius who plays a pivotal role in various aspects of Port Elizabeth’s history.

In 1748 Ignatius made an application for the livestock farm, “De Hartebeest Kuijl”, lying over the Gouritz River as a quitrent farm. In his application, he refers to himself as an agriculturalist and indicates that he had already lived on a loan farm for a considerable time. The forefather of all local Ferreiras, Ignatius Ferreira swiftly adapted to his new environment although different in nationality, culture and religion. Moreover during his lifetime several of his children had already become amongst the principal eastern border farmers. He passed away on 24 May 1772 at “Over de Berg”.

At the age of twenty-one, Thomas Ferreira entered into marriage with the eighteen-year-old Maria Dorothea Marx on the 21 October 1764. She was the descendent of Dirk Marx of Holzweiler, Germany who was in service with the VOC as a soldier from 1725 to 1731. Until 1775 his occupation was as a farmer and hunter and in addition he acted as postmaster in Mossel Bay where he died in 1791.

From the marriage of Thomas Ignatius Ferreira and Maria Dorothea Marx twelve children were conceived. The degree to which there was inter-marriage between the Ferreira and Marx families is indicated by the fact that two of the twelve children married Ferreiras and five married Marxes. This situation often rises where there is a dearth of marriage partners. This has even occurred with the McCleland family when three McCleland boys, one being my grandfather, married three Beckley girls from Draaifontein.

Hemelsrood

 In the year of his marriage during 1764, Thomas Ferreira acquired the farm Hemelsroodonder ordonnansie” in the Outeniqua which raised the suspicion that this was the place where the Ferreira couple established their marriage. Hemelsrood is not very far from Hartebeeskuil, Thomas’ birthplace, located in the vicinity of Mossel Bay.

Jagersbosch

Over the passage of time, Thomas Ferreira would possess a large number of farms. The second farm that he acquired in 1774 “op ordonnansie” was Jagersbosch which was situated on the Kromme River behind Attaquaskloof and just east of the Langkloof. This farm was already in 1741, id est before Thomas’ birth, in the possession of Dirk Marx, his later father-in-law.

Jagersbosch was a popular place for travellers to outspan and some even recorded their impressions in writing. In 1774, therefore the same year in which Thomas started living at Jagersbosch, was when the Swedish botanist and doctor, C.P. Thunberg (1843-1828) visited the farm. It was two years later, on 26 November 1776, that the traveller Hendrik Swellengrebel, the younger, (1734-1803) also stopped over at Jagersbosch but by that time Thomas Ferreira no longer staying there because earlier that year he had relocated to Algoa Bay. On the 1st May 1803, the Governor, J.W. Janssens and his companions overnighted at Jagersbosch. The aide-de-camp and scribe, W.B.E Paravincini di Capelli (1778-1848) recorded his impressions of the farm in his diary.

On the 3rd January 1804, the Commissioner General J.A. de Mist (1749-1823) and his entourage which were en route to the eastern border, also visited Jagersbosch. M.H.K. Lichtenstein (1780-1857), doctor and record keeper of this group, reported as follows about the trip: “Door end kreupelbos van “Protea Conocarpa” bereikte men savonds de plaats Jagersbosch van Ferreira, die ten dele door de Kaffers gespaard was. Hier zag het gezelschap de eerste Kaffers, 5 mannen en 3 vrouwen, behorend to Conga’s volk.” He told them further that a portion of the house’s straw roof had saved them from the heavy rain shower.

When the Moravian missionary C.I. Labrobe (1758-1836) and his companions visited Jagersbosch in 1816, the farm no longer belonged to Ferreira, but it was inhabited by Ackermann. Nevertheless, Latrobe’s travel journal contains interesting facts which relate both to the Ferreira’s previous stay there, but also the advantages and disadvantages of the use of the farm as a stand for the new Moravian missionary station which had to be weighed against one another. Amongst others, he wrote that: “It has many advantages, and water in abundance, brought by a slote, or canal, from a considerable distance, and lying so high, that all the grounds may be irrigated with ease and a mill supplied by it. The house was in ruins and one miserable room contained the whole family. In the grounds stood a remarkably large, wide spreading oak, bamboos of very stately growth, and a great number of orange, lemon, peach, and other fruit trees, but all neglected, and going to decay. In former days, the place was kept in good order, avenues of trees and hedges still remaining. The lands, belonging to the farm, extend for a considerable way, both up and down the river, and appeared to use as well adapted for the growth of both corn and grass.” According to Latrobe, the greatest disadvantage of this farm as a possible location for a mission station was the fact that it was situated on the main route and thus would be continually visited by travellers resulting in additional costs and interruptions in in the missionary work.

Papenkuilsfontein

In 1776, Thomas Ferreira relocated from his farm Jagersbosch to Papenkuilsfontein in Algoa Bay which he registered in his name on the 17th April 1776, thereby becoming one of the first whites to establish themselves in the vicinity of the future Port Elizabeth. His nearest neighbour was Theunis Botha of the farm Buffelsfontein, Stephanus Scheepers on Kruisrivier and Johannes W. van Staden on the farm Coega. In the vicinity of Algoa Bay, Thomas also owned the farms Cleaskraal and Welgelegen, while Strandfontein, also known as Matjesfontein onder het Galgebosch was awarded to him in 1778. In 1784, the farm Uitvlugt, “gelegen over de Koukie” was registered in his name.

Evidently the farm on which Thomas actually lived was Papenkuilsfontein situated on the Klein Ferreira River, now the Papenkuils River, south of the mouth of the Zwartkops river and approximately seven kilometres from the landing beaches. It was while living there that he was designated as a Corporal in the Swellendam Dragoons and was assigned to await the governor Joachim van Plettenberg arrival on the 14th October 1778 at Bryntjeshoogte during his country trip. It was from here that in 1782 that he left together with the expedition which would search for survivors of the wrecked vessel, the Grosvenor.

Bruintjieshoogte

Due to the unrest on the eastern border during the first British occupation of the Cape, the authorities were obliged to despatch British troops to Algoa Bay. Two sections of the 91st Regiment arrived in Algoa Bay aboard the vessels Star and Hope on the 2nd and 8th respectively. The commanders, Major McNab and Captain Campbell and twenty men reconnoitred the vicinity for a suitable area to establish a military camp. They decided on Papenkuilsfontein, the farm of Thomas Ferreira, amongst other reasons because there were a vast number of sheep and cattle on the farm. Under the name “Ferreira’s” Papenkuilsfontein’s farmhouse became the temporary British military headquarters until such time as a fort could be built. Around Thomas’ house they built a star shaped fortification with earth walls with the self-explanatory name of Star Fort. This was the first official defence structure or fortification which was constructed on the eastern frontier. 

1810 map of the Baakens Valley

In spite of the presence of the British troops in Algoa Bay, the southerly portion of the district of Graaff-Reinet between the Gamtoos and the Fish Rivers by the end of the eighteenth century was becoming depopulated of whites as a result of their insecurity. Many families sought refuge in Star Fort after their farms were attacked. On one occasion, while the troops were at the landing beaches, the blacks even attacked Star Fort in bright daylight and took all the sheep and the calves with them. The British troops pursued them and surprised them at the present day Kleinskool while they were busy celebrating. Several blacks were killed, and the livestock was found and returned except for the fifty sheep that had already been slaughtered. It was this incident which made the British military decide to establish a more permanent post in Algoa Bay.

During August 1799 a blockhouse was erected near the landing place and the drift through the Baakens River. This blockhouse comprised of a prefabricated wooden structure which was fabricated in Cape Town. The components and rocks for this base was transported to Algoa Bay on board the Camel. On the same ship there was a section of soldiers and artificers who had job it was to assemble the blockhouse. At this stage, most British soldiers were already stationed in Star Fort at Papenkuilsfontein. 

However, this blockhouse was not suitable as a fortification on the eastern frontier. Consequently, a permanent fort on the heights to protect the landing place and also the chief water source was initiated. The construction commenced in late 1799 and during January 1800 the first commander, Major Lemoine, and 350 soldiers could already occupy the fortification. This fort was christened Fort Frederick in honour of the Duke of York.  The fort was a square totalling 24 square meters with a three-metre-high wall. Within the walls on the right-hand side was a magazine in which 2000 pounds of gunpowder was stored while on the left-hand side there was a tiny guard house. The artillery consisted of eight twelve-pounders. Surrounding the fort palisades were erected for extra protection but the poles were often removed by the colonists to use as cattle kraals. Swiftly thereafter barracks for the garrison, a store house, a bakery, a hospital, as well as carpentry and blacksmith shops were erected.

In spite of the tense situation on the Eastern Border, Thomas Ferreira and his family continued to stay at Papenkuilsfontein because he could rely on the protection of the British troops based at Fort Frederick. During this period, he was in fact attacked by Klaas Stuurman and his Hottentots on one of his other farms. After removing most of his possessions, Klaas was kind enough to return a team of oxen. During these attacks, three of Thomas’ farms viz Papenkuilsfontein, Claeskraal and Welgelegen were devastated. As a result, on the 9th November 1802 he complained to General Francis Dundas about the “onnorm schade” which he had suffered, and he also mentioned that he stayed in Algoa Bay which was “een zeer benauwde [moggy] stad”.

Fort Frederick

After General Francis Dundas, the acting Governor of the Cape, heard that the Cape would be returned to the Dutch, he decided to visit Algoa Bay during September 1802 in order to arrange for the withdrawal of the garrison. Fort Frederick was already vacated before the end of September upon which a group of colonists, under the leadership of Thomas Ferreira, obtained permission of general Dundas to occupy the fort. Thereafter Thomas Ferreira acted as the commander of Fort Frederick and he received an instruction from Dundas to offer protection to the mission station of van der Kemp of the London Missionary Society situated at Botha’s Place at Buffelsfontein. After a nocturnal attack by Andries Stuurman and his band of Hottentots on Botha’s Place, van der Kemp and his followers elected to relocate to Fort Frederick on the 1st October 1802. In the fort, a tense relationship existed between the Dr. van der Kemp and his followers on the one side and Thomas Ferreira and the colonists on the other side but the imminent dangers posed by the marauding blacks obliged them to live together in harmony. This was indicative of underlying problems with the Ferreira party which would only later be revealed.

Banishment from Algoa Bay

When the Cape passed into the hands of the Batavian Republic on the 22nd February 1803, the eastern portion was in fact in a chaotic condition. Consequently Governor J.W. Janssens personally visited the eastern border in order to acquaint himself with the circumstances pertaining there. Two days before the arrival of Janssens in Algoa Bay, Dr J.T. van der Kemp and J. Read, missionaries of the LMS, submitted a list of eleven complaints regarding mistreatment by Thomas Ferreira to major Carl von Gilton, who was in charge of the Batavian garrison in Algoa Bay. On these grounds Ferreira was arrested and held in custody until Janssens’ arrival. Ferreira presumably denied the charges and was released on a warning by Janssens. However, von Gilton was requested to keep a watchful eye on Ferreira.

Charges against Thomas for mistreatment, political activities and the sheltering of deserters had already been laid in 1796. The most serious incident was the apparent murder of the Hottentot, Hendrik Platje. His wife, Sara Platje, alleged that her husband one day came out of the fields with honey when Thomas stopped him and detained him. With him, Hendrik had an empty gunpowder horn and empty ammunition pouch. Consequently, Thomas suspected that Hendrik also must have had a rifle which he had hidden away somewhere. Hendrik denied the allegation whereupon the trio – Thomas assisted by one of his sons and Lucas van Rooyen – killed him at that spot by cutting him into pieces while he was alive. Another charge against Thomas was that while he was living in Fort Frederick, he, without the permission of the authorities, demolished a storage shed and removed the building material, being mainly wood, for his own personal use.

During his visit to Algoa Bay, Janssens was incessantly harassed by complaints of the Hottentots against the Ferreira family. He grew tried listening to all the grievances so he tasked W.B.E. Paravicini and D. van Rheenen to investigate the validity of these complaints. Their finding was that due to the lack of witnesses, there was no solid evidence in support of the supposed crimes but that most allegations against the Ferreiras were probably substantiatable. Based upon this information, Ferreira was interrogated by Janssens during May 1803. Ferreira’s written defence was labelled by Paravicini di Capelli as a “a string of elaborate falsehoods”. The governor immediately released Thomas from his authority over the Commando which he led in order to prevent the recently established calm from being disturbed and before the offended Hottentots incited by despair resorted to engage in renewed unrest. Furthermore, Janssens decided to banish Ferreira and certain of his family from Algoa Bay. On 31 May 1803, Thomas Ferreira appeared before the Governor and the officers to receive the banishment order. Accordingly, Thomas, his two sons, Stephanus and Andreas Hercules, his son-in-law Petrus Hendrik Ferreira and his wife Martha [Thomas’ daughter] were ordered to relocate to a location five hours per horse the other side the Drostdy of Swellendam and once there, to report to the magistrate. The banishment was not described as a punishment but as “a measure of the highest politics” necessitated by the interests of the land and its inhabitants. This “soft method” was apparently adopted because so many years have elapsed since the alleged misdeeds were committed and because Commissioner-General de Mist wished that tranquility could be restored by means of this “soft way” and that extended court cases would just reopen old wounds. Thomas Ferreira was explicitly ordered to be taken under supervision to the Drostdy in Swellendam and to place himself under the watchful eye of the magistrate concerned.

Coenraad de Buys and Kwaade Martha

As a youth of 7 years of age, Coenraad witnessed his father die from poisoning. This was to forever affect the future life of Coenraad who could thereafter best be labelled as rebellious. One of the first major acts of his wayward life was to marry Maria who was of slave descent. Later he would befriend a Xhosa chief, Ngqika.

Kwaade Martha [Angry Martha] was the daughter of Thomas Ferreira and must have inherited her fiery temper from her father and deserves special mention. In 1791 she married her cousin Petrus Hendrik Ferreira [1769-1839]. This couple established themselves on Martha’s father’s farm of Papenkuilsfontein in Algoa Bay but in 1803 both Martha and her father were banished from the district.

It was around 1812 when Coenraad was again living in the George area that he had a falling out with Martha. When Martha was tried at the Swaarte Ommegang [Travelling Court] of 1812-1813, Coenraad testified against her. My supposition is that Coenraad must either have testified as a character witness or one or more of the more minor charges as the main charge was of an extremely serious nature; the killing of her slave girl, Manissa, which had occurred at a blockhouse in Algoa Bay. Presumably they must have been referring not to the wooden blockhouse on the banks of the Baakens River but rather to Fort Frederick when she lived there with her father.  

At her trial, witnesses testified that Martha beat her slave Manissa almost daily with a sjambok and even caused Manissa to lose one of her eyes. On one particular day, Manissa was sent to fetch wood. When Manissa did not return after a while Martha followed her but returned home without her. Later, about a half hour’s walk from the farmhouse, a bundle of firewood which was tied with twine (made of tulip petals) was found. At that same location was a trail of bloody footprints, puddles of blood, a piece of taaiboshout (hardwood), drag marks, a karos and the small footprints of Martha Ferreira.

Martha testified that Manissa, a Mozambican slave, was bought from an Englishman while they lived in Algoa Bay. She said that Manissa was very young, tender and small and that she had only chastised her except that she once hit on her back with a cane about five times. Martha further testified that Manissa suffered from “Mozambiquan sickness” and that she died from bloodletting, adding that the night before her death, Martha looked after her for the whole night, reporting her death to Field Cornet Jan van Niekerk, her brother. She had her slave, Esua bury Manissa. 

Several other cases were brought against Martha and, over time, the hearing at George concluded. Martha Ferreira was completely acquitted of some of the cases, while others were dismissed due to lack of adequate witnesses or testimony. The only charge to which she was convicted, was wounding a slave on his head, for which a fine was imposed.

From the court cases, it is evident how she had earned herself the sobriquet “Kwaarde Martha”.

Last years at Ruiterbosch

After Thomas Ferreira received his banning order from Janssens, he wanted to stay on his farm Jagersbosch on the Kromme River, but that request was refused because he would still be in contact with blacks and Hottentots. Nonetheless there was no objection against one of his sons living on Jagersbosch in order to tend the cattle. At the end of 1803, his eldest son, Ignatius Petrus Ferreira also went to stay on the farm. The Magistrate, A.A. Faure of Swellendam, allowed Thomas Ferreira and his spouse to go and live at Ruiterbosch, a farm in the vicinity of Mossel Bay, which was not too far from his birth farm, Hartebeeskuil. Thomas applied himself to cattle breeding. In 1805 he possessed 46 cattle and 154 sheep.

Thomas apparently died in 1814 on Ruiterbosch because his will was registered on the 15th September 1814.

Papenkuilsfontein becomes Cradock Place.

Papenkuilsfontein, Thomas Ferreira’s loan farm in Algoa Bay, which he was compelled to leave in 1803, was purchased at the end of 1811 by Frederick Korsten, a Dutch entrepreneurial businessman on the eastern border. Nearby the farmhouse of Ferreira Korsten erected a dignified farmhouse and “trading house”. After a visit of the Cape Governor, Sir John Cradock in 1812, he renamed the farm Papenkuilsfontein to Cradock Place. Here he built the largest trading and industrial centre on the eastern border in the years before the arrival of the British Settlers in 1820.

The ruins of Korsten’s impressive building complex can still be viewed near Algoa Park in Port Elizabeth while the residues of earthen walls are possibly the remnants of Star Fort. Within these earth walls there are indications of foundations which is all probability are the foundations of the old farmhouse of Thomas Ferreira. In the middle of the 1970s there were discussions to rebuild Thomas’ house on the old foundations, but these plans never materialised.

Character assessment per O.F.O. Ferreira

This is an unredacted version of Ferreira’s assessment apart from the deletion of the portion of one paragraph.

The impression that is gained from the articles from the archives, travel journals and history books is that of a hardened, hardy eastern border pioneer. In the Memorandum voor de Goevereer Janssens over het karakter van met name genoemde Boeren Thomas Ferreira is called a tyrant and reported that he and six other colonists were “all reprehensible characters who abused their Hottentots in particular.”

Many of their fellow colonists on the eastern border viewed Thomas Ferreira as one of the greatest instigators of the Frontier Wars. According to them, his actions against the blacks was scandalous and that the natives bore a deadly grudge against him. It was Thomas’ actions “met een zoo hardvochtig [with such hard-hearted mind] en van zoo afschuwrlijke grondbeginselen [abominable principals]which elicited the indignation of the Commissioner-General de Mist. Heinrich Lichtenstein was of the opinion that the British official and writer about the Cape, John Barrow’s negative depiction of one Afrikaner colonist “naar hem geschetst had.” [that he had sketched of him]

How can Thomas Ferreira’s actions be understood? Possibly the answer can be found in a report of governor J.W. Janssens after he met the Ferreira family during 1803 in Algoa Bay. Janssens wrote: “A brother of Thomas Ferreira, who claims to be somewhat literate, has discovered that the Hottentots are the descendants of the accursed race, of Ham, and are thus doomed to bondage and abuse by the Almighty God. Accordingly, they were ordained to be servants of the whites.  From this distorted [verwronge] religious view, one can possibly better understand Thomas Ferreira’s mentality in this regard.”

But no person has negative characteristics only. Thomas Ferreira must have possessed certain leadership qualities that were indeed noticed by both the Dutch and British authorities at the Cape and also by his fellow colonists in the vicinity of Algoa Bay. How other can the leading role that he played in his vicinity be explained?

From the witnesses at our disposal it appears as if Thomas Ferreira was a forward thinking [progressive] farmer who was focused on animal husbandry. According to the opgaafrolle, [annual tax census] there was a constant increase in the number of his livestock. The large number of farms that were registered in his name, serves as a witness to his entrepreneurial spirit, but how successful the farming was on the various farms, we are unaware.

In spite of his hard-headedness, Thomas was not entirely insensitive to the Christian religion. According to the will that Thomas and his wife Martha drew up on the 12th September 1801, would the longest surviving one inherit everything mits verpligt blywende de kinderen by elkanderen verwekt eerlyk en christelyk op te voeden en te onderhouden tot hunne mondige dagen” It might have sounded like a cliché from Testaments of that time but in 1802 he refers to his place of residence in Algoa Bay as the “furthest outpost of Christendom.”

My critique of Thomas’s character

To understand Thomas Ignatius Ferreira, one must understand that he stood at the nexus between cultures, civilisations, religions and languages. Like all such pioneers he must have possessed the hallmarks of hardiness, fearlessness, determination and adaptability but probably what he lacked was sufficient flexibility on at least one of these dimensions viz religion and probably even the flexibility in handling foreign cultures and civilisations.  

In Janssen’s telling, the emphasis is placed squarely on the religious dimension yet it goes without saying that the aspect of the clash of cultures and civilisations must have contributed to the exacerbation of the dynamic of confrontation.

Yet surely the fifth of the tenets listed in the decalogue viz Thou shall not kill is not merely a Christian Commandment but a universal one. Its contravention except in self-defence demanded more than banishment from Algoa Bay yet this “soft route” was decided upon. Finally there was the matter of the transgression of the eight of the ten commandants which more correctly should be amended by Moses to encompass the abuse of one’s human rights and dignity. Even though the narrative reads in archaic English “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour,” the intent of this Commandment is clear.

Does the fact that Thomas was a progressive farmer or fearless hunter absolve him from guilt or entitle him to diminishment of his sentence? Nay, on both counts. The stain on his person is too great for either verdict. A political solution was insufficient.

Yet this deeply flawed man otherwise bore all the hallmarks as a great pioneer and like all such persons, his stories of great and dangerous deeds are the stuff of legends and story books; surely an interesting man to have a beer or two with.

Sources

Thomas Ignatius Ferreira (c. 1743-c. 1814), Pioneer on the Eastern Frontier and “British” Officer in Command at Fort Frederick by O.J.O. Ferreira

Coenraad de Buys Wikipedia

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