Introduction to the Resolutions
of the Council of Policy of Cape of Good Hope

Origin of the text

Together with other treasured documents from the VOC period the Resolutions of the Council of Policy were in the keeping of the Secretary and initially stored in the Fort and later in the Castle. Five years after the British finally took over the Cape the official documents were moved to the Old High Court (housed in the former Slave Lodge).

After the Cape Governor , Sir Henry Barkly had instituted an investigation into the condition of the VOC documents in 1876, they were removed from the office of Judge J.C. Fitzpatrick to a fire-protected room in the office of the Surveyor-General where Dr. J.W.G. van Oordt compiled the first inventory of the collection. After the Rev. H.C.V. Leibbrandt, as Librarian of the Cape Legislative Assembly and Keeper of the Archives, took charge of the documents, a second inventory was compiled and the collection was removed to the so-called Record Rooms of the Parliamentary Library. On 9 April 1883 Leibbrandt compiled his first report from this new site.

After Rev. Leibbrandt’s retirement as Keeper of the Archives in 1909, Dr. C. Graham Botha was appointed to take charge of the documents. Due to the centralisation and expansion of the archives service Dr. Botha became Head Archivist in 1919. In 1934 the documents were moved to a safer storage place in the former University Building in Queen Victoria Street . The Resolutions of the Council of Policy were part of these documents. When the Cape Archives moved to the present purpose-designed building complex in Roeland Street in 1989 its name changed to Cape Town Archives Repository.

The Resolutions were written on folio pages of durable 17th and 18th century paper. Because both sides were written on, some of the documents are difficult to read as the brown ink shows through. In the early years the Resolutions were written in Gothic script [chancery hand], which is quite difficult to read. From the beginning of the 18th century onwards the handwriting in the italic style is much more legible and easier to understand.

With the exception of van Riebeeck’s handwriting, it is difficult to apportion a particular handwriting in the Resolutions to a particular scribe. When comparing documents and letters in Jan van Riebeeck’s handwriting with other documents, it was possible to establish that he wrote the “Gebed” [Prayer] and was also responsible for the Resolutions of the first three meetings on board the Drommedaris. Taking these documents as an example it seems as if van Riebeeck was also the writer of the largest part of the Resolutions of 28 March 1657 . It often happened that he edited or corrected the work of the scribes in his own handwriting.

The “scribenten” [scribes], also called “borsten van de pen” [young men at the pen], were assistants who were working at the “Sekretarie” [Secretariat] where they wrote down the Resolutions under the supervision of a secretary. In 1657 there were four “borsten van de pen”, also called ‘penniste’ [handlers of a pen]. The period of time the scribes were involved writing the Resolutions, varied from person to person and they were also often transferred or promoted to other functions. It occurred quite often that the secretary changed position after two to three years. In a number of cases competent secretaries were even appointed as members of the Council of Policy. According to the signatures at the bottom of the last page of each Resolution there were nine secretaries up to 9 December 1667 . When comparing the various handwritings, it can be estimated that there were at least 25 scribes during this period.


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