The earliest reference to the submission of returns of persons and
possessions appears in the Journal of 12 October 1672 and concerns free
burghers only. Further instructions in this regard were traced in an act of 28
February 1800, being applicable to all residents of the Colony inclusive of
free blacks, persons of mixed race and other Khoekhoe. On 3 January 1805
further instructions on the submission of annual returns were issued.
An editorial of 9 September 1829 in the South African Commercial Advertiser mentioned the
inaccuracy of the returns compiled initially for tax purposes. Legislation and
reminders to compile the returns more accurately were issued, inter alia in
1830 and 1838.
The annual returns of the various outlying districts were apparently
compiled by the field - cornets of the different wards who subsequently submitted
them to the magistrate of the relevant district. He in turn compiled one return
for the district from the particulars thus obtained. Returns of field - cornets
are also available in magistrates' archives and the earliest archives of
municipalities contain returns of wardmasters. No original return for the 17th
century has remained preserved in the Cape Town Archives Repository. Such
returns are, however, available in the National Archives of the Netherlands in
The Hague in the section "Koloniale Archief", series "Brieven en Papieren
Overgekomen van de Kaap".