Inventory of the Archives of the Secretary, Burgher Council, 1695 - 1803

Fonds Specifications


Biographical History
The origin of the Burgher Council dates back to 1657 when the free burgher Steven Jansz Botma was permitted to sit on the Council of Policy by Commissioner Van Goens. Botma's membership of the Council was limited to sessions during which the Council acted as a court of law to try cases pertaining to free burghers. [1]In June 1658 a second free burgher, Hendrik Boom, was also appointed as a member of the Council in this capacity. [2]
It appears that from 1658 the burgher councillors represented the free burghers on the Council in more than a strictly judicial capacity. Other matters relating to the free burghers were also raised in council by these councillors. As Van Riebeeck admitted that they acted on behalf of the free burghers, it laid the foundation of having burgher members as representatives of the colonists. [3]
By 1658 therefore, the burgher councillors clearly had two functions, namely a judicial function defined by the Commissioner and the function representing the general interests of the free burghers which was never officially defined. The number of burgher councillors on the Council of Policy had grown to three by 1676. [4]
In 1685 the visiting Commissioner, Van reed, separated the legislative and judicial powers of the Council of Policy. The Council was to retain the legislative and executive powers but the judicial functions were to be vested in a new body, the Court of Justice, on which the free burghers also had representation. [5]
The Burgher Council developed into a separate body with three free burghers as members in c.1685 or shortly thereafter. The exact date of the establishment could not be ascertained, but by 1690 it functioned as such, as indicated by the election of a member to replace a retiring member. [6]
Apart from the Court of Justice [7] the members of the Burgher Council also had the right of representation in the Orphan Chamber and Commissioners of Civil and Matrimonial Cases. [8]
Although not issued with instructions during the first hundred years of its existence, the duties of the Burgher Council are clearly reflected in the resolutions of the Council of Policy. A request from the Burgher Council in 1714 reveals that the Town Guards, the so - called 'Ratelwag', had been under its control for some time. [9]In that year the Burgher Council submitted instructions for the Guard to the Council of Policy for approval. The instructions, which were duly approved, give an indication as to the activities under the control of the Burgher Council.
The Guards were the 'night - workers' [10]in the employ of the Burgher Council who walked the streets in their wards at night and reported cases of fire, house - breaking, thieving, disturbances of the peace at home and inns, etc. Every hour of the night they announced the time by shaking their rattles and calling out the hour. They were also responsible for the supervision of the water - gates and canals and ensuring that slaves did not pollute them. [11]
Although subordinate to the Burgher Council from whom they received their allowances, the Town Guards were under the supervision of the Burgher Watch (Burgerwag). [12]Members of the Burgher Watch, who stood guard at the Burgher Watch House at night, were responsible for ensuring that the Town Guards performed their duties. While responsible for the safety of the Burgher Watch House, the Burgher Watch was bound to the decisions of the Burgher Council and subordinate to that body.
The Burgher Watch signed a register at the Burgher Watch House every night and noted anything of importance that had occurred during the watch period. The registers (wagtboeke) were the property of the Burgher Council and only available to the officer in charge of the Burgher Watch to establish the regularity of the guard's attendance. [13]
Subject to the approval of the Council of Policy, the Burgher Council had control of the meat prices. [14]The Council was also responsible for financing repairs to bridges in the town, [15] the milling of wheat, the control of bakers in the town [16]and, when necessary, obtaining monetary contributions for campaigns against the Hottentots. [17]
The Burgher Council's jurisdiction covered the whole Cape District.
To fulfil its functions the Burgher Council was entitled to raise certain taxes. Only applicable to burghers in the Cape district, the taxes include lion and tiger tax, roads and bridges tax, house tax for burghers [18]and rent for use of the wheat mill. [19]
In 1723 the Council of Policy approved the levying of one skelling per homeowner by the Burgher Council for the cleaning of streets. [20]The Council's cash book accounts were to be laid before the Council of Policy once a month for approval. [21]
In 1785 a separate body, the Commissioners from the Court of Justice, was created. [22]Three officials and three members of the Burgher Council were appointed to this body by the Council of Policy on 19 April 1786. Together they formed a combined board under the chairmanship of a member of the Council of Policy. [23]The establishment of the Commissioners from the Court of Justice resulted in the loss of all its municipal functions by the Burgher Council. The municipal control was forthwith vested in the new body and the Burgher Council retained only its representative functions.
In 1795, at the end of the Compagnie's administration, there were, therefore, two separate bodies representing the colonist's interests, i.e. the Burgher Council, comprised of free burghers and representing the colonists, and the Commissioners of the Court of Justice, comprised of Burgher Councillors and officials with purely municipal functions. [24]
The British occupation of the Cape in 1795 resulted in the amalgamation of the Burgher Council and the Commissioners of the Court of Justice. The Burgher Council again fulfilled a dual purpose as it did in 1785, i.e. as representative body for the free burghers and a body with municipal powers.
During the First British Occupation, 1795 - 1803, the Burgher Council consisted of six members. The senior member acted as president, irrespective of the capacity in which the council meeting functioned. For the two capacities in which the Burgher Council met, there were separate secretaries. The existence of one set of minute books indicates the union of the two functions. [25]The Burgher Councillors were initially appointed by the British Government and could retain their membership as long as they desired. The Council met at least once a month. [26]
The occupation of the Cape by the Batavian rulers soon led to the disbanding of the Burgher Council which was abolished by a proclamation of 1 March 1803. [27]According to the proclamation the abolished bodies would continue with their functions until such time as the new institutions, which took over their duties, were appointed. On 26 March 1803 the Burgher Council met for the last time and was finally dissolved on 30 March 1803 when the 'Raad der Gemeente" or Burgher Senate was appointed as its successor. [28]