SOUTH AFRICA TABLET 14: The gradation of authority in the Company's service

by Time Traveler

On the 8th of April the council, consisting of the commander and the three skippers, met on board the Dromedaris to arrange for commencing the work on shore.

It was resolved that they should land at once and mark out a site for the fortress. Exclusive of officers, there were one hundred and eighty-one men on board the three vessels, and of these, one hundred were to be set to work in raising the walls.

The carpenters were to put up a wooden dwelling-house and a store-shed for temporary use.

The men left on board the ships were to be employed in discharding the goods and in catching fish.

The custom of bringing all matters of importance before a council for decision was the usual method of procedure in the Company's service. Every ship had its council, nominated by the authorities before she left port. When several ships ailed in company, the principal men in each formed a broad council for the squadron.

A settlement as that in South Africa was regarded as similar to a single ship in a fleet. It had its own council, which was here for a long course of years a very elastic body, adapted to meet teh circumstances of the times.

It consisted of the presiding officer, who had no higher title until 1672 than that of commander, and a number of officers of inferior rank, who were usually appointed by some commissioner on his way to or from India.

When there were ships belonging to the Company lying in the bay, their principal officers and those of the Cape settlement formed a broad council, which was presided over by the highest in rank, who might be the commander here or a stranger to the place.

These broad councils passes resolutions concerning the most important matters in South Africa as well as concerning the affairs of fleets.

The gradation of authority in the Company's service was very clearly defined. The assembly of seventeen was supreme.

Next came the governor-general and council of India, whose orders and instructions were issued from the castle of Batavia.

Then its authority was spread out among a vast number of admirals and governors and commanders, each with his council, but wherever these came in contact, the lower in rank gave way to the higher.

The Company's servants scattered over the eastern world were like a regiment of soldiers. The assembly of seventeen was the commander-in-chief. The governor-general and council of India was the colonel. The admirals and governors and commanders were the captains and lieutenants and ensigns, and wherever a captain appeared the lieutenants without question submitted to him.

If the officers of a regiment were stationed in many different posts and were in the habit of assembling councils of war on all occasions, the parrallel would be complete. This circumstance must be borne in mind, as it gives a clear insight into the mode of government under which the occupation took place.

Reference: History and Ethnography of Africa South of the Zambesi by George McCall Theal.