Martens 2001 Domesticity

Title Information

Author: Jeremy Creighton Martens

Title: "So Destructive of Domestic Security and Comfort"

Subtitle: Settler Domesticity, Race and the Regulation of African Behaviour in the Colony of Natal, 1843-1893

Thesis: Ph.D. Thesis, Queen's University

Year: August 2001

Pages: 303pp.

Language: English

Keywords: 19th Century | South African History | Society: Rape Myths; Types: Interracial Rape

Full Text

Link: Library and Archives Canada (Free Access)

Additional Information

Author: Jeremy Martens, Department of History, University of Western


»This thesis examines attempts by white inhabitants of nineteenth century Natal to regulate African behaviour through the enactment of legislation. Four case studies analyse the racial ideologies that both guided whites in their encounters with Natal's African population and shaped discriminatory laws intended to safeguard white interests. It is argued that central to these racial ideologies were concepts about domesticity, and that white Natalians' notions of appropriate domestic behaviour were a principal means of gauging differences between themselves and Africans.
The first case study examines an 1869 controversy that erupted after the Natal government promulgated legislation taxing and regulating African marriages. It posits that ideologies of 'civilised domesticity' originally derived from the Scottish enlightenment, evangelicalism and utilitarianism shaped white definitions of racial difference during the controversy. The second case study investigates the circumstances surrounding the enactment of Natal's 1869 vagrant law. This legislation was passed during a 'rape scare' that alarmed white Natalians in the 1860s. It is argued that settlers' beliefs about the 'barbaric' nature of African marriages underpinned concerns that African men in towns posed a threat to settler society in general and a danger to white women and children in particular. Legislators responded by passing a law allowing for the conviction of 'idle and disorderly' persons and imposing a curfew on Natal's urban black population.
The third case study investigates a second rape scare that enthralled white Natalians in 1886. This panic also resulted in the enactment of racist laws designed to regulate urban African workers. It is argued that an economic depression in the 1880s exacerbated settler concerns about African men performing 'unmanly' domestic duties in white homes and led to pressure to enact stringent legislation to shore up the position of male settlers. The final case study analyses the failed attempts to pass a Natal Contagious Diseases Act in 1886 and 1890. It argues that white concerns about the 'unnatural' child rearing methods used by African 'nurseboys' in settler homes converged with nineteenth century medical theories about syphilis resulting in the decision to include males within the ambit of proposed Natal Contagious Diseases legislation.« (Source: Thesis)


  Abstract (p. i)
  Acknowledgements (p. v)
  List of Maps (p. vi)
  Chapter One: Introduction (p. 1)
    Note on Terminology (p. 8)
  Chapter Two: Literature and Theoretical Review (p. 10)
    Introduction (p. 10)
    Race and Class in South African Historiography (p. 12)
    The Applicability of David Goldberg's Theory of Race and Racism to the Study of South African History (p. 39)
    Gender and Race in South African Historiography (p. 46)
    Conclusion (p. 56)
  Chapter Three: An Overview of Political and Economic Developments in Nineteenth Century Natal (p. 58)
    Introduction (p. 58)
    Political Developments in the Thukela-Mzimkhulu Region Before 1830 (p. 59)
    Political Developments in the Colony of Natal 1842-1893 (p. 64)
    The Shepstone System, the Homestead Economy and Economic Competition in Colonial Natal, 1843-1893 (p. 68)
  Chapter Four: Civilised Demesticity and White Attempts to Regulate African Marriage Practices in Colonial Natal, 1868-1875 (p. 78)
    Introduction (p. 78)
    The Genesis of Law 1, 1869 (p. 83)
    The Intellectual Roots of Civilised Domesticity (p. 88)
    The Response of the Executive Council (p. 98)
    The Response of the Settlers and Missionaries (p. 114)
    White Attitudes in Context (p. 126)
    Conclusion (p. 134)
  Chapter Five: 'A Formidable Phalanx of Savage, Unmarried Men': Polygamy, Sexual Danger and the Creation of Natal's Vagrant Law of 1869 (p. 135)
    Introduction (p. 135)
    Natal's Rape Scare of the 1860s and 1870s and the Genesis of Law 15, 1869 (p. 140)
    Manliness, Vagrancy and Sexual Danger (p. 151)
    Civilised Domesticity, the Urban Factor and Natal's Rape Scare of the 1860s and 1870s (p. 155)
    Conclusion (p. 164)
  Chapter Six: Settler Homes, Manhood and 'Houseboys': Domesticity and the Regulation of African Behaviour during Natal's Rape Scare of 1886 (p. 169)
    Introduction: 'A Foul Deed of Unparalleled Atrocity' (p. 169)
    The Legislative Legacy of the 1886 Rape Scare (p. 175)
    A Review of Recent Approaches to White Panics (p. 183)
    Some Economic and Social Effects of the 1880s Depression in Natal (p. 190)
    Settlers' Obession with Black Domestic Servants (p. 199)
    The Importance of Extra-Legal Activity (p. 212)
    Conclusion (p. 217)
  Chapter Seven: 'Almost a Public Calamity': Syphilis, Prostitutes, 'Nurseboys' and Attempts to Introduce a Contagious Diseases Act in Colonial Natal, 1886-1890 (p. 220)
    Introduction (p. 220)
    Prostitution in Colonial Natal, 1886-1890 (p. 225)
    The Introduction of the Contagious Diseases Bill, 1886 (p. 232)
    The Defeat of the Contagious Diseases Bill, 1886 (p. 242)
    The Introduction of the Contagious Diseases Bill, 1890 (p. 253)
    Conclusion (p. 282)
  Chapter Eight: Conclusion (p. 284)
  Bibliography (p. 289)
    A. Manuscript Sources (p. 289)
    B. Printed Primary Sources (p. 289)
      i) Official Records (p. 289)
      ii) Newspapers (p. 290)
      iii) Books (p. 290)
    C. Secondary Sources (p. 292)
      i) Books (p. 292)
      ii) Journal Articles and Chapters in Books (p. 296)
      iii) Unpublished Papers, Theses and Dissertations (p. 302)
  Vita (p. 304)

Added: October 25, 2008 – Last updated: October 11, 2014