To the ancients Africa beyond and below the equator was an old land, but unknown: so immeasurably old that, wrinkled and shrivelled like some witch, it had never been young: unknown like the gods themselves and veiled in mysterious twilight; and in that twilight moved horrors and monstrous primeval things.
The Arabs had tales of vast hordes of elephants; of caverns full of ivory; of gold worked by the Chinese; and mines that produced the fabulous wealth of Ophir and of the Queen of Sheba.
The Phoenicians went exploring, but their ships did not return until one, long given up as lost, came sailing in past Gibraltar, and the crew told how they had set out southwards from Aden down a barren coast, how they had been driven before great storms of angry seas until they came to the end of all land, where the sky was full of strange stars, or the old stars inverted, and the sun circled from their right to their left. Rounding a great cape, they had sailed northwards, until once more, after three long years, they had come to the Pillars of Hercules and sailed into the Mediterranean. But this story was treated as a sailor's tale.
The Greeks and the Romans and the Byzantines knew little of South Africa. Even in the fifteenth century after Christ, geographers held that beyond the equator was the Sea of Darkness, which was the running together of many seas and which lay in a steep inclined plane, so that any ships that ventured on to it would slide down into a bottomless abyss.
In Central Asia there had been fierce drought. All across Asia from the Great Wall of China and the Gobi Desert the tribes had been on the move, marching westwards looking for pasture for their starving flocks; among them were the Tartars and the Turks. As they came they had conquered all the lands from the Caucasus to Egypt, and from the Black Sea down the eastern shore of the Mediterranean to Cairo, and by the fifteenth century they had blocked all the old trade routes to the East.
With the trade routes blocked, the maritime nations of Europe were being ruined, and they sent our expedition on expedition to look for some new road to the Indies. First came the Portuguese. In their frail wooden galleys they crept cautiously down the Atlantic coast of Africa until they found the Cape of Good Hope, and, making it a station for call and to revictual, they went on to India; but they treated the Cape as of small value. It was for them a liability only and they quickly evacuated it, leaving little trace of their occupation.
Next came the Dutch, and the Government of Holland took over the Cape and turned it into a half-way house to their empire in the Indies, and finally into a colony, built a fort to protect it, settled Dutch colonists, sent out a Governor from Holland, and imported black slaves.
In France a Catholic king was persecuting his Protestant subjects, the Huguenots, and these took ship and came to the Cape to look for a new home. The Dutch welcomed them and quickly absorbed them. And then came the English, just beginning to build up their Empire. First they conquered the Cape of Good Hope by force of arms, but handed it back to the Government of Holland; and then bought it again for six million pounds in gold.