Empire’s Companies in Southern Africa

How the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie got its Land

French Institute Seminars in the Humanities (FISH)
6 August 2013

15:00 – History Department Seminar Room, University of Johannesburg


Edward Cavanaugh


In this presentation, Edward Cavanagh will closely analyse the early policies pertaining to land of the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC), and conclude with some observations regarding the similarities and differences with the British South Africa Company (BSAC) project.

In the Dutch Cape (1652-1795) as in British Rhodesia (1889-1923), corporate entities played foundational roles in the early stages of European settlement. Acknowledging this opens a door to a number of comparisons. North America (New France, Rupert’s Land, the Maritimes, New England, the Middle Colonies, the Chesapeake, the Carolinas, Vancouver Island), Ulster (Londonderry), Australia (New South Wales, South Australia, and Swan River) and New Zealand all share a similar characteristic: companies, in these locales, more so than crowns, were often behind the extinguishment of native title, whether through purchase, cession, removal or other means; after the disavowal of indigenous land rights, companies then installed new systems of property relations that were skewed in the favour of European settlers. Exploring some of the historiographical and legal implications of a larger project on companies and conquest generally, this paper will specifically explore the place of the VOC in a wider, longer-spanning history of dispossession in southern Africa and across the world.


Edward Cavanagh currently holds the Trillium Foundation Scholarship at the University of Ottawa, where, in 2013-4, he was also awarded the R. Roy McMurtry Fellowship for Canadian Legal History. He has published in the fields of history and law. He is the co-founder and managing editor of Settler Colonial Studies, and his second book, Settler Colonialism and Land Rights in South Africa: Possession and Dispossession on the Orange River, was released this year by Palgrave Macmillan.