Tracking the footsteps of . . .
DAWID Stuurman, who was born near the Gamtoos River in 1773, died in Sydney, Australia in 1830.
He was one of several Stuurman brothers, the most notable his older brother, Klaas, whom he later succeeded as chief of the Khoena (Khoi) and younger brothers Bootsman and Andries, who were also notable leaders at the time.
During Stuurman’s early youth, he and his people lived on farms along the Gamtoos River and right up to the river mouth, where they enjoyed freedom and independence from colonialists.
In his teens, Stuurman went to work on a farm, recorded as being the Vermaak Farm, in the area where he was at one point tied to a wagon and beaten with a sjambok. Salt was rubbed into the wounds and he was left in the sun.
By 1790s tensions and conflict had spread throughout the frontier region and around 1799, Stuurman and his family fled Vermaak’s farm. Many of the Khoi began abandoning farms along the Gamtoos at that time. Dawid’s brother, Chief Klaas Stuurman, demanded land and freedom for enserfed Khoi who led lives similar to that of that of slaves on settler farms. The Khoena no longer had an independent existence and their children were being “apprenticed” by colonialists or conscripted into colonial militia.
At that time Klaas Stuurman began organising the Khoi, also known as the Gamtoos People at the time, to resist the colonialists and their increasing suppression. He later made and alliance with the amaXhosa, who faced similar challenges. The result was the creation of a formidable resistance force and subsequent war with the authorities.
Klaas Stuurman died during a buffalo hunting expedition around 1806 and was succeeded by Dawid, who as chief became more vocal and antagonistic towards the authorities than his late brother.
He was arrested three times and imprisoned on Robben Island three times. He became the only person to ever escape the island twice.
Stuurman was eventually deported to Australia where he died and where his remains are thought to be buried under a railway station in Sydney.
Several attempts were made to secure his return from Australia before his death.