Prof. Dr. Nigel Penn

Senior Fellow (Heinz-Heinen-Fellowship)

Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies
October 2023–January 2024

University of Cape Town, South Africa
Title of current research project: "Rough Treatment: Slavery and unfree labour in the Roggeveld, Cape Colony, South Africa, c. 1750–1900"
Nigel Penn
© Nigel Penn

Academic Profile

This project will look at the experiences and treatment of Khoisan and slave labour in the Roggeveld district of the northern Cape frontier zone in the 18th and 19th centuries. It will focus particularly on a combined slave and Khoisan revolt on a farm in that district, "Koornlands Kloof," in 1801, exploring how the race, class and gender oppressions combined to provoke a major anti-colonial uprising. This incident illustrates the inter-connectivity, and intersectionality,  of the lived experience of Khoisan and slaves in this time and place. The revolt will then be linked to a discussion of information provided by the skeletal remains of unethically exhumed farm labourers, buried in the latter part of the 19th century, on a neighbouring farm. The research will hopefully demonstrate that, in the 19th century, though Khoisan were not officially enslaved and slavery itself was abolished in the colony in 1834, Khoisan, slaves and ex-slaves were victims of an extremely oppressive labour regime which was, in turn, shaped by the harsh natural and economically exploitative environment of the Roggeveld.

since 2022      
Emeritus Professor

Professor, Department of Historical Studies, UCT

Associate Professor, Department of Historical Studies, UCT

Senior Lecturer, Department of History, UCT

Lecturer, Department of History, UCT

Temporary Lecturer, Department of History, UCT

Temporary Lecturer, Department of History, University of South Africa. (Was awarded a post as permanent Lecturer, but declined to accept because of strong commitment to post at UCT, even on temporary basis.)

Teaching Assistant, Department of History, UCT

Temporary Lecturer, Department of History, University of the Witwatersrand

Grassy Park Senior Secondary School, Cape Town. Teacher in History and English

Ph.D. in History, University of Cape Town. Thesis title "The Northern Cape Frontier Zone, 1700–c1815" 

B.A. (Hons) (Wits) 1st Class

Treverton College, Mooi River, Natal 1st Class Matriculation; Distinctions in English and History; Awards: Head Boy, Public Speaking, Rugby Player of the year, History Prize and English Prize


  • Forthcoming. With Philip Dwyer, Barbara Alice Mann and Lyndall Ryan. Frontier Wars: Killing and Colonialism in the Age of Revolutions, 1780–1820
  • 2020. As editor. With Louise Edwards and Jay Winter. The Cambridge History of Violence, Vol. 4: The Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • 2019. As editor. With Martin Lengwiler and Patrick Harries. Science, Africa and Europe: Processing Information and Creating Knowledge. London: Routledge.
  • 2015. Murderers, Miscreants and Mutineers: Early Colonial Cape Lives. Johannesburg: Jacana Press.
  • 2011/2012. As editor. With Adrien Delmas. Written Culture in a Colonial Context: Africa and the Americas, 1500–1900. Cape Town: UCT Press, 2011, and Leiden: Brill, 2012. 
  • 2005. The Forgotten Frontier: Colonist and Khoisan on the Cape’s Northern Frontier in the Eighteenth Century. Athens, OH: University of Ohia Press, and Cape Town: Double Storey Press. 
  • 1999. Rogues, Rebels and Runaways: Eighteenth-Century Cape Characters. Cape Town: David Philip, and Hilversum: Veloren Publishers. Reprinted 2003.
  • 1996. With Harriet Deacon, Andre Odendaal, and Patrica Davison. The Robben Island Exhibition: Esiqithini. SA Museum. Cape Town: Mayibuye Books.
  • 1992. As editor. With M. Boucher. Britain at the Cape, 1795–1803. Johannesburg: Brenthurst Press.
  • 1992. With Harriet Deacon and Neville Alexander. Robben Island: The Politics of Rock and Sand. Cape Town: University of Cape Town, Department of Adult Education.
  • 1991. With P. Skotnes, S. Watson, and J. Parkington. Sound from the Thinking Strings. Cape Town: Axeage Press.


Chapters in Books

  • 2020. With Louise Edwards and Jay Winter. "Introduction." In The Cambridge World History of Violence, Volume IV, 1800 to the Present, edited by Louise Edwards, Nigel Penn, and Jay Winter, 1–18. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
  • 2019. With Martin Lengwiler. "Science between Africa and Europe: Creating knowledge and connecting worlds (introduction)." In Science, Africa and Europe: Processing Information and Creating Knowledge, edited by Martin Lengwiler, Nigel Penn, and Patrick Harries, 1–12. London: Routledge. 
  • 2019. With Adrien Delmas. "Peter Kolb and the Circulation of Knowledge about the Cape of Good Hope." In Science, Africa and Europe: Processing Information and Creating Knowledge, edited by Martin Lengwiler, Nigel Penn, and Patrick Harries, 15–46. London: Routledge. 
  • 2018. "John Montagu: Master Spirit of the Colony." In Illuminating Lives: Fascinating South Africans, edited by Vivian Bickford-Smith and Bill Nasson, 19–38. Cape Town: Penguin. 
  • 2016. "The Honourable Company: VOC Rule at the Cape." In Honourable Intentions? Violence and Virtue in Australian and Cape Colonies, c. 1750 to 1850, edited by P. Russell and N. Worden, 31–45. London: Routledge. 
  • 2015. "The Myth of the Empty Land in South African History." In Das Leere Land-Narrative von Siedlergemeinschaften, edited by Ulrich Niegermann, 1–13. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag. 
  • 2014. "The Destruction of Hunter-Gatherer Societies on the Pastoralist Frontier: The Cape and Australia Compared:" In Genocide on Settler Frontiers: When hunter-gatherer and commercial stock farmers clash, edited by Mohamed Adhikari, 159–184. Cape Town: UCT Press. 
  • 2012. "Soldiers and Cape Town Society, 1652–1795." In Cape Town, Between East and West: Social Identities in a Dutch Colonial Town, edited by Nigel Worden, 212–230. Cape Town: Jacana Press. 
  • 2011. "Written Culture and the Khoikhoi: From Travel Writing to Kolb’s 'Full Description.'" In Written Culture in a Colonial Context: Africa and the Americas, 1500–1900, edited by Adrien Delmas and Nigel Penn, 166–187. Cape Town: UCT Press.  
  • 2007. "The Voyage Out: Peter Kolb and VOC Voyages to the East." In Many Middle Passages: Forced Migration and the Making of the Modern World, edited by Emma Christopher, Cassandra Pybus, and Marcus Rediker, 72–91. Berkley: University of California Press. 
  • 2007. "'Civilising' the San: The First Mission to the Cape San, 1791–1806:" In Claim to the Country: The Archives of Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd, edited by Pippa Skotnes, 90–115. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press. 
  • 2007. "Great Escapes: Deserting Soldiers During Noodt’s Cape Governorship, 1727–1729." In Contingent Lives: Social Identity And Material Culture In The VOC World, edited by Nigel Worden, 559–588. Cape Town: Historical Studies Department, UCT. 
  • 2007. "Whites in Africa: Kenya’s Colonists in the Films 'Out of Africa,' 'Nowhere in Africa' and 'White Mischief,'" In Black and White in Colour: African History on Screen, edited by J. V. Bickford-Smith and R. Mendelsohn, 167–184. London: James Currey. 
  • 2004. "Land Rights, Missionaries and Surveyors: Khoisan Identity and the Komaggas Community." In History of Surveying and Land Tenure. Collected Papers, vol. 2, Surveying and Land Tenure at the Cape 1813–1912, edited by R. Fisher, 151–161. Cape Town: Institute of Professional Land Surveyors and Geomaticians.
  • 2001. "The Northern Cape Frontier Zone in South African Frontier Historiography." In Colonial Frontiers: Indigenous-European encounters in settler societies, edited by Lynette Russell, 19–46. Manchester: University of Manchester Press.
  • 1996. "Fated to Perish: The Destruction of the Cape San." In Miscast: Negotiating the Presence of the Bushmen, edited by P. Skotnes, 81–91. Cape Town: UCT Press.
  • 1996. "Robben Island, 1488–1805." In The Island: A History of Robben Island, 1488–1990, edited by H. Deacon, 9–32. Cape Town: David Philip. 
  • 1995. "The Orange River Frontier Zone, 1700–1805." In Einiqualand: Studies on the Khoisan Societies of the Orange River, edited by A.B. Smith, 21–109. Cape Town: UCT Press. 
  • 1994: "The Dutch East India Company." In Dictionary of S. A. History, 96–99. Johannesburg: Ibis Press.
  • 1994. "Mapping the Cape: John Barrow and the First British Occupation 1795–1803." In Maps in Africa, edited by J. Stone, 108–126. Aberdeen: University of Aberdeen. 
  • 1994. "Drosters of the Bokkeveld and Roggeveld, 1770–1800." In Slavery in South Africa: Captive Labour on the Dutch Frontier, edited by E. Eldredge and F. Morton, 41–65. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Reprinted 2009.
  • 1992. "From Penguins to Prisoners. Robben Island, 1488–1805." In Robben Island: the Politics of Sand and Rock, edited by Nigel Penn, Harriet Deacon, and Neville Alexander, 5–28. Cape Town: UCT Press. 
  • 1991. "The /Xam and the Colony, 1740–1870." In Sound From the Thinking Strings, edited by P. Skotnes, S. Watson, J. Parkington, and N. Penn, 22–49. Cape Town: Axeage Press.
  • 1989. "Labour, Land and Livestock in the Western Cape during the 18th Century: the Khoisan and the Colonists." In The Angry Divide: Essays in the Economic and Social History of the Western Cape, edited by Wilmot G. James and Mary Simons, 2–19. Cape Town: David Philip.
  • 1987. "The Frontier in the Western Cape, 1700–1740." In Papers in the Prehistory of the Western Cape, South Africa, edited by John Parkington and Martin Hall, 462–503. Oxford: B.A.R. International Series. 
  • 1986. "Pastoralists and pastoralism in the northern Cape frontier zone during the eighteenth century." In The S. A. Archaeological Society Goodwin Series, vol. 5, Prehistoric Pastoralism in Southern Africa, edited by Martin Hall and Andrew B. Smith, 62–68. Cape Town. 



  • 2016. "Obituary: Patrick Allan Lifford Harries, 1950–2016." In Modern Africa: Politics, History and Society 4(2): 5–17.
  • 2014. "Casper, Crebis and the Knegt: Rape, Homicide and Violence in the early eighteenth century Cape." In S. A. Historical Journal 66(4): 611–634.
  • 2013. "Towards a History of Convict Labour in the Nineteenth Century Cape." In Workers of the World 1(3): 118–138. Special issue: Global Labour History: International Journal on Strikes and Social Conflicts.
  • 2013. "The British and the 'Bushmen': The massacre of the Cape San, 1795–1828." In Journal of Genocide Research 15(2): 183–200.            
  • 2012. "The Meuron Regiment at the Cape, 1793–1788." In Quarterly Bulletin of the National Library of South Africa 66(2): 13–29.
  • 2008. "'Close and Merciful Watchfulness': John Montagu’s Convict System in the Mid-19th Century Cape Colony." In Cultural and Social History 5(4): 465–480.
  • 2007. "Great Escapes: Deserting Soldiers during Noodt’s Cape Governorship, 1727–1729." In S. A. Historical Journal 59: 171–203.
  • 2005. "The Onder Bokkeveld Ear Atrocity." In Kronos 31: 62–106.
  • 2002. "The wife, the farmer and the farmer’s slaves: Adultery and murder on a frontier farm in the early eighteenth century Cape." In Kronos 28: 1–20.
  • 2001. "'Civilising' the San: The First Mission to the Cape San, 1791–1806." In Basle Afrika Bibliographien Working Paper 3: 1–41.
  • 2000. "Dutch Colonialism at the Cape." In S. A. Encyclopedia (online).
  • 2000. "British Colonialism at the Cape." In S. A. Encyclopedia (online). 
  • 2000. "Slavery." In S. A. Encyclopedia (online). 
  • 1997. "Notes Towards A Rereading of Peter Kolb." In Kronos 24: 44–47. 
  • 1993. "Mapping the Cape: John Barrow and the First British Occupation of the Colony, 1795–1803." In Pretexts 4(2): 20–43.
  • 1991. "Excavating Archives at Odepost: A Riposte." In Social Dynamics 17(1): 101–105.
  • 1990. "Droster Gangs of the Bokkeveld and the Roggeveld, 1770–1800." In S. A. Historical Journal 23: 15–40.
  • 1988. "Estienne Barbier: An Eighteenth Century Cape Social Bandit?" In Social Dynamics 14(1): 1–19.
  • 1986. "Daily Life in Eighteenth Century Cape Town." In Cabo 4(1): 4–8.
  • 1985. "Anarchy and authority in the Koue Bokkeveld, 1739–1779: The Banishing of Carel Buijtendag." In Kleio XVII: 24–43.


Articles under co-authorship

  • 2023. With V. E. Gibbon, L. Feris, J. Gretzinger, K. Smith, S. Hall et al. "Confronting historical legacies of biological anthropology in South Africa – Restitution, redress and community-centred science: The Sutherland Nine." In PLoS One 18(5). 
  • 1988. "The V.O.C. and Inscribed Glass Ware." In S. A. Journal of Science 84(11): 900–904.


Review Articles

  • 2004. "Wild Coast: Shipwreck and Captivity Narratives from the Eastern Cape. Review of The Caliban Shore: The Fate of the Grosvenor Castaways, by Stephen Taylor and Guillaume Chenu De Chalezac, The French Boy, edited by Randolph Vigne." In Kronos 30: 200–221.
  • 1996. "Trekboers Revisited. Review of The Migrant Farmer in the History of the Cape Colony, 1657–1842, by P. J. van der Merwe." In African Affairs 95(378): 126–130.



  • 1993. "Land Rights of the People of Komaggas: An Historical Survey." For Eskom, Nuclear Generation Group.
  • 2000. "A Brief History of Land Rights and Land Alienation in the 18th Century Northern Cape."  For Legal Resources Centre.


Reviews (selected) 

  • 2013. "Luka Jantjie: Resistance Hero of the South African Frontier, by Kevin Shillington." In African Historical Review 45(2): 152–157.
  • 2011. "Belongings: Property, Family and Identity in Colonial South Africa (An Exploration of Frontiers, 1725–c.1830) by Laura Mitchell." In Kronos 37: 129–132. 
  • 2011. 
  • 2011. "Knowledge and Colonialism: Eighteenth Century Travellers in South Africa, by Siegfried Huigen." In Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 54: 808–812.
  • 2011. "The war for South Africa, by Bill Nasson." In South African Journal of Science 107(5/6): 13–14.
  • 2010. "The Lie of the Land: Representations of the South African Landscape, by Michael Godby." In Kronos 36: 340–342.
  • 2009. "A Millimetre of Dust, by Julia Martin." In Kronos 35: 257–258.
  • 2009. "Bushmen in a Victorian World: The remarkable story of the Bleek-Lloyd Collection of Bushman Folklore, by Andrew Bank." In Journal of African History 50(1): 151–153.
  • 2003. "The Mantis, the Eland and the Hunter, by John Parkington." In Kronos 29: 227–229.
  • 2001. "De Kaap de Goede Hoop: Een Nederlandse Vestigingskolonie, 1680–1730, by Ad Biewenga." In Bijdragen en Mededelingen Betreffende de Geschiedenis der Nederlanden, 2001.
  • 1996. "Beyond The Pale: Essays on the History of Colonial South Africa, by Robert Ross." In African Affairs: 475–477.
  • 1992. "Robert Jacob Gordon 1743–1795: The Man and his Travels at the Cape, by Patrick Cullinan." In S. A. Literary Review 2(4). 
  • 1989. "The Secluded Valley: Tulbagh: 't Land van Waveren 1700–1804, by Anna Boeseken and Margaret Cairns." In Cabo 4(4): 33–35.
  • 1988. "Robert Jacob Gordon: Cape Travels, 1777 to 1786, ed. by Peter E. Roper and M. Boucher." In S. A. Historical Journal 20: 166–172.
  • 1988. "The Economy of the Cape Colony in the 18th Century, by P. van Duin and R. Ross." In S. A. Historical Journal 20: 180–184.
  • 1988. "Slaves, Spices and Ivory in Zanzibar: Integration of An East African Commercial Empire into the World Economy, 1770–1873, by Abdul Sheriff." In S. A. Historical Journal 20: 178–180.
  • 1987. "Boerepioniers van die Sandveld, by R. T. J. Lombard." In S. A. Historical Journal 19: 219–220.
  • 1986. "Die Wereld van die Digter, by Karel Schoeman." In S. A. Historical Journal 18: 219–220.
  • 1986. "The Cape of Good Hope and Foreign Contacts, 1735–1755, by Maurice Boucher." In S. A. Historical Journal 18: 239–240.
  • As review editor for Ada (Architecture, Design and Art) magazine, I reviewed the following books: The Making of Contemporary Africa by Bill Freund; Finding the Centre by V.S Naipaul; Foe by J. M. Coetzee; The Arrowing of the Cane by John Connyngham; The Himba by M. Jacobsohn.


Other Publications

  • Wine columns for Style Magazine, 1997–1998.
  •  Series of 7 articles on Anglo-Boer War for Getaway Magazine, 1999.

1.     "The War That Made South Africa," May 1999: 52–58.

2.     "Gunfire On The Western Front," June, 1999: 84–90.

3.     "Two Cities Under Siege," July 1999: 70–76.

4.     "The Natal Front," August 1999: 76–82.

5.     "The Guerrilla War," September 1999: 100–108.

6.     "Into The Cape," October 1999: 116–126.

7.     "The Aftermath," November 1999: 106–115.

  • Summer School Lectures     

1.     "18th Century Cape Town," 1986, UCT. 

2.     "Namaqualand, 1650–1800," 1991, UCT.

3.     "Robben Island, 1488–1805," 1992, UCT.

4.     "The Great War: Representation and Reality," 2008, UCT.

5.     "Violence on the Frontiers of Colonialism," 2020. 

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