Africana Notes

Early sketches by Dingley

Soon after the British took control of the Cape, Ensign RH Dingley came to the colony. His drawings and journal are valuable records of the time.




DESCRIPTIONS of the sketches of Ensign Robert Henry Dingle were first published in Africana Notes and News, volume 29 (3), in September 1990.


At the foothills, the cattle are grazing while a servant and a dog stand in the foreground

At the foothills, the cattle are grazing while a servant and a dog stand in the foreground

The British took control of the Cape in 1806, and Dingley arrived in the colony shortly afterwards. His regiment was deployed to the Eastern frontier, an area disputed by the Xhosa and colonial farmers, during the Fourth and Fifth frontier wars. His drawings give researchers an early, first-hand record of the inhabitants and structures of the area.


Ensign Robert Henry Dingley: Drawings, by EB Nagelgast
In the Cape Times Annual of December 1930, an article appeared entitled "A voyage to the Cape, 1812-13", by Ensign RH Dingley, with drawings by the author.


There are six drawings:
• Flying Fish and Porpesses [sic];
• Troops/Embarking;
• The State Cabbin [sic]/sea sickness and wry faces;
• A Shark "Caught";
• The Quarter Deck – a fine trade wind; and
• "The Peak of Pico/one of the western Islands/ 7 000 feet above the level of the Sea/ visable [sic] 25 leags dis.t in clear weather.


A note states: "The hitherto unpublished journal and drawings of Ensign Dingley are in the possession of Prof J Du Plessis to whom the Editor of the Cape Times Annual is indebted for permission to make extracts from them. Nothing is known of the author except that his name appears in the Army List from 1815-25. On arrival at the Cape he made a journey into the interior, but the portion of his diary dealing with his experiences on this expedition has unfortunately not survived."


Significantly, some of the drawings are dated 1819 and would appear to have been finished and/or coloured when Dingley had returned to London.


Women shopping in the Cape

Women shopping in the Cape

In 1975, the Africana Museum acquired 20 sketches by Robert Henry Dingley from Frank R Thorold, who had purchased them at Sotheby's on 3 March 1975. A comparison of the style, signature, dating et cetera, makes it almost certain that the artist is the same as the one in the Cape Times Annual.


Alfred Gordon-Brown in Pictorial Africa, published in 1975, lists an untraced AH Dingley but he adds, "possibly identical with Ensign Robert Henry Dingley who joined the Cape … Regiment in June 1814 and was placed on half-pay in December 1817 when the regiment was disbanded".


He draws attention to a drawing of the interior of the house of an up-country Boer with his family in the Simon van der Stel Foundation's Bulletin 24: 15-17 which was attributed by the late Prof D Bax as by AH Dingley but is almost certainly by Robert Henry. Gordon-Brown describes it is "interesting but amateurish". This drawing is now in the South African Cultural History Museum.


Dingley's drawings are certainly amateurish but are lively and entertaining and their great importance lies in his observant eye and their very early date – before the arrival of the 1820 settlers.


Some of the examples produced by Ensign Robert Dingley.
View gallery

The 20 sketches owned by the Africana Museum are here described in detail and show that Dingley finished some sketches in London in 1819, that he was at the Great Fish River c.1815-1817 and that he was familiar with the Cape Regiment – see Nos. 7, 14, 15, 16.


1. "May lays [sic] of the Cape" in ink under the drawing.
Water-colour and ink. 249mm x 214mm.
Signed bottom left "RH Dingley/London"
Dated bottom right "May 28 1819"


Two barefooted fish and fruit hawkers are carrying their wares in traditional baskets.


2. "Slaves of the Cape" in ink below sketch.
"Market slaves who keep the Covent Garden of Cape Town" below caption on left and "A Cooley or porter" on right.
Signed bottom left but above caption. "RH Dingley/London" and dated bottom right above caption "June 20 1819".
Water-colour and ink. 153 mm x 216 mm.


Slaves are selling their wares in the Cape Town square, beneath patched umbrella shaped tents and the "Cooley" is prominent in the right foreground holding a bamboo? pole and looped rope.


3. "A Hottentot in the service of a Boor [sic] or Farmer" below in ink.
Water-colour and ink. 252 mm x 217 mm.
Signed bottom left above the caption "RH Dingley/Gt Fish River/SA" and below the initials "RHD" are repeated.
Dated above caption bottom right "April 1817/Fort George" and below "June 1819. London".


The cattle are in the background at the foot of some hills while the servant and a dog form the foreground. The servant wears patched and torn trousers, with a bullet-pouch looped into his belt. He is bare-footed but wears a skin cloak (with the fur-side inside). He has a powder horn and carries a gun across his shoulders. From his left hand is suspended a skin water container. Also finished by the artist later in London.


4. "Melays [sic] of the Cape" in ink under the sketch.
Water-colour and ink, 251 mm x 216 mm.
Signed bottom left above the caption "RH Dingley/London" and dated bottom right above the caption "May 24/1819".


Two Malay women are engaged in conversation, one seated with rolls of material in her lap and one sandal kicked off – the other kneeling, resting her back against a stone wall. Both have sticks and the kneeling woman has a skin bag, partially open, and a box beside her.


5. "Boors [sic] of the Cape of Good Hope" in ink under the sketch which is within a ruled rectangle.
Water-colour and ink 228 mm x 186 mm.
Signed bottom right outside rule "RH Dingley …" Dated bottom left outside rule "Fort George/Feby/1818".


Both men wear broad-brimmed hats. The younger blond man on the left is barefoot wearing trousers, shirt and short jacket and is puffing vigorously at his pipe. A powder horn hangs at his waist and his gun is slung over his left shoulder. The man on the right wears a greatcoat and slipper-like shoes. He is about to light his pipe with a tinder box, and is holding a coach whip.


6. [View of Cape Town and Table Bay]
On verso in pencil or ink various landmarks are identified, eg "Lutheran/Church", "Burying ground", "Table Mountain" "Govt Gardens", "Gt Church", "Barracks", "Custom House, "Jetty"; "Market"; Devil's Head", "Kings Black House", "Pappendorf" [sic]


Water-colour and ink. 70 mm x 160 mm.
Enclosed in triple ruled rectangle.
Unsigned and undated.


A c.1816-8 view of Table Bay with shipping. Attributed to Dingley by the vendor (ie Sotheby's).


7. "/museums_galleries/museumafrica/africana_notes/275_early_sketches_by_dingley/Haarlkop_Johnson/A_Hottentot_Bugle_Boy/of_the_Cape_Regiment/index.html" in ink under the drawing. "Tambour Steerman [?]" in pencil above.
Water-colour and ink. 189 mm x 133 mm. Signed bottom left below caption "RH Dingley fct/Octr 1816"
"/museums_galleries/museumafrica/africana_notes/275_early_sketches_by_dingley/Gt_Fish_River/South_Africa/index.html" bottom right below caption.


Head and shoulder portrait of Johnson in uniform facing left.


8. "Two remarkable mountains called Tafel Berg, situated on the boundary of the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope: where it/ joins the Bushmans Country: The view was taken 20 or 30 miles distant" below sketch in ink between ruled border lines.


Water-colour and ink. 190 mm x 272 mm.
Signed bottom right "RHD Pinxt" Bottom left "Gt Fish River/Decr 1815".


9. "Matrose Dragoonder / a Hottentot of the Cape Regt." in pencil under drawing.
Pencil. 231 mm x 186 mm.
Signed "RHD" bottom right above inscription.
Watermark "J Budgen 1814".


Head and shoulder frontal portrait.


10. "Singular appearance of gigantic pathways sometimes seen as extending over some of the steepest & loftiest mountains in the Interior of the Cape of Good Hope beyond the District of Tarka … [illegible]" in pencil below the drawing.
Pencil and ink. 240 mm x 300 mm.


Pencilled margin on three sides. Signed "RHD" on verso below the seven line ink description.


Sketchy soldier figures in foreground but the mountains and the pathways up them dominate the scene.


On verso in ink: "These most interesting paths occur not infrequently over the … mountain in the Entrance of Bushman Country beyond the British frontier. Many mountains [sic] may be occasionally seen having them but by no means in succession either does it I believe ever occur … going up … or down on the other side they exactly resemble a path made by brushing and … by a broom the largest fragment of stone being outermost they perfectly I believe unaccountable and not noticed by any traveller I know of."


11. "Longwood; St Helen" in ink below.
Watercolour and ink. 150 mm x 240 mm.
Sketch is within linked rectangle. Unsigned. Watermark? TMAN? 18".


Two soldiers with scarlet tunics in right foreground. The buildings are encircled by two low walls. On the verso the rooms are numbered and identified.
1) Billard room
2) Drawing room
3) Napoleon's writing room afterwards converted into a bedroom.
4) The first bed chamber
5) … room
6) Inferior servants hall
7) Kitchen
8) Count Las Cases room with garret over for his son
9) Orderly Officers Room
10) General Gourgaud
11) Mr O Meara's room
12) New room built for (Comte Montholon) and family
Attributed to Dingley by the vendor (ie Sotheby's)


12. "Locusts of Southern Africa/ natural size" at the top of the drawing.
Water-colour and ink. 190 mm x 273 mm.
Signed bottom right "RHD/Gt Fish River".
Dated bottom right "Oct r 28: 1815".


Depicts five different insects. The centre one appears to be a praying mantis.


13. "The – Carper: of the Great Fish River, South Africa" above first fish and "The White Fish of the same" above the next.


Water-colour and ink, 190 mm x 272 mm.
Initialled bottom right. "RHD/Gt Fish River" Inscribed bottom
left "Cape of Good Hope Interior/Oct 27.1815


14. "Station of Lt McInnes Cape Regt" top centre. "The Riet Berg a Military Post Frontier" below. Both inscriptions in pencil.
Watercolour and ink. 160 mm x 228 mm.
Sketch is within double rule rectangle.
Signed in ink bottom left "RHD". Dated in ink bottom right "March 1817".


Domestic scene of thatched buildings and trees with figure top left leaning looking out over wall. Man accompanied by a dog in centre carrying a kettle. Woman with a bucket on her head followed by a naked child in left foreground. Three men and a recumbent dog in right foreground. The man on the left is playing a violin.


15. "Wintzel Coosters: A Military Post on the Great Fish River" in ink. "Cape Regt." and "Station of Lt Col Prentice" in pencil.
Water-colour and ink. 190 mm x 229 mm.
Sketch within ruled rectangle.
Signed in ink bottom left "RH Dingley. RHD" Bottom right
"Frontier April 25 1817". Watermark "J Budgen 1814"


Horses and sheep graze in the left foreground and the buildings of the post nestle below background hills.


16. "The Post of Paul Bester, Frontier Station of Ens Dingley/Cape Regt" in pencil across the top.
Water-colour and ink, 160 mm x 230 mm.
Pencil margins on sides. Unsigned Watermark "J Budgen 1814".


Peaceful domestic scene with chickens and dogs in foreground, man chopping wood and soldiers near the post's buildings. Hills in background.


Ink inscription on the verso.
"Sir I beg leave to report to you that my servant … [Bert Burton?] has just now made a complaint to me of his having been severely beaten by Abraham [Spag?] the Contractor for this post. All I know on the subject respecting it is that the man was sent on an errand for me to the Contractor and that a few minutes after he returned with his head cut in Deep … which he stated to have received? from … with a large stick.


"I have no reason to suppose that from his general character that [Bert Burton?] was the aggressor [sic]. On the contrary from the … messages I have received and the general tenor of … conduct of late to myself and every other military man who he has had to do with that he is….


17. "Interior of my room at Van der Marvels Gt Fish River" in pencil below.
Signed below left "RH Dingley ft Octr 1816".
"Gt Fish River South Africa" below right. Both in ink. Water-colour and ink. 190 mm x 272 mm.
Sketch is within ink margin.


Books, artist's and soldier's paraphernalia, hunter's spoils, two dogs and a cat along a wall.


18. "Travelling in St Africa Zweet Melkfontein, De out span plaace [sic]" in pencil below.
Water-colour and ink. 216 mm x 280 mm. Unsigned and undated.


On verso in pencil "In travelling with the wagon you generally stop early in the morning and at dinner time at the outspan places or unharnessing places, when there is a spring – (fountein): and let the oxen graze for two or three hours – during the heat of the day – which enables them to travel during the night. On halting one of your people goes out with the beasts as cattle guard to prevent their being stolen by the Caffers and he generally contrives to shoot some game or other. The others commence making a fire & getting breakfast. If the weather is cool you amuse yourself with shooting and if hot unfold your mattress and sleep. Springs are seldom nearer than 15 miles from each other & whenever there is one of any extent so as to allow of irrigation it is the site of a Boors House so that they are not frequently met with".


An outspan scene.
The vendor has supposed the last word on the verso to be the artist's initials.


19. "A Boors [sic] House of the Interior of South Africa with a Tan Pit & Soap Manufactory [sic]" in ink at the bottom.


Water-colour and ink. 241 mm x 300 mm.
Signed bottom right within ruled lines "RHD" … [illegible]
Dated bottom left within ruled lines "Jany 1819".


Man & horse…. [illegible] back in line with signature and date. On verso in pencil "Horse in a different position…[illegible]".


20. "Cape Ladies shopping/De Winkel von Juffrou Lusenbrink" in ink below sketch.


Water-colour and ink 215 mm x 250 mm.
Signed bottom left above the caption "RH Dingley/London"
Dated bottom right also slightly above caption "June 17/1819"


Two ladies customers are seated at a table sipping Constantia wine [?] while the shop owner shows off her wares – hats, cloaks, cottons etc. Children play on the floor.