Stoep Stories No 24
Saturday, 24th May 2014
STOEP STORIES - TALES FROM THE KAROO
Published by the Graaff-Reinet Heritage Society
DIE HUWELIKSHOF (THE MARRIAGE COURT)
(With acknowledgment to Johann van Zijl)
During the eighteenth century immigration to the Cape proceeded relatively slowly and as a consequence marriage partners were available from a comparatively small number of families. As a result there was an ever present fear of interbreeding resulting from what could be incestuous marriages. The Commissioners for Matrimonial Affairs had been established long before the Great Trek in the 1830s. Couples considering marriage had to appear before the Commissioners to satisfy them that they were engaged only to each other. This principle was continued in the Marriage Courts of the various Treks where couples had to appear for the same reasons. Considerable status accrued to the head of the Commissioners on the Treks and with his flair for self-aggrandisement Retief usurped Maritz’s position in this organisation.
During the bried existence of the Independent Colony of Graaff – Reinet proclaimed at the end of the 18th century the self-appointed representatives of the people made a most inconvenient arrangement for young couples intending to marry. They were obliged to have their names read in their congregations on three consecutive Sundays. If nobody objected they had to travel to Cape Town (a journey of 10 to 12 days) to appear before the Commissioners there. If they then succeeded in obtaining a marriage licence they would have to return to Graaff – Reinet (another 10 to 12 days ) so that they could be married there. To save this journey the representatives appointed their own Commissioner in Graaff – Reinet. But when the English took over the Cape in 1795 they refused to legitimise any of the marriage solemnised in Graaff – Reinet by Ds Manger in July and August of that year.
The result clearly was that those unfortunate couples who tied the knot in that period were “living in sin” until they could have their status confirmed!