‘Onschuldig vermaak’: The Dutch Reformed Church and Children's Leisure Time in the Nineteenth-Century Cape Colony

Publication Type:

Journal Article


S. E. Duff


South African Historical Journal, Volume 63, p.495–513 (2011)




{ABSTRACT} This article considers the ways in which children's leisure time was conceptualised and directed in the Cape Colony between 1850 and the end of the century. Using diaries, letters, and evidence presented to Parliamentary commissions of enquiry, the article argues that the notion of ‘productivity’ was central to ideas around leisure time during this period. Beginning with an overview of the leisure activities of white, middle class, and of poor, coloured, white, and African, children in Cape Town and the Boland during this period, the paper then moves on to a discussion of the child-related work of the Dutch Reformed Church ({DRC).} Although other churches organised Sunday Schools and other children's societies, the {DRC} began this work considerably earlier and achieved a much wider reach. This analysis of children's leisure time demonstrates the extent to which children preoccupied colonial commentators and organisations during the second half of the nineteenth century. The history of childhood remains unexplored within South African historiography. This article addresses this lacuna. It sheds light not only on the changing nature of childhood in the nineteenth-century Cape Colony, but also provides new ways of understanding the colony's industrialisation and economic expansion as a result of the mineral revolution.

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