Mina Magerman (1808?- ?)

by Kay Buttfield


Mina Magerman was born in the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, in an area that was known by the colonial authorities as Cafferland. She was a Khoikhoi, native to South Africa. The Khoi people were one of the groups referred to as Khoisan, but they were known as Hottentots by the colonial authorities.

There are no surviving records about Mina’s early life, but when she was 22 she was convicted of a heinous crime. Mina worked as a needlewoman, nurse-maid, and washerwoman, and lived in Grobler’s Kloof (Ravine) in Graham’s Town—part of an area more commonly referred to as Cafferland (Kaffirland). Cafferland came from the derogatory name, kafir from the Arabic for unbeliever. This term was used first by the Dutch, and then the English, to describe the Hottentots (Khoikhoi).

On 1 February 1830, Mina, and Marie Hendriks were at a street canteen run by publican John Norton in the High-street in Grahamstown. A woman named Katje Adonis was also drinking at the street bar when she and Marie started a shouting match at each other—Mina, observing this, weighed into the argument suggesting that by now blows should be felt. Marie and Mina both then fell upon the unfortunate Katje. Mina was observed beating her around the head and kicking her while sitting on the body. Pregnant Katje was so badly beaten that she miscarried and later that night died from her injuries. Marie and Mina were confined to prison until their trial on April 1830. This was most likely the infamous Robbens Island prison.

At the trial Anthony Oliphant, the Attorney General of the Cape, said both women were guilty of murdering the hottentot Katje, although they had, however, pled not guilty. The Advertiser reported that one of the jury had been witness to similar scenes and said they happened so frequently he never interfered. The article also said that Oliphant thought these sort of occurrences were caused by, ‘... unrestrained exercise of vicious passions ... further excited by intoxicating liquors’. Oliphant’s comment was indicative of the authorities treatment of the indigenous South Africans. Mina was found guilty of culpable homicide and Marie was found not guilty. Mina’s sentence was transportation to New South Wales for 7 years.

In March 1832 the ship Diana moored in Table Bay. It was en-route with a cargo of convicts for the colony of New South Wales. The Diana had two cases of suspected scurvy and many cases of constipation, so the Surgeon requested that they replenish supplies. As well as the 500 lbs of fresh vegetables and 18 live sheep they also took on board one ‘Hottentot’ prisoner (Mina). The Diana was Captained by Master George Braithwaite and the Ship’s Surgeon was James Ellis. James, a highly respected doctor, was to note in his journal that on the voyage from Cape Town there were less cases of illness, and that it was a much easier voyage than the first half of the trip.

The Diana docked in New South Wales on 4 August 1833 and Mina was assessed and assigned for employment. Her indent record described her as: a heathen from Cafferland, 5 feet 1 inch (154.94 cm) tall, stout build, black woolly hair, black eyes, a copper coloured complexion, thick lips with one tooth missing in the upper jaw, a scar on her right cheekbone, and a flat nose. The listings do not say where Mina was first employed, but by 7 November 1833 the New South Wales Gazette noted she had been apprehended after absconding from her Master, Robert Brown.

Mina is not mentioned again until the New South Wales Gazette in July 1836 announced she was apprehended after again absconding from the employment of T. Barker of Sydney. Later that year Mina was married to William Stephens who was transported on the Atlas in 1819. In 1838 Mina received her certificate of freedom, and is recorded on it as the wife of W. Stephens (per Atlas). William had been assigned to employment in the Parramatta area and according to the Census they stayed in that area until at least 1841. There are no listings for Mina or William after 1841.

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Further reading:

Kay Buttfield, 'Convicts from the Cape Colony', in From the Edges of Empire, eds L. Frost and C. McAlpine, Convict Women’s Press, Hobart, 2015, pp. 90-113. 



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