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Thomas Pringle

The Cape of Storms

Some questions to challenge you!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 18 January 2014
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The poet considers the harshness of the Cape Colony: its bleak mountains, its gales and shipwrecks, and its slavery and other civil crimes. He nevertheless concludes that there are some strong links which hold him to the Cape, links of family and friends.


Although he only spent six years in South Africa, Thomas Pringle nevertheless has the reputation for being the father of South African poetry because he was the first successful English speaking poet and author to describe this country.

He was born in 1789 in Blakelaw in Scotland and was educated at Kelso Grammar School before continuing to the University of Edinburgh. It was there that he developed his love for writing which would guide his future life.

He began work as a clerk before taking up a career in the editing of journals and newspapers. During this time he also developed his talent for writing poetry. When one of his poems caught the attention of the great novelist, Sir Walter Scott, a friendship sprang up between the two men.

Conditions were harsh in the United Kingdom at that time as the country struggled under a recession following the conclusion of the Napoleonic wars. When Pringle saw an offer for a free passage to the Eastern Cape as part of what became known as the 1820 Settlers, he decided to apply.

Although the settlers were meant to be frontier farmers, Pringle soon saw an opportunity to continue his career in newspapers. He therefore settled amongst the growing urban community at Graham's Town where he founded South Africa's first newspaper, The Graham's Town Journal.

He was soon lured by the greater opportunities offered in Cape Town, and there he founded another newspaper called The South African Commercial Advertiser. His continual criticism of Governor Lord Charles Somerset, however, saw his newspapers quickly suppressed, thus starting the first battle for freedom of the press in South Africa.

In the meantime, with no prospect of earning an income in Cape Town, Pringle returned to England. He settled in London where an article he had written while at the Cape caught the eye of the Anti-Slave Society who appointed him as their secretary. It was then that he published much of his poetry and sketches which he had drafted while in South Africa.

Pringle did not see the eventual liberation of slavery. He died of TB in 1834. He was only 45 years of age. Although he was buried in Bunhill Fields near London, his bones were exhumed in 1970 and re-buried at the Pringle Family Church at Eildon in the Baviaan's River Valley in the Eastern Cape.

He had only spent six years in South Africa and has been described as a man "of distinctly limited ability who died a material failure". He has nevertheless inspired admiration for what he managed to achieve.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

Some questions on the structure of this sonnet.
  • What type of sonnet is this? How do you know? (4)

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  • What is the theme of the octave? (4)

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  • What is the theme of the sestet? (4)

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"O Cape of Storms! although thy front be dark,
And bleak thy naked cliffs and cheerless vales."
  • Comment on the poet's continued use of "thy" and "thee" throughout this sonnet. (4)

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  • What does the poet mean when he says "thy front be dark"? (4)

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  • Would you agree that the poet is being somewhat elementary when he says, "And bleak thy naked cliffs and cheerless vales"? Indeed, it's fairly meaningless from a poetic point of view. What do you think? (4)

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"And perilous thy fierce and faithless gales
To staunchest mariner and stoutest bark."
  • What is a "bark"? (2)

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  • Why would the gales be "faithless" and the mariners "staunchest"? (4)

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