Captain Benjamin Moodie of Melsetter

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About Captain Benjamin Moodie of Melsetter


Captain Benjamin Moodie of Melsetter is the eldest son of Major James Moodie of Melsetter and his wife Elizabeth Dunbar. He is reported to have been born on 1 January in 1789 or 1790. The Moodie Book: 53

The Moodie Book: 53-7

Evidence from the National Records of Scotland


8 April 1812: Letter from Miss Jess (Janet) Moodie, eldest daughter of Major James Moodie of Melsetter, to her eldest brother Capt. Benjamin Moodie, Ross Militia, Thurso, concerning a Mr Campbell's proposal of marriage to their younger sister Harriet (Henrietta) and other family matters and referring to Malcolm Nicolson, her future husband. National Records of Scotland, Papers of Heddle family of Melsetter, Orkney, reference GD263/158


29 October 1813: Letter from Major James Moodie from Surrey to his eldest son Capt. Benjamin Moodie at Melsetter, regarding the latter's behaviour to him and his own financial troubles. He appears to be in a debtor's prison (the Marshalsea?) National Records of Scotland, Papers of Heddle family of Melsetter, Orkney, reference GD263/159


1815-18: Copy of edited extracts of letters from Henrietta Moodie to her friend Mary Bury regarding her engagement to the young clergyman Mr Bremner, to her family's financial troubles, the breaking off of her engagement, and her engagement to marry Robert Heddle, who has bought Melsetter from her father's Trustees. Reference is also made to Benjamin Moodie's plans for emigration to the Cape of Good Hope.National Records of Scotland, Papers of Heddle family of Melsetter, Orkney, reference GD263/162


19 June 1816: Letter from Thomas Moodie to his brother Capt Benjamin Moodie at Edinburgh concerning the postponed sale of Melsetter and his collection of rentals. National Records of Scotland, Papers of Heddle family of Melsetter, Orkney, reference GD263/85


  1. The Moodie Book: 132 pp.
  2. Norval South Africa: Benjamin Moodie Settlers 1817

Biographical Accounts


In 1817 Benjamin and his partner, Hamilton Ross,were to bring out 10,000 Scots to South Africa. After the first 50, Ross pulled out. Moodie brought in approximately 200 settlers, many of them artisans, to Port Beaufort which now lies in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. The Scots were to pay Moodie the 20 pounds back before or after the trip. If they couldn't they had to work for Moodie for 18 months. In 1820 Benjamin established the Port Beaufort Trading Company and built a warehouse. Credit must go to him for first enticing the vessels to cross the bar regularly for mercantile purposes. It was also in this year that he noted the advantages given to the 1820 Settlers, so he claimed them for himself for his earlier efforts. Benjamin Moodie was given the farm "Westfield" just east of the Breede River mouth. On the 10th October 1831 the farm "Westfield" No. 478 Swellendam, 5257 morgan government ground was granted to Captain Benjamin Moodie by Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole as a reward for his efforts in bringing 200 Scots into the country. It was on this farm, "extensifve erf", that he built his warehouses. In 1832 the Westfield homestead was built. Over the years various people had erected accomodation next to the river mouth on stands obtained by the Moodie familty of Westfield. The village of White Sands near Port Beaufort was laid out on that part of the farm Westfield called White Sands held by Benjamin and DD Moodie, under cartificates of registered title date 30 December 1908. By 1841 Benjamin's venture had for all practical purposes disappeared. Until 1843 he lived on the farm "Groot Vaders Bosch" In 1856 Benjamin died at "Westfield" and was buried on his farm. [A concise history of Port Beaufort & White Sands (also known as Witsand) including Family Trees White Sands & Port Beaufort by John McGregor]


Within a few years the Moodies had become one of those pioneering families whose story is interwoven with the history of Southern Africa in the nineteenth century. The settlers travelled on 3 vessels - 'Brilliant' (sailed March 1817), 'Garland' (sailed May 1817, arrived August) and 'Clyde' (sailed end May 1817, arrived 27 September). He initially settled on the farm 'Grootvadersbosch' in the Swellendam district and later moved, with his brother James, to the Bethlehem area. Dunbar Moodie (grandnephew of Benjamin) led the Moodie Trek to Rhodesia in 1892 and founded the town of Melsetter at an altitude of 1586 m in the Chimanimani Mountains.


Scottish Immigration to South Africa

On 14 June 1817, one of the forerunners of organized immigration to the Cape, Benjamin MOODIE begged leave to acquaint the colonial public 'that, under the sanction of Government, he has arrived from England with a number of mechanics and labourers consisting of smiths, carpenters, cabinetmakers, turners, coopers, masons, tanners, stonecutters, ploughmen, gardeners etc, and that ... he proposes hiring part of them out for such periods as may be agreed upon.' This party arrived on the ship Brilliant. Later the same month he announced that a further 50 were on their way to the Cape, on the Garland, which duly landed at Table Bay on 23 August 1817. They were followed by another group on the Clyde on 24 September 1817. The men were Scottish artisans, about 200 in all, brought out under indenture to Moodie. Norval South Africa: Benjamin Moodie Settlers 1817

This experiment wasn't an unqualified success. The indentured immigrants were dissatisfied with the conditions of service and a few ran away to become outlaws in the Knysna forests. Some of Moodie's settlers married into Dutch families. Norval South Africa: Benjamin Moodie Settlers 1817

Moodie himself was 9th Laird of Melsetter (pronounced Meltster), Orkney. Born 1 January 1789 he married Margaret MALCOLMSON in 1816. Shortly after that the idea of taking indentured settlers to the Cape, and of settling there himself, took strong hold of Moodie's imagination and he applied for purchase of suitable property. His brother John Moodie also decided to settle in South Africa and arrived on the Mary in 1819. In 1829 he produced a book, 'Ten Years in South Africa', before emigrating to Canada. Another brother, Donald Moodie, also later came to South Africa. Norval South Africa: Benjamin Moodie Settlers 1817

Farm Westfield

Benjamin Moodie initially settled on the farm Groot Vaders Bosch which he bought in 1817 and which is still in the possession of his descendants. This farm is close to the Langeberg Mountain in the Heidelberg Cape District, about 25 km from Heidelberg, on the road via Zuurbraak to Swellendam. In 1831 Sir Lowry Cole (Governor of the Cape) granted Benjamin the farm Westfield (5250 morgen) at the mouth of the Breede River – the farm was named after the ancestral home of Benjamin’s mother. He build his homestead here in 1832. It was a pretentious mansion by the standards of 1831. He moved to Westfield as soon as the house was completed and died and was buried at Westfield in 1856. His son Malcolm took over Westfield. Malcolm is my Great Grand father. – Guy Moodie. Norval South Africa: Benjamin Moodie Settlers 1817

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Captain Benjamin Moodie of Melsetter's Timeline

January 1, 1789
Hoy Island, Orkney, Scotland
May 2, 1814
Walls, Orkney, Scotland
Age 28
To Cape Colony, South Africa
May 26, 1819
April 29, 1824
South Africa
Cape Colony, South Africa
December 29, 1826
Swellendam, South Africa
November 18, 1828
Swellendam, Overberg District Municipality, Western Cape, South Africa
October 23, 1830
Swellendam, Overberg District Municipality, Western Cape, South Africa