The underlying fact which made the trek possible is that the Dutch-descended colonists in the eastern and northeastern parts of the colony were not cultivators of the soil, but of purely pastoral and nomadic habits, ever ready to seek new pastures for their flocks and herds, and possessing no special affection for any particular locality.These people, thinly scattered over a wide territory, had lived for so long with little restraint from law that when, in 1815, by the institution of “Commissions of Circuit,” justice was brought nearer to their homes, various offences were brought to light, the remedying of which caused much resentment.Landing at Table Bay, Van Riebeek took control over Cape Town, the settlement developed during the previous 10 years.In 1671 the Dutch first purchased land from the native Khoikhoi beyond the limits of the fort built by Van Riebeek; this marked the development of the Colony proper.In 1780, Joachim van Plettenberg, the governor, proclaimed the Sneeuberge to be the northern boundary of the colony, expressing "the anxious hope that no more extension should take place, and with heavy penalties forbidding the rambling peasants to wander beyond." In 1789, so strong had feeling amongst the burghers become that delegates were sent from the Cape to interview the authorities at Amsterdam.After this deputation, some nominal reforms were granted.From time to time, servants in the direct employment of the company were endowed with the right of "freeburghers"; but the company retained the power to compel them to return into its service whenever they deemed it necessary.
They possessed numerous slaves, grew wheat in sufficient quantity to make it a commodity crop for export, and were famed for the good quality of their wines. The administration of the Dutch East India Company was extremely despotic.In 1780, however, the Dutch, to avoid collision with the warlike Bantu tribes advancing south and west from east central Africa, agreed with them to make the Great Fish River the common boundary.In 1795 the heavily taxed burghers of the frontier districts, who were afforded no protection against the Bantus, expelled the officials of the Dutch East India Company, and set up independent governments at Swellendam and Graaff Reinet.in Southern Africa during the 18th and much of the 19th century.
For a long time the Dutch East India Company controlled this area, but it was eventually taken over by the United Kingdom and incorporated into the British Empire.
In addition, the term also applied to those who left the Cape Colony during the 19th century to settle in the Orange Free State, Transvaal (which are together known as the Boer Republics), and to a lesser extent Natal.