Joseph Suasso de Lima

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Joseph Suasso de Lima (1791-1858) was a doctor of jurisprudence, translator, teacher, scholar, newspaper editor, stationer and bookseller, prolific and literate poet, writer, playwright and avid supporter of theatre.

Best known perhaps as J. Suasso de Lima, the name under which he tended to publish.


Born in Amsterdam, the son of Portuguese Jews, on 27 June 1791, though he converted to Christianity at an early age. Trained as a lawyer. He was conversant with at least eleven languages and an active member of the Free Masons. He married Gertruida Bakker and they had one daughter. He left her in in 1826 ostensibly because of her profligate lifestyle, and she died in Cape Town in 1836.


After a brief period as lawyer in Amsterdam and a short and undistinguished career in Batavia (1816-1818), he and his wife settled in Cape Town in 1818, maintaining himself with translation, till he became a schoolmaster at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1823. He also became fairly well-known as a poet and translated some novels (e.g. a sentimental novel called Raymond).

After initially befriending and working with his contemporary C.E. Boniface, the two soon became implacable enemies and exchanged public invective in the forms of poems and dialogues ("Zamensprake") to the joy of the public, including Boniface's satiric rewriting of Von Kotzebue's De intrigue aan het venster as Limaçon de Dichter and his own satire Clasius, of Het Proces om een Komedielootjie (1834). Ridiculed by Boniface particularly for his small stature and his physical deformities (which were likened to those of Pope), which made him an easy target for his enemies - although his superior dignity and wit caused him to the more respected in general society.

In 1826 he started up a weekly newspaper in Dutch, De Verzamelaar (1826-1848), which became the Kaapsche Courant in 1827, but was out of business by 1830, although De Lima kept trying to resuscitate it, notably from 1839 to 1848.

In 1826 he also began a Dutch "Leesboekery" ("reading bookshop"), which also did not do so well.

In 1835 he began a "Boek-, Papier- en Prentenwinkel" ("Book, Paper and Picture Shop"), opening a second shop in 1838 and expanding to create the "Zuid-Afrikaanse Bazaar en Boekwinkel" ("South African bazaar and Bookshop"), which eventually did well enough to stabilize his life to a degree until his death in 1858, though he was never really financially successful. He was also the author of the first history of the Cape published in Africa (Geschiedenis van de Kaap de Goede Hoop, 1825).

He died in the Cape in 1858.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

As director and manager

He was the founding father of children's theatre in the Cape, when he established Tot Oefening en Smaak in 1825 , with the 9 year old J.G. Tredoux (de Jonge) designated the "Director" of the company. It was a dramatic society for children, for which De Lima directed a number of plays, including Het Dal van Almeria, De Verjaring, De Nachtwacht, De Regter, Die een Kuil graft voor een ander valt er gemeenlyk zelfs in, and De Moedwillige Jongen.

They had to abandon the company the next year due to puritanical outrage at the possible effect of theatre on the morality of children. De Lima wrote a number of erudite pamphlets, articles and poems in defense of the theatre for children, among them the brochure on theatre for children over the ages called Iets over het Dansen en Toneelspelen (15 May 1825) and a poem on the pros and cons of liking theatre, entitled Het Gebruik en Misbruik der Toneel-liefhebberyen (26 April, 1826). However all his efforts were of little avail.

In addition he also translated Théâtre à l'Usage des Jeunes Personnes, ou Théâtre de l'Éducation ("Theatre for use by young people, or theatre for education"), a standard work for children by Madame De Genlis, into Dutch for use by himself and other teachers and directors. Bosman refers to De Genlis's collection as Le Théâtre des Enfants ("The theatre for children") and also mentions another collection, De Vriend der Kinderen (The children's friend"), which he (or De Lima) claimed to be an original German collection, but it is more likely that both titles simply refer to De Genlis monumental work in 4 volumes, published 1779-1780.

As playwright

Not as prolific as his rival Charles Etienne Boniface, yet he produced a number of works performed in the 19th century.

Original plays

His best known theatrical work was his satire on C.E. Boniface entitled Zamenspraak tusschen Limançon een Dichter en een Prozaisch Gaskonjer.

Other plays included Aballino Junior, of De Kleine Bandiet (1835),

In the South African Chronicle of 15 June 1825 he also advertised a series of little works to be published by subscription under the motto "Bene meritos honora". This was in response to a similar list by his rival, C.E. Boniface. (The list reproduced in F.C.L. Bosman, 1928: p. 290) They were not published as far as one can tell and no mention is made of any performances.

The list of six pieces included : De Nieuwe Aankomeling, of De Straat tussen Rossika en Sardinië ("A fragment, in verse"), De Noodlottige Avonturier, of Don Quichot in die Vlakte ("A loose design, in verse"), De Dwalende Robbert (an "heroic song in theatrical dress") and De Man in Vier Gedaanten, of Musicus, Acteur, Gaskonjer en Taalmeester (a one-act comedy).

Possibly also the author (or translator) of Die Een Kuil Graft Voor Een Ander Valt Er Gemeenlyk Zelfs In , a moralty play for young people.


L’Enragé by Charles Etienne Boniface, as De Dolzinnige, of De Gewaande Dolleman (1823) The play was produced on 23 July 1823.

De Zwervende Jood (1837), possibly translated from one of two French operas by Fromental Halévy, most probably La Juife (1835 with a libretto by Eugène Scribe (1791–1861)[1]) or possibly even an early version of Le Juif Errant (1852, with a libretto by Scribe and Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges).

Possibly De Nachtwacht, a Dutch translation/adaptation of the German one-act play Der Nachtwächter by Carl Theodor Körner, for a production in Cape Town in 1825.

Other theatrical activities

According to William Groom (1899, p.520), De Lima helped out the visiting Theatre de L'Union by selling tickets, and acting as a prompt for the French productions in the Drury Lane Theatre in 1848.

Awards, etc

[TH, JH]


Mona Vida de Beer 1995. Who Did What in South Africa. Johannesburg: Ad Donker.

F.C.L. Bosman. 1928. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel I: 1652-1855. Pretoria: J.H. de Bussy. [2]: pp. 4,124, 256-270, 290

Jill Fletcher. 1994. The Story of Theatre in South Africa: A Guide to its History from 1780-1930. Cape Town: Vlaeberg.

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