South African Dutch, Dutch, Portuguese, Buganese, Sunda, BaliShow more South African Dutch (possibly in earlier use in other Dutch colonies), perhaps adaptation of Portuguese tronco trunk, stock (of a tree), the stocks, by extension ‘prison’ (the etymology given in OED), or adaptation of Buganese and Sunda (a dialect of Bali) tarunka prison.
Mansvelt (in his Idioticon, 1884) suggests that the word might be derived from French tronc a box, or from Persian turang a prison. Pettman (1913) suggests Malay trungku ‘to imprison’ as the source, and Bense (1939) agrees, referring to quotation 1693 below, and suggesting that ‘the word was borrowed by the Dutch from Malay in the form trunk, and introduced, not only into the English colonies on the Coromandel Coast,..but also into South Africa at the time of van Riebeeck. The form may then have become tronk under the influence of the above-mentioned Portuguese or French words, if not under that of European Dutch tronk in the sense of Latin truncus’ (i.e. tree trunk). While the Malay word for ‘prison’ is panjara, in Buganese and Sunda tarunka is used, and ‘the word tronk could thus have come into Afrikaans through the Buganese or Balian slaves’ (A. Davids, ‘Words the Cape slaves made’, South African Journal of Linguistics, Vol.8 No.1, 1990).
1798Lady A. Barnard inLord LindsayLives of Lindsays (1849) III. 475The cow..had offended the laws by walking on the parade, the consequence of which was, like other caitiffs, she was put in the Tronck.
1803S.E. Hudson Diary 1803–6. (Cape Archives A609–4)One man, a Slave to an Englishman at Cape Town, has been guilty of numberless crimes. This had brought him once or twice to the Scafford [sic] where he had been publickly Flogged and several times privately punished in the Tronk.
1805R. SempleWalks & Sketches 11Close to the water’s edge yonder is the prison, used chiefly for slaves, and called here the Tronk.
1824J. Barry inG.M. ThealRec. of Cape Col. (1903) XVII. 245On the evening of the 6th I visited the Tronk..and in a Dungeon of that place found Jacob Elliott with his thigh fractured.
1834T. PringleAfr. Sketches 301The drostdy tronk, or gaol, which I visited more than once,..was an interesting though deplorable scene.
1846Natal Witness 7 Nov. 3He..was so violent, that if I could have got assistance, I would have sent him to the Tronk.
1853T. Shone Diary. 15 Apr.This morning The Police took all Henry’s servants to the tronk for Stealing of Mr Banks India Corn.
1866E. WilsonReminisc. 140Arresting a Native without a proper pass in his possession, or taking a drunken Hottentot to the tronk in a wheelbarrow, are, for the most part, the respective duties of the Frontier Armed and Mounted Police and the town police.
1911Blackburn & CaddellSecret Service 76Say you are guilty and get off with a month in tronk. It’s not bad in our tronk.
1916J. BuchanGreenmantle 258I..know something about the inside of prisons. You may build them like great castles, or they may be like a back-veld tronk, only mud and corrugated iron.
1959J. PackerHigh Roof 61Coloured boys and White girls, it don’t do here. You finish up in the tronk!
[1970H. KuperWitch in my Heart 70Tronk is the Afrikaans word for gaol and more commonly used by Africans in the towns, who associate gaol with the Afrikaans-speaking police.]
1976S. CloeteChetoko 113‘The police,’ he said. ‘Ja, they’d throw my Missus into the tronk for giving an old man a drink because he is black.’
1977D. MullerWhitey 35To steal a chicken is nothing. To steal a bottle of brandy from a bar is tronk business.
1988Saturday Star 28 May 36The Immorality Act (remember?) would encourage the fuzz to..watch through curtains ajar and test the warmth of the bedsheets before clapping the loving sinners into the nearest tronk.