Invasion by Mosilikatze — Arrival of the emigrant Boers — Establishment of the South African republic — The Sand River convention — Growth of the territory of the republic — The native tribes surrounding it — Capabilities of the country — Its climate — Its inhabitants — The Boers — Their peculiarities and mode of life — Their abhorrence of settled government and payment of taxes — The Dutch patriotic party — Form of government previous to the annexation — Courts of law — The commando system — Revenue arrangements — Native races in the Transvaal.
The Transvaal is a country without a history. Its very existence was hardly known of until about fifty years ago. Of its past we know nothing. The generations who peopled its great plains have passed utterly out of the memory and even the traditions of man, leaving no monument to mark that they have existed, not even a tomb.
During the reign of Chaka, 1813–1828, whose history has been sketched in a previous chapter, one of his most famous generals, Mosilikatze, surnamed the Lion, seceded from him with a large number of his soldiers, and striking up in a north-westerly direction, settled in or about what is now the Morico district of the Transvaal. The country through which Mosilikatze passed was at that time thickly populated with natives of the Basutu or Macatee race, whom the Zulus look upon with great contempt. Mosilikatze expressed the feelings of his tribe in a practical manner, by massacring every living soul of them that came within his reach. That the numbers slaughtered were very great, the numerous ruins of Basutu kraals all over the country testify.
It was Chaka’s intention to follow up Mosilikatze and destroy him, but he was himself assassinated before he could do so. Dingaan, his successor, however, carried out his brother’s design, and despatched a large force to punish him. This army, after marching over 300 miles, burst upon Mosilikatze, drove him back with slaughter, and returned home triumphant. The invasion is important, because the Zulus claim the greater part of the Transvaal territory by virtue of it.
About the time that Mosilikatze was conquered, 1835–1840, the discontented Boers were leaving the Cape Colony exasperated at the emancipation of the slaves by the Imperial authorities. First they made their way to Natal, but being followed thither by the English flag they travelled further inland over the Vaal River and founded the town of Mooi River Dorp or Potchefstroom. Here they were joined by other malcontents from the Orange Sovereignty, which, although afterwards abandoned, was at that time a British possession. Acting upon
The good old rule, the simple plan
Of let him take who has the power,
And let him keep who can,
the Boers now proceeded to possess themselves of as much territory as they wanted. Nor was this a difficult task. The country was, as I have said, peopled by Macatees, who are a poor-spirited race as compared to the Zulus, and had had what little courage they possessed crushed out of them by the rough handling they had received at the hands of Mosilikatze and Dingaan. The Boers, they argued, could not treat them worse than the Zulus had done. Occasionally a Chief, bolder than the rest, would hold out, and then such an example was made of him and his people that few cared to follow in his footsteps.
As soon as the Boers were fairly settled in their new home, they began to think about setting up a Government. First they tried a system of Commandants, with a Commandant-general, but this does not seem to have answered. Next, those of their number who lived in Lydenburg district (where the gold fields now are) set up a Republic, with a President and Volksraad, or popular assembly. This example was followed by the other white inhabitants of the country, who formed another Republic and elected another President, with Pretoria for their capital. The two republics were subsequently incorporated.
In 1852 the Imperial authorities, having regard to the expense of maintaining an effective government over an unwilling people in an undeveloped and half-conquered country, concluded a convention with the emigrant Boers “beyond the Vaal River.” The following were the principal stipulations of this convention, drawn up between Major Hogg and Mr. Owen, Her Majesty’s Assistant–Commissioners for the settling and adjusting of the affairs of the eastern and north-eastern boundaries of the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope on the one part, and a deputation representative of the emigrant farmers north of the Vaal River on the other. It was guaranteed “in the fullest manner on the part of the British Government to the emigrant farmers beyond the Vaal River the right to manage their own affairs, and to govern themselves according to their own laws, without any interference on the part of the British Government, and that no encroachment shall be made by the said Government on the territory beyond to the north of the Vaal River, with the further assurance that the warmest wish of the British Government is to promote peace, free trade, and friendly intercourse with the emigrant farmers now inhabiting, or who hereafter may inhabit that country, it being understood that this system of non-interference is binding on both parties.”
Next were disclaimed, on behalf of the British Government, “all alliances whatever and with whomsoever of the coloured nations to the north of the Vaal River.”
It was also agreed “that no slavery is or shall be permitted or practised in the country to the north of the Vaal River by the emigrant farmers.”
It was further agreed “that no objection shall be made by any British authority against the emigrant Boers purchasing their supplies of ammunition in any of the British colonies and possessions of South Africa; it being mutually understood that all trade in ammunition with the native tribes is prohibited both by the British Government and the emigrant farmers on both sides of the Vaal River.”
These were the terms of this famous convention, which is as slipshod in its diction as it is vague in its meaning. What, for instance, is meant by the territory to the north of the Vaal River? According to the letter of the agreement, Messrs. Hogg and Owen ceded all the territory between the Vaal and Egypt. This historical document was the Charta of the new-born South African Republic. Under its provisions, the Boers, now safe from interference on the part of the British, established their own Government and promulgated their “Grond Wet,” or Constitution.
The history of the Republic between 1852 and 1876 is not very interesting, and is besides too wearisome to enter into here. It consists of an oft-told tale of civil broils, attacks on native tribes, and encroachment on native territories. Until shortly before the Annexation, every burgher was, on coming of age, entitled to receive from the Government 6000 acres of land. As these rights were in the early days of the Republic frequently sold to speculators for such trifles as a bottle of brandy or half a dozen of beer, and as the seller still required his 6000 acres: for a Boer considers it beneath his dignity to settle on less, it is obvious that it required a very large country to satisfy all demands. To meet these demands, the territories of the Republic had to be stretched like an elastic band, and they were stretched accordingly — at the expense of the natives. The stretching process was an ingenious one, and is very well described in a minute written by Mr. Osborn, the late Magistrate at Newcastle, dated 22d September, 1876, in these words:—
“The Boers, as they have done in other cases and are still doing, encroached by degrees on native territory, commencing by obtaining permission to graze stock upon portions of it at certain seasons of the year, followed by individual graziers obtaining from native headmen a sort of right or license to squat upon certain defined portions, ostensibly in order to keep other Boer squatters away from the same land. These licenses, temporarily intended as friendly or neighbourly acts by unauthorised headmen, after a few seasons of occupation by the Boer, are construed by him as title, and his permanent occupation ensues. Damage for trespass is levied by him from the very man from whom he obtained the right to squat, to which the natives submit out of fear of the matter reaching the ears of the paramount chief, who would in all probability severely punish them for opening the door to encroachment by the Boer. After a while, however, the matter comes to a crisis in consequence of the incessant disputes between the Boers and the natives; one or other of the disputants lays the case before the paramount chief, who, when hearing both parties, is literally frightened with violence and threats by the Boer into granting him the land. Upon this the usual plan followed by the Boer is at once to collect a few neighbouring Boers, including a field cornet, or even an acting provisional field cornet, appointed by the field cornet or provisional cornet, the latter to represent the Government, although without instructions authorising him to act in the matter. A few cattle are collected among themselves, which the party takes to the chief, and his signature is obtained to a written document alienating to the Republican Boers a large slice of all his territory. The contents of this document are, as far as I can make out, never clearly or intelligibly explained to the chief who signs and accepts of the cattle under the impression that it is all in settlement of hire for the grazing licenses granted by his headmen. This, I have no hesitation in saying, is the usual method by which the Boers obtain what they call cessions to them of territories by native chiefs. In Secocoeni’s case they allege that his father Sequati cedes to them the whole of his territory (hundreds of square miles) for a hundred head of cattle.”
So rapidly did this progress go on that the little Republic to the “North of the Vaal River,” had at the time of the Annexation grown into a country of the size of France. Its boundaries had only been clearly defined where they abutted on neighbouring White Communities, or on the territories of great native powers, on which the Government had not dared to infringe to any marked degree, such as those of Lo Bengula’s people in the north. But wheresoever on the State’s borders there had been no white Power to limit its advances, or where the native tribes had found themselves too isolated or too weak to resist aggressions, there the Republic had by degrees encroached and extended the shadow, if not the substance, of its authority.
The Transvaal has a boundary line of over 1,600 miles in circumference, and of this a large portion is disputed by different native tribes. Speaking generally, the territory lies between the 22 and 28 degrees of South Latitude and the 25 and 32 degrees of East Longitude, or between the Orange Free State, Natal and Griqualand West on the south, and the Limpopo River on the north; and between the Lebombo mountains on the east, and the Kalihari desert on the west. On the north of its territory live three great tribes, the Makalaka, the Matabele (descendants of the Zulus who deserted Chaka under Mosilikatze) and the Matyana. These tribes are all warlike. On the west, following the line down to the Diamond Field territory, are the Sicheli, the Bangoaketsi, the Baralong and the Koranna tribes. Passing round by Griqualand West, the Free State, and Natal, we reach Zululand on the south-east corner; then come the Lebombo mountains on the east, separating the Transvaal from Amatonga land, and from the so-called Portuguese possessions, which are entirely in the hands of native tribes, most of them subject to the great Zulu chief, Umzeila, who has his stronghold in the north-east.
It will be observed that the country is almost surrounded by native tribes. Besides these there are about one million native inhabitants living within its borders. In one district alone, Zoutpansberg, it is computed that there are 364,250 natives, as compared to about 750 whites.
If a beautiful and fertile country were alone necessary to make a state and its inhabitants happy and prosperous, happiness and prosperity would rain upon the Transvaal and the Dutch Boers. The capabilities of this favoured land are vast and various. Within its borders are to be found highlands and lowlands, vast stretches of rolling veldt like gigantic sheep downs, hundreds of miles of swelling bushland, huge tracts of mountainous country, and even little glades spotted with timber that remind one of an English park. There is every possible variety of soil and scenery. Some districts will grow all tropical produce, whilst others are well suited for breeding sheep, cattle and horses. Most of the districts will produce wheat and all other cereals in greater perfection and abundance than any of the other South African colonies. Two crops of cereals may be obtained from the soil every year, and both the vine and tobacco are cultivated with great success. Coffee, sugar-cane and cotton have been grown with profit in the northern parts of the State. Also the undeveloped mineral wealth of the country is very great. Its known minerals are gold, copper, lead, cobalt, iron, coal, tin and plumbago: copper and iron having long been worked by the natives. Altogether there is little doubt that the Transvaal is the richest of all the South African states, and had it remained under English rule it would, with the aid of English enterprise and capital, have become a very wealthy and prosperous country. However there is little chance of that now.
Perhaps the greatest charm of the Transvaal lies in its climate, which is among the best in the world, and in all the southern districts very healthy. During the winter months, that is from April to October, little or no rain falls, and the climate is cold and bracing. In summer it is rather warm, but not overpoweringly hot, the thermometer at Pretoria averaging from 65 to 73 degrees, and in the winter from 59 to 56 degrees. The population of the Transvaal is estimated at about 40,000 whites, mostly of Dutch origin, consisting of about thirty vast families: and one million natives. There are several towns, the largest of which are Pretoria and Potchefstroom.
Such is the country that we annexed in 1877, and were drummed out of in 1881. Now let us turn to its inhabitants. It has been the fashion to talk of the Transvaal as though nobody but Boers lived in it. In reality the inhabitants were divided into three classes: 1. Natives; 2. Boers; 3. English. I say were divided, because the English class can now hardly be said to exist, the country having been made too hot to hold it, since the war. The natives stand in the proportion of nearly twenty to one to the whites. The Boers were in their turn much more numerous than the English, but the latter owned nearly all the trading establishments in the country, and also a very large amount of property.
The Transvaal Boers have been very much praised up by members of the Government in England, and others who are anxious to advance their interests, as against English interests. Mr. Gladstone, indeed, can hardly find words strong enough to express his admiration of their leaders, those “able men,” since they inflicted a national humiliation on us; and doubtless they are a people with many good points. That they are not devoid of sagacity can be seen by the way they have dealt with the English Government.
The Boers are certainly a peculiar people, though they can hardly be said to be “zealous of good works.” They are very religious, but their religion takes it colour from the darkest portions of the Old Testament; lessons of mercy and gentleness are not at all to their liking, and they seldom care to read the Gospels. What they delight in are the stories of wholesale butchery by the Israelites of old; and in their own position they find a reproduction of that of the first settlers in the Holy Land. Like them they think they are entrusted by the Almighty with the task of exterminating the heathen native tribes around them, and are always ready with a scriptural precedent for slaughter and robbery. The name of the Divinity is continually on their lips, sometimes in connection with very doubtful statements. They are divided into three sects, none of which care much for the other two. These are the Doppers, who number about half the population, the Orthodox Reform, and the Liberal Reform, which is the least numerous. Of these three sects, the Doppers are by far the most uncompromising and difficult to deal with. They much resemble the puritans of Charles the First’s time, of the extreme Hew–Agag-inpieces stamp.
It is difficult to agree with those who call the Boers cowards, an accusation which the whole of their history belies. A Boer does not like fighting if he can avoid it, because he sets a high value on his own life; but if he is cornered, he will fight as well as anybody else. The Boers fought well enough, in the late war, though that, it is true, is no great criterion of courage, since they were throughout flushed with victory, and, owing to the poor shooting of the British troop, in but little personal danger. One very unpleasant characteristic they have, and that is an absence of regard for the truth, especially where land is concerned. Indeed the national characteristic is crystallised into a proverb, “I am no slave to my word.” It has several times happened to me, to see one set of highly respectable witnesses in a land case, go into the box and swear distinctly that they saw a beacon placed on a certain spot, whilst an equal number on the other side will swear that they saw it placed a mile away. Filled as they are with a land hunger, to which that of the Irish peasant is a weak and colourless sentiment, there is little that they will not do to gratify their taste. It is the subject of constant litigation amongst them, and it is by no means uncommon for a Boer to spend several thousand pounds in lawsuits over a piece of land not worth as many hundreds.
Personally Boers are fine men, but as a rule ugly. Their women-folk are good-looking in early life, but get very stout as they grow older. They, in common with most of their sex, understand how to use their tongues; indeed, it is said, that it was the women who caused the rising against the English Government. None of the refinements of civilisation enter into the life of an ordinary Boer. He lives in a way that would shock an English labourer at twenty-five shillings the week, although he is very probably worthy fifteen or twenty thousand pounds. His home is but too frequently squalid and filthy to an extraordinary degree. He himself has no education, and does not care that his children should receive any. He lives by himself in the middle of a great plot of land, his nearest neighbour being perhaps ten or twelve miles away, caring but little for the news of the outside world, and nothing for its opinions, doing very little work, but growing daily richer through the increase of his flocks and herds. His expenses are almost nothing, and as he gets older, wealth increases upon him. The events in his life consist of an occasional trip on “commando,” against some native tribe, attending a few political meetings, and the journeys he makes with his family to the nearest town, some four times a year, in order to be present at “Nachtmaal” or communion. Foreigners, especially Englishmen, he detests, but he is kindly and hospitable to his own people. Living isolated as he does, the lord of a little kingdom, he naturally comes to have a great idea of himself, and a corresponding contempt for all the rest of mankind. Laws and taxes are things distasteful to him, and he looks upon it as an impertinence that any court should venture to call him to account for his doings. He is rich and prosperous, and the cares of poverty, and all the other troubles that fall to the lot of civilised men, do not affect him. He has no romance in him, nor any of the higher feelings and aspirations that are found in almost every other race; in short, unlike the Zulu he despises, there is little of the gentleman in his composition, though he is at times capable of acts of kindness and even generosity. His happiness is to live alone in the great wilderness, with his children, his men-servants and his maid-servants, his flocks and his herds, the monarch of all he surveys. If civilisation presses him too closely, his remedy is a simple one. He sells his farm, packs up his goods and cash in his waggon, and starts for regions more congenially wild. Such are some of the leading characteristics of that remarkable product of South Africa, the Transvaal Boer, who resembles no other white man in the world.
Perhaps, however, the most striking of all his oddities is his abhorrence of all government, more especially if that government be carried out according to English principles. The Boers have always been more or less in rebellion; they rebelled against the rule of the Company when the Cape belonged to Holland, they rebelled against the English Government in the Cape, they were always in a state of semi-rebellion against their own government in the Transvaal, and now they have for the second time, with the most complete success, rebelled against the English Government. The fact of the matter is that the bulk of their number hate all Governments, because Governments enforce law and order, and they hate the English Government worst of all, because it enforces law and order most of all. It is not liberty they long for, but license. The “sturdy independence” of the Boer resolves itself into a determination not to have his affairs interfered with by any superior power whatsoever, and not to pay taxes if he can possibly avoid it. But he has also a specific cause of complaint against the English Government, which would alone cause him to do his utmost to get rid of it, and that is its mode of dealing with natives, which is radically opposite to his own. This is the secret of Boer patriotism. To understand it, it must be remembered that the Englishman and the Boer look at natives from a different point of view. The Englishman, though he may not be very fond of him, at any rate regards the Kafir as a fellow human being with feelings like his own. The average Boer does not. He looks upon the “black creature” as having been delivered into his hand by the “Lord” for his own purposes, that is, to shoot and enslave. He must not be blamed too harshly for this, for, besides being naturally of a somewhat hard disposition, hatred of the native is hereditary, and is partly induced by the history of many a bloody struggle. Also the native hates the Boer fully as much as the Boer hates the native, though with better reason. Now native labour is a necessity to the Boer, because he will not as a rule do hard manual labour himself, and there must be some one to plant and garner the crops, and herd the cattle. On the other hand, the natives are not anxious to serve the Boers, which means little or no pay and plenty of thick stick, and sometimes worse. The result of this state of affairs is that the Boer often has to rely on forced labour to a very great extent. But this is a thing that an English Government will not tolerate, and the consequence is that under its rule he cannot get the labour that is necessary to him.
Then there is the tax question. If he lives under the English flag the money has to be paid regularly, but under his own Government he pays or not as he likes. It was this habit of his of refusing payment of taxes that brought the Republic into difficulties in 1877, and that will ere long bring it into trouble again. He cannot understand that cash is necessary to carry on a Government, and looks upon a tax as though it were so much money stolen from him. These things are the real springs of the “sturdy independence” and the patriotism of the ordinary Transvaal farmer. Doubtless, there are some who are really patriotic; for instance, one of their leaders, Paul Kruger. But with the majority, patriotism is only another word for unbounded license and forced labour.
These remarks must not be taken to apply to the Cape Boers, who are a superior class of men, since they, living under a settled and civilised Government, have been steadily improving, whilst their cousins, living every man for his own hand, have been deteriorating. The old Voortrekkers, the fathers and grandfathers of the Transvaal Boer of today, were, without doubt, a very fine set of men, and occasionally you may in the Transvaal meet individuals of the same stamp whom it is a pleasure to know. But these are generally men of a certain age with some experience of the world; the younger men are very objectionable in their manners.
The real Dutch Patriotic party is not to be found in the Transvaal, but in the Cape Colony. Their object, which, as affairs now are, is well within the bounds of possibility, is by fair means or foul to swamp the English element in South Africa, and to establish a great Dutch Republic. It was this party, which consists of clever and well educated men, who raised the outcry against the Transvaal Annexation, because it meant an enormous extension of English influence, and who had the wit, by means of their emissaries and newspapers, to work upon the feeling of the ignorant Transvaal farmers until they persuaded them to rebel; and finally, to avail themselves of the yearnings of English radicalism for the disruption of the Empire and the minimisation of British authority, to get the Annexation cancelled. All through this business the Boers have more or less danced in obedience to strings pulled at Cape Town, and it is now said that one of the chief wire-pullers, Mr. Hofmeyer, is to be asked to become President of the Republic. These men are the real patriots of South Africa, and very clever ones too, not the Transvaal Boers, who vapour about their blood and their country and the accursed Englishman to order, and are in reality influenced by very small motives, such as the desire to avoid payment of taxes, or to hunt away a neighbouring Englishman, whose civilisation and refinement are as offensive as his farm is desirable. Such are the Dutch inhabitants of the Transvaal. I will now give a short sketch of their institutions as they were before the Annexation, and to which the community has reverted since its recision, with, I believe, but few alterations.
The form of government is republican, and to all intents and purposes, manhood suffrage prevails, supreme power resting in the people. The executive power of the State centres in a President elected by the people to hold office for a term of five years, every voter having a voice in his election. He is assisted in the execution of his duties by an Executive Council, consisting of the State Secretary and such other three members as are selected for that purpose by the legislative body, the Volksraad. The State Secretary holds office for four years, and is elected by the Volksraad. The members of the Executive all have seats in the Volksraad, but have no votes. The Volksraad is the legislative body of the State, and consists of forty-two members. The country is divided into twelve electoral districts, each of which has the right to return three members; the Gold Fields have also the right of electing two members, and the four principal towns, one member each. There is no power in the State competent to either prorogue or dissolve the Volksraad except that body itself, so that an appeal to the country on a given subject or policy is impossible without its concurrence. Members are elected for four years, but half retire by rotation every two years, the vacancies being filled by re-elections. Members must have been voters for three years, and be not less than thirty years of age, must belong to a Protestant Church, be resident in the country, and owners of immovable property therein. A father and son cannot sit in the same Raad, neither can seats be occupied by coloured persons, bastards, or officials.
For each electoral district there is a magistrate or Landdrost whose duties are similar to those of a Civil Commissioner. These districts are again subdivided into wards presided over by field cornets, who exercise judicial powers in minor matters, and in times of war have considerable authority. The Roman Dutch law is the common law of the country, as it is of the colonies of the Cape of Good Hope and Natal, and of the Orange Free State.
Prior to the Annexation justice was administered in a very primitive fashion. First, there was the Landdrosts’ Court, from which an appeal lay to a court consisting of the Landdrost and six councillors elected by the public. This was a court of first instance as well as a court of appeal. Then there was a Supreme Court, consisting of three Landdrosts from three different districts, and a jury of twelve selected from the burghers of the State. There was no appeal from this court, but cases have sometimes been brought under the consideration of the Volksraad as the supreme power. It is easy to imagine what the administration of justice was like when the presidents of all the law courts in the country were elected by the mob, not on account of their knowledge of the law, but because they were popular. Suitors before the old Transvaal courts found the law surprisingly uncertain. A High Court of Justice was, however, established after the Annexation, and has been continued by the Volksraad, but an agitation is being got up against it, and it will possibly be abolished in favour of the old system.
In such a community as that of the Transvaal Boers, the question of public defence was evidently of the first importance. This is provided for under what is known as the Commando system. The President, with the concurrence of the Executive Council, has the right of declaring war, and of calling up a Commando, in which the burghers are placed under the field cornets and commandants. These last are chosen by the field cornets for each district, and a Commandant-general is chosen by the whole laager or force, but the President is the Commander-inChief of the army. All the inhabitants of the state between sixteen and sixty, with a few exceptions, are liable for service. Young men under eighteen, and men over fifty, are only called out under circumstances of emergency. Members of the Volksraad, officials, clergymen, and school-teachers are exempt from personal service, unless martial law is proclaimed, but must contribute an amount not exceeding 15 pounds towards the expense of the war. All legal proceedings in civil cases are suspended against persons on commando, no summonses can be made out, and as soon as martial law is proclaimed no legal execution can be prosecuted, the pounds are closed, and transfer dues payments are suspended, until after thirty days from the recall of the proclamation of martial law. Owners of land residing beyond the borders of the Republic are also liable, in addition to the ordinary war tax, to place a fit and proper substitute at the disposal of the Government, or otherwise to pay a fine of 15 pounds. The first levy of the burghers is, of men from eighteen to thirty-four years of age; the second, thirty-four to fifty; and the third, from sixteen to eighteen, and from fifty to sixty years. Every man is bound to provide himself with clothing, a gun, and ammunition, and there must be enough waggons and oxen found between them to suffice for their joint use. Of the booty taken, one quarter goes to Government and the rest to the burghers. The most disagreeable part of the commandeering system is, however, yet to come; personal service is not all that the resident in the Transvaal Republic has to endure. The right is vested in field cornets to commandeer articles as well as individuals, and to call upon inhabitants to furnish requisites for the commando. As may be imagined, it goes very hard on these occasions with the property of any individual whom the field cornet may not happen to like.
Each ward is expected to turn out its contingent ready and equipped for war, and this can only be done by seizing goods right and left. One unfortunate will have to find a waggon, another to deliver his favourite span of trek oxen, another his riding-horse, or some slaughter cattle, and so on. Even when the officer making the levy is desirous of doing his duty as fairly as he can, it is obvious that very great hardships must be inflicted under such a system. Requisitions are made more with regard to what is wanted, than with a view to an equitable distribution of demands; and like the Jews in the time of the Crusades, he who has got most must pay most, or take the consequences, which may be unpleasant. Articles which are not perishable, such as waggons, are supposed to be returned, but if they come back at all they are generally worthless.
In case of war, the native tribes living within the borders of the State are also expected to furnish contingents, and it is on them that most of the hard work of the campaign generally falls. They are put in the front of the battle, and have to do the hand-to-hand fighting, which, however, if of the Zulu race, they do not object to.
The revenue of the State is so arranged that the burden of it should fall as much as possible on the trading community and as little as possible on the farmer. It is chiefly derived from licenses on trades, professions, and callings, 30s. per annum quit-rent on farms, transfer dues and stamps, auction dues, court fees, and contributions from such native tribes as can be made to pay them. Since we have given up the country, the Volksraad has put a very heavy tax on all imported goods, hoping thereby to beguile the Boers into paying taxes without knowing it, and at the same time strike a blow at the trading community, which is English in its proclivities. The result has been to paralyse what little trade there was left in the country, and to cause great dissatisfaction amongst the farmers, who cannot understand why, now that the English are gone, they should have to pay twice as much for their sugar and coffee as they have been accustomed to do.
I will conclude this chapter with a few words about the natives, who swarm in and around the Transvaal. They can be roughly divided into two great races, the Amazulu and their offshoots, and the Macatee or Basutu tribes. All those of Zulu blood, including the Swazies, Mapock’s Kafirs, the Matabele, the Knobnodes, and others are very warlike in disposition, and men of fine physique. The Basutus (who must not be confounded with the Cape Basutus), however, differ from these tribes in every respect, including their language, which is called Sisutu, the only mutual feeling between the two races being their common detestation of the Boers. They do not love war; in fact, they are timid and cowardly by nature, and only fight when they are obliged to. Unlike the Zulus, they are much addicted to the arts of peace, show considerable capacities for civilisation, and are even willing to become Christians. There would have been a far better field for the Missionary in the Transvaal than in Zululand and Natal. Indeed, the most successful mission station I have seen in Africa is near Middelburg, under the control of Mr. Merensky. In person the Basutus are thin and weakly when compared to the stalwart Zulu, and it is their consciousness of inferiority both to the white men, and their black brethren, that, together with their natural timidity, makes them submit as easily as they do to the yoke of the Boer.
Mr. Burgers elected president — His character and aspirations — His pension from the English Government — His visit to England — The railway loan — Relations of the republic with native tribes — The pass laws — Its quarrel with Cetywayo — Confiscation of native territory by the Keate award — Treaty with the Swazi king — The Secocoeni war — Capture of Johannes’ stronghold by the Swazi allies — Attack on Secocoeni’s mountain — Defeat and dispersion of the Boers — Elation of the natives — Von Schlickmann’s volunteers — Cruelties perpetrated — Abel Erasmus — Treatment of natives by Boers — Public meeting at Potchefstroom in 1768 — The slavery question — Some evidence on the subject — Pecuniary position of the Transvaal prior to the annexation — Internal troubles — Divisions amongst the Boers — Hopeless condition of the country.
In or about the year 1872, the burghers of the Republic elected Mr. Burgers their President. This remarkable man was a native of the Cape Colony, and passed the first sixteen or seventeen years of his life, he once informed me, on a farm herding sheep. He afterwards became a clergyman noted for the eloquence of his preaching, but his ideas proving too broad for his congregation, he resigned his cure, and in an evil moment for himself took to politics.
President Burgers was a man of striking presence and striking talents, especially as regards his oratory, which was really of a very high class, and would have commanded attention in our own House of Commons. He possessed, however, a mind of that peculiarly volatile order, that is sometimes met with in conjunction with great talents, and which seems to be entirely without ballast. His intellect was of a balloon-like nature, and as incapable of being steered. He was always soaring in the clouds, and, as is natural to one in that elevated position, taking a very different and more sanguine view of affairs to that which men of a more lowly, and perhaps a more practical, turn of mind would do.
But notwithstanding his fly-away ideas, President Burgers was undoubtedly a true patriot, labouring night and day for the welfare of the state of which he had to undertake the guidance: but his patriotism was too exalted for his surroundings. He wished to elevate to the rank of a nation a people who had not got the desire to be elevated; with this view he contracted railway loans, made wars, minted gold, &c., and then suddenly discovered that the country refused to support him. In short, he was made of a very different clay to that of the people he had to do with. He dreamt of a great Dutch Republic “with eight millions of inhabitants,” doing a vast trade with the interior through the Delagoa Bay Railway. They, on the other hand, cared nothing about republics or railways, but fixed their affections on forced labour and getting rid of the necessity of paying taxes — and so between them the Republic came to grief. But it must be borne in mind that President Burgers was throughout actuated by good motives; he did his best by a stubborn and stiff-necked people; and if he failed, as fail he did, it was more their fault than his. As regards the pension he received from the English Government, which has so often been brought up against him, it was after all no more than his due after five years of arduous work. If the Republic had continued to exist, it is to be presumed that they would have made some provision for their old President, more especially as he seems to have exhausted his private means in paying the debts of the country. Whatever may be said of some of the other officials of the Republic, its President was, I believe, an honest man.
In 1875, Mr. Burgers proceeded to Europe, having, he says in a posthumous document recently published, been empowered by the Volksraad “to carry out my plans for the development of the country, by opening up a direct communication for it, free from the trammels of British ports and influence.” According to this document, during his absence, two powerful parties, viz., “the faction of unprincipled fortune-hunters, rascals, and runaways on the one hand, and the faction of the extreme orthodox party in a certain branch of the Dutch Reform Church on the other, began to co-operate against the Government of the Republic and me personally. . . . . . Ill as I was, and contrary to the advice of my medical men, I proceeded to Europe, in the beginning of 1875, to carry out my project, and no sooner was my back turned on the Transvaal, than the conspiring elements began to act. The new coat of arms and flag adopted in the Raad by an almost unanimous vote were abolished. The laws for a free and secular education were tampered with, and my resistance to a reckless inspection and disposal of Government lands, still occupied by natives, was openly defied. The Raad, filled up to a large extent with men of ill repute, who, under the cloak of progress and favour to the Government view, obtained their seats, was too weak to cope with the skill of the conspirators, and granted leave to the acting President to carry out measures diametrically opposed to my policy. Native lands were inspected and given out to a few speculators, who held large numbers of claims to lands which were destined for citizens, and so a war was prepared for me, on my return from Europe, which I could not avert.” This extract is interesting, as showing the state of feeling existing between the President and his officers previous to the outbreak of the Secocoeni war. It also shows how entirely he was out of sympathy with the citizens, seeing that as soon as his back was turned, they, with Mr. Joubert and Paul Kruger at their head, at once undid all the little good he had done.
When Mr. Burgers got to England, he found that city capitalists would have nothing whatever to say to his railway scheme. In Holland, however, he succeeded in getting 90,000 pounds of the 300,000 pounds he wished to borrow at a high rate of interest, and by passing a bond on five hundred government farms. This money was immediately invested in a railway plant, which, when it arrived at Delagoa Bay, had to be mortgaged to pay the freight on it, and that was the end of the Delagoa Bay railway scheme, except that the 90,000 pounds is, I believe, still owing to the confiding shareholders in Holland.
On his return to the Transvaal the President was well received, and for a month or so all went smoothly. But the relations of the Republic with the surrounding native tribes had by this time become so bad that an explosion was imminent somewhere. In the year 1874 the Volksraad raised the price of passes under the iniquitous pass law, by which every native travelling through the territory was made to pay from 1 pound to five pounds. In case of non-payment the native was made subject to a fine of from 1 pound to 10 pounds, and to a beating of from “ten to twenty-five lashes.” He was also to go into service for three months, and have a certificate thereof, for which he must pay five shillings; the avowed object of the law being to obtain a supply of Kafir labour. This was done in spite of the earnest protest of the President, who gave the Raad distinctly to understand that by accepting this law they would, in point of fact, annul treaties concluded with the chiefs on the south-western borders. It was not clear, however, if this amended pass law ever came into force. It is to be hoped it did not, for even under the old law natives were shamefully treated by the Boers, who would pretend that they were authorised by the Government to collect the tax; the result being that the unfortunate Kafir was frequently obliged to pay twice over. Natives had such a horror of the pass laws of the country, that when travelling to the Diamond Fields to work they would frequently go round some hundreds of miles rather than pass through the Transvaal.
That the Volksraad should have thought it necessary to enact such a law in order that the farmers should obtain a supply of Kafir labour in a territory that had nearly a million of native inhabitants, who, unlike the Zulus, are willing to work if only they meet with decent treatment, is in itself an instructive commentary on the feelings existing between the Boer master and Kafir servant.
But besides the general quarrel with the Kafir race in its entirety, which the Boers always have on hand, they had just then several individual differences, in each of which there lurked the possibilities of disturbance.
To begin with, their relations with Cetywayo were by no means amicable. During Mr. Burgers’ absence the Boer Government, then under the leadership of P. J. Joubert, sent Cetywayo a very stern message — a message that gives the reader the idea that Mr. Joubert was ready to enforce it with ten thousand men. After making various statements and demands with reference to the Amaswazi tribe, the disputed boundary line, &c., it ends thus:—
“Although the Government of the South African Republic has never wished, and does not now desire, that serious disaffection and animosities should exist between you and them, yet it is not the less of the greatest consequence and importance for you earnestly to weigh these matters and risks, and to satisfy them; the more so, if you on your side also wish that peace and friendship shall be maintained between you and us.”
The Secretary for Native Affairs for Natal comments on this message in these words: “The tone of this message to Cetywayo is not very friendly, it has the look of an ultimatum, and if the Government of the Transvaal were in circumstances different to what it is, the message would suggest an intention to coerce if the demands it conveys are not at once complied with; but I am inclined to the opinion that no such intention exists, and that the transmission of a copy of the message to the Natal Government is intended as a notification that the Transvaal Government has proclaimed the territory hitherto in dispute between it and the Zulus to be Republican territory, and that the Republic intends to occupy it.”
In the territories marked out by a decision known as the Keate Award, in which Lieutenant–Governor Keate of Natal, at the request of both parties, laid down the boundary line between the Boers and certain native tribes, the Boer Government carried it with a yet higher hand, insomuch as the natives of those districts, being comparatively unwarlike, were less likely to resist.
On the 18th August 1875, Acting President Joubert issued a proclamation by which a line was laid down far to the southward of that marked out by Mr. Keate, and consequently included more territory within the elastic boundaries of the Republic. A Government notice of the same date invites all claiming lands now declared to belong to the Republic, to send in their claims to be settled by a land commission.
On the 6th March 1876, another chief in the same neighbourhood (Montsoia) writes to the Lieutenant–Governor of Griqualand West in these terms:—
“My Friend — I wish to acquaint you with the doings of some people connected with the Boers. A man-servant of mine has been severely injured in the head by one of the Boers’ servants, which has proved fatal. Another of my people has been cruelly treated by a Boer tying a rein about his neck, and then mounting his horse and dragging him about the place. My brother Molema, who is the bearer of this, will give you full particulars.”
Molema explains the assaults thus: “The assaulted man is not dead; his skull was fractured. The assault was committed by a Boer named Wessels Badenhorst, who shamefully ill-treated the man, beat him till he fainted, and, on his revival, fastened a rim around his neck, and made him run to the homestead by the side of his (Badenhorst’s) horse cantering. At the homestead he tied him to the waggon-wheel, and flogged him again till Mrs. Badenhorst stopped her husband.”
Though it will be seen that the Boers were on good terms neither with the Zulus nor the Keate Award natives, they still had one Kafir ally, namely, Umbandeni, the Amaswazi king. This alliance was concluded under circumstances so peculiar that they are worthy of a brief recapitulation. It appears that in the winter of the year 1875 Mr. Rudolph, the Landdrost of Utrecht, went to Swazieland, and, imitating the example of the Natal Government with Cetywayo, crowned Umbandeni king, on behalf of the Boer Government. He further made a treaty of alliance with him, and promised him a commando to help him in case of his being attacked by the Zulus. Now comes the curious part of the story. On the 18th May 1876, a message came from this same Umbandeni to Sir H. Bulwer, of which the following is an extract:—“We are sent by our king to thank the Government of Natal for the information sent to him last winter by that Government, and conveyed by Mr. Rudolph, of the intended attack on his people by the Zulus. We are further instructed by the king to thank the Natal Government for the influence it used to stop the intended raid, and for instructing a Boer commando to go to his country to render him assistance in case of need; and further for appointing Mr. Randolph at the head of the commando to place him (Umbandeni) as king over the Amaswazi, and to make a treaty with him and his people on behalf of the Natal Government. . . . . . The Transvaal Government has asked Umbandeni to acknowledge himself a subject of the Republic, but he has distinctly refused to do so.” In a minute written on this subject, the Secretary for Native Affairs for Natal says, “No explanation or assurance was sufficient to convince them (Umbandeni’s messengers) that they had on that occasion made themselves subjects of the South African Republic; they declared it was not their wish or intention to do so, and that they would refuse to acknowledge a position into which they had been unwittingly betrayed.” I must conclude this episode by quoting the last paragraph of Sir H. Bulwer’s covering despatch, because it concerns larger issues than the supposed treaty: “It will not be necessary that I should at present add any remarks to those contained in the minute for the Secretary for Native Affairs, but I would observe that the situation arising out of the relations of the Government of the South African Republic with the neighbouring states is so complicated, and presents so many elements of confusion and of danger to the peace of this portion of South Africa, that I trust some way may be found to an early settlement of questions that ought not, in my opinion, to be left alone, as so many have been left, to take the chance of the future.”
And now I come to the last and most imminent native difficulty that at the time faced the Republic. On the borders of Lydenburg district there lived a powerful chief named Secocoeni. Between this chief and the Transvaal Government difficulties arose in the beginning of 1876 on the usual subject — land. The Boers declared that they had bought the land from the Swazies, who had conquered portions of the country, and that the Swazies offered to make it “clean from brambles,” i.e., kill everybody living on it; but that they (the Boers) said that they were to let them be, that they might be their servants. The Basutus, on the other hand, said that no such sale ever took place, and, even if it did take place, it was invalid, because the Swazies were not in occupation of the land, and therefore could not sell it. It was a Christian Kafir called Johannes, a brother of Secocoeni, who was the immediate cause of the war. This Johannes used to live at a place called Botsobelo, the mission-station of Mr. Merensky, but moved to a stronghold on the Spekboom river, in the disputed territory. The Boers sent to him to come back, but he refused, and warned the Boers off his land. Secocoeni was then appealed to, but declared that the land belonged to his tribe, and would be occupied by Johannes. He also told the Boers “that he did not wish to fight, but that he was quite ready to do so if they preferred it.” Thereupon the Transvaal Government declared war, although it does not appear that the natives committed any outrage or acts of hostility before the declaration. As regards the Boers’ right to Secocoeni’s country, Sir H. Barkly sums up the question thus, in a despatch addressed to President Burgers, dated 28th Nov. 1876:—“On the whole, it seems perfectly clear, and I feel bound to repeat it, that Sikukuni was neither de jure or de facto a subject of the Republic when your Honour declared war against him in June last.” As soon as war had been declared, the clumsy commando system was set working, and about 2500 white men collected; the Swazies also were applied to to send a contingent, which they did, being only too glad of the opportunity of slaughter.
At first all went well, and the President, who accompanied the commando in person, succeeded in reducing a mountain stronghold, which, in his high-flown way, he called a “glorious victory” over a “Kafir Gibraltar.”
On the 14th July another engagement took place, when the Boers and Swazies attacked Johannes’ stronghold. The place was taken with circumstances of great barbarity by the Swazies, for when the signal was given to advance the Boers did not move. Nearly all the women were killed, and the brains of the children were dashed out against the stones; in one instance, before the captive mother’s face. Johannes was badly wounded, and died two days afterwards. When he was dying he said to his brother, “I am going to die. I am thankful I do not die by the hands of these cowardly Boers, but by the hand of a black and courageous nation like myself . . .” He then took leave of his people, told his brother to read the Bible, and expired. The Swazies were so infuriated at the cowardice displayed by the Boers on this occasion that they returned home in great dudgeon.
On the 2nd of August Secocoeni’s mountain, which is a very strong fortification, was attacked in two columns, or rather an attempt was made to attack it, for when it came to the pinch only about forty men, mostly English and Germans, would advance. Thereupon the whole commando retreated with great haste, the greater part of it going straight home. In vain the President entreated them to shoot him rather than desert him; they had had enough of Secocoeni and his stronghold, and home they went. The President then retreated with what few men he had left to Steelport, where he built a fort, and from thence returned to Pretoria. The news of the collapse of the commando was received throughout the Transvaal, and indeed the whole of South Africa, with the greatest dismay. For the first time in the history of that country the white man had been completely worsted by a native tribe, and that tribe wretched Basutus, people whom the Zulus call their “dogs.” It was glad tidings to every native from the Zambesi to the Cape, who learnt thereby that the white man was not so invincible as he used to be. Meanwhile the inhabitants of Lydenburg were filled with alarm, and again and again petitioned the Governors of the Cape and Natal for assistance. Their fears were, however, to a great extent groundless, for, with the exception of occasional cattle-lifting, Secocoeni did not follow up his victory.
On the 4th September the President opened the special sitting of the Volksraad, and presented to that body a scheme for the establishment of a border force to take the place of the commando system, announcing that he had appointed a certain Captain Von Schlickmann to command it. He also requested the Raad to make some provision for the expenses of the expedition, which they had omitted to do in their former sitting.
Captain Von Schlickmann determined to carry on the war upon a different system. He got together a band of very rough characters on the Diamond Fields, and occupied the fort built by the President, from whence he would sally out from time to time and destroy kraals. He seems, if we may believe the reports in the blue books and the stories of eye-witnesses, to have carried on his proceedings in a somewhat savage way. The following is an extract from a private letter written by one of his volunteers:—
“About daylight we came across four Kafirs. Saw them first, and charged in front of them to cut off their retreat. Saw they were women, and called out not to fire. In spite of that, one of the poor things got her head blown off (a d —— d shame). . . . Afterwards two women and a baby were brought to the camp prisoners. The same night they were taken out by our Kafirs and murdered in cold blood by the order of ——. Mr. —— and myself strongly protested against it, but without avail. I never heard such a cowardly piece of business in my life. No good will come of it, you may depend. . . . —— says he would cut all the women and children’s throats he catches. Told him distinctly he was a d —— d coward.”
Schlickmann was, however, a mild-mannered man when compared to a certain Abel Erasmus, afterwards denounced at a public dinner by Sir Garnet Wolseley as a “fiend in human form.” This gentleman, in the month of October, attacked a friendly kraal of Kafirs. The incident is described thus in a correspondent’s letter:—
“The people of the kraals, taken quite by surprise, fled when they saw their foes, and most of them took shelter in the neighbouring bush. Two or three men were distinctly seen in their flight from the kraal, and one of them is known to have been wounded. According to my informant the remainder were women and children, who were pursued into the bush, and there, all shivering and shrieking, were put to death by the Boers’ Kafirs, some being shot, but the majority stabbed with assegais. After the massacre he counted thirteen women and three children, but he says he did not see the body of a single man. Another Kafir said, pointing to a place in the road where the stones were thickly strewn, ‘the bodies of the women and children lay like these stones.’ The Boer before mentioned, who has been stationed outside, has told one of his own friends, whom he thought would not mention it, that the shrieks were fearful to hear.”
Several accounts of, or allusion to, this atrocity can be found in the blue books, and I may add that it, in common with others of the same stamp, was the talk of the country at the time.
I do not relate these horrors out of any wish to rake up old stories to the prejudice of the Boers, but because I am describing the state of the country before the Annexation, in which they form an interesting and important item. Also, it is as well that people in England should know into what hands they have delivered over the native tribes who trusted in their protection. What happened in 1876 is probably happening again now, and will certainly happen again and again. The character of the Transvaal Boer and his sentiments towards the native races have not modified during the last five years, but, on the contrary, a large amount of energy, which has been accumulating during the period of British protection, will now be expended on their devoted heads.
As regards the truth of these atrocities, the majority of them are beyond the possibility of doubt; indeed, to the best of my knowledge, no serious attempt has ever been made to refute such of them as have come into public notice, except in a general way, for party purposes. As, however, they may be doubted, I will quote the following extract from a despatch written by Sir H. Barkly to Lord Carnarvon, dated 18th December 1876:—
“As Von Schlickmann has since fallen fighting bravely, it is not without reluctance that I join in affixing this dark stain on his memory, but truth compels me to add the following extract from a letter which I have since received from one whose name (which I communicate to your Lordship privately) forbids disbelief: ‘There is no longer the slightest doubt as to the murder of the two women and the child at Steelport by the direct order of Schlickmann, and in the attack on the kraal near which these women were captured (or some attack about that period) he ordered his men to cut the throats of all the wounded! This is no mere report; it is positively true.’” He concludes by expressing a hope that the course of events will enable Her Majesty’s Government to take such steps “as will terminate this wanton and useless bloodshed, and prevent the recurrence of the scenes of injustice, cruelty, and rapine which abundant evidence is every day forthcoming to prove have rarely ceased to disgrace the Republics beyond the Vaal ever since they first sprang into existence.”9
9 The italics are my own. — Author.
These are strong words, but none too strong for the facts of the case. Injustice, cruelty, and rapine have always been the watchwords of the Transvaal Boers. The stories of wholesale slaughter in the earlier days of the Republic are very numerous. One of the best known of those shocking occurrences took place in the Zoutpansberg war in 1865. On this occasion a large number of Kafirs took refuge in caves, where the Boers smoked them to death. Some years afterwards Dr. Wangeman, whose account is, I believe, thoroughly reliable, describes the scene of their operations in these words:—
“The roof of the first cave was black with smoke; the remains of the logs which were burnt lay at the entrance. The floor was strewn with hundreds of skulls and skeletons. In confused heaps lay karosses, kerries, assegais, pots, spoons, snuff-boxes, and the bones of men, giving one the impression that this was the grave of a whole people. Some estimate the number of those who perished here from twenty to thirty thousand. This is, I believe, too high. In the one chamber there were from two hundred to three hundred skeletons; the other chambers I did not visit.”
In 1868 a public meeting was held at Potchefstroom to consider the war then going on with the Zoutpansberg natives. According to the report of the proceedings, the Rev. Mr. Ludorf said that “on a particular occasion a number of native children, who were too young to be removed, had been collected in a heap, covered with long grass, and burned alive. Other atrocities had also been committed, but these were too horrible to relate.” When called upon to produce his authority for this statement, Mr. Ludorf named his authority “in a solemn declaration to the State Attorney.” At this same meeting Mr. J. G. Steyn, who had been Landdrost of Potchefstroom, said “there now was innocent blood on our hands which had not yet been avenged, and the curse of God rested on the land in consequence.” Mr. Rosalt remarked that “it was a singular circumstance that in the different colonial Kafir wars, as also in the Basutu wars, one did not hear of destitute children being found by the commandoes, and asked how it was that every petty commando that took the field in this Republic invariably found numbers of destitute children. He gave it as his opinion that the present system of apprenticeship was an essential cause of our frequent hostilities with the natives.” Mr. Jan Talyard said, “Children were forcibly taken from their parents, and were then called destitute and apprenticed.” Mr. Daniel Van Nooren was heard to say, “If they had to clear the country, and could not have the children they found, he would shoot them.” Mr. Field–Cornet Furstenburg stated “that when he was at Zoutpansberg with his burghers, the chief Katse–Kats was told to come down from the mountains; that he sent one of his subordinates as a proof of amity; that whilst a delay of five days was guaranteed by Commandant Paul Kruger, who was then in command, orders were given at the same time to attack the natives at break of day, which was accordingly done, but which resulted in total failure.” Truly, this must have been an interesting meeting.
Before leaving these unsavoury subjects, I must touch on the question of slavery. It has been again and again denied, on behalf of the Transvaal Boers, that slavery existed in the Republic. Now, this is, strictly speaking, true; slavery did not exist, but apprenticeship did — the rose was called by another name, that is all. The poor destitute children who were picked up by kindhearted Boers, after the extermination of their parents, were apprenticed to farmers till they came of age. It is a remarkable fact that these children never attained their majority. You might meet oldish men in the Transvaal who were not, according to their masters’ reckoning, twenty-one years of age. The assertion that slavery did not exist in the Transvaal is only made to hoodwink the English public. I have known men who have owned slaves, and who have seen whole waggon-loads of “black ivory,” as they were called, sold for about 15 pounds a-piece. I have at this moment a tenant, Carolus by name, on some land I own in Natal, now a well-to-do man, who was for many years — about twenty, if I remember right — a Boer slave. During those years, he told me, he worked from morning till night, and the only reward he received was two calves. He finally escaped into Natal.
If other evidence is needed it is not difficult to find, so I will quote a little. On the 22d August 1876 we find Khama, king of the Bamangwato, one of the most worthy chiefs in South Africa, sending a message to “Victoria, the great Queen of the English people,” in these words:—
“I write to you, Sir Henry, in order that your Queen may preserve for me my country, it being in her hands. The Boers are coming into it, and I do not like them. Their actions are cruel among us black people. We are like money, they sell us and our children. I ask Her Majesty to pity me, and to hear that which I write quickly. I wish to hear upon what conditions Her Majesty will receive me, and my country and my people, under her protection. I am weary with fighting. I do not like war, and I ask Her Majesty to give me peace. I am very much distressed that my people are being destroyed by war, and I wish them to obtain peace. I ask Her Majesty to defend me, as she defends all her people. There are three things which distress me very much — war, selling people, and drink. All these things I shall find in the Boers, and it is these things which destroy people to make an end of them in the country. The custom of the Boers has always been to cause people to be sold, and today they are still selling people. Last year I saw them pass with two waggons full of people whom they had bought at the river at Tanane” (Lake Ngate).
The Special Correspondence of the “Cape Argus,” a highly respectable journal, writes thus on the 28th November 1876:—“The Boer from whom this information was gleaned has furnished besides some facts which may not be uninteresting, as a commentary on the repeated denials by Mr. Burgers of the existence of slavery. During the last week slaves have been offered for sale on his farm. The captives have been taken from Secocoeni’s country by Mapoch’s people, and are being exchanged at the rate of a child for a heifer. He also assures us that the whole of the Highveld is bring replenished with Kafir children, whom the Boers have been lately purchasing from the Swazies at the rate of a horse for a child. I should like to see this man and his father as witnesses before an Imperial Commission. He let fall one or two incidents of the past which were brought to mind by the occurrences of the present. In 1864, he says, ‘The Swazies accompanied the Boers against Males. The Boers did nothing but stand by and witness the fearful massacre. The men and women were also murdered. One poor woman sat clutching her baby of eight days old. The Swazies stabbed her through the body, and when she found that she could not live, she wrung the baby’s neck with her own hands to save it from future misery. On the return of that Commando the children who became too weary to continue the journey were killed on the road. The survivors were sold as slaves to the farmers.’”
The same gentleman writes in the issue of the 12th December as follows:—“The whole world may know it, for it is true, and investigation will only bring out the horrible details, that through the whole course of this Republic’s existence it has acted in contravention of the Sand River Treaty; and slavery has occurred not only here and there in isolated cases, but as an unbroken practice, and has been one of the peculiar institutions of the country, mixed up with all its social and political life. It has been at the root of most of its wars. It has been carried on regularly even in times of peace. It has been characterised by all those circumstances which have so often roused the British nation to an indignant protest, and to repeated efforts to banish the slave trade from the world. The Boers have not only fallen on unsuspecting kraals simply for the purpose of obtaining the women and children and cattle, but they have carried on a traffic through natives who have kidnapped the children of their weaker neighbours, and sold them to the white man. Again, the Boers have sold and exchanged their victims among themselves. Waggon-loads of slaves have been conveyed from one end of the country to the other for sale, and that with the cognisance of, and for the direct advantage of, the highest officials of the land. The writer has himself seen in a town, situated in the south of the Republic, the children who had been brought down from a remote northern district. One fine morning, in walking through the streets, he was struck with the number of little black strangers standing about certain houses, and wondered where they could have come from. He learnt a few hours later that they were part of loads which were disposed of on the outskirts of the town the day before. The circumstances connected with some of these kidnapping excursions are appalling, and the barbarities practised by cruel masters upon some of these defenceless creatures during the course of their servitude are scarcely less horrible than those reported from Turkey. It is no disgrace in this country for an official to ride a fine horse which was got for two Kafir children, to procure whom the father and mother were shot. No reproach is inherited by the mistress who, day after day, tied up her female servant in an agonising posture, and had her beaten until there was no sound part in her body, securing her in the stocks during the intervals of torture. That man did not lose caste who tied up another woman and had her thrashed until she brought forth at the whipping-post. These are merely examples of thousands of cases which could be proved were an Imperial Commission to sit, and could the wretched victims of a prolonged oppression recover sufficiently from the dread of their old tyrants to give a truthful report.”
To come to some evidence more recently adduced. On the 9th May 1881, an affidavit was sworn to by the Rev. John Thorne, curate of St. John the Evangelist, Lydenburg, Transvaal, and presented to the Royal Commission appointed to settle Transvaal affairs, in which he states:—“That I was appointed to the charge of a congregation in Potchefstroom, about thirteen years ago, when the Republic was under the presidency of Mr. Pretorius.10 I remember noticing one morning, as I walked through the streets, a number of young natives, whom I knew to be strangers. I inquired where they came from. I was told that they had just been brought from Zoutpansberg. This was the locality from which slaves were chiefly brought at that time, and were traded for under the name of ‘Black Ivory.’ One of these natives belonged to Mr. Munich, the State Attorney. It was a matter of common remark at that time, that the President of the Republic was himself one of the greatest dealers in slaves.” In the fourth paragraph of the same affidavit Mr. Thorne says, “That the Rev. Doctor Nachtigal, of the Berlin Missionary Society, was the interpreter for Shatane’s people in the private office of Mr. Roth, and, at the close of the interview, told me what had occurred. On my expressing surprise, he went on to relate that he had information on native matters which would surprise me more. He then produced the copy of a register, kept in the landdrost’s office, of men, women, and children, to the number of four hundred and eighty (480), who had been disposed of by one Boer to another for a consideration. In one case an ox was given in exchange, in another goats, in a third a blanket, and so forth. Many of these natives he (Mr. Nachtigal) knew personally. The copy was certified as true and correct by an official of the Republic, and I would mention his name now, only that I am persuaded that it would cost the man his life if his act became known to the Boers.”
10 One of the famous Triumvirate.
On the 16th May 1881, a native, named Frederick Molepo, was examined by the Royal Commission. The following are extracts from his examination:—
“(Sir E. Wood.) Are you a Christian? — Yes.
“(Sir H. de Villiers.) How long were you a slave? — Half a year.
“How do you know that you were a slave? Might you not have been an apprentice? — No, I was not apprenticed.
“How do you know? — They got me from my parents, and ill-treated me.
“(Sir E. Wood.) How many times did you get the stick? — Every day.
“(Sir H. de Villiers.) What did the Boers do with you when they caught you? — They sold me.
“How much did they sell you for? — One cow and a big pot.”
On the 28th May 1881, amongst the other documents handed in for the consideration of the Royal Commission, is the statement of a headman, whose name it has been considered advisable to omit in the blue book for fear the Boers should take vengeance on him. He says, “I say, that if the English Government dies I shall die too; I would rather die than be under the Boer Government. I am the man who helped to make bricks for the church you see now standing in the square here (Pretoria), as a slave without payment. As a representative of my people I am still obedient to the English Government, and willing to obey all commands from them, even to die for their cause in this country, rather than submit to the Boers.
“I was under Shambok, my chief, who fought the Boers formerly, but he left us, and we were put up to auction and sold among the Boers. I want to state this myself to the Royal Commission in Newcastle. I was bought by Fritz Botha and sold by Frederick Botha, who was then veld cornet (justice of the peace) of the Boers.”11
11 I have taken the liberty to quote all these extracts exactly as they stand in the original, instead of weaving their substance into my narrative, in order that I may not be accused, as so often happens to authors who write upon this subject, of having presented a garbled version of the truth. The original of every extract is to be found in blue books presented to Parliament. I have thought it best to confine myself to these, and avoid repeating stories of cruelties and slavery, however well authenticated, that have come to my knowledge privately, such stories being always more or less open to suspicion.
It would be easy to find more reports of the slave-trading practices of the Boers, but as the above are fair samples it will not be necessary to do so. My readers will be able from them to form some opinion as to whether or not slavery or apprenticeship existed in the Transvaal. If they come to the conclusion that it did, it must be borne in mind that what existed in the past will certainly exist again in the future. Natives are not now any fonder of working for Boers than they were a few years back, and Boers must get labour somehow. If, on the other hand, it did not exist, then the Boers are a grossly slandered people, and all writers on the subject, from Livingstone down, have combined to take away their character.
Leaving native questions for the present, we must now return to the general affairs of the country. When President Burgers opened the special sitting of the Volksraad, on the 4th September, he appealed, it will be remembered, to that body for pecuniary aid to liquidate the expenses of the war. This appeal was responded to by the passing of a war tax, under which every owner of a farm was to pay 10 pounds, the owner of half a farm 5 pounds, and so on. The tax was not a very just one, since it fell with equal weight on the rich man, who held twenty farms, and the poor man, who held but one. Its justice or injustice was, however, to a great extent immaterial, since the free and independent burghers, including some of the members of the Volksraad who had imposed it, promptly refused to pay it, or indeed, whilst they were about it, any other tax. As the Treasury was already empty, and creditors were pressing, this refusal was most ill-timed, and things began to look very black indeed. Meanwhile, in addition to the ordinary expenditure, and the interest payable on debts, money had to be found to pay Von Schlickmann’s volunteers. As there was no cash in the country, this was done by issuing Government promissory notes, known as “goodfors,” or vulgarly as “good for nothings,” and by promising them all booty, and to each man a farm of two thousand acres, lying east and north-east of the Loolu mountains; in other words, in Secocoeni’s territory, which did not belong to the Government to give away. The officials were the next to suffer, and for six months before the Annexation these unfortunate individuals lived as best they could, for they certainly got no salary, except in the case of a postmaster, who was told to help himself to his pay in stamps. The Government issued large numbers of bills, but the banks refused to discount them, and in some cases the neighbouring Colonies had to advance money to the Transvaal post-cart contractors, who were carrying the mails, as a matter of charity. The Government even mortgaged the great salt-pan near Pretoria for the paltry sum of 400 pounds, whilst the leading officials of the Government were driven to pledging their own private credit in order to obtain the smallest article necessary to its continuance. In fact, to such a pass did things come that when the country was annexed a single threepenny bit (which had doubtless been overlooked) was found in the Treasury chest, together with acknowledgments of debts to the extent of nearly 300,000 pounds.
Nor was the refusal to pay taxes, which they were powerless to enforce, the only difficulty with which the Government had to contend. Want of money is as bad and painful a thing to a State as to an individual, but there are perhaps worse things than want of money, one of which is to be deserted by your own friends and household. This was the position of the Government of the Republic; no sooner was it involved in overwhelming difficulties than its own subjects commenced to bait it, more especially the English portion of its subjects. They complained to the English authorities about the commandeering of members of their family or goods; they petitioned the British Government to interfere, and generally made themselves as unpleasant as possible to the local Authorities. Such a course of action was perhaps natural, but it can hardly be said to be either quite logical or just. The Transvaal Government had never asked them to come and live in the country, and if they did so, it must be remembered that many of the agitators had accumulated property, to leave which would mean ruin; and they saw that, unless something was done, its value would be destroyed.
Under the pressure of all these troubles the Boers themselves split up into factions, as they are always ready to do. The Dopper party declared that they had had enough progress, and proposed the extremely conservative Paul Kruger as President, Burgers’ time having nearly expired. Paul Kruger accepted the candidature, although he had previously promised his support to Burgers, and distrust of each other was added to the other difficulties of the Executive, the Transvaal becoming a house very much divided against itself. Natives, Doppers, Progressionists, Officials, English, were all pulling different ways, and each striving for his own advantage. Anything more hopeless than the position of the country on the 1st January 1877 it is impossible to conceive. Enemies surrounded it; on every border there was the prospect of a serious war. In the exchequer there was nothing but piles of overdue bills. The President was helpless, and mistrustful of his officers, and the officers were caballing against the President. All the ordinary functions of Government had ceased, and trade was paralysed. Now and then wild proposals were made to relieve the State of its burdens, some of which partook of the nature of repudiation, but these were the exception; the majority of the inhabitants, who would neither fight nor pay taxes, sat still and awaited the catastrophe, utterly careless of all consequences.
Anxiety of Lord Carnarvon — Despatch of Sir T. Shepstone as Special Commissioner to the Transvaal — Sir T. Shepstone, his great experience and ability — His progress to Pretoria and reception there — Feelings excited by the arrival of the mission — The annexation not a foregone conclusion — Charge brought against Sir T. Shepstone of having called up the Zulu army to sweep the Transvaal — Its complete falsehood — Cetywayo’s message to Sir T. Shepstone — Evidence on the matter summed up — General desire of the natives for English rule — Habitual disregard of their interests — Assembly of the Volksraad — Rejection of Lord Carnarvon’s Confederation Bill and of President Burgers’ new constitution — President Burgers’ speeches to the Raad — His posthumous statement — Communication to the Raad of Sir T. Shepstone’s intention to annex the country — Despatch of Commission to inquire into the alleged peace with Secocoeni — Its fraudulent character discovered — Progress of affairs in the Transvaal — Paul Kruger and his party — Restlessness of natives — Arrangements for the annexation — The annexation proclamation.
The state of affairs described in the previous chapter was one that filled the Secretary of State for the Colonies with alarm. During his tenure of office, Lord Carnarvon evidently had the permanent welfare of South Africa much at heart, and he saw with apprehension that the troubles that were brewing in the Transvaal were of a nature likely to involve the Cape and Natal in a native war. Though there is a broad line of demarcation between Dutch and English, it is not so broad but that a victorious nation like the Zulus might cross it, and beginning by fighting the Boer, might end by fighting the white man irrespective of race. When the reader reflects how terrible would be the consequences of a combination of native tribes against the Whites, and how easily such a combination might at that time have been brought about in the first flush of native successes, he will understand the anxiety with which all thinking men watched the course of events in the Transvaal in 1876.
At last they took such a serious turn that the Home Government saw that some action must be taken if the catastrophe was to be averted, and determined to despatch Sir Theophilus Shepstone as Special Commissioner to the Transvaal, with powers, should it be necessary, to annex the country to Her Majesty’s dominions, “in order to secure the peace and safety of Our said colonies and of Our subjects elsewhere.”
The terms of his Commission were unusually large, leaving a great deal to his discretionary power. In choosing that officer for the execution of a most difficult and delicate mission, the Government, doubtless, made a very wise selection. Sir Theophilus Shepstone is a man of remarkable tact and ability, combined with great openness and simplicity of mind, and one whose name will always have a leading place in South African history. During a long official lifetime he has had to do with most of the native races in South Africa, and certainly knows them and their ways better than any living man; whilst he is by them all regarded with a peculiar and affectionate reverence. He is par excellence their great white chief and “father,” and a word from him, even now that he has retired from active life, still carries more weight than the formal remonstrances of any governor in South Africa.
With the Boers he is almost equally well acquainted, having known many of them personally for years. He possesses, moreover, the rare power of winning the regard and affection, as well as the respect, of those about him in such a marked degree that those who have served him once would go far to serve him again. Sir T. Shepstone, however, has enemies like other people, and is commonly reported among them to be a disciple of Machiavelli, and to have his mind steeped in all the darker wiles of Kafir policy. The Annexation of the Transvaal is by them attributed to a successful and vigorous use of those arts that distinguished the diplomacy of two centuries ago. Falsehood and bribery are supposed to have been the great levers used to effect the change, together with threats of extinction at the hands of a savage and unfriendly nation.
That the Annexation was a triumph of mind over matter is quite true, but whether or not that triumph was unworthily obtained, I will leave those who read this short chronicle of the events connected with it to judge. I saw it somewhat darkly remarked in a newspaper the other day that the history of the Annexation had evidently yet to be written; and I fear that the remark represents the feeling of most people about the event; implying as it did, that it was carried out, by means certainly mysterious, and presumably doubtful. I am afraid that those who think thus will be disappointed in what I have to say about the matter, since I know that the means employed to bring the Boers —
“Fracti bello, fatisque repulsi”—
under her Majesty’s authority were throughout as fair and honest as the Annexation itself was, in my opinion, right and necessary.
To return to Sir T. Shepstone. He undoubtedly had faults as a ruler, one of the most prominent of which was that his natural mildness of character would never allow him to act with severity even when severity was necessary. The very criminals condemned to death ran a good chance of reprieve when he had to sign their death-warrants. He had also that worst of faults (so called), in one fitted by nature to become great — want of ambition, a failing that in such a man marks him the possessor of an even and a philosophic mind. It was no seeking of his own that raised him out of obscurity, and when his work was done to comparative obscurity he elected to return, though whether a man of his ability and experience in South African affairs should, at the present crisis, be allowed to remain there, is another question.
On the 20th December 1876, Sir T. Shepstone wrote to President Burgers, informing him of his approaching visit to the Transvaal, to secure, if possible, the adjustment of the existing troubles, and the adoption of such measures as might be best calculated to prevent their recurrence in the future.
On his road to Pretoria, Sir Theophilus received a hearty welcome from the Boer as well as the English inhabitants of the country. One of these addresses to him says: “Be assured, high honourable Sir, that we burghers, now assembled together, entertain the most friendly feeling towards your Government, and that we shall agree with anything you may do in conjunction with our Government for the progress of our State, the strengthening against our native enemies, and for the general welfare of all the inhabitants of the whole of South Africa. Welcome in Heidelberg, and welcome in the Transvaal.”
At Pretoria the reception of the Special Commissioner was positively enthusiastic; the whole town came out to meet him, and the horses having been taken out of the carriage, he was dragged in triumph through the streets. In his reply to the address presented to him, Sir Theophilus shadowed forth the objects of his mission in these words: “Recent events in this country have shown to all thinking men the absolute necessity for closer union and more oneness of purpose among the Christian Governments of the southern portion of this Continent: the best interests of the native races, no less than the peace and prosperity of the white, imperatively demand it, and I rely upon you and upon your Government to co-operate with me in endeavouring to achieve the great and glorious end of inscribing on a general South African banner the appropriate motto —‘Eendragt maakt magt’ (Unity makes strength).”
A few days after his arrival a commission was appointed, consisting of Messrs. Henderson and Osborn, on behalf of the Special Commissioner, and Messrs. Kruger and Jorissen, on behalf of the Transvaal Government, to discuss the state of the country. This commission came to nothing, and was on both sides nothing more than a bit of by-play.
The arrival of the mission was necessarily regarded with mixed feelings by the inhabitants of the Transvaal. By one party it was eagerly greeted, viz., the English section of the population, who devoutly hoped that it had come to annex the country. With the exception of the Hollander element, the officials also were glad of its arrival, and secretly hoped that the country would be taken over, when there would be more chance of their getting their arrear pay. The better educated Boers also were for the most part satisfied that there was no hope for the country unless England helped it in some way, though they did not like having to accept the help. But the more bigoted and narrow-minded among them were undoubtedly opposed to English interference, and under their leader, Paul Kruger, who was at the time running for the President’s chair, did their best to be rid of it. They found ready allies in the Hollander clientele, with which Mr. Burgers had surrounded himself, headed by the famous Dr. Jorissen, who was, like most of the rulers of this singular State, an ex-clergyman, but now an Attorney-general, not learned in the law. These men were for the most part entirely unfit for the positions they held, and feared that in the event of the country changing hands they might be ejected from them; and also, they did all Englishmen the favour to regard them, with that particularly virulent and general hatred which is a part of the secret creed of many foreigners, more especially of such as are under our protection. As may easily be imagined, what between all these different parties and the presence of the Special Commissioner, there were certainly plenty of intrigues going on in Pretoria during the first few months of 1877, and the political excitement was very great. Nobody knew how far Sir T. Shepstone was prepared to go, and everybody was afraid of putting out his hand further than he could pull it back, and trying to make himself comfortable on two stools at once. Members of the Volksraad and other prominent individuals in the country who had during the day been denouncing the Commissioner in no measured terms, and even proposing that he and his staff should be shot as a warning to the English Government, might be seen arriving at his house under cover of the shades of evening, to have a little talk with him, and express the earnest hope that it was his intention to annex the country as soon as possible. It is necessary to assist at a peaceable annexation to learn the depth of meanness human nature is capable of.
In Pretoria, at any rate, the ladies were of great service to the cause of the mission, since they were nearly all in favour of a change of government, and, that being the case, they naturally soon brought their husbands, brothers, and lovers to look at things from the same point of view. It was a wise man who said that in any matter where it is necessary to obtain the goodwill of a population you should win over the women; that done, you need not trouble yourself about the men.
Though the country was thus overflowing with political intrigues, nothing of the kind went on in the Commissioner’s camp. It was not he who made the plots to catch the Transvaalers; on the contrary, they made the plots to catch him. For several months all that he did was to sit still and let the rival passions work their way, fighting what the Zulus afterwards called the “fight of sit down.” When anybody came to see him he was very glad to meet them, pointed out the desperate condition of the country, and asked them if they could suggest a remedy. And that was about all he did do, beyond informing himself very carefully as to all that was going on in the country, and the movements of the natives within and outside its borders. There was no money spent on bribery, as has been stated, though it is impossible to imagine a state of affairs in which it would have been more easy to bribe, or in which it could have been done with greater effect; unless indeed the promise that some pension should be paid to President Burgers can be called a bribe, which it was certainly never intended to be, but simply a guarantee that after having spent all his private means on behalf of the State he should not be left destitute. The statement that the Annexation was effected under a threat that if the Government did not give its consent Sir T. Shepstone would let loose the Zulus on the country is also a wicked and malicious invention, but with this I shall deal more at length further on.
It must not, however, be understood that the Annexation was a foregone conclusion, or that Sir T. Shepstone came up to the Transvaal with the fixed intention of annexing the country without reference to its position, merely with a view of extending British influence, or, as has been absurdly stated, in order to benefit Natal. He had no fixed purpose, whether it were necessary or no, of exercising the full powers given to him by his commission; on the contrary, he was all along most anxious to find some internal resources within the State by means of which Annexation could be averted, and of this fact his various letters and despatches give full proof. Thus, in his letter to President Burgers, of the 9th April 1877, in which he announces his intention of annexing the country, he says: “I have more than once assured your Honour that if I could think of any plan by which the independence of the State could be maintained by its own internal resources I would most certainly not conceal that plan from you.” It is also incidentally remarkably confirmed by a passage in Mr. Burgers’ posthumous defence, in which he says: “Hence I met Shepstone alone in my house, and opened up the subject of his mission. With a candour that astonished me, he avowed that his purpose was to annex the country, as he had sufficient grounds for it, unless I could so alter as to satisfy his Government. My plan of a new constitution, modelled after that of America, of a standing police force of two hundred mounted men, was then proposed. He promised to give me time to call the Volksraad together, and to abandon his design if the Volksraad would adopt these measures, and the country be willing to submit to them, and to carry them out.” Further on he says: “In justice to Shepstone I must say that I would not consider an officer of my Government to have acted faithfully if he had not done what Shepstone did.”
It has also been frequently alleged in England, and always seems to be taken as the groundwork of argument in the matter of the Annexation, that the Special Commissioner represented that the majority of the inhabitants wished for the Annexation, and that it was sanctioned on that ground. This statement shows the great ignorance that exists in this country of South African affairs, an ignorance which in this case has been carefully fostered by Mr. Gladstone’s Government for party purposes, they having found it necessary to assume, in order to make their position in the matter tenable, that Sir T. Shepstone and other Officials had been guilty of misrepresentation. Unfortunately, the Government and its supporters have been more intent upon making out their case than upon ascertaining the truth of their statements. If they had taken the trouble to refer to Sir T. Shepstone’s despatches, they would have found that the ground on which the Transvaal was annexed was, not because the majority of the inhabitants wished for it, but because the State was drifting into anarchy, was bankrupt, and was about to be destroyed by native tribes. They would further have found that Sir T. Shepstone never represented that the majority of the Boers were in favour of Annexation. What he did say was that most thinking men in the country saw no other way out of the difficulty; but what proportion of the Boers can be called “thinking men?” He also said, in the fifteenth paragraph of his despatch to Lord Carnarvon of 6th March 1877, that petitions signed by 2500 people, representing every class of the community, out of a total adult population of 8000, had been presented to the Government of the Republic, setting forth its difficulties and dangers, and praying it “to treat with me for their amelioration or removal.” He also stated, and with perfect truth, that many more would have signed had it not been for the terrorism that was exercised, and that all the towns and villages in the country desired the change, which was a patent fact.
This is the foundation on which the charge of misrepresentation is built — a charge which has been manipulated so skilfully, and with such a charming disregard for the truth, that the British public has been duped into believing it. When it is examined into, it vanishes into thin air.
But a darker charge has been brought against the Special Commissioner — a charge affecting his honour as a gentleman and his character as a Christian; and, strange to say, has gained a considerable credence, especially amongst a certain party in England. I allude to the statement that he called up the Zulu army with the intention of sweeping the Transvaal if the Annexation was objected to. I may state, from my own personal knowledge, that the report is a complete falsehood, and that no such threat was ever made, either by Sir T. Shepstone or by anybody connected with him, and I will briefly prove what I say.
When the mission first arrived at Pretoria, a message came from Cetywayo to the effect that he had heard that the Boers had fired at “Sompseu” (Sir T. Shepstone), and announcing his intention of attacking the Transvaal if “his father” was touched. About the middle of March alarming rumours began to spread as to the intended action of Cetywayo with reference to the Transvaal; but as Sir T. Shepstone did not think that the king would be likely to make any hostile movement whilst he was in the country, he took no steps in the matter. Neither did the Transvaal Government ask his advice and assistance. Indeed, a remarkable trait in the Boers is their supreme self-conceit, which makes them believe that they are capable of subduing all the natives in Africa, and of thrashing the whole British army if necessary. Unfortunately, the recent course of events has tended to confirm them in their opinion as regards their white enemies. To return: towards the second week in April, or the week before the proclamation of annexation was issued, things began to look very serious; indeed, rumours that could hardly be discredited reached the Special Commissioner that the whole of the Zulu army was collected in a chain of Impis or battalions, with the intention of bursting into the Transvaal and sweeping the country. Knowing how terrible would be the catastrophe if this were to happen, Sir T. Shepstone was much alarmed about the matter, and at a meeting with the Executive Council of the Transvaal Government he pointed out to them the great danger in which the country was placed. This was done in the presence of several officers of his Staff, and it was on this friendly exposition of the state of affairs that the charge that he had threatened the country with invasion by the Zulus was based. On the 11th of April, or the day before the Annexation, a message was despatched to Cetywayo, telling him of the reports that had reached Pretoria, and stating that if they were true he must forthwith give up all such intentions, as the Transvaal would at once be placed under the sovereignty of Her Majesty, and that if he had assembled any armies for purposes of aggression they must be disbanded at once. Sir T. Shepstone’s message reached Zululand not a day too soon. Had the Annexation of the Transvaal been delayed by a few weeks even — and this is a point which I earnestly beg Englishmen to remember in connection with that act — Cetywayo’s armies would have entered the Transvaal, carrying death before them, and leaving a wilderness behind them.
Cetywayo’s answer to the Special Commissioner’s message will sufficiently show, to use Sir Theophilus’ own words in his despatch on the subject, “the pinnacle of peril which the Republic and South Africa generally had reached at the moment when the Annexation took place.” He says, “I thank my Father Sompseu (Sir T. Shepstone) for his message. I am glad that he has sent it, because the Dutch have tired me out, and I intended to fight them once and once only, and to drive them over the Vaal. Kabana (name of messenger), you see my Impis (armies) are gathered. It was to fight the Dutch I called them together; now I will send them back to their homes. Is it well that two men (‘amadoda-amabili’) should be made ‘iziula’ (fools)? In the reign of my father Umpanda the Boers were constantly moving their boundary further into my country. Since his death the same thing has been done. I had therefore determined to end it once for all!” The message then goes on to other matters, and ends with a request to be allowed to fight the Amaswazi, because “they fight together and kill one another. This,” says Cetywayo naively, “is wrong, and I want to chastise them for it.”
This quotation will suffice to convince all reasonable men, putting aside all other matters, from what imminent danger the Transvaal was delivered by the much-abused Annexation.
Some months after that event, however, it occurred to the ingenious mind of some malicious individual in Natal that, properly used, much political capital might be made out of this Zulu incident, and the story that Cetywayo’s army had been called up by Sir Theophilus himself to overawe, and, if necessary, subdue the Transvaal, was accordingly invented and industriously circulated. Although Sir T. Shepstone at once caused it to be authoritatively contradicted, such an astonishing slander naturally took firm root, and on the 12th April 1879 we have Mr. M. W. Pretorius, one of the Boer leaders, publicly stating at a meeting of the farmers that “previous to the Annexation Sir T. Shepstone had threatened the Transvaal with an attack from the Zulus as an argument for advancing the Annexation.” Under such an imputation the Government could no longer keep silence, and accordingly Sir Owen Lanyon, who was then Administrator of the Transvaal, caused the matter to be officially investigated, with these results, which are summed up by him in a letter to Mr. Pretorius, dated 1st May 1879:—
1. The records of the Republican Executive Council contained no allusion to any such statement.
2. Two members of that Council filed statements in which they unreservedly denied that Sir T. Shepstone used the words or threats imputed to him.
3. Two officers of Sir T. Shepstone’s staff, who were always present with him at interviews with the Executive Council, filed statements to the same effect.
“I have no doubt,” adds Sir Owen Lanyon, “that the report has been originated and circulated by some evil-disposed persons.”
In addition to this evidence we have a letter written to the Colonial Office by Sir T. Shepstone, dated London, August 12, 1879, in which he points out that Mr. Pretorius was not even present at any of the interviews with the Executive Council on which occasion he accuses him of having made use of the threats. He further shows that the use of such a threat on his part would have been the depth of folly, and “knowingly to court the instant and ignominious failure of my mission,” because the Boers were so persuaded of their own prowess that they could not be convinced that they stood in any danger from native sources, and also because “such play with such keen-edged tools as the excited passions of savages are, and especially such savages as I knew the Zulus to be, is not what an experience of forty-two years in managing them inclined me to.” And yet, in the face of all this accumulated evidence, this report continues to be believed, that is, by those who wished to believe it.
Such are the accusations that have been brought against the manner of the Annexation and the Officer who carried it out, and never were accusations more groundless. Indeed both for party purposes, and from personal animus, every means, fair or foul, has been used to discredit it and all connected with it. To take a single instance, one author (Miss Colenso, p. 134, “History of the Zulu War”) actually goes the length of putting a portion of a speech made by President Burgers into the mouth of Sir T. Shepstone, and then abusing him for his incredible profanity. Surely this exceeds the limits of fair criticism.
Before I go on to the actual history of the Annexation there is one point I wish to submit to my reader. In England the change of Government has always been talked of as though it only affected the forty thousand white inhabitants of the country, whilst everybody seems to forget that this same land had about a million human beings living on it, its original owners, and only, unfortunately for themselves, possessing a black skin, and therefore entitled to little consideration — even at the hands of the most philanthropic Government in the world. It never seems to have occurred to those who have raised so much outcry on behalf of the forty thousand Boers, to inquire what was thought of the matter by the million natives. If they were to be allowed a voice in their own disposal, the country was certainly annexed by the wish of a very large majority of its inhabitants. It is true that Secocoeni, instigated thereto by the Boers, afterwards continued the war against us, but, with the exception of this one chief, the advent of our rule was hailed with joy by every native in the Transvaal, and even he was glad of it at the time. During our period of rule in the Transvaal the natives have had, as they foresaw, more peace than at any time since the white man set foot in the land. They have paid their taxes gladly, and there has been no fighting among themselves; but since we have given up the country we hear a very different tale. It is this million of men, women, and children who, notwithstanding their black skins, live and feel, and have intelligence as much as ourselves, who are the principal, because the most numerous sufferers from Mr. Gladstone’s conjuring tricks, that can turn a Sovereign into a Suzerain as airily as the professor of magic brings a litter of guinea-pigs out of a top hat. It is our falsehood and treachery to them whom we took over “for ever,” as we told them, and whom we have now handed back to their natural enemies to be paid off for their loyalty to the Englishman, that is the blackest stain in all this black business, and that has destroyed our prestige, and caused us to be looked on amongst them, for they do not hide their opinion, as “cowards and liars.”
But very little attention, however, seems to have been paid to native views or claims at any time in the Transvaal; indeed they have all along been treated as serfs of the soil, to be sold with it, if necessary, to a new master. It is true that the Government, acting under pressure from the Aborigines Protection Society, made, on the occasion of the Surrender, a feeble effort to secure the independence of some of the native tribes; but when the Boer leaders told them shortly that they would have nothing of the sort, and that, if they were not careful, they would reoccupy Laing’s Nek, the proposal was at once dropped, with many assurances that no offence was intended. The worst of the matter is that this treatment of our native subjects and allies will assuredly recoil on the heads of future innocent Governments.
Shortly after the appointment of the Joint–Commission alluded to at the beginning of this chapter, President Burgers, who was now in possession of the Special Commissioner’s intentions, should he be unable to carry out reforms sufficiently drastic to satisfy the English Government, thought it best to call together the Volksraad. In the meantime, it had been announced that the “rebel” Secocoeni had sued for peace and signed a treaty declaring himself a subject of the Republic. I shall have to enter into the question of this treaty a little further on, so I will at present only say that it was the first business laid before the Raad, and, after some discussion, ratified. Next in order to the Secocoeni peace came the question of Confederation, as laid down in Lord Carnarvon’s Permissive Bill. This proposal was laid before them in an earnest and eloquent speech by their President, who entreated them to consider the dangerous position of the Republic, and to face their difficulties like men. The question was referred to a committee, and an adverse report being brought up, was rejected without further consideration. It is just possible that intimidation had something to do with the summary treatment of so important a matter, seeing that whilst it was being argued a large mob of Boers, looking very formidable with their sea-cow hide whips, watched every move of their representatives through the windows of the Volksraad Hall. It was Mr. Chamberlain’s caucus system in practical and visible operation.
A few days after the rejection of the Confederation Bill, President Burgers, who had frequently alluded to the desperate condition of the Republic, and stated that either some radical reform must be effected or the country must come under the British flag, laid before the Raad a brand new constitution of a very remarkable nature, asserting that they must either accept it or lose their independence.
The first part of this strange document dealt with the people and their rights, which remained much as they were before, with the exception that the secrecy of all letters entrusted to the post was to be inviolable. The recognition of this right is an amusing incident in the history of a free Republic. Under following articles the Volksraad was entrusted with the charge of the native inhabitants of the State, the provision for the administration of justice, the conduct of education, the regulation of money-bills, &c. It is in the fourth chapter, however, that we come to the real gist of the Bill, which was the endowment of the State President with the authority of a dictator. Mr. Burgers thought to save the State by making himself an absolute monarch. He was to be elected for a period of seven years instead of five years, and to be eligible for re-election. In him was vested the power of making all appointments without reference to the legislature. All laws were to be drawn up by him, and he was to have the right of veto on Volksraad resolutions, which body he could summon and dissolve at will. Finally, his Executive Council was to consist of heads of departments appointed by himself, and of one member of the Volksraad. The Volksraad treated this Bill in much the same way as they had dealt with the Permissive Confederation Bill, gave it a casual consideration, and threw it out.
The President, meanwhile, was doing his best to convince the Raad of the danger of the country; that the treasury was empty, whilst duns were pressing, that enemies were threatening on every side, and, finally, that Her Majesty’s Special Commissioner was encamped within a thousand yards of them, watching their deliberations with some interest. He showed them that it was impossible at once to scorn reform and reject friendly offers, that it was doubtful if anything could save them, but that if they took no steps they were certainly lost as a nation. The “Fathers of the land,” however, declined to dance to the President’s piping. Then he took a bolder line. He told them that a guilty nation never can evade the judgment that follows its steps. He asked them “conscientiously to advise the people not obstinately to refuse a union with a powerful Government. He could not advise them to refuse such a union. . . . He did not believe that a new constitution would save them; for as little as the old constitution had brought them to ruin, so little would a new constitution bring salvation. . . . If the citizens of England had behaved towards the Crown as the burghers of this State had behaved to their Government, England would never have stood so long as she had.” He pointed out to them their hopeless financial position. “To-day,” he said, “a bill for 1100 pounds was laid before me for signature; but I would sooner have cut off my right hand than sign that paper —(cheers)— for I have not the slightest ground to expect that, when that bill becomes due, there will be a penny to pay it with.” And finally, he exhorted them thus: “Let them make the best of the situation, and get the best terms they possibly could; let them agree to join their hands to those of their brethren in the south, and then from the Cape to the Zambesi there would be one great people. Yes, there was something grand in that, grander even than their idea of a Republic, something which ministered to their national feeling —(cheers)— and would this be so miserable? Yes, this would be miserable for those who would not be under the law, for the rebel and the revolutionist, but welfare and prosperity for the men of law and order.”
These powerful words form a strong indictment against the Republic, and from them there can be little doubt that President Burgers was thoroughly convinced of the necessity and wisdom of the Annexation. It is interesting to compare them, and many other utterances of his made at this period, with the opinions he expresses in the posthumous document recently published, in which he speaks somewhat jubilantly of the lessons taught us on Laing’s Nek and Majuba by such “an inherently weak people as the Boers,” and points to them as striking instances of retribution. In this document he attributes the Annexation to the desire to advance English supremacy in South Africa, and to lay hold of the way to Central South Africa. It is, however, noticeable that he does not in any way indicate how it could have been averted, and the State continue to exist; and he seems all along to feel that his case is a weak one, for in explaining, or attempting to explain, why he had never defended himself from the charges brought against him in connection with the Annexation, he says: “Had I not endured in silence, had I not borne patiently all the accusations, but out of selfishness or fear told the plain truth of the case, the Transvaal would never have had the consideration it has now received from Great Britain. However unjust the Annexation was, my self-justification would have exposed the Boers to such an extent, and the state of the country in such a way, that it would have deprived them both of the sympathy of the world and the consideration of the English politicians.” In other words, “If I had told the truth about things as I should have been obliged to do to justify myself, there would have been no more outcry about the Annexation, because the whole world, even the English Radicals, would have recognised how necessary it was, and what a fearful state the country was in.”
But to let that pass, it is evident that President Burgers did not take the same view of the Annexation in 1877 as he did in 1881, and indeed his speeches to the Volksraad would read rather oddly printed in parallel columns with his posthumous statement. The reader would be forced to one of two conclusions, either on one of the two occasions he is saying what he does not mean, or he must have changed his mind. As I believe him to have been an honest man, I incline to the latter supposition; nor do I consider it so very hard to account for, taking into consideration his natural Dutch proclivities. In 1877 Burgers is the despairing head of a State driving rapidly to ruin, if not to actual extinction, when the strong hand of the English Government is held out to him. What wonder that he accepts it gladly on behalf of his country, which is by its help brought into a state of greater prosperity than it has ever before known? In 1881 the wheel has gone round, and great events have come about whilst he lies dying. The enemies of the Boers have been destroyed, the powers of the Zulus and Secocoeni are no more; the country has prospered under a healthy rule, and its finances have been restored. More — glad tidings have come from Mid–Lothian, to the “rebel and the revolutionist,” whose hopes were flagging, and eloquent words have been spoken by the new English Dictator that have aroused a great rebellion. And, to crown all, English troops have suffered one massacre and three defeats, and England sues for peace from the South African peasant, heedless of honour or her broken word, so that the prayer be granted. With such events before him, that dying man may well have found cause to change his opinion. Doubtless the Annexation was wrong, since England disowns her acts; and may not that dream about the great South African Republic come true after all? Has not the preeminence of the Englishman received a blow from which it can never recover, and is not his control over Boers and natives irredeemably weakened? And must he — Burgers — go down to posterity as a Dutchman who tried to forward the interests of the English party? No, doubtless the Annexation was wrong; but it has done good, for it has brought about the downfall of the English: and we will end the argument in the very words of his last public utterance, with which he ends his statement: “South Africa gained more from this, and has made a larger step forward in the march of freedom than most people can conceive.”
Who shall say that he is wrong? the words of dying men are sometimes prophetic! South Africa has made a great advance towards the “freedom” of a Dutch Republic.
This has been a digression, but I hope not an uninteresting one. To return — on the 1st March, Sir T. Shepstone met the Executive Council, and told them that in his opinion there was now but one remedy to be adopted, and that was that the Transvaal should be united with English Colonies of South Africa under one head, namely the Queen, saying at the same time that the only thing now left to the Republic was to make the best arrangements it could for the future benefit of its inhabitants, and to submit to that which he saw to be, and every thinking man saw to be, inevitable. So soon as this information was officially communicated to the Raad, for a good proportion of its members were already acquainted with it unofficially, it flew from a state of listless indifference into vigorous and hasty action. The President was censured, and a Committee was appointed to consider and report upon the situation, which reported in favour of the adoption of Burgers’ new constitution. Accordingly, the greatest part of this measure, which had been contemptuously rejected a few days before, was adopted almost without question, and Mr. Paul Kruger was appointed Vice–President. On the following day, a very drastic treason law was passed, borrowed from the Statute book of the Orange Free State, which made all public expression of opinion, if adverse to the Government, or in any way supporting the Annexation party, high treason. This done, the Assembly prorogued itself until — October 1881.
During and after the sitting of the Raad, rumours arose that the Chief Secocoeni’s signature to the treaty of peace, ratified by that body, had been obtained by misrepresentation. As ratified, this treaty consisted of three articles, according to which Secocoeni consented, first to become a subject of the Republic, and obey the laws of the country; secondly, to agree to a certain restricted boundary line and, thirdly, to pay 2000 head of cattle; which, considering he had captured quite 5000 head, was not exorbitant.
Towards the end of February a written message was received from Secocoeni by Sir T. Shepstone, dated after the signing of the supposed treaty. The original, which was written in Sisutu, was a great curiosity. The following is a correct translation:—
“For Myn Heer Sheepstone — I beg you, Chief, come help me, the Boers are killing me, and I don’t know the reasons why they should be angry with me; Chief, I beg you come with Myn Heer Merensky. — I am Sikukuni.”
This message was accompanied by a letter from Mr. Merensky, a well-known and successful missionary, who had been for many years resident in Secocoeni’s country, in which he stated that he heard on very good authority that Secocoeni had distinctly refused to agree to that article of the treaty by which he became a subject of the State. He adds that he cannot remain “silent while such tricks are played.”
Upon this information, Sir T. Shepstone wrote to President Burgers, stating that “if the officer in whom you have placed confidence has withheld any portion of the truth from you, especially so serious a portion of it, he is guilty of a wrong towards you personally, as well as towards the Government, because he has caused you to assume an untenable position,” and suggesting that a joint commission should be despatched to Secocoeni, to thoroughly sift the question in the interest of all concerned. This suggestion was after some delay agreed to, and a commission was appointed, consisting of Mr. Van Gorkom, a Hollander, and Mr. Holtshausen, a member of the Executive Council, on behalf of the Transvaal Government, and Mr. Osborn, R.M., and Captain Clarke, R.A., on behalf of the Commissioner, whom I accompanied as Secretary.
At Middelburg the native Gideon who acted as interpreter between Commandant Ferreira, C.M.G. (the officer who negotiated the treaty on behalf of the Boer Government), and Secocoeni was examined, and also two natives, Petros and Jeremiah, who were with him, but did not actually interpret. All these men persisted that Secocoeni had positively refused to become a subject of the Republic, and only consented to sign the treaty on the representations of Commandant Ferreira that it would only be binding, as regards to the two articles about the cattle and the boundary line.
The Commission then proceeded to Secocoeni’s town, accompanied by a fresh set of interpreters, and had a long interview with Secocoeni. The chief’s Prime Minister or “mouth,” Makurupiji, speaking in his presence, and on his behalf and making use of the pronoun “I” before all the assembled headmen of the tribe, gave an account of the interview between Commandant Ferreira in the presence of that gentleman, who accompanied the commission and Secocoeni, in almost the same words as had been used by the interpreters at Middelburg. He distinctly denied having consented to become a subject of the Republic or to stand under the law, and added that he feared he “had touched the feather to” (signed) things that he did not know of in the treaty. Commandant Ferreira then put some questions, but entirely failed to shake the evidence; on the contrary, he admitted by his questions that Secocoeni had not consented to become a subject of the Republic. Secocoeni had evidently signed the piece of paper under the impression that he was acknowledging his liability to pay 2000 head of cattle, and fixing a certain portion of his boundary line, and on the distinct understanding that he was not to become a subject of the State.
Now it was the Secocoeni war that had brought the English Mission into the country, and if it could be shown that the Secocoeni war had come to a successful termination, it would go far towards helping the Mission out again. To this end, it was necessary that the Chief should declare himself a subject of the State, and thereby, by implication acknowledge himself to have been a rebel, and admit his defeat. All that was required was a signature, and that once obtained the treaty was published and submitted to the Raad for confirmation, without a whisper being heard of the conditions under which this ignorant Basutu was induced to sign. Had no Commission visited Secocoeni, this treaty would afterwards have been produced against him in its entirety. Altogether, the history of the Secocoeni Peace Treaty does not reassure one as to the genuineness of the treaties which the Boers are continually producing, purporting to have been signed by native chiefs, and as a general rule presenting the State with great tracts of country in exchange for a horse or a few oxen. However fond the natives may be of their Boer neighbours, such liberality can scarcely be genuine. On the other hand, it is so easy to induce a savage to sign a paper, or even, if he is reticent, to make a cross for him, and once made, as we all know, litera scripa manet, and becomes title to the lands.
During the Secocoeni investigation, affairs in the Transvaal were steadily drifting towards anarchy. The air was filled with rumours; now it was reported that an outbreak was imminent amongst the English population at the Gold Fields, who had never forgotten Von Schlickmann’s kind suggestion that they should be “subdued;” now it was said that Cetywayo had crossed the border, and might shortly be expected at Pretoria; now that a large body of Boers were on their road to shoot the Special Commissioner, his twenty-five policemen and Englishmen generally, and so on.
Meanwhile, Paul Kruger and his party were not letting the grass grow under their feet, but worked public feeling with great vigour, with the double object of getting Paul made President and ridding themselves of the English. Articles in his support were printed in the well-known Dutch paper “Die Patriot,” published in the Cape Colony, which are so typical of the Boers and of the only literature that has the slightest influence over them, that I will quote a few extracts from one of them.
After drawing a very vivid picture of the wretched condition of the country as compared to what it was when the Kafirs had “a proper respect” for the Boers, before Burgers came into power, the article proceeds to give the cause of this state of affairs. “God’s word,” it says, “gives us the solution. Look at Israel, while the people have a godly king, everything is prosperous, but under a godless prince the land retrogrades, and the whole of the people must suffer. Read Leviticus, chapter 26, with attention, &c. In the day of the Voortrekkers (pioneers), a handful of men chased a thousand Kafirs and made them run; so also in the Free State War (Deut. xxxii. 30; Jos. xxiii. 10; Lev. xxvi. 8). But mark, now when Burgers became President, he knows no Sabbath, he rides through the land in and out of town on Sunday, he knows not the church and God’s service (Lev. xxvi. 2–3) to the scandal of pious people. And he formerly was a priest too. And what is the consequence? No harvest (Lev. xxvi. 16), an army of 6,000 men runs because one man falls (Lev. xxvi. 17, &c.) What is now the remedy?” The remedy proves to be Paul Kruger, “because there is no other candidate. Because our Lord clearly points him out to be the man, for why is there no other candidate? Who arranged it this way?” Then follows a rather odd argument in favour of Paul’s election, “Because he himself (P. Kruger) acknowledges in his own reply that he is incompetent, but that all his ability is from our Lord. Because he is a warrior. Because he is a Boer.” Then Paul Kruger, the warrior and the Boer, is compared to Joan of Arc, “a simple Boer girl who came from behind the sheep.” The Burghers of Transvaal are exhorted to acknowledge the hand of the Lord, and elect Paul Kruger, or look for still heavier punishment. (Lev. xxvi. 18 et seq.) Next the “Patriot” proceeds to give a bit of advice to “our candidate, Paul Kruger.” He is to deliver the land from the Kafirs. “The Lord has given you the heart of a warrior, arise and drive them,” a bit of advice quite suited to his well-known character. But this chosen vessel was not to get all the loaves and fishes; on the contrary, as soon as he had fulfilled his mission of “driving” the Kafirs, he was to hand over his office to a “good” president. The article ends thus: “If the Lord wills to use you now to deliver this land from its enemies, and a day of peace and prosperity arises again, and you see that you are not exactly the statesman to further govern the Republic, then it will be your greatest honour to say, ‘Citizens, I have delivered you from the enemy, I am no statesman, but now you have peace and time to choose and elect a good President.’”
An article such as the above is instructive reading as showing the low calibre of the minds that are influenced by it. Yet such writings and sermons have more power among the Boers than any other arguments, appealing as they do to the fanaticism and vanity of their nature, which causes them to believe that the Divinity is continually interfering on their behalf at the cost of other people. It will be noticed that the references given are all to the Old Testament, and nearly all refer to acts of blood.
These doctrines were not, however, at all acceptable to Burgers’ party, or the more enlightened members of the community, and so bitter did the struggle of rival opinions become that there is very little doubt that had the country not been annexed, civil war would have been added to its other calamities. Meanwhile the natives were from day to day becoming more restless, and messengers were constantly arriving at the Special Commissioner’s camp, begging that their tribe might be put under the Queen, and stating that they would fight rather than submit any longer to the Boers.
At length on the 9th April, Sir T. Shepstone informed the Government of the Republic that he was about to declare the Transvaal British territory. He told them that he had considered and reconsidered his determination, but that he could see no possible means within the State by which it could free itself from the burdens that were sinking it to destruction, adding that if he could have found such means he would certainly not have hidden them from the Government. This intimation was received in silence, though all the later proceedings with reference to the Annexation were in reality carried out in concert with the Authorities of the Republic. Thus on the 13th March the Government submitted a paper of ten questions to Sir T. Shepstone as regards the future condition of the Transvaal under English rule, whether the debts of the State would be guaranteed, &c. To these questions replies were given which were on the whole satisfactory to the Government. As these replies formed the basis of the proclamation guarantees, it is not necessary to enter into them.
It was further arranged by the Republican Government that a formal protest should be entered against the Annexation, which was accordingly prepared and privately shown to the Special Commissioner. The annexation proclamation was also shown to President Burgers, and a paragraph eliminated at his suggestion. In fact, the Special Commissioner and the President, together with most of his Executive, were quite at one as regards the necessity of the proclamation being issued, their joint endeavours being directed to the prevention of any disturbance, and to secure a good reception for the change.
At length, after three months of inquiry and negotiation, the proclamation of annexation was on the 12th of April 1877 read by Mr. Osborn, accompanied by some other gentlemen of Sir T. Shepstone’s staff. It was an anxious moment for all concerned. To use the words of the Special Commissioner in his despatch home on the subject, “Every effort had been made during the previous fortnight by, it is said, educated Hollanders, and who had but lately arrived in the country to rouse the fanaticism of the Boers and induce them to offer ‘bloody’ resistance to what it was known I intended to do. The Boers were appealed to in the most inflammatory language by printed manifestoes and memorials; . . . it was urged that I had but a small escort which could easily be overpowered.” In a country so full of desperadoes and fanatical haters of anything English, it was more than possible than though such an act would have been condemned by the general sense of the country, a number of men could easily be found who would think they were doing a righteous act in greeting the “annexationists” with an ovation of bullets. I do not mean that the anxiety was personal, because I do not think the members of that small party set any higher value on their lives than other people, but it was absolutely necessary for the success of the act itself, and for the safety of the country, that not a single shot should be fired. Had that happened it is probable that the whole country would have been involved in confusion and bloodshed, the Zulus would have broken in, and the Kafirs would have risen; in fact, to use Cetywayo’s words, “the land would have burned with fire.”
It will therefore be easily understood what an anxious hour that was both for the Special Commissioner sitting up at Government House, and for his Staff down on the Market Square, and how thankful they were when the proclamation was received with hearty cheers by the crowd. Mr. Burgers’ protest, which was read immediately afterwards, was received in respectful silence.
And thus the Transvaal Territory passed for a while into the great family of the English Colonies. I believe that the greatest political opponent of the act will bear tribute to the very remarkable ability with which it was carried out. When the variety and number of the various interests that had to be conciliated, the obstinate nature of the individuals who had to be convinced, as well as the innate hatred of the English name and ways which had to be overcome to carry out this act successfully, are taken into consideration: together with a thousand other matters, the neglect of any one of which would have sufficed to make failure certain, it will be seen what tact and skill, and knowledge of human nature were required to execute so difficult a task. It must be remembered that no force was used, and that there never was any threat of force. The few troops that were to enter the Transvaal were four weeks’ march from Pretoria at the time. There was nothing whatsoever to prevent the Boers putting a summary stop to the proceedings of the Commissioner if they had thought fit.
That Sir Theophilus played a bold and hazardous game nobody will deny, but, like most players who combine boldness with coolness of head and justice of cause, he won; and, without shedding a single drop of blood, or even confiscating an acre of land, and at no cost, annexed a great country, and averted a very serious war. That same country four years later cost us a million of money, the loss of nearly a thousand men killed and wounded, and the ruin of many more confiding thousands, to surrender. It is true, however, that nobody can accuse the retrocession of having been conducted with judgment or ability — very much the contrary.
There can be no more ample justification of the necessity of the issue of the annexation proclamation than the proclamation itself —
First, it touches on the Sand River Convention of 1852, by which independence was granted to the State, and shows that the “evident objects and inciting motives” in granting such guarantee were to promote peace, free-trade and friendly intercourse, in the hope and belief that the Republic “would become a flourishing and self-sustaining State, a source of strength and security to neighbouring European communities, and a point from which Christianity and civilisation might rapidly spread toward Central Africa.” It goes on to show how these hopes have been disappointed, and how that “increasing weakness in the State itself on the one side, and more than corresponding growth of real strength and confidence among the native tribes on the other have produced their natural and inevitable consequence . . . that after more or less of irritating conflict with aboriginal tribes to the north, there commenced about the year 1867 gradual abandonment to the natives in that direction of territory, settled by burghers of the Transvaal in well-built towns and villages and on granted farms.”
It goes on to show that “this decay of power and ebb of authority in the north, is being followed by similar processes in the south under yet more dangerous circumstances. People of this State residing in that direction have been compelled within the last three months, at the bidding of native chiefs and at a moment’s notice, to leave their farms and homes, their standing crops . . . all to be taken possession of by natives, but that the Government is more powerless than ever to vindicate its assumed rights or to resist the declension that is threatening its existence.” It then recites how all the other colonies and communities of South Africa have lost confidence in the State, how it is in a condition of hopeless bankruptcy, and its commerce annihilated whilst the inhabitants are divided into factions, and the Government has fallen into “helpless paralysis.” How also the prospect of the election of a new President, instead of being looked forward to with hope, would, in the opinion of all parties, be the signal for civil war, anarchy, and bloodshed. How that this state of things affords the very strongest temptation to the great neighbouring native powers to attack the country, a temptation that they were only too ready and anxious to yield to, and that the State was in far too feeble a condition to repel such attacks, from which it had hitherto only been saved by the repeated representations of the Government of Natal. The next paragraphs I will quote as they stand, for they sum up the reasons for the Annexation.
“That the Secocoeni war, which would have produced but little effect on a healthy constitution, has not only proved suddenly fatal to the resources and reputation of the Republic, but has shown itself to be a culminating point in the history of South Africa, in that a Makatee or Basutu tribe, unwarlike and of no account in Zulu estimation, successfully withstood the strength of the State, and disclosed for the first time to the native powers outside the Republic, from the Zambesi to the Cape, the great change that had taken place in the relative strength of the white and black races, that this disclosure at once shook the prestige of the white man in South Africa, and placed every European community in peril, that this common danger has caused universal anxiety, has given to all concerned the right to investigate its cause, and to protect themselves from its consequences, and has imposed the duty upon those who have the power to shield enfeebled civilisation from the encroachments of barbarism and inhumanity.” It proceeds to point out that the Transvaal will be the first to suffer from the results of its own policy, and that it is for every reason perfectly impossible for Her Majesty’s Government to stand by and see a friendly white State ravaged, knowing that its own possessions will be the next to suffer. That H. M. Government, being persuaded that the only means to prevent such a catastrophe would be by the annexation of the country, and, knowing that this was the wish of a large proportion of the inhabitants of the Transvaal, the step must be taken. Next follows the formal annexation.
Together with the proclamation, an address was issued by Sir T. Shepstone to the burghers of the State, laying the facts before them in a friendly manner, more suited to their mode of thought than it was possible to do in a formal proclamation. This document, the issue of which was one of those touches that ensured the success of the Annexation, was a powerful summing up in colloquial language of the arguments used in the proclamation strengthened by quotations from the speeches of the President. It ends with these words: “It remains only for me to beg of you to consider and weigh what I have said calmly and without undue prejudice. Let not mere feeling or sentiment prevail over your judgment. Accept what Her Majesty’s Government intends shall be, and what you will soon find from experience, is a blessing not only to you and your children, but to the whole of South Africa through you, and I believe that I speak these words to you as a friend from my heart.”
Two other proclamations were also issued, one notifying the assumption of the office of Administrator of the Government by Sir T. Shepstone, and the other repealing the war-tax, which was doubtless an unequal and oppressive impost.
I have in the preceding pages stated all the principal grounds of the Annexation and briefly sketched the history of that event. In the next chapter I propose to follow the fortunes of the Transvaal under British Rule.
Reception of the annexation — Major Clarke and the Volunteers — Effect of the annexation on credit and commerce — Hoisting of the Union Jack — Ratification of the annexation by Parliament — Messrs. Kruger and Jorissen’s mission to England — Agitation against the annexation in the Cape Colony — Sir T. Shepstone’s tour — Causes of the growth of discontent among the Boers — Return of Messrs. Jorissen and Kruger — The Government dispenses with their services — Despatch of a second deputation to England — Outbreak of war with Secocoeni — Major Clarke, R.A. — The Gunn of Gunn plot — Mission of Captain Paterson and Mr. Sergeaunt to Matabeleland — Its melancholy termination — The Isandhlwana disaster — Departure of Sir T. Shepstone for England — Another Boer meeting — The Pretoria Horse — Advance of the Boers on Pretoria — Arrival of Sir B. Frere at Pretoria and dispersion of the Boers — Arrival of Sir Garnet Wolseley — His proclamation — The Secocoeni expedition — Proceedings of the Boers — Mr. Pretorius — Mr. Gladstone’s Mid–Lothian speeches, their effect — Sir G. Wolseley’s speech at Pretoria, its good results — Influx of Englishmen and cessation of agitation — Financial position of the country after three years of British rule — Letter of the Boer leaders to Mr. Courtney.
The news of the Annexation was received all over the country with a sigh of relief, and in many parts of it with great rejoicings. At the Gold Fields, for instance, special thanksgiving services were held, and “God save the Queen” was sung in church. Nowhere was there the slightest disturbance, but, on the contrary, addresses of congratulation and thanks literally poured in by every mail, many of them signed by Boers who have since been conspicuous for their bitter opposition to English rule. At first, there was some doubt as to what would be the course taken under the circumstances by the volunteers enlisted by the late Republic. Major Clarke, R.A., was sent to convey the news, and to take command of them, unaccompanied save by his Kafir servant. On arrival at the principal fort, he at once ordered the Republican flag to be hauled down and the Union Jack run up, and his orders were promptly obeyed. A few days afterwards some members of the force thought better of it, and having made up their minds to kill him, came to the tent where he was sitting to carry out their purpose. On learning their kind intentions, Major Clarke fixed his eye-glass in his eye, and, after steadily glaring at them through it for some time, said, “You are all drunk, go back to your tents.” The volunteers, quite overcome by his coolness and the fixity of his gaze, at once slipped off, and there was no further trouble. About three weeks after the Annexation, the 1–13th Regiment arrived at Pretoria, having been very well received all along the road by the Boers, who came from miles round to hear the band play. Its entry into Pretoria was quite a sight; the whole population turned out to meet it; indeed the feeling of rejoicing and relief was so profound that when the band began to play “God save the Queen” some of the women burst into tears.
Meanwhile the effect of the Annexation on the country was perfectly magical. Credit and commerce were at once restored; the railway bonds that were down to nothing in Holland rose with one bound to par, and the value of landed property nearly doubled. Indeed it would have been possible for any one, knowing what was going to happen, to have realised large sums of money by buying land in the beginning of 1877, and selling it shortly after the Annexation.
On the 24th May, being Her Majesty’s birthday, all the native chiefs who were anywhere within reach, were summoned to attend the first formal hoisting of the English flag. The day was a general festival, and the ceremony was attended by a large number of Boers and natives in addition to all the English. At mid-day, amidst the cheers of the crowd, the salute of artillery, and the strains of “God save the Queen,” the Union Jack was run up a lofty flagstaff, and the Transvaal was formally announced to be British soil. The flag was hoisted by Colonel Brooke, R.E., and the present writer. Speaking for myself, I may say that it was one of the proudest moments of my life. Could I have foreseen that I should live to see that same flag, then hoisted with so much joyous ceremony, within a few years shamefully and dishonourably hauled down and buried,12 I think it would have been the most miserable.
12 The English flag was during the signing of the Convention at Pretoria formally buried by a large crowd of Englishmen and loyal natives.
The Annexation was as well received in England as it was in the Transvaal. Lord Carnarvon wrote to Sir T. Shepstone to convey “the Queen’s entire approval of your conduct since you received Her Majesty’s commission, with a renewal of my own thanks on behalf of the Government for the admirable prudence and discretion with which you have discharged a great and unwonted responsibility.” It was also accepted by Parliament with very few dissentient voices, since it was not till afterwards, when the subject became useful as an electioneering howl, that the Liberal party, headed by our “powerful popular minister,” discovered the deep iniquity that had been perpetrated in South Africa. So satisfied were the Transvaal Boers with the change that Messrs. Kruger, Jorissen, and Bok, who formed the deputation to proceed to England and present President Burgers’ formal protest against the Annexation, found great difficulty in raising one-half of the necessary expenses — something under one thousand pounds — towards the cost of the undertaking. The thirst for independence cannot have been very great when all the wealthy burghers in the Transvaal put together would not subscribe a thousand pounds towards retaining it. Indeed, at this time the members of the deputation themselves seem to have looked upon their undertaking as being both doubtful and undesirable, since they informed Sir T. Shepstone that they were going to Europe to discharge an obligation which had been imposed upon them, and if the mission failed, they would have done their duty. Mr. Kruger said that if they did fail, he would be found to be as faithful a subject under the new form of government as he had been under the old; and Dr. Jorissen admitted with equal frankness that “the change was inevitable, and expressed his belief that the cancellation of it would be calamitous.”
Whilst the Annexation was thus well received in the country immediately interested, a lively agitation was commenced in the Western Province of the Cape Colony, a thousand miles away, with a view of inducing the Home Government to repudiate Sir T. Shepstone’s act. The reason of this movement was that the Cape Dutch party, caring little or nothing for the real interests of the Transvaal, did care a great deal about their scheme to turn all the white communities of South Africa into a great Dutch Republic, to which they thought the Annexation would be a deathblow. As I have said elsewhere, it must be borne in mind that the strings of the anti-annexation agitation have all along been pulled in the Western Province, whilst the Transvaal Boers have played the parts of puppets. The instruments used by the leaders of the movement in the Cape were, for the most part, the discontented and unprincipled Hollander element, a newspaper of an extremely abusive nature called the “Volkstem,” and another in Natal known as the “Natal Witness,” lately edited by the notorious Aylward, which has an almost equally unenviable reputation.
On the arrival of Messrs. Jorissen and Kruger in England, they were received with great civility by Lord Carnarvon, who was, however, careful to explain to them that the Annexation was irrevocable. In this decision they cheerfully acquiesced, assuring his lordship of their determination to do all they could to induce the Boers to accept the new state of things, and expressing their desire to be allowed to serve under the new Government.
Whilst these gentlemen were thus satisfactorily arranging matters with Lord Carnarvon, Sir T. Shepstone was making a tour round the country which resembled a triumphal progress more than anything else. He was everywhere greeted with enthusiasm by all classes of the community, Boers, English, and natives, and numerous addresses were presented to him couched in the warmest language, not only by Englishmen but also by Boers.
It is very difficult to reconcile the enthusiasm of a great number of the inhabitants of the Transvaal for English rule, and the quite acquiescence of the remainder, at this time, with the decidedly antagonistic attitude assumed later on. It appears to me, however, that there are several reasons that go far towards accounting for it. The Transvaal, when we annexed it, was in the position of a man with a knife at his throat, who is suddenly rescued by some one stronger than he, on certain conditions which at the time he gladly accepts, but afterwards, when the danger is passed, wishes to repudiate. In the same way the inhabitants of the South African Republic, were in the time of need very thankful for our aid, but after a while, when the recollection of their difficulties had grown faint, when their debts had been paid and their enemies defeated, they began to think that they would like to get rid of us again, and start fresh on their own account, with a clean sheet. What fostered agitation more than anything else, however, was the perfect impunity in which it was allowed to be carried on. Had only a little firmness and decision been shown in the first instance there would have been no further trouble. We might have been obliged to confiscate half-a-dozen farms, and perhaps imprison as many free burghers for a few months, and there it would have ended. Neither Boers or natives understand our namby-pamby way of playing at government; they put it down to fear. What they want, and what they expect, is to be governed with a just but a firm hand. Thus when the Boers found that they could agitate with impunity, they naturally enough continued to agitate. Anybody who knows them will understand that it was very pleasant to them to find themselves in possession of that delightful thing, a grievance, and, instead of stopping quietly at home on their farms, to feel obliged to proceed, full of importance and long words, to a distant meeting, there to spout and listen to the spouting of others. It is so much easier to talk politics than to sow mealies. Some attribute the discontent among the Boers to the postponement of the carrying out of the annexation proclamation promises with reference to the free institutions to be granted to the country, but in my opinion it had little or nothing to do with it. The Boers never understood the question of responsible government, and never wanted that institution; what they did want was to be free of all English control, and this they said twenty times in the most outspoken language. I think there is little doubt the causes I have indicated are the real sources of the agitation, though there must be added to them their detestation of our mode of dealing with natives, and of being forced to pay taxes regularly, and also the ceaseless agitation of the Cape wire-pullers, through their agents the Hollanders, and their organs in the press.
On the return of Messrs. Kruger and Jorissen to the Transvaal, the latter gentleman resumed his duties as Attorney–General, on which occasion, if I remember aright, I myself had the honour of administering to him the oath of allegiance to Her Majesty, that he afterwards kept so well. The former reported the proceedings of the deputation to a Boer meeting, when he took a very different tone to that in which he addressed Lord Carnarvon, announcing that if there existed a majority of the people in favour of independence, he still was Vice–President of the country.
Both these gentlemen remained for some time in the pay of the British Government, Mr. Jorissen as Attorney–General, and Mr. Kruger as member of the Executive Council. The Government, however, at length found it desirable to dispense with their services, though on different grounds. Mr. Jorissen had, like several other members of the Republican Government, been a clergyman, and was quite unfit to hold the post of Attorney–General in an important colony like the Transvaal, where legal questions were constantly arising requiring all the attention of a trained mind; and after he had on several occasions been publicly admonished from the bench, the Government retired him on liberal terms. Needless to say, his opposition to English rule then became very bitter. Mr. Kruger’s appointment expired by law in November 1877, and the Government did not think it advisable to re-employ him. The terms of his letter of dismissal can be found on page 135 of Blue Book (c. 144), and involving as they do a serious charge of misrepresentation in money matters, are not very creditable to him. After this event he also pursued the cause of independence with increased vigour.
During the last months of 1877 and the first part of 1878 agitation against British rule went on unchecked, and at last grew to alarming proportions, so much so that Sir T. Shepstone, on his return from the Zulu border in March 1878, where he had been for some months discussing the vexed and dangerous question of the boundary line with the Zulus, found it necessary to issue a stringent proclamation warning the agitators that their proceedings and meetings were illegal, and would be punished according to law. This document which was at the time vulgarly known as the “Hold-your-jaw” proclamation, not being followed by action, produced but little effect.
On the 4th April 1878 another Boer meeting was convened, at which it was decided to send a second deputation to England, to consist this time of Messrs. Kruger and Joubert, with Mr. Bok as secretary. This deputation proved as abortive as the first, Sir M. Hicks Beach assuring it, in a letter dated 6th August 1878, that it is “impossible, for many reasons, . . . . that the Queen’s sovereignty should now be withdrawn.”
Whilst the Government was thus hampered by internal disaffection, it had also many other difficulties on its hands. First, there was the Zulu boundary question, which was constantly developing new dangers to the country. Indeed, it was impossible to say what might happen in that direction from one week to another. Nor were its relations with Secocoeni satisfactory. It will be remembered that just before the Annexation this chief had expressed his earnest wish to become a British subject, and even paid over part of the fine demanded from him by the Boer Government to the Civil Commissioner, Major Clarke. In March 1878, however, his conduct towards the Government underwent a sudden change, and he practically declared war. It afterwards appeared, from Secocoeni’s own statement, that he was instigated to this step by a Boer, Abel Erasmus by name — the same man who was concerned in the atrocities in the first Secocoeni war — who constantly encouraged him to continue the struggle. I do not propose to minutely follow the course of this long war, which, commencing in the beginning of 1878, did not come to an end till after the Zulu war: when Sir Garnet Wolseley attacked Secocoeni’s stronghold with a large force of troops, volunteers, and Swazi allies, and took it with great slaughter. The losses on our side were not very heavy, so far as white men were concerned, but the Swazies are reported to have lost 400 killed and 500 wounded.
The struggle was, during the long period preceding the final attack, carried on with great courage and ability by Major Clarke, R.A., C.M.G., whose force, at the best of times, only consisted of 200 volunteers and 100 Zulus. With this small body of men he contrived, however, to keep Secocoeni in check, and to take some important strongholds. It was marked also by some striking acts of individual bravery, of which one, performed by Major Clarke himself, whose reputation for cool courage and presence of mind in danger is unsurpassed in South Africa, is worthy of notice; and which, had public attention been more concentrated on the Secocoeni war, would doubtless have won him the Victoria Cross. On one occasion, on visiting one of the outlying forts, he found that a party of hostile natives, who were coming down to the fort on the previous day with a flag of truce, had been accidentally fired upon, and had at once retreated. As his system in native warfare was always to try and inspire his enemy with perfect faith in the honour of Englishmen, and their contempt of all tricks and treachery even towards a foe, he was very angry at this occurrence, and at once, unarmed and unattended save by his native servant, rode up into the mountains to the kraal from which the white flag party had come on the previous day, and apologised to the Chief for what had happened. When I consider how very anxious Secocoeni’s natives were to kill or capture Clarke, whom they held in great dread, and how terrible the end of so great a captain would in all probability have been had he taken alive by these masters of refined torture, I confess that I think this act of gentlemanly courage is one of the most astonishing things I ever heard of. When he rode up those hills he must have known that he was probably going to meet his death at the hands of justly incensed savages. When Secocoeni heard of what Major Clarke had done he was so pleased that he shortly afterwards released a volunteer whom he had taken prisoner, and who would otherwise, in all probability, have been tortured to death. I must add that Major Clarke himself never reported to or alluded to this incident, but an account of it can be found in a despatch written by Sir O. Lanyon to the Secretary of State, dated 2d February 1880.
Concurrently with, though entirely distinct from, the political agitation that was being carried on among the Boers having for object the restoration of independence, a private agitation was set on foot by a few disaffected persons against Sir T. Shepstone, with the view of obtaining his removal from office in favour of a certain Colonel Weatherley. The details of this impudent plot are so interesting, and the plot itself so typical of the state of affairs with which Sir T. Shepstone had to deal, that I will give a short account of it.
After the Annexation had taken place, there were naturally enough a good many individuals who found themselves disappointed in the results so far as they personally were concerned; I mean that they did not get so much out of it as they expected. Among these was a gentleman called Colonel Weatherley, who had come to the Transvaal as manager of a gold-mining company, but getting tired of that had taken a prominent part in the Annexation, and who, being subsequently disappointed about an appointment, became a bitter enemy of the Administrator. I may say at once that Colonel Weatherley seems to me to have been throughout the dupe of the other conspirators.
The next personage was a good-looking desperado, who called himself Captain Gunn of Gunn, and who was locally somewhat irreverently known as the very Gunn of very Gunn. This gentleman, whose former career had been of a most remarkable order, was, on the annexation of the country, found in the public prison charged with having committed various offences, but on Colonel Weatherley’s interesting himself strongly on his behalf, he was eventually released without trial. On his release, he requested the Administrator to publish a Government notice declaring him innocent of the charges brought against him. This Sir T. Shepstone declined to do, and so, to use his own words, in a despatch to the High Commissioner on the subject, Captain Gunn of Gunn at once became “what in this country is called a patriot.”
The third person concerned was a lawyer, who had got into trouble on the Diamond Fields, and who felt himself injured because the rules of the High Court did not allow him to practise as an advocate. The quartet was made up by Mr. Celliers, the editor of the patriotic organ, the “Volkstem,” who, since he had lost the Government printing contract, found that no language could be too strong to apply to the personnel of the Government, more especially its head. Of course, there was a lady in it; what plot would be complete without? She was Mrs. Weatherley, now, I believe, Mrs. Gunn of Gunn. These gentlemen began operations by drawing up a long petition to Sir Bartle Frere as High Commissioner, setting forth a string of supposed grievances, and winding up with a request that the Administrator might be “promoted to some other sphere of political usefulness.” This memorial was forwarded by the “committee,” as they called themselves, to various parts of the country for signature, but without the slightest success, the fact of the matter being that it was not the Annexor but the Annexation that the Boers objected to.
At this stage in the proceedings Colonel Weatherley went to try and forward the good cause with Sir Bartle Frere at the Cape. His letters to Mrs. Weatherley from thence, afterwards put into Court in the celebrated divorce case, contained many interesting accounts of his attempts in that direction. I do not think, however, that he was cognisant of what was being concocted by his allies in Pretoria, but being a very vain, weak man, was easily deceived by them. With all his faults he was a gentleman. As soon as he was gone a second petition was drawn up by the “committee,” showing “the advisability of immediately suspending our present Administrator, and temporarily appointing and recommending for Her Majesty’s royal and favourable consideration an English gentleman of high integrity and honour, in whom the country at large has respect and confidence.”
The English gentleman of high integrity and honour of course proves to be Colonel Weatherley, whose appointment is, further on, “respectfully but earnestly requested,” since he had “thoroughly gained the affections, confidence, and respect of Boers, English, and other Europeans in this country.” But whilst it is comparatively easy to write petitions, there is sometimes a difficulty in getting people to sign them, as proved to be the case with reference to the documents under consideration. When the “committee” and the employes in the office of the “Volkstem” had affixed their valuable signatures it was found to be impossible to induce anybody else to follow their example. Now, a petition with some half dozen signatures attached would not, it was obvious, carry much weight with the Imperial Government, and no more could be obtained.
But really great minds rise superior to such difficulties, and so did the “committee,” or some of them, or one of them. If they could not get genuine signatures to their petitions, they could at any rate manufacture them. This great idea once hit out, so vigorously was it prosecuted that they, or some of them, or one of them, produced in a very little while no less than 3883 signatures, of which sixteen were proved to be genuine, five were doubtful, and all the rest fictitious. But the gentleman, whoever he was, who was the working partner in the scheme — and I may state, by way of parenthesis, that when Gunn of Gunn was subsequently arrested, petitions in process of signature were found under the mattress of his bed — calculated without his host. He either did not know, or had forgotten, that on receipt of such documents by a superior officer, they are at once sent to the officer accused to report upon. This course was followed in the present case, and the petitions were discovered to be gross impostures. The ingenuity exercised by their author or authors was really very remarkable, for it must be remembered that not one of the signatures was forged; they were all invented, and had, of course, to be written in a great variety of hands. The plan generally pursued was to put down the names of people living in the country, with slight variations. Thus “De Villiers” became “De Williers,” and “Van Zyl” “Van Zul.” I remember that my own name appeared on one of the petitions with some slight alteration. Some of the names were evidently meant to be facetious. Thus there was a “Jan Verneuker,” which means “John the Cheat.”
Of the persons directly or indirectly concerned in this rascally plot, the unfortunate Colonel Weatherly subsequently apologised to Sir T. Shepstone for his share in the agitation, and shortly afterwards died fighting bravely on Kambula. Captain Gunn of Gunn and Mrs. Weatherley, after having given rise to the most remarkable divorce case I ever heard — it took fourteen days to try — were, on the death of Colonel Weatherley, united in the bonds of holy matrimony, and are, I believe, still in Pretoria. The lawyer vanished I know not where, whilst Mr. Celliers still continues to edit that admirably conducted journal the “Volkstem;” nor, if I may judge from the report of a speech made by him recently at a Boer festival, which, by the way, was graced by the presence of our representative, Mr. Hudson, the British Resident: has his right hand forgotten its cunning, or rather his tongue lost the use of those peculiar and recherche epithets that used to adorn the columns of the “Volkstem.” I see that he, on this occasion, denounced the English element as being “poisonous and dangerous” to a State, and stated, amidst loud cheers, that “he despised” it. Mr. Cellier’s lines have fallen in pleasant places; in any other country he would long ago have fallen a victim to the stern laws of libel. I recommend him to the notice of enterprising Irish newspapers. Such is the freshness and vigour of his style that I am confident he would make the fortune of any Hibernian journal.
Some little time after the Gunn of Gunn frauds a very sad incident happened in connection with the Government of the Transvaal. Shortly after the Annexation, the Home Government sent out Mr. Sergeaunt, C.M.G., one of the Crown Agents for the Colonies, to report on the financial condition of the country. He was accompanied, in an unofficial capacity, amongst other gentlemen, by Captain Patterson and his son, Mr. J Sergeaunt; and when he returned to England, these two gentlemen remained behind to go on a shooting expedition. About this time Sir Bartle Frere was anxious to send a friendly mission to Lo Bengula, king of the Matabele, a branch of the Zulu tribe, living up towards the Zambesi. This chief had been making himself unpleasant by causing traders to be robbed, and it was thought desirable to establish friendly relations with him, so it was suggested to Captain Patterson and Mr. Sergeaunt that they should combine business with pleasure, and go on a mission to Lo Bengula, an offer which they accepted, and shortly afterwards started for Matabeleland with an interpreter and a few servants. They reached their destination in safety; and having concluded their business with the king, started on a visit to the Zambesi Falls on foot, leaving the interpreter with the wagon. The falls were about twelve days’ walk from the king’s kraal, and they were accompanied thither by young Mr. Thomas, the son of the local missionary, two Kafir servants, and twenty native bearers supplied by Lo Bengula. The next thing that was heard of them was that they had all died through drinking poisoned water, full details of the manner of their deaths being sent down by Lo Bengula.
In the first shock and confusion of such news it was not very closely examined, at any rate by the friends of the dead men, but, on reflection, there were several things about it that appeared strange. For instance, it was well known that Captain Patterson had a habit, for which indeed, we had often laughed at him, of, however thirsty he might be, always having his water boiled when he was travelling, in order to destroy impurities: and it seemed odd, that he should on this one occasion, have neglected the precaution. Also, it was curious that the majority of Lo Bengula’s bearers appeared to have escaped, whereas all the others were, without exception, killed; nor even in that district is it usual to find water so bad that it will kill with the rapidity it had been supposed to do in this case, unless indeed it had been designedly poisoned. These doubts of the poisoning-by-water-story resolved themselves into certainty when the waggon returned in charge of the interpreter, when, by putting two and two together, we were able to piece out the real history of the diabolical murder of our poor friends with considerable accuracy, a story which shows what bloodthirsty wickedness a savage is capable of when he fancies his interests are threatened.
It appeared that, when Captain Patterson first interviewed Lo Bengula, he was not at all well received by him. I must, by way of explanation, state that there exists a Pretender to his throne, Kruman by name, who, as far as I can make out, is the real heir to the kingdom. This man had, for some cause or other, fled the country, and for a time acted as gardener to Sir T. Shepstone in Natal. At the date of Messrs. Patterson and Sergeaunt’s mission to Matabeleland he was living, I believe, in the Transvaal. Captain Patterson, on finding himself so ill received by the king, and not being sufficiently acquainted with the character of savage chiefs, most unfortunately, either by accident or design, dropped some hint in the course of conversation about this Kruman. From that moment, Lo Bengula’s conduct towards the mission entirely changed, and, dropping his former tone, he became profusely civil; and from that moment, too, he doubtless determined to kill them, probably fearing that they might forward some scheme to oust him and place Kruman, on whose claim a large portion of his people looked favourably, on the throne.
When their business was done, and Captain Patterson told the king that they were anxious, before returning, to visit the Zambesi Falls, he readily fell in with their wish, but, in the first instance, refused permission to young Thomas, the son of the missionary, to accompany them, only allowing him to do so on the urgent representation of Captain Patterson. The reason for this was, no doubt, that he had kindly feelings towards the lad, and did not wish to include him in the slaughter.
Captain Patterson was a man of extremely methodical habits, and, amongst other things, was in the habit of making notes of all that he did. His note-book had been taken off his body, and sent down to Pretoria with the other things. In it we found entries of his preparations for the trip, including the number and names of the bearers provided by Lo Bengula. We also found the chronicle of the first three days’ journey, and that of the morning of the fourth day, but there the record stopped. The last entry was probably made a few minutes before he was killed; and it is to be observed that there was no entry of the party having been for several days without water, as stated by the messengers, and then finding the poisoned water.
This evidence by itself would not have amounted to much, but now comes the curious part of the story, showing the truth of the old adage, “Murder will out.” It appears that when the waggon was coming down to Pretoria in charge of the interpreter, it was outspanned one day outside the borders of Lo Bengula’s country, when some Kafirs — Bechuanas, I think — came up, asked for some tobacco, and fell into conversation with the driver, remarking that he had come up with a full waggon, and now he went down with an empty one. The driver replied by lamenting the death by poisoned water of his masters, whereupon one of the Kafirs told him the following story:— He said that a brother of his was out hunting, a little while back, in the desert for ostriches, with a party of other Kafirs, when hearing shots fired some way off, they made for the spot, thinking that white men were out shooting, and that they would be able to beg meat. On reaching the spot, which was by a pool of water, they saw the bodies of three white men lying on the ground, and also those of a Hottentot and a Kafir, surrounded by an armed party of Kafirs. They at once asked the Kafirs what they had been doing killing the white men, and were told to be still, for it was by “order of the king.” They then learned the whole story. It appeared that the white men had made a mid-day halt by the water, when one of the bearers, who had gone to the edge of the pool, suddenly shouted to them to come and look at a great snake in the water. Captain Patterson ran up, and, as he leaned over the edge, was instantly killed by a blow with an axe; the others were then shot and assegaied. The Kafir further described the clothes that his brother had seen on the bodies, and also some articles that had been given to his party by the murderers, that left little doubt as to the veracity of his story. And so ended the mission to Matabeleland.
No public notice was taken of the matter, for the obvious reason that it was impossible to get at Lo Bengula to punish him; nor would it have been easy to come by legal evidence to disprove the ingenious story of the poisoned water, since anybody trying to reach the spot of the massacre would probably fall a victim to some similar accident before he got back again. It is devoutly to be hoped that the punishment he deserves will sooner or later overtake the author of this devilish and wholesale murder.
The beginning of 1879 was signalised by the commencement of operations in Zululand and by the news of the terrible disaster at Isandhlwana, which fell on Pretoria like a thunderclap. It was not, however, any surprise to those who were acquainted with Zulu tactics and with the plan of attack adopted by the English commanders. In fact, I know that one solemn warning of what would certainly happen to him, if he persisted in his plan of advance, was addressed to Lord Chelmsford, through the officer in command at Pretoria, by a gentlemen whose position and long experience of the Zulus and their mode of attack should have carried some weight. If it ever reached him, he took, to the best of my recollection, no notice of it whatever.
But though some such disaster was daily expected by a few, the majority of both soldiers and civilians never dreamed of anything of the sort, the general idea being that the conquest of Cetywayo was a very easy undertaking: and the shock produced by the news of Isandhlwana was proportionally great, especially as it reached Pretoria in a much exaggerated form. I shall never forget the appearance of the town that morning; business was entirely suspended, and the streets were filled with knots of men talking, with scared faces, as well they might: for there was scarcely anybody but had lost a friend, and many thought that their sons or brothers were among the dead on that bloody field. Among others, Sir T. Shepstone lost one son, and thought for some time that he had lost three.
Shortly after this event Sir T. Shepstone went to England to confer with the Secretary of State on various matters connected with the Transvaal, carrying with him the affection and respect of all who knew him, not excepting the majority of the malcontent Boers. He was succeeded by Colonel, now Sir Owen Lanyon, who was appointed to administer the Government during the absence of Sir T. Shepstone.
By the Boers, however, the news of our disaster was received with great and unconcealed rejoicing, or at least by the irreconcilable portion of that people. England’s necessity was their opportunity, and one of which they certainly meant to avail themselves. Accordingly, notices were sent out summoning the burghers of the Transvaal to attend a mass meeting on the 18th March, at a place about thirty miles from Pretoria. Emissaries were also sent to native chiefs, to excite them to follow Cetywayo’s example, and massacre all the English within reach, of whom a man called Solomon Prinsloo was one of the most active. The natives, however, notwithstanding the threats used towards them, one and all declined the invitation.
It must not be supposed that all the Boers who attended these meetings did so of their own free will; on the contrary, a very large number came under compulsion, since they found that the English authorities were powerless to give them protection. The recalcitrants were threatened with all sorts of pains and penalties if they did not attend, a favourite menace being that they should be made “biltong” of when the country was given back (i.e., be cut into strips and hung in the sun to dry). Few, luckily for themselves, were brave enough to tempt fortune by refusing to come, but those who did, have had to leave the country since the war. Whatever were the means employed, the result was an armed meeting of about 3000 Boers, who evidently meant mischief.
Just about this time a corps had been raised in Pretoria, composed, for the most part, of gentlemen, and known as the Pretoria Horse; for the purpose of proceeding to the Zulu border, where cavalry, especially cavalry acquainted with the country, was earnestly needed. In the emergency of the times officials were allowed to join this corps, a permission of which I availed myself, and was elected one of the lieutenants.13 The corps was not, after all, allowed to go to Zululand on account of the threatening aspect adopted by the Boers, against whom it was retained for service. In my capacity as an officer of the corps I was sent out with a small body of picked men, all good riders and light weights, to keep up a constant communication between the Boer camp and the Administrator, and found the work both interesting and exciting. My head-quarters were at an inn about twenty-five miles from Pretoria, to which our agents in the meeting used to come every evening and report how matters were proceeding, whereupon, if the road was clear, I despatched a letter to head-quarters; or, if I feared that the messengers would be caught en route by Boer patrols and searched, I substituted different coloured ribbons according to what I wished to convey. There was a relief hidden in the trees or rocks every six miles, all day and most of the night, whose business it was to take the despatch or ribbon and gallop on with it to the next station, in which way we used to get the despatches into town in about an hour and a quarter.
13 It is customary in South African volunteer forces to allow the members to elect their own officers, provided the men elected are such as the Government approves. This is done, so that the corps may not afterwards be able to declare that they have no confidence in their officers in action, or to grumble at their treatment by them.
On one or two occasions the Boers came to the inn and threatened to shoot us, but as our orders were to do nothing unless our lives were actually in danger, we took no notice. The officer who came out to relieve me had not, however, been there more than a day or two before he and all his troopers, were hunted back into Pretoria by a large mob of armed Boers whom they only escaped by very hard riding.
Meanwhile the Boers were by degrees drawing nearer and nearer to the town, till at last they pitched their laagers within six miles, and practically besieged it. All business was stopped, the houses were loopholed and fortified, and advantageous positions were occupied by the military and the various volunteer corps. The building, normally in the occupation of the Government mules, fell to the lot of the Pretoria Horse, and, though it was undoubtedly a post of honour, I honestly declare that I have no wish to sleep for another month in a mule stable that has not been cleaned out for several years. However, by sinking a well, and erecting bastions and a staging for sharp-shooters, we converted it into an excellent fortress, though it would not have been of much use against artillery. Our patrols used to be out all night, since we chiefly feared a night attack, and generally every preparation was made to resist the onset that was hourly expected, and I believe that it was that state of preparedness that alone prevented it.
Whilst this meeting was going on, and when matters had come to a point that seemed to render war inevitable, Sir B. Frere arrived at Pretoria and had several interviews with the Boer leaders, at which they persisted in demanding their independence, and nothing short of it. After a great deal of talk the meeting finally broke up without any actual appeal to arms, though it had, during its continuance, assumed many of the rights of government, such as stopping post-carts and individuals, and sending armed patrols about the country. The principal reason of its break-up was that the Zulu war was now drawing to a close, and the leaders saw that there would soon be plenty of troops available to suppress any attempt at revolt, but they also saw to what lengths they could go with impunity. They had for a period of nearly two months been allowed to throw the whole country into confusion, to openly violate the laws, and to intimidate and threaten Her Majesty’s loyal subjects with war and death. The lesson was not lost on them; but they postponed action till a more favourable opportunity offered.
Sir Bartle Frere before his departure took an opportunity at a public dinner given him at Potchefstroom of assuring the loyal inhabitants of the country that the Transvaal would never be given back.
Meanwhile a new Pharaoh had arisen in Egypt, in the shape of Sir G. Wolseley, and on the 29th June 1879 we find him communicating the fact to Sir O. Lanyon in very plain language, telling him that he disapproved of his course of action with regard to Secocoeni, and that “in future you will please take orders only from me.”
As soon as Sir Garnet had completed his arrangements for the pacification of Zululand, he proceeded to Pretoria, and having caused himself to be sworn in as Governor, set vigorously to work. I must say that in his dealings with the Transvaal he showed great judgment and a keen appreciation of what the country needed, namely, strong government; the fact of the matter being, I suppose, that being very popular with the Home authorities he felt that he could more or less command their support in what he did, a satisfaction not given to most governors, who never know but that they may be thrown overboard in emergency, in lighten the ship.
One of his first acts was to issue a proclamation, stating that “Whereas it appears that, notwithstanding repeated assurances of the contrary given by Her Majesty’s representatives in this territory, uncertainty or misapprehension exists amongst some of Her Majesty’s subjects as to the intention of Her Majesty’s Government regarding the maintenance of British rule and sovereignty over the territory of the Transvaal: and whereas it is expedient that all grounds for such uncertainty or misapprehension should be removed once and for all beyond doubt or question: now therefore I do hereby proclaim and make known, in the name and on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen, that it is the will and determination of Her Majesty’s Government that this Transvaal territory shall be, and shall continue to be for ever, an integral portion of Her Majesty’s dominions in South Africa.”
Alas! Sir G. Wolseley’s estimate of the value of a solemn pledge thus made in the name of Her Majesty, whose word has hitherto been held to be sacred, differed greatly to that of Mr. Gladstone and his Government.
Sir Garnet Wolseley’s operations against Secocoeni proved eminently successful, and were the best arranged bit of native warfare that I have yet heard of in South Africa. One blow was struck, and only one, but that was crushing. Of course the secret of his success lay in the fact that he had an abundance of force; but it was not ensured by that alone, good management being very requisite in an affair of the sort, especially where native allies have to be dealt with. The cost of the expedition, not counting other Secocoeni war expenditure, amounted to over 300,000 pounds, all of which is now lost to this country.
Another step in the right direction undertaken by Sir Garnet was the establishment of an Executive Council and also of a Legislative Council, for the establishment of which Letters Patent were sent from Downing Street in November 1880.
Meanwhile the Boers, paying no attention to the latter proclamation, for they guessed that it, like other proclamations in the Transvaal, would be a mere brutum fulmen, had assembled for another mass meeting, at which they went forward a step, and declared a Government which was to treat with the English authorities. They had now learnt that they could do what they liked with perfect impunity, provided they did not take the extreme course of massacring the English. They had yet to learn that they might even do that. At the termination of this meeting, a vote of thanks was passed to “Mr. Leonard Courtney of London, and other members of the British Parliament.” It was wise of the Boer leaders to cultivate Mr. Courtney of London. As a result of this meeting, Pretorius, one of the principal leaders, and Bok, the secretary, were arrested on a charge of treason, and underwent a preliminary examination; but as the Secretary of State, Sir M. Hicks Beach, looked rather timidly on the proceeding, and the local authorities were doubtful of securing a verdict, the prosecution was abandoned, and necessarily did more harm than good, being looked upon as another proof of the impotence of the Government.
Shortly afterwards, Sir G. Wolseley changed his tactics, and, instead of attempting to imprison Pretorius, offered him a seat on the Executive Council, with a salary attached. This was a much more sensible way of dealing with him, and he at once rose to the bait, stating his willingness to join the Government after a while, but that he could not publicly do so at the moment lest he should lose his influence with those who were to be brought round through him. It does not, however, appear that Mr. Pretorius ever did actually join the Executive, probably because he found public opinion too strong to allow him to do so.
In December 1879, a new light broke upon the Boers, for, in the previous month Mr. Gladstone had been delivering his noted attack on the policy of the Conservative Government. Those Mid–Lothian speeches did harm, it is said, in many parts of the world; but I venture to think that they have proved more mischievous in South Africa than anywhere else; at any rate, they have borne fruit sooner. It is not to be supposed that Mr. Gladstone really cared anything about the Transvaal or its independence when he was denouncing the hideous outrage that had been perpetrated by the Conservative Government in annexing it. On the contrary, as he acquiesced in the Annexation at the time (when Lord Kimberley stated that it was evidently unavoidable), and declined to rescind it when he came into power, it is to be supposed that he really approved of it, or at the least looked on it as a necessary evil. However this may be, any stick will do to beat a dog with, and the Transvaal was a convenient point on which to attack the Government. He probably neither knew nor cared what effect his reckless words might have on ignorant Boers thousands of miles away; and yet, humanly speaking, many a man would have been alive and strong today, whose bones now whiten the African Veldt, had those words never been spoken. Then, for the first time, the Boers learnt that, if they played their cards properly and put on sufficient pressure, they would, in the event of the Liberal party coming to office, have little difficulty in coercing it as they wished.
There was a fair chance at the time of the utterance of the Mid–Lothian speeches that the agitation would, by degrees, die away; Sir G. Wolseley had succeeded in winning over Pretorius, and the Boers in general were sick of mass meetings. Indeed, a memorial was addressed to Sir G. Wolseley by a number of Boers in the Potchefstroom district, protesting against the maintenance of the movement against Her Majesty’s rule, which, considering the great amount of intimidation exercised by the malcontents, may be looked upon as a favourable sign.
But when it slowly came to be understood among the Boers that a great English Minister had openly espoused their cause, and that he would perhaps soon be all-powerful, the moral gain to them was incalculable. They could now go to the doubting ones and say — we must be right about the matter, because, putting our own feelings out of the question, the great Gladstone says we are. We find the committee of the Boer malcontents, at their meeting in March 1880, reading a letter to Mr. Gladstone, “in which he was thanked for the great sympathy shown to their fate,” and a hope expressed that, if he succeeded in getting power, he would not forget them. In fact, a charming unanimity prevailed between our great Minister and the Boer rebels, for their interests were the same, the overthrow of the Conservative Government. If, however, every leader of the Opposition were to intrigue, or countenance intrigues with those who are seeking to undermine the authority of Her Majesty, whether they be Boers or Irishmen, in order to help himself to power, the country might suffer in the long run.
But whatever feelings may have prompted Her Majesty’s opposition, the Home Government, and their agent, Sir Garnet Wolseley, blew no uncertain blast, if we may judge from their words and actions. Thus we find Sir Garnet speaking as follows at a banquet given in his honour at Pretoria:—
“I am told that these men (the Boers) are told to keep on agitating in this way, for a change of Government in England may give them again the old order of things. Nothing can show greater ignorance of English politics than such an idea; I tell you that there is no Government, Whig or Tory, Liberal, Conservative, or Radical, who would dare under any circumstances to give back this country. They would not dare, because the English people would not allow them. To give back the country, what would it mean? To give it back to external danger, to the danger of attack by hostile tribes on its frontier, and who, if the English Government were removed for one day, would make themselves felt the next. Not an official of Government paid for months; it would mean national bankruptcy. No taxes being paid, the same thing recurring again which had existed before would mean danger without, anarchy and civil war within, every possible misery; the strangulation of trade, and the destruction of property.”
It is very amusing to read this passage by the light of after events. On other occasions Sir Garnet Wolseley will probably not be quite so confident as to the future when it is to be controlled by a Radical Government.
This explicit and straightforward statement of Sir Garnet’s produced a great effect on the loyal inhabitants of the Transvaal, which was heightened by the publication of the following telegram from the Secretary of State:—“You may fully confirm explicit statements made from the time to time as to inability of Her Majesty’s Government to entertain any proposal for withdrawal of the Queen’s sovereignty.”
On the faith of these declarations many Englishmen migrated to the Transvaal and settled there, whilst those who were in the country now invested all their means, being confident that they would not lose their property through its being returned to the Boers. The excitement produced by Mr. Gladstone’s speeches began to quiet down and be forgotten for the time, arrear taxes were paid up by the malcontents, and generally the aspect of affairs was such, in Sir Garnet Wolseley’s opinion, as justified him in writing, in April 1880, to the Secretary of State expressing his belief that the agitation was dying out.14 Indeed, so sanguine was he on that point that he is reported to have advised the withdrawal of the cavalry regiment stationed in the territory, a piece of economy that was one of the immediate causes of the revolt.
The reader will remember the financial condition of the country at the time of the Annexation, which was one of utter bankruptcy. After three years of British rule, however, we find, notwithstanding the constant agitation that had been kept up, that the total revenue receipts for the first quarter of 1879 and 1880 amounted to 22,773 pounds, and 44,982 pounds respectively. That is to say, that, during the last year of British rule, the revenue of the country more than doubled itself, and amounted to about 160,000 pounds a-year, taking the quarterly returns at the low average of 40,000 pounds. It must, however, be remembered that this sum would have been very largely increased in subsequent years, most probably doubled. At any rate the revenue would have been amply sufficient to make the province one of the most prosperous in South Africa, and to have enabled it to shortly repay all debts due to the British Government, and further to provide for its own defence. Trade also, which in April 1877, was completely paralysed, had increased enormously. So early as the middle of 1879, the Committee of the Transvaal Chamber of Commerce pointed out, in a resolution adopted by them, that the trade of the country had in two years, risen from almost nothing to the considerable sum of two millions sterling per annum, and that it was entirely in the hands of those favourable to British rule. They also pointed out that more than half the land tax was paid by Englishmen, or other Europeans adverse to Boer Government. Land, too, had risen greatly in value, of which I can give the following instance. About a year after the Annexation I, together with a friend, bought a little property on the outskirts of Pretoria, which, with a cottage we put up on it, cost some 300 pounds. Just before the rebellion we fortunately determined to sell it, and had no difficulty in getting 650 pounds for it. I do not believe that it would now fetch a fifty pound note.
14 In Blue Book No. (C. 2866) of September 1881, which is descriptive of various events connected with the Boer rising, is published, as an appendix, a despatch from Sir Garnet Wolseley, dated October 1879. This despatch declares the writer’s opinion that the Boer discontent is on the increase. Its publication thus — apropos des bottes — nearly two years after it was written, is rather an amusing incident. It certainly gives one the idea that Sir Garnet Wolseley, fearing that his reputation for infallibility might be attacked by scoffers for not having foreseen the Boer rebellion, and perhaps uneasily conscious of other despatches very different in tenor and subsequent in date: and, mindful of the withdrawal of the cavalry regiment by his advice, had caused it to be tacked on to the Blue Book as a documentary “I told you so,” and a proof that, whoever else was blinded, he foresaw. It contains, however, the following remarkable passage:—“Even were it not impossible, for many other reasons, to contemplate a withdrawal of our authority from the Transvaal, the position of insecurity in which we should leave this loyal and important section of the community (the English inhabitants), by exposing them to the certain retaliation of the Boers, would constitute, in my opinion, an insuperable obstacle to retrocession. Subjected to the same danger, moreover, would be those of the Boers, whose superior intelligence and courageous character has rendered them loyal to our Government.”
As the Government took the trouble to publish the despatch, it is a pity that they did not think fit to pay more attention to its contents.
I cannot conclude this chapter better than by drawing attention to a charming specimen of the correspondence between the Boer leaders and their friend Mr. Courtney. The letter in question, which is dated 26th June, purports to be written by Messrs. Kruger and Joubert, but it is obvious that it owes its origin to some member or members of the Dutch party at the Cape, from whence, indeed, it is written. This is rendered evident both by its general style, and also by the use of such terms as “Satrap,” and by references to Napoleon III. and Cayenne, about whom Messrs. Kruger and Joubert know no more than they do of Peru and the Incas.
After alluding to former letters, the writers blow a blast of triumph over the downfall of the Conservative Government, and then make a savage attack on the reputation of Sir Bartle Frere. The “stubborn Satrap” is throughout described as a liar, and every bad motive imputed to him. Really, the fact that Mr. Courtney should encourage such epistles as this is enough to give colour to the boast made by some of the leading Boers, after the war, that they had been encouraged to rebel by a member of the British Government.
At the end of this letter, and on the same page of the Blue Book, is printed the telegram recalling Sir Bartle Frere, dated 1st August 1880. It really reads as though the second document was consequent to the first. One thing is very clear, the feelings of Her Majesty’s new Government towards Sir Bartle Frere differed only in the method of their expression, from those set forth by the Boer leaders in their letter to Mr. Courtney, whilst their object, namely, to be rid of him, was undoubtedly identical with that of the Dutch party in South Africa.
Accession of Mr. Gladstone to power — His letters to the Boer leaders and the loyals — His refusal to rescind the annexation — The Boers encouraged by prominent members of the Radical party — The Bezuidenhout incident — Despatch of troops to Potchefstroom — Mass meeting of the 8th December 1880 — Appointment of the Triumvirate and declaration of the republic — Despatch of Boer proclamation to Sir O. Lanyon — His reply — Outbreak of hostilities at Potchefstroom — Defence of the court-house by Major Clarke — The massacre of the detachment of the 94th under Colonel Anstruther — Dr. Ward — The Boer rejoicings — The Transvaal placed under martial law — Abandonment of their homes by the people of Pretoria — Sir Owen Lanyon’s admirable defence organisation — Second proclamation issued by the Boers — Its complete falsehood — Life at Pretoria during the siege — Murders of natives by the Boers — Loyal conduct of the native chiefs — Difficulty of preventing them from attacking the Boers — Occupation of Lang’s Nek by the Boers — Sir George Colley’s departure to Newcastle — The condition of that town — The attack on Lang’s Nek — Its desperate nature — Effect of victory on the Boers — The battle at the Ingogo — Our defeat — Sufferings of the wounded — Major Essex — Advance of the Boers into Natal — Constant alarms — Expected attack on Newcastle — Its unorganised and indefensible condition — Arrival of the reinforcements and retreat of the Boers to the Nek — Despatch of General Wood to bring up more reinforcements — Majuba Hill — Our disaster, and death of Sir George Colley — Cause of our defeat — A Boer version of the disaster — Sir George Colley’s tactics.
When the Liberal ministry became an accomplished fact instead of a happy possibility, Mr. Gladstone did not find it convenient to adopt the line of policy with reference to the Transvaal, that might have been expected from his utterances whilst leader of the Opposition. On the contrary, he declared in Parliament that the Annexation could not be cancelled, and on the 8th June 1880 we find him, in answer to a Boer petition, written with the object of inducing him to act up to the spirit of his words and rescind the Annexation, writing thus:—“Looking to all circumstances, both of the Transvaal and the rest of South Africa, and to the necessity of preventing a renewal of disorders which might lead to disastrous consequences, not only to the Transvaal, but to the whole of South Africa, our judgment is, that the Queen cannot be advised to relinquish her sovereignty over the Transvaal; but, consistently with the maintenance of that sovereignty, we desire that the white inhabitants of the Transvaal should, without prejudice to the rest of the population, enjoy the fullest liberty to manage their local affairs. We believe that this liberty may be most easily and promptly conceded to the Transvaal as a member of a South African confederation.”
Unless words have lost their signification, this passage certainly means that the Transvaal must remain a British colony, but that England will be prepared to grant it responsible government, more especially if it will consent to a confederation scheme. Mr. Gladstone, however, in a communication dated 1st June 1881, and addressed to the unfortunate Transvaal loyals, for whom he expresses “respect and sympathy,” interprets his meaning thus: “It is stated, as I observe, that a promise was given to me that the Transvaal should never be given back. There is no mention of the terms or date of this promise. If the reference be to my letter, of 8th June 1880, to Messrs. Kruger and Joubert, I do not think the language of that letter justifies the description given. Nor am I sure in what manner or to what degree the fullest liberty to manage their local affairs, which I then said Her Majesty’s Government desired to confer on the white population of the Transvaal, differs from the settlement now about being made in its bearing on the interests of those whom your Committee represents.”
Such twisting of the meaning of words would, in a private person, be called dishonest. It will also occur to most people that Mr. Gladstone might have spared the deeply wronged and loyal subjects of Her Majesty whom he was addressing, the taunt he levels at them in the second paragraph I have quoted. If asked, he would no doubt say that he had not the slightest intention of laughing at them; but when he deliberately tells them that it makes no difference to their interests whether they remain Her Majesty’s subjects under a responsible Government, or become the servants of men who were but lately in arms against them and Her Majesty’s authority, he is either mocking them, or offering an insult to their understandings.
By way of comment on his remarks, I may add that he had, in a letter replying to a petition from these same loyal inhabitants, addressed to him in May 1880, informed them that he had already told the Boer representatives that the Annexation could not be rescinded. Although Mr. Gladstone is undoubtedly the greatest living master of the art of getting two distinct and opposite sets of meanings out of one set of words, it would try even his ingenuity to make out, to the satisfaction of an impartial mind, that he never gave any pledge about the retention of the Transvaal.
Indeed, it is from other considerations clear that he had no intention of giving up the country to the Boers, whose cause he appears to have taken up solely for electioneering purposes. Had he meant to do so, he would have carried out his intention on succeeding to office, and, indeed, as things have turned out, it is deeply to be regretted that he did not; for, bad as such a step would have been, it would at any rate have had a better appearance than our ultimate surrender after three defeats. It would also have then been possible to secure the repayment of some of the money owing to this country, and to provide for the proper treatment of the natives, and the compensation of the loyal inhabitants who could no longer live there: since it must naturally have been easier to make terms with the Boers before they had defeated our troops.
On the other hand, we should have missed the grandest and most soul-stirring display of radical theories, practically applied, that has as yet lightened the darkness of this country. But although Mr. Gladstone gave his official decision against returning the country, there seems to be little doubt that communications on the subject were kept up with the Boer leaders through some prominent members of the Radical party, whom, it was said, went so far as to urge the Boers to take up arms against us. When Mr. White came to this country on behalf of the loyalists, after the surrender, he stated that this was so at a public meeting, and said further that he had in his possession proofs of his statements. He even went so far as to name the gentleman he accused, and to challenge him to deny it. I have not been able to gather that Mr. White’s statements were contradicted.
However this may be, after a pause, agitation in the Transvaal suddenly recommenced with redoubled vigour. It began through a man named Bezuidenhout, who refused to pay his taxes. Thereupon a waggon was seized in execution under the authority of the court and put up to auction, but its sale was prevented by a crowd of rebel Boers, who kicked the auctioneer off the waggon and dragged the vehicle away. This was on the 11th November 1880. When this intelligence reached Pretoria, Sir Owen Lanyon sent down a few companies of the 21st Regiment, under the command of Major Thornhill, to support the Landdrost in arresting the rioters, and appointed Captain Raaf, C.M.G., to act as special messenger to the Landdrost’s Court at Potchefstroom, with authority to enrol special constables to assist him to carry out the arrests. On arrival at Potchefstroom Captain Raaf found that, without an armed force, it was quite impossible to effect any arrest. On the 26th November Sir Owen Lanyon, realising the gravity of the situation, telegraphed to Sir George Colley, asking that the 58th Regiment should be sent back to the Transvaal. Sir George replied that he could ill spare it on account of “daily expected outbreak of Pondos and possible appeal for help from Cape Colony,” and that the Government must be supported by the loyal inhabitants.
It will be seen that the Boers had, with some astuteness, chosen a very favourable time to commence operations. The hands of the Cape Government were full with the Basutu war, so no help could be expected from it. Sir G. Wolseley had sent away the only cavalry regiment that remained in the country, and lastly, Sir Owen Lanyon had quite recently allowed a body of 300 trained volunteers, mostly, if not altogether, drawn from among the loyalists, to be raised for service in the Basutu war, a serious drain upon the resources of a country so sparsely populated as the Transvaal.
Meanwhile a mass meeting had been convened by the Boers for the 8th January to consider Mr. Gladstone’s letter, but the Bezuidenhout incident had the effect of putting forward the date of assembly by a month, and it was announced that it would be held on the 8th December. Subsequently the date was shifted to the 15th, and then back again to the 8th. Every effort was made, by threats of future vengeance, to secure the presence of as many burghers as possible; attempts were also made to persuade the native chiefs to send representatives, and to promise to join in an attack on the English. These entirely failed. The meeting was held at a place called Paarde Kraal, and resulted in the sudden declaration of the Republic and the appointment of the famous triumvirate Kruger, Joubert, and Pretorius. It then moved into Heidelberg, a little town about sixty miles from Pretoria, and on the 16th December the Republic was formally proclaimed in a long proclamation, containing a summary of the events of the few preceding years, and declaring the arrangements the malcontents were willing to make with the English authorities. The terms offered in this document are almost identical with those finally accepted by Her Majesty’s Government, with the exception that in the proclamation of the 16th December the Boer leaders declare their willingness to enter into confederation, and to guide their native policy by general rules adopted in concurrence “with the Colonies and States of South Africa.” This was a more liberal offer than that which we ultimately agreed to, but then the circumstances had changed.
This proclamation was forwarded to Sir Owen Lanyon with a covering letter, in which the following words occur:—“We declare in the most solemn manner that we have no desire to spill blood, and that from our side we do not wish war. It lies in your hands to force us to appeal to arms in self-defence. . . . . We expect your answer within twice twenty-four hours.”
I beg to direct particular attention to these paragraphs, as they have a considerable interest in view of what followed.
The letter and proclamation reached Government House, Pretoria, at 10.30 on the evening of Friday the 17th December. Sir Owen Lanyon’s proclamation, written in reply, was handed to the messenger at noon on Sunday, 19th December, or within about thirty-six hours of his arrival, and could hardly have reached the rebel camp, sixty miles off, before dawn the next day, the 20th December, on which day, at about one o’clock, a detachment of the 94th was ambushed and destroyed on the road between Middelburg and Pretoria, about eighty miles off, by a force despatched from Heidelburg for that purpose some days before. On the 16th December, or the same day on which the Triumvirate had despatched the proclamation to Pretoria containing their terms, and expressing in the most solemn manner that they had no desire to shed blood, a large Boer force was attacking Potchefstroom.
So much then for the sincerity of the professions of their desire to avoid bloodshed.
The proclamation sent by Sir O. Lanyon in reply recited in its preamble the various acts of which the rebels had been guilty, including that of having “wickedly sought to incite the said loyal native inhabitants throughout the province to take up arms against Her Majesty’s Government,” announced that matters had now been put into the hands of the officer commanding Her Majesty’s troops, and promised pardon to all who would disperse to their homes.
It was at Potchefstroom, which town had all along been the nursery of the rebellion, that actual hostilities first broke out. Potchefstroom as a town is much more Boer in its sympathies than Pretoria, which is, or rather was, almost purely English. Sir Owen Lanyon had, as stated before, sent a small body of soldiers thither to support the civil authorities, and had also appointed Major Clarke, C.M.G., an officer of noted coolness and ability, to act as Special Commissioner for the district.
Major Clarke’s first step was to try, in conjunction with Captain Raaf, to raise a corps of volunteers, in which he totally failed. Those of the townsfolk who were not Boers at heart had too many business relations with the surrounding farmers, and perhaps too little faith in the stability of English rule after Mr. Gladstone’s utterances, to allow them to indulge in patriotism. At the time of the outbreak, between seventy and eighty thousand sterling was owing to firms in Potchefstroom by neighbouring Boers, a sum amply sufficient to account for their lukewarmness in the English cause. Subsequent events have shown that the Potchefstroom shopkeepers were wise in their generation.
On the 15th December a large number of Boers came into the town and took possession of the printing-office in order to print the proclamation already alluded to. Major Clarke made two attempts to enter the office and see the leaders, but without success.
On the 16th a Boer patrol fired on some of the mounted infantry, and the fire was returned. These were the first shots fired during the war, and they were fired by Boers. Orders were thereupon signalled to Clarke by Lieutenant–Colonel Winsloe, 21st Regiment, now commanding at the fort which he afterwards defended so gallantly, that he was to commence firing. Clarke was in the Landdrost’s office on the Market Square with a force of about twenty soldiers under Captain Falls and twenty civilians under Captain Raaf, C.M.G., a position but ill-suited for defensive purposes, from whence fire was accordingly opened, the Boers taking up positions in the surrounding houses commanding the office. Shortly after the commencement of the fighting, Captain Falls was shot dead whilst talking to Major Clarke, the latter having a narrow escape, a bullet grazing his head just above the ear. The fighting continued during the 17th and till the morning of the 18th, when the Boers succeeded in firing the roof, which was of thatch, by throwing fire-balls on to it. Major Clarke then addressed the men, telling them that, though personally he did not care about his own life, he did not see that they could serve any useful purpose by being burned alive, so he should surrender, which he did, with a loss of about six killed and wounded. The camp meanwhile had repulsed with loss the attack made on it, and was never again directly attacked.
Whilst these events were in progress at Potchefstroom, a much more awful tragedy was in preparation on the road between Middelburg and Pretoria.
On the 23rd November Colonel Bellairs, at the request of Sir Owen Lanyon, directed a concentration on Pretoria of most of the few soldiers that there were in the territory, in view of the disturbed condition of the country. In accordance with these orders, Colonel Anstruther marched from Lydenburg, a town about 180 miles from Pretoria, on the 5th December, with the headquarters and two companies of the 94th Regiment, being a total of 264 men, three women, and two children, and the disproportionately large train of thirty-four ox-waggons, or an ox-waggon capable of carrying five thousand pounds’ weight to every eight persons. And here I may remark that it is this enormous amount of baggage, without which it appears to be impossible to move the smallest body of men, that renders infantry regiments almost useless for service in South Africa except for garrisoning purposes. Both Zulus and Boers can get over the ground at thrice the pace possible to the unfortunate soldier, and both races despise them accordingly. The Zulus call our infantry “pack oxen.” In this particular instance, Colonel Anstruther’s defeat, or rather, annihilation, is to a very great extent referable to his enormous baggage train; since, in the first place, had he not lost valuable days in collecting more waggons, he would have been safe in Pretoria before danger arose. It must also be acknowledged that his arrangements on the line of march were somewhat reckless, though it can hardly be said that he was ignorant of his danger. Thus we find that Colonel Bellairs wrote to Colonel Anstruther, warning him of the probability of an attack, and impressing on him the necessity of keeping a good look-out, the letter being received and acknowledged by the latter on the 17th December.
To this warning was added a still more impressive one, that came to my knowledge privately. A gentleman well known to me received, on the morning after the troops had passed through the town of Middelburg on their way to Pretoria, a visit from an old Boer with whom he was on friendly terms, who had purposely come to tell him that a large patrol was out to ambush the troops on the Pretoria road. My informant having convinced himself of the truth of the statement, at once rode after the soldiers, and catching them up some distance from Middelburg, told Colonel Anstruther what he had heard, imploring him, he said, with all the energy he could command, to take better precautions against surprise. The Colonel, however, laughed at his fears, and told him that if the Boers came “he would frighten them away with the big drum.”
At one o’clock on Sunday, the 20th December, the column was marching along about a mile and a half from a place known as Bronker’s Spruit, and thirty-eight miles from Pretoria, when suddenly a large number of mounted Boers were seen in loose formation on the left side of the road. The band was playing at the time, and the column was extended over more than half a mile, the rear-guard being about a hundred yards behind the last waggon. The band stopped playing on seeing the Boers, and the troops halted, when a man was seen advancing with a white flag, whom Colonel Anstruther went out to meet, accompanied by Conductor Egerton, a civilian. They met about one hundred and fifty yards from the column, and the man gave Colonel Anstruther a letter, which announced the establishment of the South African Republic, stated that until they heard Lanyon’s reply to their proclamation they did not know if they were at war or not; that, consequently, they could not allow any movements of troops which would be taken as a declaration of war. This letter was signed by Joubert, one of the Triumvirate. Colonel Anstruther replied that he was ordered to Pretoria, and to Pretoria he must go.
Whilst this conference was going on, the Boers, of whom there were quite five hundred, had gradually closed round the column, and took up positions behind rocks and trees which afforded them excellent cover, whilst the troops were on a bare plain, and before Colonel Anstruther reached his men a murderous fire was poured in upon them from all sides. The fire was hotly returned by the soldiers. Most of the officers were struck down by the first volley, having, no doubt, been picked out by the marksmen. The firing lasted about fifteen minutes, and at the end of that time seven out of the nine officers were down killed and wounded; an eighth (Captain Elliot), one of two who escaped untouched, being reserved for an even more awful fate. The majority of the men were also down, and had the hail of lead continued much longer it is clear that nobody would have been left. Colonel Anstruther, who was lying badly wounded in five places, seeing what a hopeless state affairs were in, ordered the bugler to sound the cease firing, and surrendered. One of the three officers who were not much hurt was, most providentially, Dr. Ward, who had but a slight wound in the thigh; all the others, except Captain Elliot and one lieutenant, were either killed or died from the effects of their wounds. There were altogether 56 killed and 101 wounded, including a woman, Mrs. Fox. Twenty more afterwards died of their wounds. The Boer loss appears to have been very small.
After the fight Conductor Egerton, with a sergeant, was allowed to walk into Pretoria to obtain medical assistance, the Boers refusing to give him a horse, or even to allow him to use his own. The Boer leader also left Dr. Ward eighteen men and a few stores for the wounded, with which he made shift as best he could. Nobody can read this gentleman’s report without being much impressed with the way in which, though wounded himself, he got through his terrible task of, without assistance, attending to the wants of 101 sufferers. Beginning the task at two P.M., it took him till six the next morning before he had seen the last man. It is to be hoped that his services have met with some recognition. Dr. Ward remained near the scene of the massacre with his wounded men till the declaration of peace, when he brought them down to Maritzburg, having experienced great difficulty in obtaining food for them during so many weeks.
This is a short account of what I must, with reluctance, call a most cruel and carefully planned massacre. I may mention that a Zulu driver, who was with the rear-guard, and escaped into Natal, stated that the Boers shot all the wounded men who formed that body. His statement was to a certain extent borne out by the evidence of one of the survivors, who stated that all the bodies found in that part of the field (nearly three-quarters of a mile away from the head of the column), had a bullet hole through the head or breast in addition to their other wounds.
The Administrator in the Transvaal in council thus comments on the occurrence in an official minute:—“The surrounding and gradual hemming in under a flag of truce of a force, and the selection of spots from which to direct their fire, as in the case of the unprovoked attack by the rebels upon Colonel Anstruther’s force, is a proceeding of which very few like incidents can be mentioned in the annals of civilised warfare.”
The Boer leaders, however, were highly elated at their success, and celebrated it in a proclamation of which the following is an extract:—“Inexpressible is the gratitude of the burghers for this blessing conferred on them. Thankful to the brave General F. Joubert and his men who have upheld the honour of the Republic on the battlefield. Bowed down in the dust before Almighty God, who had thus stood by them, and, with a loss of over a hundred of the enemy, only allowed two of ours to be killed.”
In view of the circumstances of the treacherous hemming in and destruction of this small body of unprepared men, most people would think this language rather high-flown, not to say blasphemous.
On the news of this disaster reaching Pretoria, Sir Owen Lanyon issued a proclamation placing the country under martial law. As the town was large, straggling, and incapable of defence, all the inhabitants, amounting to over four thousand souls, were ordered up to camp, where the best arrangements possible were made for their convenience. In these quarters they remained for three months, driven from their comfortable homes, and cheerfully enduring all the hardships, want, and discomforts consequence on their position, whilst they waited in patience for the appearance of that relieving column that never came. People in England hardly understand what these men and women went through because they chose to remain loyal. Let them suppose that all the inhabitants of an ordinary English town, with the exception of the class known as poor people, which can hardly be said to exist in a colony, were at an hour’s notice ordered — all, the aged, and the sick, delicate women, and tiny children — to leave their homes to the mercy of the enemy, and crowd up in a little space under shelter of a fort, with nothing but canvas tents or sheds to cover them from the fierce summer suns and rains, and the coarsest rations to feed them; whilst the husbands and brothers were daily engaged with a cunning and dangerous enemy, and sometimes brought home wounded or dead. They will, then, have some idea of what was gone through by the loyal people of Pretoria, in their weak confidence in the good faith of the English Government.
The arrangements made for the defence of the town were so ably and energetically carried out by Sir Owen Lanyon, assisted by the military officers, that no attack upon it was ever attempted. It seems to me that the organisation that could provide for the penning up of four thousand people for months, and carry it out without the occurrence of a single unpleasantness or expression of discontent, must have had something remarkable about it. Of course, it would have been impossible without the most loyal co-operation on the part of those concerned. Indeed, everybody in the town lent a helping hand; judges served out rations, members of the Executive inspected nuisances, and so forth. There was only one instance of “striking;” and then, of all people in the world, it was the five civil doctors who, thinking it a favourable opportunity to fleece the Government, combined to demand five guineas a-day each for their services. I am glad to say that they did not succeed in their attempt at extortion.
On the 23d December, the Boer leaders issued a second proclamation in reply to that of Sir O. Lanyon of the 18th, which is characterised by an utter absence of regard for the truth, being, in fact, nothing but a tissue of impudent falsehoods. It accuses Sir O. Lanyon of having bombarded women and children, of arming natives against the Boers, and of firing on the Boers without declaring war. Not one of these accusations has any foundation in fact, as the Boers well knew; but they also knew that Sir Owen, being shut up in Pretoria, was not in a position to rebut their charges, which they hoped might, to some extent, be believed, and create sympathy for them in other parts of the world. This was the reason for the issue of the proclamation, which well portrays the character of its framers.
Life at Pretoria was varied by occasional sorties against the Boer laagers, situated at different points in the neighbourhood, generally about six or eight miles from the town. These expeditions were carried out with considerable success, though with some loss, the heaviest incurred being when the Boers, having treacherously hoisted the white flag, opened a heavy fire on the Pretoria forces, as soon as they, beguiled into confidence, emerged from their cover. In the course of the war, one in every four of the Pretoria mounted volunteers was killed or wounded.
But perhaps the most serious of all the difficulties the Government had to meet, was that of keeping the natives in check. As has before been stated they were devotedly attached to our rule, and, during the three years of its continuance, had undergone what was to them a strange experience, they had neither been murdered, beaten, or enslaved. Naturally they were in no hurry to return to the old order of things, in which murder, flogging, and slavery were events of everyday occurrence. Nor did the behaviour of the Boers on the outbreak of the war tend to reconcile them to any such idea. Thus we find that the farmers had pressed a number of natives from Waterberg into one of their laagers (Zwart Koppies); two of them tried to run away, a Boer saw them and shot them both. Again, on the 7th January a native reported to the authorities at Pretoria that he and some others were returning from the Diamond Fields driving some sheep. A Boer came and asked them to sell the sheep. They refused, whereupon he went away, but returning with some other Dutchmen fired on the Kafirs, killing one.
On the 2d January information reached Pretoria that on the 26th December some Boers fired on some natives who were resting outside Potchefstroom and killed three; the rest fled, whereupon the Boers took the cattle they had with them.
On the 11th January some men, who had been sent from Pretoria with despatches for Standerton, were taken prisoners. Whilst prisoners they saw ten men returning from the Fields stopped by the Boers and ordered to come to the laager. They refused and ran away, were fired on, five being killed and one getting his arm broken.
These are a few instances of the treatment meted out to the unfortunate natives, taken at haphazard from the official reports. There are plenty more of the same nature if anybody cares to read them.
As soon as the news of the rising reached them, every chief of any importance sent in to offer aid to Government, and many of them, especially Montsoia, our old ally in the Keate Award district, took the loyals of the neighbourhood under their protection. Several took charge of Government property and cattle during the disturbances, and one had four or five thousand pounds in gold, the product of a recently collected tax given him to take care of by the Commissioner of his district, who was afraid that the money would be seized by the Boers. In every instance the property entrusted to their charge was returned intact. The loyalty of all the native chiefs under very trying circumstances (for the Boers were constantly attempting to cajole or frighten them into joining them) is a remarkable proof of the great affection of the Kafirs, more especially those of the Basutu tribes, who love peace better than war, for the Queen’s rule. The Government of Pretoria need only have spoken one word, to set an enormous number of armed men in motion against the Boers, with the most serious results to the latter. Any other Government in the world would, in its extremity, have spoken that word, but, fortunately for the Boers, it is against English principles to set black against white under any circumstances.
Besides the main garrison at Pretoria there were forts defended by soldiery and loyals at the following places:— Potchefstroom, Rustenburg, Lydenburg, Marabastad, and Wakkerstroom, none of which were taken by the Boers.15
15 Colonel Winsloe, however, being short of provisions, was beguiled by the fraudulent representations and acts of the Boer commander into surrendering the fort at Potchefstroom during the armistice.
One of the first acts of the Triumvirate was to despatch a large force from Heidelberg with orders to advance into Natal Territory, and seize the pass over the Drakensberg known as Lang’s Nek, so as to dispute the advance of any relieving column. This movement was promptly executed, and strong Boer troops patrolled Natal country almost up to Newcastle.
The news of the outbreak, followed as it was by that of the Bronker’s Spruit massacre, and Captain Elliot’s murder, created a great excitement in Natal. All available soldiers were at once despatched up country, together with a naval brigade, who, on arrival at Newcastle, brought up the strength of the Imperial troops of all arms to about a thousand men. On the 10th January Sir George Colley left Maritzburg to join the force at Newcastle, but at this time nobody dreamt that he meant to attack the Nek with such an insignificant column. It was known that the loyals and troops who were shut up in the various towns in the Transvaal had sufficient provisions to last for some months, and that there was therefore nothing to necessitate a forlorn hope. Indeed the possibility of Sir George Colley attempting to enter the Transvaal was not even speculated upon until just before his advance, it being generally considered as out of the question.
The best illustration I can give of the feeling that existed about the matter is to quote my own case. I had been so unfortunate as to land in Natal with my wife and servants just as the Transvaal troubles began, my intention being to proceed to a place I had near Newcastle. For some weeks I remained in Maritzburg, but finding that the troops were to concentrate on Newcastle, and being besides heartily wearied of the great expense and discomfort of hotel life in that town, I determined to go on up country, looking on it as being as safe as any place in the Colony. Of course the possibility of Sir George attacking the Nek before the arrival of the reinforcements did not enter into my calculations, as I thought it a venture that no sensible man would undertake. On the day of my start, however, there was a rumour about the town that the General was going to attack the Boer position. Though I did not believe it, I thought it as well to go and ask the Colonial Secretary, Colonel Mitchell, privately, if there was any truth in it, adding that if there was, as I had a pretty intimate knowledge of the Boers and their shooting powers, and what the inevitable result of such a move would be, I should certainly prefer, as I had ladies with me, to remain where I was. Colonel Mitchell told me frankly that he knew no more about Sir George’s plans than I did; but he added I might be sure that so able and prudent a soldier would not do anything rash. His remark concurred with my own opinion; so I started, and on arrival at Newcastle a week later was met by the intelligence that Sir George had advanced that morning to attack the Nek. To return was almost impossible, since both horses and travellers were pretty nearly knocked up. Also, anybody who has travelled with his family in summer-time over the awful track of alternate slough and boulders between Maritzburg and Newcastle, known in the Colony as a road, will understand, that at the time, the adventurous voyagers would far rather risk being shot than face a return journey.
The only thing to do under the circumstances was to await the course of events, which were now about to develop themselves with startling rapidity. The little town of Newcastle was at this time an odd sight, and remained so all through the war. The hotels were crowded to overflowing with refugees, and on every spare patch of land were erected tents, mud huts, canvas houses, and every kind of covering that could be utilised under the pressure of necessity, to house the many homeless families who had succeeded in effecting their escape from the Transvaal, many of whom were reduced to great straits.
On the morning of the 28th January, anybody listening attentively in the neighbourhood of Newcastle could hear the distant boom of heavy guns. We were not kept long in suspense, for in the afternoon news arrived that Sir George had attacked the Nek, and failed with heavy loss. The excitement in the town was intense, for, in addition to other considerations, the 58th Regiment, which had suffered most, had been quartered there for some time, and both the officers and men were personally known to the inhabitants.
The story of the fight is well known, and needs little repetition, and a sad story it is. The Boers, who at that time were some 2000 strong, were posted and entrenched on steep hills, against which Sir George Colley hurled a few hundred soldiers. It was a forlorn hope, but so gallant was the charge, especially that of the mounted squadron led by Major Bronlow, that at one time it nearly succeeded. But nothing could stand under the withering fire from the Boer schanses, and as regards the foot soldiers, they never had a chance. Colonel Deane tried to take them up the hill with a rush, with the result that by the time they reached the top, some of the men were actually sick from exhaustion, and none could hold a rifle steady. There on the bare hill-top, they crouched and lay, while the pitiless fire from redoubt and rock lashed them like hail, till at last human nature could bear it no longer, and what was left of them retired slowly down the slope. But for many, that gallant charge was their last earthly action. As they charged they fell, and where they fell they were afterwards buried. The casualties, killed and wounded, amounted to 195, which, considering the small number of troops engaged in the actual attack, is enormously heavy, and shows more plainly than words can tell, the desperate nature of the undertaking. Amongst the killed were Colonel Deane, Major Poole, Major Hingeston, and Lieutenant Elwes. Major Essex was the only staff officer engaged who escaped, the same officer who was one of the fortunate four who lived through Isandhlwana. On this occasion his usual good fortune attended him, for though his horse was killed and his helmet knocked off, he was not touched. The Boer loss was very trivial.
Sir George Colley, in his admirably lucid despatch about this occurrence addressed to the Secretary of State for War, does not enter much into the question as to the motives that prompted him to attack, simply stating that his object was to relieve the besieged towns. He does not appear to have taken into consideration, what was obvious to anybody who knew the country and the Boers, that even if he had succeeded in forcing the Nek, in itself almost an impossibility, he could never have operated with any success in the Transvaal with so small a column, without cavalry, and with an enormous train of waggons. He would have been harassed day and night by the Boer skirmishers, his supplies cut off, and his advance made practically impossible. Also the Nek would have been re-occupied behind him, since he could not have detached sufficient men to hold it, and in all probability Newcastle, his base of supplies, would have fallen into the hands of the enemy.
The moral effect of our defeat on the Boers was very great. Up to this time there had been many secret doubts amongst a large section of them as to what the upshot of an encounter with the troops might be; and with this party, in the same way that defeat, or even the anxiety of waiting to be attacked, would have turned the scale one way, victory turned it the other. It gave them unbounded confidence in their own superiority, and infused a spirit of cohesion and mutual reliance into their ranks which had before been wanting. Waverers wavered no longer, but gave a loyal adherence to the good cause, and, what was still more acceptable, large numbers of volunteers — whatever President Brand may say to the contrary — poured in from the Orange Free State.
What Sir George Colley’s motive was in making so rash a move is, of course, quite inexplicable to the outside observer. It was said at the time in Natal that he was a man with a theory: namely, that small bodies of men properly handled were as useful and as likely to obtain the object in view as a large force. Whether or no this was so, I am not prepared to say; but it is undoubtedly the case that very clever men have sometimes very odd theories, and it may be that he was a striking instance in point.
For some days after the battle at Lang’s Nek affairs were quiet, and it was hoped that they would remain so till the arrival of the reinforcements, which were on their way out. The hope proved a vain one. On the 7th February it was reported that the escort proceeding from Newcastle to the General’s camp with the post, a distance of about eighteen miles, had been fired on and forced to return.
On the 8th, about mid-day, we were all startled by the sound of fighting, proceeding apparently from a hill known as Scheins Hoogte, about ten miles from Newcastle. It was not know that the General contemplated any move, and everybody was entirely at a loss to know what was going on, the general idea being, however, that the camp near Lang’s Nek had been abandoned, and that Sir George was retiring on Newcastle.
The firing grew hotter and hotter, till at last it was perfectly continuous, the cannon evidently being discharged as quickly as they could be loaded, whilst their dull booming was accompanied by the unceasing crash and roll of the musketry. Towards three o’clock the firing slackened, and we thought it was all over, one way or the other, but about five o’clock it broke out again with increased vigour. At dusk it finally ceased. About this time some Kafirs came to my house and told us that an English force was hemmed in on a hill this side of the Ingogo River, that they were fighting bravely, but that “their arms were tired,” adding that they thought they would be all killed at night.
Needless to say we spent that night with heavy hearts, expecting every minute to hear the firing begin again, and ignorant of what fate had befallen our poor soldiers on the hill. Morning put an end to our suspense, and we then learnt that we had suffered what, under the circumstances, amounted to a crushing defeat. It appears that Sir George had moved out with a force of five companies of the 60th Regiment, two guns, and a few mounted men, to, in his own words, “patrol the road, and meet and escort some waggons expected from Newcastle.” As soon as he passed the Ingogo he was surrounded by a body of Boers sent after him from Lang’s Nek, on a small triangular plateau, and sharply assailed on all sides. With a break of about two hours, from three to five, the assault was kept up till nightfall, with very bad results so far as we were concerned, seeing that out of a body of about 500 men, over 150 were killed and wounded. The reinforcements sent for from the camp apparently did not come into action. For some unexplained reason the Boers did not follow up their attack that night, perhaps because they did not think it possible that our troops could effect their escape back to the camp, and considered that the next morning would be soon enough to return and finish the business. The General, however, determined to get back, and scratch teams of such mules, riding-horses, and oxen as had lived through the day being harnessed to the guns, the dispirited and exhausted survivors of the force managed to ford the Ingogo, now swollen by rain which had fallen in the afternoon, poor Lieutenant Wilkinson, the Adjutant of the 60th, losing his life in the operation, and to struggle through the dense darkness back to camp.
On the hill-top they had lately held, the dead lay thick. There, too, exposed to the driving rain and bitter wind lay the wounded, many of whom would be dead before the rising of the morrow’s sun. It must, indeed, have been a sight never to be forgotten by those who saw it. The night — I remember well — was cold and rainy, the great expanses of hill and plain being sometimes lit by the broken gleams of an uncertain moon, and sometimes plunged into intensest darkness by the passing of a heavy cloud. Now and again flashes of lightning threw every crag and outline into vivid relief, and the deep muttering of distant thunder made the wild gloom more solemn. Then a gust of icy wind would come tearing down the valleys to be followed by a pelting thunder shower — and thus the night wore away.
When one reflects what discomfort, and even danger, an ordinary healthy person would suffer if left after a hard day’s work to lie all night in the rain and wind on the top of a stony mountain, without food, or even water to assuage his thirst, it becomes to some degree possible to realise what the sufferings of our wounded after the battle of Ingogo must have been. Those who survived were next day taken to the hospital at Newcastle.
What Sir George Colley’s real object was in exposing himself to the attack has never transpired. It can hardly have been to clear the road, as he says in his despatch, because the road was not held by the enemy, but only visited occasionally by their patrols. The result of the battle was to make the Boers, whose losses were trifling, more confident than ever, and to greatly depress our soldiers. Sir George had now lost between three and four hundred men, out of his column of little over a thousand, which was thereby entirely crippled. Of his staff Officers Major Essex now alone survived, his usual good fortune having carried him safe through the battle of Ingogo. What makes his repeated escapes the more remarkable is that he was generally to be found in the heaviest firing. A man so fortunate as Major Essex ought to be rewarded for his good fortune if for no other reason, though, if reports are true, there would be no need to fall back on that to find grounds on which to advance a soldier who has always borne himself so well.
Another result of the Ingogo battle was that the Boers, knowing that we had no force to cut them off, and always secure of a retreat into the Free State, passed round Newcastle in Free State Territory, and descended from fifteen hundred to two thousand strong into Natal for the purpose of destroying the reinforcements which were now on their way up under General Wood. This was on the 11th of February, and from that date till the 18th, the upper districts of Natal were in the hands of the enemy, who cut the telegraph wires, looted waggons, stole herds of cattle and horses, and otherwise amused themselves at the expense of Her Majesty’s subjects in Natal.
It was a very anxious time for those who knew what Boers are capable of, and had women and children to protect, and who were never sure if their houses would be left standing over their heads from one day to another.
Every night we were obliged to place out Kafirs as scouts to give us timely warning of the approach of marauding parties, and to sleep with loaded rifles close to our hands, and sometimes, when things looked very black, in our clothes, with horses ready saddled in the stable. Nor were our fears groundless, for one day a patrol of some five hundred Boers encamped on the next place, which by the way belonged to a Dutchman, and stole all the stock on it, the property of an Englishman. They also intercepted a train of waggons, destroyed the contents, and burnt them. Numerous were the false alarms it was our evil fortune to experience. For instance, one night I was sitting in the drawing-room reading, about eleven o’clock, with a door leading on to the verandah slightly ajar, for the night was warm, when suddenly I heard myself called by name in a muffled voice, and asked if the place was in the possession of the Boers. Looking towards the door I saw a full-cocked revolver coming round the corner, and on opening it in some alarm, I could indistinctly discern a line of armed figures in a crouching attitude stretching along the verandah into the garden beyond. It turned out to be a patrol of the mounted police, who had received information that a large number of Boers had seized the place and had come to ascertain the truth of the report. As we gathered from them that the Boers were certainly near, we did not pass a very comfortable night.
Meanwhile, we were daily expecting to hear that the troops had been attacked along the line of march, and knowing the nature of the country and the many opportunities it affords for ambuscading and destroying one of our straggling columns encumbered with innumerable waggons, we had the worst fears for the result. At length a report reached us to the effect that the reinforcements were expected on the morrow, and that they were not going to cross the Ingagaan at the ordinary drift, which was much commanded by hills, but at a lower drift on our own place, about three miles from Newcastle, which was only slightly commanded. We also heard that it was the intention of the Boers to attack them at this point and to fall back on my house and the hills beyond. Accordingly, we thought it about time to retreat, and securing a few valuables such as plate, we made our way into the town, leaving the house and its contents to take their chance. At Newcastle an attack was daily expected, if for no other reason, to obtain possession of the stores collected there.
The defences of the place were, however, in a wretched condition, no proper outlook was kept, and there was an utter want of effective organisation. The military element at the camp had enough to do to look after itself, and did not concern itself with the safety of the town; and the mounted police — a Colonial force paid by the Colony — had been withdrawn from the little forts round Newcastle, as the General wanted them for other purposes, and a message sent that the town must defend its own forts. There were, it is true, a large number of able-bodied men in the place who were willing to fight, but they had no organisation. The very laager was not finished until the danger was past.
Then there was a large party who were for surrendering the town to the Boers, because if they fought it might afterwards injure their trade. With this section of the population the feeling of patriotism was strong, no doubt, but that of pocket was stronger. I am convinced that the Boers would have found the capture of Newcastle an easy task, and I confess that what I then saw did not inspire me with great hopes of the safety of the Colony when it gets responsible government, and has to depend for protection on burgher forces. Colonial volunteer forces are, I think, as good troops as any in the world; but an unorganised colonial mob, pulled this way and that by different sentiments and interests, is as useless as any other mob, with the difference that it is more impatient of control.
For some unknown reason the Boer leaders providentially changed their minds about attacking the reinforcements, and their men were withdrawn to the Nek as swiftly and silently as they had been advanced, and on the 17th February the reinforcements marched into Newcastle to the very great relief of the inhabitants, who had been equally anxious for their own safety and that of the troops. Personally, I was never in my life more pleased to see Her Majesty’s uniform; and we were equally rejoiced on returning home to find that nothing had been injured. After this we had quiet for a while.
On the 21st February, we heard that two fresh regiments had been sent up to the camp at Lang’s Nek, and that General Wood had been ordered down country by Sir George Colley to bring up more reinforcements. This item of news caused much surprise, as nobody could understand, why, now that the road was clear, and that there was little chance of its being again blocked, a General should be sent down to do work, which could, to all appearance, have been equally well done by the Officers in command of the reinforcing regiments, with the assistance of their transport riders. It was, however, understood that an agreement had been entered into between the two Generals, that no offensive operations should be undertaken till Wood returned.
With the exception of occasional scares, there was no further excitement till Sunday the 27th February, when, whilst sitting on the verandah after lunch, I thought I heard the sound of distant artillery. Others present differed with me, thinking the sound was caused by thunder, but as I adhered to my opinion, we determined to ride into town and see. On arrival there, we found the place full of rumours, from which we gathered that some fresh disaster had occurred: and that messages were pouring down the wires from Mount Prospect camp. We then went on to camp, thinking that we should learn more there, but they knew nothing about it, several officers asking us what new “shave” we had got hold of. A considerable number of troops had been marched from Newcastle that morning to go to Mount Prospect, but when it was realised that something had occurred, they were stopped, and marched back again. Bit by bit we managed to gather the truth. At first we heard that our men had made a most gallant resistance on the hill, mowing down the advancing enemy by hundreds, till at last, their ammunition failing, they fought with their bayonets, using stones and meat tins as missiles. I wish that our subsequent information had been to the same effect.
It appears that on the evening of the 26th, Sir George Colley, after mess, suddenly gave orders for a force of a little over six hundred men, consisting of detachments from no less than three different regiments, the 58th, 60th, 92d, and the Naval Brigade, to be got ready for an expedition, without revealing his plans to anybody, until late in the afternoon: and then without more ado, marched them up to the top of Majuba — a great square-topped mountain to the right of, and commanding the Boer position at Lang’s Nek. The troops reached the top about three in the morning, after a somewhat exhausting climb, and were stationed at different points of the plateau in a scientific way. Whilst the darkness lasted, they could, by the glittering of the watch-fires, trace from this point of vantage the position of the Boer laagers that lay 2000 yards beneath them, whilst the dawn of day revealed every detail of the defensive works, and showed the country lying at their feet like a map.
On arrival at the top, it was represented to the General that a rough entrenchment should be thrown up, but he would not allow it to be done on account of the men being wearied with their marching up. This was a fatal mistake. Behind an entrenchment, however slight, one would think that 600 English soldiers might have defied the whole Boer army, and much more the 200 or 300 men by whom they were hunted down Majuba. It appears that about 10.15 A.M. Colonel Steward and Major Fraser again went to General Colley “to arrange to start the sailors on an entrenchment” . . . “Finding the ground so exposed, the General did not give orders to entrench.”
As soon as the Boers found out that the hill was in the occupation of the English, their first idea was to leave the Nek, and they began to inspan with that object, but discovering that there were no guns commanding them, they changed their mind, and set to work to storm the hill instead. As far as I have been able to gather, the number of Boers who took the mountain was about 300, or possibly 400; I do not think there were more than that. The Boers themselves declare solemnly that they were only 100 strong, but this I do not believe. They slowly advanced up the hill till about 11.30, when the real attack began, the Dutchmen coming on more rapidly and confidently, and shooting with ever-increasing accuracy, as they found our fire quite ineffective.
About a quarter to one, our men retreated to the last ridge, and General Colley was shot through the head. After this, the retreat became a rout, and the soldiers rushed pell-mell down the precipitous sides of the hill, the Boers knocking them over by the score as they went, till they were out of range. A few were also, I heard, killed by the shells from the guns that were advanced from the camp to cover the retreat, but as this does not appear in the reports, perhaps it is not true. Our loss was about 200 killed and wounded, including Sir George Colley, Drs. Landon and Cornish, and Commander Romilly, who was shot with an explosive bullet, and died after some days’ suffering. When the wounded Commander was being carried to a more sheltered spot, it was with great difficulty that the Boers were prevented from massacring him as he lay, they being under the impression that he was Sir Garnet Wolseley. As was the case at Ingogo, the wounded were left on the battlefield all night in very inclement weather, to which some of them succumbed. It is worthy of note that after the fight was over, they were treated with considerable kindness by the Boers.
Not being a soldier, of course I cannot venture to give any military reasons as to how it was, that what was after all a considerable force, was so easily driven from a position of great natural strength; but I think I may, without presumption, state my opinion was to the real cause, which was the villanous shooting of the British soldier. Though the troops did not, as was said at the time, run short of ammunition, it is clear that they fired away a great many rounds at men who, in storming the hill, must necessarily have exposed themselves more or less, of whom they managed to hit — certainly not more than six or seven — which was the outside of the Boer casualties. From this it is clear that they can neither judge distance nor hit a moving object, nor did they probably know that when shooting down hill it is necessary to aim low. Such shooting as the English soldier is capable of may be very well when he has an army to aim at, but it is useless in guerilla warfare against a foe skilled in the use of the rifle and the art of taking shelter.
A couple of months after the storming of Majuba, I, together with a friend, had a conversation with a Boer, a volunteer from the Free State in the late war, and one of the detachment that stormed Majuba, who gave us a circumstantial account of the attack with the greatest willingness. He said that when it was discovered that the English had possession of the mountain, they thought that the game was up, but after a while bolder counsels prevailed, and volunteers were called for to storm the hill. Only seventy men could be found to perform the duty, of whom he was one. They started up the mountain in fear and trembling, but soon found that every shot passed over their heads, and went on with greater boldness. Only three men, he declared, were hit on the Boer side; one was killed, one was hit in the arm, and he himself was the third, getting his face grazed by a bullet, of which he showed us the scar. He stated that the first to reach the top ridge was a boy of twelve, and that as soon as the troops saw them they fled, when, he said, he paid them out for having nearly killed him, knocking them over one after another “like bucks” as they ran down the hill, adding that it was “alter lecker” (very nice). He asked us how many men we had lost during the war, and when we told him about seven hundred killed and wounded, laughed in our faces, saying he knew that our dead amounted to several thousands. On our assuring him that this was not the case, he replied, “Well, don’t let’s talk of it any more, because we are good friends now, and if we go on you will lie, and I shall lie, and then we shall get angry. The war is over now, and I don’t want to quarrel with the English; if one of them takes off his hat to me I always acknowledge it.” He did not mean any harm in talking thus; it is what Englishmen have to put up with now in South Africa; the Boers have beaten us, and act accordingly.
This man also told us that the majority of the rifles they picked up were sighted for 400 yards, whereas the latter part of the fighting had been carried on within 200.
Sir George Colley’s death was much lamented in the Colony, where he was deservedly popular; indeed, anybody who had the honour of knowing that kind-hearted gentleman, could not do otherwise than deeply regret his untimely end. What his motive was in occupying Majuba in the way he did, has never, so far as I am aware, transpired. The move, in itself, would have been an excellent one, had it been made in force, or accompanied by a direct attack on the Nek — but, as undertaken, seems to have been objectless. There were, of course, many rumours as to the motives that prompted his action, of which the most probable seems to be that, being aware of what the Home Government intended to do with reference to the Transvaal, he determined to strike a blow to try and establish British Supremacy first, knowing how mischievous any apparent surrender would be. Whatever his faults may have been as a General, he was a brave man, and had the honour of his country much at heart.
It was also said by soldiers who saw him the night the troops marched up Majuba, that the General was “not himself,” and it was hinted that continual anxiety and the chagrin of failure had told upon his mind. As against this, however, must be set the fact that his telegrams to the Secretary of State for War, the last of which he must have despatched only about half-an-hour before he was shot, are cool and collected, and written in the same unconcerned tone — as though he were a critical spectator of an interesting scene — that characterises all his communications, more especially his despatches. They at any rate give no evidence of shaken nerve or unduly excited brain, nor can I see that any action of his with reference to the occupation of Majuba is out of keeping with the details of his generalship upon other occasions. He was always confident to rashness, and possessed by the idea that every man in the ranks was full of as high a spirit, and as brave as he was himself. Indeed most people will think, that so far from its being a rasher action, the occupation of Majuba, bad generalship as it seems, was a wiser move than either the attack on the Nek or the Ingogo fiasco.
But at the best, all his movements are difficult to be understand by a civilian, though they may, for ought we know, have been part of an elaborate plan, perfected in accordance with the rules of military science, of which, it is said, he was a great student.
The Queen’s Speech — President Brand and Lord Kimberley — Sir Henry de Villiers — Sir George Colley’s plan — Paul Kruger’s offer — Sir George Colley’s remonstrance — Complimentary telegrams — Effect of Majuba on the Boers and English Government — Collapse of the Government — Reasons of the Surrender — Professional sentimentalists — The Transvaal Independence Committee — Conclusion of the armistice — The preliminary peace — Reception of the news in Natal — Newcastle after the declaration of peace — Exodus of the loyal inhabitants of the Transvaal — The value of property in Pretoria — The Transvaal officials dismissed — The Royal Commission — Mode of trial of persons accused of atrocities — Decision of the Commission and its results — The severance of territory question — Arguments pro and con — Opinion of Sir E. Wood — Humility of the Commissioners and its cause — Their decision on the Keate award question — The Montsoia difficulty — The compensation and financial clauses of the report of the Commission — The duties of the British Resident — Sir E. Wood’s dissent from the report of the Commission — Signing of the Convention — Burial of the Union Jack — The native side of the question — Interview between the Commissioners and the native chiefs — Their opinion of the surrender — Objections of the Boer Volksraad to the Convention — Mr. Gladstone temporises — The ratification — Its insolent tone — Mr. Hudson, the British Resident — The Boer festival — The results of the Convention — The larger issue of the matter — Its effect on the Transvaal — Its moral aspects — Its effect on the native mind.
When Parliament met in January 1881, the Government announced, through the mediumship of the Queen’s Speech, that it was their intention to vindicate Her Majesty’s authority in the Transvaal. I have already briefly described the somewhat unfortunate attempts to gain this end by force of arms: and I now propose to follow the course of the diplomatic negotiations entered into by the Ministry with the same object.
As soon as the hostilities in the Transvaal took a positive form, causing great dismay among the Home authorities, whose paths, as we all know, are the paths of peace — at any price; and whilst, in the first confusion of calamity, they knew not where to turn, President Brand stepped upon the scene in the character of “Our Mutual Friend,” and, by the Government at any rate, was rapturously welcomed.
This gentleman has for many years been at the head of the Government of the Orange Free State, whose fortunes he had directed with considerable ability. He is a man of natural talent and kind-hearted disposition, and has the advancement of the Boer cause in South Africa much at heart. The rising in the Transvaal was an event that gave him a great and threefold opportunity: first, of interfering with the genuinely benevolent object of checking bloodshed; secondly, of advancing the Dutch cause throughout South Africa under the cloak of amiable neutrality, and striking a dangerous blow at British supremacy over the Dutch and British prestige with the natives; and, thirdly, of putting the English Government under a lasting obligation to him. Of this opportunity he has availed himself to the utmost in each particular.
So soon as things began to look serious, Mr. Brand put himself into active telegraphic communication with the various British authorities with the view of preventing bloodshed by inducing the English Government to accede to the Boer demands. He was also earnest in his declarations that the Free State was not supporting the Transvaal; which, considering that it was practically the insurgent base of supplies, where they had retired their women, children, and cattle, and that it furnished them with a large number of volunteers, was perhaps straining the truth.
About this time also we find Lord Kimberley telegraphing to Mr. Brand that “if only the Transvaal Boers will desist from armed opposition to the Queen’s authority,” he thinks some arrangement might be made. This is the first indication made public of what was passing in the minds of Her Majesty’s Government, on whom its radical supporters were now beginning to put the screw, to induce or threaten them into submitting to the Boer demands.
Again, on the 11th January, the President telegraphed to Lord Kimberley through the Orange Free State Consul in London, suggesting that Sir H. de Villiers, the Chief Justice at the Cape, should be appointed a Commissioner to go to the Transvaal to settle matters. Oddly enough, about the same time the same proposition emanated from the Dutch party in the Cape Colony, headed by Mr. Hofmeyer, a coincidence that inclines one to the opinion that these friends of the Boers had some further reason for thus urging Sir Henry de Villiers’ appointment as Commissioner beyond his apparent fitness for the post, of which his high reputation as a lawyer and in his private capacity was a sufficient guarantee.
The explanation is not hard to find, the fact being that, rightly or wrongly, Sir Henry de Villiers, who is himself of Dutch descent, is noted throughout South Africa for his sympathies with the Boer cause, and both President Brand and the Dutch party in the Cape shrewdly suspected, that, if the settling of differences were left to his discretion, the Boers and their interests would receive very gentle handling. The course of action adopted by him, when he became a member of the Royal Commission, went far to support this view, for it will be noticed in the Report of the Commissioners that in every single point he appears to have taken the Boer side of the contention. Indeed so blind was he to their faults, that he would not even admit that the horrible Potchefstroom murders and atrocities, which are condemned both by Sir H. Robinson and Sir Evelyn Wood in language as strong as the formal terms of a report will allow, were acts contrary to the rules of civilised warfare. If those acts had been perpetrated by Englishmen on Boers, or even on natives, I venture to think Sir Henry de Villiers would have looked at them in a very different light.
In the same telegram in which President Brand recommends the appointment of Sir Henry de Villiers, he states that the allegations made by the Triumvirate in the proclamation in which they accused Sir Owen Lanyon of committing various atrocities, deserve to be investigated, as they maintain that the collision was commenced by the authorities. Nobody knew better than Mr. Brand that any English official would be quite incapable of the conduct ascribed to Sir Owen Lanyon, whilst, even if the collision had been commenced by the authorities, which as it happened it was not, they would under the circumstances have been amply justified in so commencing it. This remark by President Brand in his telegram was merely an attempt to throw an air of probability over a series of slanderous falsehoods.
Messages of this nature continued to pour along the wires from day to day, but the tone of those from the Colonial Office grew gradually humbler; thus we find Lord Kimberley telegraphing on the 8th February, that if the Boers would desist from armed opposition all reasonable guarantees would be given as to their treatment after submission, and that a scheme would be framed for the “permanent friendly settlement of difficulties.” It will be seen that the Government had already begun to water the meaning of their declaration that they would vindicate Her Majesty’s authority. No doubt Mr. Chamberlain, Mr. Courtney, and their followers, had given another turn to the Radical screw.
It is, however, clear that at this time no idea of the real aims of the Government had entered into the mind of Sir George Colley, since on the 7th February he telegraphed home a plan which he proposed to adopt on entering the Transvaal, which included a suggestion that he should grant a complete amnesty only to those Boers who would sign a declaration of loyalty.
In answer to this he was ordered to do nothing of the sort, but to promise protection to everybody and refer everything home.
Then came the battle of Ingogo, which checked for the time the flow of telegrams, or rather varied their nature, for those despatched during the next few days deal with the question of reinforcements. On the 13th February, however, negotiations were reopened by Paul Kruger, one of the Triumvirate, who offered, if all the troops were ordered to withdraw from the Transvaal to give them a free passage through the Nek, to disperse the Boers and to consent to the appointment of a Commission.
The offer was jumped at by Lord Kimberley, who, without making reference to the question of withdrawing the soldiers, offered, if only the Boers would disperse, to appoint a Commission with extensive powers to develop the “permanent friendly settlement” scheme. The telegram ends thus: “Add, that if this proposal is accepted, you now are authorised to agree to suspension of hostilities on our part.” This message was sent to General Wood, because the Boers had stopped the communications with Colley. On the 19th, Sir George Colley replies in these words, which show his astonishment at the policy adopted by the Home Government, and which, in the opinion of most people, redound to his credit —
“Latter part of your telegram to Wood not understood. There can be no hostilities if no resistance is made, but am I to leave Lang’s Nek in Natal territory in Boer occupation, and our garrisons isolated and short of provisions, or occupy former and relieve latter?” Lord Kimberley hastens to reply that the garrisons must be left free to provision themselves, “but we do not mean that you should march to the relief of garrisons or occupy Lang’s Nek, if an arrangement proceeds.”
It will be seen that the definition of what vindication of Her Majesty’s authority consisted grew broader and broader; it now included the right of the Boers to continue to occupy their positions in the Colony of Natal.
Meanwhile the daily fire of complimentary messages was being kept up between President Brand and Lord Kimberley, who alternatively gave “sincere thanks to Lord Kimberley” and “fully appreciated the friendly spirit” of President Brand, till on the 21st February the latter telegraphs through Colley: “Hope of amicable settlement by negotiation, but this will be greatly facilitated if somebody on spot and friendly disposed to both, could by personal communication with both endeavour to smooth difficulties. Offers his services to Her Majesty’s Government, and Kruger and Pretorius and Joubert are willing.” Needless to say his services were accepted.
Presently, however, on 27th February, Sir George Colley made his last move, and took possession of Majuba. His defeat and death had the effect of causing another temporary check in the peace negotiations, whilst Sir Frederick Roberts with ample reinforcements was despatched to Natal. It had the further effect of increasing the haughtiness of the Boer leaders, and infusing a corresponding spirit of pliability or generosity into the negotiations of Her Majesty’s Government.
Thus on 2d March, the Boers, through President Brand and Sir Evelyn Wood, inform the Secretary of State for the Colonies, that they are willing to negotiate, but decline to submit or cease opposition. Sir Evelyn Wood, who evidently did not at all like the line of policy adopted by the Government, telegraphed that he thought the best thing to do would be for him to engage the Boers, and disperse them vi et armis, without any guarantees, “considering the disasters we have sustained,” and that he should, “if absolutely necessary,” be empowered to promise life and property to the leaders, but that they should be banished from the country. In answer to this telegram, Lord Kimberley informs him that Her Majesty’s Government will amnesty everybody except those who have committed acts contrary to the rules of civilised warfare, and that they will agree to anything, and appoint a Commission to carry out the details, and “be ready for friendly communications with any persons appointed by the Boers.”
Thus was Her Majesty’s authority finally re-established in the Transvaal.
It was not a very grand climax, nor the kind of arrangement to which Englishmen are accustomed, but perhaps, considering the circumstances, and the well-known predilections of those who made the settlement, it was as much as could be expected.
The action of the Government must not be considered, as though they were unfettered in their judgment; it can never be supposed that they acted as they did, because they thought such action right or even wise, for that would be to set them down as men of a very low order of intelligence, which they certainly are not.
It is clear that no set of sensible men, who had after much consideration given their decision that under all the circumstances, the Transvaal must remain British territory, and who, on a revolt subsequently breaking out in that territory, had declared that Her Majesty’s rule must be upheld, would have, putting aside all other circumstances, deliberately stultified themselves by almost unconditionally, and of their own free will, abandoning the country, and all Her Majesty’s subjects living in it. That would be to pay a poor tribute to their understanding, since it is clear that if reasons existed for retaining the Transvaal before the war, as they were satisfied there did, those reasons would exist with still greater force after a war had been undertaken and three crushing defeats sustained, which if left unavenged must, as they knew, have a most disastrous effect on our prestige throughout the South African continent.
I prefer to believe that the Government was coerced into acting as it did by Radical pressure, both from outside, and from its immediate supporters in the House, and that it had to choose between making an unconventional surrender in the Transvaal and losing the support of a very powerful party. Under these circumstances it, being Liberal in politics, naturally followed its instincts, and chose surrender.
If such a policy was bad in itself, and necessarily mischievous in its consequences, so much the worse for those who suffered by it; it was clear that the Government could not be expected to lose votes in order to forward the true interests of countries so far off as the South African Colonies, which had had the misfortune to be made a party question of, and must take the consequences.
There is no doubt that the interest brought to bear on the Government was very considerable, for not only had they to deal with their own supporters, and with the shadowy caucus that was ready to let the lash of its displeasure descend even on the august person of Mr. Gladstone, should he show signs of letting slip so rich an opportunity for the vindication of the holiest principles of advanced Radicalism, but also with the hydra-headed crowd of visionaries and professional sentimentalists who swarm in this country, and who are always ready to take up any cause, from that of Jumbo, or of a murderer, to that of oppressed peoples, such as the Bulgarians, or the Transvaal Boers.
These gentlemen, burning with zeal, and filled with that confidence which proverbially results from the hasty assimilation of imperfect and erroneous information, found in the Transvaal question a great opportunity of making a noise: and — as in a disturbed farmyard the bray of the domestic donkey, ringing loud and clear among the utterances of more intelligent animals, overwhelms and extinguishes them — so, and with like effect, amongst the confused sound of various English opinions about the Boer rising, rose the trumpet-note of the Transvaal Independence Committee and its supporters.
As we have seen, they did not sound in vain.
On the 6th of March an armistice with the Boers had been entered into by Sir Evelyn Wood, which was several times prolonged, up to the 21st March, when Sir Evelyn Wood concluded a preliminary peace with the Boer leaders, which, under certain conditions, guaranteed the restoration of the country within six months, and left all other points to be decided by a Royal Commission.
The news of this peace was at first received in the Colony in the silence of astonishment. Personally, I remember, I would not believe that it was true. It seemed to us, who had been witnesses of what had passed, and knew what it all meant, something so utterly incredible that we thought there must be a mistake.
If there had been any one redeeming circumstance about it, if the English arms had gained a single decisive victory, it might have been so, but it was hard for Englishmen, just at first, to understand that not only had the Transvaal been to all appearance wrested from them by force of arms, but that they were henceforth to be subject, as they well knew would be the case, to the coarse insults of victorious Boers, and the sarcasms of keener-witted Kafirs.
People in England seem to fancy that when men go to the Colonies they lose all sense of pride in their country, and think of nothing but their own advantage. I do not think that this is the case, indeed, I believe that, individual for individual, there exists a greater sense of loyalty, and a deeper pride in their nationality, and in the proud name of England, among Colonists, than among Englishmen proper. Certainly the humiliation of the Transvaal surrender was more keenly felt in South Africa than it was at home; but, perhaps, the impossibility of imposing upon people in that country with the farrago of nonsense about blood-guiltiness and national morality, which was made such adroit use of at home, may have made the difference.
I know that personally I would not have believed it possible that I could feel any public event so keenly as I did this; indeed, I quickly made up my mind that if the peace was confirmed, the neighbourhood of the Transvaal would be no fit or comfortable residence for an Englishman, and that I would, at any cost, leave the country — which I accordingly did.
Newcastle was a curious sight the night after the peace was declared, every hotel and bar was crowded with refugees, who were trying to relieve their feelings, by cursing the name of Gladstone, with a vigour, originality, and earnestness, that I have never heard equalled; and declaring in ironical terms how proud they were to be citizens of England — a country that always kept its word. Then they set to work with many demonstrations of contempt to burn the effigy of the Right Honourable Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty’s Government, an example, by the way, that was followed throughout South Africa.
Even Sir Evelyn Wood, who is very popular in the Colony, was hissed as he walked through the town, and great surprise was expressed that a soldier who came out expressly to fight the Boers, should consent to become the medium of communication in such a dirty business. And, indeed, there was some excuse for all this bitterness, for the news meant ruin to very many.
But if people in Natal and at the Cape received the news with astonishment, how shall I describe its effect upon the unfortunate loyal inhabitants in the Transvaal, on whom it burst like a thunderbolt?
They did not say much however, and indeed, there was nothing to be said, they simply began to pack up such things as they could carry with them, and to leave the country, which they well knew would henceforth be utterly untenable for Englishmen or English sympathisers. In a few weeks they came pouring down through Newcastle by hundreds; it was the most melancholy exodus that can be imagined. There were people of all classes, officials, gentlefolk, work-people, and loyal Boers, but they had a connecting link; they had all been loyal, and they were all ruined.
Most of these people had gone to the Transvaal since it became a British Colony, and invested all they had in it, and now their capital was lost and their labour rendered abortive; indeed, many of them whom one had known as well to do in the Transvaal, came down to Natal hardly knowing how they would feed their families next week.
It must be understood that so soon as the Queen’s sovereignty was withdrawn the value of landed and house property in the Transvaal went down to nothing, and has remained there ever since. Thus a fair-sized house in Pretoria brought in a rental varying from ten to twenty pounds a month during British occupation, but after the declaration of peace, owners of houses were glad to get people to live in them to keep them from falling into ruin. Those who owned land or had invested money in businesses suffered in the same way; their property remains, neither profitable or saleable, and they themselves are precluded by their nationality from living on it, the art of “Boycotting” not being peculiar to Ireland.
Nor were they the only sufferers, the officials, many of whom had taken to the Government service as a permanent profession, in which they expected to pass their lives, were suddenly dismissed, mostly with a small gratuity, which would about suffice to pay their debts, and told to find their living as best they could. It was indeed a case of vae victis — woe to the conquered loyalists.16
16 The following extract is clipped from a recent issue of the “Transvaal Advertiser.” It describes the present condition of Pretoria:—
“The streets grown over with rank vegetation, the water-furrows uncleaned and unattended, emitting offensive and unhealthy stenches, the houses showing evident signs of dilapidation and decay, the side paths, in many places, dangerous to pedestrians; in fact, everything the eye can rest upon indicates the downfall which has overtaken this once prosperous city. The visitor can, if he be so minded, betake himself to the outskirts and suburbs, where he will perceive the same sad evidences of neglect, public grounds unattended, roads uncared for, mills and other public works crumbling into ruin. These palpable signs of decay most strongly impress him. A blight seems to have come over this lately fair and prosperous town. Rapidly it is becoming a ‘deserted village,’ a ‘city of the dead.’”
The Commission appointed by Her Majesty’s Government consisted of Sir Hercules Robinson, Sir Henry de Villiers, and Sir Evelyn Wood, President Brand being also present in his capacity of friend of both parties, and to their discretion were left the settlement of all outstanding questions. Amongst these, were the mode of trial of those persons who had been guilty of acts contrary to the rules of civilised warfare, the question of severance of territory from the Transvaal on the Eastern boundary, the settlement of the boundary in the Keate–Award districts, the compensation for losses sustained during the war, the functions of the British Resident, and other matters. Their place of meeting was at Newcastle in Natal, and from thence they proceeded to Pretoria.
The first question of importance that came before the Commission was the mode of trial to be adopted in the cases of those persons accused of acts contrary to the usages of civilised warfare, such as murder. The Attorney–General for the Transvaal strongly advised that a special Tribunal should be constituted to try these cases, principally because “after a civil war in which all the inhabitants of a country, with very few exceptions, have taken part, a jury of fair and impartial men, truly unbiassed, will be very difficult to get together.” It is satisfactory to know that the Commissioners gave this somewhat obvious fact “their grave consideration,” which, according to their Report, resulted in their determining to let the cases go before the ordinary court, and be tried by a jury, because in referring them to a specially constituted court which would have done equal justice without fear or favour, “the British Government would have made for itself, among the Dutch population of South Africa, a name for vindictive oppression, which no generosity in other affairs could efface.”
There is more in this determination of the Commissioners, or rather of the majority of them — for Sir E. Wood, to his credit be it said, refused to agree in their decision — than meets the eye, the fact of the matter being that it was privately well known to them, that, though the Boer leaders might be willing to allow a few of the murderers to undergo the form of a trial, neither they nor the Boers themselves, meant to permit the farce to go any further. Had the men been tried by a special tribunal they would in all probability have been condemned to death, and then would have come the awkward question of carrying out the sentence on individuals whose deeds were looked on, if not with general approval, at any rate without aversion by the great mass of their countrymen. In short, it would probably have become necessary either to reprieve them or to fight the Boers again, since it was very certain that they would not have allowed them to be hung. Therefore the majority of the Commissioners, finding themselves face to face with a dead wall, determined to slip round it instead of boldly climbing it, by referring the cases to the Transvaal High Court, cheerfully confident of what the result must be.
After all, the matter was, much cry about little wool, for of all the crimes committed by the Boers — a list of some of which will be found in the Appendix to this book — in only three cases were a proportion of the perpetrators produced and put through the form of trial. Those three were, the dastardly murder of Captain Elliot, who was shot by his Boer escort while crossing the Vaal river on parole; the murder of a man named Malcolm, who was kicked to death in his own house by Boers, who afterwards put a bullet through his head to make the job “look better;” and the murder of a doctor named Barber, who was shot by his escort on the border of the Free State. A few of the men concerned in the first two of these crimes were tried in Pretoria: and it was currently reported at that time, that in order to make their acquittal certain our Attorney–General received instructions not to exercise his right of challenging jurors on behalf of the Crown. Whether or not this is true I am not prepared to say, but I believe it is a fact that he did not exercise that right, though the counsel of the prisoners availed themselves of it freely, with the result that in Elliot’s case, the jury was composed of eight Boers and one German, nine being the full South African jury. The necessary result followed; in both cases the prisoners were acquitted in the teeth of the evidence. Barber’s murderers were tried in the Free State, and were, as might be expected, acquitted.
Thus it will be seen that of all the perpetrators of murder and other crimes during the course of the war not one was brought to justice.
The offence for which their victims died was, in nearly every case, that they had served, were serving, or were loyal to Her Majesty the Queen. In no single case has England exacted retribution for the murder of her servants and citizens; but nobody can read through the long list of these dastardly slaughters without feeling that they will not go unavenged. The innocent blood that has been shed on behalf of this country, and the tears of children and widows now appeal to a higher tribunal than that of Mr. Gladstone’s Government, and assuredly they will not appeal in vain.
The next point of importance dealt with by the Commission was the question whether or no any territory should be severed from the Transvaal, and kept under English rule for the benefit of the native inhabitants. Lord Kimberley, acting under pressure put upon him by members of the Aborigines Protection Society, instructed the Commission to consider the advisability of severing the districts of Lydenburg and Zoutpansberg, and also a strip of territory bordering on Zululand and Swazieland from the Transvaal, so as to place the inhabitants of the first two districts out of danger of maltreatment by the Boers, and to interpose a buffer between Zulus, and Swazies, and Boer aggression, and vice versa.
The Boer leaders had, it must be remembered, acquiesced in the principle of such a separation in the preliminary peace signed by Sir Evelyn Wood and themselves. The majority of the Commission, however (Sir Evelyn Wood dissenting), finally decided against the retention of either of these districts, a decision which I think was a wise one, though I arrive at that conclusion on very different grounds to those adopted by the majority of the Commission.
Personally, I cannot see that it is the duty of England to play policeman to the whole world. To have retained these native districts would have been to make ourselves responsible for their good government, and to have guaranteed them against Boer encroachment, which I do not think that we were called upon to do. It is surely not incumbent upon us, having given up the Transvaal to the Boers, to undertake the management of the most troublesome part of it, the Zulu border. Besides, bad as the abandonment of the Transvaal is, I think that if it was to be done at all, it was best to do it thoroughly, since to have kept some natives under our protection, and to have handed over the rest to the tender mercies of the Boers, would only be to render our injustice more obvious, whilst weakening the power of the natives themselves to combine in self-defence; since those under our protection would naturally have little sympathy with their more unfortunate brethren — their interests and circumstances being different.
The Commission do not seem to have considered the question from these points of view, but putting them on one side, there are many other considerations connected with it, which are ably summed up in their Report. Amongst these is the danger of disturbances commenced between Zulus or Swazies and Boers, spreading into Natal, and the probability of the fomenting of disturbances amongst the Zulus by Boers. The great argument for the retention of some territory, if only as a symbol that the English had not been driven out of the country, is, however, set forth in the forty-sixth paragraph of the Report, which runs as follows:—“The moral considerations that determine the actions of civilised Governments are not easily understood by barbarians, in whose eyes successful force is alone the sign of superiority, and it appeared possible that the surrender by the British Crown of one of its possessions to those who had been in arms against it, might be looked upon by the natives in no other way than as a token of the defeat and decay of the British Power, and that thus a serious shock might be given to British authority in South Africa, and the capacity of Great Britain to govern and direct the vast native population within and without her South African dominions — a capacity resting largely on the renown of her name — might be dangerously impaired.”
These words coming from so unexpected a source do not, though couched in such mild language, hide the startling importance of the question discussed. On the contrary, they accurately and with double weight convey the sense and gist of the most damning argument against the policy of the retrocession of the Transvaal in its entirety; and proceeding from their own carefully chosen commissioners, can hardly have been pleasant reading to Lord Kimberley and his colleagues.
The majority of the Commission then proceeds to set forth the arguments advanced by the Boers against the retention of any territory, which appear to have been chiefly of a sentimental character, since we are informed that “the people, it seemed certain, would not have valued the restoration of a mutilated country. Sentiment in a great measure had led them to insurrection, and the force of such it was impossible to disregard.” Sir E. Wood in his dissent, states, that he cannot even agree with the premises of his colleagues’ argument, since he is convinced that it was not sentiment that had led to the outbreak, but a “general and rooted aversion to taxation.” If he had added, and a hatred not only of English rule, but of all rule, he would have stated the complete cause of the Transvaal rebellion. In the next paragraph of the Report, however, we find the real cause of the pliability of the Commission in the matter, which is the same that influenced them in their decision about the mode of trial of the murderers and other questions:— they feared that the people would appeal to arms if they decided against their wishes.
Discreditable and disgraceful as it may seem, nobody can read this Report without plainly seeing that the Commissioners were, in treating with the Boers on these points, in the position of ambassadors from a beaten people getting the best terms they could. Of course, they well knew that this was not the case, but whatever the Boer leaders may have said, the Boers themselves did not know this, or even pretend to look at the matter in any other light. When we asked for the country back, said they, we did not get it; after we had three times defeated the English we did get it; the logical conclusion from the facts being that we got it because we defeated the English. This was their tone, and it is not therefore surprising that whenever the Commission threatened to decide anything against them, they, with a smile, let it know that if it did, they would be under the painful necessity of re-occupying Lang’s Nek. It was never necessary to repeat the threat, since the majority of the Commission would thereupon speedily find a way to meet the views of the Boer representatives.
Sir Evelyn Wood, in his dissent, thus correctly sums up the matter:—“To contend that the Royal Commission ought not to decide contrary to the wishes of the Boers, because such decision might not be accepted, is to deny to the Commission the very power of decision that it was agreed should be left in its hands.” Exactly so. But it is evident that the Commission knew its place, and so far from attempting to exercise any “power of decision,” it was quite content with such concessions as it could obtain by means of bargaining. Thus, as an additional reason against the retention of any territory, it is urged that if this territory was retained “the majority of your Commissioners . . . would have found themselves in no favourable position for obtaining the concurrence of the Boer leaders as to other matters.” In fact, Her Majesty’s Commission appointed, or supposed to be appointed, to do Her Majesty’s will and pleasure, shook in its shoes before men who had lately been rebels in arms against Her authority, and humbly submitted itself to their dicta.
The majority of the Commission went on to express their opinion, that by giving away about the retention of territory they would be able to obtain better terms for the natives generally, and larger powers for the British Resident. But, as Sir Evelyn Wood points out in his Report, they did nothing of the sort, the terms of the agreement about the Resident and other native matters being all consequent on and included in the first agreement of peace. Besides, they seem to have overlooked the fact that such concessions as they did obtain are only on paper, and practically worthless, whilst all bona fide advantages remained with the Boers.
The decision of the Commissioners in the question of the Keate Award, which next came under their consideration, appears to have been a judicious one, being founded on the very careful Report of Colonel Moysey, R.E., who had been for many months collecting information on the spot. The Keate Award Territory is a region lying to the south-west of the Transvaal, and was, like many other districts in that country, originally in the possession of natives, of the Baralong and Batlapin tribes. Individual Boers having, however, more suo taken possession of tracts of land in the district, difficulties speedily arose between their Government and the native chiefs, and in 1871 Mr. Keate, Lieutenant–Governor of Natal, was by mutual consent called in to arbitrate on the matter. His decision was entirely in favour of the natives, and was accordingly promptly and characteristically repudiated by the Boer Volksraad. From that time till the rebellion the question remained unsettled, and was indeed a very thorny one to deal with. The Commission, acting on the principle in medio tutissimus ibis, drew a line through the midst of the disputed territory, or, in other words, set aside Mr. Keate’s award and interpreted the dispute in favour of the Boers.
This decision was accepted by all parties at the time, but it has not resulted in the maintenance of peace. The principal Chief, Montsoia, is an old ally and staunch friend of the English, a fact which the Boers were not able to forget or forgive, and they appear to have stirred up rival Chiefs to attack him, and to have allowed volunteers from the Transvaal to assist them. Montsoia has also enlisted some white volunteers, and several fights have taken place, in which the loss of life has been considerable. Whether or no the Transvaal Government is directly concerned it is impossible to say, but from the fact that cannon are said to have been used against Montsoia it would appear that it is, since private individuals do not, as a rule, own Armstrong guns.17
17 I beg to refer any reader interested in this matter to the letter of “Transvaal” to the “Standard,” which I have republished in the Appendix to this book.
Amongst the questions remaining for the consideration of the Commissioners was that of what compensation should be given for losses during the war. Of course, the great bulk of the losses sustained were of an indirect nature, resulting from the necessary and enormous depreciation in the value of land and other property, consequent on the retrocession. Into this matter the Home Government declined to enter, thereby saving its pocket at the price of its honour, since it was upon English guarantees that the country would remain a British possession, that the majority of the unfortunate loyals invested their money in it. It was, however, agreed by the Commission (Sir H. de Villiers dissenting) that the Boers should be liable for compensation in cases where loss had been sustained through commandeering seizure, confiscation, destruction, or damage of property. The sums awarded under these heads have already amounted to about 110,000 pounds, which sum has been defrayed by the Imperial Government, the Boer authorities stating that they were not in a position to pay it.
In connection with this matter, I will pass to the Financial clauses of the Report. When the country was annexed, the public debt amounted to 301,727 pounds. Under British rule this debt was liquidated to the extent of 150,000 pounds, but the total was brought up by a Parliamentary grant, a loan from the Standard Bank, and sundries to 390,404 pounds, which represented the public debt of the Transvaal on the 31st December 1880. This was further increased by moneys advanced by the Standard Bank and English Exchequer during the war, and till the 8th August 1881, during which time the country yielded no revenue, to 457,393 pounds. To this must be added an estimated sum of 200,000 pounds for compensation charges, pension allowances, &c., and a further sum of 383,000 pounds, the cost of the successful expedition against Secocoeni, that of the unsuccessful one being left out of account, bringing up the total public debt to over a million, of which about 800,000 pounds is owing to this country.
This sum, with the characteristic liberality that distinguished them in their dealings with the Boers, but which was not so marked where loyals were concerned, the Commissioners (Sir Evelyn Wood dissenting) reduced by a stroke of the pen to 265,000 pounds, thus entirely remitting an approximate sum of 500,000 pounds, or 600,000 pounds. To the sum of 265,000 pounds still owing, must be added say another 150,000 pounds for sums lately advanced to pay the compensation claims, bringing up the actual amount now owing to England to something under half a million, of which I say with confidence she will never see a single 10,000 pounds. As this contingency was not contemplated, or if contemplated, not alluded to by the Royal Commission, provision was made for a sinking fund, by means of which the debt, which is a second charge on the revenues of the States, is to be extinguished in twenty-five years.
It is a strange instance of the proverbial irony of fate, that whilst the representatives of the Imperial Government were thus showering gifts of hundreds of thousands of pounds upon men who had spurned the benefits of Her Majesty’s rule, made war upon her forces, and murdered her subjects, no such consideration was extended to those who had remained loyal to her throne. Their claims for compensation were passed by unheeded; and looking from the windows of the room in which they sat in Newcastle, the members of the Commission might have seen them flocking down from a country that could no longer be their home; those that were rich among them made poor, and those that were poor reduced to destitution.
The only other point which it will be necessary for me to touch on in connection with this Report is the duties of the British Resident and his relations to the natives. He was to be invested as representative of the Suzerain with functions for securing the execution of the terms of peace as regards: (1.) The control of the foreign relations of the State; (2.) The control of the frontier affairs of the State; and (3.) The protection of the interests of the natives in the State.
As regards the first of these points, it was arranged that the interests of subjects of the Transvaal should be left in the hands of Her Majesty’s representatives abroad. Since Boers are, of all people in the world, the most stay-at-home, our ambassadors and consuls are not likely to be troubled much on their account. With reference to the second point, the Commission made stipulations that would be admirable if there were any probability of their being acted up to. The Resident is to report any encroachment on native territory by Boers to the High Commissioner, and when the Resident and the Boer Government differ, the decision of the Suzerain is to be final. This is a charming way of settling difficulties, but the Commission forgets to specify how the Suzerain’s decision is to be enforced. After what has happened, it can hardly have relied on awe of the name of England to bring about the desired obedience!
But besides thus using his beneficent authority to prevent subjects of the Transvaal from trespassing on their neighbour’s land, the Resident is to exercise a general supervision over the interests of all the natives in the country. Considering that they number about a million, and are scattered over a territory larger than France, one would think that this duty alone would have taken up the time of any ordinary man; and, indeed, Sir Evelyn Wood was in favour of the appointment of sub-residents to assist him. The majority of the Commission refused, however, to listen to any such suggestion — believing, they said, “that the least possible interference with the independent Government of the State would be the wisest.” Quite so, but I suppose it never occurred to them to ask the natives what their views of the matter were! The Resident was also to be a member of a Native Location Committee, which was at some future time, to provide land for natives to live on.
In perusing this Report it is easy to follow with more or less accuracy the individual bent of its framers. Sir Hercules Robinson figures throughout as a man who has got a disagreeable business to carry out, in obedience to instructions that admit of no trifling with, and who has set himself to do the best he can for his country, and those who suffer through his country’s policy, whilst obeying those instructions. He has evidently choked down his feelings and opinions as an individual, and turned himself into an official machine, merely registering in detail the will of Lord Kimberley. With Sir Henry de Villiers the case is very different, one feels throughout that the task is to him a congenial one, and that the Boer cause has in him an excellent friend. Indeed, had he been an advocate of their cause instead of a member of the Commission, he could not have espoused their side on every occasion with greater zeal. According to him they were always in the right, and in them he could find no guile. Mr. Hofmeyer and President Brand exercised a wise discretion from their own point of view, when they urged his appointment as Special Commissioner. I now come to Sir Evelyn Wood, who was in the position of an independent Englishman, neither prejudiced in favour of the Boers, or the reverse, and on whom, as a military man, Lord Kimberley would find it difficult to put the official screw. The results of his happy position are obvious in the paper attached to the end of the Report, and signed by him, in which he totally and entirely differs from the majority of the Commission on every point of importance. Most people will think that this very outspoke and forcible dissent deducts somewhat from the value of the Report, and throws a shadow of doubt on the wisdom of its provisions.
The formal document of agreement between Her Majesty’s Government and the Boer leaders, commonly known as the Convention, was signed by both parties at Pretoria on the afternoon of the 3d August 1881, in the same room in which, nearly four years before, the Annexation Proclamation was signed by Sir T. Shepstone.
Whilst this business was being transacted in Government House, a curious ceremony was going on just outside, and within sight of the windows. This was the ceremonious burial of the Union Jack, which was followed to the grave by a crowd of about 2000 loyalists and native chiefs. On the outside of the coffin was written the word “Resurgam,” and an eloquent oration was delivered over the grave. Such demonstrations are, no doubt, foolish enough, but they are not entirely without political significance.
But a more unpleasant duty awaited the Commissioners than that of attaching their signatures to a document — consisting of the necessity of conveying Her Majesty’s decision as to the retrocession, to about a hundred native Chiefs, until now Her Majesty’s subjects, who had been gathered together to hear it. It must be borne in mind that the natives had not been consulted as to the disposal of the country, although they outnumber the white people in the proportion of twenty to one, and that, beyond some worthless paper stipulations, nothing had been done for their interests.
Personally, I must plead guilty to what I know is by many, especially by those who are attached to the Boer cause, considered as folly if not worse, namely, a sufficient interest in the natives, and sympathy with their sufferings to bring me to the conclusion, that in acting thus we have inflicted a cruel injustice upon them. It seems to me, that as they were the original owners of the soil, they were entitled to some consideration in the question of its disposal, and consequently and incidentally, of their own. I am aware that it is generally considered that the white man has a right to the black man’s possessions and land, and that it is his high and holy mission to exterminate the wretched native and take his place. But with this conclusion I venture to differ. So far as my own experience of natives has gone, I have found that in all the essential qualities of mind and body, they very much resemble white men, with the exception that they are, as a race, quicker-witted, more honest, and braver, than the ordinary run of white men. Of them might be aptly quoted the speech Shakespeare puts into Shylock’s mouth: “Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?” In the same way I ask, Has a native no feelings or affections? does he not suffer when his parents are shot, or his children stolen, or when he is driven a wanderer from his home? Does he not know fear, feel pain, affection, hate and gratitude? Most certainly he does; and this being so, I cannot believe that the Almighty, who made both white and black, gave to the one race the right or mission of exterminating, or even of robbing or maltreating the other, and calling the process the advance of civilisation. It seems to me, that on only one condition, if at all, have we the right to take the black man’s land; and that is, that we provide them with an equal and a just Government, and allow no maltreatment of them, either as individuals or tribes: but, on the contrary, do our best to elevate them, and wean them from savage customs. Otherwise, the practice is surely undefensible.
I am aware, however, that with the exception of a small class, these are sentiments which are not shared by the great majority of the public, either at home or abroad. Indeed, it can be plainly seen how little sympathy they command, from the fact that but scanty remonstrance was raised at the treatment meted out to our native subjects in the Transvaal, when they were, to the number of nearly a million, handed over from the peace, justice, and security, that on the whole characterise our rule, to a state of things, and possibilities of wrong and suffering which I will not try to describe.
To the chiefs thus assembled Sir Hercules Robinson, as President of the Royal Commission, read a statement, and then retired, refusing to allow them to speak in answer. The statement informed the natives that “Her Majesty’s Government, with that sense of justice which befits a great and powerful nation,” had returned the country to the Boers, “whose representatives, Messrs. Kruger, Pretorius, and Joubert, I now,” said Sir Hercules, “have much pleasure in introducing to you.” If reports are true, the native Chiefs had, many of them personally, and all of them by reputation, already the advantage of a very intimate acquaintance with all three of these gentlemen, so that an introduction was somewhat superfluous.
Sir Hercules went on to explain to them that locations would be allotted to them at some future time; that a British Resident would be appointed, whose especial charge they would be, but that they must bear in mind that he was not the ruler of the country, but the Government, “subject to Her Majesty’s suzerain rights.” Natives were, no doubt, expected to know by intuition what suzerain rights are. The statement then goes on to give them good advice as to the advantages of indulging in manual labour when asked to do so by the Boers, and generally to show them how bright and happy is the future that lies before them. Lest they should be too elated by such good tidings, they are, however, reminded that it will be necessary to retain the law relating to passes, which is, in the hands of a people like the Boers, about as unjust a regulation as a dominant race can invent for the oppression of a subject people, and had, in the old days of the Republic, been productive of much hardship. The statement winds up by assuring them that their “interests will never be forgotten or neglected by Her Majesty’s Government.” Having read the document the Commission hastily withdrew, and after their withdrawal the Chiefs were “allowed” to state their opinions to the Secretary for Native Affairs.
In availing themselves of this permission, it is noticeable that no allusion was made to all the advantages they were to reap under the Convention, nor did they seem to attach much importance to the appointment of the British Resident. On the contrary, all their attention was given to the great fact that the country had been ceded to the Boers, and that they were no longer the Queen’s subjects. We are told, in Mr. Shepstone’s Report, that they “got very excited,” and “asked whether it was thought that they had no feelings or hearts, that they were thus treated as a stick or piece of tobacco, which could be passed from hand to hand without question.” Umgombarie, a Zoutpansberg Chief, said, “I am Umgombarie. I have fought with the Boers, and have many wounds, and they know that what I say is true. . . . I will never consent to place myself under their rule. I belong to the English Government. I am not a man who eats with both sides of his jaw at once; I only use one side. I am English, I have said.” Silamba said, “I belong to the English. I will never return under the Boers. You see me, a man of my rank and position, is it right that such as I should be seized and laid on the ground and flogged, as has been done to me and other chiefs?”
Sinkanhla said: “We hear and yet do not hear, we cannot understand. We are troubling you, Chief, by talking in this way; we hear the Chiefs say that the Queen took the country because the people of the country wished it, and again that the majority of the owners of the country did not wish their rule, and that therefore the country was given back. We should like to have the man pointed out from among us black people who objects to the rule of the Queen. We are the real owners of the country; we were here when the Boers came, and without asking leave, settled down and treated us in every way badly. The English Government then came and took the country; we have now had four years of rest and peaceful and just rule. We have been called here today, and are told that the country, our country, has been given to the Boers by the Queen. This is a thing which surprises us. Did the country, then, belong to the Boers? Did it not belong to our fathers and forefathers before us, long before the Boers came here? We have heard that the Boers’ country is at the Cape. If the Queen wishes to give them their land, why does she not give them back the Cape?”
I have quoted this speech at length, because, although made by a despised native, it sets forth their case more powerfully and in happier language than I can do.
Umyethile said: “We have no heart for talking. I have returned to the country from Sechelis, where I had to fly from Boer oppression. Our hearts are black and heavy with grief today at the news told us, we are in agony, our intestines are twisting and writhing inside of us, just as you see a snake do when it is struck on the head. . . . We do not know what has become of us, but we feel dead; it may be that the Lord may change the nature of the Boers, and that we will not be treated like dogs and beasts of burden as formerly, but we have no hope of such a change, and we leave you with heavy hearts and great apprehension as to the future.” In his Report, Mr. Shepstone (the Secretary for Native Affairs) says: “One chief, Jan Sibilo, who has been, he informed me, personally threatened with death by the Boers after the English leave, could not restrain his feelings, but cried like a child.”
I have nothing to add to these extracts, which are taken from many such statements. They are the very words of the persons most concerned, and will speak for themselves.
The Convention was signed on the 3d August 1881, and was to be formally ratified by a Volksraad or Parliament of the Burghers within three months of that date, in default of which it was to fall to the ground and become null and void.
Anybody who has followed the course of affairs with reference to the retrocession of the Transvaal, or who has even taken the trouble to read through this brief history, will probably come to the conclusion that, under all the circumstances, the Boers had got more than they could reasonably expect. Not so, however, the Boers themselves. On the 28th September the newly-elected Volksraad referred the Convention to a General Committee to report on, and on the 30th September the Report was presented. On the 3d October a telegram was despatched through the British Resident to “His Excellency W. E. Gladstone,” in which the Volksraad states that the Convention is not acceptable —
(1.) Because it is in conflict with the Sand River Treaty of 1852.
(2.) Because it violates the peace agreement entered into with Sir Evelyn Wood, in confidence of which the Boers laid down their arms.
The Volksraad consequently declared that modifications were desirable, and that certain articles must be altered.
To begin with, they declare that the “conduct of foreign relations does not appertain to the Suzerain, only supervision,” and that the articles bearing on these points must consequently be modified. They next attack the native question, stating that “the Suzerain has not the right to interfere with our Legislature,” and state that they cannot agree to Article 3, which gives the Suzerain a right of veto on Legislation connected with the natives, to Article 13, by virtue of which natives are to be allowed to acquire land, and to the last part of Article 26, by which it is provided that whites of alien race living in the Transvaal shall not be taxed in excess of the taxes imposed on Transvaal citizens.
They further declare that it is “infra dignitatem” for the President of the Transvaal to be a member of a Commission. This refers to the Native Location Commission, on which he is, in the terms of the Convention, to sit, together with the British Resident, and a third person jointly appointed.
They next declare that the amount of the debt for which the Commission has made them liable should be modified. Considering that England had already made them a present of from 600,000 pounds to 800,000 pounds, this is a most barefaced demand. Finally, they state that “Articles 15, 16, 26, and 27, are superfluous, and only calculated to wound our sense of honour” (sic).
Article 15 enacts that no slavery or apprenticeship shall be tolerated.
Article 16 provides for religious toleration.
Article 26 provides for the free movement, trading, and residence of all persons, other than natives, conforming themselves to the laws of the Transvaal.
Article 27 gives to all the right of free access to the Courts of Justice.
Putting the “sense of honour” of the Transvaal Volksraad out of the question, past experience has but too plainly proved that these Articles are by no means superfluous.
In reply to this message, Sir Hercules Robinson telegraphs to the British Resident on the 21st October in the following words:—
“Having forwarded Volksraad Resolution of 15th to Earl of Kimberley, I am desired to instruct you in reply to repeat to the Triumvirate that Her Majesty’s Government cannot entertain any proposals for a modification of the Convention until after it has been ratified, and the necessity for further concession proved by experience.”
I wish to draw particular attention to the last part of this message, which is extremely typical of the line of policy adopted throughout in the Transvaal business. The English Government dared not make any further concession to the Boers, because they felt that they had already strained the temper of the country almost to breaking in the matter. On the other hand, they were afraid that if they did not do something, the Boers would tear up the Convention, and they would find themselves face to face with the old difficulty. Under these circumstances, they have fallen back upon their temporising and unEnglish policy, which leaves them a back-door to escape through, whatever turn things take. Should the Boers now suddenly turn round and declare, which is extremely probable, that they repudiate their debt to us, or that they are sick of the presence of a British Resident, the Government will be able to announce that “the necessity for further concession” has now been “proved by experience,” and thus escape the difficulty. In short, this telegram has deprived the Convention of whatever finality it may have possessed, and made it, as a document, as worthless as it is as a practical settlement. That this is the view taken of it by the Boers themselves, is proved by the text of the Ratification which followed on the receipt of this telegram.
The tone of this document throughout is, in my opinion, considering from whom it came, and against whom it is directed, very insolent. And it amply confirms what I have previously said, that the Boers looked upon themselves as a victorious people making terms with those they have conquered. The Ratification leads off thus: “The Volksraad is not satisfied with this Convention, and considers that the members of the Triumvirate performed a fervent act of love for the Fatherland when they upon their own responsibility signed such an unsatisfactory state document.” This is damning with faint praise indeed. It then goes on to recite the various points of object, stating that the answers from the English Government proved that they were well founded. “The English Government,” it says, “acknowledges indirectly by this answer (the telegram of 21st October, quoted above) that the difficulties raised by the Volksraad are neither fictitious nor unfounded, inasmuch as it desires from us the concession that we, the Volksraad, shall submit it to a practical test.” It will be observed that English is here represented as begging the favour of a trial of her conditions from the Volksraad of the Transvaal Boers. The Ratification is in these words: “Therefore it is that the Raad here unanimously resolves not to go into further discussion of the Convention, and maintaining all objections to the Convention as made before the Royal Commission or stated in the Raad, and for the purpose of showing to everybody that the love of peace and unity inspires us, for the time and provisionally submitting the articles of the Convention to a practical test, hereby complying with the request of the English Government contained in the telegram of the 13th October 1881, proceeds to ratify the Convention.”
It would have been interesting to have seen how such a Ratification as this, which is no Ratification but an insult, would have been accepted by Lord Beaconsfield. I think that within twenty-four hours of its arrival in Downing Street, the Boer Volksraad would have received a startling answer. But Lord Beaconsfield is dead, and by his successor it was received with all due thankfulness and humility. His words, however, on this subject still remain to us, and even his great rival might have done well to listen to them. It was in the course of what was, I believe, the last speech he made in the House of Lords, that speaking about the Transvaal rising, he warned the Government that it was a very dangerous thing to make peace with rebellious subjects in arms against the authority of the Queen. The warning passed unheeded, and the peace was made in the way I have described.
As regards the Convention itself, it will be obvious to the reader that the Boers have not any intention of acting up to its provisions, mild as they are, if they can possibly avoid them, whilst, on the other hand, there is no force at hand to punish their disregard or breach. It is all very well to create a Resident with extensive powers; but how is he to enforce his decisions? What is he to do if his awards are laughed at and made a mockery of, as they are and will be? The position of Mr. Hudson at Pretoria is even worse than that of Mr. Osborn in Zululand. For instance, the Convention specifies in the first article that the Transvaal is to be known as the Transvaal State. The Boer Government have, however, thought fit to adopt the name of “South African Republic” in all public documents. Mr. Hudson was accordingly directed to remonstrate, which he did in a feeble way; his remonstrance was politely acknowledged, but the country is still officially called the South African Republic, the Convention and Mr. Hudson’s remonstrations notwithstanding. Mr. Hudson, however, appears to be better suited to the position than would have been the case had an Englishman, pure and simple, been appointed, since it is evident that things that would have struck the latter as insults to the Queen he represented, and his country generally, are not so understood by him. In fact, he admirably represents his official superiors in his capacity of swallowing rebuffs, and when smitten on one cheek delightedly offering the other.
Thus we find him attending a Boer meeting of thanksgiving for the success that had waited on their arms and the recognition of their independence, where most people will consider he was out of place. To this meeting, thus graced by his presence, an address was presented by a branch of the Africander Bond, a powerful institution, having for its object the total uprootal of English rule and English customs in South Africa, to which he must have listened with pleasure. In it he, in common with other members of the meeting, is informed that “you took up the sword and struck the Briton with such force” that “the Britons through fear revived that sense of justice to which they could not be brought by petitions,” and that the “day will soon come that we shall enter with you on one arena for the entire independence of South Africa,” i.e., independence from English rule.
On the following day the Government gave a dinner, to which all those who had done good service during the late hostilities were invited, the British Resident being apparently the only Englishman asked. Amongst the other celebrities present I notice the name of Buskes. This man, who is an educated Hollander, was the moving spirit of the Potchefstroom atrocities; indeed, so dark is his reputation that the Royal Commission refused to transact business with him, or to admit him into their presence. Mr. Hudson was not so particular. And now comes the most extraordinary part of the episode. At the dinner it was necessary that the health of Her Majesty as Suzerain should be proposed, and with studied insolence this was done last of all the leading political toasts, and immediately after that of the Triumvirate. Notwithstanding this fact, and that the toast was couched by Mr. Joubert, who stated that “he would not attempt to explain what a Suzerain was,” in what appear to be semi-ironical terms, we find that Mr. Hudson “begged to tender his thanks to the Honourable Mr. Joubert for the kind way in which he proposed the toast.”
It may please Mr. Hudson to see the name of the Queen thus metaphorically dragged in triumph at the chariot wheels of the Triumvirate, but it is satisfactory to know that the spectacle is not appreciated in England: since, on a question in the House of Lords, by the Earl of Carnarvon, who characterised it as a deliberate insult, Lord Kimberley replied that the British Resident had been instructed that in future he was not to attend public demonstrations unless he had previously informed himself that the name of Her Majesty would be treated with proper respect. Let us hope that this official reprimand will have its effect, and that Mr. Hudson will learn therefrom that there is such a thing as trop de zele — even in a good cause.
The Convention is now a thing of the past, the appropriate rewards have been lavishly distributed to its framers, and President Brand has at last prevailed upon the Volksraad of the Orange Free State to allow him to become a Knight Grand Cross of Saint Michael and Saint George — the same prize looked forward to by our most distinguished public servants at the close of the devotion of their life to the service of their country. But its results are yet to come — though it would be difficult to forecast the details of their development. One thing, however, is clear: the signing of that document signalised an entirely new departure in South African affairs, and brought us within a measurable distance of the abandonment, for the present at any rate, of the supremacy of English rule in South Africa.
This is the larger issue of the matter, and it is already bearing fruit. Emboldened by their success in the Transvaal, the Dutch party at the Cape are demanding, and the demand is to be granted, that the Dutch tongue be admitted pari passu with English, as the official language in the Law Courts and the House of Assembly. When a country thus consents to use a foreign tongue equally with its own, it is a sure sign that those who speak it are rising to power. But “the Party” looks higher than this, and openly aims at throwing off English rule altogether, and declaring South Africa a great Dutch republic. The course of events is favourable to their aspiration. Responsible Government is to be granted to Natal, which country not being strong enough to stand alone in the face of the many dangers that surround her, will be driven into the arms of the Dutch party to save herself from destruction. It will be useless for her to look for help from England, and any feelings of repugnance she may feel to Boer rule will soon be choked by necessity, and a mutual interest. It is, however, possible that some unforeseen event, such as the advent to power of a strong Conservative Ministry, may check the tide that now sets so strongly in favour of Dutch supremacy.
It seems to me, however, to be a question worthy of the consideration of those who at present direct the destinies of the Empire, whether it would not be wise, as they have gone so far, to go a little further and favour a scheme for the total abandonment of South Africa, retaining only Table Bay. If they do not, it is now quite within the bounds of sober possibility that they may one day have to face a fresh Transvaal rebellion, only on a ten times larger scale, and might find it difficult to retain even Table Bay. If, on the other hand, they do, I believe that all the White States in South Africa will confederate of their own free-will, under the pressure of the necessity for common action, and the Dutch element being preponderant, at once set to work to exterminate the natives on general principles, in much the same way, and from much the same motives that a cook exterminates black beetles, because she thinks them ugly, and to clear the kitchen.
I need hardly say that such a policy is not one that commands my sympathy, but Her Majesty’s Government having put their hand to the plough, it is worth their while to consider it. It would at any rate be in perfect accordance with their declared sentiments, and command an enthusiastic support from their followers.
As regards the smaller and more immediate issue of the retrocession, namely, its effect on the Transvaal itself, it cannot be other than evil. The act is, I believe, quite without precedent in our history, and it is difficult to see, looking at it from those high grounds of national morality assumed by the Government, what greater arguments can be advanced in its favour, than could be found to support the abandonment of — let us say — Ireland. Indeed a certain parallel undoubtedly exists between the circumstances of the two countries. Ireland was, like the Transvaal, annexed, though a long time ago, and has continually agitated for its freedom. The Irish hate us, so did the Boers. In Ireland, Englishmen are being shot, and England is running the awful risk of bloodguiltiness, as it did in the Transvaal. In Ireland, smouldering revolution is being fanned into flame by Mr. Gladstone’s speeches and acts, as it was in the Transvaal. In Ireland, as in the Transvaal, there exists a strong loyal class that receives insults instead of support from the Government, and whose property, as was the case there, is taken from them without compensation, to be flung as a sop to stop the mouths of the Queen’s enemies. And so I might go on, finding many such similarities of circumstances, but my parallel, like most parallels, must break down at last. Thus — it mattered little to England whether or no she let the Transvaal go, but to let Ireland go would be more than even Mr. Gladstone dare attempt.
Somehow, if you follow these things far enough, you always come to vulgar first principles. The difference between the case of the Transvaal and that of Ireland is a difference not of justice but of cause, for both causes are equally unjust or just according as they are viewed, but of mere common expediency. Judging from the elevated standpoint of the national morality theory however, which, as we know, soars above such truisms as the foolish statement that force is a remedy, or that if you wish to retain your prestige you must not allow defeats to pass unavenged, I cannot see why, if it was righteous to abandon the Transvaal, it would not be equally righteous to abandon Ireland!
As for the Transvaal, that country is not to be congratulated on its success, for it has destroyed all its hopes of permanent peace, has ruined its trade and credit, and has driven away the most useful and productive class in the community. The Boers, elated by their success in arms, will be little likely to settle down to peaceable occupations, and still less likely to pay their taxes, which, indeed, I hear they are already refusing to do. They have learnt how easily even a powerful Government can be upset, and the lesson is not likely to be forgotten, for want of repetition to their own weak one.
Already the Transvaal Government hardly knows which way to turn for funds, and is, perhaps fortunately for itself, quite unable to borrow, through want of credit.
As regards the native question, I agree with Mr. H. Shepstone, who, in his Report on this subject, says that he does not believe that the natives will inaugurate any action against the Boers, so long as the latter do not try to collect taxes, or otherwise interfere with them. But if the Boer Government is to continue to exist, it will be bound to raise taxes from the natives, since it cannot collect much from its white subjects. The first general attempt of the sort will be the signal for active resistance on the part of the natives, whom, if they act without concert, the Boers will be able to crush in detail, though with considerable loss. If, on the other hand, they should have happened, during the last few years, to have learnt the advantages of combination, as is quite possible, perhaps they will crush the Boers.
The only thing that is at present certain about the matter is that there will be bloodshed, and that before long. For instance, the Montsoia difficulty in the Keate Award has in it the possibilities of a serious war, and there are plenty such difficulties ready to spring into life within and without the Transvaal.
In all human probability it will take but a small lapse of time for the Transvaal to find itself in the identical position from which we relieved it by the Annexation.
What course events will then take it is impossible to say. It may be found desirable to re-annex the country, though, in my opinion, that would be, after all that has passed, an unfortunate step; its inhabitants may be cut up piecemeal by a combined movement of native tribes, as they would have been, had they not been rescued by the English Government in 1877, or it is possible that the Orange Free State may consent to take the Transvaal under its wing: who can say? There is only one thing that our recently abandoned possession can count on for certain, and that is trouble, both from its white subjects, and the natives, who hate the Boers with a bitter and a well-earned hatred.
The whole question, can, so far as its moral aspect is concerned, be summed up in a few words.
Whether or no the Annexation was a necessity at the moment of its execution — which I certainly maintain it was — it received the unreserved sanction of the Home Authorities, and the relations of Sovereign and subject, with all the many and mutual obligations involved in that connection, were established between the Queen of England and every individual of the motley population of the Transvaal. Nor was this change an empty form, for, to the largest proportion of that population, this transfer of allegiance brought with it a priceless and a vital boon. To them it meant — freedom and justice — for where, on any portion of this globe over which the British ensign floats, does the law even wink at cruelty or wrong?
A few years passed away, and a small number of the Queen’s subjects in the Transvaal rose in rebellion against Her authority, and inflicted some reverses on Her arms. Thereupon, in spite of the reiterated pledges given to the contrary — partly under stress of defeat, and partly in obedience to the pressure of “advanced views”— the country was abandoned, and the vast majority who had remained faithful to the Crown, was handed to the cruel despotism of the minority who had rebelled against it.
Such an act of treachery to those to whom we were bound with double chains — by the strong ties of a common citizenship, and by those claims to England’s protection from violence and wrong which have hitherto been wont to command it, even where there was no duty to fulfil, and no authority to vindicate — stands — I believe — without parallel on our records, and marks a new departure in our history.
I cannot end these pages without expressing my admiration of the extremely able way in which the Boers managed their revolt, when once they felt that, having undertaken the thing, it was a question of life and death with them. It shows that they have good stuff in them somewhere, which, under the firm but just rule of Her Majesty, might have been much developed, and it makes it the more sad that they should have been led to throw off that rule, and have been allowed to do so by an English Government.
In conclusion, there is one point that I must touch on, and that is the effect of the retrocession on the native mind, which I can only describe as most disastrous. The danger alluded to in the Report of the Royal Commission has been most amply realised, and the prevailing belief in the steadfastness of our policy, and the inviolability of our plighted word, which has hitherto been the great secret of our hold on the Kafirs, has been rudely shaken. The motives that influenced, or are said to have influenced, the Government in their act, are naturally quite unintelligible to savages, however clever, who do believe that force is a remedy, and who have seen the inhabitants of a country ruled by England, defeat English soldiers and take possession of it, whilst those who remained loyal to England were driven out of it. It will not be wonderful if some of them, say the natives of Natal, deduce therefrom conclusions unfavourable to loyalty, and evince a desire to try the same experiment.
It is, however, unprofitable to speculate on the future, which must be left to unfold itself.
The curtain is, so far as this country is concerned, down for the moment on the South African stage; when it rises again, there is but too much reason to fear that it will reveal a state of confusion, which, unless it is more wisely and consistently dealt with in the future than it has been in the past, may develop into chaos.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55