Leave for South Africa with Sir Henry Bulwer — Arrive Cape Town — Government House — Lady Barkly — Bishop Colenso — Go on to Durban — Then to Pietermaritzburg — Reception of Sir H. Bulwer there — Sir George Colley — Duties of H. R. H. at Government House — Buck-hunting — Journey up-country to Weenen — Zulu customs — Witch-finding — Pagate’s kraal — Great native war-dance — Lost in bush — Saved by Kaffir — More about Bishop Colenso — Sir Theophilus Shepstone — His friendship for H. R. H. — His character and policy — Captain Cox.
Here I ought to say a few words about Sir Henry Bulwer, who, I am glad to say, is still living, and whom I often meet at the Athenaeum Club. Indeed, within the last few months he has read a book of mine named “Marie” in proof, which book I have dedicated to him. I was anxious that he should read it, for he is an old man, and who knows whether he will be alive when it is published a year or so hence!
For Sir Henry Bulwer I have and always shall retain the greatest affection and regard; indeed, he is my beau-ideal of what an English gentleman should be. Also his kindness to me was great. When first I know him some thirty-six years ago, he was about forty, and an extremely able public servant, who had received his training in various Colonial appointments. He was most painstaking and careful in all his methods, but to me his weak point seemed to be that he always saw so much of both sides of the case that he found it difficult to make up his mind which of them he ought to follow.
My farewells were hurried. I find among the few documents that I have preserved of this period one from my mother which is signed by all the members of the family who were at Tours, wishing me good fortune and good-bye. Also — and this is more valuable — there is a copy of some verses which she addressed to me. These I quote below.
TO MY SON RIDER
(On leaving home. July 1875)
And thus, my son, adown Life’s vernal tide
Light drifting, hast thou reached her troublous sea,
Where never more thy bark may idly glide,
But shape her course to gain the far To be!
Rise to thy destiny! Awake thy powers!
Mid throng of men enact the man’s full part!
No more with mists of doubt dim golden hours,
But with strong Being fill thine eager heart!
Nineteen short summers o’er thy youthful head
Have shone and ripened as they flitted by:
May their rich fruit o’er coming years be shed,
And make God’s gift of life a treasury.
That Life is granted, not in Pleasure’s round,
Or even Love’s sweet dream, to lapse content:
Duty and Faith are words of solemn sound,
And to their echoes must thy soul be bent.
Conscience shall hallow all; grant noble aim,
And firm resolve the paths of vice to shun;
And haply, in reward, Love’s lambent flame
Through storms of life shall shine, like Earth’s fair sun!
But a few days: and far across the flood,
To stranger lands with strangers wilt thou roam;
Yet shall not absence loose the bonds of blood,
Or still the voices of thy distant home.
So, go thy way, my Child! I love thee well:
How well, no heart but mother’s heart may know —
Yet One loves better, — more than words can tell, —
Then trust Him, now and evermore; — and go!
July 16, 1875.
I think them beautiful lines. Moreover they are typical of the writer.
Duty and Faith are words of solemn sound,
Well, duty and faith were the stars by which she guided her own life.
Of our voyage to Africa there is little to be said except that in those days it was long. On arriving at Cape Town we went to Government House, where we stayed for about a week with Lady Barkly.
Government House is, or was, a large, quaint old place — I have not seen it from that day to this — which had the reputation of being haunted by a certain Grey Lady who had lived there generations before in the old Dutch days.
Since these chapters were written some letters of mind have been found at Bradenham. From one of these, dealing with my arrival in South Africa, I will quote some passages:
Cape Town: August 18, 1875.
My dear Father, — You will see from the heading of my letter that I have arrived all safe at Cape Town. We have not made a very quick passage, nor yet a very slow one. . . . Among other things we got up a sort of penny reading on board, for which I wrote the Prologue. I also had a good deal of work to do, getting up all the Langalibalele case and extracting the pith from a mass of blue-books. It is not easy to get at the truth when it is hedged round by such a mass of contradictory evidence. However the whole affair is rather interesting, inasmuch as it gives you an idea of the tremendous state of ferment and excitement the Colony was and still is in . . . .
We arrived here early yesterday morning, expecting to find Sir Garnet Wolseley waiting for us, but he has not yet returned from Natal, which is very awkward, as we do not know whether to wait for him or to go on and meet him there . . . .
I am getting on all right, though my position is not an easy one. I find myself responsible for everything, and everybody comes and bothers me. However it all comes in the day’s work. I don’t know yet if I am private secretary, but I suppose I am as nobody else has appeared. I make a good many blunders, but still I think I get on very well on the whole. I expect I shall have a tremendous lot of work at Natal as the Chief told me that he was going to entertain a good deal, and all that will fall on my shoulders in addition to business. We are very good friends and shall, I think, continue to be so, as he is not a captious or changeable man. . . . Beaumont, who was secretary to Pine (the late Governor of Natal), puts me up to a lot of things; he is an excessively nice fellow and we are great allies . . . .
The merchants of Cape Town give a ball tomorrow night to which I am invited. It will be a good opportunity of studying the Cape Town aristocracy. I have just returned from calling on the Bishop. The Barklys have a first-rate four-inhand and we went through a beautiful country, so our drive was a pleasant one. I like the Bishop very much. He is a thorough specimen of muscular Christianity. . . . This continual influx of strangers has a very depressing effect. There is another big dinner on to-night, and there won’t be a soul I know among them unless Beaumont comes, which I devoutly hope he will. All these new faces that you don’t know make you think of the old ones that you do know. . . . I hope that you are quite well now, my dear Father, and that you do not miss me as much as I do you.
I remain, with best love to all,
Ever your most affectionate and dutiful son,
H. Rider Haggard (or “Waggart” as they put my name
in the paper).
My mother will pity me when I tell her that I’ve got to get servants. Where on earth am I to find servants, and who am I to ask about them?
Now before we go on to Natal where the real business of my life began, I will stop for a moment to take stock of myself as I was in those days at the age of nineteen.
I was a tall young fellow, quite six feet, and slight; blue-eyed, brown-haired, fresh-complexioned, and not at all bad-looking. The Zulus gave me the name of “Indanda,” which meant, I believe, one who is tall and pleasant-natured. Mentally I was impressionable, quick to observe and learn whatever interested me, and could already hold my own in conversation. Also, if necessary, I could make a public speech. I was, however, subject to fits of depression and liable to take views of things too serious and gloomy for my age — failings, I may add, that I have never been able to shake off. Even then I had the habit of looking beneath the surface of characters and events, and of trying to get at their springs and causes. I liked to understand any country or society in which I found myself. I despised those who merely floated on the stream of life and never tried to dive into its depths. Yet in some ways I think I was rather indolent, that is if the task in hand bored me. I was ambitious and conscious of certain powers, but wanted to climb the tree of success too quickly — a proceeding that generally results in slips.
Further, my eldest sister, Ella (Mrs. Maddison Green), informed me only a month or two ago that at this period I was conceited. Possibly I may have been, for I had been living in a very forcing atmosphere where I was made too much of by some of my elders.
Four or five days’ steaming along the green and beautiful coasts of south-eastern Africa, on which the great rollers break continually, brought us to Port Natal. At that time the Durban harbour was not sufficiently dredged to admit sea-going vessels, and I think we had some difficulty in landing. There was a reception committee which presented an address of welcome to the Lieutenant–Governor, and I remember hurriedly copying his answer as the ship rolled off the Point.
Sir Garnet Wolseley had been sent to Natal as temporary Governor to settle certain matters connected with its constitution. I think that at that time he had left the Colony himself, though of this I am not quite sure, as I am unable to remember when I first spoke to him. In after life I met him on several occasions. Especially do I remember a long talk with him at a dinner-party at the house of the Bischoffheims in London some time in the eighties. He was a small, bright-eyed, quick-brained man who expressed his views upon the public matters of the day with a fierceness and a vigour that were quite astonishing. We sat together at the table after all the other guests had left to join the ladies, and I reflected that he must have had singular confidence in my character to say the things he did to me. However, it was justified, for of course I never repeated a word.
Those of the Staff whom I recollect are, or were — for I think they are now all dead — Lord Gifford, Colonel (afterwards Sir Henry) Brackenbury, and Major (afterwards Sir William) Butler. Of these the one who impressed himself most deeply upon my mind was Butler. He was a most agreeable and sympathetic man, who took the trouble to talk a good deal to me, although I was but a lad. I recall that with much graphic detail he told me the story of how, when he was suffering from fever, he was nearly thrown overboard as a dead man off the West Coast of Africa, where he had been serving in the Ashanti Expedition. Recently I have been reading his very interesting and remarkable autobiography, in which I see he describes this incident.
Subsequently — but I think this was at Pietermaritzburg — I became well acquainted with Colonel (afterwards Sir George) Colley. He stayed with us at Government House and I remember a curious little incident concerning him.
He was leaving Natal and wished to sell a shot-gun which I wished to purchase, though I am not sure whether this was on my account or on that of Sir Henry Bulwer. We had a difference of opinion as to the price of the article. Finally I interviewed him one morning when he was taking his bath, and he suggested that we should settle the matter by tossing. This I did with a half-sovereign, he giving the call, but who won I forget.
Of my last tragic meeting with poor Colley at the time of the first Boer War I may speak later in this book.
After a short stay at Durban we proceeded to Maritzburg, the seat of government, in some kind of a horse conveyance, as, except for a short time on the coast, there was then no railway in Natal. In those days it was a charming town of the ordinary Dutch character, with wide streets bordered by sluits of running water and planted with gum trees.
Of the year or so that I spent in Natal I have not much to say that is worthy of record. The country impressed me enormously. Indeed, on the whole I think it the most beautiful of any that I have seen in the world, parts of Mexico alone excepted. The great plains rising by steps to the Quathlamba or Drakensberg Mountains, the sparkling torrential rivers, the sweeping thunderstorms, the grass-fires creeping over the veld at night like snakes of living flame, the glorious aspect of the heavens, now of a spotless blue, now charged with the splendid and many-coloured lights of sunset, and now sparkling with a myriad stars; the wine-like taste of the air upon the plains, the beautiful flowers in the bush-clad kloofs or on the black veld in spring — all these things impressed me, so much that were I to live a thousand years I never should forget them.
Then there were the Zulu Kaffirs living in their kraals filled with round beehive-like huts, bronze-coloured, noble-looking men and women clad only in their moochas, whose herds of cattle wandered hither and thither in charge of a little lad. From the beginning I was attracted to these Zulus, and soon began to study their character and their history.
I will quote from a letter to my mother dated Government House, Natal, September 15, 1875.
My dearest Mother, — . . . You will by this time have got my letters from Durban and the Cape. We left Durban at 10 A.M. on the morning of the 1st September and came up the fifty-four miles over most tremendous hills in five and a half hours, going at full gallop all the way, in a four-horse wagonette. There were five of us, the Chief, Mr. Shepstone (Secretary for Native Affairs), Napier Broome (Colonial Secretary), Beaumont and myself. Some of the scenery was very fine, but we were so choked by the dust, which was so thick that you could not see the road beneath you, that we did not much enjoy it. Our guard of honour did not improve matters.
When we got near Maritzburg crowds of people rode out to meet us, and we entered in grand style amidst loud hurrahs. We galloped up to Government House, where the regiment was drawn up on the lawn, and as soon as the carriage stopped the band struck up “God save the Queen” and salutes were fired from the fort. Then all the grandees of Maritzburg came forward and paid their respects to the Governor, and at last we were left alone to clean ourselves as best we could.
The Government House is a very pretty building, not nearly so large as the Cape Government House, but far from small. I, who have to look after it, find it too large. I have a large bedroom upstairs and my office in the Executive Council chamber. The day after we arrived the swearing-in ceremony was held, in a room where the Legislative Council sit in the Public Offices building. It was a very swell ceremony indeed, and I had to go through an extraordinary amount of scraping and bowing, presenting and pocketing, or trying to pocket, enormous addresses, commissions, etc., etc. After it followed a levee, which tried my patience considerably, for these people came so thick and fast that I had no time to decipher their, for the most part, infamously written cards, so I had to shout out their names at haphazard. However, that came to an end too at last, and we drove off amidst loud hurrahs.
I am at last clear on one point: I am not private secretary. The Chief was talking the other night to Beaumont about me and told him he had a very good opinion of me and thought I should do very well, but that he had always intended to have an older man to help him at first, though who it is going to be does not seem clear. He wants somebody who can go and talk to all these people as a man of their own standing, which I cannot do. He also wants someone who has some experience of this sort of work. I am not in the least disappointed; indeed now that I see something of the place, and of the turbulent character of its inhabitants, I should have much wondered if he had made a fellow young as I am private secretary. Putting the money out of the question I would infinitely rather be rid of the responsibility, at any rate at present. I am sorry, very sorry, still to be dependent on my father, but you may be sure, my dear Mother, that I will be as moderate as I can. At any rate I shall cost less than if I had been at home. I have now learnt Sir Henry’s character pretty well. I know him to be a man of his word, therefore I am pretty well convinced that I shall be his private secretary sooner or later. . . . I continue to get on very well with him, indeed we are the best of friends, and I have many friendly jaws with him. I should rather like to know who No. 1 is going to be, but I don’t think he knows himself; he is very reserved on these matters . . . .
Of work I have plenty here, but my chief trouble is my housekeeping. I have all this large house entirely under me, and being new to it find it difficult work. I have often seen with amusement the look of anxiety on a hostess’ face at a dinner-party, but, by Jove, I find it far from amusing now. Dinner days are black Mondays to me. Imagine my dismay the other day when the fish did not appear and when, on whispering a furious inquiry, I was told the cook had forgotten it! Servants are very difficult to get here, and one has to pay 5 pounds a month at the lowest.
The next surviving letter is dated February 14, 1876. It gives an account of a buck hunt which is perhaps worth transcribing.
To begin with, I am getting on all right and have quite got over all signs of liver since I got a horse. This place, if only you take exercise, is as healthy as England, but exercise is a sina qua non. I got out for a day’s buck-hunting the other day to a place about twelve miles off, a farm of fertile plain (about 12,000 acres). The owner of it, a very good fellow, is one of the few people who preserve their buck.
The way you shoot is this: three or four guns on good horses ride over the plain about fifty yards apart. If an oribe gets up, you have to pull up and shoot off your horse’s back, which is not very easy till you get used to it. Sometimes you run them as I did, but it wants a very swift horse. I had dropped a little behind the others, when in galloping up to join them my horse put its foot into a hole and came to the ground, sending me and my loaded gun on to my head some five or six yards further on. I had hardly come to my senses and caught my horse when I saw an oribe pass like a flash of light, taking great bounds. I turned and went away after him, and I must say I never had a more exciting ride in my life. Away we went like the wind, over hill and down dale, and very dangerous work it was, for being all through long grass the holes were hidden. Every now and then I felt my horse give a violent shy or a bound, and then I knew we had nearly got into some bottomless pit; if we had, going at that rate the horse would most likely have broken his legs or I my neck. And so on for about two miles, I gaining very slowly, but still gaining on the buck, when suddenly down he popped into a bush. It is curious how rarely one does the right thing at the right time. If I had done the right thing I should have got my buck — but I didn’t. Instead of getting off and walking him up, I sent one barrel into the bush after him and gave him the other as he rose. By this means I hit him very hard but did not kill him. However, I made sure of him and struck the spurs into my horse to catch him. To my surprise he only gave a jump, and I found myself embedded in a bog whilst my wounded buck slowly vanished over a rise. I went back in a sweet temper, as you may imagine.
We also hunt with hounds, and get very good runs sometimes. I very nearly lost my watch and chain in one the other day. I was tearing along at full gallop through the long grass when I thought I felt an extra weight at the end of my whip which was resting on the pommel of my saddle. I looked down and saw my watch and chain hanging to it. It was what one may call a lucky escape. . . . There is little news here of any sort. It is evidently thought in England that Froude made a fiasco of his mission, but I believe it was more the fault of the Home Government than his own. The only other thing is that some people fear resistance on the part of the Kaffirs when the time comes for the collection of the new hut tax, but I don’t believe in it . . . .
In a letter dated Easter Sunday, 1876, there are some allusions to Bishop Colenso and to the Zulu customs of the day which may be of interest.
There is but little news to tell, none indeed with the exception of the tragedy I mentioned in my letter to my father. Colenso preached a funeral sermon on him this morning, by far the finest I ever heard him preach. He was one of the Bishop’s best friends, one who had stood by him when all deserted him. The Bishop quite broke down. I was sitting under him; all the last part of the sermon he was literally sobbing. It was touching to see stern-faced Colenso, whom nothing can move, so broken. He is a very strange man, but one you cannot but admire, with his intellect written on his face. I dare say that my father has met him in Norfolk, where he was a rector; he recognized my name the first time I saw him.
We start for a trip up-country in three days’ time; we shall be away until about the 22nd. We are going to explore Weenen or the Land of Weeping, so-called from the weeping of the women and children left alive after the great massacre of the Dutch.
I saw a curious sight the other day, a witch dance. I cannot attempt to describe it, it is a weird sort of thing.
The Chief Interpreter of the Colony told me that he was in Zululand some years ago and saw one of these witch-findings. “There,” he said, “were collected some five thousand armed warriors in a circle, in the midst of which the witches [I should have said the witch-doctors] danced. Everyone was livid with fear, and with reason, for now and again one of these creatures would come crooning up to one of them and touch him, whereupon he was promptly put out of the world by a regiment of the king’s guard.” My friend interfered and nearly had his own neck broken for his trouble.
The Chief Interpreter alluded to must have been my friend Fynney, now long dead, who was afterwards my colleague on the staff of Sir Theophilus Shepstone. From him I gathered much information as to Zulu customs and history which in subsequent days I made use of in “Nada the Lily” and other books. There the reader may find a true account of the doings of these awful witch-doctors. Often I have wondered whether they are merely frauds or whether they do possess, at any rate in certain instances, some share of occult power. Certainly I have known them do the strangest things, especially in the way of discovering lost cattle or other property. On the occasion of which I speak in the letter I remember that the doctoress soon discovered an article I thought was gone for ever.
I accompanied Sir Henry on a tour he made up-country and there saw a great war-dance which was organised in his honour. I mention this because the first thing I ever wrote for publication was a description of this dance. I think that it appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine.
Among the new-found letters is one that tells of this war-dance. It is headed Camp, Pagate’s Location, May 13, 1876.
. . . We have since my last letter home been trekking steadily on through the country in much the same way, except that we have left the plains and entered the mountainous bush-land, which, though the roads are terrible, is much pleasanter to travel through as it is more varied. Also you can make dives into the bush in search of a little shooting, though it is very necessary to take your bearings first. I neglected to do this the other day, and when I had been off the road five minutes I found I was utterly unable to find it again.
When once you have lost your general direction you are done for. I wandered on and on till at length I saw three pretty, rustic-looking houses on a hill a couple of miles off, for which I was not sorry, for the evening was very gloomy and a cold east wind was driving down clouds and mists from the hill. Thither I and my tired horse and dogs clambered as best we could, now over masses of boulders, now through deep water-courses, till at last we came to the neighbourhood of the first house, just as night was setting in.
As I approached I was struck by the stillness of the place, and drawing nearer yet I saw that brambles and thorns were mixed with the peaches and pomegranates of the garden, and that the fruit had not been plucked, but eaten away by birds; then I observed that the front door had fallen from its hinges. I rode in and found the place a picture of melancholy desertion. I went on to the next house and found it in the same condition, and the next to that also. I was now pretty well done, but as the prospect of sleeping in the bush or a deserted house was not pleasant I determined to make one more shot for the road. As soon as I had ridden over half a mile it came on to rain “cats and dogs,” and I got ducked through and through. I turned to make for the houses as best I could through the dark, feeling uncommonly cold, when suddenly I stumbled upon a Kaffir coming through the bush. An angel could not have been more welcome.
However there was a drawback. I knew no Kaffir, he knew no English. Luckily I did know the Kaffir name of Mr. Shepstone — “Sompseu” — which is known by every black in South Africa, and managed to make my friend understand that I was travelling with the “Mighty Hunter,” also that there were four waggons. Now he had not seen these but had heard that they were in the neighbourhood, so following his unerring instinct he at once struck out for the high road from which I had wandered some five miles. Arrived there, he managed by the glimmer of the stars to find the track of the waggons, and having satisfied himself that they had passed, struck away again into the most awful places where anything but the Basuto pony I was riding must have come to grief.
On we went for about eight miles till I began to think my friend was knocking under to the cold (a very little cold kills them) and making for his own kraal. However, to my astonishment he hit the track again and at length came safely to the waggons. I was not sorry to see them. I found the Governor in a dreadful state of alarm.
Two days ago we went up to Pagate’s kraal. He is a rather powerful chief under our protection, having some fifteen thousand people. It is a very good specimen of a chief’s kraal. It stands on a high promontory that juts out and divides two enormous valleys at the bottom of one of which runs the Mooi River. The view is superb; two thousand feet below lies the plain encircled by tremendous hills bush-clad to the very top, while at the bottom flashes a streak of silver which is the river. There is little of what we admire in views in England, but Nature in her wild and rugged grandeur.
His kraal is curious. In extent it covers about ten acres. First there is the outer fence, inside of which are the huts, and then a stronger inner one to hold the cattle in times of danger. The chief’s kraal is at the top and fenced off.
We went into the principal hut and partook of refreshments in the shape of Kaffir beer.
Next morning Pagate gave a war dance, which is one of the most strange and savage sights I ever saw. It was not very large as they only had a day’s notice to collect the warriors; however some five hundred turned up.
The dance was held in front of our camp. First arrived a warrior herald dressed in his war-plumage, ox-tails round the shoulders and middle, a circlet of some long white hair round the right knee, a circlet round the head from which arose a solitary plume of the Kaffir crane; in one hand the large white ox-hide shield and in the other his assegais, which however were represented by long sticks, assegais not being allowed at these affairs.
This gentleman was accompanied by a little old woman who rushed about shrieking like a wild thing. He sang the praises of his chief.
“Pagate! Pagate is coming! Pagate the son of —— who did — — the son of —— who did — — ” and so on through some scores of generations.
“Pagate’s soldiers are coming! Pagate’s soldiers who drink the blood of their enemies, who know how to kill! Pheasants for whom no other pheasant ever scratched” (i.e. who could look after themselves), and so on.
Then he retired. Presently the warriors arrived in companies singing a sort of solemn chant. Each man was dressed in his fierce, fantastic war-dress. One half wore heron plumes, the rest long black plumes; each company had a leader and a separate pattern of shield. They formed themselves into a half-square looking very fierce and imposing. Each company as it arrived caught up the solemn war-chant, which was sung in perfect time and was the most impressive thing I ever heard.
As the chief came up attended by his bodyguard it grew louder and louder, till it swelled to a regular paean, when the old man, fired with martial ardour, flung off the attendants who supported him, and forgetting his age and weakness ran to the head of his warriors. I shall never forget the sight.
The Governor drew near and was met with the royal salute accorded only to Cetewayo, Mr. Shepstone and the Governor of Natal — in itself imposing when pronounced by a great number, “Bayete, Bayete!”
The dance then commenced and was a wonderful performance. Company after company charged past looking for all the world like great fierce birds swooping on their prey. Assegais extended and shields on high, they flitted backwards and forwards, accompanying every moment with a shrill hiss something like the noise which thousands of angry snakes would make, only shriller, a sound impossible to describe but not easy to forget. It would vary:— now it is a troop of lions, now a pack of wild dogs hounding their prey to death.
Then forth leaped warrior after warrior: advanced, challenged, leapt five feet into the air, was down, was up, was between his own legs, was anywhere and everywhere, and was met with this sibilating applause which rose and fell and rose again, but always in perfect time.
By this time they were well excited; even the little boys of the tribe had got shields and joined themselves on at the end, while the beauties, and some of them were not unworthy of the name, took hold of long branches and went undulating about (the only word to describe their motion) urging the warriors on.
Presently forth sprang the heir-apparent, and in a moment the air was filled with this fierce sibilation and every warrior roused into wild activity.
It was a splendidly barbaric sight. The singing was the finest part of it. The last royal salute was also imposing; it is made by striking the assegais on the shield. It commences with a low murmur like that of the sea, growing louder and louder till it sounds like far-off thunder, and ending with a quick sharp rattle . . . .
In a letter dated July 6, 1876, I say:
. . . I stopped three days in Durban and enjoyed the change very much, as it was the first holiday I have had with the exception of a week when I was sick. . . . There is somewhat stirring news from the Transvaal telling of the first skirmish between the Boers and Secocoeni, a native chief of very considerable power. If the Boers have to deal with him alone they will be all right, though there will very likely be a good deal of bloodshed. But Secocoeni is a tributary of and allied to Cetewayo the Zulu king, who has of late been on the worst of terms with the Boers, so that it is more than probable that he and his thirty thousand armed men supposed to be hovering like a thunder-cloud on the borders of Natal, will take an opportunity to have a shot at them too: if he doesn’t he is a greater fool than “Cetewayo the Silent” is generally supposed to be.
On the other side of them, too, are the Amaswazi, numerically as strong as the Zulus and their nominal tributaries. These have hitherto been friendly with the Boers, not from any natural affection but to protect themselves from the Zulus who are braver and more warlike than they. But that friendly feeling has been shaken and I hear that the Amaswazi contingent counted on by the Boers to help them in the Secocoeni business has not arrived. If they patch up their differences with the Zulus and a united attack is made by this threefold power, Lord help the Dutch! War here between white and black is a terrible thing. No quarter is given and none is asked. But I shall know more about the business tomorrow when the Transvaal mail arrives . . . .
In my next letter, dated 6th October, I talk of articles which I am writing, and add in a solemn postscript: “Don’t say anything to anybody about my having written things in magazines.” Evidently the cacoethes scribendi had already taken hold of me. Also I say:
The war in the Transvaal is at a dead stop for the present. The Conference in London seems to be rather a lopsided affair: our delegates and Brand appear to be settling the affairs of South Africa between them. I am delighted to see that they have given Mr. Shepstone the K.C.M.G. It is, I imagine, rarely so well deserved. I got a letter from him the other day; he seems very pleased with England generally.
From the next surviving letter, dated December 2, 1876, I gather that Sir Henry Bulwer at this time was not quite pleased at Sir Theophilus Shepstone’s request that I should accompany him on his special mission to the Transvaal. However, ultimately the thing was arranged. I say:
He [i.e. Shepstone] wants me to come with him for two reasons. First, we are very good friends and he was kind enough to say he wished to have me as a companion. Second, I imagine there will be a good deal of what is called the champagne and sherry policy up at Pretoria and he wants somebody to look after the entertaining. It will be a most interesting business . . . .
This seems to be the last epistle that can be found of those which I wrote from Natal, so I will return to my manuscript, which now continues as I set it down before their discovery.
At Maritzburg there was a good deal of gaiety and entertaining at Government House, with which, as Sir Henry was unmarried, I had much to do. In connection with one of our dinner-parties I remember an incident which shows that Sir Henry knew how to escape from a dilemma. By some chance there had been invited the Roman Catholic bishop (I think his name was Jolivet), a dean of the Church of England, and a very shining Nonconformist light. Generally it was Sir Henry’s custom if a clergyman were present to ask him to say Grace, but on this occasion, realising the difficulty of the situation, he passed that duty on to me.
“Haggard,” he said in a reproachful voice, which suggested that I was neglecting my business, “will you be so good as to ask someone to say Grace?”
I worked out the position rapidly in my mind and, coming to the conclusion that one should stick to one’s own people, ignored the Roman Catholic bishop and went for the dean.
Talking of deans reminds me of Bishop Colenso, whom I used to meet. He was a tall, able and agreeable man with a most interesting face, but one who was desperately at loggerheads with everybody. Ecclesiastically his position was that he had in effect been excommunicated by the other South African bishops on account of his views as to the Pentateuch, etc. He had appealed however to the Privy Council, which disallowed the authority of the African bishops, so that he remained the legal bishop of Natal. A schism ensued and the opposition orthodox party appointed a bishop of their own, Macrorie by name.
It always seemed to me somewhat illogical that Colenso should wish to remain in a Church of which he criticised the tenets, on the principle that one should scarcely eat the bread and butter of those whom one attacks. On the other hand the views that Colenso held forty years ago — which, by the way, were suggested to him by the extraordinarily acute questions put by Zulus whom we tried to convert to Christianity — are widespread today, even among clergymen. He was in advance of his generation, and like others suffered for it, that is all. If I remember right, one of the great causes of the animosity of the South African Episcopal Church against him was that he was said to look leniently upon the native practice of polygamy. But here again there is much to be said on Colenso’s side. Many people find it difficult to understand why it is more essentially immoral to marry several wives than to marry one, provided that they are married and, except for good reason of divorce, supported to their lives’ end. Particularly can this be argued where natives are concerned whose very intricate laws of property and succession are closely interwoven with this custom of polygamy, to which the women are, or were, as devotedly attached as the men.
A Zulu woman does not as a rule wish to be obliged to bear all a man’s children or to do all the work of his household. She likes to be one of a band of sisters (for, having each of them her separate little establishment, they seldom if ever quarrel) and to share in the dignity of being one of a numerous family. Moreover their habit is, from the time that they find themselves with prospects of motherhood, to live apart from the husband until the child is weaned, say for two years, which law results in the production of a race that is physically splendid. Further, polygamy absorbs all the women; practically none are left without husbands or fall into the immoral courses which are the scandal of civilised nations. Such a thing as a “girl of the streets” is scarcely known among the raw Zulus. If it were explained to these, for instance, that in this country alone we have nearly two million women who cannot possibly marry because there is no man to marry them, or fulfil their natural function of child-bearing without being called vile names, they would on their part think that state of affairs extremely wrong. I remember a story of a well-educated Zulu who was told that the Christian law laid down that he must have but one wife. He replied that he would like to study that law for himself, and, taking away a Bible, spent some months in reading it from end to end. At last he returned to the missionary and said that he could find no such law therein; that, on the contrary, most of the great men in the Book appeared to have had many wives. Oham, the brother of Cetewayo the Zulu king, made a somewhat similar reply. He was a very powerful chief who desired to become a Christian, and would naturally have brought many other converts with him.
“But,” said he, “these women whom you wish me to put away have been the companions of my life, and I refuse to cast them on the world in their age.”
So Oham remained a pagan; at least, that was the story I heard.
Another aspect of the case is that because of its attitude towards polygamy, as to the rights and wrongs of which I express no opinion who do but set out the other side of the argument, Christianity can scarcely hope to compete with Islam where the bulk of the natives of Africa are concerned. Islam preaches a god and says, “You may keep your wives, but you must give up spirituous liquor.” Christianity also preaches a god but says, “You must put away all wives except one, but spirituous liquor is not forbidden.”
Among primitive peoples who are asked to abandon practices which their forefathers have followed for thousands of years, one can guess which line of reasoning is likely to be accepted, especially if they have come to the conclusion that intoxicating drink proves more injurious to the individual and the race than a plurality of wives.
Once of late years I made a speech at a big African missionary congress in London, in which I ventured to put forward these aspects of the case, or something like them. There were, I think, five bishops on the platform, and I was rather astonished to find that out of the five two seemed to think them not devoid of sense. The other three, however, differed strongly.
Colenso, I should add, was unpopular among many colonists, not on account of religious matters, but because he was so strong and, as they considered, so intemperate an advocate of the rights of natives. I confess that here again I find myself more or less in sympathy with him. White settlers, especially if they be not of the highest order, are too apt to hate, despise, and revile the aboriginal inhabitants among whom they find themselves. Often this is because they fear them, or even more frequently because the coloured people, not needing to do so, will not work for them at a low rate of wage. For example, they cannot understand why these blacks should object to spend weeks and months hundreds of feet underground, employed in the digging of ore, and, in their hearts, often enough would like to compel them by force to do their will. Yet surely the Kaffir whose land we have taken has a right to follow his own opinions and convenience on this subject.
Also many white men have, or used to have, a habit of personally assaulting natives, frequently upon quite insufficient grounds. They say or said that these would do nothing unless they were beaten. I do not believe it. Where Zulus are concerned at least, a great deal depends upon the person in authority over them. No race is quicker at discovering any alloy of base metal in a man’s nature. Many who are called “gentlemen” among us on account of their wealth or station, will not pass as such with them. By a kind of instinct they know the true article when they see it, whatever may be the position in life held by the individual in question. True gentility, as I have seen again and again, is not the prerogative of a class but a gift innate in certain members of all classes, and by no means a common gift. With it rank, station, wealth have nothing to do; it either is or is not born in a man, and still more so in a woman. To the Zulu the rest are what he calls unfagozana, that is, low fellows. These, by misfortune, are almost always in the majority. Like others, savages have their gentlefolk and their common people, but with all their faults even those common people are not vulgar in our sense of the word. In essential matters they still preserve a certain dignity. Of course, however, I talk of those savages whom I know. There may be others among whom things are different. Also, in this respect as in others, matters in Africa may have changed since my day. I talk of a bygone generation.
One last word about Colenso. His native name of “Usobantu” shows the estimate that the Kaffirs formed of him. It means “Father of the People.”
Among other remarkable Natalians of that day were the old Chief Justice (was not his name O’Connor?) and Mr. John Bird, the Treasurer of the Colony and the compiler of a valuable work called “The Annals of Natal” which in after years I had the pleasure of reviewing in the Saturday Review. The Chief Justice has always remained in my mind because of his curious power of self-control. I remember that when the mail came in, which at that time I believe was only once a month, he used to undo the many Times newspapers that it brought to him and arrange them in a pile. Then, beginning with the oldest in date, on each day he would read his Times, nor, however exciting might be the news, would he suffer himself to anticipate its daily development. He never looked at the end of the story. Thus did he delude himself into the belief that he was still in England and receiving his morning paper wet from the press. The drawback to the system was that he was always a month behind the Natal world and two behind that of Europe.
Mr. John Bird, a dear old gentleman, had the most marvellous memory of any man I have ever known. He told me that if he once read anything he liked he remembered it; if he read it twice he remembered it without error; if he read it thrice he never forgot it. In his youth he had been a surveyor, and in the course of his long waggon journeys in the Cape he taught himself Greek. I have heard him offer to bet anyone five pounds that he would repeat any book in Homer that might be selected without making five mistakes. Also I heard him give a lecture on “The Pleasures of Memory” which was nearly two hours long. In the course of this lecture he made dozens of quotations from all sorts of authors and never used a single note.
The only instance that I can recollect of parallel powers was that of a gentleman who could repeat all my romance, “She,” without a mistake. I believe he was a South African, and I imagine he must have been a relative of Mr. Bird.
But the most interesting man of all with whom I came in contact in Natal was one who afterwards became my beloved chief and friend, for, notwithstanding the wide difference of our years, that relationship existed between us. I refer to Sir Theophilus Shepstone, or “Sompseu” as he was called by the natives throughout South Africa.
Sir Theophilus was born in England in 1817, and emigrated to the Cape with his father, a clergyman, when he was but three years old. In his early youth he learned many Kaffir dialects at the mission stations. After filling various appointments he became Secretary for Native Affairs in Natal in 1856, a position which he held for twenty years. His policy was to maintain the tribal system of the natives under the supremacy of the British Crown, and to civilise them by degrees. Often he has told me that he believed that the Zulus should be taught to work and that their minds should be opened before attempts were made to Christianise them. I should add that his policy, although much criticised, was singularly successful. This is proved by the fact that, notwithstanding the enormous number of savages who poured from Zululand into Natal, with the single exception of the petty rising of the chief Langalibalele (“the Bright Shining Sun”), which happened a year or two before I went to the Colony, there was no rebellion or native war during all the time of his management of affairs. Personally he was known and almost worshipped by every Kaffir in the land.
“I love that boy,” I once heard him say to one of my elder colleagues as I passed by him, he thought out of earshot, and I have never forgotten the words or the tone in which they were uttered. Well, the affection was reciprocated, and will be while I have memory.
He was a curious, silent man, who had acquired many of the characteristics of the natives among whom he lived. Often it was impossible to guess from his somewhat impassive face what was passing in his brain. He had the power of silence, but he observed everything and forgot little. To me, however, when the mood was on him, he would talk a great deal — the stories I have heard from him would fill half a volume — and sometimes even unfold to me the secret springs of his actions. I only once remember his being angry with me, for he was very tender to my faults, and that was, I think, just before the issue of the Proclamation annexing the Transvaal. I had ventured to suggest to him that it would be wiser to leave the country unannexed and retire to Natal.
“Then,” I said, “the Zulus and the Boers will destroy each other, and the Transvaal will fall like a ripe apple into the lap of Great Britain.”
He asked me angrily if I understood what I was saying, and that such a policy would mean the destruction of thousands of white men, women and children by Zulu assegais, to be followed by a great war between white and black.
I collapsed, but often and often since that day have I reflected that my advice, tainted though it may have been with the callousness of youth, was absolutely sound. For what happened? First we had to fight the Zulus and slaughter them by thousands, paying no small toll ourselves, and then we had to fight the Boers, not once, but twice. If we had allowed them to exhaust themselves upon each other the total loss of life would have been no greater, if so great, and the settlement of South Africa would have been effected without the shedding of British blood; moreover, in the end the Boers would have implored our assistance and gladly have accepted our rule. But I anticipate; of these matters I must speak later.
With the Zulus themselves, as distinguished from the Natal Kaffirs, Shepstone had much to do. Thus in 1861, while King Panda still reigned, and after the great civil war between Cetewayo and his brother Umbelazi, in which the latter was killed or died at the battle of the Tugela, he was sent by the Government to proclaim Cetewayo heir to the throne. For some unknown reason, Cetewayo did not wish to be thus recognised by the white men. Indeed a preliminary difficulty arose. The Zulu lawyers and headmen declared that it was impossible that their future king should be nominated by Sompseu. It was overcome in the following extraordinary fashion. At a great meeting of the indunas or councillors and chiefs it was announced that Sompseu was a Zulu king, that he stood in the place of Chaka, the African Napoleon and Panda’s uncle, and that the spirit of Chaka had entered into him — not a very comfortable possession for a highly respectable English gentleman. From that day forward, quite independent of his authority as a representative of the Queen, Shepstone had personal sovereign rights in Zululand. Thus he could have ordered anyone to be killed or have declared war or peace. It was, I firmly believe, because of this personal authority that he was able to prevent the Zulus from attacking the Boers in 1877, as I shall show that he did.
But of all these and many other events I have told in my book, “Cetewayo and his White Neighbours,” which was first published in 1882, and to that book I must refer the reader who is interested in them. In these pages I do not propose to write a history of South Africa during the eventful years in which I knew it, but rather to treat of my personal experiences at the time, which perhaps may throw some new light upon parts of that history.
The remainder of my life in Natal, that is as secretary to the Governor — for I returned to that country afterwards in another capacity — can be summed up in few words. I copied despatches, received guests, and did my other duties, probably not as well as I might have done. But in connection with these I cannot think of much that is worth setting down.
Perhaps I may add a curious little story. Captain Cox, my colleague on Sir Henry Bulwer’s staff, who was an officer in one of the regiments in Natal — I think he belonged to the ill-fated 24th — received a blow while playing polo which severed what I believe is called the external carotid artery, a vessel which runs up by the side of the temple. A serious operation was performed on him by the doctors which necessitated his being kept under chloroform for five hours, but great difficulty was experienced in tying this artery. He seemed to get better, and at last was allowed to eat a snipe which I went out and shot for him. That evening some circumstance or other made me uneasy about him, and of my own motion I passed the night sitting up in the office, going in to look at him from time to time. He slept well, and when the dawn came I thought that I would retire to bed. By an afterthought I returned to give him another look, and found him still lying asleep, but with the blood spurting from his head in a little fountain. I pressed my thumb on the artery and held it there until assistance came. Another operation was performed, and ultimately he recovered, though one of his eyes was affected.
Captain Cox was subsequently wounded at Ulundi, and in the end died, I think, in India when he was Colonel of his regiment.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55