Godfrey Lagden.

The Basutos; the mountaineers & their country; being a narrative of events relating to the tribe from its formation early in the nineteenth century to the present day (Volume 2) online

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of no effect, and I do not know how I can avoid a
war with my Free State neighbours, for I can see
that the Free State's earnest desire is that hostilities
should begin, although they have no serious reason
to commence a war ; while they exaggerate every small
misunderstanding that arises between the burghers
and my people, in order to justify themselves before
the public if they attack me. Every one knows that
for peace' sake I consented to the Governor's arbitration
between me and the Free State about the line, and
though the decision of His Excellency was wholly in
favour of the Boers, yet I submitted to it entirely on
account of the respect I have for the Queen of England.
In consequence of this decision, and though His
Excellency advised the Free State to give proper time
to my people to evacuate the contested territory, the
President, not minding this advice, ordered my people
to leave in less than a month ; but in spite of this
harshness I caused them to quit, which was an ex-
ceedingly hard thing for them, as hundreds of families
had to abandon their homes, etc., during the rainy
season, and it is impossible to describe all their

Moshesh's Counterblast 351

sufferings, as they had no shelter whatever, and it was
a succession of hail-storms and rain all the time they
were moving. The Governor had also desired the
Free State to allow my people to reap their corn, or
to give them a compensation for the crops they were
obliged to leave ; but all this was again refused, so
the Free State Government has cruelly deprived
thousands of my people of their daily bread.

" Lastly, one of the petty chiefs of my tribe of
the name of Ramanella who had partly put himself
under the Boers, committed some depredations in the
Free State, and was fined ; but as he refused to pay
the fine, 1 paid it myself, for fear war should break
out. This fine was received by the Boers, but they
sent it back, the President thinking he was justified
in punishing Ramanella according to the eleventh article
of the Treaty of Aliwal, and though all my tribe
wished to assist my countrymen, I prevented them,
as I felt bound in some degree by the said treaty.

" The President seeing that the attack on Ramanella
had not caused a war with me, he made most un-
reasonable demands to my brother, Paulus Moperi.
I was informed of these demands by letter from the
President, and though I immediately answered through
his own messenger begging of him to consent to our
settling this affair in a friendly way, the only answer
I received to my communication was a large commando
marching into my country.

" Consequently the only course left to me is to
protect myself, and in so doing to prevent my people
from being destroyed. 1 am sure all impartial persons
will see that, although I am a true lover of peace,

352 The Basutos

it would be wrong for me to allow the Free State
to trample on my people. It is well known, although
all sorts of false reports are circulated, that the Basutos
are not a bloodthirsty people ; only two murders can
be brought against them, and one would in all civilized
countries be considered as manslaughter, and the other
was a case of retaliation. For these two murders
I could prove that scores of my subjects have been
murdered by the burghers of the Free State. I am
aware that formerly the Free State belonged to the
British Government, and that when it was given up
many English people remained and are now living
amongst the Boers, but by doing so they did not
cease to be the children of the Queen of England ;
I therefore let know to the Queen's subjects that I
wish them no harm . . . but if God gives us the
victory, 1 shall give strict orders that no Englishmen
who remained on their farms should be molested. . . .
" I make this proclamation in order to show that I
am not wishing to fight with the Queen or any of
her subjects, but only to protect my people from the
aggression of the Free State Government . . . for
all persons know that my great sin is that I possess a
good and fertile country.

" (Signed) Moshesh."

These Proclamations were ingeniously contrived to
appeal to a foreign gallery. Each side put its case in
the best possible light, glossing over misdeeds common
to both.

During the eight years since the war of 1858 the
relative fighting capacity of the two territories had

Fighting Condition of Parties 353

somewhat changed. Pretorius and his factions had
disappeared from the Free State ; all internal dissen-
sions were now waived, the burghers uniting under
President Brand in the presence of a common danger.
Its population had increased considerably ; it was
better armed and equipped.

The Basuto on the other hand were less efficient
from a military point of view. The direction of
affairs had to some extent passed out of the hands of
their whilom dictator Moshesh, who seemed no longer
mentally or physically capable of sustained efforts.
He was less amenable to reason and out of touch with
his leading chieftains who acted as independent units
without concerted plans to assist each other or the
cause. Of his sons, Letsie the eldest was weak in
council and no general. Molapo, the second, if not
cowardly, was ready to betray his country as he did
his devoted missionary M. Coillard. To suit the
times he became an apostate and violently anti-
Christian. Masupha was brave, but rash and treacherous.
Other prominent chiefs, Poshudi, Ramanella and
Moirosi, preferred to carry on their own operations
which brought discredit on the country, but had the
merit of diverting towards them sections of the Free
State army.

Both parties at once prepared for action. The
combat was opened on June 14, when a Free State
force of 850 men under Commandant-General Fick
attacked the town of Moperi, near Mabolela, a station
of the French missions close to the present town of
Ficksburg. Though a strong position, it might easily
have fallen if Moperi's people alone defended it. The

354 The Basutos

Boers however declined to be tempted to assault it
without knowing in what strength it was held. Their
caution was justified, for as the fight developed the
garrison was found to have been strongly reinforced
by contingents led by Masupha and Molitsane which
soon swarmed over the rocks and offered a sturdy
resistance. The Boers, satisfied with a demonstration,
then retired in good order to their laager a few miles
off, having lost one burgher, and according to General
Pick's report, killed seventy or eighty Basuto. Never-
theless the project had failed, and, as the retirement
was cheered by those who retained the position, it
created the impression that this the first engagement
of the campaign was a moral victory for the Basuto.
Commandant Wepener, a courageous leader, resented
the retirement and appealed to his comrades to join
him at once in renewing the attack and storming the
heights, otherwise the moral effect would be disastrous ;
but he received no encouragement from the President
or the General.

A few days later the combined forces of Moirosi and
Poshudi made a furious inroad past Smithfield thirty
miles towards Bloemfontein, burning farms and ravaging
stock. The Free State forces on that side were not
by that time marshalled, so the blow fell unexpectedly
and heavily upon small parties hastily collected. Mr,
Job Harvey, the Landdrost of Smithfield, relates the
marvellous escapes of some patrols. Some were cut
off and destroyed. Field-Cornet Van Asswegen on
an isolated kopje held out bravely from ten o'clock in
the morning till sundown losing twelve out of fifteen
men ; Doris Potgieter with thirty-five men surrounded

Passions Let Loose 355

on an open plain defied successfully the whole day-
swarms who attacked his entrenchment.

The attitude of the British Government and the
Transvaal Republic at this juncture were matters of
deep concern to both parties. President Pretorius at
once showed his hand by issuing a stirring Proclamation
to the burghers of the Republic imploring them to
proceed before it was too late to the assistance of their
brethren in the Orange Free State. Sir Philip Wode-
house followed suit with a Proclamation of Neutrality,
similar to that of Sir George Grey, enjoining upon all
British subjects white and black the penalties of taking
any part in the struggle.

The passions of the Basuto were now let loose.
Moshesh appears to have lost entire control of his sons
and subordinate chiefs who made incursions in every
direction, skilfully evading the main Free State forces
which remained singularly inactive. Masupha particu-
larly was very audacious ; but he was guilty of one
most atrocious crime, the memory of which always
clung to his name. Living at Platberg near ,the
present town of Ladybrand were a remnant of Carolus
Baatje's Bastards who had proved for some years
faithful allies of the Free State. Approaching their
village under cover of a white flag, Masupha with an
impi of warriors bade the occupants be at ease as he
cherished no hostile intentions. They slaughtered
cattle and entertained the visitors hospitably. When
the feast was over, Masupha's warriors by a pre-
concerted signal fell upon the unsuspecting Bastards,
butchering nearly all of them in cold blood ; out of
fifty-seven only three escaped, their property to-

35^ The Basutos

gether with all the growii-up girls being driven
off as booty to Basutolaud.

This massacre was followed by a murderous outrage
by Ramanella's people near Van Reenen's Pass on the
Natal border. A party of Transvaalers, Piet Pretorius
(a relative of the President), his three sons and
another, were, when travelling quietly in the Free
State territory with wagons containing goods belonging
to Natal merchants, set upon and murdered. The
next day a farmer named Botes, his son and a German
schoolmaster met a violent death at the hands of the
same parties ; in each case women and children were
present but not harmed. Ramanella then headed an
expedition below the Drakensburg into Natal in pursuit
of Free State Boers who were accustomed to go there
for winter grazing, attacking homesteads indiscriminately
and returning with 1,500 cattle besides many horses
and thousands of small stock.

The cup of misery for Moshesh was now full to
overflowing. The nation he had built up was slipping
out of his hands ; not one of his principal sons stood
by the helm with him in the storm ; his people were
running wild under the sway of frenzied leaders ; his
missionaries were wringing their hands in despair in
anticipation of the destruction of their work and
stations. The Free State was infuriated, Transvaal
subjects had been outraged, Natal was convulsed by
Ramanella's incursion, and the Cape Colony was indig-
nant with Moirosi whom they intermittently claimed as
a subject. Every hand seemed raised against Basuto-
land. The stars in their courses fought against him.

The Colony of Natal took vigorous measures to

Photo by Valentine Blanchard.

p. 356]

Natal Demonstrative 357

resent their injuries. All Imperial troops and volunteers
available were pushed up to the Upper Tugela with
Mr. (afterwards Sir Theophilus) Shepstone, the
Secretary for Native Affairs, who made an instant
demand upon the Basuto for reparation on account
of the raid and the expenses incurred for repelling
it, holding Molapo responsible for the acts of Ramanella.
Molapo replied in his own name and that of his
father regretting the occurrences, which were entirely
repudiated by Moshesh, as the deeds of a turbulent
and irresponsible subordinate who would be punished
and surrendered if necessary.

The Basuto were so frightened by these cumulative
misadventures and so concerned at rousing the enmity
of Natal that they remained quiet for the time being,
evidently torn by dissensions. Molapo particularly,
who feared having to bear the brunt of vengeance for
Ramanella's offences, showed signs of defection, en-
deavouring to hedge by asking the Natal Government
to take him over with his people and country as their
subject. This he did without consulting Moshesh
who promptly scouted the proposal. Molapo was
neither patriotic nor brave, behaving then, as he did
later, treacherously to the tribe and disgracefully to
his missionary M. Coillard who strove devotedly by
negotiating with Mr. Shepstone to ward off the
vengeance the Natal forces were eager to exact. In
this M. Coillard could not have succeeded but for
the fine spirit of forbearance shown by Mr. Shepstone.
The correspondence at that juncture between those
two high-minded men is a splendid example of right
and justice.

35^ The Basutos

The next move of importance was made by Com-
mandant Wepener who, leaving the main body, raised
and took command of a southern force with which
he assailed Vechtkop, the old stronghold of Poshudi
then in possession of Lebenya. According to his
report of July 14, 1865, he stormed the mountain
with 340 burghers and 200 natives drawn from Jan
Letelle with such success that in half an hour
possession was gained, sixty of the enemy being
killed of whom he regretted to say half were women,
undistinguished from men hiding in the schanses ;
150 horses and 5,000 mixed stock were captured.

From Vechtkop Wepener, full of soldierly instinct,
pushed on boldly to Matsieng, there to meet and
overcome quickly the forces of Letsie and capture
1,000 horses and much stock. Prior to advancing
from thence to Thaba Bosigo to co-operate with
General Fick he issued a Proclamation in his own
name annexing to the Free State the whole country
he had traversed, including a considerable strip of
mountain land far removed from the Caledon River.

In due course Mr. Shepstone reluctantly felt com-
pelled to propose the movement of 15,000 native
levies to attack Basutoland in rear by entering through
the precipitate passes of the Drakensburg facing the
Tugela, the object being to coerce the Basuto, who
had failed to respond to reasonable overtures, into
the surrender of property raided by Ramanella and
indemnification for losses and costs.

Sir Philip Wodehouse, to whom as High Com-
missioner the proposals were submitted, demurred to
and stoutly refused to sanction them on the grounds

Natal Appeals to England 359

that Moshesh having been penned in and harassed
on all sides, had not been allowed fair time or means
to carry out his promises to make reparation ; that
Ramanella had notoriously acted without orders and
in any case was in his raid only following Free State
cattle sent to Natal for security ; that the murder of
Pretorius and party, atrocious as it was of course,
followed a Proclamation of the Transvaal President
calling upon the Transvaalers to rush to the assistance
of the Free State. For these and other reasons he
declined to allow Her Majesty's Government to join
in any offensive operations against the Basuto, who
had always behaved well to us and were now sorely
pressed, unless and until he was satisfied after
further investigation that they possessed the ability
but lacked the inclination to comply with our just

Against the policy of the High Commissioner, the
Legislative Council of Natal strenuously appealed to
the Queen. Their Petition enunciated that the Colony
had suffered a loss by violence of ^17,000 but was
debarred from enforcing its rights ; consequently, its
prestige was in grave danger from this timid and
hesitating policy of restraint which paralysed that
local action so essential in maintaining ascendency
over those savage tribes by whom they were sur-

From June 14 till the middle of July, General Fick
was more or less inactive whilst consolidating his forces
and awaiting the arrival of some Armstrong guns.
On July 17 he concentrated for another attack on
the outlying stronghold of Moperi at Mekuatling but

360 The Basutos

was surprised to find it evacuated ; then moving to
Cathcart's Drift he forded the Caledon and reconnoitred
the country up to the Putiatsana, proclaiming the
whole country north and east of that river, which
took in the country occupied by Molapo and Ramanella,
as Free State territory. On July 25, reinforced by
six hundred of Moroko's Baralongs, he seized and
occupied the Berea mountain meeting with little
resistance. After remaining there a few days, skirmish-
ing and testing the range of his new guns which
appeared to explode shell unpleasantly close to
Moshesh's head-quarters, he descended by the route
taken by Colonel Eyre, coming to a halt close to the
spot where in 1853 General Cathcart was uncomfort-
ably camped under the brows of Thaba Bosigo. There
he awaited a junction on August 3 with Commandant
Wepener from Matsieng, whereupon Krijgsraads were

These Councils of War were not limited to the General
and his principal officers but were practically open-air
meetings ; consequently a multitude of counsels pre-
vailed accompanied by much diversity of opinion.
Every little friction considered itself, in the absence
of a sound system of discipline, entitled to interpret
orders as either to be obeyed or not at pleasure.
Had the force been held together under a determined
leader like the brave Wepener, who alone seemed
capable of it, success was assured. But it was not so.
When therefore an assault was ordered on August 8
it was conducted in so half-hearted a way that at
sight of the stone barriers half-way up the mountain
and a few volleys of rocks hurled down by the enemy,

Thaba Bosigo Attacked 361

the burghers after a few casualties retired hurriedly
without making any impression.

On the evening of August 14 it was resolved to
carry out at daybreak next morning a general attack
upon the mountain. The following information is
derived from the semi-official account of the operation
published on August 25, 1865, in the Friend, then
the only newspaper in the Free State.

When mustered the Free State force consisted of
2,100 white men and about 1,000 native auxiliaries.
The plans were that 600 men should hold the camp ;
the remaining 1,500 and native allies were to unite
in the assault, their advance to be cleared by the
guns. Two hundred Batlokoa were detailed to occupy
Nhloholo and protect the right flank and the camp
from surprise on that side ; 500 Baralongs under
Commandant Webster to perform a similar duty on
the left. The main body were to scale the heights
above Job's village converging to a path giving access
to the crest. Instead however of ordering the column
to do so, it was decided to call for volunteers who
were promised as a reward the pick of farms in the
newly annexed territory. It was a fatal error to
give the option, for after wasting much time, only
550 came forward and they were insufficient. Then,
as the sun was getting high, General Fick changed
his mind, decided to defer the attack till next
day and ordered Wepener to make a demonstra-
tion round the mountain. Wepener, ever ready
for action, started on this duty but discovered en
route what he believed to be a favourable line of
ascent above the mission station on the eastern side

362 The Basutos

which he offered to attempt with 600 men if his
advance was well supported. To this the General

Wepener, whose small band had diminished by
desertion to 500, accompanied by Commandant Wessels,
galloped to the highest ledge horses could reach,
dismounted and led the storming party under cover
of artillery fire. This was the signal for a strong
party of Basuto hitherto screened from view to dash
up a valley on the left for a rear attack on the
stormers but they were intercepted and foiled by
Webster and his Baralongs.

As after an hour's fighting Wepener found that
the task was heavy and the progress slow he sent
to inform General Fick that the effort must fail unless
he was reinforced. Fick then sent a detachment of
200 men and one gun to threaten the pass originally
contemplated above Job's village in the hope of
causing a diversion, and ordered Commandant Smit
to send 100 men to Wepener's aid. Smit's men
refused to move, as did the men of other commandants
many of whom were missing, 300 being discovered
in shelter under the walls of the mission station.
General Fick then rode off to hunt up defaulters and
returned with a few burghers and 100 Batlokoas
with whom he moved up to support the storming

Just at that time the gallant Wepener, who had
nearly gained the crest, was shot dead in a gallant
attempt to force a gateway held by Masupha. Wessels
boldly led on until himself badly wounded a few
minutes later. The fall of their leaders had a most

Boers Repulsed 363

disheartening effect upon the stormers. Before Fick
could reassure them they yielded to panic and surged
in a confused mass down the steep sides of the
mountain they had well-nigh won, leaving some of
their dead and wounded behind. Wessels escaped
with difficulty.

The panic was unaccountable seeing that the advance
party of stormers had reached a ledge which masked
them from the missiles of the defenders above and
were quietly awaiting for supports to come up before
rushing the final barricades but a short distance higher
which the Basutos were preparing to fly from. The
retreat was covered by the guns and the whole force
fell back upon the camp, having suffered a loss
of nine killed and over thirty seriously wounded.
Wepener was buried on the mountain by the mis-
sionary Dr. Lautre. It was a bad repulse just as
success was almost achieved and was ascribed to the
discreditable hesitation of some of the burghers who
from want of organization and discipline failed to
rally at the critical moment when victory hung in
the balance.

The condition of the Basuto that day, according
to letters of the time from Messrs. Coillard, Burnet
and others, was most deplorable. Moshesh had
collected on the plateau forming the crown of Thaba
Bosigo a vast herd of cattle, thinking his people would
fight for them if they would not cling to their chiefs,
then much divided. The mountain top was soon in
a fearful state. The cattle maddened by hunger and
thirst died by thousands, their dead bodies being used
as barriers.

364 The Basutos

The events of the day caused deep depression on
both sides. The one had failed when the mastery was
within its grasp ; the other had been smitten hard
and was conscious of a defeat nearly inflicted upon
them whilst their foe lay encamped around to all
appearances meditating a further attempt. Neither
realized how sick the other was.

Whether the Basuto were being poisoned by the
putrifying carcasses, or whether Moshesh argued that
if time could be gained the burghers would as usual
melt away in driblets to their homes, he made the
first move after a pause of inaction by addressing a
letter on August 23 to President Brand, then at
Bloemfontein, to the effect that he was quite willing
to submit their quarrel to the arbitration of the High
Commissioner who had often expressed himself ready
to mediate ; if the Free State would accept, he was
prepared to consider their proposals for a cessation of
hostilities. General Fick who received and forwarded
the letter was unable to agree upon the terms of an
armistice, though an informal one followed.

On August 28 the President's answer arrived.
It traversed again the ground covered in his Declara-
tion of War, stated that the Basuto paid no regard to
promises, unless compelled by force to do so, that
substantial peace could only be procured by the sword,
and that, if Moshesh within three hours of receiving
the letter did not comply with the conditions en-
closed, hostilities would be resumed with the utmost
rigour, in co-operation with the Transvaal, who were
determined to avenge the murder of the Pretorius

Terms of Peace 365

Terms and Conditions

upon which the Government of the Orange Free State is ivilling

to make Peace with the Bnsutos, in consequence of Moshesh's

application, dated Thaba Bosigo 1865 {August 23)

Article I. — The Chief Moshesh and the Basutos at
present on Thaba Bosigo are to evacuate Thaba Bosigo
forthwith, and to dehver up to the General in com-
mand of the Free State Army before Thaba Bosigo
all the arms and ammunition of war which are there.
Thaba Bosigo to be in future occupied by a Free
State Magistrate, with followers, under whose super-
vision the Chief of the Basutos will in future govern
his people.

Article II. — The Chief Moshesh to pay to the
Government of the Orange Free State within four
days of the delivery of this letter 10,000 head of

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Online LibraryGodfrey LagdenThe Basutos; the mountaineers & their country; being a narrative of events relating to the tribe from its formation early in the nineteenth century to the present day (Volume 2) → online text (page 2 of 23)