James Cappon.

Britain's title in South Africa, or, The story of Cape colony to the days of the great trek online

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Charles was a man of practical temper in the matter
of progress and reforms, in many ways not unequal
to the great task he had undertaken, but incaj^ablc
of appreciating any ideals of civilisation other than
those already fixed and visible to his eyes. Between
what was visionary in such things and what was a
necessary element in the progress of humanity he
could not well distinguish.

As might be expected, therefore, his relations with
the London Missionary Societ}% which was the special
champion of the Hcjttcntot race within the Colony,
were alwa)'s somewhat strained. Perhaps he resented
the influence which this Society, and in particular its
energetic chief, Dr. Philip, were able, through their
relations with Fowell-Buxton, Wilberforce, and other
leaders of the philanthropic societies, to exercise
in colonial affairs. On Bethelsdorp particularly his
hand was heavy in the way of restrictions and
requisitions, and he seems to have received mostly
in contemptuous silence the complaints which the
missionaries there made with regard to his land-
drost's exactions.^

The visit which he made in 1817 to the London
Society's mission at the Kat River, under Mr.
Williams, seems a fair specimen of the Colonial
Government's attitude at this time towards those

^ See the official correspondence in Philip, vol. ii., pp.


asylums for the natives. Poor Williams, an honest
illiterate sort of man, Dr. Theal says (whom I quote
a little fearfully), had not been many months at the
station, and everything being new to him in that
Kaffir countr)% had, without knowing it, given shelter
to six runaway Hottentots at his settlement. His
Lordship, not wishing to overwhelm the poor man,
who had been useful in the negotiations with Gaika,
gave him a gentlemanlike rebuke ; but our old friend.
Colonel Cuyler, the landdrost of Uitenhage, told him
in his hectoring way that " he had a damned
deal better be somewhere else." Tom Sheridan, the
eldest son of the famous orator, happened to be of
the Governor's party — he was then Colonial Pay-
master at the Cape — and having a soft Irish heart, or
mindful perhaps of Charles Fox and his father's old
battles, for all that was weak or oppressed, or " agin
the Government," shook hands with Williams and
wished him every success. " He is a gentleman I
know nothing of," writes Williams, " but it did me
good to think they were not all against me."

There were some exceptions, but I think the
feeling of the average British officer on the frontier
towards Kaffirs and Hottentots was much the same
as that of the Boers, and is fairly enough represented
by what they said to Williams when he was passing
the frontier posts on his way to the Kat River, " after
they had sent a good lot of them to hell, it would be


time to go and preach salvation to thcni, and not
before." ^ We must remember that Mr. I'owell-
Buxton, lecturing at I'Lxeter Hall on the analogy
between the African native and the savage Briton in
Cajsai's time, and the British subaltern or maj(jr on the
Kaffir frontier, are two very different and extreme
specimens of the l^ritish mind in such matters.

When Williams died in 1818 Lord Somerset
prohibited a successor proceeding to the Kat River
station, and partly in this way, partly by direct
measures, secured the dispersion of the Ghonaquas
there amongst the I^oers of Graaff-Reinet and
Swellendam. He withdrew also the London
Society's mission stations at Hephzibah and Trover-
berg (modern Colesberg) as giving rise to disputes
with the farmers over the possession of Bushmen

Lord Charles Somerset, like many of the British
Governors and Generals commanding in the colonies
to-day, had a more difficult position to hold than the
people at home were aware of, and with all the
support that high connections could give him, he had
no bed of roses as Governor of Cape Colony. With
the British immigration of 1820 a large number of
colonists, accustomed to representative government
and a free criticism of their rulers, had been settled in
the country. When the bad times came, many of
^ Philip, vol. ii. p. 165.


these were inclined to find fault with the Colonial
Government, to complain of its arrangements, to
demand any locations which their fancy pitched upon,
as if land were as plentiful in Albany and as un-
claimed as in the Great Karroo. Their instincts, of
course, led them at once to propose public meetings
at Grahamstown with the view of ventilating their
grievances. The time, it must be admitted, was not an
opportune one for such fine constitutional usages.
In 1822 the Colony, with some 6,000 British settlers,
totally ignorant of the country, some 40,000 Dutch,
and almost twice that number of slaves and
Hottentots, was in no way ripe for self-government.
A few discontented British might raise all that was
unruly in the Dutch population. There was only
one way then, and by his Proclamation of May 24th,
1822, Lord Charles declared that " public meetings for
the discussion of public measures, and political
subjects " were " contrary to the law and usage of
this place," and were prohibited accordingly. The
Briton's birthright was taken away.

More dangerous still, what might be called a
Radical Opposition party had been formed at Cape-
town. Thither Thomas Pringle, formerly of the
Scotch location at the Baviaans' River, had gone, and
in company with another ingenuous Scotch University
youth, Fairbairn by name, had started a magazine,
their heads full of all the Liberal and humanitarian

223 BRITAIN'S 'rriM.l': I.\ south AFRICA xil

ideas of that time, diffusion of economical and
political knowledge annon<^st the people, lectures on
chemistry and botany, societies for discussion and
debate, with stroni^ [)hilanthropic \'ie\vs, of course, on
the subject of the native races. Worse still, the two
had, as editors, got command of the only newspaper
(except the drowsy official Gazette) published in the
Colony. Some very reputable society also gathered
round them, amongst others Dr. Philip, the Superin-
tendent of the London Missionary Society, George
Thompson, W. T. Blair, of the East India Company's
Civil Service, and Benjamin Moodie. Even some of
the Cape Dutch, Sir John Truter and advocate Cloete,
joined their Literary Society, being in sympathy with
their constitutional ideals, and the question of eman-
cipation being still, to all appearance, a remote one.

The first number of the magazine, the South
African Journal, published in March 1824, com-
menced auspiciously with an essay from Mr. Fairbairn
on the influence of the general diffusion of knowledge
" in checking the abuses of despotic power," and with
some verses of Pringle upon the " Suppression of a
Constitutional Government in Spain." Excellent
topics in a colony where the proclamation against
public meetings had been so lately promulgated !
The second number contained an article on the
" Prospects of the English Emigrants in South
Africa," in which, amongst the causes of their


distress, were mentioned, " an arbitrary system of
government, and its natural consequences — abuse
of power by local functionaries, monopolies, &c.," and
" the vacillating and inefficient system pursued in
regard to the Kaffirs."

The journal was highly approved of by Mr. Henry
Brougham at home, to whom it was duly sent by
Pringle. One can understand, too, a certain feeling
of complacency amongst some official persons, both
Dutch and English, who may at times have been
handled rather summarily by that intelligent autocrat,
the Governor. But the reader is perhaps in a position
to consider for himself how far representative govern-
ment and free Opposition criticism at that period
were consistent with the existence of a British
Governor at Capetown ; or with that of Pringle himself
and his British journalism ; or with that of Pringle's
father and brother on the forfeited lands of the
Bezuidenhouts ; or with the editor's lofty philanthropic
theories in favour of the native races. Not one of
those things could have existed at that period along
with a free poll of the white voters in Cape Colony,
except in so far as the vis major of the British
Empire supported them against the wishes of the

The end of the quarrel was that the Governor
established a censorship of the magazine and the
newspaper, when both the editors and Greig, the

224 I'.Rriwix's 'rrii.K in south Africa xh

publislicr, announced that they would (h'scontinuc
their pubhcations rather than compromise their
" birthrit^ht as l^ritish subjects." Lord Charles made
some efforts to comprcjmise tlu- matter cjuietl)', but
J'ringle stood iiauL^htily on his rights, and the cjuarrel
finally became one a roi(tnnicc,\.\\c Governor exerting
all his influence to discountenance Pringle's schemes,
especially his educational academy, and Pringle
proclaimiuL; to the world that a "Reign of Terror"
existed at the Cai)e. /\t last I'ringle concluded he
had better leave the Colony, and, returning to England
in 1826, was soon after made secretary of the Anti-
Slavery Society. There he laboured " unweariedly "
along with Zachary Macaulay, Fowell-Buxton and
others of that set at the great ideal of equal rights
for the black races, contributing tales of the "Wrongs
of Amakosa," and verses on expatriated Kaffirs, more
than ever in the Campbell style, even to the
Christmas Annuals of that day.^ He died in
December 1834, having lived to see his hopes
fulfilled. He was somewhat of a flaring lamp and
soon burnt out, but he shone in a great darkness and
helps wonderfully to light it up for us.

It is evident, however, that the Colony was

approaching a condition when it could no longer be

satisfactorily ruled by a Governor's Proclamations.

It is true that as far as possible the lines of legisia-

' See Friends/iifs Offering (which he edited) for 1833.


tion were laid down by special Acts of Parliament
in Great Britain, or orders in council, and also that
the Governor's Proclamations had eventually to be
approved and confirmed by the Secretary for the
Colonies. But the fact that the members of the Court
of Justice, even the Chief Justice himself, were de-
pendent on the Governor's favour for their appoint-
ment to the other civil situation which they might
hold, and were removable at his pleasure, and also
the fact that the Governor himself constituted the
first Court of Appeal both in civil and criminal cases,
put excessive power into the hands of one man. The
powers of the Fiscal, too, an officer who was of course
much under the influence of the Governor, were
unusually extensive and rather incompatible with
modern views of good government. He was public
prosecutor and head of the police. " He may bring
forward charges tyranically," writes Wilberforce Bird,
a very competent authority, " or withhold them cor-
ruptly. He may tease one part of the society by
little vexatious police regulations, and indulge another
part in less venial acts." But Bird admits that there
is " no instance on record in which any one (of the
Fiscals) has been convicted of undue partiality, or
of abuse of power." ' I do not quite like the formal

^ S/ate of the Cape of Good Hope in 1822, p. 18. Bird was a
cautious, moderate, statistical sort of writer, and had been for
many years a civil servant at the Cape.



style of that testimony, but I think it is only Bird's
stiff, official manner.

The government of the Colony was certainly of an
autocratic type, but it was, as even Dr. Theal admits,
in the hands of honourable men, and it was an
autocracy quite free from corruption and tempered
always by the certainty that any real case of mal-
administration or injustice would be investigated by
the Home Government and surely punished.

In ordinary circumstances freedom of speech is the
best guarantee we can have of good government, but
it does not follow that it always secures honest and
pure government. It may be quite otherwise in some
communities. Under Lord Charles the citizens of
Capetown had to suppress their disapproval of the
Government's measures or grumble them out only in
the privacy of the domestic circle, but the Government
itself was honest and pure. I am always surprised
that Dr. Theal's industry finds so little in the way of
public scandal against British governors and officials.
What would he not have given for even a small
matter like our rations scandal, or the mere suspicion
of a Yukon deal ? It would be meat and drink to
him. Under the New Americanism also, the citizens
of New York may come out into the streets and
shout aloud, if they like, against the rule of Boss
Croker, but they are in the grasp of the machine and
of a master-hand, before whose feats Sir George's


little stretches of authority and timid essayings seem
contemptible, almost a kind of virtuous restraint.
Even the great dailies that once harried Tweed have
become silent. All the same the American people
usually know what they want and contrive to get it.
The management of our modern great cities, those
vast agglomerations from every nationality, has be-
come a special kind of problem which is not quite
the same thing as the administration of a small town
in Cape Cod or the farming districts of Wisconsin.
Perhaps they even act in some measure as depurating
sinks to help the latter. There may be a good deal
in Mr. Croker's own view that the people of New
York accept his rule as the only alternative to that
of Sectarians, Prohibitionists and Faddists, which
would be too much for ordinary human nature. At
least that is how I read one of his harangues, which
claims that his victory at the polls is a victory for
" the plain people."

The Boers of the frontier, at any rate, had no fault
to find with Lord Charles Somerset. His Border
policy was designed largely with a view to meet their
wants and desires. It fell to him, it is true, to suppress
the Bezuidenhout rebellion (181 5), which he did with
a firm hand, as we have seen ; he transferred, too, some
of the most turbulent Bruintjes Hoogte men who had
been out in that affair, to the Nieuwveld Mountains
on the northern frontier, where they might expand to

(.) 2


their hearts' content with nothing but feeble and
unorganised bands of Bushmen to oppose them. He
disbanded the hated Hottentot corps on the grounds
that it took " not only the men but their women also
from the service of the farmers." He applied the
opgaaf, or tax, to Hottentots residing at mission
stations in so severe a manner, as practically to force
any Hottentots who had not been fortunate or pros-
perous to choose between the prison and service with
the Boers. His landdrosts also were encouraged in
a line of conduct towards the mission stations which
was always strict, often severe, and occasionally quite
arbitrary. The result was that while the Radical
party and the emigrants were sending complaints
and petitions against the Governor, the Boers of the
frontier were presenting testimonials and addresses in
support of him. So much progress, at any rate, had
the titular author of the execution of the Slachter's
Nek rebels made in their favour.

What pleased them most, no doubt, was the en-
couragement he gave to their territorial expansion,
and particularly the prospect he opened up for them
of gaining possession of the long coveted lands of
the Kaffir in the Koonap valley.

Since i8ii,when Sir John Cradock had expelled
the Kaffirs from the Zuurveld, the Fish River had
been the real as well as nominal boundary between
the Colony and the Kaffirs. In 1817 Lord Charles


took the frontier business in hand, and proceeding
with a strong guard to the Kat Kiver summoned the
chief Gaika to an interview. The barbaric chief
seems no longer to have been what he was when Dr.
Vanderkemp first saw him eighteen years before at
the same place, a proud and majestic figure, receiving
the white man's overtures somewhat condescendingly.
That long experience of the growing and irresistible
power of the race that was pressing on his frontier
had evidently cowed him, and he came to meet the
British Governor in fear and trembling, only partly
reassured by the presence of the missionary Williams.
Indeed he seems hardly to have known what to make
of the civilisation that confronted him. On the one
hand there were its missionaries, the Vanderkemps
and Reads, who came to him with messages of peace
and good-will on earth amongst men, and on the
other hand there were the Boers, who called them-
selves Christen Mensche and shot his Kaffirs, offensive
and inoffensive, plunderers or peace envoys, like dogs ;
and there were the British authorities who, as he
afterwards said, " oppressed while they protected
him." So when his Lordship was exacting conditions
and laying down the strictest law of reprisals, to all
of which Gaika could do nothing but agree, as far as
his tribe was concerned, the savage chief who knew
very well, below all questions of depredations and
reprisals, who were the real aggressors, who first


massacred tlic Iinidange years ago, burst (jut abruptly
into some questions which Williams seems to think
irrelevant. " What is the missionary come into this
land for ? " His Lordship answered, " To teach you the
Word of God."— "Who has sent hiin?" asked the chief.
The Governor replied that Williams had been sent by
the friends of Christianity over the world, through the
medium of the English Government ; and that there-
fore he (the Governor) was bound to protect him.
Gaika, not having got to his point yet, then asked his
Excellency, " how he should understand the Word,"
a question which quite non-plussed his Excellency,
who abandoned the discussion at this stage.

Gaika indeed seems to have done his best, as far as
his power went, to keep faith with the Government,
but his authority at this time was much weakened
amongst his countrymen, the recent events in the
Zuurveld not being of a kind to set his prudent policy
of peace at any price in a favourable light with them.
A prophet, too, had arisen amongst the Amakosa, a
warrior-priest, who had acquired even more influence
amongst the western Kaffirs than their hereditary
chiefs, and now threw that influence wholly into the
scale against Gaika as a pusillanimous ruler, who was
afraid to maintain the rights of his race.

Makana, according to general testimony, was a man
of high intellect and commanding character. He had
frequented Dr. Vanderkemp's mission at Bethelsdorp,


and had received from him and from the Missionary
Vanderlingen some idea of Christianity, which he had
assimilated with some vague Kaffir notions of his
own regarding the government of the universe. In
his role of prophet he was accustomed to address his
people in high mysterious harangues, as they seemed
to Read and other missionaries, not the best of inter-
preters in such cases ; he even at times attempted to
perform miracles, and was no more abashed than
Mohammed when they failed. He had a profound
sense of the danger to his race from the encroaching
civilisation of the white man, more so perhaps than
events have justified, owing to the humane policy of
the British Government. Pringle, who came out to
Africa shortly after Makana's rising, and knew his
story well, has interpreted his sentiments for us in a
poem, which he calls Makana's Gathering :

Wake ! Amakosa, wake !
And arm yourselves for war.

Hark ! 'tis Uhlanga's voice

From Debe's mountain caves !
He calls on you to make your choice —

To conquer or be slaves :
To meet proud Amanglezi's guns,

And fight like warriors nobly born ;
Or like Umlawu's feeble sons,^

Become the foeman's scorn.

To Makana the policy of Gaika seemed both
^ The Hottentot race.


cowardly and futile/ and he exerted all his influence
to unite the different Kosa clans in an attempt to
break the power of the wily old chief For a time
the attempt was successful. In the great fight of
Amalindc, in 1818, Gaika's warriors were completely
routed by Makana's strategy, and he was only
saved from destruction by the interference of the
British Governor, who sent troops to his aid. The
Kosa patriots under Ndlambe and Makana then
invaded the district of Albany, their old Zuurveld
home, and made an assault on Grahamstown. The
assault was repelled by the troops stationed there,
and a large force of burghers and soldiers was
soon afterwards assembled for a punitive expedi-
tion into Kafifirland. The invading clans were
driven to the Kei with great loss of life and cattle.
Makana gave himself up to the government in
order to prevent his people being hunted into
starvation, and was drowned some time afterwards
in an attempt to escape from his prison at Robben
Island. That was the end of the great attempt he
had organised to turn the tide of the white man's
invasion of Kaffir territory. His memory, like that
of British Arthur and German Barbarossa, was per-
petuated amongst his people by a tradition that he

1 " Gaika shall never rule over the followers of those who
think him a woman," was the contemptuous speech of one of
Makana's lieutenants to the British commandant.


would again appear, in the hour of need, to lead
them to victory, and it was not till 1873, Theal
says, that his mats and ornaments were sorrowfully
buried, according to custom, by his countrymen.

It was not the policy of the British authorities at
this time to alarm the Kaffir by occupying his terri-
tory at once, but Lord Charles judged it was a
good opportunity for pushing him further back.
The need also of a more assured frontier than that
afforded by the jungles of the Fish River seems
to have been felt by the military authorities. The
chiefs were not always able, even if they were
willing, entirely to repress the plundering instincts
of their followers, nor was the government able to
prevent the more lawless of the farmers from cross-
ing the boundary to drive an illicit trade in cattle.
The British Governor therefore hit upon the ex-
pedient of creating a neutral belt of territory between
the colonist and the Kaffir. He demanded from
Gaika the cession of the land between the Fish River
and the Keiskamma, including that region of the Kat
and Koonap rivers on which the Boers had long had
an eye. Gaika was in no position to refuse, and
besides, his tribe had but lately owed its existence
to the British Governor's intervention. But he re-
quested that his favourite kraal at the head waters
of the Tyumie, the. most fertile valley in Kafifirland,
should be left to him. The cession seems to have


been made on tlie uiKlerstandin^- that the territory
was to remain unoccupied. Military outposts and
patrols were established to repress alike the aggres-
sions of the Boer and the thieving habits of the
Kaffir. The extra expenditure for the defence of
the frontier often fell heavy on the British Treasury,
amounting to about ^100,000, and latterly ;^300,oc)O
a year, with an additional half-million thrown in
when war broke out. " Every acre of ground in Cape
Colony," writes Mr. Boyce {Notes on South Africa),
" has already been paid for by the British Treasury
at a rate ten times its actual value."

It was unfortunate that the neutrality of the ceded
territory was hardly long enough respected by the
Colonial Government to convince the Kaffirs that the
arrangement had been made in good faith. In 1820
Lord Charles Somerset was absent on leave, and the
acting-Governor, Sir Rufane Donkin, with the consent
of Gaika, allowed a number of the officers and men
of the Royal African Corps, as well as some Scotch
settlers under Mr. B. Moodie, to occupy the southern
part of it. On the other hand Lord Charles Somerset
soon after his return permitted Gaika's son, Makoma,
to re-occupy the valley of the Kat River, and in 1825
he at last rewarded the fidelity of the frontier Boers
by extending the boundary of the Colony to the
Koonap River, and throwing open that part of the
neutral or ceded territory for them alone, on the

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Online LibraryJames CapponBritain's title in South Africa, or, The story of Cape colony to the days of the great trek → online text (page 14 of 21)