John Morley.

The life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 online

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certain by English officials on the ground, that the example
would not be lost on fiercer warriors, and that a native con-
flagration might any day burst into blaze in other regions of
the immense territory. The British government despatched
an agent of great local experience; he found the Boer

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government, which was loosely organized even at its best,
now completely paralysed, without money, without internal .
authority, without defensive power against external foes. In ^ Er -7 1 *
alarm at the possible result of such a situation on the peace
of the European domain in South Africa, he proclaimed the
sovereignty of the Queen, and set up an administration.
This he was empowered by secret instructions to do, if he
should think fit. Here was the initial error. The secretary
of state in Downing Street approved (June 21, 1877), on
the express assumption that a sufficient number of the
inhabitants desired to become the Queen's subjects. Some
have thought that if he had waited the Boers would have
sought annexation, but this seems to be highly improbable.
In the annexation proclamation promises were made to the
Boers of ' the fullest legislative privileges compatible with
the circumstances of the country and the intelligence of the
people/ An assembly was also promised.

The soundness of the assumption was immediately dis-
puted. The Boer government protested against annexation.
Two delegates — one of them Mr. Kruger — repaired to Eng-
land, assured Lord Carnarvon that their fellow Boers were
vehemently opposed to annexation, and earnestly besoughtjts
reversal The minister insisted that he was right and they
were wrong. They went back, and in order to convince the
government of the true strength of feeling for independence,
petitions were prepared seeking the restoration of indepen-
dence. The signatures were those of qualified electors of
the old republic. The government were informed by Sir
Garnet Wolseley that there were about 8000 persons of the
age to be electors, of whom rather fewer than 7000 were
Boers. To the petitions were appended almost exactly 7000
names. The colonial office recognised that the opposition
of the Boers to annexation was practically unanimous. The
comparatively insignificant addresses on the other side came
from the town and digging population, which was as strong
in favour of the suppression of the old republic, as the rural
population was strong against it.

For many months the Boers persevered. They again sent
Kruger and Joubert to England ; they held huge mass meet-

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BOOK ings ; they poured out prayers to the high commissioner to
* Vl ^ *_ ' givft back their independence; they sent memorial after
1880. memorial to the secretary of state. In the autumn of 1879
Sir Garnet Wolseley assumed the administration of the
Transvaal, and issued a proclamation setting forth the will
and determination of the government of the Queen that
this Transvaal territory should be, and should continue to
be for ever, an integral part of her dominions in South
Africa. In the closing days of 1879 the secretary of state,
Sir Michael Hicks Beach, who had succeeded Carnarvon (Jan.
1878), received from the same eminent soldier a compre-
hensive despatch, warning him that the meetings of protest
against annexation attended by thousands of armed men in
angry mood, would be likely to end in a serious explosion.
While putting all sides of the question before his government,
Sir Garnet inserted one paragraph of momentous import.
' The Transvaal,' he said, ' is rich in minerals ; gold has already
been found in quantities, and there can be little doubt that
larger and still more valuable goldfields will sooner or later
be discovered. Any such discovery would soon bring a
large British population hera The time must eventually
arrive when the Boers will be in a small minority, as the
country is very sparsely peopled, and would it not therefore
be a very near-sighted policy to recede now from the position
we have taken up here, simply because for some years to
come, the retention of 2000 or 3000 troops may be necessary
to reconsolidate our power? ' * This pregnant and far-sighted
warning seems to have been little considered by English
statesmen of either party at this critical time or afterwards,
though it proved a vital element in any far-sighted decision.
On March 9 — the day, as it happened, on which the inten-
tion to dissolve parliament was made public — Sir Garnet
telegraphed for a renewed expression of the determination
of the government to retain the 'country, and he received
the assurance that he sought. The Vaal river, he told the
Boers, would flow backwards through the Drakensberg sooner
than the British would be withdrawn from the Transvaal
The picturesque figure did not soften the Boer heart

1 8ir Garnet Wokeley to Sir M. Hicks Beach, Nov. 13, 1879.

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This was the final share of the conservative cabinet in the CHAP,
unfortunate enterprise on which they had allowed the«

country to be launched. Ml * 71#

t in

When the question of annexation had originally come
before parliament, Mr. Gladstone was silent He was averse
to it; he believed that it would involve us in unmixed
mischief; but he felt that to make this judgment known
at that period would not have had any effect towards
reversing what had been done, while it might impede
the chances of a good issue, slender as these might be. 1
In the discussion at the opening of the final session of the
old parliament, Lord Hartington as leader of the opposi-
tion, enforcing the general doctrine that it behoved us to
concentrate our resources, and to limit instead of extending
the empire, took the Transvaal for an illustration. It was
now conclusively proved, he said, that a large majority of
the Boers were bitterly against annexation. That being so,
it ought not to be considered a settled question merely
because annexation had taken place; and if we should find
that the balance of advantage was in favour of the restora-
tion of independence, no false sense of dignity should stand
in the way. Mr. Gladstone in Midlothian had been more
reserved. In that indictment, there are only two or three
references, and those comparatively fugitive and secondary,
to this article of charge. There is a sentence in one of the
Midlothian speeches about bringing a territory inhabited by
a free European Christian republic within the limits of
a monarchy, though out of 8000 persons qualified to vote,
6500 voted against it. In another sentence he speaks of the
Transvaal as a country 'where we have chosen most
unwisely, I am tempted to say insanely, to place ourselves in
the strange predicament of the free subjects of a monarchy
going to coerce the free subjects of a republic, and to com-
pel them to accept a citizenship which they decline and
refuse; but if that is to be done, it must be done by force.' *
A third sentence completes the tale : — ' If Cyprus and the

1 La H. of C, Jan. 21, 1881. a Sp€*eke* in Scotland, i. pp. 48, 63.

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BOOK Transvaal were as valuable as they are valueless, I would

_I^5l^ repudiate them because they are obtained by means dis-

1880. honourable to the character of the country.' These utterances

of the mighty unofficial chief and the responsible official

leader of the opposition were alL The Boer republicans

thought that they were enough.

On coming into power, the Gladstone government found
the official evidence all to the effect that the political aspect
of the Transvaal was decidedly improving. The commis-
sioners, the administrators, the agents, were unanimous.
Even those among them who insisted on the rooted dislike
of the main body of the Boers to British authority, still
thought that they were acquiescing, exactly as the Boers in
the Cape Colony had acquiesced Could ministers justify
abandonment, without far stronger evidence than they then
possessed that they could not govern the Transvaal peace-
ably? Among other things, they were assured that
abandonment would be fatal to the prospects of confedera-
tion, and might besides entail a civil war. On May 7, Sir
Bartle Frere pressed the new ministers for an early announce-
ment of their policy, in order to prevent the mischiefs
of agitation. The cabinet decided the question on May 12,
and agreed upon the terms of a telegram 1 by which Lord
Kimberley was to inform Frere that the sovereignty of the
Queen over the Transvaal could not be relinquished, but
that he hoped the speedy accomplishment of confederation
would enable free institutions to be conferred with prompti-
tude. In other words, in spite of all that had been defiantly
said by Lord Hartington, and more cautiously implied by
Mr. Gladstone, the new government at once placed themselves
exactly in the position of the old one. 2

The case was stated in his usual nervous language by Mr.
Chamberlain a few months later. 8 'When we came into

1 C, 2586, No. 3. Transvaal should receive, and receive

1 Mr. Grant Duff, then colonial with promptitude, as a portion of

under-secretary, said in the House of confederation, the largest possible

Commons, May 21 1880, ' Under the measure of local liberties that could

very difficult circumstances of the be granted, and that was the direo-

oase, the plan which seemed likely tion in which her Majesty's present

best to conciliate the interests at once advisers meant to move. *

of the Boers, the natives and the ' At Birmingham, June 1881.
English population, was that the

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office/ he said, ' we were all agreed that the original annexa-
tion was a mistake, that it ought never to have been made ; <
and there arose the question could it then be undone ? We iET# 7L
were in possession of information to the effect that the great
majority of the people of the Transvaal were reconciled to
annexation; we were told that if we reversed the decision of
the late government, there would be a great probability
of civil war and anarchy ; and acting upon these representa-
tions, we decided that we could not recommend the Queen
to relinquish her sovereignty. But we assured the Boers
that we would take the earliest opportunity of granting to
them the freest and most complete local institutions, com-
patible with the welfare of South Africa. It is easy to be
wise after the event. It is easy to see now that we were
wrong in so deciding. I frankly admit we made a mistake.
Whatever the risk was, and I believe it was a great risk, of
civil war and anarchy in the Transvaal, it was not so great
a danger as that we actually incurred by maintaining the
wrong of our predecessors.' Such was the language used
by Mr. Chamberlain after special consultation with Lord
Kimberley. With characteristic tenacity and that aversion
ever to yield even the smallest point, which comes to a man
saturated with the habit of a lifetime of debate, Mr. Glad-
stone wrote to Mr. Chamberlain (June 8, 1881), — ' I have read
with pleasure what you say of the Transvaal Tet I am not
prepared, for myself, to concede that we made a mistake
in not advising a revocation of the annexation when we
came in.'

At this instant a letter reached Mr. Gladstone from Eruger
and Joubert (May 10, 1880), telling him that there was
a firm belief among their people that truth prevailed. ' They
were confident that one day or another, by the mercy of the
Lord, the reins of the imperial government would be
entrusted again to men who look out for the honour and glory
of England, not by acts of injustice and crushing force, but
by the way of justice and good faith. And, indeed, this belief
has proven to be a good belief It would have been well
for the Boers and well for us, if that had indeed been so.
Unluckily the reply sent in Mr. Gladstone's name (June 15),

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270 . MAJUBA

BOOK informed them that obligations had now been contracted,
ViiA ' - especially towards the natives, that could not be set aside,
1880. but that consistently with the maintenance of the Queen's
sovereignty over the Transvaal, ministers desired that the
white inhabitants should enjoy the fullest liberty to manage
their local affairs. ' We believe that this liberty may be most
easily and promptly conceded to the Transvaal, as a member
of a South African confederation/ Solemn and deliberate
as this sounds, no step whatever was effectively taken
towards conferring this full liberty, or any liberty at alL

It is worth while, on this material point, to look back The
original proclamation had promised the people the fullest
legislative privileges compatible with the circumstances of
the country and the intelligence of the people. Then, at a later
date (April, 1877), Sir Bartle Frere met a great assemblage
of Boers, and told them that they should receive, as soon as
circumstances rendered it practicable, as large a measure
of self-government as was enjoyed by any colony in South
Africa. 1 The secretary of state had also spoken to the same
effect. During the short period in which Sir Bartle Frere
was connected with the administration of the Transvaal, he
earnestly pressed upon the government the necessity for
redeeming the promises made at the time of annexation, of
the same measure of perfect self-government now enjoyed,
by Cape Colony/ always, of course, under the authority
of the crown. 8 As the months went on, no attempt was
made to fulfil all these solemn pledges, and the Boers naturally
began to look on them as so much mockery. Their anger
in turn increased the timidity of government, and it was
argued that the first use that the Boers would make of a free
constitution would be to stop the supplies. So a thing
called an Assembly was set up (November 9, 1879), composed
partly of British officers and partly of nominated members.
This was a complete falsification of a whole set of our national
promises. Still annexation might conceivably have been

1 C. 2367, p. 55. more impressed on the colonial office

9 Afghanistan and S. Afriea : A the necessity of speedily granting

letter to Mr. Gladstone by Sir Bartle the Boers a constitution, otherwise

Frere. Murray, 1891, pp. 24-6. there would be serious trouble. (L\fe t

Frere on his return to England, once iL. p. 408).

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accepted, even the sting might have been partially taken °^ p -
out of the delay of the promised free institutions, if only «
the administration had been considerate, judicious, and
adapted to the ways and habits of the people. Instead of
being all these things it was stiff, headstrong, and intensely
stupid. 1

The value of the official assurances from agents on the
spot that restoration of independence would destroy the
chances of confederation, and would give fuel to the fires of
agitation, was speedily tested. It was precisely these results
that flowed from the denial of independence. The incensed
Boer leaders worked so successfully on the Cape parliament
against confederation, that this favourite panacea was inde-
finitely hung up. Here, again, it is puzzling to know why
ministers did not retrace their steps. Here, again, their
blind guides in the Transvaal persisted that they knew the
road ; persisted that with the exception of a turbulent hand-
ful, the Boers of the Transvaal only sighed for the enjoyment
of the pax britarmica, or, if even that should happen to be
not quite true, at any rate they were incapable of united
action, were mortal cowards, and could never make a stand
in the field. While folly of this kind was finding its way by
every mail to Downing Street, violent disturbances broke
out in the collection of taxes. Still Sir Owen Lanyon —
who had been placed in control in the Transvaal in March
1879 — assured Lord Kimberley that no serious trouble
would arise (November 14). At the end of the month
he still denies that there is much or any cause for anxiety.
In December several thousands of Boers assembled at
Paardekraal, declared for the restoration of their republic,
and a general rising followed. Colley, who had succeeded
General Wolseley as governor of ^Natal and high commis-
sioner for south-east Africa, had been so little prepared for
this, that at the end of August he had recommended a
reduction of the Transvaal garrisons,* and even now he

1 Sir George Colley pressed Lord * Before the Gladstone government

Kimberley in his correspondence with came into office, between August 1879

the reality of this grievance, and the and April 1880, whilst General

urgency of trying to remove it. This Wolseley was in command, the foree

was after the Boers had taken to in Natal and the Transvaal had been

arms at the end of 1880. reduced by six batteries of artillery,

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BOOK thought the case so little serious that he contented himself
, * /(December 4) with ordering four companies to march for

1880. t j ie Transvaal Then he and Lanyon began to get alarmed,
and with good reason. The whole country, except three or
four beleaguered British posts, fell into the hands of the Boers.
The pleas for failure to take measures to conciliate the
Boers in the interval between Frere's recall and the out-
break, were that Sir Hercules Robinson had not arrived l ;
that confederation was not yet wholly given up; that re-
sistance to annexation was said to be abating ; that time was
in our favour ; that the one thing indispensable to conciliate
the Boers was a railway to Delagoa Bay ; that this needed
a treaty, and we hoped soon to get Portugal to ratify a
treaty, and then we might tell the Boers that we should
soon make a survey, with a view at some early date to
proceed with the project, and thus all would in the end
come right. So a fresh page was turned in the story of
loitering unwisdom.


On December 6 Mr. Brand, the sagacious president of
the Orange Free State, sent a message of anxious warning
to the acting governor at Cape Town, urging that means
should be devised to avert an imminent collision. That
message, which might possibly have wakened up the colonial
office to the real state of the case, did not reach London
until December 30. Excuses for this fatal delay were
abundant : a wire was broken ; the governor did not think
himself concerned with Transvaal affairs; he sent the
message on to the general, supposing that the general
would send it on home; and so forth. For a whole
string of the very best reqpons in the world the message that

three companies of engineers, one them leaving Gibraltar on Dec. 27,

cavalry regiment, eleven battalions 1880.

of infantry, and five companies of * Sir B. Frere was recalled on

army service corps. The force at the August 1, 1880, and sailed for Eng-

time of the outbreak was: in Natal land, September 15. Sir Hercules

1772, and in the Transvaal 1759 — a Robinson, his successor, did not reach

total of 3531. As soon as the news the Cape until the end of January

of the insurrection reached London, 1881. In the interval Sir George

large reinforcements were at once Strahan was acting governor,
despatched to Colley, the first of

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might have prevented the outbreak, arrived through the slow (ifHAP.
post at Whitehall just eleven days after the outbreak had » ^
begun. Members of the legislature fit the Cape urged the •**• 7L
British government to send a special commissioner to inquire
and report The policy of giving consideration to the counsels
of the Cape legislature had usually been pursued by the
wiser heads concerned in South African affairs, and when
the counsels of the chief of the Free State were urgent in
the same direction, their weight should perhaps have been
decisive. Lord Kimberley, however, did not think the
moment opportune (Dec. 30). 1 Before many weeks, as it
happened, a commission was indeed sent, but unfortunately
not until after the mischief had been done. Meanwhile in
the Queen's speech a week later an emphatic paragraph
announced that the duty of vindicating her Majesty's
authority had set aside for the time any plan for securing
to European settlers in the Transvaal full control over their
own local affairs. Seldom has the sovereign been made the
mouthpiece of an utterance more shortsighted.

Again the curtain rose upon a new and memorable act
Four days after the Queen's speech, President Brand a
second time appeared upon the scene (Jan. 10, 1881), with a
message hoping that an effort, would be made without the
least delay to prevent further bloodshed. Lord Kimberley
replied that provided the Boers would desist from their
armed opposition, the government did not despair of making
a satisfactory settlement. Two days later (Jan. 12) the
president told the government that not a moment should
be lost, and some one (say Chief Justice de Villiers), should
be sent to the Transvaal burghers by the government, to
stop further collision and with a clear and definite proposal

1 Lord Kimberley justified this de- refused at that time to listen to- any

cision on the ground that it was reasonable terms, and would have

impossible to send a commissioner to simply insisted that we should with-

inquire and report, at a moment draw our troops and quit the

when our garrisons were besieged, country?' Of course, the Boer over-

and we had collected no troops to tare, some six weeks after the rejec-

relieve them, and when we had just tion by Lord Kimberley of the Gape

received the news that the detach- proposal, and after continued military

ment of the 94th had been cut off on success on the side of the Boers,

the march from Lydenberg to Pre- showed that this supposed practical

toria. ' Is it not practically eertain,' certainty was the exact reverse of

he wrote, ' that the Boers would have certain.


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BOOK for a settlement 'Moments/ he said, 'are precious.' For
y ^ IL . twelve days these precious moments passed. On Jan. 26
1881 « the secretary of state informed the high commissioner at
Cape Town, now Sir Hercules Robinson, that President Brand
pressed for the offer of terms and conditions to the Boers
through Robinson, ' provided they cease from armed opposi-
tion, making it clear to them how this is *to be understood.'
On this suggestion he instructed Robinson to inform Brand
that if armed opposition should at once cease, the govern-
ment ' would thereupon endeavour to frame such a scheme
as in their belief would satisfy all friends of the Transvaal
community.' Brand promptly advised that the Boers should
be told of this forthwith, before the satisfactory arrangements
proposed had been made more difficult by further collision.
This was on Jan. 29. Unhappily on the very day before, the
British force had been repulsed at Laing's Nek. Colley, on
Jan. 23, had written to Joubert, calling on the Boer leaders
to disperse, informing them that large forces were already
arriving from England and India, and assuring them that if
they would dismiss their followers, he would forward to
London any statement of their grievances. It would have
been a great deal more sensible to wait for an answer.
Instead of waiting for an answer Colley attacked (Jan. 28)
and was beaten back — the whole proceeding a rehearsal of
a still more disastrous error a month later.

Brand was now more importunate than ever, earnestly
urging on General Colley that the nature of the scheme
should be made known to the Boers, and a guarantee under-
taken that if they submitted they would not be treated
as rebels. 'I have replied/ Colley tells Lord Eimberley,
' that I can give no such assurance, and can add nothing
to your words.' In other correspondence he uses grim
language about the deserts of some of the leaders. On this
Mr. Gladstone writing to Lord Kimberley (Feb. 5), says truly
enough, ' Colley with a vengeance counts his chickens before
they are hatched, and his curious letter throws some light
backward on the proceedings in India. His line is singularly
wide of ours.' The secretary of state, finding barrack-room
rigidity out of place, directs Colley (Feb. 8) to inform Brand

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that the government would be ready to give all reason- CHAP,
able guarantees as to treatment of Boers after submission, » J°^ -
if they ceased from armed opposition, and a scheme would ifiT- 72 -
be framed for permanent friendly settlement As it hap-

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume 2 → online text (page 25 of 91)