W. Basil (William Basil) Worsfold.

Lord Milner's Work in South Africa online

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[Transcriber's note: Obvious printer's errors have been corrected,
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"What would have been the position to-day in South Africa if
there had not been a man prepared to take upon himself
responsibility; a man whom difficulties could not conquer, whom
disasters could not cow, and whom obloquy could never
move?" - LORD GOSCHEN _in the House of Lords, March 29th, 1906_


_This Edition enjoys copyright in all countries signatory to the Berne
Convention, as well as in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and all British
Colonies and Dependencies._

_Printed by Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury._


In sending this book to press I have only two remarks to make by way
of preface.

The first is wholly personal. It has been my good fortune to reside
twice for a considerable period in South Africa - first in the
neighbourhood of Capetown (1883-5), and afterwards in Johannesburg
(1904-5). During these periods of residence, and also during the long
interval between them, I have been brought into personal contact with
many of the principal actors in the events which are related in this
book. While, therefore, no pains have been spared to secure accuracy
by a careful study of official papers and other reliable publications,
my information is not derived by any means exclusively from these

My second remark is the expression of a hope that the contents of this
book may be regarded not merely as a chapter of history, but also as a
body of facts essential to the full understanding of the circumstances
and conditions of South Africa, as it is to-day. Since the restoration
of peace - an event not yet five years old - a great change has been
wrought in the political and economic framework of this province of
the empire. None the less, with a few conspicuous exceptions, almost
all of the principal actors in these pages are still there; and,
presumably, they are very much the same men now as they were before,
and during, the war. And in this connection it remains to notice an
aspect of the South African struggle which transcends all others in
fruitfulness and importance. It was a struggle to keep South Africa
not a dependency of Great Britain, but a part of the empire. The
over-sea Britains, understanding it in this sense, took their share in
it. They made their voices heard in the settlement. The service which
they thus collectively performed was great. It would have been
infinitely greater if they had been directly represented in an
administration nominally common to them and the mother country. No
political system can be endowed with effective unity - with that
organic unity which is the only effective unity - unless it is
possessed of a single vehicle of thought and action. To create this
vehicle - an administrative body in which all parts of the empire would
be duly represented - is difficult to-day. The forces of disunion,
which are at work both at home and beyond the seas, may make it
impossible to-morrow.

W. B. W.

_October 19th, 1906_







A YEAR OF OBSERVATION.................................. 75


UNDER WHICH FLAG?..................................... 130


PLAYING FOR TIME...................................... 188


THE ULTIMATUM......................................... 253


THE FALL OF THE REPUBLICS............................. 300


THE REBELLION IN THE CAPE COLONY...................... 341


THE "CONCILIATION" MOVEMENT........................... 373




PREPARING FOR PEACE................................... 470


THE SURRENDER OF VEREENIGING.......................... 536

INDEX................................................... 585


_From a photograph by Elliott & Fry (Photogravure)_


LORD MILNER AT SUNNYSIDE.............................. 473

MAP OF SOUTH AFRICA........................... _At the End_




The failure of British administration in South Africa during the
nineteenth century forms a blemish upon the record of the Victorian
era that is at first sight difficult to understand. If success could
be won in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, in India and in Egypt,
why failure in South Africa? For failure it was. A century of wars,
missionary effort, British expansion, industrial development, of lofty
administrative ideals and great men sacrificed, had left the two
European races with political ambitions so antagonistic, and social
differences so bitter, that nothing less than the combined military
resources of the colonies and the mother-country sufficed to compel
the Dutch to recognise the British principle of "equal rights for all
white men south of the Zambesi." Among the many contributory causes of
failure that can be distinguished, the two most prominent are the
nationality difficulty and the native question. But these are problems
of administration that have been solved elsewhere: the former in
Canada and the latter in India. Or, to turn to agencies of a
different order, is the cause of failure to be found in a grudging
nature - the existence of physical conditions that made it difficult
for the white man, or for the white and coloured man together, to
wring a livelihood from the soil? The answer is that the like material
disadvantages have been conquered in Australia, India, and in Egypt,
by Anglo-Saxon energy. We might apply the Socratic method throughout,
traversing the entire range of our distinguishable causes; but in
every case the inquiry would reveal success in some other portion of
the Anglo-Saxon domain to darken failure in South Africa.

Nevertheless, in so far as any single influence can be assigned to
render intelligible a result brought about by many agencies, various
in themselves and operating from time to time in varying degrees, the
explanation is to be found in a little incident that happened in the
second year of the Dutch East India Company's settlement at the Cape
of Good Hope. The facts are preserved for us by the diary which
Commander Van Riebeck was ordered to keep for the information of his
employers. Under the date October 19th, 1653, we read that David
Janssen, a herdsman, was found lying dead of assegai wounds, inflicted
by the Beechranger Hottentots, while the cattle placed under his
charge were seen disappearing round the curve of the Lion's Head. The
theft had been successfully accomplished through the perfidy of a
certain "Harry," a Hottentot chief, who was living on terms of
friendship with the Dutch - a circumstance which was sufficiently
apparent from the fact that the raid was timed to take place at an
hour on Sunday morning when the whole of the little community, with
the exception of two sentinels and a second herdsman, were assembled
to hear a sermon from the "Sick-Comforter," Wylant. It was the first
conflict between the Dutch and the natives; for Van Riebeck had been
bidden, for various excellent reasons, to keep on good terms with the
Hottentots, and to treat them kindly. But the murder of a white man
was a serious matter. Kindness scarcely seemed to meet the case; and
so Van Riebeck applied to the Directors, the famous Chamber of
Seventeen, for definite instructions as to the course which he must

[Sidenote: Van Riebeck's difficulty.]

He was told that only the actual murderer of David Janssen (if
apprehended) was to be put to death; that cattle equal in amount to
the cattle stolen were to be recovered, but only from the actual
robbers; and that "Harry," if necessary, should be sent to prison at
Batavia. But he was not otherwise to molest or injure the offending
Hottentots. Excellent advice, and such as we should expect from the
countrymen of Grotius in their most prosperous era. But unfortunately
it was quite impossible for Van Riebeck, with his handful of soldiers
and sailors, planted at the extremity of the great barbaric continent
of Africa, to think of putting it into effect. He replied that he had
no means of identifying the individual wrong-doers, and that the
institution of private property was unknown among the Hottentots. The
only method by which the individual could be punished was by punishing
the tribe, and he therefore proposed to capture the tribe and their
cattle. But this was a course of action which was repugnant to the
Directors' sense of justice. It aroused, besides, a vision of
reinforcements ordered from Batavia, and of disbursements quite
disproportionate to the practical utility of the Cape station as an
item in the system of the Company. In vain Van Riebeck urged that a
large body of slaves and ten or twelve hundred head of cattle would be
a great addition to the resources of the settlement. The Chamber of
Seventeen refused to sanction the proposals of the commander, and, as
its own were impracticable, nothing was done. The Beechranger tribe
escaped with impunity, and the Hottentots, as a whole, were emboldened
to make fresh attacks upon the European settlers.

[Sidenote: The Afrikander stock.]

This simple narrative is a lantern that sheds a ray of light upon an
obscure subject. Two points are noticeable in the attitude of the home
authority. First, there is its inability to grasp the local
conditions; and second, the underlying assumption that a moral
judgment based upon the conditions of the home country, if valid, must
be equally valid in South Africa. By the time that the home authority
had become Downing Street instead of the peripatetic Chamber of
Seventeen, the field of mischievous action over which these
misconceptions operated had become enlarged. The natives were there,
as before; but, in addition to the natives, there had grown up a
population of European descent, some thirty thousand in number, whose
manner of life and standards of thought and conduct were scarcely more
intelligible to the British, or indeed to the European mind, than
those of the yellow-skinned Hottentot or the brown-skinned Kafir. A
century and a half of the Dutch East India Company's government - a
government "in all things political purely despotic, in all things
commercial purely monopolist" - had produced a people unlike any other
European community on the face of the earth. Of the small original
stock from which the South African Dutch are descended, one-quarter
were Huguenot refugees from France, an appreciable section were
German, and the institution of slavery had added to this admixture the
inevitable strain of non-Aryan blood. But this racial change was by no
means all that separated the European population in the Cape Colony
from the Dutch of Holland. A more potent agency had been at work. The
corner-stone of the policy of the Dutch East India Company was the
determination to debar the settlers from all intercourse - social,
intellectual, commercial, and political - with their kinsmen in Europe.
One fact will suffice to show how perfectly this object was attained.
Incredible as it may seem, it is the case that at the end of the
eighteenth century no printing-press was to be found in the Cape
Colony, nor had this community of twenty thousand Europeans the means
of knowing the nature of the laws and regulations of the Government by
which it was ruled. So long and complete an isolation from European
civilisation produced a result which is as remarkable in itself as it
is significant to the student of South African history. This
phenomenon was the existence, in the nineteenth century, of a
community of European blood whose moral and intellectual standards
were those of the seventeenth.

[Sidenote: The nationality difficulty.]

Our dip into the early history of South Africa is not purposeless. It
does not, of course, explain the failure of British administration;
but it brings us into touch with circumstances that were bound to make
the task of governing the Cape Colony - a task finally undertaken by
England in 1806 - one of peculiar difficulty. The native population was
strange, but the European population was even more strange and
abnormal. If we had been left to deal with the native population alone
we should have experienced no serious difficulty in rendering them
harmless neighbours, and have been able to choose our own time for
entering upon the responsibilities involved in the administration of
their territories. But, coming second on the field, we were bound to
modify our native policy to suit the conditions of a preexisting
relationship between the white and black races that was not of our
creation, and one, moreover, that was in many respects repugnant to
British ideas of justice. Nor was this all. The old European
population, which should have been, naturally, our ally and
fellow-worker in the task of native administration, gradually changed
from its original position of a subject nationality to that of a
political rival; and, as such, openly bid against us for the
mastership of the native African tribes.

Now when two statesmen are pitted against each other, of whom one is a
man whose methods of attack are limited by nineteenth-century ideas,
while the morality of the other, being that of the seventeenth
century, permits him greater freedom of action, it is obvious that the
first will be at a disadvantage. And this would be the case more than
ever if the nineteenth-century statesman was under the impression that
his political antagonist was a man whose code of morals was identical
with his own. When once he had learnt that the moral standard of the
other was lower than, or different from, his own, he would of course
make allowance for the circumstance, and he would then be able to
contest the position with him upon equal terms. But until he had
grasped this fact he would be at a disadvantage.

Generally speaking, the representatives of the British Government,
both Governors and High Commissioners, soon learnt that neither the
natives nor the Dutch population could be dealt with on the same
footing as a Western European. But the British Government cannot be
said to have thoroughly learnt the same lesson until, in almost the
last week of the nineteenth century, the three successive defeats of
Stormberg, Magersfontein, and Colenso aroused it to a knowledge of the
fact that we had been within an ace of losing South Africa. Many,
indeed, would question whether even now the lesson had been thoroughly
learnt. But, however this may be, it is certain that throughout the
nineteenth century the Home Government wished to treat both the
natives and the Dutch in South Africa on a basis of British ideas; and
that by so doing it constantly found itself in conflict with its own
local representatives, who knew that the only hope of success lay in
dealing with both alike on a basis of South African ideas.

As the result of this chronic inability of British statesmen to
understand South Africa, it follows that the most instructive manner
of regarding our administration of that country during the nineteenth
century is to get a clear conception of the successive divergences of
opinion between the home and the local authorities.

At the very outset of British administration - during the temporary
occupation of the Cape from 1795 to 1808 - we find a theoretically
perfect policy laid down for the guidance of the early English
Governors in their treatment of the Boers, or Dutch frontier farmers.
It is just as admirable, in its way, as were the instructions for the
treatment of the Hottentots furnished by the Directors of the Dutch
East India Company to Van Riebeck. In a despatch of July, 1800, the
third Duke of Portland, who was then acting as Secretary for the
Colonies, writes:

[Sidenote: Non-interference.]

"Considering the tract of country over which these border
inhabitants are dispersed, the rude and uncultivated state in
which they live, and the wild notions of independence which
prevail among them, I am afraid any attempts to introduce
civilisation and a strict administration of justice will be slow
in their progress, and likely, if not proceeded upon with caution
and management, rather to create a spirit of resistance, or to
occasion them to emigrate still further from the seat of
government, than answer the beneficent views with which they
might be undertaken. In fact, it seems to me the proper system of
policy to observe to them is to interfere as little as possible
in their domestic concerns and interior economy; to consider them
rather as distant communities dependent upon the Government than
as subjects necessarily amenable to the laws and regulations
established within the precincts of Government. Mutual advantages
arising from barter and commerce, and a strict adherence to good
faith and justice in all arrangements with them, joined to
efficient protection and occasional acts of kindness on the part
of the Government, seem likely to be the best means of securing
their attachment."

Who would have thought that this statement of policy, admirable as it is
at first sight, contained in itself the germ of a political heresy of
the first magnitude? Yet so it was. The principle of non-interference,
here for the first time enunciated and subsequently followed with fatal
effect, could not be applied by a nineteenth-century administration to
the case of a seventeenth-century community without its virtually
renouncing the functions of government. Obviously this was not the
intention of the home authority. There remained the difficulty of
knowing when to apply, and when not to apply, the principle; and
directly a specific case arose there was the possibility that, while the
local authority, with a full knowledge of the local conditions, might
think interference necessary, the home authority, without such
knowledge, might take an opposite view.

[Sidenote: Slaghter's Nek.]

A very few years sufficed to show that the most ordinary exercise of
the functions of government might be regarded as an "interference with
the domestic concerns and interior economy" of the European subjects
of the British Crown in South Africa. At the time of the permanent
occupation of the Cape (1806) the population of the colony consisted
of three classes: 26,720 persons of European descent, 17,657
Hottentots, and 29,256 returned as slaves. One of the first measures
of the British Governor, Lord Caledon, was the enactment of a series
of regulations intended to confer civil rights on the Hottentots,
while at the same time preventing them from using their freedom at the
expense of the European population. From the British, or even
European point of view, this was a piece of elementary justice to
which no man could possibly take exception. As applied to the
conditions of the Franco-Dutch population in the Cape Colony it was,
in fact, a serious interference with their "domestic concerns and
internal economy." And as such it produced the extraordinary protest
known to history as the "Rebellion" of Slaghter's Nek. There was no
question as to the facts. Booy, the Hottentot, had completed his term
of service with Frederick Bezuidenhout, the Boer, and was therefore
entitled, under the Cape law, to leave his master's farm, and to
remove his property. All this Bezuidenhout admitted; but when it came
to a question of yielding obedience to the magistrate's order, the
Boer said "No." In the words of Pringle, "He boldly declared that he
considered this interference between him (a free burgher) and _his_
Hottentot to be a presumptuous innovation upon his rights, and an
intolerable usurpation of tyrannical authority."

And the danger of allowing the Boers to pursue their
seventeenth-century dealings with the natives became rapidly greater
when the European Colonists, Dutch and English, were brought, by their
natural eastward expansion, into direct contact with the masses of
military Bantu south and east of the Drakenberg chain of
mountains - the actual dark-skinned "natives" of South Africa as it is
known to the people of Great Britain. The Boer frontiersman, with his
aggressive habits and ingrained contempt for a dark-skin,
disintegrated the Bantu mass before we were ready to undertake the
work of reconstruction. And therefore the local British authority soon
learnt that non-interference in the case of the Boer generally meant
the necessity of a much more serious interference at a subsequent date
with both Boer and Kafir. And so non-interference, in the admirable
spirit of the Duke of Portland's despatch, came to bear one meaning in
Downing Street and quite another in Capetown.

[Sidenote: D'Urban's policy.]

The earliest of the three crucial "divergences of opinion," to which
collectively the history of our South African administration owes its
sombre hue, was that which led to the reversal of Sir Benjamin
D'Urban's frontier policy by Charles Grant (afterwards Lord Glenelg)
at the end of the year 1835. The circumstances were these. On
Christmas Day, 1834, the Kafirs (without any declaration of war,
needless to say) invaded the Cape Colony, murdering the settlers in
the isolated farms, burning their homesteads, and driving off their
cattle. After a six months' campaign, in which the Dutch and British
settlers fought by the side of the regular troops, a treaty was made
with the Kafir chiefs which, in the opinion of D'Urban and his local
advisers, would render the eastern frontier of the Colony secure from
further inroads. The Kafirs were to retire to the line of the Kei
River, thus surrendering part of their territory to the European
settlers who had suffered most severely from the invasion; while a
belt of loyal Kafirs, supported by a chain of forts, was to be
interposed between the defeated tribes and the colonial farmsteads. In
addition to these measures, D'Urban proposed to compensate the
settlers for the enormous losses[1] which they had incurred; since, as
a contemporary and not unfriendly writer[2] puts it, the British
Government had exposed them for fourteen years to Kafir depredations,
rather than acknowledge the existence of a state of affairs that must
plainly have compelled it to make active exertions for their

[Footnote 1: The official returns showed that 456 farm-houses
had been wholly, and 350 partially, destroyed; and that 60
waggons, 5,715 horses, 111,930 head of horned cattle, and
161,930 sheep had been carried off by the Kafirs. And this
apart from the remuneration claimed by the settlers for
services in the field, and commandeered cattle and supplies.]

[Footnote 2: Cloete. See note, p. 16.]

The view of the home authority was very different. In the opinion of
His Majesty's ministers at Downing Street the Kafir invasion was the
result of a long series of unjustifiable encroachments on the part of
the European settlers. D'Urban was instructed, therefore, to reinstate
the Kafirs in the districts from which they had retired under the
treaty of September, 1835, and to cancel all grants of land beyond the
Fish River - the original eastern boundary of the Colony - which the
Colonial Government had made to its European subjects from 1817
onwards; while, as for compensation, any indemnity was altogether out
of the question, since the colonists had only themselves to thank for
the enmity of the natives - if, indeed, they had not deliberately
provoked the war with a view to the acquisition of fresh territory.

The divergence between these two opinions is sufficiently well marked.

Online LibraryW. Basil (William Basil) WorsfoldLord Milner's Work in South Africa → online text (page 1 of 43)