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The Life and Times of Sir George Grey, K.C.B.

Chapter XXIII. — The Governor and Mr. Shepstone's Proposed Kingdom

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Chapter XXIII.
The Governor and Mr. Shepstone's Proposed Kingdom.

"The commander over men: he to whose will our wills are to be subordinated and loyally surrender themselves, and find their welfare in doing so, may be reckoned the most important of great men."

The delegates had just returned, when Sir George Grey arrived in England. Their mournful faces were no longer to be seen in the antechamber of the House of Commons. Representative institutions had been granted to the Cape Colony, but it was as yet quite uncertain whether they would work successfully or not in that part of the world.

So strong and bitter were the prejudices existing between the different races and the inhabitants of different localities in South Africa that it was beyond human foresight to predict with any certainty what the result would be. The first meeting of the Cape Parliament had been held some little time prior to the advent of Sir George Grey, but it had only sat for a few weeks, and no business of importance had been transacted. It was adjourned, in order that the new Governor might lay before it any proposals for the public welfare which he believed worthy of its consideration.

As he had done in South Australia and New Zealand, Sir George took immediate steps to become acquainted with the real position of the colony committed to his care, and without loss of time mastered the intricacies of South African politics, even to minute details. He was soon in a position to meet the Parliament. When that body assembled, he submitted to its two houses a comprehensive page 176plan for the pacification and development both of the British territory and of the States immediately contiguous. He united with his authority as Governor the almost absolute powers of High Commissioner.

Already, both in South Australia and in New Zealand, he had been called upon in exceptional circumstances to govern communities which were not under the control of ordinary law, nor amenable to the usual discipline of organised society. In both cases his power was almost unlimited, his discretion absolutely unfettered. In the closing words of his remarks upon New Zealand, Earl Grey had claimed as a merit the fact that Ministers had given the powers of a Dictator in that country to Sir George Grey. If it were possible that a colony could be found in a state of greater confusion than New Zealand when Sir George Grey assumed office there, that possibility occurred in South Africa.

Fully aware of the circumstances attendant upon Grey's governorship of New Zealand, and confident in his ability and courage, the Duke of Newcastle was keenly alive to the chaos which existed at the Cape. Sir George, therefore, was entrusted with ample jurisdiction. He was, as it were, constituted an autocrat.

When his proposals had been made to the Cape Parliament and accepted by them, and the first real session had ended, Sir George proceeded to enquire into those matters which fell more immediately within the powers of his commission, for the purpose of rectifying abuses and redressing injuries which might exist.

After exhaustive inquiries he found that wherever certain Hottentot troops, who had been disbanded from Her Majesty's service, had found a home, that place became a little centre of discord and disaffection. Then he ascertained that these native troops had been cheated by the Imperial Government, or that department which ruled them, namely, the War Office; and were only receiving less than one quarter of the pension which they had been led to expect, a grant of land being taken into account, which the Government afterwards refused to give, and which the disbanded European troops were actually in possession of at that very time. Although representations had been made, these grievances were not redressed.

Sir George Grey thereupon issued a proclamation in the Queen's page 177name, stating that out of the love borne by Her Most Gracious Majesty to her Hottentot subjects, she had determined that all their wounds should be healed and justice administered, and that thenceforward the disbanded Hottentot forces should receive exactly the same pension as they had been promised, and which their English comrades were receiving; and further, that all claims for arrears of pension sent in before a certain date should receive satisfaction in full. No further discontent or mutiny ever occurred from these people, or from this cause; and Sir George Grey obtained the consent of the Cape Parliament, which, indeed, voted and paid the money required.

But the great departments in London were dreadfully scandalised. They had set their feet upon the Hottentots, and now the "Great Pro-Consul," as Sir George Grey has been fitly called, rebuked them in the face of the whole colony, and indeed of the whole nation. They were furious, but their fury was unavailing. The thing was done past recall; it was done in the Queen's name and by the Queen's High Commissioner. The mere healing of this one sore in the South African body was in itself of great importance, and it established a new precedent, the worth of which was incalculable. Both natives and Europeans became suddenly awake to the fact that the new Governor had at once the power and the will to do justice to all.

This was but one of many causes that kept South Africa in a ferment. The interminable wars waged with the Kafirs and Basutos had left the bulk of those tribes still dwelling upon portions of the northern and eastern frontiers; while to the east and northward of Natal the warlike Zulus, led by the great chief Panda, hovered like a thunder cloud, ever ready to burst in storm and ruin on the lands beneath. The tide of emigration from the Cape Colony proper had stretched in two directions. The emigrant farmers who had fled to escape the alleged severity of British rule, had gone northward across the River Vaal; while the main stream of those who had carried with them their allegiance to the British Crown, had flowed almost due east from the first settlements at the Cape. Some of the latter had deflected to the southward towards the sea coast, but the main body, opposed by fierce and untameable tribes, had gone on in an easterly course until they had swept down to the sea at Natal.

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Natal at this time carried a population of somewhat under 10,000 Europeans. From the atrocious tyranny of the Zulu kings Chaaka, Dingaan, and Panda, scores of thousands of wretched outcasts had fled into British territory at Natal. The return of these to their own country had been demanded with threats by Panda, who could lead into the field a well-disciplined army of upwards of 30,000 fearless warriors. His demands had been always refused. The presence, however, of such vast bodies of barbarians within the colony caused disquiet in the mind of the Government.

Sir Benjamin Pine was at that time Lieutenant-Governor of Natal. His principal adviser, especially in native matters, was the son of an African missionary named Shepstone. Theophilus Shepstone had been brought up as the sons of missionaries are generally brought up in savage lands. They are surrounded by a servile population, and often nursed by them. These circumstances generally exercise some influence over the minds of the children. History is full of examples which illustrate this theory. No missionary church where the families of missionaries have accompanied their parents has altogether escaped. In New Zealand, in Tasmania, in India, and in Africa, this truth has in modern days been sometimes exemplified.

Theophilus Shepstone was named by the tribes among whom his youth and early manhood had been spent Somtseu, which name he always used in his correspondence and intercourse with the native people. No man has been more potent than he in wielding influences which have exposed the populations of South Africa to great disasters. History must declare that the astuteness displayed by him was singularly disastrous in its effects alike on friends and enemies. Mr. Shepstone had made proposals to the Lieutenant-Governor, and through him to the Imperial Government, in 1852, concerning the disposal and management of the fugitive crowds of Zulus who had sought refuge in British territory from their own ferocious king.

These overtures had been favourably considered by the governing powers, and correspondence had ensued, which was not completed when Sir George Grey entered upon his duties as Governor and High Commissioner. The proposals made by Mr. Shepstone were that he should personally obtain the cession of a large territory from the native tribes, and march 50,000 or 60,000 of these Zulus into and settle them upon this territory, himself assuming the position of page 179an independent chief or king, being supported by British treasure and British arms. Fortunately, although the Lieutenant-Governor and his immediate superiors, as well as Downing Street, had expressed themselves as favourably inclined towards Mr. Shepstone's plans, Lord John Russell, who then held the seals of office, requested Sir George Grey to report at length upon the whole matter. The Governor, before reporting, inquired fully into all the circumstances connected with the subject.

Between Natal and British Kaffraria there lay a tract of country one hundred miles by sixty which was practically "No man's land." Bounded on the east by Natal, and on the west by British Kaffraria, it stretched from the mountains to the Atlantic. The traveller or sportsman traversing the lofty ridges of the Drakensberg towards Natal, beheld spreading to the south a fertile and beautiful land, fringed on the distant horizon by the blue waters of the great sea. Rivers like threads of silver wound their courses between the hills and through the woods and valleys beneath. Forests of primeval age flanked wide pasture-lands, green with natural herbage and dotted with graceful palms. Here and there sparsely scattered over this rich country were kraals, few in number and diminutive in extent. The great game, although diminishing, was still hunted there, and even yet the stately elephant tore his way through the dense undergrowth, and the roar of the lion woke warning echoes in the night. But the wildebeeste and the quagga, the leopard and the deer, roamed abundantly and offered sport. The semi-tropical climate afforded every aid to the virgin soil necessary to produce in abundance the fruits of industry. In the gardens of the settlements cabbages and pineapples grew in alternate rows. Well watered, and possessing more natural advantages perhaps than any other part of South Africa, it tempted cupidity and inspired desire.

Upon this region Mr. Theophilus Shepstone had often cast a longing look. This was the territory which he proposed to Sir Benjamin Pine, and through him to the Governor and the Colonial Office, should be absolutely given and secured to him.

His propositions in reality amounted to the creation of a despotic kingdom, erected and sustained by Great Britain, in which he was to be the absolute ruler of a savage nation, with power to tax and page 180to legislate uncontrolled. In it he was to be paid by annual grants of English money, and to be defended by English arms.

The matter had been almost concluded before Sir George Grey arrived at Cape Town. No sooner had he been made acquainted with the facts than he instructed Sir Benjamin Pine to do nothing further, and, in obedience to his instructions, he proceeded to explain to the Imperial Government the nature and consequences of the proposed arrangement.

On December 3rd, 1855, the Governor wrote from Cape Town a long and elaborate despatch. The subject was one of more than ordinary importance. It presented many and peculiar features. After sketching the rise and course of the various streams of colonisation, he dwelt upon the difficulties by which the emigrants had been met and the dangers which menaced them from the barbarous tribes, sullenly chafing against them on all points.

"Thus," he writes, "the eastern districts have ever been harassed by the turbulent Kafirs; the people of the Albert and Queen's Town districts by Kafirs, Tambookies, and Basutos; the Orange Free State by Basutos, Barolongs, and Koranas. On some points of this extensive line it is all that the European race can do to maintain its position: and it is yet doubtful, now the European population is broken up into separate States, if some one of these small communities may not hereafter find itself, at least for a time, overmatched by the turbulent barbarians who hang upon its eastern flank.

"The great chance of safety for all of them appears to be this, that the tract of country, bounded by British Kaffraria, the Queen's Town District, Albert, the Orange Free State, Natal, and the sea, is not thickly inhabited by the coloured race. The most densely inhabited portions of that territory are the hilly regions and difficult tracts of country which abut upon the European states, and lie on the western side of the mountain range; but there is a large tract of fertile country lying along the sea coast, and on the eastern side of the great mountain range, which is nearly uninhabited, into which Europeans are now filtering, which could carry a large and wealthy population, the presence of which would, by shutting in the native tribes between two faces, secure those European states which are now in constant jeopardy of hostile inroads from their barbarous neighbours."

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This was the district which Mr. Shepstone proposed to appropriate. It was the only available country, as the Governor showed, suitable for European colonisation at that time uninhabited.

Turning, then, to the position of Natal, Sir George Grey pointed out that the 100,000 Zulus settled within its borders were peaceable and well ordered, and that the very proximity of their former oppressor tended to make them loyal to the English Government. They were also taxpayers, and although their location in large numbers upon great areas of land tended to discourage habits of industry, and promoted an idle pastoral life, yet they were at any rate under control, and civilising and Christianising influences were at work amongst them. Numbers of them, also, were employed by the European settlers, and some of the worst effects of the gathering together of large bodies of barbarians within, or immediately upon, the borders of a colony, had been in their case considerably mitigated.

The massing of large bodies of natives together had invariably produced disastrous results. Alluding to Mr. Shepstone himself, the Governor pointed out that that gentleman had for nearly ten years been in complete control of these Zulus in Natal. He had been aided by intelligent magistrates in their government, by missionary institutions for their civilisation, by a strong military force for the preservation of order; and yet, in the reports made by Mr. Owen, these natives were stated to be "as great savages as they possibly could have been a thousand years ago."

The despatch then proceeded to show that under the circumstances existing the shifting of fifty or sixty thousand of these turbulent people under the guidance of Mr. Shepstone (who had already failed to alter their condition), into a new and extensive country, where they would be free from those influences which had compelled submission, would inevitably lead to great disorder and endless trouble. The natives themselves would not be benefited, while the Europeans would have planted between the two colonies a nation of barbarians, likely to cause continual war.

To Natal also the step would be disadvantageous. Not only would the control of this vast multitude have passed away from the government of that colony, but fresh hordes would swarm from Zululand across the border to fill up the places vacated by the army page 182following Mr. Shepstone to the new location, thus creating additional perils for the Cape Colony.

Examining then the plan in detail Sir George Grey gave it his entire and utter condemnation. It was wrong in principle; it would be perilous in practice. [gap — reason: damage] condemned also the guarantees which it was proposed to give to Mr. Shepstone.

The despatch concluded thus:—"The proposition, therefore, is nothing else than that Great Britain should establish a new kingdom in South Africa (it is so termed in letters I have seen); make Mr. Shepstone the king of that country; guarantee him the security and integrity of his dominions; give him a pension of £500 a year; and agree that he is to have despotic powers in governing the country, in raising its revenues, in expending them.

"No guarantees are exacted from him. It is not pretended that so princely a grant is to be bestowed on him in reward of past public services which entitle him to it. No condition is imposed on him precedent to his receiving this noble gift.

"The supremacy over the country and the people who may inhabit it is first to be assured to him. Then he is to induce as many of the natives of Natal as may be willing to follow him, to join him. If not one thousand go, still he forfeits nothing. Yet, it need hardly be said what will be the value of the gift of such a tract of country, not remote, but lying between already populous European countries, near to an European population, where a nation like Great Britain guarantees its inhabitants against foreign aggression and the acts of its own subjects. Why should Great Britain enter into such guarantees? It throws off many thousands of its own European subjects in the Orange Free State, simply because it will not protect them against foreign aggression. Why should it now with a single subject enter into such guarantees?

"I think, moreover, in a great Empire such as this, that it is wrong in principle to set a public officer over native races, and when he from exercising for years over them powers delegated to him by the nation he represents, has necessarily from his public position acquired great influence over them, to permit him to use such influence to acquire the cession of a large tract of country to himself.

"If Great Britain thinks it necessary to set up in the territory page 183now under consideration an independent kingdom under the sway of a prince established by herself, and guaranteed by her from all foreign aggression, which kingdom from its fertility and position must soon be occupied by a large European population, let her choose for the purpose someone whose great public services give him some claim to so noble a reward; whose talents and experience fit him to govern not only natives but Europeans; whose ability and knowledge would render this country a bulwark and source of strength to Great Britain, not of weakness; and if she enters into such important guarantees, let her exercise some control over the expenditure of its revenue, the judicious or injudicious application of which will determine what expense she will be required to bear in fulfillment of her part of the conditions.

"By the last despatch from your Lordship's department in relation to this subject (No. 16, 20th-March, 1855), it appears that Her Majesty's Government has gone to the extent of stating that there can be no objection to the emigration of any of the Zulus from Natal into the country lying to the south-west of that colony, provided that no obligation is incurred by the British or local governments for their maintenance or defence in these new habitations, and provided that the absence of all such obligation was distinctly notified to them.

"These instructions were, however, clearly issued because a full explanation had not been afforded of what had taken place.

"The plan was originally suggested by an officer of the British Government, who, still holding that office, was to negotiate for the surrender of the territory to himself, and who then was immediately to rule it as an independent prince. It was further then understood by all parties that Great Britain was to recognise this new chief, and to undertake to protect his State against aggression, either from other States or from British subjects.

"It therefore appears that if the Amapondo nation agreed to let a foreign people come in and occupy a part of their territories, on the understanding that these territories were given up to an agent of the British Government with the consent of that Government, and that the powerful British nation was going to guarantee the peace of that district and its inhabitants by promising protection from aggression or against all the world, then that justice to the page 184Amapondos requires that the proposed emigration should not be allowed to go on under such altered circumstances, until they have been equally informed with the tribes who propose to emigrate of the changes in the plan which have taken place.

"Having taken these views upon this subject, which are embodied in the present despatch, I have, in pursuance of the powers vested in me, directed the Government of Natal neither directly or indirectly to encourage or sanction any measures for carrying it out until Your Lordship's further instructions are received.

"It only remains for me to add that when I arrived at Natal I found that Lieutenant Governor Pine, notwithstanding the orders on the subject from Your Lordship's department, had, immediately before he embarked from Natal on leave of absence, written authorising Mr. Shepstone at once to take all necessary preliminary steps for carrying out his project when my approval to it was received, and that acting on this authority Mr. Shepstone had secured the cession of the territory to himself, subject to the approval of the British Government, and had by some of the natives in that territory been recognised as a chief; and it was therefore thought by some that to stop the plan would be a breach of faith with the natives. I, however, did not concur in this opinion, and have given the instructions I have above stated.—I have, etc.,

"G. Grey."

On the 15th February, 1856, Mr. Labouchere, afterwards Lord Taunton, wrote entirely agreeing with and endorsing Sir George Grey's views, and Mr. Shepstone's kingdom did not come into existence.

It is difficult to understand how such an outrageous proposal could ever have been entertained. As we shall hereafter see, Mr. Shepstone's subsequent actions helped to launch South Africa into the troubled waters of the Transvaal and Zulu wars. Had he succeeded in obtaining the kingdom which he desired, it is probable that still heavier disasters would have come upon that unhappy region.