SHAW, William, 1835
National Archives, Kew, London CO48/164, 291
7 April 1835
The recent painful intelligence from the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope relative to the irruption of the Caffres into the British Settlement of Albany, and to the disastrous consequences connected therewith, has excited much surprise and sympathy in this country. No doubt your Lordship's attention as His Majesty's principal Secretary of State for the Colonies has already been turned to this subject; and I am persuaded your Lordship will receive with your accustomed courtesy any information which may assist in devising means for preventing the recurrence of so serious an evil.
That your Lordship may at once perceive I am not an officious meddler with a subject on which I have no claim to be heard, I beg leave to state that I left this country in 1820 in the capacity of Wesleyan Minister to the largest party of British Settlers which emigrated to Algoa Bay in that year; that I remained thirteen years in Africa during the whole of which period I resided in Albany or in the Caffre Country, my time being almost equally employed in the discharge of my duties as a Minister to the Settlers and my labours as a Missionary to the Caffres. From the situation which I held I was on terms of friendly intercourse with all classes of the Settlers and I acquired the confidence of several of the border Chiefs in a high degree. I had the honor to be consulted by the Colonial Authorities on several important points connected with the border policy. These circumstances afforded me opportunities for acquiring information on the subject on which I now address your Lordship, which very few British Subjects have enjoyed in an equal degree.
Having made these preparatory remarks it will be unnecessary for me to dwell on the principal facts connected with the recent irruption of the Caffres. The distressing intelligence is confirmed beyond all doubt, that the Caffres have carried desolation through the Albany District, destroying the insulated farms, carrying off tens of thousands of cattle, murdering many of the settlers and compelling the remainder, reduced to destitution and distress, to seek refuge for their lives in Graham's Town. Thus has a most flourishing and important British Settlement been brought to the verge of ruin, and unless some plan can be devised for preventing similar disasters in future, it must necessarily be abandoned.
Everyone asks "What has been the cause of this ruthless attack by the Caffres?" Doubtless your Lordship would be glad to obtain a satisfactory answer to this question. I will endeavour to give it. But before I do so permit me to perform an act of justice to the British Settlers of Albany. Some of the public prints, in reporting these occurrences, have charged the settlers with exercising cruelty and injustice towards the native tribes, and have more than insinuated that the Caffres have been thereby goaded into retaliation. Now, my Lord, I wish distinctly to state that I believe this to be an unfounded calumny. I profess myself, and am very well known to be, a devoted friend to the native Tribes, but I will not be a party to the advocacy of their rights on principles which involve an aggression on the character & claims of others "Fiat Justitia riat calum". I cannot perceive that true philanthropy requires me to blacken my white friends for the purpose of making my black friends white.
I admit that it is possible that acts of flagrant injustice exercised by individual settlers towards the Caffres may have taken place; nay, I believe that some such cases have actually occurred, but it is manifestly unjust to charge upon a whole body the faults of individuals. The ready cooperation of a very large and influential body of the settlers in every religious and benevolent institution established by the missionaries of various denominations with a view to propagation of the gospel, and the general improvement of the native tribes, ought in justice to be taken in full evidence of their friendly feeling toward the aborigenes, and of their being incapable of the cruel conduct which has so thoughtlessly and unfairly imputed to them.
That our border policy, if such a designation can be given to the most changeful and contradictory course of proceeding ever adopted by any civilized Government, has been full of errors and has sometimes placed those who have had to execute its arrangements in the painful situation of appearing the champion of injustice and cruelty, are truths that cannot be denied, but |I do not sympathize with those who charge the evils now deplored upon the military officers on whom the duty of enforcing the border policy devolved; nor upon the settlers, who have for years suffered the mischiefs resulting from it, and who have long called for the substitution of a more just and efficient system.
I am the more anxious to disabuse your Lordship of the unfavourable opinion which may have been induced by the statements contained in various recent publications on the subject, because they are likely to deprive the settlers of that sympathy & help which British subjects have a right to expect from their own countrymen and Government, when they are, as in this instance, suddenly and without any fault of their own plunged into distress & trouble, & I have good reasons for believing that in defending the settlers from the gross imputations which have been cast upon them, I am expressing the sentiments of my brethren the missionaries, and also of the highly respectable Clergymen of the Episcopal Church now resident in that country.
In most enquiries as to the cause of those frequent collisions between the Caffres and the Colonists which have gradually produced the late terrible catastrophe it appears to me that the principal source of the evil has been almost if not altogether overlooked by many persons who have otherwise very distinctly pointed out various concurrent circumstances which have tended to give it greatly augmented force. I refer to the moral state and habits of the Caffre tribes. From the days of Vaillant it has been the custom of various writers to give such glowing descriptions of the noble and generous minded Caffres that many persons after reading their publications find it difficult to believe that a Caffre Chief would degrade himself by sanctioning Robbery and Murder. Nothing can be more misleading than statements which produce this impression. That there exists in the minds of many of the Chiefs a proud self-respect which sometimes produces a noble bearing and magnanimous conduct I do not deny, and that it is a quality which might be turned to advantage by a skilful agent of Government, but they have very indistinct notions of the rights of property, and they are fearfully reckless of the destruction of human life.
They are not wholly ignorant of the science, nor destitute of the form of Government, but that which has been established time immemorial is something like the ancient feudal system of Europe – a form of government which unhappily is very favourable to the doctrine that "might gives right". All nomadic tribes are robbers, unless the propensity be checked by religion, or by circumstances which they cannot control. Within these limitations the Caffres may be regarded as coming under the general rule, for while the chiefs protect in a considerable degree the rights of property among their own vassals, the tribes have ever been addicted to engage in war with each other for the purpose of carrying off the cattle of their neighbours. The frequent robberies committed by them within the Colony ought not therefore to be attributed wholly to any aggressions of the Colonists, but may in a great degree be ascribed to their own imperfect moral perceptions, deeply rooted habits and defective mode of government.
Let me not, however, be misunderstood. The Caffres have not been exclusively to blame. Our border policy is extremely bad, and by this means we have often excited the cupidity and exasperated the feelings of a people, who though naturally prone to make inroads upon their neighbours, were during the last few years beginning to cherish the opinion that it would be their interest to cultivate peace with the Colony. It is but recently that attempts to improve their moral state by the diffusion of Christianity have been encouraged by the Colonial Government, and long before the missionaries established themselves in the colony various deadly feuds betwixt the Caffres and the Dutch Farmers had been engendered; the effects of which could hardly be expected to be speedily obliterated.
Not only has our Government pursued no efficient measures for the improvement of the Caffre Tribes, but the plan adopted for the regulation of the affairs of the frontier has been extremely injudicious. Instead of a regular system, well defined & properly adapted to the local circumstances of the country, and steadily acted upon, there has been nothing like a system at all. Sometimes the mode of treatment has been harsh and severe; at other times mild and conciliatory. Occasionally the Caffres were almost frightened into the belief that we intended their destruction, and at other times they were suffered to carry on their depredations with such impunity as to tempt them into the opinion that we were afraid of them, threatenings were occasionally denounced which were never intended to be executed, and promises have been made which were never fulfilled. The effects of this contradictory mode of proceeding upon an untutored but warlike race strong from their number may be easily imagined.
I cannot, within the limits which I have prescribed to myself, enter into details in proof of these statements. Indeed they need no proof: the facts are notorious; and they have for years formed the subject of complaint by the missionaries, by the settlers of all classes and of every variety of opinion on other points, and even by not a few of the Officers of Government, civil & military, who have found themselves embarrassed and thwarted in their zealous efforts to promote the peace of the frontier – by the contradictory & inappropriate regulations which have been from time to time prescribed to them.
In consequence of certain difficulties & scruples respecting international law (the absurdity of applying the strict rules of which in the intercourse between a civil and barbarous people I shall not now stop to prove) no direct and official communication between the Chiefs and the Colonial Authorities has yet been established. There does not exist a single written Treaty, to which after due consideration the Caffres have become contracting parties: I beg leave to furnish the following statement as an illustration of the evils arising from this source.
A kind of agreement was made with Gaika in 1819, by which our Government understood that he ceded the lands now called the "Neutral Territory"; but the Chiefs of the Amagonakwaybie tribe, Pata, Kama, Cobus &c affirm that they were not parties to that Treaty, although they lost by it the whole of their ancient territory, & that by the usages of the Caffre nation, Gaika, the Chief of another Tribe, had no right to dispose of their lands without their consent. Sometime afterwards Makomo, the son of the late Gaika, re-established his clan on a certain tract of the neutral territory by the connivance of the Colonial Government. At length, however, this land, a very fine & beautiful tract, was wanted for forming a Hottentot Settlement, & Makomo, whose people were charged with committing various depredations on the Colony, was warned to remove with his clan from the lands in question; but he refused, alleging that they had never been ceded by his Father & entering into a dispute as to the boundaries fixed in 1819 (which he maintained preserved a portion of the Kat River Mountains as Caffre Territory. The Colonial Government, however, notwithstanding the mediation of some of the missionaries, persisted in its claim, & the Caffres were forcibly expelled by our troops, their huts being burnt to prevent their returning to re-occupy the lands.
I have the more especially detailed this proceeding because I believe it to have a very close connexion with the causes of the late irruptions into Albany. The Caffres may have been chafed by the foolish, not to say unjust, practice of pursuing stolen cattle beyond the boundary & making reprisals, not always upon the guilty parties, but frequently with those who had no connexion with the transaction, nor any means of preventing it – they may have been vexed in this way, but I am persuaded that "the sore place in the heart" as they themselves would phrase it was occasioned by the forcible seizure of their lands. Residing in Caffraria at the time, I had opportunities of observing how greatly the Caffres were exasperated & if Makomo could have persuaded the other chiefs to unite with him I have no doubt but disasters similar to those we now deplore would have happened long ago.
It was undoubtedly every way just & efficient that land should be granted to the deserving and industrious part of the Hottentots at the period to which I have alluded, but it always appeared to me & to many other persons that the friends of that race placed themselves in a false position when they concurred in the acceptance by the Hottentots of lands the title to which to say the least was of a very equivocal nature. For assuming that Makomo & his Chiefs were mistaken as to the question of boundaries, still the ground had been ceded as "Neutral Territory" & we certainly could have no right to occupy the country with British Subjects without the consent of at least the Chiefs who had been parties to the original arrangement of 1819.
In making these statements I beg leave to disclaim the slightest intention of imputing blame to any individual. These Border Affairs were originally rendered obscure & difficult to be understood by the want of a system, & as no regular method of conducting them has ever yet been introduced they have at last become so completely entangled that no Governor of the Colony residing in Cape Town, & constantly receiving from the frontier the most conflicting statements, however great soever his talent & tact for business, can possibly obtain a thorough acquaintance with them. If, therefore, serious errors have been committed, instead of imputing them to highly distinguished persons who have held the reins of Government at the Cape, I would account for them by referring to the impracticable nature of their duties so far as concerns our border policy, occasioned principally by the great distance of the seat of government (six or seven hundred miles) from the boundaries of the Colony.
Thus your Lordship will perceive that I attribute the perturbed state of the Caffre border not to any cruelties perpetrated by the British Settlers upon the Caffres; not to any want of humanity by the British Officers as to their treatment of the native tribes, or of zeal & activity in the protection of British Lives & Property, but to the moral state and predatory habits of the Caffres, the evil tendencies of which have been aggravated by the exceedingly mischievous tendency of our border policy.
But is there no Remedy for these Evils? Must that fine and lately flourishing settlement be abandoned? These are weighty questions but I conceive that whatever difference of opinion may exist as to the cause of the present state of affairs in Albany, there will be found much unanimity as to the principal remedial measures proper to be adopted. I pretend not to an acquaintance with the science of government, but I am persuaded your Lordship will not disdain to take into serious consideration any practical suggestions that are offered by an individual, who although of humble rank in society, nevertheless solicits your attention on the grounds of possessing local knowledge & of being wholly destitute of the spirit of party.
The course which I beg leave most respectfully to suggest as desirable to be pursued at this crisis by the British Government may be considered as referring first to the past, & secondly to the future.
1st. As to the past.
I have no doubt but that the military have ere this succeeded in driving the invading Caffres out of the Colony. If so there will be great danger in the excitement produced by the late events that a war of retaliation will be carried into the Caffre Country; this however would cause humanity to shudder and Christianity and sound policy alike forbid it. It is not for me to say that the Caffres ought not to be chastised, but whatever offensive measure are adopted they ought to be regulated with a view of inflicting a just & salutary measure of punishment only, & not of wreaking an ungovernable & undistinguishing vengeance. The earliest favourable opportunity should be taken of obtaining a conference with the Chiefs & of re-establishing peace. The Cattle account should then be fairly adjusted; an indemnity of a fixed number of cattle should be demanded of the tribes who commenced the war, and it should be clearly understood that upon payment of the indemnity, all hostilities should cease.
2ndly. As to the future.
I would respectfully make the following suggestions:-
Declare the Keiskamma River to be the boundary of the Colony, thus including the whole Neutral territory within its limits. Let this form one of the Articles of the written Treaty of Peace to be signed by all the principal Border Chiefs, and thereby confirm the rights acquired by British, Dutch & Hottentot Settlers in the neighbourhood of Fort Beaufort and the Kat River.
2ndly - Offer to the Amagonakwaybie Tribe under Pata, Kama, Cobus &c their entire ancient territory within the neutral ground on condition that thye place themselves under the protection of the British Government and become responsible to the Colony for all stolen cattle actually traced into their district; in recapturing which they should be assisted when they require it by a British Force from one of the military posts in their neighbourhood.
3rdly - Offer other portions of the neutral ground to any other friendly clans who will comply with the same conditions & thus fill up the unoccupied part of the neutral ground with friendly natives, who will form a good barrier betwixt the other tribes and the Albany Settlement.
4thly - Let a separate written Treaty be made with the chiefs to whom portions of the Neutral Territory are granted distinctly stating what the Colonial Government expects them to do – reserving a right of interference by the Government in their internal affairs in certain specified cases; & also providing that such of their people as commit aggressions upon the Persons or Property of British Subjects shall be amenable to the Colonial Courts of Law. Let these Treaties be written in the Caffre language and copies be given to the Chiefs.
5thly - Let a Government Agent be appointed to reside in some part of Caffraria, or on the immediate border. This Officer should be duly authorised 1st as the medium of communication in all ordinary cases between the Caffre Chiefs and the Colonial Government. 2ndly as the Protector of British Subjects who pass the boundary for the purposes of trade or otherwise under the sanction of proper passports – 3rdly as a magistrate with full power to arrest and send into the Colony for Trial any British Subject who make cause aggressions upon the Persons or Property of the natives beyond the boundary of the Colony.
6thly – Let an Officer with powers analogous to those exercised by the late Slave Protector be appointed to reside in Albany, who shall be regarded as the protector of the native Tribes. Let him act as Counsel in the Colonial Courts of law on behalf of the natives in all cases where the subjects of the native Chiefs are parties concerned: Let this Officer be placed in an independent situation as respects the Local Government, and let him report his proceedings regularly and directly to the British Government.
7thly – Let the jurisdiction of the local courts be extended so as to admit of the trial of Offences committed by the British Subjects beyond the boundaries, or otherwise establish a court under proper regulations specifically for such purpose.
8thly – Let a Lieutenant Governor be immediately appointed for the Eastern province of the Colony which includes the Border Districts: let him be assisted in the management of the government by a Legislative Council: let the residence of the Lieutenant Governor, & consequently the seat of Government, be fixed at Graham's Town, which is admirably situated with reference to the Caffre border, and it is also sufficiently central for the convenience of the other districts included within the limits of the eastern province, as defined by the late Commissioners of Enquiry.
9thly – Let the Local Government be instructed to aid the missionaries of the various denominations in their attempts to promote the Conversion, Moral Improvement & Education of the Caffre Tribes. The missionaries could greatly extend their usefulness by the establishment of Schools, if they had the means of employing more schoolmasters; therefore let annual grants be made to the various Missionary Societies in that Country, and let the sums so granted be distributed in fair proportions with reference to the number of schools established, and of natives established by each Society.
I have not ventured to offer any suggestions as to the plan which should hereafter be adopted for the better defence of the frontier, and for recapturing from time to time the cattle that may be stolen by the Caffres. Details of this kind it would be desirable to leave to the Lieutenant Governor & Council residing on the spot, aided as they of course would be by the long experience of the present Commandant of Caffraria.
Several of the points suggested in the above outline have already been recommended to the British Government by the Commissioners of Enquiry who visited the frontier districts in 1824. The principal objections to those proposals will arise from the increase in public expenditure which would be occasioned by their adoption. With proper arrangement, however, the additional charge upon the Colony need not be very great, and as the trade between Albany and Caffraria has already become valuable, and promises to create a rapidly increasing demand for the manufactures of this Country – as this settlement may also under proper management become the instrument of promoting the civilization of a large part of South East Africa, it is to be hoped that the British parliament may be induced, at least for a limited time, to make grants in aid of the establishment of good government, without which the Colonists will be ruined, our settlement will become a scourge to the surrounding Tribes, and its history will constitute a blot upon the fair character of the British Nation.
That the Caffres are susceptible of moral improvement and that a judicious policy will powerfully aid Christianity in checking their marauding propensity are statements which do not rest upon mere theory. Happily I can furnish facts in proof of them. I resided as a Missionary with the Chiefs Pato, Kama &c more than six years. The truths of the Christian Religion made a deep impression on many of their people, the Chiefs regularly attended Divine Worship; some of their own children learned to read & write; Kama and his Wife, a daughter of the late Gaika, embraced the Christian faith & were baptized; and my successors have favourably reported since of the continued progress of Christianity among that Tribe. Before the establishment of this Mission (Wesleyville) the tribe had been notorious for its predatory habits; but after I took up my abode in the country I speedily discovered that the Chiefs were dissatisfied with the loss of their lands as explained in a former part of this letter; and I therefore promised if they would stop all marauding in the Colony by their people that I would represent their case to the Colonial Government. They did so, and I kept my promise and ultimately the Colonial Government with the sanction of Earl Bathurst allowed them to reoccupy about one half of their lands in the Neutral Territory, only however upon the precarious terms of their good behaviour. Your Lordship will doubtless be desirous of knowing the result of this measure and I have great satisfaction in stating that a good understanding was thus obtained with these Chiefs, that they have prohibited their people from plundering in the Colony for nearly ten years past, that I possess & can produce documentary evidence which proves that they have frequently recaptured & returned to the Colony cattle stolen by other tribes, and that during the late irruption they have manifested a strong disinclination to join the aggressive Tribes.
On this last point I beg to quote the statement of the Graham's Town Journal of the 2nd January.
"It appears that the Chiefs Pato, Cobus & Kama have not as yet declared against the Colony, but on the contrary have expressed a strong desire to continue with it in terms of amity. They have shewn the sincerity of their professions by undeviating kindness to all the Europeans within their territory, and by invariably affording them protection whenever it was claimed. It seems that many of their people are dissatisfied with line of conduct and ardently desire to share in the plunder of the Colonists. These refractory Persons are daily deserting their Chiefs & joining the ranks of the Enemy; and Pato who exercises the supreme power is extremely anxious & apprehensive of being deserted by his subjects, and thus left exposed to the vengeance of the confederated Chiefs. It is affirmed confidently that if some little aid afforded to these Chiefs from the Colony, they would not hesitate to fall immediately upon the enemy's rear, and thus completely check their further progress: on the other hand one word from these Chiefs and the whole of these tribes immediately enter the Colony, and join in the general plunder & massacre. No one not fully acquainted with the Customs of the Caffres can form an opinion of the power which the several Chiefs exercise over their Vassals. An instance of this has just occurred in the case of Mr. ROBERTS, a trader residing in the Beka. This man was deservedly respected by the Caffres in that neighbourhood, but when about to fly to the Colony from the impending danger he was immediately surrounded by the very people with whom he had been living on terms of friendly intercourse; their assegais were uplifted to dispatch him and he would in a moment have been put to death had he not urged that Pato had pledged himself for his security. Execution was accordingly stayed until this point had been ascertained, and the answer returned was that the lives of the aggressors should be the penalty of any infraction of his promise thus given to the individual in question. No sooner had his will been delivered that the very persons so ready to act as ministers of vengeance were at once changed to warm & zealous friends & protectors, & actually escorted him to safety within the Colonial boundary."
I will not trespass further upon your Lordship's time and attention. Indeed I am aware that an apology is due for the freedom of my observations, & I am not insensible that as a Minister of Religion I may be accused of having travelled beyond the limits usually assigned to men of my profession in reprobating our border policy & presuming to sketch the outline of an improved system. I rely however upon your Lordship's candour which I trust will discover in the peculiar circumstances of this case a full vindication of the course I have pursued. I am not, I never was, & I hope never shall be an officious intermeddler with the politics of this world. I have a higher calling, the duties of which I greatly prefer; but in this extraordinary case I felt that I owed a debt of justice and of kindness both to the British Settlers and the Caffres, which I have striven to discharge by placing my testimony upon record & thus conscientiously endeavouring to promote at once the cause of Religion and Humanity & the Interests of my Country.
I have the honor to be, my Lord
Your Lordship's most obedient and very humble servant
Having just received the Graham's Town Journal of January 23rd, I copy from it the following letter:
To the Editor
"Sir, In your 158th number & the 4th column of your leading article on the Chiefs Pato, Kama & Cobus you observe 'that it was supposed they might be induced to declare in favour of the Colony if security were afforded'. Are you aware that previous to any serious rupture or before they knew its extent they sent a manifesto to the Commandant, declaring their views to be the same & their determination equally firm as in October 1833? Are you aware that Pato reinforced the Guatana Post at the call of that officer with two hundred men: that he remained in the service of the English until that post was vacated; that since then these three brothers have been employed night & day and many of their men sending messengers to every part of Caffreland; that they have patrolled their own boundary, taken cattle and horses from marauding parties, and seized all such cattle among their own people, some of whom (I believe chiefly of one branch of the tribe) have broken loose from the very formal declaration of the Chief and have plundered? On these no punishment has as yet been inflicted but I believe the Chiefs only want to know from the British Government how they wish them to act towards such and they are ready to comply. I will add that I have witnessed the conduct of these Chiefs: they have stood without wavering surrounded by threats of the hostile tribes in every direction. They have protected every Englishman within their power; & I believe no Colonist has been more anxious to see the British Cause prosper than they have been, ans still are.
I am &
(Signed) W. SHEPSTONE
Wesleyville, 13th January 1835"
- Hits: 4690