die man wat die groot trek veroorsaak het

'Die man wat die
Groot Trek veroorsaak het': Glenelg's personal contribution to the
cancellation of D'Urban's dispossession of the Rarabe in 1835 -
Randolph Vigne

It is nearly 60 years since W M Macmillan's Bantu, Boer and Briton
(1929) examined the frontier settlement of 1835 ordained by the Governor
of the Cape, Sir Benjamin D'Urban, and the British Colonial Secretary,
Lord Glenelg's, reversal of it. Nearly 50 years have passed too since
the Huisgenoot's unequivocal headline 'Die man wat die Groot Trek
veroorsaak het' typified the 'guilty' verdict on Glenelg for causing
the Great Trek. The 11 years that had followed Macmillan's exculpation
of Glenelg had done nothing to convert the public to his view. Perhaps
it is a view still ignored.

Macmillan
wrote that 'the reversal of D'Urban's settlement synchronised with
the Great Trek and is often taken to have been its main cause',
and called for a 'revision of this "authorised version'" and
its 'long-overdue' dismissal. He proceeded to show in a brilliant
chapter how the expulsion of the Rarabe Xhosa from their lands
between the Keiskamma and Kei rivers, which Glenelg's epic 1835
dispatch
annulled, had itself been cancelled by D'Urban three months earlier,
to the dismay and anger of the Boers and British settlers, voiced
with high drama in the Graham's Town Journal.

Edgar Brookes, in his History of native policy, had been there
before. In 1924 he defended Glenelg from blame for the cancellation
of D'Urban's
dispossession of the Rarabe, since he had 'simply carried out
the ... policies of his predecessors' in requiring treaties
rather
than annexation. His 'notorious dispatch' was no more than 'a
minor incident
of frontier Native policy' and one more misrepresented than any
other. In Brookes's view, however, Glenelg should have accepted
D'Urban's annexation, which would have advanced the 'task of
civilizing the Native tribes'. Brookes refers, on another issue,
to Glenelg's
'pigheaded adherence to principle'. Much later in life the liberal
ex-Senator Brookes was to find that principle was something to
be pig-headed about. The young Edgar Brookes, however, could
not see
that the Gleneig dispatch was much more than a 'minor incident'
for the very fact of its author's adherence to principle.

Macmillan made his treatment of the Gleneig dispatch central
to the new liberal 'authorised version' and by 1975 could claim
that
it
was 'never seriously challenged' and that the main conclusions
had been 'internationally accepted'. At home, however, he observed
that
'very little of this revision has filtered through to the school
histories.'

Macmillan taught that the Gleneig dispatch of 1835 simply reversed
a policy that had itself been found impracticable by D'Urban,
and Gleneig was informed of this in a dispatch that did not
reach him
until March 1836. By that date many Voortrekkers were already
on the move. Piet Relief's letter of April 1836 to the civil
commissioner
of Grahamstown makes many complaints about the insecure and
impoverished conditions of life caused by the 1834-35 frontier
war. One of
its few positive statements is that 'the inhabitants have
much confidence
in the measures of the Government to repress the rapacity
of the Kafirs.'

Retief makes no mention of the Province of Queen Adelaide
either here or, a year after its abandonment, in the 'Manifesto
of
the emigrant farmers' published in the Graham's Town Journal,
or
even of the policy
of the British Government towards 'a country thus distracted
by internal commotion'. If the 'farmers who quitted the
colony' did
so because
of the lack of protection under the treaty system which
superseded D'Urban's annexation, why in their search for
'a more quiet
life' did they enter 'a wild and dangerous country' where
there was
no protection at all?

The losses suffered in the 1834-35 war by Boers and British
settlers were grievous indeed, but it was not mainly
the fear of further
dangers they would be exposed to by the change of policy
that mortified both
white communities on the frontier. After Glenelg's 1835
dispatch it was his appointment of Andries Stockenstrom
as lieutenant
governor. It was this acceptance of the views of Dr John
Philip, Superintendent
of the London Missionary Society at the Cape, and his
newspaper editor
son-in-law John Fairbairn, and Thomas Fowell Buxton
and the missionary societies in Britain, that they
resented
- the
more so, perhaps,
because Stockenstrom was one of their own.

The land between the Keiskamma and Kei rivers which
D'Urban had annexed was returned to its Rarabe inhabitants
by
Stockenstrom on Gleneig's
orders, but this action had little effect on the
bulk of the Boers and settlers who lived west of the Keiskamma
and Fish
rivers.
Many
had trekked north for reasons other than the danger
of attack by the Xhosa. Those who survived the War
of the
Axe and Mlanjeni's
War eventually had access to the land withheld from
them by Gleneig when
Sir George Grey finally made the Ciskei part of the
Cape Colony.

If Gleneig's dispatch had been merely the instrument
of reversal of D'Urban's frontier settlement, its
impact would
have been
forgotten with the passing years and the events
which rendered it nugatory.
Its importance was of a different order. To Sir
George Cory, who talked to so many who remembered those
days, 'of all
official documents
which have ever reached South Africa there has
probably not been one that has been so effective in moulding
the characteristic
troublous history of the country as this one.'5
According
to Henry Cloete,
a barrister on circuit in Grahamstown when the
war broke out, 'a communication more cruel, unjust and
insulting
to the feelings,...
can hardly have been penned by a declared enemy
of the country and its Governor.'

The next generation of Afrikaners felt as bitterly
towards it. The anonymous Een eeuw van onrecht
(1899), issued
by F W Reitz
but written
by J C Smuts, declared, in W T Stead's 1900 English
translation, that Glenelg
maligned the Boers in even more forcible terms
than the emissaries of the London Missionary
Society, and openly
favoured the
Kafirs, placing them on a higher pedestal than
the
Boers ... It was
useless to hope for justice from Englishmen.
There was no security of
life and property under the flag of a government
which openly elected
to uphold Wrong [and] which united a commercial
policy of crying injustice with a veneer of simulated
philanthropy.

English-speaking South Africans tended to blame
Gleneig alone (and, of course, Philip, another
Scot, though
he was in favour
of retaining
the annexation and was not a confidant of Glenelg's).
In a popular work funded by government, Hedley
Chilvers wrote:

Could this foolish peer have visualised the
tremendous effect of his dispatch on the
colonists, could
he have foreseen
that it would
become one of the great motives which determined
so many hundreds of sturdy whites to abandon
the Colony
and British
dominion
... he might have stayed his hand ... to
Lord Gleneig and his blundering
may be ascribed that tremendous event in
South African history, the
Great Trek ...8
To Chilvers's contemporary, the liberal historian
Macmillan, it was 'perhaps the most momentous
dispatch in South
African history'.

Historians in many ways have interpreted its
effect. In C W de Kiewiet's view it 'maintained
a dangerous
fiction and
staved
off the inevitable
day' of white rule over black; it was merely
'a decision to allow
the sores of the frontier to fester for another
season till another outburst'.10 John Henderson
Soga, combining
the African
with
the missionary point of view, reflected that
though 'Lord Glenelg's policy has come under
the lash
of colonial historians',
his
'reputation remains unsullied as in him is
reflected the spirit of enlightened
British administration.'

J
S Galbraith, De Kiewiet's student, disagreed with Macmillan's view
that it was 'to Glenelg's
credit,
and to the honour
of British imperialism,
that annexation was not to be taken so
lightly and greedily sanctioned for the sake of acquiring
territory'.12
Emphasising
the extreme
reluctance of the Melbourne government
to
incur the heavy financial cost of
acquiring new territory, Galbraith called
the 'disgorging' of the Province of Queen
Adelaide
'humanitarianism "on the cheap",
designed to please both God and mammon'.

The war of 1834-35 and its aftermath were
of cataclysmic importance in forming
the relationship
of South
Africa's diverse communities.
It has been the subject of a vast literature.
Much of the contemporary material was
published in Theal's
Documents
relating to the
war of 1835 (1912), which contains 419
pages of documents acquired by Theal
from descendants of D'Urban and relatives
of his second-in-command. Colonel Harry
Smith. Their correspondence,
now in the
Cape
Archives,
has a dimension missing from Theal's
compilation, namely the ceaseless flow of scribbled,
sometimes illegible
and incoherent
but often
illuminating marginal notes made by D'Urban
and others. It was these that enabled
Galbraith to interpret the important
personal factors in their decisions and
their reaction to those of Glenelg.

Theal
deposited in the South African Library typed copies 'sufficient for
two volumes
more' which
he called 'Records
of the Province
of Queen Adelaide' and 'Documents bearing
upon the emigration of the
Dutch farmers from eastern districts
of the Cape Colony'. In the Public
Record Office,
Kew, there
is a vast accumulation
of documents
in the Colonial Office records. A single
file, CO 48/192, contains
Glenelg's 1835 dispatch in various
stages of composition. It includes Glenelg's
own
drafting,
as well as
his notes on the
draft by the
public servant heading the Colonial
Office, James Stephen, whose thinking was so
close to his own,
and on D'Urban's
dispatches. More accessible than any
of these are the printed Parliamentary
Papers of the House of Commons for 1835 and
1836,
and in the latter volumes: '5. Caffre
War and death
of Hintza'
(vol xxxix,
279 et seqq).

At
popular level, the Afrikaners' Een eeuw van onrecht was preceded by
its mirror
image, a statement
as
partisan and
dogmatic of
the opposite case. Strangely ignored
by most authorities, The wrongs
of the Caffre nation, written under
the pseudonym 'Justus', contains
in an appendix
both Glenelg's
12 000-word
dispatch, and the mere
1 500 words of his reply to D'Urban's
November 1835 justification of his
action, written
with even greater
asperity. So
little attention has been paid to
Justus that his identity is
still variously given
as Robert Mackenzie Beverley 15 and
Ambrose George Campbell, the Grahamstown
doctor
who gave evidence
of the mutilation
of the
Xhosa king Hintsa's body at the inquiry into his murder
held in August 1836.16 Edwards attributed
authorship of the
book to Gleneig
himself.17 Cory
calls The wrongs of the Caffre nation
'a very
untruthful book'18 and
to Theal it was 'not only untrustworthy
but ... utterly absurd' and
even 'rubbish'.

To the writer of this fiery polemic,
it was 'certainly no agreeable
task thus to
unveil
the disgrace
of England in
the form of
a narrative offered as a preface
to Lord Glenelg's dispatch'.20
Campbell, who
seems the most likely author, 'possessed
considerable ability' and was an
'able
and witty writer', as Gory concedes,
but there is a lack of realism
in his views,
again a
mirror image
of the
folly of
much of the
argument against Glenelg's position.
This is perhaps best exemplified
by Justus's rhetorical plea:

Never
let there be a representative legislative assembly in the colony
unless a large
majority of the representatives
are
of
the coloured
race. The Boors and settlers
must be outnumbered in the proportion
of two
to one at least,
before such
an experiment
could be
attempted with safety.

Representative
government for the Cape was being canvassed
in the
1820s but
was not
introduced until 1853. When
it came, it
allowed
no colour distinctions in the
franchise, which also was granted
with a low
qualification. Nevertheless,
so considerable
were
the economic,
educational and cultural differences
between black and white that
the possibility of
election to the
legislature of Khoikhoi
and
Mfengu members was almost nil.

With
its free use of opprobrious
epithets - 'rapacious colonists',
'our glaring
misrule, our ceaseless
oppressions, our insatiate
aggressions', 'baffled spoliators
and discomfited oppressors'
- Justus's diatribe is indeed
a
salutary preface
to the 1835
dispatch
as it presents so marked
a contrast with the measured
and careful
fairness
of the dispatch.22 Glenelg's
legal training explains his
prudent use
of
evidence and his attitude
to proof and
disproof. Nowhere
is this
clearer than in his treatment
of the murder
and mutilation of Hintsa.
Peires believed him to
have been 'revolted
by the circumstances
surrounding the death of
Hintsa', 23 yet the absence of evidence
against George
Southey caused Glenelg to
exonerate him entirely for the mutilation
of the dead
Hintsa's shattered
head.

Contemporary
historians have referred to
the 'inexplicable
way in which
... Glenelg
whitewashed
those most
widely suspected of being
responsible for the mutilation'.24
A careful reading of the
1835 dispatch, and indeed
of Glenelg's
other dispatches and letters,
renders the
inexplicable fully
explicable, however.
Here
was a man of the
highest principle, always
willing to give credit
where it was
due, above
all to D'Urban,
who
was throughout antagonistic
towards him, and showed
it. He was also
bound by the
strictest legal
tradition,
as witnessed by his attitude
to evidence. Analysis of
the 1835
dispatch makes
clear Glenelg's extremely high
personal standards.
In his thesis
on frontier policy
J Roxborough investigates
the
charge
that the
Colonial Office received
newspaper accounts of D'Urban's
volte face before the 'great
dispatch' was sent off,
yet are nowhere referred
to by Glenelg. He concludes
that Gleneig concealed
nothing - certainly falsified
nothing: 'both the opinions
of
his contemporaries and
the evidence from the public
records reveal him as a
man of probity.'

Among
the factors giving the dispatch
its power
are Glenelg's
courtesy
to D'Urban, the fairness
of his
argument and
the exculpation of
Hintsa's mutilators,
the eloquence of his
prose and the extraordinary
nature of his decision
to take the part
of the colonised blacks
against the interests
of the colonising
whites. It
is this combination
that created for Gleneig
a place in history,
crudely defined as 'the
man who caused the Great
Trek',
though the message of
the dispatch was
but one of
many causes.
The dispatch
had
another ingredient,
which
only Glenelg could have
supplied, and that was
its passion.

For generations South
African pupils were
taught that
Glenelg was a
'philanthropist', a
member of the Clapham
Sect with
deluded Rousseauesque
views about the 'noble
savage' who, as one
textbook writer
put it, 'made
a serious
mistake
by consulting
a handful
of agitators
rather
than his own official
South African advisers'.26
Glenelg
was attacked
even by missionary
writers:

with the best intentions
he blundered woefully.
He had
taken a prominent
part in the recent
emancipation of
slaves throughout
the British
Empire and in the
excitement of that movement he
was ready to believe
that every black
man was a victim of oppression
and every white man
a
Legree
such
as is described by
Mrs. Stowe
in Uncle Tom's
Cabin.
Acting on private
and prejudiced communications
and not
on the dispatches
of Sir Benjamin
D'Urban he
laid the
blame for the
war on the colonists
and ordered that
the land taken from
the AmaXhosa should
be restored to them.
They
rapidly swarmed
back to their
old
fastnesses
in
bush and forest and
kept the frontier
in terror
for years.

As Methodist missionaries
these historians
of the Mfengu were
echoing what their
predecessors the
Revds William
Boyce and
W J Shrewsbury
had said in defence
of D'Urban's policy,
to
Glenelg's chagrin,
in the 1830s.
Even
a century later
R H
W Shepherd of Lovedale
saw fit
to castigate Glenelg's
dispatch. Dr Philip's
protests were
blamed and the
fact that D'Urban's
'second proposal,
to permit the
Xhosa to live in
the province as
British subjects,
unfortunately
did
not timeously
reach Lord Gleneig'.28
The Glasgow Missionary
Society
(GMS), the
founders of Lovedale,
warmly backed
Glenelg,
however,
for which
he gave them credit.

It
was neither private,
prejudiced
communications
nor Philip's
protests that
swayed Glenelg but the
mass of material
in
Colonial Office
files. Most came
from South
Africa. There
was the evidence
of such as G
de la Poer
Beresford and
A J Cloete, brother
of
Henry
(two
military officers
sent by D'Urban
to lobby
on his behalf),
Colonel
Christopher
Bird, Boyce and
Shrewsbury, Colonel
T F
Wade,
and the missionaries
George Buchanan
and
the Rev William
Shaw,
Dr A G Campbell,
William Ellis,
secretary of
the London Missionary
Society, the
Rev John
Ross
of the GMS, the
settler
leader Thomas
Philipps and the
stormy petrel
Andries Stockenstrom, whose
appointment deflected
to himself so
much of the hate
that might have
been felt
towards
Glenelg. The
main component
was the evidence
laid, in August
1835, before
the Aborigines
Committee, chaired
by Buxton,
a friend
of Glenelg's
youth and his
early parliamentary
companion. All
that was lacking
was D'Urban's
own reasoned
presentation
of his case,
which did not
'timeously
reach Lord Glenelg'30
simply because
it was not timeously
written.

There
are some surprises
in
the evidence,
such as the
Rev William
Shaw's written
submission,
which was less committed
to the
settler point
of
view
than could
be expected from
that Methodist
source. Another
is the answer
of
D'Urban's
aide-de-camp,
Captain J E
Alexander, who had fought
with distinction
in the
war of
1834-35.
His admirably
succinct response
to Question
1380 put by
the
Aborigines
Committee reveals the open-mindedness
to be found
in many such
replies. According
to his
testimony,
the cause
of the invasion
of the
colony by
the Rarabe
on Christmas Day
1834, the start
of the war,
was
simply the
old commando
system.
Thieves and
bad characters
among them
plundered
the settlers
occasionally.
The commandoes
proceeded
to the nearest
kraal (innocent,
of course,
for
the guilty
were far
in the interior)
and took
from it
cattle equal
in number
to those
taken. Human
nature could
not stand
this.

Alexander's
point is
fully developed
in
the dispatch,
strengthened
by
both the
'evidence
of eye-witnesses'
and the
official
reports.32
In assimilating
thus the
mass of
information
and coming
to his
conclusion
Glenelg's
mind
can be
seen at
work. The
role played
by James
Stephen,
so often
claimed
to be the
real author
of the
dispatch,
can be
determined
too.

Stephen
praised
Glenelg
as 'the
most
laborious,
the
most
conscientious and the
most
enlightened' of the
11 colonial
secretaries
he
had served
by that
date.33
Henry
Taylor of the
Colonial
Office,
who
was otherwise
strongly
critical
of Glenelg,
found
him
'high-minded,
accomplished
and occasionally
eloquent'.34
Neither
Glenelg's
high-mindedness
nor
his habitual
fairness
were
enough to silence
the
bouts
of biting
personal
criticism
of D'Urban
expressed
in the
margins
of
the latter's
dispatches
with
such words as
'pitiable' and 'drivelling'.
The
dispatch
of 9
June 1836, which
D'Urban
delayed
for a
full year,
Glenelg
praised,
more
than
faintly,
as really
creditable
to D'Urban
yet damned
as 'the
only
thing in all
his
dispatches
that
approaches to a statesmanlike
and comprehensive
view
of any subject'
,

Last updated : 04-Apr-2011

This article was produced for South African History Online on 04-Apr-2011