Territory of British Bechuanaland

The territory known as British Bechuanaland covered an area that included the subsequent divisions of Vryburg, Mafikeng. Kuruman and Taung. The first European travellers to visit the region arrived here in 1801, and within a few years it had become a regular calling point for researchers and missionaries. The Reverend Robert Moffat founded the first permanent European settlement in 1818 at Kuruman, and within a few years a number of other missions were established in his footsteps.

Despite this a general shortage of potable water in the region made permanent settlement difficult, and the majority of these villages had a large body of floating residents whose pastoralist economy took them away for long periods of the year. It also made the construction of permanent homes virtually impossible. Consequently the region was primarily inhabited by migrant herders whose movements were guided by seasonal rainfalls and the availability of grazing. Following the discovery of gold in 1866 in the Tuli region of present-day Botswana the Transvaal Voortrekkers attempted to annex the greater part of Bechuanaland in 1868. The British in the Cape Colony did not support this claim and the Transvaal, or South African Republic, was forced to abandon it.

In 1868 the discovery of the Kimberley diamond fields re-focussed European colonial ambitions further south and the resultant wrangle between Voortrekker and English settlers was only resolved in 1871 when the British annexed Griqualand West to the Cape. In 1881 the Pretoria Convention between the British and the Transvaal sought to define the borders between the Boer Republic and its Tswana neighbours to the west.

Despite this in January 1882 a Boer Republic known as Goshen was established with its capital at a place called Rooigrond, subsequently known as Heliopolis. This was located 16 km south-east of Mafeking.

On 6 August 1883 a second group of Boers established the Republic of Stellaland to the south of Goshen, with its capital at the newly-established village of Vryburg. Both republics straddled the British route to the north of southern Africa and in March 1885 an expeditionary force led by Sir Charles Warren brought their history to a bloodless end. The expedition probably also marked the beginning of a formal postal infrastructure for this region. On 30 September 1885 Goshen and Stellaland became part of the Crown Colony of Bechuanaland.

After the withdrawal of the Warren Expedition, the portion of Bechuanaland south of the Molope River was declared a British colony while the northern part remained a protectorate. In March 1895 the separation between the two Bechuanalands was completed and British Bechuanaland was annexed by the Cape Colony. Census figures indicate that in 1904 the territory had a total of 84,472 residents, of whom 11,683 were literate. These were broken down as follows:

  Residents Literate
British Bechunaland 84 472 11 683
Division of Gordonia 8 811 2 108
Division of Kuruman 12 941 1 416
Division of Mafeking 21 532 3 647
Division of Taung 23 106 2 532
Division of Vryburg 18 082 1 980

Franco Fresco