Birth of the Dutch Republics.

[Sidenote: British Policy During the Middle of the Century]

By the middle of the century there were some twenty thousand emigrant farmers scattered over the region between the Orange and Vaal Rivers and north of the latter. They had no organized government; no bond of union except a feeling of hostility to British sovereignty and a common love of independent isolation; no adequate security against sudden attacks from surrounding savages. Occasionally they combined in small forces and fell with merciless severity upon tribes which had aroused their displeasure. They would brook no control, even from self-constituted authorities, and at first endeavoured to govern themselves by general meetings of citizens. Distances were too great, however, to render this practicable, and small elective Assemblies in several semi-republican communities eventually developed. But the Boer character possessed a positive genius for disobedience, and the feuds of families and communities soon became as marked as those of the native tribes around them--whose cattle they delighted to capture and whose children were occasionally enslaved by Dutch commandos. The settlers were not seriously interfered with by the British Government in London, or in Cape Town. A general supervision, or pretence at supervision, over their relations with the natives was maintained and with ultimately important results. But for some years following the Natal annexation nothing of importance occurred. No formal recognition of their feeble efforts at self-government was given, they remained British subjects in the eyes of the law, and Sir Peregrine Maitland's Proclamation of August 21, 1845, at the Cape, expressly reserved the rights of the Crown in this connection.

[Sidenote: Moshesh the Basuto]

Meanwhile, however, two other communities had developed in their neighbourhood. East of what afterwards became the Orange Free State and in territory which the emigrant farmers, or Boers as they were beginning to be called, claimed for themselves, an exceedingly able native chief, in the person of Moshesh the Basuto, had risen into power and had welded together the scattered fragments of tribes which had been crushed by the raids of the Matabele and Zulus. From the rugged heights of Thaba Bosigo he dominated a large extent of country, an increasing native population and much spoil in cattle and slaves. To the south and west of the Boers two half-breed leaders named Adam Kok and Waterboer had established themselves respectively with strong, armed bands of Griquas--the name given to the offspring of Dutch farmers and Hottentot women--and had become a recognized force. With Moshesh they constituted the elements of a new British policy which was inaugurated in 1843. The Colonial Office did not want at this time to extend its territories. South Africa, indeed, appeared during the first portion of this century as the least promising, and the most turbulent and troublesome, of all British possessions. The soil was supposed to be arid and without fertility or minerals, the population seemed hostile and the net result of colonization and administration had been a series of costly Kaffir wars. In dealing with the Kaffirs, or Kosas, on the eastern frontier of the Colony the British Government had shown this disinclination with quite sufficient clearness. But to allow the emigrant Boers to repudiate their allegiance was another matter, and even to the not very far-seeing statesmen of the Colonial Office of that day it presented possibilities deserving of consideration. With Sir Harry Smith's arrival and the termination of the Kaffir War of 1846-47 came another development of the situation. The new Governor of Cape Colony, who for the first time had also been appointed High Commissioner with power of control over native matters outside of the bounds of the Colony, visited the Orange River region, looked into the results of the Treaty State policy, came to the conclusion that agreements with native chiefs were like arrangements made with little children, and determined to suppress these creations of missionary statecraft as soon as might be possible.

[Sidenote: Orange River Sovereignty]

Meanwhile the High Commissioner was well received at Bloemfontein, and soon made arrangements with Adam Kok and Moshesh which greatly curtailed their authority and independence. On February 3, 1848, he announced the annexation to British dominions of the whole territory between the Vaal and Orange Rivers and the Drakensberg mountains under the name of the Orange River Sovereignty. The colored population was left under the control of its chiefs, and their land was carefully reserved for their own use. All relations between tribes, however, or with Europeans, were to be guided by British authorities. Major Warden was continued at Bloemfontein as the Governor, or Resident, and Sir Harry Smith returned to Cape Town after having carried out a policy which should have been effected long before. And it was now too late. Although without any definite government amongst themselves, or any allegiance to the little republics which had sprung up over the Vaal, a certain number of Dutch farmers in the new Sovereignty would not accept British rule, and they were speedily aided by the Transvaal Boers under Pretorius in a direct attack upon Bloemfontein. Major Warden was compelled to surrender, and the British officials were speedily driven out of the country. Sir Harry Smith, however, was too vigorous and able a commander to stand this sort of thing, and he hastily got some troops together, crossed the Orange River, attacked Pretorius in a strong position at a place called Boomplaatz, defeated him and re-established the Sovereignty Government. Those of the Boers who were inveterately opposed to British rule at once crossed the Vaal and were not interfered with by British officials. Their places, to some extent, were taken by fresh emigrants from Cape Colony, many of them English, and from this time forward the Orange River State was populated by white settlers more or less passively friendly toward England and composed of the least hostile amongst the emigrant farmers with a certain proportion of Englishmen.

[Sidenote: Rebellion of Molitsane]

For a time all went apparently well. Then, in 1851, Moshesh, finding his power had been restricted by the new arrangements, and knowing that he was much stronger in a military sense than the British authorities had any conception of, began to foment disturbances between his own people and native clans in the Sovereignty. He did not appear publicly in the matter, but his policy was none the less effective in drawing both Major Warden and the Cape Governor into a determination to punish Molitsane--a vassal of Moshesh--who was a distinct offender. With 162 soldiers, 120 Boers and some fifteen hundred natives, Major Warden marched out from Bloemfontein, and at Viervoet was drawn into a trap and suffered a disastrous defeat. It is said that Moshesh himself was surprised at the easy result. At any rate, he at once threw off the mask and joined forces with his vassal. A section of the Boers also repudiated the Sovereignty Government, so far, at least, as to promise Moshesh absolute neutrality if he would leave their cattle and property unharmed. This he promised and fulfilled by plundering without mercy the Boers who remained loyal. Major Warden was now helpless at Bloemfontein, as Cape Colony was in the throes of another Kaffir war. and not a soldier could be spared--a fact of which Moshesh and the disloyal Dutch were perfectly aware. The latter added to the difficulties of the situation by suggesting to Pretorius that now was his time to avenge Boomplaatz. He was not unwilling, but thought a primary duty lay to his own adherents beyond the Vaal; so he wrote Warden that if the independence of the Boers of that region were definitely acknowledged he would refrain from participation in the struggle.

[Sidenote: The Sand River Convention]

Major Warden reported to Sir Harry Smith that the safety of the Sovereignty for the time lay in assenting to this proposal, as he could not hold it against the Basutos and the Transvaal Boers combined. The result was the appointment of Commissioners and the negotiation in 1852 of the Sand River Convention "with the Commandant and Delegates of the Boers living beyond the Vaal," by which the British Government "guaranteed to the emigrant farmers beyond the Vaal River the right to manage their own affairs and to govern themselves according to their own laws without any interference on the part of the British Government." Provisions were included by which the British authorities disclaimed all alliances with colored peoples north of the Vaal, and the Boers accepted the declaration (on paper) that "no slavery is or shall be permitted or practiced" in the country under their control. This arrangement finally severed the two communities, carried across the Vaal another migration of the anti-British element, and in time consolidated the bitterly hostile and prejudiced sections of population into the present Transvaal Republic. Meanwhile, peace had been made with the Kaffirs, and Sir George Cathcart, who was now Governor at the Cape, invaded Basutoland with a considerable force of regulars for the purpose of punishing Moshesh. As usual in South African warfare, he under-estimated the numbers and fighting skill of his opponents as well as the natural strength of this Switzerland of the Veldt. Thaba Bosigo was too hard a nut for his force to crack, and he was, besides, drawn into an ambush and defeated. Moshesh, however, was wise enough not to press his advantage too far, and with statecraft which was worthy of a greater sphere, asked and received peace on terms very beneficial to himself.

[Sidenote: Changed Policy]

But the Colonial Office was now in the hands of the Manchester School party, England was living in the exhilaration of a period of great and growing commercial prosperity, and her politicians were sick of the prolonged succession of petty and costly wars which had marked South African history. It was decided that all further responsibility must be avoided, that existing boundaries must be drawn back wherever possible, and that extension of territory must be imperatively resisted. The first point of contact with this feeling was the Sovereignty, and the Duke of Newcastle, who was then acting as Colonial Secretary, sent Sir George Russell Clerk out in 1853, as a Special Commissioner: "To ascertain whether it was practicable to make arrangements for the abandonment of the whole of that territory." Then followed the most extraordinary and perhaps regrettable incident in all the turbulent and troubled history of South Africa. The Commissioner had called a Convention of European Delegates for the purpose of taking over the government of the Sovereignty. But these twenty-four men sounded public opinion, and they had soon found that the feeling was clear and unmistakable that from every standpoint of right, honor and expediency Great Britain should retain its authority and continue its protection. Sir George Clerk, however, was under definite instructions, and any protests from the Delegates, or from the public meetings which were hastily held, were simply regarded as so much unnecessary obstruction to the fulfilment of his mission. The Convention refused to accept in any way his proposition, and was promptly dissolved. [Sidenote: Formation of the Orange Free State] A small body of men were found, however, to favor independence, and with these representatives of a distinct minority Sir George concluded an agreement on February 23, 1854, by which the country was practically handed over to them as the Orange Free State. This precious document "guarantees on the part of Her Majesty's Government the future independence of that country and Government"--although it also provides "that this independence shall, without unnecessary delay, be confirmed and ratified by an instrument promulgated in such form and substance as Her Majesty shall approve, finally freeing them from their allegiance to the British Crown, and declaring them, to all intents and purposes, an independent people." So far as can be ascertained this instrument was never actually promulgated, and it may be a delicate technical point as to whether the Free State people have ever been legally freed from their allegiance to Great Britain.[1]

[1] Westminster Review. April, 1869.

Large popular gatherings were held to protest against the policy of dismemberment, and the Chairman and another member of the late Convention were sent to England to bring the whole case before the Queen's Government. But it was all in vain. Hardly any notice had been taken in Great Britain of the Sand River Convention, and even less concern was exhibited over this new development of weak and nerveless Colonial administration. A motion upon the subject in the House of Commons had to be withdrawn for lack of a seconder, and Parliament voted $240,000 as a compensation to loyal settlers--presumably as a solace for having forced them to give up their allegiance. By the terms of the Bloemfontein Convention--already quoted from--no slavery or trade in slaves was to be permitted and the Government was made free to levy import duties and to buy ammunition in the British Colonies. In this way were two Boer Republics founded in South Africa, and the evils which might naturally have been expected from the intense isolation and ignorance of the emigrant farmers crystallized into constitutional shape, and finally into military form. These Conventions of 1852 and 1854 legalized a lasting and bitter schism in the small European population of South Africa, and even the conditions and interests of the Free State and the Transvaal were not, for many years afterwards, considered identical by the Boers themselves.