The annexation of the Diamond Fields.

In his speech at the opening of the Cape Parliament on the 18th April, 1872, Sir Henry Barkly said: -

"The Sovereignty of Her Majesty was therefore proclaimed and brought into operation with the full consent of the diggers, and the Government has since been carefully and efficiently administered, notwithstanding considerable difficulties."

The Diamond News of the 1st May, 1872, says, in referring to this speech: -

"Of the three short paragraphs which immediately concern us, the first is one of self-congratulation - the diggers and other inhabitants of Griqualand accept the British Government with heartfelt satisfaction. Sir Henry says nothing of the unaccountable and daily increasing dissatisfaction with that Government, and perhaps he knows nothing of it, as it would be an act of suicide for the Commissioners, which they would not be guilty of, to report about the prevailing feelings."

On the 30th May, 1872, the Diamond Fields said: -

"There can be no doubt that the population of the Diamond Fields are strongly opposed to annexation to the Cape Colony.

"If anything like a plebiscite could be taken, the votes against being put under the Cape Government would be in the proportion of nine to one ... even the Free State Government would get two votes to one if the Cape Town Government were the only other candidate."

In December, 1871, scarcely a month after the dispersion of the Free State authorities and the constitution of Sir Henry Barkly's junta, lynch law broke out. Lawlessness and general insecurity prevailed everywhere (see Diamond News, 17th January, 20th March, 17th July, 1872).

One reads in the Diggers' Gazette of the 26th April, 1872: -

"No one would wish to ask for a continuation of the existing state of affairs. Only entirely mischievous people could wish for the continuation of such a failure as our Commissioners of British rule have brought about on these Fields. We have formerly expressed ourselves openly about this matter, and our local contemporaries have done the same."

The following remarks were made in the Diamond News of the 16th December, 1871: -

"A description of Du Toit'span by night lately appeared in the Diamond News as it used to be under the admittedly unsatisfactory Free State police, and, by way of contrast, as it now is, after the withdrawal of that police. The comparison is not flattering to the strength of mind or administrative capability of our present rulers, and a comparison of Free State administration with Cape administration would in no way be more favourable to the latter.

"The British Government, so highly prized, which would put everything to rights and would do so much for the diggers, has brought the camps back to their original position of having to protect themselves."

In the Diamond News of the 10th July, 1872 (eight months after the constitution of Sir Henry Barkly's rule), the following criticisms appear: -

"Robberies are becoming so frequent that if we were only to relate the particulars of those that have been brought to our notice we would require more space than our limits will allow. Innumerable petty thefts are passed by without punishment. This is certainly a charming state of affairs! And the question naturally arises - how long will this continue? Thieves, black and white, experienced and dangerous, and yet no night police to stop their illegal actions! Shall we get no night police, or must the scoundrels, who are poisoning our camps continually, enjoy the immunity and freedom which they now appear to have?"

On the 26th July lynch law and revolt broke out afresh in an extensive way at New Rush, the principal diggings. The Diggers' Gazette made the following remarks about this: -

"As long as Judge Lynch remains free to hold his court and to levy his punishments, for so long can the whole framework and machinery of lawful authority just as well cease to exist.

"Authority cannot maintain its claim to be respected as long as persons suffering under the sense of having been injured take the law into their own hands, solely because of the proved incapability of those in authority to protect them where their interests mostly need protection.

"Day after day, and night after night, the one or other part of the camp is entertained by the edifying spectacle of natives being thrashed, tents being burnt, and white people surrounded by ferocious crowds who can scarcely be kept back from carrying out their desire for vengeance by a small truncheon and a thick thong.

"We do not wish to justify this state of affairs, but we cannot shut our eyes to the injustice which almost makes it a necessity. No magistrate, however exceptional, counts against the absence of such laws, discipline, and police as our circumstances demand, and through want of which there is no other prospect than that terrorism which arises out of a blind struggle against anarchy."

The Diamond News, in its issue of 20th July, 1872, says: -

"The copious news in our columns, and the reports of meetings, as well as the scenes which take place every night at mass meetings in this time of excitement, uproar and confusion, take up nearly all our principal columns. We heartily wish that the fire may be speedily got under, or else it is very much to be feared that the end will be dreadfully injurious to the safety and welfare of the innocent."

On the 19th July, 1872, a very large meeting of diggers was held at the Market Square, New Rush, when the following resolution, among others, was unanimously passed: -

"As this meeting is of opinion that, with a view to the prevailing disturbances in this camp, the Commissioners ought at once, with the Diggers' Committee, to make such amendments in the existing unsatisfactory state of the law as will as far as possible prevent the thefts of diamonds by native labourers, and their purchase by unprincipled dealers, and will also make such alterations in the law so as to promote the general welfare."

In the Cape Parliament, commencing the 5th June, 1872, Mr. Merriman said: -

"The Fields ... were annexed and a form of government was introduced there which could not be more ludicrous. A sort of irresponsible Commission (the Rovers junta) was established, in which the members could not agree, and were not responsible to anybody; he could imagine nothing more ridiculous or which worked worse. The Orange Free State had given the people a sort of representation, but the first act of our Government was to abolish all the Commissions, and the result was that the people were burdened with an irresponsible body.

"The Orange Free State had appointed a responsible official ... who was efficient ... while we had established a court twenty miles away from the most populated part; whereby grinding expenses had been entailed on those who sought justice, just as if it was the only object of the British Government to pile up heavy law costs."

Mr. Knight said: "One of the chief reasons why he was against Annexation was that nine-tenths of the population on the fields would hold up their hands to get rid of the present Government because they felt that they were far better off before they were annexed."

Mr. Buchanan declared: "He himself, when he visited the Diamond Fields, had wandered from camp to camp, and from the one sorting table to the other, and had talked with the diggers in order to acquaint himself as to their feelings about various matters, and he had obtained the conviction that there was a great deal of feeling against the British Government."

In the subsequent debate in the Cape Parliament Mr. J.H. Brown said, in regard to Mr. Orpen's motion: "That the diggers look with the greatest contempt on the Government which was there now, and that this Government was quite as much hated as it deserved to be." - (Diggers' Gazette, 12th July, 1872).

In the Diamond News of the 8th October, 1872, one reads: -

"Newspaper after newspaper comes out, and those who have a claim upon land look eagerly to see 'what is happening about the land?' and all the information the newspaper gives is that David Arnot, Esq., claims half the country, and that Francis Orpen, Esq., the Surveyor, has decided that L30 must be paid before the case of any claimant can be taken into consideration. It is Arnot and Orpen and land; and land and Orpen and Arnot, week after week. They appear to be made one for the other, and for nothing and nobody else.

"Half a newspaper is filled with lists of claims of the said David, and it becomes daily clearer and clearer that the great head chief of Griqualand West cannot be Mr. Waterboer, but must be David Arnot - because all the claims and all the kopjes have been provided for, and all are for Mr. Arnot and nobody else.

"The impression is everywhere that British protection is invoked not for British interests, nor for the interests of Britons working on the fields here, but for the sake of two gentlemen who hold the reins with far more power than ought to be given to anyone who is entrusted with the administration of this country.

"Who has ever heard of a Government which binds itself to give the surveyorship of a new country to one man only? Mr. Francis Orpen is decidedly a first-class man in his profession ... but that does not justify any Government in agreeing that he, and he only, is to keep the survey of this territory entirely in his own hands. Everyone knows what that must lead to."