THE police had now been almost continually on active service for three years, and were somewhat upset at the tone of certain discussions in the Legislative Council concerning their utility.
Complaints were made that a sufficient number of the police had not been kept on patrols in the rural districts, both for the prevention of crime and the protection of the residents, especially in view of the fact that the force had cost 34,000 during the year. The reply of the Colonial Secretary was : " I think it is not want of will on the part of the Government that prevents the police from patrolling more than they do. We have had wars lately all round, in Pondoland, in Basutoland, in Zululand, and in the Transvaal, and the police have been more or less actively engaged throughout. It is not a fact that patrols have not been sent out. There are only five detachments of the police besides those in Pietermaritzburg. Ten thousand men are not considered too many to form the police of Ireland, a country not much larger than Natal, and, that being so, how can it be expected that with our small force we can do all that has been asked ? Twenty detachments would not suffice to do the work some people demand. Assuming that 50 detachments would do for all the colony, and that 150 is the number available, we should have three men in each detachment. Then there is the question of food and stabling. That is a very difficult problem, and one not very easily disposed of.
" I must also draw attention to the insufficiency of pay to the police to enable them to keep up patrols. The men at Estcourt at the present time pay 43. iodj per day for the upkeep of their horses and themselves, out of their pay of 6s. per day. Then when we consider that a man has to purchase his horse, and keep up his clothing, we, must come to the conclusion that he really cannot keep things going. He gets no extra pay on patrol. When the grass is bad upcountry, he has to pay 2s. 6d. per feed for his horse.
" Taking everything into consideration, the wars there have been, and the fact that fifty-six patrols have been made during the year (apart from those in Umvoti County, where they are reputed to have been numerous), I think the Government does not lie under such a heavy indictment as some members would lead us to suppose.
" It is only a few days since I had a serious conversation with Major Dartnell, and he expressed himself not only willing but desirous of making the force as useful as possible. But if this chronic state of war keeps up, we cannot expect that they can remain both police and military."
There is no doubt that a wholesome impression was caused in those days by the passage through a district of a body of police. In some places the presence of a couple of policemen had the effect of stopping stock thefts for months. In accordance with the wish expressed by the Legislative Council that the police should be distributed throughout the country districts, a number of small out-stations were formed towards the close of 1881. The first was at Zaaifontein on the Drakensberg, and six men and a corporal, who were dispatched there from Fort Pine, had an unhappy experience. They had only one pack-horse to carry the kits of the seven men, and the house which was to be their headquarters " rent free " was merely a shed of one room on the slopes of the Drakensberg, where for seven months the men lived in the greatest discomfort.
There was no store within thirty miles, there was no stable nor kitchen, and their cooking utensils consisted of one pot. Moreover, they practically got nothing but buck and pumpkins to cook.
Other out-stations formed during that year were at Newcastle, Fort Nottingham, Boston, York, and Polela, being followed shortly afterwards by those at Ixopo, Noodsberg, Umsinga, Lion's River, and Ladysmith.
After a while it was decided to make life a little less unbearable for the benighted troopers in these outlandish places, by conferring on them such luxuries as bedsteads, tables, forms, stoves, a chair or two, and a few other necessary articles of furniture.
There was a pest of wild dogs in the Estcourt district early in 1882. These savage animals had created havoc amongst the sheep along the banks of the Upper Mooi River, and although the farmers complained bitterly of their loss, they gave the police a very frigid welcome when they went to hunt the dogs down, and offered no assistance whatever.
The question of increasing the numerical strength of the corps was debated at considerable length in the Legislative Council, and during the year provision was made altogether for 8 officers, 28 noncommissioned officers, and 264 troopers.
There was some uneasiness amongst the men, for although the force was organized originally for defence as well as a police force, the authorities were continually at loggerheads when discussing the problem as to whether the Natal Police were to be soldiers or policemen, or both. It is not difficult to understand that as the men's services had been spoken of very highly by some of the most distinguished officers of the British Army, including Generals Lord Wolseley, Sir Evelyn Wood, Sir Baker Russell, Sir George Colley, and Sir H. Clifford, they were very anxious to maintain their reputation as a military force. The Commandant, knowing how frequently they had been called upon for military service, stated at this time, that a high state of efficiency or discipline could not be maintained when men were scattered throughout the colony, under the control of non-commissioned officers only, a certain amount of drill being necessary to instil discipline and ready obedience to orders, without which any body of men becomes a mere demoralized rabble in the presence of an enemy.
It was pointed out then that it was possible to employ the police in a dual capacity by forming troop stations in different places, under the command of an officer, each detachment having enough men to drill and keep in training. This system was subsequently carried into effect, and is maintained to-day. In the event of trouble with the natives, troops from the various outlying stations are called into their district headquarters. This is very effectual in checking native risings, as a united body of police under the present system can get to the scene of a disturbance within a few hours of the order being given.
When the present Adjutant, Major O. Dimmick, joined the corps in April 1883, the headquarters were still at a queer little shanty in Church Street. There were about a hundred men stationed at the building, which had not adequate accommodation for a score of them. Most of the troopers slept under canvas in the small yard, where there were also about eighty horses picketed. Even in those days, nearly a decade after the corps had started, the men were having a hard time, and the recruits, who were still of a rougher class than those who constituted the force in later days, were dispatched to out-stations as quickly as possible after they had been drilled at headquarters. The uniform was then a black one, and the men carried a carbine at the side of the saddle, its muzzle resting in a bucket.
A fresh disturbance arose in Zululand in 1884. Although Cetewayo was living as a refugee near Eshowe, he incited his adherent to attack Sibepu's tribe, the Mandhlagagi, which had given the king's followers a severe beating at Undini in the July of the previous year, and had driven Cetewayo himself from his kraal. In January 1884 the Usutu party 1 met with another defeat, and not long after that Cetewayo died. The loyal natives in the reserve were subjected to much annoyance by the Usutu (The Zulu king's adherents) party, which assumed a defiant attitude towards the Resident Commissioner.
A force of 3000 loyal natives, including 50 of the Zululand Police, were sent to Nkandhla, where the Commissioner's camp was attacked by the late king's people, who were repulsed with heavy loss. This fight took place close to Fanifili's store, which was the scene of considerable unrest during a more recent period.
The brothers of the late king endeavoured to persuade the Transvaal Boers to help them to establish the strength of the Usutu party. This they agreed to do, and the Boers, who were already in force in Zululand, proclaimed Dinuzulu as king in May 1 884. A few days later the Usutus were pounced upon by the chief Hlubi, with his Basutos and loyal natives, and the Usutus had 200 men killed, and more than 1000 head of cattle captured.
The Boers joined issue with Dinuzulu, and, attacking Sibepu, drove him out of his territory. The Boers promptly claimed in return for their services 8000 farms occupying nearly three million acres of land, and proclaimed the territory a Boer Republic, under the Protectorate of the Transvaal. It was in this way that the best part of Zululand was lost to the Zulus, and to the British Government which had spent millions of pounds in conquering it.
While these disturbances were in progress, a strong body of Natal Police, under Inspector Fairlie, were sent to the border. For about four months they were encamped at Fort Buckingham, an outpost being formed at Middle Drift with one non-commissioned officer and six men, these being relieved every week.
Patrols were constantly sent out along the Tugela River from May until October, and the men suffered severely from intense cold and exposure. The horses died rapidly, very few of them surviving the expedition. Many of them died afterwards from a form of pneumonia brought on by the cold weather. The detachment from Estcourt lost every horse they had before the year closed. The Umhlali detachment patrolled the lower portions of the Tugela from Thring's Post to the mouth of the river, watching the drifts and preventing filibusters from leaving Natal to join Sibepu 's party in Zululand.
While these detachments were employed on what was practically military duty, the Fort Pine and Newcastle men were stationed at the Orange Free State passes to the Drakensberg, preventing natives from entering Natal, as smallpox had broken out at Kimberley.
There was a good deal of gun running into Pondoland at this time, and the men of the Harding detachment had some exciting adventures while putting a stop to this practice at the drifts to the Umtamvuna River, but there was a serious outbreak of glanders amongst their horses, which disabled them for a long time shortly afterwards. The colonial veterinary surgeon ordered the destruction of every animal in the place, the stable, and all the stable utensils. After this the detachment was withdrawn from Harding for a year.
Towards the end of 1884, detachments of the Natal Police were placed at Ladysmith, Umsinga, Thring's Post, Dundee, and Van Reenen's Pass, the men at the last-named place carrying out the duties in connection with the Customs, Excise, and Telegraph Department.
When the year 1885 opened, the force consisted of 300 Europeans and 25 natives, but a wave of retrenchment passed over the colony, and the threat, often repeated, to reduce the number of the Natal Police was carried out to some extent. But the following year a much more serious step was taken in this direction, the Europeans being reduced to 1 80 all told, and the whole of the native policemen were wiped out. This made it exceedingly awkward for the Europeans at work on the backstations, they being deprived of one of their most useful sources of information. Most of the Europeans who left on this occasion joined in the rush that was then taking place to the gold mines.
In 1887 the inspection of hut tax licences by the police was started, and new stations were established at Acton Homes, Impendhle, Oliver's Hoek, and Umlazi. The detachment at Van Reenen's Pass were having a very busy time, there being an enormous amount of traffic going through to Johannesburg. That year over 29,000 wagons passed the place both ways, and the licence for each one had to be inspected. In addition to this, the police, acting as Customs officers, examined nearly 50,000 packages.
The wave of economy that spread over the colony resulted in the officers' pay being reduced by 5 per cent., and all other ranks had 6d. per day knocked off ; but, a year later, when a reign of prosperity had set in once more, the whole of this was returned to the men in the form of a bonus.
There was considerable alarm amongst the residents of Alfred County, on account of the attitude of the Amanyuswa tribe, which had assembled for the purpose of " doctoring." The report was received that they appeared to be on the warpath, so a detachment of the police was hastily dispatched from Harding to check any disturbance. The tribe soon settled down and dispersed.
When the prosperity of Natal increased in 1 889, the strength of the force was raised by fifty men, but, such were the vicissitudes of Natal's chief defensive body in those days, these fifty men were taken away again a twelvemonth later. The force was spoken of, in consequence, as the " financial barometer of the colony," rising and falling, as it did, with the revenue.
Again there was anxiety amongst the white settlers in Alfred County owing to unrest in Pondoland, and amongst the natives on the southern border. Every available man, with three officers, was sent to Harding towards the close of the year, and strong patrols were kept continually on the move while Sigcau, the paramount chief of Pondoland, was engaged in a bitter battle with his uncle, Umhlangaso,who was compelled to take refuge in Natal on one occasion when hotly chased by Sigcau at the head of an impi of 10,000 men. Such is the respect that the native has for the white police, that the impi refrained from crossing the border as a result of their presence. Detachments of police were sent this year to Port Shepstone, Coldstream (afterwards known as Charlestown), and New Guelderland, near Stanger.
Although the conditions at the old barracks had always been both unpleasant and insanitary, it was not until an outbreak of enteric fever laid a large number of the men out, and killed five of them, that new premises were obtained. Recruits were moved to the site of the present barracks on a hill overlooking Pietermaritzburg, where a camp was pitched, and the handsome building, which is at present used as headquarters, was soon afterwards erected.