On June 8th, 1899, Mr. Chamberlain declared in the House of Commons, that with the failure of the Bloemfontein Conference, a "new situation" had arisen. If the Imperial Government had translated this remark into action, the South African War would have been less disastrous, less protracted, and less costly. But the same order of considerations which prevented the Salisbury Cabinet from recalling General Butler in June, caused it to withhold its sanction from the preparations advised by the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Wolseley. From the political point of view it was held to be desirable that the British Government should have an absolutely good case as before the world--a case which would not only ensure the whole-hearted support of the great bulk of the nation, and the active sympathy of the over-sea British communities; but one that would be so strong in justice as to overcome, or at least mitigate, the natural repugnance with which international opinion regards a great and powerful state that imposes its will upon a small and weak people by force of arms. Above all, it had become a cardinal principle in Mr. Chamberlain's South African policy to refrain to the last moment from any step which would necessarily close the door to a peaceful solution of the differences which had arisen between the South African Republic and the Imperial Government.
[Sidenote: Policy of Home Government.]
Influenced by these considerations, the Government refused to give effect to the measures demanded by the military situation, as it existed after the failure of the Bloemfontein Conference, except in so far as these demands could be satisfied without prejudice to the dominating political objects which it had in view. As to the nature of these measures there could be no reasonable doubt. It was necessary to raise the British forces in the Cape Colony and Natal to a point sufficient for defensive purposes, and to prepare an additional force--an army corps--for any offensive movement against one or both of the Republics. And as 6,000 miles of sea separated the seat of war from the chief base of the army, the United Kingdom, it was obvious that the defensive force should be despatched at once, and the offensive force prepared no less speedily, in order that it might be held in readiness to embark at the earliest moment that its services were required.
To Lord Milner's reiterated warnings of the last two years, there was now added the definite advice of Lord Wolseley and the Department of Military Intelligence. In a memorandum dated June 8th, 1899, and addressed to the Secretary of State for War, the Commander-in-Chief advised the mobilisation in England of a force consisting of one complete army corps, one cavalry division, one battalion mounted infantry, and four infantry battalions for lines of communication; the collection of transport in South Africa; and the immediate initiation of all subsidiary arrangements necessary for conveying these additional troops and their equipment to the seat of war. This advice was disregarded; but in place of the immediate mobilisation of the Army Corps the Cabinet decided to increase the efficiency of the existing force in South Africa, and General Butler was informed of this decision, as we have seen, on June 21st. On July 7th, Lord Wolseley recommended, in addition to the mobilisation of the offensive force--which he still deemed necessary--that "the South African garrisons should be strengthened by the despatch of 10,000 men at a very early date." Instead of adopting these measures, the Government confined itself to doing just the few necessary things, both for defence and offence, that could be done without creating any belief in its warlike intentions, and without involving any appreciable expenditure of the public funds. Undoubtedly this latter consideration--the desire to avoid any expenditure that might afterwards prove to have been unnecessary--added weight to the purely political argument against immediate military preparation.
[Footnote 82: Cd. 1,789.]
[Footnote 83: Cd. 1,789.]
[Sidenote: Preparations delayed.]
The course actually taken by the Salisbury Cabinet was this. Instead of the immediate mobilisation of the offensive force, Lord Wolseley was instructed to prepare a scheme for the "constitution, organisation, and mobilisation" of such a force; and to do this in consultation with Sir Redvers Buller, the General Officer commanding at Aldershot, who had been selected to lead the British forces in South Africa in the event of war. Instead of the immediate despatch of additional troops sufficient to render the South African garrisons capable of repelling invasion--which was what Lord Milner had especially desired--the actual deficiencies of the existing Cape garrison were made good by the despatch in July of small additions of artillery and engineers, and by directing General Butler to provide the fresh transport without which even this diminutive force was unable to mobilise. At the same time certain special service officers, including engineers and officers of the Army Service Corps, were sent out to organise the materials, locally existing, for the defence of the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony and the southern districts of Rhodesia; and generally to make preliminary preparations for the provisioning, transport, and distribution of any British forces that might be despatched subsequently to the Cape Colony.
[Footnote 84: Three battalions, 6 guns, and a company of
Royal Engineers were all the troops available for the defence
of the Cape frontiers at this time (i.e. June).]
[Footnote 85: Most of these came by mail boats on July 18th
and 25th. Col. Baden-Powell (who was entrusted with the
important duty of organising a force for the defence of
Southern Rhodesia, and subsequently of raising the mounted
infantry corps which held Mafeking) arrived on the latter
These were the utterly inadequate reinforcements sent in response to Lord Milner's urgent appeal, and in disregard of General Butler's protest that they were wholly undesirable--an opinion which was endorsed in England by Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, when, on June 17th, 1899, he declared that there was nothing in the South African situation to justify even preparations for war.
During the interval between the Bloemfontein Conference and General Butler's recall in the latter part of August Lord Milner's position was one of unparalleled difficulty. The Cape and Natal garrisons were maintained in a state of perilous weakness by the policy of the Home Government. The measures to be undertaken locally for the defence of the colonies, which the Cabinet had sanctioned, were wholly insufficient in Lord Milner's opinion. And the general execution of these wholly insufficient local measures was left in the hands of a General Officer who had told the Secretary of State that he absolutely disapproved of them on political grounds, since the mere announcement of their being made would "add largely to the ferment," which he "was [then] endeavouring to reduce by every means." The Cape Ministry, with whom rested the disposal of the colonial forces, was a ministry placed in office by the Bond for the especial purpose of opposing British intervention in the Transvaal. In these circumstances it needed all Lord Milner's mastery of South African conditions, and all his tact and address, to make the relations between himself and his Afrikander Cabinet tolerable; and, above all, in view of the refusal of the Imperial Government to sanction the military preparations advised by the Commander-in-Chief, it required ceaseless vigilance on his part to prevent the acceptance of an illusory settlement which would have sounded the death-knell of British supremacy in South Africa.
[Sidenote: President Krüger's proposals.]
On the last day of the Conference President Krüger had put in a memorandum in which he expressed his intention of introducing his franchise scheme to the Volksraad, and his hope that the High Commissioner would be able to recommend this, and a further proposal for the settlement of disputes by arbitration, to the favourable consideration of the Imperial Government. Lord Milner had replied that any such proposals would be considered on their merits; but that the President must not expect them to be connected in any way with the proceedings of the Conference, out of which, as he then declared, no obligation had arisen on either side.
The Raad met on Friday, June 9th; and on Monday, the 12th--the day on which Lord Milner received the Ebden address--President Krüger laid the draft Franchise law, containing his revised Bloemfontein scheme, before it. On Tuesday, 13th, Mr. Chamberlain's despatch of May 10th, on the position of the Uitlanders and the petition to the Queen, was delivered to the Transvaal Government by the British Agent; and on Wednesday, June 14th, as we have already noticed, the Blue-book containing this despatch, Lord Milner's despatch of May 4th, and the whole story of the franchise controversy up to the Bloemfontein Conference, was published in England. As the conditions under which Lord Milner's despatch had been telegraphed to England were now changed, it would have been better if it had remained unpublished, and the stage of fighting diplomacy, reached through the failure of the Bloemfontein Conference, had been at once opened--and opened in another way. What Lord Milner had learnt at Bloemfontein was not merely that President Krüger was unwilling to yield, but that he was psychologically incapable of yielding. He had learnt, that is to say, not that Krüger was determined to refuse the particular reform which the Imperial Government demanded, but that his whole system of thought was irreconcilably opposed to that of any English statesman. It is the knowledge which can be obtained only by personal dealings with the Boers, and no one who has had such personal dealings can fail to remember the sense of hopelessness that such an experience brings with it. The Boer may be faithful to his own canons of morality; but his whole manner of life and thought is one that makes his notion of the obligations of truth and justice very different from that of the ordinary educated European. He is not devoid of the conception of duty, but he applies this conception in methods adapted to the narrow and illiberal conditions of his isolated and self-centred life.
[Footnote 86: Expressing approval of the position Lord Milner
had taken up at Bloemfontein. See p. 173.]
As for the mediation of the Cape Afrikanders, Lord Milner estimated it at its real value. The Cape nationalists believed that war would result in disaster to their cause; the Republican nationalists did not. They both hated the British in an equal degree. But the Afrikander leaders at the Cape knew that they had the game in their own hands. "For goodness' sake," they said, "keep quiet until we have got rid of this creature, Milner; and the Salisbury Cabinet--the 'present team so unjustly disposed to us'--is replaced by a Liberal Government."
[Sidenote: Lord Milner's task.]
That was the meaning of their mediation--nothing more. Lord Milner acquiesced in the negotiations after Bloemfontein, but what he wanted was a polite but absolutely inflexible insistence upon the Bloemfontein minimum, and at the same time such military preparations as, in view of the clear possibility of a failure of negotiations, seemed to him absolutely vital. This, however, was not the course which the Salisbury Cabinet thought right to adopt; and the problem that now lay before him was to convert the illusory concessions, which were all that Afrikander mediation was able or even desirous to wring from President Krüger, into the genuine reform that the British Government had twice pledged itself to secure.
But Lord Milner had also grasped the fact that the one issue which could drive a wedge into Dutch solidarity was the franchise question. He had determined, therefore, that nothing that transpired at the Bloemfontein Conference should permit President Krüger to change the ground of dispute from this central issue. During the negotiations between the Home Government and the Pretoria Executive that followed the Conference, and especially during the period of Mr. Hofmeyr's active intervention, his most necessary and pressing task was to prevent the Salisbury Cabinet from being "jockeyed" by Boer diplomacy out of the advantageous position which he had then taken up on its behalf. The pressure of the Hofmeyr mediation increased the difficulty of this task by driving President Krüger into a series of franchise proposals of the utmost complexity. The danger was that Mr. Chamberlain and his colleagues in the Cabinet, in their earnest desire to avoid war, might recognise some illusory measures of reform as satisfactory, and then, after further consideration, finding them to be worthless, be driven by their previous admission to make war, after all, not on the single issue of "equality all round," but on an issue that might be plausibly represented to South Africa and the world as the independence of the Boers.
[Sidenote: The Draft Franchise Law.]
The period is crowded with demonstrations, despatches, mediations, petitions, and incidents of all kinds. A tithe of these--disentangled from the Blue-books, but vitalised by a knowledge of the master facts that lie behind the official pen--will serve, however, to present the play of the mingling, conflicting, and then frankly opposing forces. The "formidable personalities" are all in motion. At first it seemed as though the whole weight of the Schreiner Cabinet, acting in conjunction with General Butler's political objection to military preparation on the part of the Imperial Government, was to be thrown into the scale against Lord Milner's efforts. On June 12th President Krüger laid the draft of his new Franchise Law before the Raad, which then (the 15th) adjourned, in order that the feeling of the burghers might be ascertained. On the 17th a great assemblage of Boers met at Paardekraal, and, among the warlike speeches then delivered was that of Judge Kock, a member of the Transvaal Executive, who "dwelt upon the doctrine of 'what he called Afrikanderdom,' and said that he 'regarded the Afrikanders, from the Cape to the Zambesi as one great family. If the Republics are lost,' he continued, 'the Afrikanders would lose. The independence of the country was to them a question of life and death. The Free State would stand by the Transvaal, even to the death. Not only the Free State, but also the Cape Colony.'" Nor was this boast without some foundation. A week before (June 10th), Mr. Schreiner had requested Lord Milner to inform Mr. Chamberlain that, in ministers' opinion, President Krüger's franchise proposal was "practical, reasonable, and a considerable step in the right direction." Four days later (June 14th) he further informed the Governor that, in ministers' opinion, there was nothing in the existing situation to justify "the active interference of the Imperial Government in what were the internal affairs of the Transvaal." And this expression of opinion the Prime Minister also desired Lord Milner, as the only constitutional medium of communication between the Cape Ministry and the Secretary of State, to convey to Mr. Chamberlain. On the day (June 10th) on which the first of these interviews between Lord Milner and Mr. Schreiner took place, a meeting of five thousand persons--in Sir William Greene's words, "the largest and most enthusiastic ever held at Johannesburg"--passed three resolutions which sufficiently exhibit the extent to which the views of the Cape Ministry differed from those of the Transvaal British. After affirming the principle of equal political rights for all white inhabitants of South Africa, and declaring that President Krüger's Bloemfontein proposals were "wholly inadequate," this great meeting proceeded to place on record its "deep sense of obligation" to Lord Milner for his endeavour to secure the redress of the Uitlander grievances, and its willingness, in order to "support his Excellency in his efforts to obtain a peaceful settlement," to endorse "his very moderate proposals on the franchise question as the irreducible minimum that could be accepted."
[Footnote 87: C. 9,415.]
[Footnote 88: C. 9,415.]
[Footnote 89: Ibid.]
[Sidenote: Action of Schreiner ministry.]
In other words, the Schreiner Cabinet, immediately after the failure of the Conference, used its influence unreservedly to assist the Pretoria Executive in refusing the franchise reform put forward by the High Commissioner--a reform which, in the opinion of the community most concerned and most capable of judging of its effect, constituted an "irreducible minimum" only to be accepted in deference to Lord Milner's judgment, and in the hope of avoiding war. Mr. Schreiner's action on this occasion was characteristic of the blind partizanship of the Cape Ministry. On June 10th, when the Prime Minister pressed his and his colleagues' favourable view of President Krüger's proposals upon Lord Milner and Mr. Chamberlain, the draft Franchise Law, with its intricate provisions, had not been laid before the Volksraad. Mr. Schreiner, therefore, had made haste to bless before he knew what he was blessing. And a few weeks later, as we shall notice, he let his zeal for the Boer oligarchy outrun his discretion in an even more amazing manner.
In these difficult circumstances Lord Milner displayed the highest address in his relations with the Schreiner Cabinet. Thanks to his mingled tact and firmness, aided by the outspoken support which he received from Mr. Chamberlain, his intercourse with his ministers remained outwardly friendly, while at the same time he had the satisfaction of seeing that during the next few weeks the considerations of policy, which he laid before them with absolute frankness, appreciably modified their original attitude. He had at once availed himself of the one point on which he and they were in agreement. With reference to the first interview with Mr. Schreiner (June 10th), he telegraphed to the Colonial Secretary:
"In reply I told him [Mr. Schreiner] I was prepared to
communicate this expression of his opinion, although I strongly
held an opposite view, as he was aware.
"He admitted, in subsequent conversation, that the President of
the South African Republic's scheme could, in his opinion, be
improved in detail; for instance, by immediately admitting men
who had entered the country previous to 1890, and by making
optional the period of naturalisation....
"In reply, I told him that these were points of first-rate
importance and not of detail, especially the latter; and that,
since after all he seemed to agree with me more than with the
President of the South African Republic, he had better address
his advice to the latter, and not to Her Majesty's Government."
And at the long and rather unpleasant interview of June 14th, although, as we have seen, Mr. Schreiner desired Lord Milner to inform Mr. Chamberlain that the Cape Ministry considered the "active interference" of the British Government unjustified, yet he also said "that he and his colleagues were agreed that there were two respects in which the Government of the South African Republic might better their franchise scheme: (1) By admitting to the full franchise at once persons who had entered the country before 1890; and (2) By making it optional to obtain the full franchise without previous naturalisation after seven years' residence."
[Footnote 90: C. 9,415.]
Mr. Chamberlain's reply (June 16th), contained a more direct admonition. Lord Milner was instructed to inform the Cape Ministers that the Government trusted that they would "use all the influence they could to induce the Transvaal Government to take such action as would relieve Her Majesty's Government from the necessity of considering the question of being obliged to have recourse to interference of such a nature."
[Footnote 91: Ibid.]
[Sidenote: Mr. Chamberlain's speech.]
This was admirable backing, and precisely what Lord Milner required to aid him in his two-fold task of bringing both the Cape Ministry and the Pretoria Executive to a more reasonable frame of mind. But Mr. Chamberlain's next step was one of questionable utility.
In his speech at Birmingham (June 26th), after reviewing the relations of Great Britain with the Transvaal Boers during the last twenty years, Mr. Chamberlain declared that the Imperial Government, although deeply anxious not to use force, must somehow see that things were put right in South Africa.
"We have tried waiting, patience, and trusting to promises which
are never kept," he said; "we can wait no more. It is our duty,
not only to the Uitlanders, but to the English throughout South
Africa, to the native races, and to our own prestige in that part
of the world, and in the world at large, to insist that the
Transvaal falls into line with the other states in South Africa,
and no longer menaces the peace and prosperity of the whole."
This was the kind of speech which would have been suitable and effective, if the South African garrison had been 20,000 instead of 10,000 strong, and the expeditionary force had been mobilised on Salisbury Plain. It was unsuitable and ineffective under the existing circumstances; when, that is to say, the British Government, by refusing to sanction the measures advised by the Commander-in-Chief, had elected to put themselves at a military disadvantage for the sake of prolonging the stage of friendly discussion and in the hope of gaining their point by diplomatic means. In these circumstances such speeches were merely food for President Krüger to use in feeding the enthusiasm of his burghers. What Lord Milner desired of the Home Government was, as we have seen, a polite but inflexible demand for the Bloemfontein minimum, coupled with unostentatious, but effective, military preparations. The Home Government, as the sequel will show, were driven by the unpatriotic attitude of the Liberal Opposition into a precisely opposite course in both these respects. Their demand was vague in substance, and irritating in manner; while their inadequate defensive preparations were more than neutralised by the loudness with which, in deference to the views of the Liberal Opposition, they proclaimed their reluctance to undertake military measures on a scale that would really have made an impression on the Boers.
[Footnote 92: E.g. Mr. Balfour's statement in the House of
Commons that the object of the despatch of the special
service officers, and the small additions of engineers and
artillery was "to complete the existing garrison." The
purchase of transport, he said, had been long ago decided
[Sidenote: The Fischer-Hofmeyr mission.]
One result which Mr. Chamberlain's speech produced was to bring Mr. Hofmeyr once more upon the scene. Before this date (June 26th) Mr. Fischer, apparently considering that the failure of the Bloemfontein Conference cast a reflection upon the statesmanship and influence of the Free State Government, had commenced a second essay in mediation. Early in June he had paid a visit to Capetown, where he was in close communication with Mr. Hofmeyr and the Cape Ministers, and had twice called upon the High Commissioner. He had left Capetown on the 19th for Bloemfontein; and then proceeded to Pretoria, which he reached on the 25th. At the Transvaal capital he entered into negotiations with the Executive, calling upon the British Agent on the 26th, and again on the 28th, and maintaining communication, through him, with Lord Milner. From Pretoria Mr. Fischer returned to Bloemfontein in company with Mr. Smuts and Mr. Groebler, on July 1st. Here he met Mr. Hofmeyr, who, leaving Capetown with Mr. Herholdt, on the same day (July 1st), reached Bloemfontein early on the following morning.
[Footnote 93: Under State-Secretary of the Transvaal.]
Mr. Hofmeyr was in Bloemfontein, because the events of the last few days had convinced him that the only hope of saving the situation--saving it, that is, from the Afrikander nationalist point of view--lay in prompt and energetic action on his part. On June 23rd Mr. Schreiner had been informed by the High Commissioner of the intention of the Home Government to "complete" the Cape garrison; and shortly afterwards the despatch of the special service officers was publicly announced in England. Mr. Chamberlain's speech at Birmingham on the 26th, cabled almost in extenso to the High Commissioner, was communicated to the local press on the 28th. On the same evening a mass meeting, held in the Good Hope Hall at Capetown, declared its strong approval of the action of the Imperial Government on behalf of the British population in the Transvaal. With these signs of an approaching Armageddon before his eyes, Mr. Hofmeyr had overcome his objection to personal dealings with President Krüger, and had resolved to go to Pretoria to confer with the leaders of the Boer oligarchy. But, in order to protect himself from the risk of a useless rebuff, he had first arranged to meet Mr. Fischer at Bloemfontein, and obtain through him and President Steyn some definite assurance that his counsels would be treated with respect, before finally proceeding to the Transvaal.
On Sunday, July 2nd, and in these circumstances, a conference was held between the Master of the Bond and Mr. Fischer and Mr. Smuts--two men not unworthy to represent the cause of Afrikander nationalism in their respective republics. As the result of their discussions, carried on almost uninterruptedly from the early morning until nearly midnight, Mr. Fischer, Mr. Smuts, and Mr. Groebler, in the words of Ons Land, "knew precisely what had to be done, in the opinion of the Colonial representatives, to gain the moral support of Colonial Afrikanders and to lead in the direction of peace."
[Footnote 94: Article on "The Mission of Messrs. Hofmeyr and
Herholdt" in Ons Land, of July 11th, 1899, as reproduced in
the South African News of the same date. This account of
Mr. Hofmeyr's proceedings is presumed to have been published
with his approval. C. 9,518.]
[Sidenote: Hofmeyr at Bloemfontein.]
On the following day (Monday, the 3rd) Mr. Fischer and his companions arrived again in Pretoria; but Mr. Hofmeyr remained at Bloemfontein, since he had decided not to go to the Transvaal capital, unless "he was assured of achieving something of importance there." Up to the afternoon of Tuesday (the 4th) no such assurance had been received; and, says Ons Land, "as it seemed the assurance was almost in a contrary direction, preparations were already made for the homeward journey." But a little later on in the day Mr. Hofmeyr and his companion "received a hint that, although their chances of success at Pretoria were but slight, they were not altogether hopeless." The facts thus far provided by Ons Land must now be supplemented by a reference to the telegrams which fell into the hands of the British authorities a year later upon the occupation of Bloemfontein. From these documents we know that President Krüger at first telegraphed to President Steyn a polite refusal of Mr. Hofmeyr's mediation. This was followed, on Tuesday morning, by a telegram from Mr. Fischer himself, informing President Steyn that the Transvaal Government "would be glad to meet Mr. Hofmeyr and Mr. Herholdt, but that he could not say what chance there was of their mission succeeding until the Volksraad had been consulted." This, as we have seen, was by no means sufficient for Mr. Hofmeyr. But later on there came a second telegram--the telegram which Ons Land delicately calls a "hint"--in which Mr. Fischer said that President Krüger "was willing to see Mr. Hofmeyr before he brought the matter before the Raad," and that he himself "hoped to obtain certain concessions from the Executive Council, with the members of which he was in consultation."
Thus encouraged, Mr. Hofmeyr and Mr. Herholdt at once left Bloemfontein by special train, and, travelling all night, reached Pretoria on Wednesday, the 5th, at seven o'clock.
"From the station," says Ons Land, "they were escorted by various officials and friends to the Transvaal Hotel, where rooms had been engaged for them as guests of the State. Even before they had taken breakfast they had an audience with President Krüger. On the invitation of His Honour they accompanied Mr. Fischer to three meetings of the Executive Council--two on Wednesday and one on Thursday. They had the opportunity, too, of meeting the greater part of the Volksraad members, and of conversing with them. What occurred on this occasion is, of course, private, and not for publication."
Mr. Hofmeyr and Mr. Herholdt left Pretoria on Friday, the 7th, and reached Capetown on Monday, the 10th.
[Sidenote: Lord Milner and the mission.]
[Sidenote: Bid for "moral support".]
Lord Milner did everything possible to secure the success of the Fischer-Hofmeyr mission. Provided President Krüger was induced to give the Uitlanders an appreciable share in the government of the Transvaal, it made no difference to the Imperial Government whether he did so from a desire to secure the "moral support" of the Cape Afrikander party, or from any other motive of political expediency. What was essential was that the existing franchise scheme should be so far improved as to become a genuine, and no longer a fictitious, measure of reform. On the understanding that the "mission" had no less an object in view--an understanding which he gained from conversation with Mr. Fischer himself as well as from Mr. Schreiner and Mr. Hofmeyr--Lord Milner placed the British Government code at the disposal of Mr. Fischer and the Prime Minister, and further arranged with the former to communicate with him (Lord Milner) through the British Agent at Pretoria. But Lord Milner especially impressed, alike upon Mr. Fischer, Mr. Hofmeyr, and Mr. Schreiner, the necessity of urging President Krüger to discuss any proposed modifications in the Draft Law with the Imperial Government or its representatives, before they were submitted to the Raad. The objection to the adoption of this course, which, according to Mr. Fischer's statement, the Pretoria Executive did in fact make, was their inability to "recognise the right of the British Government to be consulted on the franchise, which was an internal matter." This objection, however, as Lord Milner pointed out to the members of the Pretoria Executive, both directly through Sir William Greene, and indirectly through Mr. Hofmeyr and Mr. Fischer, was a mere pretext. "The whole world," he said in effect, "knows that whatever alterations you make in the Draft Law--and indeed the Law itself--will be the result of the pressure brought to bear upon you by the British Government. That being so, to refuse to discuss these alterations with us privately, and in a friendly manner, because the franchise is an 'internal matter,' is to strain at a gnat while you are all the while swallowing a camel." But neither at this time, nor at any other period in the three months' negotiations, did President Krüger desire to come to an agreement with the British Government at the price of granting a genuine measure of reform. As a bid for the "moral support" of the Cape Ministry, but without the slightest attempt to consult with the British Government or its representatives, he recommended to the Volksraad, on July 7th, certain amendments, the effect of which was to confer the franchise upon a very small body of Uitlanders, and that only if they succeeded in complying with certain cumbersome and protracted formalities. On the following morning the Bond Press announced, with a great flourish of trumpets, that Mr. Hofmeyr's mission had been remarkably successful, and set out the amendments of "The Great Reform Act" as representing the fruit of his and Mr. Fischer's efforts. This was for the public. To Mr. Fischer, Hofmeyr himself telegraphed on his return journey to Capetown, that he "deplored the failure" of his mission, when he "thought he had reason to expect success." Mr. Schreiner, on the other hand, was no less ready to bless the "Hofmeyr compromise" than Krüger's original scheme. Upon receiving by telegram the bare heads of the proposed amendments, and without waiting to learn what practical effect they would have upon the position of the Uitlanders, he hastily authorised The South African News to announce (July 8th) that the Cape Government considered the proposals of the amended law "adequate, satisfactory, and such as should secure a peaceful settlement." This opinion he subsequently modified; and, at Lord Milner's request, he advised Mr. Fischer (July 11th) to urge his friends at Pretoria to delay the passage of the bill through the Volksraad. And Lord Milner was authorised by Mr. Chamberlain to instruct Sir William Greene to offer the same advice to the Transvaal Government, with the more precise intimation that "full particulars of the new scheme" ought to be furnished officially to the Imperial Government, if the proposals which it embodied were to form "any element in the settlement of the differences between the two Governments." The High Commissioner's object was, of course, to reduce the area of formal negotiations, and therefore the risk of official friction, to its narrowest limits. But this was not President Krüger's object. His principle was the very opposite of that of the Imperial Government. They abstained from preparations for war in order to improve the prospect of a peaceable settlement. The force upon which he relied was the warlike temper of his burghers, and the answering enthusiasm which the spectacle of the Republic, prepared to defy the British Empire, would arouse among the whole Dutch population of South Africa. Mr. Reitz was, therefore, instructed to decline Mr. Chamberlain's request on the ground that "the whole matter was out of the hands of the Government"; meaning, thereby, that it had already been submitted to the Volksraad. This, again, was the thinnest of excuses, since President Krüger had never yet shown any scruple in modifying or withdrawing proposals already laid before the Volksraad, when it suited him to do so.
[Footnote 95: C. 9,415.]
[Footnote 96: Then Mr. Conyngham Greene.]
[Footnote 97: C. 9,415.]
[Footnote 98: C. 9,415.]
[Footnote 99: Ibid.]
[Footnote 100: C. 9,415.]
[Sidenote: The Bogus Conspiracy.]
[Sidenote: War fever in the Transvaal.]
It may be questioned, however, whether, even at this time, the "whole matter" had not passed, in another and more serious sense, "out of the hands" both of the Pretoria Executive and the British Government. The political atmosphere of South Africa had become electric. The Uitlanders themselves cherished no illusion on the subject of President Krüger's proposals. Amended and re-amended, the Franchise Law, as the Uitlander Council then and there declared, left the granting of the franchise at the discretion of the Boer officials or the Pretoria Executive, and as such it was "a most dangerous measure, and apparently framed with the object of defeating the end it was presumed to have in view." Further and convincing evidence of the utterly vicious and depraved character of the personnel of the Boer administration was afforded by the proceedings arising out of the alleged "conspiracy" against the Republic, of which the unfortunate Englishman Nicholls was the innocent victim (May 18th to July 25th). In this disgraceful affair the gravest offences against international comity were committed; high officials, including Mr. Tjaart Krüger, the President's youngest son, were implicated in a gross and scandalous prostitution of the machinery of justice; and yet no apology was offered to the Imperial Government, nor any compensation awarded to Nicholls for the two months' imprisonment and continuous persecution by the agents-provocateurs, to which he had been subjected. The impassioned speeches delivered at the Paardekraal meeting was only one among many signs of the dangerous hostility to England and everything English that had taken possession of the Republic. The British residents who had petitioned the Queen were denounced as "revolutionaries," and threatened with the vengeance of the burghers. "If war breaks out," wrote De Rand Post," the Johannesburg agitators are the real instigators, and to these ringleaders capital punishment should be meted out." In the Volksraad discussion of the Franchise Law the same passionate hatred of the Uitlanders was manifested. "Is it the English only who have the right to make conditions?" asked Mr. Lombard on July 15th. "If it comes to be a question of war, there will be a great destruction. And who will be destroyed if it comes to a collision? Why, the subjects of Her Majesty in Johannesburg."
[Footnote 101: C. 9,415.]
[Footnote 102: On May 15th, 1899--i.e. a fortnight before
the Bloemfontein Conference met--five persons alleged to be
British subjects were arrested on a warrant, signed by Mr.
Smuts as State-Attorney, on a charge of high treason. All of
them, except one man--Nicholls, who was innocent--were agents
of the secret service. The statement that the men were
ex-British officers, and that one of them alleged that he was
acting under direct instructions from the War Office, was
disseminated through the Press by the Transvaal Government,
with the object of discrediting (1) the South African League,
and (2) the British Government, in the eyes of the civilised
world. The whole of the alleged "conspiracy against the
independence of the Republic," thanks to the endurance of
Nicholls and the persistence of the Imperial authorities in
South Africa, was shown to be the work of the Transvaal
police, favoured by the negligence or political bad faith of
certain Government officials. The prosecution was abandoned
on July 25th. Mr. Duxbury, the counsel for the defence
retained by the British Government, in reviewing the case and
the proceedings, wrote (August 9th): "It seems abundantly
clear, from all the facts which have come to light, that the
whole of this disgraceful prosecution found its inception in
the minds of Mr. Schutte, the Commissioner of Police, and
Acting Chief Detective Beatty.... I must direct your
attention to the very grave accusation contained in Thomas
Dashwood Bundy's affidavit against Mr. Tjaart Krüger. This
gentleman is the son of President Krüger, and is the Chief of
the Secret Service department of this State." And of Mr.
Smuts he writes: "I believe he was deceived by the
detectives, and yet at the same time I fail to understand
why, in a matter of such-magnitude, he allowed himself to
sign warrants for the arrest of persons charged with such a
serious crime as high treason on the strength of an affidavit
signed by a detective, who, on the very day such affidavit
was signed, had been denounced by the Chief Justice from the
Bench of the High Court as a perjurer." C. 9,521 (which
contains a full record of the whole affair).]
[Footnote 103: The words are quoted by Mr. M. P. C. Walter,
the editor, in a letter of protest published in the Transvaal
Leader of July 7th, 1899. C. 9,521.]
[Footnote 104: Ibid.]
These expressions scarcely do justice to the spirit of vindictiveness with which certain of the republican leaders regarded the British population of the Rand. On May 22nd, 1900, less than a year after the date of the Volksraad discussion of the Franchise Bill, and when Lord Roberts was advancing rapidly upon Johannesburg, a conversation took place with Mr. Smuts in Pretoria, which was reported in The Times. In the course of this conversation the State Attorney said, with reference to the proposed destruction of the mines, that "he greatly regretted that Johannesburg should suffer, but that the Government had no choice in the matter, as the popular pressure upon them was too great to be resisted." This determination is rightly characterised by Mr. Farrelly, the late legal adviser to the Government of the South African Republic, as the "fiendish project of wrecking the mines and plunging into hopeless misery for years tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and children." But that is not all. He has put upon record the sinister fact that the man entrusted with the execution of this infamous design was Mr. Smuts himself. The mines were saved, therefore, not by the Boer Government, but in spite of it, and solely through the independent action of Dr. Krause, the Acting-Commandant of Johannesburg, who "arrested the leader of the wreckers, sent by Mr. Smuts, the day before the surrender to Lord Roberts."
[Footnote 105: The Settlement after the War, p. 218.]
[Footnote 106: Ibid.]
[Sidenote: Action of the British.]
The British population, although it provided no such displays of racial passion, was in an equally determined mood. Undismayed by the threats of the Boers, the Uitlander Council continued calmly to analyse the Franchise Bill in each successive phase--an unostentatious but very useful service, which materially assisted Lord Milner in following the windings and doublings of Boer diplomacy. After the great meeting at Johannesburg (June 10th), the British centres in the Cape Colony, Natal, and Rhodesia gave similar demonstrations of their confidence in Lord Milner's statesmanship, and their conviction of the justice and necessity of the five years' franchise demanded by the Imperial Government. On the other hand, the irritation against British intervention was growing daily in the Free State; and the Dutch Reformed Church and the Bond had organised a counter-demonstration in the Cape Colony. The Synod of the former, meeting on June 30th, drew up an address protesting that the differences between Lord Milner's franchise proposals and those of President Krüger were not sufficient to justify the "horrors of war," and requested the Governor to forward it to the Queen. At Capetown (July 12th) and in the Dutch districts throughout the Colony, Bond meetings were held at which resolutions were passed in favour of a "compromise" as between Lord Milner's five years' franchise and the scheme embodied in President Krüger's law. More sinister was the circumstance that the information, that a consignment of 500 rifles and 1,000,000 cartridges, landed at Port Elizabeth on July 8th, had been permitted by the Cape Government to be forwarded through the Colony to the Free State, only came to the ears of the High Commissioner by an accident. In the meantime, more definite evidence of the almost unanimous approval of Lord Milner's policy by the British population in South Africa was forthcoming. In all three British colonies petitions to the Queen praying for justice to the Uitlanders, and affirming absolute confidence in Lord Milner, were signed. The Natal petition contained the names of three-fourths of the adult male population of the Colony, while the signatures to the joint petition of the Cape and Rhodesia had already reached a total of 40,500 before the end of July. In other respects the testimony of Natal was clear and unmistakable. In this predominantly English Colony identical resolutions supporting the action and policy of the Imperial Government, were carried unanimously in both Chambers of the Legislature.
[Sidenote: Hofmeyr's warning.]
In the middle of July the situation improved in a slight degree through the influence which Lord Milner had exercised upon the Afrikander leaders in the Cape Colony. On the 14th the Cape Parliament met, and on this day Mr. Hofmeyr, chagrined at a suggestion for further support which he had received from the republican nationalists at Pretoria, despatched a telegram to Mr. Smuts, in which he, as the recognised head of the Afrikander Bond, reminded the members of President Krüger's Executive that the promised co-operation of the Cape Government with them had been definitely limited to "moral support." And he plainly hinted that, unless greater deference was shown to his advice, even this "moral support" might be withdrawn.
"The most important suggestions sent from here will apparently
not be adopted. The independence of the Republics is in danger.
As to the Colony, the utmost prospect held out was moral support.
The Ministry and the Bond have acted up to that. If Parliament
[i.e. the Cape Parliament] goes too strongly in the same
direction, there may be a change of Ministry, with Sprigg or
Rhodes backed by Milner. Would your interests be benefited
thereby? Verb. sat. sap."
[Footnote 107: Secured by the Intelligence Department. The
telegrams thus referred to, in this and the following
chapter, have not been published in the Blue-Books. They were
published, however, in The Times History of the War. Their
authenticity is undoubted. Sir Gordon Sprigg had held a
conversation with the Governor on the 13th.]
As President Krüger wanted to retain the "moral support" of the Cape Government for a few weeks longer, he listened to Mr. Fischer's advice to humour their prejudices, and forthwith recommended a further modification of the Franchise Bill to the Volksraad. This final amendment, under which a uniform seven years' retrospective franchise was substituted for a nine years' retrospective franchise, alternate with a seven years' retrospective franchise taking effect five years after the passing of the law (i.e. in 1904), was accepted on July 18th, and the new Franchise Law was passed on the 19th and promulgated on the 26th. Its provisions were so obscure that it was accompanied by an explanatory memorandum furnished by the State Attorney, Mr. Smuts. But even assuming that the legal pitfalls could be removed, and the law, thus simplified, would be worked in the most liberal spirit by the officials of the Republic, President Krüger's proposals failed to provide the essential reform which Lord Milner had pledged himself and the Imperial Government to obtain. That reform was the immediate endowment of a substantial proportion of the British residents in the Transvaal with the rights of citizenship. To use his own words, "the whole point" of his Bloemfontein proposal was "to put the Uitlanders in a position to fight their own battles, and so to avoid the necessity of pressing for the redress of specific grievances."
[Footnote 108: Mr. Fischer was still at Pretoria. C. 9, 415.]
[Footnote 109: C. 9,415.]
No one in South Africa had any doubt as to the entire inadequacy of the Franchise Bill to fulfil this essential object. In the opinion of the Uitlander Council it was "expressly designed to exclude rather than admit the newcomer." Sir Henry de Villiers complained to Mr. Fischer:
[Footnote 110: Ibid.]
[Footnote 111: On July 31st, Cd. 369.]
"Then there is the Franchise Bill, which is so obscure that the
State Attorney had to issue an explanatory memorandum to remove
the obscurities. But surely a law should be clear enough to speak
for itself, and no Government or court of law will be bound by
the State Attorney's explanations. I do not know what those
explanations are, but the very fact that they are required
condemns the Bill. That Bill certainly does not seem quite to
carry out the promises made to you, Mr. Hofmeyr, and Mr.
[Sidenote: An illusory measure.]
And Lord Milner, in his final analysis of the law on July 26th, concludes that "the Bill as it stands leaves it practically in the hands of the Government to enfranchise, or not to enfranchise, the Uitlanders as it chooses." And he then draws attention to the very grave consideration that if the paramount Power once accepts this illusory measure, it will deprive itself of any future right of intervention on the franchise question.
[Footnote 112: C. 9,518.]
"And the worst of it," he wrote, "is that should the Bill,
through a literal interpretation of its complicated provisions,
fail to secure the object at which it avowedly aims, no one will
be able to protest against the result."
For one moment it seemed to the anxious warden of British interests in South Africa as though the Home Government might be caught in President Krüger's legislative net. The incident is one that well exhibits the tireless effort and unflinching resolution with which Lord Milner discharged the duties of his office.
President Krüger's Bloemfontein scheme was a maze of legal pitfalls. What these pitfalls were the reader may learn from the analysis of the scheme which was published in The Cape Times of June 10th, 1899. When the Franchise Bill was before the Volksraad this complicated scheme, as we have seen, was amended and re-amended; and each new provision was as intricate in its working as the parent scheme. It is obvious that nothing short of a commission of inquiry could have determined with certainty the manner in which the representation of the Uitlanders was affected by each successive amendment. While these changes were in progress in the Raadzaal at Pretoria--changes so "numerous and so rapid," as Lord Milner said, that it was "absolutely impossible at any given moment to know what the effect of the scheme, as existing at that moment, was likely to be"--Lord Milner himself at Capetown was at one and the same time overwhelmed with detailed criticisms from Uitlanders, anxious that no legal pitfall or administrative obstacle should remain undetected, and besieged with cables from the Colonial Office requesting precise information upon any point upon which an energetic member of the House of Commons might have chosen to interrogate the Secretary of State. And, in addition to this rain of telegrams, people on the spot were constantly calling at Government House to ask if the High Commissioner had observed this or that defect or trap in clauses, the text of which he had not yet had time to receive, still less to read or comprehend. All this, too, was over and above the heavy administrative and official duties of the Governor and High Commissioner--duties which Lord Milner was called upon to perform with more than usual care, in view of the political ascendancy of the Dutch party in the Cape Colony.
[Footnote 113: August 23rd, C. 9,521.]
[Sidenote: Mr. Chamberlain's assumption.]
On July 13th, Lord Milner sent warning telegrams to Mr. Chamberlain, pointing out specific defects in the Franchise Bill, and showing how seriously President Krüger's proposals fell short of the Bloemfontein minimum. Five days later the Volksraad accepted the final amendments. The face value of the Bill, as it now stood to be converted into law, was a seven years' franchise, prospective and retrospective. When, therefore, Mr. Chamberlain heard this same day (July 18th) that the Volksraad had accepted the bill in this form with only five dissentients, he seems to have assumed that a really considerable concession had been made by President Krüger at the last moment, and that, with the President and the Volksraad in this mood, still further concessions would be forthcoming. Under this impression he informed the House of Commons lobby correspondent of The Times that "the crisis might be regarded as at an end." His words were reproduced in The Times on the day following (July 19th), and at once cabled to South Africa.
[Footnote 114: C. 9,415.]
It is impossible for any one who has not lived in South Africa to realise the sickening distrust and dread produced in the minds of the loyal subjects of the Crown by this statement. War they were ready to face. But to go back to every-day life once again bowed down with the shame of a moral Majuba, to meet the eyes of the Dutch once more aflame with the light of victory, to hear their words of insolent contempt--was ignominy unspeakable and unendurable. The Uitlander Council at once cabled an emphatic message of protest to Mr. Chamberlain, and every loyalist that had a friend in England telegraphed to beg him to use all his influence to prevent the surrender of the Government. How near the British population in South Africa were to this ignominy may be gathered from the fact that on this day Lord Milner received a telegram in which Mr. Chamberlain congratulated him upon the successful issue of his efforts. Lord Milner's reply was one that could have left no doubt in Mr. Chamberlain's mind as to the gravity of the misconception under which he laboured. It was, of course, beyond the High Commissioner's power to prevent the Home Government from accepting the Franchise Bill; but he could at least remove the impression that he was anxious to participate in an act, which would have made the breach between the loyalists of South Africa and the mother country final and irrevocable.
[Footnote 115: "The Uitlander Council is keenly disappointed
at the Times' announcement that the seven years' franchise
is acceptable to the Imperial Government. We fear few will
accept the franchise on this condition, so the result is not
likely to abate unrest and discontent, nor redress pressing
grievances. Such a settlement would not even approximate to
the conditions obtaining in the Orange Free State and the
[British] colonies, and would fail to secure the recognition
of the principle of racial equality. We earnestly implore you
not to depart from the High Commissioner's five years'
compromise, which the Uitlanders accepted with great
reluctance. The absolute necessity for a satisfactory
settlement with an Imperial guarantee is emphasised by the
insincerity and bad faith persistently shown during the
Volksraad discussion of the Franchise Law."--C. 9,415.]
[Sidenote: The relapse in England.]
It is scarcely possible to believe that Mr. Chamberlain, with Lord Milner's telegrams before him, was himself prepared to accept President Krüger's illusory franchise scheme. The source of the weakness of the Government in the conduct of the negotiations, no less than in its refusal to make adequate preparations for war, is to be found in the inability of the mass of the people of England to understand how completely British power in South Africa had been undermined by the Afrikander nationalists during the last twenty years. How could the average elector know that the refusal or acceptance of the Volksraad Bill, differing only from the Bloemfontein minimum in an insignificant--as it seemed--particular of two years, would, in fact, make known to all European South Africa whether President Krüger or the British Government was master of the sub-continent? In view of this profound ignorance of South African conditions, and the consequent uncertainty of any assured support, even from the members of their own party, the Salisbury Cabinet may well have argued: "Here is something at last that we can represent as a genuine concession. Let us take it, and have done with this troublesome South African question; or leave it to the next Liberal Government to settle."
If the Cabinet did so reason to themselves, what English statesman could have "cast the first stone" at them? But how profound is the interval between the spirit of the policy of "the man on the spot," with his eyes upon the object, and the spirit of the policy of the island statesman with one eye upon the hustings and the other strained to catch an intermittent glimpse of an unfamiliar and distant Africa!
[Sidenote: Lord Milner's anxiety.]
This 19th of July was a dark day for the High Commissioner. In the morning came Mr. Chamberlain's telegram with its ominous suggestion of a change for the worse in the attitude of the Home Government. And this change in the Cabinet was, as Lord Milner knew, only the natural reflection of a wider change, which had manifested itself among the supporters of the Government and in the country at large since the publication, on June 14th, of his despatch of May 4th. Private letters had made him aware that to men to whom Dutch ascendancy at the Cape and Boer tyranny in the Transvaal, Afrikander nationalism and Boer armaments, were meaningless expressions, his resolute advocacy of the Uitlanders' cause and his frank presentation of the weakness of Great Britain had seemed the work of a disordered imagination or a violent partisanship. Nor was his knowledge of the relapse in England limited to the warnings or protests of his private friends. The South African News, the ministerial organ, which of late had filled its columns with adverse criticisms taken from the London Press, this morning contained a bitter article on him reprinted from Punch, which had arrived by the yesterday's mail. After all, it seemed, the long struggle against mis-government in the Transvaal was going to end in failure; and the British people would once more be befooled. With such thoughts in his mind, Lord Milner must have found the work of making up the weekly despatches for the Colonial Office--for it was a Wednesday--a wearisome and depressing task. The mail was detained until long past the customary hour. But before it left, in spite of discouragement and anxiety, Lord Milner had gathered together into a brief compass all the documents necessary to put Mr. Chamberlain in possession of every material fact relative to the new law--passed only on the day before--and to the proceedings of the Transvaal Executive and the Volksraad between the 12th and the 19th. And, in addition to this, he had written a fresh estimate of the Franchise Bill in its latest form, in which he emphasised his former verdict that the proposals which it contained were not such as the Uitlanders would be likely to accept. And in particular he pointed out that the fact of the final amendment being thus readily adopted by the Volksraad disposed of the contention, upon which President Krüger had laid so much stress at Bloemfontein, that his "burghers" would not permit him to make the concessions which the British Government required. He wrote:
[Footnote 116: The English outward mail-boat arrived on
Tuesday, and the homeward boat left on Wednesday.]
"On July 12th Her Majesty's Government requested the Government
of the South African Republic to give them time to consider the
measure and communicate their views before it was proceeded with.
To this the Government of the South African Republic replied, on
July 13th, with a polite negative, saying that 'the whole matter
was out of the hands of the Government, and it was no longer
possible for the Government to satisfy the demands of the
Secretary of State.' The State-Attorney informed Mr. Greene
at the same time that 'the present proposals represented
absolutely the greatest concession that could be got from the
Volksraad, and could not be enlarged. He personally had tried
hard for seven years' retrospective franchise, but the Raad would
not hear of it, and it was only with difficulty that the present
proposals were obtained.' This was on the 12th, but within a week
the seven years' retrospective franchise had been adopted.
Indeed, the statement of the absolute impossibility of obtaining
more than a particular measure of enfranchisement from the
Volksraad or the burghers has been made over and over again in
the history of this question--never more emphatically than by the
President himself at Bloemfontein--and has over and over again
been shown to be a delusion."
[Footnote 117: Sir W. Greene became a K.C.B. after the war
had broken out.]
[Footnote 118: C. 9,518.]
[Sidenote: Mr. Chamberlain's statement.]
But this full record of the shifts and doublings of Boer diplomacy would not reach London for another two weeks and a half. It was necessary, therefore, to use the cable. Early the next morning Lord Milner sent a telegram to the Secretary of State, in which he warned the Home Government of the extreme discouragement produced among all who were attached to the British connection by The Times statement of their readiness to accept the Franchise Bill. On that afternoon (July 20th), Mr. Chamberlain made a statement in the House of Commons in which he took up a much more satisfactory position. The Government, he said, were led to hope that the new law "might prove to be a basis of settlement on the lines laid down" by Lord Milner at the Bloemfontein Conference. They observed, however, that "a number of conditions" which might be used "to take away with one hand what had been given with the other" were still retained. But they--
"felt assured that the President, having accepted the principle
for which they had contended, would be prepared to reconsider any
detail of his schemes which could be shown to be a possible
hindrance to the full accomplishment of the objects in view, and
that he would not allow them to be nullified or reduced in value
by any subsequent alterations of the law or acts of
That is to say, Mr. Chamberlain was no longer willing to take the bill at its face value, but in accordance with his determination to exhaust every possible resource of diplomacy before he turned to force, he gave President Krüger credit for a genuine desire to promote a peaceable settlement. A week later he formulated the method by which the President was to be allowed an opportunity of justifying this generous estimate of his intentions. In the meantime Lord Milner had sent lengthy telegrams to the Secretary of State on the 23rd, and again on the 26th, and the Salisbury Cabinet had determined to make a definite pronouncement of its South African policy, and to endeavour to arouse the country to a sense of the seriousness of the situation with which President Krüger's continued obduracy would bring it face to face. On July 27th Mr. Balfour declared, in addressing the Union of Conservative Associations, that--
"If endless patience, endless desire to prevent matters coming to
extremities, if all the resources of diplomacy, were utterly
ineffectual to untie the knot, other means must inevitably be
found by which that knot must be loosened."
On the day following (July 28th) the Transvaal question was debated in both Houses of Parliament. In the House of Lords the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, delivered a moderate and almost sympathetic speech. After making all allowance for the natural apprehension experienced by President Krüger at the sudden inrush of population caused by the discovery of the Witwatersrand gold-fields, he expressed the opinion that an attempt "to put the two races fairly and honestly on the same footing" would bring a peaceful solution of the crisis. But, he added--
"How long we are to consider that solution, and what patience we
are bound to show, these things I will not discuss. We have to
consider not only the feelings of the inhabitants of the
Transvaal, but, what is more important, the feelings of our
fellow-subjects.... Whatever happens, when the validity of the
Conventions is impeached, they belong from that time entirely to
history. I am quite sure that if this country has to make
exertions in order to secure the most elementary justice for
British subjects,--I am quite sure [it] will not reinstate a
state of things that will bring back the old difficulties in all
their formidable character at the next turn of the wheel. Without
intruding on his thoughts, I do not think President Krüger has
sufficiently considered this."
[Sidenote: The Joint Commission.]
In the House of Commons Mr. Chamberlain announced that he had proposed to the Transvaal Government that a joint commission should be appointed to test the efficacy of the scheme of electoral reform embodied in the new Franchise Law. This proposal was set out in detail in a despatch already addressed to the High Commissioner, the substance of which had been telegraphed to him on the preceding day (July 27th). The British Government assumed that "the concessions now made to the Uitlanders were intended in good faith to secure to them some approach to the equality which was promised in 1881"; they proposed that the "complicated details and questions of a technical nature" involved in the new law should be discussed in the first instance by delegates appointed by the High Commissioner and by the South African Republic; and if, and when, a "satisfactory agreement" had been reached on these points, they further proposed that all disputes as to the terms of the Convention should be settled by a "judicial authority, whose independence ... would be above suspicion," and all remaining matters in respect of the political representation of the Uitlanders by "another personal Conference" between the High Commissioner and President Krüger.
[Footnote 119: C. 9,518.]
Although the position which the Salisbury Cabinet had now taken up was one which placed them beyond the danger of accepting an illusory franchise scheme in lieu of an adequate measure of reform, it was not the course of action which was best to follow, except from the point of view of opening the eyes of the British public. In itself further delay was dangerous. It gave the Boers more time to arm, while we, for this very reason for which it was necessary to protract the negotiations, were prevented from arming vigorously. It discouraged our friends in South Africa, and made them even begin to doubt whether Great Britain "meant business." It was good policy to offer the Joint Inquiry, given the truth of the assumption upon which this offer was based--namely, that the Bill represented an honest desire on the part of President Krüger to provide a peaceable settlement of the Uitlander question. Lord Milner knew, within the limits of human intelligence, that this assumption was wholly unwarranted. The Home Government apparently did not. As the result of this difference, Lord Milner's policy was again deflected to the extent that two months of negotiation were devoted to a purely futile endeavour to persuade the Pretoria Executive to prove the good faith of a proposal, which was never intended to be anything more than a pretext for delay. And, as before, the injury to British interests lay in the fact that, while the Home Government was prevented from making any adequate use of this delay by its determination not to make preparations for war until war was in sight, the period was fully utilised by President Krüger, who since Bloemfontein had been resolutely hastening the arrangements necessary for attacking the British colonies at a given moment with the entire burgher forces of the two Republics.
[Sidenote: Krüger urged to accept.]
The offer of the Joint Inquiry was formally communicated to the Pretoria Executive in an eminently friendly telegram from Lord Milner on August 1st. Efforts were made on all sides to induce President Krüger to accept it. Chief Justice de Villiers wrote strongly in this sense to Mr. Fischer, and to his brother Melius, the Chief Justice of the Free State. Mr. Schreiner telegraphed to Mr. Fischer, and Mr. Hofmeyr to President Steyn, both urging that the influence of the Free State should be used in favour of the proposal. The Dutch Government advised the Republic "not to refuse the English proposal"; and further informed Dr. Leyds that, in the opinion of the German Government, "every approach to one of the Great Powers in this very critical moment will be without any results whatever, and very dangerous to the Republic." Even the English sympathisers of the Boers were in favour of acceptance. Mr. Montagu White, the Transvaal Consul-General in London, cabled that "Courtney, Labouchere, both our friends, and friendly papers without exception," recommended this course; and that "refusal meant war and would estrange friends." The letter which he wrote to Mr. Reitz on the same day (August 4th), possesses an independent interest, as revealing the degree in which the friends of the Boers in England had identified themselves with the policy of the Afrikander party in the Cape Colony.
[Footnote 120: C. 9,518.]
[Footnote 121: See p. 218 for this letter.]
[Footnote 122: Cd. 547.]
[Footnote 123: Ibid.]
"The essence of friendly advice," said Mr. White, "is:
Accept the proposal in principle, point out how difficult it will
be to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion as to statistics, etc.,
and how undesirable it would be to have a miscarriage of the
Commission. In other words: Gain as much time as you can, and
give the public time here to get out of the dangerous frame of
mind which Chamberlain's speeches have created.... Labouchere
said to me this morning: 'Don't, for goodness' sake, let Mr.
Krüger make his first mistake by refusing this; a little skilful
management, and he will give Master Joe another fall.' He further
said: 'You are such past-masters of the art of gaining time; here
is an opportunity; you surely haven't let your right hands lose
their cunning, and you ought to spin out the negotiations for
quite two or three months.'"
[Footnote 124: Cd. 369.]
A week later (August 11th), President Krüger received a telegram in which fifty Afrikander members of the Cape Parliament advanced the same argument. The acceptance of the Joint Commission, they pointed out, would provide a way out of a crisis "which might prove fatal to the best interests, not only of our Transvaal and Free State brethren, but also of the Afrikander party." They, therefore, begged his Honour to "lay their words privately" before the Executive and the Volksraad.
[Footnote 125: Secured by the Intelligence Department.]
[Sidenote: Krüger resolved on war.]
But President Krüger, like Lord Milner, had his eyes fixed upon the object. He looked beyond the Afrikander leaders to the rank and file of the Dutch population in the British colonies, with whom he had been in direct communication through his agents for many months past. He knew that any such inquiry as Mr. Chamberlain proposed would expose the flagrant insincerity of the Franchise Bill. On August 2nd he had telegraphed to President Steyn that compliance with the Joint Commission was "tantamount to the destruction of the independence of the Republic." To the Dutch Consul-General he was perfectly frank: "Defeats such as the English had suffered in the war for freedom, and later under Jameson, had never been suffered by the Boers." His burghers were ready to "go on the battue of Englishmen," when he gave the word.
[Footnote 126: It was known to the Intelligence Department
that Krüger's secret agents had been in the Cape Colony for
two years before the outbreak of war, and that they had
distributed arms in certain districts of the Colony.]
[Footnote 127: Secured by the Intelligence Department.]
[Footnote 128: Cd. 547.]
[Footnote 129: The expression "Ons wil nou Engelse schiet"
was actually used. See Thomas's Origin of the Anglo-Boer War
Revealed, p. 110.]
[Sidenote: Fischer ceases to "mediate".]
The burghers of the Free State could be counted upon with almost equal certainty. Mr. Fischer, a more potent influence than President Steyn, had by this time openly dissociated himself from the "mediation" policy of the Cape nationalists, and was again (August 4th to 9th) at Pretoria. Here he threw himself heart and soul into the work of completing the military preparations of the two Republics. On the 6th he telegraphed to President Steyn that the draft reply was prepared; that it "invited discussion and asked questions to gain time," and that, therefore, it "was not yet necessary to deliberate as to calling together the Volksraad" for the final decision of peace or war. "Military matters, especially artillery," he added, "seem to me very faulty. Care will be taken to make all necessary preparations." Nor did he leave the Transvaal capital until he had settled the details of the invasion of Natal with General Joubert. Indeed, from this time onwards to the despatch of the ultimatum--a document which came, in its final form, from his pen--Mr. Fischer's part in the conduct of the negotiations was second only to that of President Krüger. In all he did he displayed the same reasoned determination to oppose British supremacy in South Africa which he has exhibited since the war in his control of the Bloemfontein Friend. Orders for the inspection of the commando organisation in the Free State had been given before Mr. Fischer had left Bloemfontein; and on his return from Pretoria he responded to Mr. Schreiner's urgent and continued representations of the desirability of inducing President Krüger to accept Mr. Chamberlain's offer, by a request to be informed of any probable movements of British forces. Mr. Schreiner's reply, that the Free State must ask for such information from the High Commissioner, caused him to apply to Mr. Hofmeyr for an explanation of the Cape Premier's attitude. The inquiry produced a notable analysis of Mr. Schreiner's position.
[Footnote 130: Secured by the Intelligence Department.]
"Hofmeyr says," Dr. Te Water telegraphed, "that whatever the
Premier's feelings or relations to our people are, he is at the
same time a minister of the Crown. As such he has on him claims
in two directions, of which he is acquitting himself to the best
of his ability. He has no control over the movement of troops.
You had better come and have a quiet talk. Meanwhile the Free
State should surely refrain from an aggressive step."
[Footnote 131: Secured by the Intelligence Department.]
This well-meant advice was somewhat belated. In reply to a telegram from President Steyn, asking whether it was true that the Imperial Government was going to send 1,000 men to Bethulie Bridge, Lord Milner replied on August 16th, that, "as a matter of fact, no despatch of Imperial troops to the borders of the Orange Free State was in contemplation." But he added that in view of the much more substantial reports of the "importation of large quantities of munitions of war" into that State and "the general arming of the burghers," it "would not have been unnatural, if such military preparations had been responded to by a defensive movement" on the part of the British Government. Indeed, the circumstances which had led to Mr. Fischer's co-operation in Mr. Hofmeyr's "mediation" were rapidly disappearing. The Port Elizabeth Mausers and ammunition were safely through the Cape Colony; a further consignment of Mauser ammunition arrived at Delagoa Bay (August 16th) in the German steamship Reichstag at the very time that these telegrams were passing; and both this and other enormous consignments were forwarded to Pretoria a fortnight later in spite of an abortive attempt on the part of the British Foreign Office to induce the Portuguese authorities to retain them. The possession of an adequate supply of ammunition was a matter of cardinal importance to which, as we have seen, President Steyn had drawn the attention of the Pretoria Executive nearly a month before the Bloemfontein Conference. It was these Mauser cartridges that were wanted especially, since, without them, the new arm--the splendid Mauser magazine rifle--must have been rejected in place of the inferior Martini-Henry for which the Boers had long been provided with an ample reserve of ammunition.
[Footnote 132: C. 9,521.]
[Sidenote: Smuts-Greene negotiations.]
[Sidenote: Boer diplomacy.]
In the meantime the British Government was still waiting for a reply to its offer of a Joint Inquiry. On August 7th the Volksraad discussed the question, and on the 12th a despatch was written by Mr. Reitz refusing the offer on the ground that such a proposal was inconsistent with the independence of the Republic. It was held back, however, until September 1st; that is to say, until the Portuguese authorities had allowed the Transvaal ammunition to leave Lorenzo Marques. Then, as we shall see, it was forwarded in conjunction with a second despatch of September 2nd. The delay was won by a characteristic display of "the art of gaining time," in which, as Mr. Labouchere remarked, the Boers were past-masters. On the same day that Mr. Reitz wrote his despatch (August 12th), Mr. Smuts approached Sir William Greene with the offer of a still further simplified seven years' franchise in lieu of the Joint Commission. When, however, Sir William Greene assured him that the British Government would not accept anything less than the Bloemfontein minimum, he subsequently agreed to an arrangement of which the main items were: A five years' franchise; the workable character of the new law to be secured by the submission of its provisions to the British Agent with a legal adviser; and increased representation in the Volksraad, together with the use of the English language. After communications had passed between Sir William Greene, Lord Milner, and Mr. Chamberlain, these proposals, with certain reservations, were formally communicated to the British Government by Mr. Reitz on August 19th. Two days later a second note was forwarded in which the offer contained in the previous note (August 19th) was declared to be subject to the acceptance by the British Government of two conditions. These conditions--an undertaking not to interfere in the internal affairs of the Republic in the future and a specific withdrawal of the claim of suzerainty--amounted in effect to a formal renunciation by Great Britain of its position as paramount Power in South Africa. In other words, the Pretoria Executive had repudiated the arrangement made by Mr. Smuts with Sir William Greene. Mr. Chamberlain, noticing the material variation between the original offer as initialled by Mr. Smuts and forwarded by Sir William Greene, and Mr. Reitz's note of August 19th, instructed Sir William Greene to obtain an explanation of the discrepancy from the Transvaal Government. The reply was a curt rejoinder that there was not "the slightest chance of an alteration or an amplification" of the terms of the arrangement as set out in the note of the 19th. In these circumstances Mr. Chamberlain telegraphed a reply on August 28th, in which he accepted the original offer, and rejected the impossible conditions subsequently attached to it. The terms of settlement thus proposed were in substance the same as those of the despatch of July 27th, with the exception that an inquiry by the British Agent was substituted for the Joint Commission, and the five years' franchise of the Smuts-Greene arrangement was accepted in lieu of the seven years' franchise of the Volksraad law. The Transvaal reply was a further essay in the same useful "art of gaining time." It was dated September 2nd, and contained a definite withdrawal of the Smuts-Greene offer as embodied in the notes of August 19th and 21st, and a vague return to the Joint Commission.
[Footnote 133: Then Mr. Conyngham Greene. C. 9,521.]
[Footnote 134: C. 9,521.]
[Footnote 135: Ibid.]
"Under certain conditions," wrote Mr. Reitz, "this
Government would be glad to learn from Her Majesty's Government
how they propose that the Commission should be constituted, and
what place and time for meeting is suggested."
[Footnote 136: The despatch was presented to the British
Agent, and telegraphed, through the High Commissioner, to the
Home Government. Its diplomatic ambiguity was due to Mr.
[Footnote 137: C. 9,521.]
And this with the consoling promise of a "further reply" to other questions arising out of the despatch of July 27th, which the Transvaal Government had not yet been able to consider.
The response to this astute document was the last effort of the Salisbury Cabinet to arrange a settlement upon the basis of the "friendly discussion" inaugurated at Bloemfontein. The British Government, Mr. Chamberlain wrote, had "absolutely repudiated" the claim, made in the notes of April 16th and May 9th, that the South African Republic was a "sovereign international state," and they could not, therefore, consider a proposal which was conditional on the acceptance of this view of the status of the Republic. They "could not now consent to go back to the proposals for which those of the note of August 19th were intended as a substitute," since they were "satisfied that the law of 1899, in which these proposals were finally embodied, was insufficient to secure the immediate and substantial representation" of the Uitlanders. They were "still prepared to accept the offer made in paragraphs 1, 2, and 3 of the note of August 19th," provided that an inquiry, joint or unilateral as the Transvaal Government might prefer, showed that "the new scheme of representation would not be encumbered by conditions which would nullify the intention to give substantial and immediate representation to the Uitlanders." They assumed that "the new members of the Raad would be permitted to use their own language." They expressed their belief that "the acceptance of these terms would at once remove the tension between the two Governments, and would in all probability render unnecessary any further intervention" on the franchise question, and their readiness--
[Sidenote: A definite demand.]
"to make immediate arrangements for a further conference between
the President of the South African Republic and the High
Commissioner to settle all the details of the proposed Tribunal
of Arbitration, and the questions ... which were neither
Uitlander grievances nor questions of interpretation"
of the Convention. And they added that if the reply of the Republic was negative or inconclusive, "they would reserve to themselves the right to reconsider the situation de novo, and to formulate their own proposals for a final settlement."
[Footnote 138: C. 9,521.]
The text of this despatch was telegraphed to Lord Milner late at night on September 8th. It was presented to the Transvaal Government on the 12th, with a request that the reply might reach the British Agent not later than midday on the 14th. This limit of time was fixed by Sir William Greene on his own initiative, and it was withdrawn by Lord Milner's instructions, in order that the Pretoria Executive might not be unduly hurried. The Transvaal reply, which was delivered on the 15th, was a refusal to accept the Smuts-Greene arrangement, re-stated by the British Government, as the basis of the franchise reform, coupled with a charge of bad faith against Sir William Greene.
It was a cleverly composed document, which owed its diplomatic effect in no small degree to Mr. Fischer, who had revised it. It was written for publication, since, in Mr. Fischer's opinion, the time had come to write despatches which would "justify the Republic in the eyes of the world"; and with this end in view it contained the suggestion that the British Government was bent upon worrying the Pretoria Executive into war.
"This Government," it explains, "continues to cherish the hope
that Her Majesty's Government, on further consideration, will
feel itself free to abandon the idea of making the new proposals
more difficult for this Government, and imposing new conditions,
and will declare itself satisfied to abide by its own proposal
for a Joint Commission at first proposed by the Secretary of
State for the Colonies in the Imperial Parliament, and
subsequently proposed to this Government and accepted by
[Footnote 139: C. 9,530.]
[Sidenote: Reinforcements sanctioned.]
The British despatch of September 8th represented the united opinion of the Cabinet Council which had met on that day to consider the South African situation. In sending it, the Government also decided to raise the strength of the Natal and Cape forces to the total of 22,000, estimated by the War Office as sufficient for defensive purposes, by the immediate addition of 10,000 men, of whom nearly 6,000 were to be provided by the Indian Army. The despatch itself, definite in contents and resolute in tone, was the sort of communication which, in Lord Milner's judgment, should have been forwarded to the Transvaal Government after the failure of the Bloemfontein Conference; and the additional troops now ordered out were nothing more than the substantial reinforcements for which he had applied in June. The three months' negotiations had led the Salisbury Cabinet to the precise conclusion which Lord Milner had formed at Bloemfontein. The only hope of a peaceable settlement lay in a definite demand, backed by preparations for war. But to do this in June, and to do it in September, were two very different things. Assuming that diplomatic pressure could in any case have availed to secure the necessary reforms, it is obvious that, whatever prospect of success attached to this course of action--Policy No. 2, as Lord Milner called it--in June, was materially diminished in September. During the interval the British Government had done practically nothing to improve its military position. That of President Krüger had been conspicuously improved. He had carried the Free State with him; he had got his Mauser ammunition and additional artillery, and he had completed his arrangements for the simultaneous mobilisation of the burghers of the two Republics. Even now the military action of the British Government was confined to preparations for defence; for the order to mobilise the army corps was not given until the next Cabinet Council had been held on September 22nd. The spirit of Pretoria was very different. The commandos were on their way to the Natal border before the reply to this British despatch of September 8th was delivered to the British Agent. That was President Krüger's real answer--not the diplomatic fencing of September 15th.
[Footnote 140: The despatch of 2,000 additional troops to
Natal had been sanctioned on August 2nd, in response to the
earnest appeal of the Natal Government. Hence at this time
there were (roughly) 12,000 Imperial troops in South Africa.
It is noticeable that, although the despatch only reached
Lord Milner on the morning of the 9th, the Cape Argus had
contained a telegram, giving an account of the troops warned
in India and England, on the evening of the 8th.]
[Sidenote: Violence of the Boers.]
More than this, the three months' negotiations had embittered the relations of the British and Dutch factions in every South African state to such a degree that any compromise of the sort proposed by Lord Milner at Bloemfontein was no longer sufficient to effect a settlement. The moderate measure of representation then suggested would have been rejected now by the Uitlanders as wholly inadequate for their protection, in view of the violent antipathy to them and the gold industry which the diplomatic struggle had evoked among all classes of the Dutch inhabitants of the Transvaal. The particulars of the outrageous treatment, and still more outrageous threats, to which the British Uitlanders were subjected from this time onwards up to the ultimatum are to be found in the Blue-books. As early as the middle of August, when the Smuts-Greene negotiations had just been commenced, Mr. Monypenny, the editor of the Johannesburg Star, was warned that the Transvaal Government intended to issue a warrant for his arrest on a charge of high treason. This intention, postponed during the fortnight of delay won by these negotiations, was carried out on September 1st, on which day Mr. Pakeman, the editor of the Transvaal Leader, was secured, while Mr. Monypenny succeeded in effecting his escape. This indefensible act was followed by a characteristic attempt to disown it, made by Mr. Smuts, the State Attorney, the nature of which is sufficiently exhibited in the following telegram, despatched by the High Commissioner on September 4th to the Secretary of State:
"The charge against Pakeman has been reduced to one under the
Press Law of 1896, and he has been admitted to bail. There have
been no further arrests. Greene telegraphs as follows:
"Begins.--A statement has been published through the Press this
morning by the State Attorney 'that no instructions had ever been
issued from Pretoria for the arrest of the editors of the
Leader or the Star.' The facts are as follows: On Friday
morning the Public Prosecutor of Johannesburg and Captain Vandam,
who had come over from Johannesburg to Pretoria, were interviewed
by the State Attorney in his office here. In the afternoon these
two officers returned to Johannesburg, and arrested the editor
of the Leader the same evening, failing to capture the editor
of the Star.--Ends.
"There is no doubt that the arrest of both editors was decided by
the Government and other arrests contemplated, intimidation of
Uitlander leaders being the object. The exodus from Johannesburg
is taking formidable proportions. Many refugees of all classes
have come to Capetown. In Natal there are an even larger number.
A good deal of money is being spent on relief."
[Footnote 141: C. 9,521.]
The violence of the Boers culminated a week before the Ultimatum (October 9th-11th) in the wholesale expulsion of the British subjects still remaining in the two Republics. Assuming that this measure was justifiable on military grounds, there can be no excuse for the brutal precipitancy with which it was enforced. It crowded the colonial ports with homeless and impoverished fugitives; it inflicted unnecessary suffering and pecuniary loss upon inoffensive and innocent non-combatants, both European and native; and it was accompanied in some instances by displays of wanton cruelty and deliberate spite utterly unworthy of a people of European descent.
[Sidenote: Anxiety of High Commissioner.]
Thus it was only when Lord Milner's foresight had been unmistakably confirmed by the stern logic of facts that the British Government ordered these 10,000 troops to South Africa, 6,000 of whom--the Indian contribution--arrived just in time to save Natal from being overrun by the Boers. The three weeks preceding the Cabinet Council of September 8th, at which this decision was arrived at, had been a period of intense anxiety for the High Commissioner. With the spectacle of the increasing activity of England's enemies, and the increasing dismay of England's friends, before his eyes, his protests against the inactivity of the Home Government had become more urgent. In the middle of August he declared that he could no longer be responsible for the administration of South Africa unless he were provided immediately with another military adviser. General Forestier-Walker was then appointed, and after the departure of General Butler the Imperial Government intervened at length to check the further passage of munitions of war through the Colony to the Free State. The Norman, the mail-boat of August 23rd in which Sir William Butler sailed for England, took home the masterly despatch in which Lord Milner explained the position taken up by him at the Bloemfontein Conference, and showed how completely the proposals of the Transvaal Government differed from the spirit of the settlement which he had then invited President Krüger to accept. In doing so he reviewed the whole course of the subsequent negotiations, pointed out the insidious character of the last Transvaal proposal (August 19th and 21st), and emphatically protested against the suggestion that the Imperial Government should barter its rights as paramount Power for "another hastily framed franchise scheme," on account of its "superficial conformity" with what, after all, was only a single item in the long list of questions that must be adjusted before the peaceful progress of South Africa would be assured. On August 28th Mr. Schreiner, when called to account in the Cape Parliament for having allowed, "in the usual course," the Mausers and ammunition for the Free State to pass through the Colony, made the strange declaration that in the event of war--
[Footnote 142: Cd. 43.]
[Footnote 143: C. 9,521.]
[Footnote 144: This despatch was received on September 8th.
"he would do his very best to maintain [for the Cape Colony] the
position of standing apart and aloof from the struggle, both with
regard to its forces and with regard to its people."
Three days later (August 31st) Lord Milner sent a still more impressive appeal for "prompt and decisive action" on the part of the Home Government. The despatch, which was telegraphed, is otherwise significant for its account of the situation in Johannesburg:
"I am receiving representations from many quarters," he said, "to
urge Her Majesty's Government to terminate the state of suspense.
Hitherto I have hesitated to address you on the subject, lest Her
Majesty's Government should think me impatient. But I feel bound
to let you know that I am satisfied, from inquiries made in
various reliable quarters, that the distress is now really
serious. The most severe suffering is at Johannesburg. Business
there is at a standstill; many traders have become insolvent, and
others are only kept on their legs by the leniency of their
creditors. Even the mines, which have been less affected
hitherto, are now suffering, owing to the withdrawal of workmen,
both European and native. The crisis also affects the trading
centres in the Colony. In spite of this, the purport of all the
representations made to me is to urge prompt and decided action,
not to deprecate further interference on the part of Her
Majesty's Government. British South Africa is prepared for
extreme measures, and is ready to suffer much in order to see the
vindication of British authority. It is a prolongation of the
negotiations, endless and indecisive of result, that is dreaded.
I fear seriously that there will be a strong reaction of feeling
against the policy of Her Majesty's Government if matters drag.
Please to understand that I invariably preach confidence and
patience--not without effect. But if I did not inform you of the
increasing difficulty in doing this, and of the unmistakable
growth of uneasiness about the present situation, and of a desire
to see it terminated at any cost, I should be failing in my
[Footnote 145: C. 9,521.]
[Sidenote: The crisis in South Africa.]
Indeed, while in England Mr. Chamberlain was remarking (at Highbury, August 27th) that he "could not truly say that the crisis was passed," and picturesquely complaining of President Krüger "dribbling out reforms like water from a squeezed sponge," every loyalist in South Africa knew that the time for words had gone by. On September 6th and 7th public meetings were held respectively at Maritzburg and Capetown, at which resolutions were passed affirming the uselessness of continuing the negotiations and the necessity for the prompt action of the Imperial Government.
Even this did not exhaust the evidence which was needed to persuade the Salisbury Cabinet to make effective preparations for the defence of the British colonies. The Cabinet Council of September 8th had before it, in addition to the Transvaal note of September 2nd, a direct and urgent request for immediate reinforcements from the Government of Natal--the loyal colony which, as Lord Milner had declared, was to be defended "by the whole force of the empire."
[Footnote 146: Received on September 6th. Cd. 44.]
These were the circumstances in which the Salisbury Cabinet did in September what Lord Milner had advised them to do in June. It is impossible to maintain that the British Government had gained anything in the way of political results comparable with the fatal loss of military strength incurred by the three months' delay. The over-sea British did not need to be taught either the justice or the necessity of securing citizen rights for the industrial population of the Transvaal. Before Lord Milner had been authorised to state that the petition of the Uitlanders had been favourably received by the Home Government, the citizens of Sydney had recorded in a public meeting their "sympathy with their fellow-countrymen in the Transvaal," and expressed their hope "that Her Majesty might be pleased to grant the prayer of her subjects." Queensland, Victoria, and New South Wales had all three offered military contingents by July 21st; the other colonies refrained only from a desire not to embarrass the Home Government in its negotiations with the Transvaal. Whatever good effect was produced upon the public opinion of the continent of Europe and the United States of America by the obvious reluctance of the British Government to make war upon a puny enemy, was more than counterbalanced by the spectacle of a great Power prevented from employing the most elementary military precautions by a nice regard for the susceptibilities of its political and commercial rivals. The idea that the sentiment either of the world at large or of the over-sea British would be favourably impressed by the three months of futile negotiations was a sheer delusion. It was the people of England who had to be educated.
[Footnote 147: Cd. 18.]
[Sidenote: The Manchester meeting.]
How little they knew of the actual situation in South Africa, and of the real character of the Boers may be seen from what happened on September 15th. On this day a meeting was held at Manchester to protest against the mere idea of England having to make war upon the Transvaal. Lord (then Mr.) Courtney "hailed with satisfaction" the British despatch of September 8th, which, having been published in the Continental papers on the 13th, had appeared a day later (14th) in those of Great Britain. "It was a rebuke to the fire-eaters," he said, "and a rebuke most of all to one whom I must designate as a lost man, a lost mind--I mean Sir Alfred Milner." And Mr. John Morley, like Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, was convinced that there was no need of any preparations for war; the Transvaal Government "could not withdraw from the five years' franchise." The day on which these words were uttered was the day on which the note containing President Krüger's determination to "withdraw" from the five years' franchise, and his refusal even to consider the British offer of September 8th--hailed with satisfaction by his old ally, Lord Courtney--was handed to Sir William Greene.