HC Deb 19 February 1869 vol 194 cc128-33

said, he would beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, Whether the attention of Her Majesty's Government has been directed to the systematic enslavement of Kaffir children by the Boers of the Trans-vaal Republic; whether any step have been taken to induce the authorities to fulfil that provision of the Treaty of 1852 which prohibited slavery; and, whether there is any objection to produce on an early day all the Correspondence on this subject which has taken place between Her Majesty's Government and the Governor of the Cape Colony or any other persons either in this Country or in South Africa? He must ask the indulgence of the House for a few minutes while he entered into some explanation. It might be in the recollection of the House that the Boers were a people of Dutch origin who originally settled at the Cape, but, in consequence of the passing of the Emancipation Act of 1834, they, having been large holders of Hottentot slaves, considered their rights invaded and left the Cape, moving northwards across the Vaal, where they settled in one of the finest tracts of land in South Africa. There they were a source of very great difficulty, owing to their constant contests with the Native tribes, and occasional hostility towards the British Government. Lord Grey, in a despatch dated November, 1850, said— It is clear that the Boers have not the slightest claim to the territory which they occupy beyond the Vaal river, and I trust that no time will be lost in carrying into effect the measures which I have recommended for encouraging and assisting the Native tribes whom they are oppressing to assert their rights, and to defend themselves. A treaty was made by the British Government with the Trans-vaal Boers in 1852, by which the independence of the South African Republic was acknowledged. This convention with the Boers who crossed the Vaal river under Pretorius was drawn up on the 16th of January, 1852, between Major W. S. Hogge and Mr. C. M. Owen, Commissioners for settling and adjusting the eastern and north-eastern boundaries of the Cape Colony on the one part, and on the other, a deputation of emigrant farmers residing north of the Vaal river, and was generally favourable to the Boers. It contained these two articles— It is agreed that no slavery is, or shall be, permitted or practised in the country to the north of the Vaal River by the emigrant farmers. It is agreed that no objection shall be made by any British authority against the emigrant Boers purchasing their supplies of ammunition in any of the British colonies and possessions in South Africa, it being mutually understood that all trade in ammunition with the Native tribes is prohibited, both by the British Government and the emigrant farmers on both sides of the Vaal River. The effect of this convention was to place the Native tribes at the mercy of the Boers, who were able to secure an unlimited supply of ammunition, while the Native tribes were cut off from it. The result was that a system of slavery had grown up, and 6,000 children were now held in slavery by the Boers. In support of the statement, he could cite Dr. Livingstone, who, in a memorial to the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington), when he was Colonial Secretary, on the 12th of December, 1852, stated that, owing to a quarrel between the Boers and the Natives among whom he was residing, the Native town in which he lived was attacked and destroyed, his own house was plundered and his property taken. He was obliged in consequence to enter upon that course of travels which immortalized his name. In conversation, Dr. Livingstone told him (Mr. R. Fowler) that on a subsequent visit to the country of the Boers he found among them children who had been brought up in his own missionary schools, and who were detained in slavery by the Boers. Evidence as to the horrors attending this system of slavery had been adduced by residents of Natal; and its Legislative Council, on the 10th of August last, passed a series of resolutions on the subject, in which they declared—but he should not rest his case on any private information however respectable— That ever since the annexation of the Orange River Sovereignty (since abandoned) in 1848, the emigrant farmers who settled over the Vaal River, and formed a Government of their own, under the style of the South African Republic, have carried on a system of slavery, under the guise of child apprenticeship—such children being the result of raids carried on against Native tribes, whose men are slaughtered, but whose children and property are seized, the one being enslaved and sold as 'apprentices,' the other being appropriated: That the existence of this system of slavery, attended as it is by indescribable atrocities and evils, is a notorious fact to all persons acquainted with the Trans-vaal Republic; that these so-called 'destitute children' are bought and sold under the denomination of 'black ivory;' that these evils were fully admitted by persons officially cognizant of them at a public meeting held in Potchefstroom, the chief town of the Republic, in April, 1868, and that the whole subject has been brought fully under the notice of the High Commissioner. The Trans-vaal Argus, a paper published in the South African Republic, reported a public meeting, held at the house of a field cornet, for the purpose of considering certain proceedings of the Volksraad, in relation to the Natives, at which terrible pictures were drawn of the suffering entailed by the raids and of the slavery to which the children were reduced. It was stated that in one case a number of children, too young to be removed, were collected in a heap and burned alive. In another case, it appeared that a field cornet had possessed himself of a Native child, whose mother had been fired at and wounded, and left on the road until picked up by some Kaffirs, who had her conveyed to their kraal, where she died next day. Mr. Robinson, an Englishman, Chairman of the Volksraad, the Legislative Council of the South African Republic, was reported to have said— He was of opinion that it was right and proper conduct to shoot down the miserable Kaffirs. If it had been he he would have acted similarly, and he wished the last Kaffir was out of the world. From the papers published in the South African Republic, it appeared that negotiations had been going on for some time for the recognition of the Republic by the Prussian Government, and the last number of the Trans-vaal Argus received in this country announced that a Prussian Consul to the Republic had actually been appointed. Considering the limited commercial relations of the Republic with Prussia, such an appointment was unnecessary and, therefore, myste- rious. Seeing that the evidence of the atrocities could not be doubted, that they were vouched for by the Natal Legislative Council, and that this country acknowledged the independence of the South African Republic on the express condition that no slavery should exist in the Republic, he thought the matter was one worthy a few moments' attention from the House. At all events, he hoped it would receive the attention of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and of the distinguished Statesman who presided over the Colonial Office.


, in reply, said, he was sure the House would agree that no apology was required from the hon. Member for having brought this most important question, in a speech of studied moderation, before the House. Every statement made by the hon. Gentleman he was obliged to endorse. Her Majesty's Government had not any precisely official information, because we had no diplomatic agent in the Trans-vaal Republic; but at the same time the Government had received, both from the Governor of the Cape and the Governor of Natal, and from Her Majesty's Commissioner to the Mixed Court held at the Cape, statements fully corroborating all that had been said by the hon. Member. There could be no doubt that, in contravention of a solemn treaty, there existed an organized system of slavery in the Trans-vaal Republic. The system was the sending forth of commandos to kidnap Kaffir children, whose parents were murdered in order to render the children destitute orphans, on which plea they were subjected to so-called apprenticeship for a long term of years, that apprenticeship being slavery. For several years past the attention of successive Governments had been called to this matter. In 1865 it was brought under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman now the Secretary of State for War (Mr. Cardwell) by the then Governor, Sir Philip Wodehouse, and instructions were given him to address a strong remonstrance to the Governor of the Trans-vaal Republic. This and subsequent remonstrances when Lord Carnarvon was Secretary of State for the Colonies, had not produced any effect, and about a month before the late Government went out of Office, the Duke of Buckingham gave authority to the Governor of the Cape to withdraw from the inhabitants of the Trans-vaal Republic the permission to receive ammunition and arms from the British colonists. That was a curious and unjust clause in the Treaty of 1852 which permitted arms and ammunition to be sold to the inhabitants of the Republic and prohibited their being sold to the Kaffirs; but now both were placed on the same footing. In asking what steps the Government were going to take in this matter, the hon. Gentleman must remember the great distance between any of our settlements and the Trans-vaal Republic, and the impossibility of our acting upon the Republic by any but moral means. In the able pamphlet published on this subject it was said that moral means would probably be sufficient, and at all events Her Majesty's Government were not desirous of resorting to any other, but they were willing to do all that they could in that direction. What they most trusted to was the contrast which our settlement at Natal presented to the barbarous system which prevailed in the Trans-vaal Republic. In Natal there were about 250,000 Natives, a large number of whom had come in from other districts in order to have the advantage of British protection. Among them barbarous customs were rapidly disappearing, and civilization rapidly progressing; they were cultivating the land and starting sugar manufactories, which were worked by steam power; and the material interests of the community were being immensely promoted, and the public revenues increased by the freedom of the Native population. Some 20,000 young men, Kaffirs, were employed every year in the Natal settlement by the European settlers. We must trust that when their neighbours of the Trans-vaal Republic saw the effect of justice and equity in dealing with the Native population, when they saw that the Natives were capable of civilization, and that their labour could be procured without any of those atrocities by which they sought to obtain it, they would adopt those principles of justice which in the Natal district had proved so conducive to the material interests of the colony. If the hon. Member would move for the Papers he had referred to, there would not be the least objection to produce them.


said, he was equally gratified with the manner in which the Ques- tion had been brought forward, and the Answer which had been given, for the Government could not be asked to do more than exercise a moral influence to put a stop to this slavery, and, happily, English influence was great in that district. He had some relations with Natal, and had communications from the colony every month, and he believed that the case against the Trans-vaal Republic had not been overstated. It was a pity that when we had abolished slavery in the West it should be continued in the East in this gross form.