HC Deb 25 May 1880 vol 252 cc451-65

in rising to call attention to the threatened disarmament of the Basutos and other friendly tribes by the Government of the Cape; and to move— That, in the judgment of this House, the policy of the Government of the Cape towards the Native Tribes, and particularly the compulsory disarmament of the Basutos, an eminently loyal people, calls for the early attention of Her Majesty's Government, said, he had read with great satisfaction that it was not the intention of the present Government to retire from the Transvaal, because he believed it would be to the interest of South Africa that the Transvaal should be under the British Crown. Eleven years ago he brought before the House the slavery which, under the name of apprenticeship, existed in the Transvaal, and the atrocities connected with it. His statements wore admitted by the then Colonial Minister (the present Lord Emly), and in the cause of humanity he could conceive nothing more fatal than that we should abandon that country. The Basutos, who were the subject of his Motion to-night, were a tribe resident in the neighbourhood of the Orange Free State, among whom a very devoted band of French Protestant Missionaries had lived, and their efforts had resulted in largely promoting Christianity amongst the people. They were among the most loyal and contented tribes to be found anywhere on the face of the earth. The Natives of the Orange Free State had, however, always been at antagonism with them, and there was constant warfare between the two tribes. Some years ago the Basutos besought Her Majesty to allow them to become subjects of the British Crown, and that prayer was assented to by the then Government of which the present Prime Minister was the head. Since that time the Basutos had been always loyal subjects of Her Majesty, and they had manfully stood by us in our recent troubles at the Cape. His object in bringing forward this Motion was to call attention to the action of the present Government at the Cape. He had cordially concurred in the despatch which had been addressed to Sir Bartle Frere by the late Secretary of State for the Colonies (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), and he should have been glad had that right hon. Gentleman seen his way to recall him. Not only, however, did the right hon. Gentleman not see his way to take that step, but the distinguished statesman who had succeeded him in Office had also not thought it desirable to recall him. Perhaps there was a good reason for his retention which was obvious to the minds of statesmen, but which was not to be inquired into by an humble individual like himself. Sir Bartle Frere appeared to have acted with great harshness towards the Basutos by ordering them to be suddenly disarmed. This measure of disarmament had been kept hanging over the Basutos for more than a year; and when the Prime Minister at the Cape visited the tribe in October last he promised that they should not be disarmed without their consent. This had been denied, but in language so ambiguous as to imply that all that was meant only was that force would not be resorted to for the purpose of disarming the Basutos in the event of their objecting to give up their arms. It seemed to him to be a very great hardship to deprive of arms a tribe whose members had always stood by us in difficulties, and against whom nothing could be said to show that they had not been perfectly loyal towards us. The idea was, unfortunately, growing up among the Basutos that they were not being treated as White men would be in similar circumstances, and that they were being deprived of their arms simply on account of the colour of their skins. The Basuto Chiefs had petitioned for the stoppage of the disarmament, and urging as an argument in favour of the suspension the loyalty of their people. He earnestly appealed to the Government to take the matter into careful consideration, and expressed a hope that they would see their way to grant the prayer of the Petition which the Natives had presented. He was glad to find that the Colonial Office was to be represented in that House by a statesman of the experience of the right hon. Member for the Elgin Burghs (Mr. Grant Duff), whose happy duty he hoped it would be before long to announce to Parliament the realization of what had for years been the dream of all who take an interest in these subjects—namely, a Federation of the South African Dominions of the Queen. The hon. Member concluded by moving his Resolution.


in seconding the Motion, said, the South African question was a large one, and suggested many painful and regrettable things; but for the present he wished to keep to the question of the Basutos. It must be remembered that the Basutos were in no way conquered, but voluntarily placed themselves under the protection of the British Crown. More than that, having a feud with the Boers, and having placed themselves entirely in the hands of the Queen, they invited Her Majesty to trace the Frontier between their territory and that of the Boers. They acquiesced in an award by which the Frontier was traced disadvantageously to their interests, and they lost much pasture land, pasture land being essential to their prosperity, and even their existence. Those who had followed the history of South Africa would be aware that these rich pasture lands had always been the object of the envy and the coveteousness of the Boers. This country also undertook to check the traffic in arms with the Basutos, with the result that the next time the Boers attacked them the Basutos were at a disadvantage. He mentioned these facts to show that the Basutos were not hostile to us, and that we had nothing to fear from them. They had loyally acquiesced in a position of dependency, not to the Cape Government, but to the Queen, to whom they looked as a protector. He did not think the hon. Member (Mr. E. N. Fowler) had called attention to the fact that not only had the great desire of the Basutos for firearms not been checked, but that it had been stimulated in every way by the Cape Government. It was notorious that not only the Basutos, but all the tribes of South Africa, were encouraged to come to the Diamond Fields to work for wages, in the hope that they would secure firearms, which were sold to them at a great profit, and from which traffic the Cape Government derived a great revenue from selling permits to Natives to acquire arms. The hon. Member had 'laid down a proposition far too wide when he suggested that the Basutos should be disarmed. It must be remembered that this was partly a pastoral tribe, and, like all pastoral tribes, was partly a hunting tribe. He did not attach much importance to the necessity of the Basutos having firearms to protect themselves from wild beasts; but he put it merely on the ground that the deer and the other game which they required could be more easily captured by firearms than by other means. The Boers who lived on the other side of the Orange River freely used firearms, and he did not see why we should deal out a different measure of justice to these Basutos, who had never used firearms except for lawful purposes. Nevertheless, the order had gone out that the Basutos should be disarmed. Lord Kimberley had stated that this was the act of the Government of the Colony, and not of the Imperial Government; but there was no intention of interfering with the Colonial Government. Although, nominally, the responsibility was placed on Mr. Sprigg and other Colonial Administrators, the policy was part of that forward policy which the Government of the Cape had been so active in promoting; and it could not be doubted that the personal influence of that Government, which placed the present Premier at the Cape in Office, was an influence which really determined the policy of the Cape Parliament. He, therefore, could not doubt that Her Majesty's Government might, if they chose, see that the old relations with the Basutos should continue. He understood that a proposal was a-foot for taking steps to survey some of the land of the Basutos, and to lay it out with a view to its colonization and expropriation by Europeans. That was a course which lay at the root of many South African troubles. In the case of Zululand, Sir Bartle Frere had attempted to set up a distinction between the political sovereignty of the territory and the territorial ownership. Now, in the case of the country of a tribal and pastoral people, it was idle to say that the whole of the land was not in beneficial ownership. The tribes grazed their herds throughout the whole country. And there was no distinction in their minds, and no distinction in fact, between the sovereignty and the ownership. They must all desire that the Basutos would by peaceful means, conciliation, and humane leadership, be induced to go forward in the path of civilization. They were an intelligent and willing people, and there was every hope that they might rise much higher in the scale of civilization. But to do that it was essential that the English Government and the English Sovereign should continue to hold that attitude towards them which had been held in the past. If that were done, he believed the Basutos might be reserved for a better destiny in the future.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the judgment of this House, the policy of the Government of the Cape towards the Native Tribes, and particularly the compulsory disarmament of the Basutos, an eminently loyal people, calls for the early attention of Her Majesty's Government."—(Mr. Robert Fowler.)


I do not understand, Sir, that the hon. Gentleman who has brought forward this Motion has done so with a view of taking the sense of the House upon it. It has been sometimes my fate to comment upon speeches of the hon. Mover with dissent in the sense of adverse criticism. Today I have great pleasure in complimenting him upon the tone and spirit of his speech. With respect to the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion, I have the gratification of saying that, while he modestly apologized for delivering a speech without possessing fresh information, undoubtedly no one would have discovered the fact from the clearness, ability, and moderation with which he handled the subject. With respect to the question of the Transvaal, touched upon by the Mover, I believe a very severe censure upon Her Majesty's Government was delivered during my temporary absence from the House upon a former evening. I believe that Her Majesty's Government were found guilty by an hon. Member who is not now in his place, and on whom I am not going to make any adverse comment, of most unworthy tergiversation with respect to the Transvaal, and that this discredit so charged upon us was founded upon some supposed declaration of mine made in Mid Lothian. But there were no particulars given as to that declaration; and, for my part, I am extremely curious to know what that declaration was, because I am not aware of having made any declaration, in Mid Lothian or elsewhere, that is in the slightest degree inconsistent with the policy now pursued by Her Majesty's Government. I certainly was not one of those who were able to approve the annexation of the Transvaal. One of the consequences of that annexation was to involve us in a very difficult controversy; but I am not aware that I ever signified an opinion, after that annexation had taken place, and after an honourable engagement had been entered into with the Natives of the Transvaal, inconsistent with the policy we are now pursuing. So much for the annexation of the Transvaal, for I will not be tempted into any kind of controversy on the subject until I am informed what the declaration was which I am supposed to have made. With respect to the disarmament of the Basutos, and the kindred question of the Moirosi lands, in every word which has been said as to the character of that tribe, so far as I am able to speak, I entirely con-cur; as I also concur in what has been said as to the policy which should be pursued towards the Natives of South Africa generally, and towards the Basutos in particular. But I would make an observation as to the tone in which the speeches we have just heard were delivered, and as to the limitation of that which has been done which it was in our power to make. It has been asserted that the measure of disarmament was carried out technically by the Colonial Government, but on the responsibility of the Home Government. Undoubtedly that was not so. Wherever a responsible Colonial Ministry exists, it becomes the organ, not technically but really, charged with all the measures, be they right or wrong, prudent or imprudent, which may be taken within its jurisdiction, and the only power that remains to Her Majesty's Government is the power of influence and advice. It will justly be asked that we should use that influence and tender that advice in a spirit conformable to the character of the country; and I think I may say, on the part of my noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, that he has done so, and is doing so. My right hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State has laid on the Table to-day Papers which, when they are in the hands of hon. Members, will enable them to pass judgment in some degree on what has been done in that direction. In the case of the Moirosi lands, my noble Friend has done that which he has not done in the case of the disarmament. He has distinctly recommended, and as strongly as possible supported, the plea that the step taken should be re-considered with a view to a great alteration in what was proposed to be done. With respect to the disarmament of the Basutos, I would remind hon. Gentlemen of the time at which we were in a position to consider the question. While we were busy in the exciting transactions of the General Election, the Cape Government were busy in giving effect to this measure. On the 6th of April they published a Proclamation under the Peace Preservation Act of 1878 requiring the surrender of arms before the 21st of May—a day which we have now passed, and, so far as we are aware, the operations under that Proclamation must by this time very nearly have reached their culmination. It was not possible, therefore, for us, in point of time, to take any course analogous to that we took in the case of the Moirosi lands, because it was too far advanced to dream of anything like revocation before we were installed in our Offices. It will not, however, be unsatisfactory to my hon. Friends to hear that the measure does not aim at a forcible, or even a general deprivation of the people of arms. It is not to be enforced by domiciliary visits. Its practical purpose is simply to arrive at a state of things in which it shall be no longer the practice to habitually carry arms; and I think it will be seen on all hands that if, by a reasonable use of influence, even by a certain amount of pressure, that can be effected—I do not say it is precisely the measure we should have adopted—it will be a measure very much conducive to the peace and prosperity of Basutoland. Let me add that the measure, as we understand it, will not imply or fairly carry with it a general mistrust in the loyalty of the people; because along with it there is a provision for raising a Native Militia Force of Basutos, by which step the Government testify in the most emphatic manner their faith in the loyalty of the people. I hope, therefore, that the just, humane, and wise anxieties which exist on this subject may be mitigated by the facts which I have alluded to. It must be borne in mind that a general disarmament, not alone this particular disarmament, has long been urged upon the Cape Government. I do not speak of what has been done by the late Government as to the merits. I only state the manner in which we found the question, and that the disarmament in question really appears to be of a character favourable to peace and civilization. With regard to Native policy in general, I need not say that one of the great objects with which the late Government, undoubtedly the present Government, wished to prosecute and advance the question of the Confederation of South Africa was with a view to the adoption of a sound Native policy. What we expect is that when a considerable combination of States, filling a larger space in the eye of the world as well as in that of the Government and people of this country, shall have the management of South African affairs, there will be a much keener and effective sense of responsibility applicable to the regulation of Native policy than when the question was handled in a manner merely local, as it were, in the dark, and without the light of public opinion bearing upon it. Having said this much, with some partial satisfaction, I hope, to the Mover of the Resolution, I will refer to the continued tenure of office by an honourable, able, and distinguished man, whose title to those epithets, I think, no one will dispute, and who now fills the important office of Governor and Commissioner, not in South Africa generally, but at the Cape. I am exceedingly desirous that, at any rate, the exact position of the Government with respect to Sir Bartle Frere should be well understood in this House. I am certain that it will be my fault, and not the fault of Members of this House, if I do not succeed in conveying to their minds a clear idea of the position. The hon. Member who has made this Motion has signified that, as far as he can understand, we had adopted the policy of our Predecessors with respect to Sir Bartle Frere. That is the only statement to which I am obliged to take exception, as I do not think it quite describes the state of the case.


I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. What I said was that Lord Kimberley concurred with my right hon. Friend in the late Government in not recalling Sir Bartle Frere.


Even that would not be a satisfactory description of the course taken; but, without criticizing the language, I will proceed to describe the state of the case. We came into Office, we may say, upon the whole, about a fortnight ago, and undoubtedly one of those urgent and pressing questions which could not be postponed was the question of the position of Sir Bartle Frere in South Africa. I will not go back to the declarations made by Members of the present Government on the subject of Sir Bartle Frere's policy. Suffice it to say, that I myself was one who always thought there was much allowance to be made for Sir Bartle Frere on account of the position in which he found himself when he reached South Africa, and on other accounts which would raise controversial matters. Undoubtedly the admission may be most freely made that Sir Bartle Frere was a Governor of Cape Colony and of South Africa, whose Native policy did not concur with the sentiments which had been generally expressed by my noble and right hon. and other Friends sitting on this side of the House. Our views were in general discord, if I may so say, with the tendencies of Sir Bartle Frere. I make that admission most freely; and consequently I quite admit there was a presumption, fairly to be entertained, adverse to his continuance in office, even for a time, under the present Government. Well, what was it our duty to do coming into the position which we hold? It was to take a survey, as dispassionately and impartially as we could, not simply of the past acts of Sir Bartle Frere, nor of the circumstances in which those acts had been committed, but of the present position of South Africa, and the particular position of Sir Bartle Frere, in regard to measures of policy now pending. We have never, as yet, been called upon to consider—it has not been our duty to consider, it has not legitimately been within our power to consider—the general footing of Sir Bartle Frere as Governor in South Africa, and its relation to the principles and ideas of Colonial Government entertained by the present Administration. We have found Sir Bartle Frere in a peculiar position, engaged in the prosecution of an object which is special, which is temporary, and which is all-important. Now let me, in a very few words, explain my meaning of these words. It is a special object, separate altogether from Colonial policy and administration at large. It is the object aimed at by the great measure of Confederation in South Africa. It is, so far as the present question is concerned, altogether a temporary object. Although the business of that Confederation may occupy a long time and pass through many phases, we have to consider it with regard to the present phase. It is in regard to that we have thought it important to look at the question of the continuance of Sir Bartle Frere in office. I cannot too strongly state that, in our view, the question of Confederation in South Africa is all-important. It is quite a different case from the sister measure of Confederation in British North America. That was a great national and Imperial object; it was a great advance made in a country where already Colonial relations had attained something like a normal state, and we could contemplate with satisfaction and pleasure the manner in which they were conducted. That is not the case at the Cape. For 45 years, I can bear personal testimony, our relations with the Cape have never come to a normal state. In 1835 I sat upon a Committee which had to undertake a laborious examination in consequence of the difficulties at the Cape. In 1846 I was succeeded by Lord Grey as Secretary of State for the Colonies; and I remember well stating emphatically to his Lordship that in the whole of our Colonial relations there was but one problem for which it seemed nearly impossible to find a solution, and that was the problem offered by the state of affairs at the Cape. Since that time we have been struggling against a series of difficulties—such as the outbreak of wars, and other abnormal occurrences. The policy of Confederation for South Africa has been launched, whether prematurely I do not undertake to say, and whether it will succeed I do not presume for a moment to pronounce; but it aims at finding a remedy for a state of things so complicated and so unsatisfactory, so burdensome and so injurious to the interests of the people. We, as a Government, are not justified in doing anything, or in refraining from doing anything which may bear upon this question in such a way as to damage, in any respect, the chances, be they good or bad, attending this great principle of Confederation. It is so important, it is so large, it so eclipses and absorbs every other consideration in South African policy, looking to the future, that we have considered it to be the polestar of the present action of the Government. Sir Bartle Frere has had charge of that question; in prosecuting it he has had the confidence of the late Government, under Lord Carnarvon and his successor; and we have seen no reason in any respect to distrust the views or proceedings of Sir Bartle Frere in regard to Confederation. The Cape Parliament met on the 7th of this month, and it is the intention of the present Ministry at the Cape to propose in the present Session, lasting till August, a series of Resolutions aiming at a Conference of the Colonies and South African States, with the view of adopting Confederation. It has been said that the presence of Sir Bartle Prere cannot be of importance with regard to this step; but in a country with popular institutions a beginning is half the whole, and I do not think that anyone else would do as well. The influence of this country in one of its Colonies ought never to be used for overbearing public sentiment; but it may be of the greatest importance, efficacy, value, and force in guiding and maturing that public sentiment, in conjunction and harmony with the will of the people. Our opinion was that to have recalled Sir Bartle Frere at the moment when we were entering upon this phase would have had the effect of completely deranging the course of the measures which had been planned and decided upon, and of not giving a fair chance to that great object of policy, a Conference of the States and Colonies, which we have reason to hope will be held about October. If we had sent out some stranger the people would have had to form new relations with him on this important subject. It appeared to us to be a plain duty to do nothing to incur any risk or failure of Confederation. But Confederation is not the only question of importance in South Africa. There are other important questions still more or less under the control of Sir Bartle Frere. In regard to Native policy, our duty was to take adequate precaution against the adoption of measures which might be out of harmony with the view entertained by a majority of this House. There is a strip of land external to the Transvaal, known as Keats's Award, and the control of this was the principal matter involving relations with the Natives. Without any disrespect to Sir Bartle Frere, but rather in the development of policy, this land has been placed under the control of Sir George Colley, as belonging geographically to the country over which his jurisdiction will extend. When hon. Gentlemen see the nature of the instructions sent out to South Africa by my noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, they will, I think, find that, relying on the honour of Sir Bartle Frere, we have taken precautions which will be quite effectual against the possible bias of any events in South Africa which might give cause for dissatisfaction during the short time that must elapse before the adoption of the first step with a view to that Confederation. You will ask if I speak of the Confederation in a definite or an indefinite sense. I speak in a very definite sense; for it will surprise me if, before the close of this short Session, we are not in a position to form a further judgment as to the prospects of Confederation, and as to the position of Sir Bartle Frere in relation thereto. When we can see our own way clearly in regard to the prosecution of that policy of Confederation, then it will be our duty to consider generally and at large our relations to Sir Bartle Frere, and to decide in regard to that great and able man, from whom we have differed so widely, whether we can leave him to be our Representative, and be responsible for his acts in the South African Colonies. That is not in the slightest degree prejudged; and it is on that account that I take partial exception to the remarks of the hon. Member, because, in truth, we have done and said nothing which ties us up to any particular judgment as to the continuance of Sir Bartle Frere in the office of Governor and Commissioner in South Africa, except so far as relates to the important course of procedure which has been fixed and determined on with reference to the initiation of Confederation. Now, as I have pointed to our judgment as to Sir Bartle Frere as to the future and not the past, it may be said by some of those who take views the most adverse to him that I ought to intimate that in a short time hence he should be recalled. I cannot agree with that statement. If we said that, the effect would be to entirely discredit his mission and to weaken his hands in such a way that his efforts would be hopeless. It will be our duty to make an impartial, dispassionate, and perfectly unprejudiced examination of that question when the time comes; his case shall be disentangled from the subject of Confederation, so as to enable us to form a judgment on the subject, and, if necessary, to make other arrangements for the prosecution of the policy of Confederation. Having said that what we look to is a careful and unbiassed consideration of the subject when the proper time comes, I may say one other word, because I have heard and read much of the strength of feeling which prevails on the part of many Members of the House with regard to Sir Bartle Frere. And I venture to point out to those Gentlemen that certainly we are not dealing with a man of selfish or sordid character, who would be tempted by the emoluments of office or by want of force of character to acquiesce in anything that would be dishonourable to himself. I believe Sir Bartle Frere to be a very high-minded man, and one who has not only the blessing of strength of character, but who, perhaps, carries that strength of character to excess in the exercise of his own will. Of this I am quite sure—he does not require to be instructed by us on that point; on the contrary, he would be the very first man to act on the feeling that it would be impossible for him to administer the affairs of South Africa in the face of anything like general or widespread mistrust. His sense of honour will, I am sure, teach him that. Therefore, I would say to those who may be eager on this occasion that there is no fear that there will be any disposition on the part of this distinguished gentleman to hold office except under conditions in which he shall feel he possesses the confidence of Parliament; and that whatever may happen, even if the Government should at a future time go astray in their judgment, there is no fear at all that a state of things would prevail in which the distrust and censure of Parliament would be set at naught, and that a Go- vernor would remain in that important Dependency to carry on the Government in a manner adverse to the feeling and sense of the House. I think, therefore, there has been an apprehension on the subject beyond what the necessity of the case requires. I hope I have succeeded in showing the profound sense which the Government entertain of the absorbing importance at this moment of the initial measure with regard to the policy of Confederation. Having made up our minds to pursue that course, it would have been exceedingly wrong to accompany it with any proceeding disparaging to Sir Bartle Frere. By such a course we should not have attained one object or the other. The Government have endeavoured to act in the spirit I have described, and I entertain the sanguine hope that they will not be deprived of the approval and confidence of Parliament.


I regret, Sir, very much the absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach); and in justice to him and to my Colleagues I should wish to say a few words in regard to the observations which have just fallen from the Prime Minister. We feel it is most distinctly our duty to express on this occasion our entire concurrence in the language which the Prime Minister has used with regard to the personal character of Sir Bartle Frere. Everyone who has had the opportunity, as I have had, in other Departments of the State, of seeing the manner in which Sir Bartle Frere conducted the business which was given him to do must, I think, be able to testify to his high-mindedness, his courage, and devotion. No one could fail to recognize in him one of those men who were thoroughly devoted to the Public Service. There was nothing sordid or selfish in his character. At the same time, it is quite within the knowledge of everyone that there have been matters in which it was impossible for the late Government to feel entirely satisfied with all the proceedings of Sir Bartle Frere. We never concealed it from Parliament. We openly stated our reasons for disapproving his conduct in some particulars; but we felt it necessary for the prosecution of the great policy in which he was engaged that he should be retained in his position, and in a manner which would enable him to conduct to a successful issue the great operations in which he was concerned. I must say I could have wished that the views now put forward by the Prime Minister had been more appreciated by himself and others who act with him a little time ago. But I do not wish to go back on these matters. I do most sincerely and entirely rejoice that now, at any rate, Her Majesty's Government see the importance of supporting Sir Bartle Frere for the purpose of the great work he has in hand, and which he has had in hand ever since he went out to South Africa. It was with regard to that particular measure that he was sent out with peculiar and unusual powers and responsibilities. He was engaged in that work and conducted it with great ability. The right hon. Gentleman has not overstated its importance, or the zeal and the habitual spirit in which he conducted it. I rejoice to think the right hon. Gentleman has now so far recognized that it is an important matter, and that he ought to be supported in conducting to an end the policy which the Government has committed to his hands. I could have wished that even less had been said in the way of pointing to a future re-consideration of his position. I do not think it well that he should be conducting so important a matter with, as one might say, a rope round his neck. It would be better, if he is to be trusted, that he should be trusted in a way to enable him to carry out what must be a most difficult task. It is perfectly true that the affairs of South Africa have been matters of great delicacy and difficulty for a great many years. For 45 years the right hon. Gentleman has stated he has known them to be cause of anxiety to this country; and now, when we seem to see our way to the accomplishment of the great object we have in view in that part of our Dominions, it is the duty of the Government to support the policy initiated by Sir Bartle Frere.

Question put, and negatived.

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