In that is today known as the Eastern Cape, the Dutch, and later the British colonial regimes fought what is known as ‘Africa’s Hundred Year War’ against the Xhosa nation (lasting from 1779 to 1879). Over the numerous individual wars that made up the conflict, the Europeans gradually gained territory from the Xhosa; however, the latter were clever and brave and managed to strike shocking blows against the colonial forced on many occasions. From the 1820s to the early 1850s, the Anglo-Xhosa frontier, remained a dangerous, ill-defined buffer zone, or “no man’s land”, albeit one that was gradually moving east.
As things stood after the British victory during the Seventh Xhosa War (1846-7), the new boundary was supposedly fixed at the Keiskamma River, with the region to the east known as ‘British Kaffraria’ (the East London-King William’s Town area), being a buffer territory.
General Sir Harry Smith (1787 – 1860) was made the Governor of the Cape Colony in 1847 and proceeded to implement incredibly inept policies that threatened the political and economic stability of South Africa. Smith aggressively expelled many Xhosa from all British-held territories, flooding British Kaffraria with refugees, who suffered appallingly. The Xhosa who remained in British lands, were forced to move to towns and to adopt European lifestyles, which they resented. This left them in a desperate, agitated state, making them eager to get revenge upon the British, regardless of the risks or costs. Smith also alienated the Khoekhoen (formerly known as KhoiKhoi) people, who were traditionally allies of the British, causing some to join forces with the Xhosa.
If this was not enough, Smith attacked the Afrikaner settlements in the Orange Free State, which alienated his regime from the Afrikaner Burghers of the Cape Colony, whose support was necessary to prosecute the wars against the native nations. To fund his activities, Smith dramatically raised taxes, angering all white Cape colonists, while slashing the size of the colony’s standing army to 5,000 men. In good part due to Smith’s policies, by 1850, the Cape Colony was weak, divided, and unprepared.
At the beginning of what became known as the the Eighth Xhosa War (1850-3), Smith mounted a preemptive strike upon the Xhosa, capturing one of their leading chiefs. This naturally enraged the Xhosa, who struck back. On December 24, 1850, they mounted a daring attack upon a British force at the Boomah Pass, compelling their retreat to Fort White, under heavy pressure. The following day, the Xhosa, under the guise of attending Christmas festivities, entered the towns and homes of welcoming white settlers, and then suddenly turned on them, massacring their hosts. Simultaneously, Xhosa forces from British Kaffraria flooded across the frontier into the eastern Cape Colony, taking over large portions of the Albany and Victoria Districts, and besieging colonial outposts in British Kaffraria. Governor Smith was himself even trapped within a besieged Fort Cox (he eventually managed to narrowly escape). The British predicament was not helped by the fact that large parts of their so-called ‘Kaffir Police’ militias, which were in good part composed of Khoekhoen, defected to the Xhosa, while the local Afrikaner commandos didn’t even lift a finger for the British cause.
In January 1851, the Xhosa mounted a fierce offensive, pinning the British garrisons down at Fort White, Fort Hare, and Fort Cox, while attacking the major town of Beaufort. However, the British successfully resisted their advances, and were soon able to secure reinforcements, pushing the Xhosa back.
Yet, the Xhosa still controlled a great deal of the hinterland, with the main Xhosa force, under Chief Maqoma, strongly ensconced on the Waterkloof highland, just northwest of Beaufort, while another key Xhosa base lay in the Amatola highlands of British Kaffraria. The British position was far from secure, and both the colonists and Westminster were deeply unhappy. Smith was blamed for the mess that was, and in March 1853 was replaced by General Sir George Cathcart (1794-1854), an esteemed diplomat and hero of the Napoleonic Wars, who famously served as the Duke of Wellington’s aide-de-camp at Waterloo.
From April 1852, Cathcart pursued a ‘scorched earth’ policy, flooding the country with thousands of British troops, crushing the Xhosa armies, and hunting down their remnants. By February 1853, he broke the back of the Xhosa resistance, securing the surrender of the main Xhosa chiefs, leading to a total British victory.
Cathcart was hailed a hero across the British Empire. The Xhosa had been crushed, and they would never again pose an existential threat to British settlements in the region. The de facto Anglo-Xhosa border also moved further east, to the Great Kai River, as the British prepared to open British Kaffraria to full colonization, pushing the beleaguered Xhosa even further out of their homeland.
The Present Work in Focus
The present work was compiled and published at the behest of Governor Cathcart to demonstrate how the British under his leadership dramatically altered their fortunes in the Eastern Cape, from disastrous spectacle to total victory, in less than a year.
The work was printed by Saul Solomon (1817 – 1892), of Jewish extraction, who was born on the island of St. Helena, in the mid-Atlantic. He immigrated to Cape Town and built the largest publishing empire in South Africa, including The Argus (est. 1857), today still one of the country’s leading newspapers, while also serving as a liberal firebrand politician.
Collected here are a series of seminal official documents relating to the decisive final year of the Eighth Xhosa War, mainly dating from the spring of 1852 to spring of 1853. It is an anthology of primary sources that are indispensable to anyone seeking to understand the 19th century history of the Eastern Cape and Anglo-Xhosa relations.
As the title suggests, the core of the work is the ‘Minute’ (pp. 3-19), or address, that Cathcart submitted to the Legislative Council of the Cape Colony on May 20, 1853, in which he, in detail, chronicles the events of the war (as he saw it), from his arrival at the battle front on April 9, 1852, up to the current time. Here he provides the ultimate insider’s account of the decisive phase of the war, including troops movements, strategic deliberations, enemy actions, and treaty discussions, supported by statistics. He also considers the Anglo-Xhosa conflict from a variety of angles, connecting simultaneous events in different areas all over the Eastern Cape, as well as in the Afrikaner Orange River territory. While such documents are normally dry and technical, Cathcart’s prose is fluid and engaging.
The rest of the work is composed of an Appendix (organized as items A to U, each often including more than one document), featuring supporting documents cited in Cathcart’s ‘Minute’. These fascinating papers include a letter from the Colonial Secretary Earl Grey to Cathcart, dated February 2, 1853, in which he lays out the military mandate for the newly appointed Cape Governor; an entertaining memoranda by Johannes Fortun, a settler, relating to his harrowing experience of being abducted by the Xhosa; letters to the Governor from the Xhosa Chief Moshesh, and correspsondence from the British Resident and Commissioner to the Xhosa; various Proclamations by the Governor announcing new policies; depositions from settler communities; excepts from a diary of a British ‘Armed Mounted Police Force’ officer stationed at Beaufort; and a General Order with an itemized list of the pay for various officers of the British colonial militias.
The present example of the work curiously features an ‘extra page’ taken from another book placed between pages 18 and 19, Correspondence: Government of the Cape of Good Hope relative to the State of the Kafir Tribes and the Recent Outbreak on the Eastern Frontier of the Colony, Cape of Good Hope, Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty May 31 1853 (London: George Edward Eyre and William Spottiswoode, 1853) (pp. 25-6). It features the full text of a ‘Memorandum by The Duke of Wellington’, dated June 30, 1852, in which he advocates the kinds of strong measures that were being advanced by his former aide-de-camp and protege, Governor Cathcart. It is not known why this extra page was inserted, but it provides added context and is a pleasing ‘bonus’.
The Stellar Maps
The work is illustrated with two lovely, original custom-made maps that, considered together, show the state of play at both the beginning and the end of the decisive stage of the conflict along the frontier of the Eastern Cape, from April 1852, when the Xhosa still held vast amounts of British territory, to April 1853, in the wake of Cathcart’s scorched earth campaign, whereupon the British vanquished the Xhosa, pushing them past the Great Kai River.
The maps are stellar early examples of cartography printed in South Africa. Both are lithographed in Cape Town upon the kind of thin, attractive blue paper that a favoured in the 1850s, and feature fine original hand colour, giving them a quintessentially ‘colonial feel’. The maps were curiously made by different ‘boutiquey’ Cape Town printers, although they clearly coordinated their work. The maps are as follows:
State of the Rebellion, April 1852.
Imprint: ‘C.J. Roberts, Sculpt.’ (measuring: 32 x 25 cm).
The first map shows the state of play along the eastern frontier of the Cape in April 1852, before Cathcart’s offensive. Its scope extends from Grahamstown, in the west, past East London, in the east, and up to Queenstown, in the north, taking in all the districts of Albany and Victoria and British Kaffraria, with the Keiskamma River running vertically down the middle. All key rivers are delineated, mountain ranges and highlands are expressed by hachures, while all British forts, towns, and villages, are labelled, along with major roads. The domains of various tribes and some names of the chiefs are noted.
The map is colour-coded, with British Kaffraria (outlined in Pink); the Colonial Boundary (outlined in Yellow); and the Country in possession of the Rebels in April 1852 (shaded in Green). It shows that the Xhosa still controlled a vast amount of the countryside, threatening virtually every major British fort and town in the frontier regions.
The map features the imprint ‘C.J. Roberts Sculpt.’, referring to a boutique Cape Town lithographer who often worked with Solomon, and who is perhaps best known for engraving some important early Cape Colony postage stamps.
State of the Frontier since the Peace, April 1853.
Imprint: ‘J. Crew, Engraver, Cape Town.’ (measuring: 31.5 x 25 cm).
The second map depicts the same area as the first, in roughly the same style, but shows how the Anglo-Xhosa conflict had been utterly transformed by Governor Cathcart’s offensive over the last year. Of note, forts and positions marked with ‘red dots’ are described as In British Kaffraria denotes temporary field works occupied by Troops, indicating that the British force had not only retaken full control of the Albany and Victoria Districts, but had overrun all British Kaffraria, including the former Xhosa bases in the Amatola highlands. Notes indicate that the British were already planning to clear the area of the Xhosa, driving them beyond the Great Kai River, opening the lands to full British colonization.
The map features the imprint of ‘J. Crew, Engraver, Cape Town’, a somewhat obscure local printer.
A Note on Rarity
The work is extremely rare; it was likely issued in only a small print run. We can trace only 3 institutional examples, held by King’s College London; National Library of South Africa; and the library of the Unisa Muckleneuk Campus (Pretoria). Moreover, we cannot trace any sales records for other examples.
References: King’s College London: FOL. DT1837 CAP; National Library of South Africa: FB.4741 UNESCO 7; Unisa Muckleneuk Campus (Pretoria): 968.77 CAP; OCLC: 86063785.