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SOUTH AFRICA / LESOTHO / EARLY ORANGE FREE STATE IMPRINT / ‘INTELLECTUAL PROPAGANDA’: Correspondence between the Governor of the Cape of Good Hope and the President of the Orange Free State, with Annexes thereto relative to the Basuto War and Convention e



An extremely rare early Bloemfontein imprint featuring seminal primary sources concerning the end of the Orange Free State-Basotho Wars which secured the Anglo-Afrikaner balance of power in the region, as well as the security of what would become Lesotho, commissioned by the Volksraad of the Orange Free State as a work of ‘intellectual propaganda’ advancing its national claims. 

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This is an extremely rare early imprint published in Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State, the independent Afrikaner nation that existed in the heart of South Africa from 1854 to 1902.  The work is a fascinating record of high-level diplomacy in the region, as it focusses on the correspondence between Philip Edmund Wodehouse, the Governor of the British Cape Colony and London’s chief agent in Southern Africa, and Johannes Henricus Brand, the President of the Orange Free State, that was exchanged towards and immediately after the end of the Free State-Basotho Wars (1858-68), a series of fierce conflicts between the Afrikaner republic and the neighbouring kingdom of the Basotho people.

The present work was published by the printer Van Iddekinge & Company, on the orders of the Orange Free State’s parliament, the Volksraad.  It consists of a selection of correspondence between Wodehouse and Brand, followed by an Appendix containing a series of vital background documents.  While the work accurately recounts all the cited material, its purpose is rhetorical, as the letters, documents and excerpts are carefully selected to paint the Orange Free State’s actions against the Basotho nation in a favourable light; in this sense it is form or ‘intellectual propaganda’.

In short, the Orange Free State coveted the Basotho’s territories and unsuccessfully tried to conquer the latter twice, in 1858 and in 1865-6.  Britain, represented by Wodehouse, was weary of the expansion of the Orange Free State, seeing the Afrikaners as Britain’s regional competitors, and so wished to contain their ambitions without sparking an Anglo-Afrikaner war.  Meanwhile, the Orange Free State, led by Brand, was determined to press its advantage in the Basotho lands as far as it could without igniting an Anglo-Afrikaner conflict.  Meanwhile the beleaguered Basotho people, led by their king, Moshoeshoe (referred to in the present work as ‘Moshesh’), were trying to find any means to survive, including forming a special arrangement with Britain.

The present works takes up the Wodehouse-Brand correspondence beginning on April 11, 1866, just as the Orange Free State was winding up its highly destructive, yet ultimately unsuccessful, second invasion of the Basotho lands (called the Seqiti War, 1865-6).  In reading the exchange of letters that follows, one finds Wodehouse attempting to meddle in the situation, as a “mediator”, supposedly to curb Afrikaner expansionism, protecting Basotho interests.  Brand, who knows this, rejects the British overtures in the politest possible ways.  Throughout the outwardly cordial succeeding volley, Wodehouse continues to apply pressure, while Brand refuses to play ball, buying time for his designs to conquer the Basotho lands once and for all. 

Amidst a scene of rising tension, this game of cat-and-mouse plays out through the correspondence until the summer of 1867, when it reaches its climax.  The Orange Free State invaded the Basotho lands with hurricane force, overrunning the entire country save for Moshoeshoe’s headquarters.  It is at this moment, just as the Afrikaners tasted ultimate victory, that Moshoeshoe played his trump card, surrendering his country to Britain, to gain its protection.  In March 1868, the Bashoto lands formally became a British protectorate, leaving Brand with no choice but to negotiate a conclusion to the Free State-Basotho conflict on terms acceptable to Wodehouse.  It is at this point, on April 22, 1868, that the Wodehouse-Brand correspondence concludes, leaving the two leaders to work out a formal settlement that would become the Convention of Aliwal-North (February 1869).

The correspondence is followed by an ‘Appendix’ (commencing on p. 85) that features 5 Annexes, providing the text of several seminal supporting documents, including: select excerpts from the 1854 treaty between Britain and the Afrikaners that created the Orange Free State; the text of an 1864 letter from Wodehouse to Brand concerning the boundaries between the Orange Free State and the Basotho lands, as well as an 1864 letter from Wodehouse to King Moshoeshoe regarding the same.  Additionally included are the texts of both the preliminary and final treaties between the Orange Free State and the Basotho nation ending the Seqiti War (March 26 and April 3, 1866); experts of correspondence written by the British Colonial Secretary in 1854 concerning the Orange Free State’s rights; the text of the 1855 treaty between the Orange Free State and King Moshoeshoe; the Proclamation of the Orange Free State announcing the start what would become known as Senekal’s War (1858), fought against the Basotho nation, and finally, the Treaty of Peace between the two belligerents singed at the end of said conflict.  While truthfully conveyed, the careful choice of excerpts and documents is strategically selected to support the Free State’s agenda viz. the Basotho nation – to stellar propagandistic effect.

Historical Context: The Struggle for Control of Basutoland

Our story begins in 1822, when the Basotho chief Moshoeshoe (c. 1786 – 1870) united his people under his rule, forming the precursor state to modern Lesotho, with its capital located at Butha-Buthe Mountain, high in the Drakensburg Mountains.  Moshoeshoe was a brave and sagacious leader who is celebrated to this day as the first King and father of Lesotho.  In the period before the Voortrekkers (the first Afrikaner migrant settlers) arrived in the region in the late 1830s, Moshoeshoe managed to expand and consolidate Basotho control over the northern Drakensburgs, as well as the lowland valleys immediately to the west and southwest.

As European settlers flooded into the lowlands bordering Moshoeshoe’s domains, they increasingly came into conflict with the Basotho people.  The foundation of the Orange Free State in 1854, as an Afrikaner-ruled sovereign republic, immediately bordering the Basotho lands, ensured an escalation of the conflict.  The Orange Free State coveted the fertile valleys of the Caledon and Orange Rivers, while Basotho kingdom had no intention of ceding its most valuable territories.

Beginning in 1858, the two nations were locked in a decade long contest known as the Free State–Basotho Wars, which can be further divided into three separate conflicts.  During Senekal’s War of 1858, the Afrikaner forces failed to take the area around Moshoeshoe’s headquarters, the fortress of Thaba Bosiu, and having sustained severe losses, sued for peace.  The Basotho king, even though he was in a commanding position, consented to ending the war on the status quo ante bellum so as not to antagonize the Orange Free State into mounting another invasion of his country.  The Basotho’s victory was surprising and impressive, as they employed ingenious techniques of guerrilla warfare to overcome a far better-armed adversary.

Some years later, the Orange Free State and the Basotho nation quarrelled over the ill-defined boundaries between their two domains.  During the Seqiti War (1865−6), the Afrikaners invaded Moshoeshoe’s lands conducting a ‘scorched earth campaign’, destroying the Basotho peoples’ cowherds and crops.  After the invaders failed to storm Thaba Bosiu, both sides settled for a truce.  During this brief lull, tensions remains at fever pitch, as the Orange Free State prepared to reinvade the Basotho lands, to finish what it had started.

During the Third Basotho War (1867-8), the Orange Free State invaded the Basotho lands, this time with overwhelming force, leaving nothing to change.  The Afrikaners raged over the mountainous terrain and seized every inch of the territory, save for the Thaba Bosiu fortress.

Moshoeshoe was a strong and proud leader; however, he was also a practical man who realized that it was only a matter of weeks before the Afrikaners would wipe his kingdom off the map.  Drastic measures were in order.

Moshoeshoe made a formal overture to Governor Wodehouse, requesting that Britain annex the Basotho lands in return for protecting his people from the Afrikaners and allowing his society a good measure of autonomy.  Wodehouse approved of the plan and Parliament formally annexed the Basotho lands on March 12, 1868. 

The present work focusses on the tense period from the end of the Seqiti War until just after the British annexation of the Basotho lands.

The Orange Free State had a complex relationship with Britain and was deadly afraid of coming into conflict with the world’s greatest empire.  The Afrikaner republic essentially agreed to abide by whatever terms were acceptable to London.

At the Convention of Aliwal-North (February 1869), the Basotho Protectorate had to cede significant territories to the Orange Free State, including the valuable lands west of the Caledon River.  The British hoped that this would be sufficient to placate the Afrikaners and compensate them for their martial efforts.  In return, the Orange Free State had to agree to never to contest the boundaries between their domains and the Basotho Protectorate as set out by the convention.  This succeeded in permanently ending the Orange Free State-Basotho hostilities.

The Basotho Protectorate was annexed to the Cape Colony in 1871.  The British did not honour their promise to Moshoeshoe (who died in 1870) and implemented a heavy-handed form of rule over the Basotho people.  The Basotho became disenchanted with British rule and some tribes mounted rebellions, which were quickly crushed.  Eventually the more intelligent British officials realized that directly ruling the Basotho lands was futile and unnecessary to their empire’s broader objectives.  In 1884, the separate colony of Basutoland was created, honouring the spirit of the Convention of Aliwal-North.  The Basotho people were given a high degree of local autonomy, ruled by their own Paramount Chief (King), and while he was to be minded by a British Resident, the latter usually did little to interfere in the peoples’ day-to-day affairs. 

Basutoland remained a British colony until it became the independent state of Lesotho in 1966.  While not without its problems, the fact that the territory had remained separate from South Africa spared its people from the horrors of Apartheid.


The Correspondents: Governor Wodehouse & President Brand

Philip Edmund Wodehouse (1811 – 1887) was a tin-eared, conservative authoritarian who ensured that British rule became incredibly unpopular virtually everywhere he served.  He was a career civil servant who cut his teeth in the Ceylon bureaucracy, and was eventually promoted to serve as the Governor of British Guyana (1854-61), where he became widely disliked for his inflexible, heavy-handed style.  However, Wodehouse excelled at ‘office politics’ and succeeded in retaining extremely powerful backers at Whitehall, who always protected him, regardless of his actions in the colonies.  

In 1861, Wodehouse was promoted to Governor of the Cape Colony, as well as the British High Commissioner for Southern Africa.  His handling of the Free State-Basotho conflict was an uncharacteristically tactful episode in otherwise reactionary tenure.  In terms of his general administration, he proved to be such a harsh opponent of democratic expression in the Cape that he lost almost all public support.  Crowds celebrated in the streets of Cape Town upon his recall in 1870.

However, far from being cashiered for botching the Cape file, Wodehouse’s influential friends saw that he was made Governor of Bombay, one of the greatest offices in imperial service.  There his authoritarian style was less resented, and he served until his retirement in 1877.

Johannes Henricus Brand (1823 – 1888) is generally considered by historians to have been a clever, calculating leader of the fledgling Afrikaner republic.  He was a was a highly respected, English-educated law professor before being elected in 1864 to the first of his five terms as President of the Orange Free State.  While an expansionist by nature, determined to broaden his nation’s horizons at the expense of its indigenous neighbours, he was at the end of the day a practical man, aware of his republic’s political and military limitations.  As best exemplified by his conduct of the latter part of the Free State-Basotho Wars, he successfully gained valuable territorial concessions without coming into direct conflict with Britain.

While Brand did not always succeed in his endeavours (he failed to stop Britain from annexing Kimberly in 1871), overall, he ensured that the Orange Free State thrived far better than could otherwise have been expected in a neighbourhood of dangerous potential and realised enemies.  Most notably, he wisely ensured that his country did not join the First Anglo-Boer War (1880-1), as he knew that, unlike the Transvaal, the Orange Free State was more geographically exposed and could be easily overrun by British forces.  While maintaining an official stance of neutrality, he managed to lend covert support to the South African Republic, while maintaining friendly ties with London.  In 1882, Queen Victoria even gave him a knighthood!  He died in office in 1888 and was succeeded by comparatively hot-headed leaders who led the Orange Free State to its destruction in the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902), a course that Brand would likely have avoided.


A Note on Rarity

The present work is extremely rare; we can locate only a single other example at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (The Hague).  Moreover, we are not aware of any other examples as having appeared on the market during the last generation.


Related Works

The present work is one of several exceedingly rare publications issued in Bloemfontein recording various aspects of the official correspondence between President Brand and Governor Wodehouse and his successor Sir Henry Barkly.  While all these works were separately published, they were part of a coordinated sequence of ‘intellectual propaganda’ pieces commissioned by the Orange Free State’s Volksraad that aimed to show the republic’s actions in a favourable light.  The present work was preceded by a publication of the same title printed in 1866, that concerns the Wodehouse-Brand correspondence up to the spring of 1866 (OCLC: 91372834), where the present work commences.  Subsequent titles include: Correspondence between the Governor of the Cape of Good Hope and the President of the Orange Free State with annexures thereto, relative to the subject of the Campbell Lands (1871); Correspondence between the Governor of the Cape of Good Hope and the President of the Orange Free State, 1871-1872 (1872); Correspondence between the Governor of the Cape of Good Hope and the President of the Orange Free State, dated from May 1872 to 28 April, 1873 (1873); and Correspondence between the Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, and the President of the Orange Free State, 1873-1875 (1875).


References: Koninklijke Bibliotheek (The Hague): 864 G 8.; OCLC: 825108765 (noting both the Koninklijke Bibliotheek example and ecteronic copies thereof); Louis B. Petit, Catalogus der Bibliotheek van de Maatschappij der Nederlandsche Letterkunde te Leiden (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1887), vol. 2, p. 685.

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