10 December 1896 telegram: D. Carnegie To LMS

10 December 1896 telegram: D. Carnegie To LMS

Please reference as: Liz Stanley (2016) ‘10 December 1896 telegram: D. Carnegie to LMS’ http://www.whiteswritingwhiteness.ed.ac.uk/Traces/10Dec1896telegram/ and provide the paragraph number as appropriate when quoting.

minus 3. In The Archaeology of Knowledge, Foucault proposes that a new kind of historical analysis needs to happen following the problematisation of documents and other remaining traces of the past, for such things are no longer seen in empiricist terms as repositories of facts but instead as resources which are actively marshalled in the present as part of arguing one way or another about what it is customary to call the past. decembertelegram-traceThese traces are not ‘raw’ but the product of an array of ‘now’ as well as ‘then’ practices around their production, circulation, reading and use, conservation, organisation, re-reading and re-use. The point of analysis has become, Foucault suggests, not to interpret a document as standing proxy for a now passed reality, but instead that analysis should be something that ‘organises the document, divides it up, distributes it, orders, arranges it in levels, establishes series, distinguishes between what is relevant and what is not, discovers elements, defines unities, describes relations’ (pp.6-7).

minus 2. What is this strange looking document? What, when it originated, was its general purpose as a type of document, a kind of genre? As a trace of the past, what does the specific material recorded on this particular example mean? Why was it written, what is its message or purpose, what are its different elements? What contextual knowledge is needed to make sense of it? And can it be fully understood now by ‘the average reader’?

minus 1. Read on. And persevere to the end, because actually it’s not quite this simple!


1. London Missionary Society: The London Missionary Society, now usually abbreviated to LMS, was a non-denominational but Christian and broadly Protestant organisation based in London that was administered by a number of Directors and their underlings. It selected, dispatched and oversaw the work of missionaries sent different parts of the world, including Southern Africa. Its archive is now part of the special collections of SOAS, University of London. It is composed by a vast array of organisational papers, including incoming and outgoing correspondence between one or other of the Directors and individual missionaries in the field. For many years this correspondence was filed under country headings and by date, then latterly by the name of the country and surname of the missionary as well as by date. For many years until approximately the early 1890s the regular letters reporting on their circumstances received from missionaries in the field were simply filed. Then, with no discussion found in any of the correspondence files about this, letters were filed with examples of the document above attached to them. What they were termed by the LMS is not known, but they are referred to in WWW discussions as dockets.

2. 1896: The year is printed onto this example of an LMS docket, indicating that a number of dockets, indeed a rather large number, were required per year and were sufficient to justify the expense of annual printings.

3. Southern: Southern also suggests the possibility of northern, western and eastern. This could possibly refer to a division of labour internally (perhaps between the various Directors) regarding different spheres of interest and responsibility that mapped onto world regions.

4. No. 595: Arrival No. 7165: The difference between a Number and an Arrival Number is opaque. However, that they are printed onto the document indicates that they had organisational importance of some kind. While the number 7165 recorded against Arrival No. could perhaps be the number of the incoming pieces of correspondence received in the calendar year of 1896, this is a surmise and what the number of 595 might indicate is completely unclear. A guess is that it could be the number of items of correspondence regarding a particular area or perhaps a particular Director, but in the last resort this is a case of ‘not known’.

5a. From: From is both a person and a place. On this particular docket, the person is D. Carnegie and the place is Bulawayo. David Carnegie was one of the LMS missionaries in what had been Matabeleland.

5b. At the point the docket was written, Matabeleland had become Rhodesia following an invasion followed by an uprising followed by violent warfare and the imposition of a totalised form of political and military control. The various missionaries in Matabeleland had left their stations and congregated in the town of Bulawayo. Bulawayo had been the central place of the Matabele ruler, but was then taken over by the invading force. In general terms who Carnegie was – a missionary – can be assumed from the heading of the document that his name appears on; and good general knowledge could work out that where he was communicating from, Bulawayo, was a part of Rhodesia then later Zimbabwe, even if its Matabele origins were not known. However, the detailed events referred to about invasions and uprisings and the reasons that Carnegie and other missionaries were in Bulawayo require more specialist knowledge of the historical circumstances as these pertained to Southern Africa and to the part of it that became Rhodesia in particular.

6. Dated: This heading is for recording the date as it appeared on the incoming correspondence that had been received. It is linked with other aspects of dating and the headings following, on ‘Received’ and ‘Answered’, which do not have the word date attached to them but are concerned with dates by implication. In this particular example, the date is recorded as 10 December 1896. On its own there is nothing remarkable about this, it is simply a date in mid-December.

7a. Received: This Received heading indicates the organisational requirement to record another aspect of dating, that is, precisely when an incoming piece of correspondence was received. The implication is that there might be an organisationally significant relationship between Dated and Received. The date recorded here is 11 December 1896, which is one day after the document in question was dated by its writer, D. Carnegie, in Bulawayo.

7b. The difference between Dated and Received is generally likely to have been seen as important and to be recorded because of two linked factors. One is that, outside of metropolitan areas there would have ordinarily been a significant difference or gap between letters being written and dated, and them being received and read, because of the prevailing character of postal services of the day. The other is that the missionaries in the field were working in places where there were a few such postal services anyway, and those that did exist might be many days travel away from where they were located; and also most of them were in working in parts of the world far distant from LMS headquarters in London. In the days of sail, travel times were long and heavily dependent on weather conditions at sea, and even after the introduction of mail steamers travel times between continents still involved some significant time passing between leaving and arrival.

7c. The one day difference between Carnegie sending and the LMS receiving the item that this docket was attached to is remarkable in a context in which a person reading these documents would be accustomed to seeing date differences usually of some months. The first inclination is to check the two dates for accuracy, followed by scanning the rest of the docket for further information.

7d. Further down, the eye catches the word ‘telegram’. This is highly significant of another major change impacting on letter-writing practices in addition to the introduction of steamers. The telegraph introduced the new possibility of sending telegrams or ‘wires’ that would arrive very rapidly from one telegraph office to another, as here. What is invisible, but hinted at by what appears under the heading of Contents further down this docket, is that there was a relationship between the existence of the telegraph in Bulawayo and the reason why Carnegie was making use of it, linked to the invasion and warfare noted earlier. The telegraph was, put simply, an apparatus within the relations of ruling.

8a. Answered: No.: This is the third aspect of dating being organisationally required of whoever was completing the docket in question and has two parts to it, a date, and also a number. The latter is presumably the number of items that have been sent, but regarding what period of time or by which persons is unclear. Entries are recorded here for both parts and are notable for being written in red ink, by implication emphasising the importance of this information. The date recorded is 26 February 1897, and the number is 3778. The eye goes back and forth between the three dates, noting that while there is a one day separation between sending from Bulawayo and receiving in London, there is an approximately ten week and 70 day gap before the communication in question was replied to by someone at LMS headquarters.

8b. In looking at this part of the docket, It is difficult not also to see the first word immediately below the Contents heading, ‘telegram’. At that time and for many years subsequently, telegrams were usually sent in circumstances of emergency or other urgency. A one-day separation between sending and receiving indicates urgency; a seventy-day separation between receiving and replying suggests something very different, and it is difficult not to think about this in terms of delay, prevarication, unwillingness to respond or other words related to bureaucratic organisational procedures.

9a. Contents: The very first item in Contents is in fact not a word but a number, 1. Careful scrutiny shows that this probably indicates that only one telegram is being summarised; if there had been a full-stop after the number or the number had appeared in the margin, this would probably have meant that there were two items being summarised of which the telegram was the first. Contents is the summary of the telegram, which reported that the Chartered Company had ‘through some error’ sold the Mission Church. The location of the church is not mentioned as presumably knowledge about it could be assumed on the part of the Directors. However, in the absence of information this is read as by implication a church in Bulawayo (although this is merely a summarise in the absence of information). The Contents goes on to state that the telegram had urged the Directors to ‘stand firm’ and communicate with the Secretary of the Chartered Company. A church and presumably the land on which it stood had been sold ‘by error’ by an organisation referred to as the ‘Chartered Company’; and as well as providing this information, the telegram also urged the Directors to do something about this by contacting the Secretary of the organisation concerned. It is by no means clear from the summary given why sending this response should have taken some seven weeks. In addition, the telegram this docket was originally attached to is no longer attached and so its precise wording cannot be gauged against the summary provided in the Contents. But presumptively the summary here is shorter than the telegram that was received.

9b. What the ‘Chartered Company’ was and why it might even in error sell a church belonging to the Mission is not explained or hinted at, presumably because it was assumed that all parties involved would know what was being referred to and why. From the outside, it is difficult to see how something like the selling of land and a church building could be done ‘by error’, although the suggestion that the Secretary of the organisation would be the appropriate person to ‘stand firm’ to promotes a sense of an ordinary kind of error having been made.

9c. The British South Africa Company, otherwise known as the Chartered Company, was a consortium licensed by being given a charter by the British government to carry out expansionist activity on its behalf in a particular region of Southern Africa. As well as financiers and others in London, it was headed in Southern Africa by Cecil Rhodes and his henchmen and in particular his second-in-command Dr Leander Starr Jameson. The Chartered Company had gerrymandered an agreement – known as a concession – with the Matabele king to permit them to carry out mining activities (the particular interest was in finding gold). Later Chartered company troops and a body of soldiery-cum-settlers known as the Pioneers carried out an invasion; then, following uprisings against the brutality of frontier rule, there was full-scale warfare. Along the way, the Chartered Company positioned itself as the ruling body, took over ownership of all land and issued (and sold) its own titles to this, and dispossessed the Matabele from having any rights either to land or to most other things as well. It also as part of this took over another polity, the territory and people in the area known as Mashonaland, where in consequence there was even bloodier warfare.

9d. The independent-minded Matabele and their king had resisted the incursions of the missionary presence over many years with barely any converts being made. The LMS missionaries expressed considerable support for the Chartered Company, and one of their number, Mr Helm, is particularly implicated in translating or rather mis-translating a key document concerned with concessions for mining so as to persuade the Matabele king to sign it. As Chartered rule unfolded, the Matabele population became much more compliant because fearing reprisals; and when Chartered rule was extended to the territory of the very different Mashona, the missionaries saw conversion and training opportunities as having been opened up and the whole discourse in which the different missionaries wrote about local peoples changed dramatically, from seeing them as independent-minded and resistant, to the use of disparaging racialised terminology to characterise them and their conduct.

9e. Hints of troubles started early in this process of unfolding of white settler frontier rule. The early assumption that the leading lights in the Chartered Company were ‘good Christian men’ had to shift (but not much) when the extreme force, brutality and genocidal activity that was unleashed upon the Matabele and the Mashona became apparent. Starvation followed dispossession from land for many people. And then it became clear that the Chartered Company had its eye on land which the LMS missionaries had taken possession of at an earlier point. Its bullish local manager made it clear he thought the Company now owned title to this land and offered only a derisory price for it, with the sub-plot that possession of it would join together two parcels of land which the Company intended for heavy mining. The missionaries felt there must be some mistake and tried to take their case higher up the managerial hierarchy in the Chartered Company, including to Jameson and Rhodes himself. It became apparent that there was an iron hand inside an iron glove here, and that anyone or any group of people who stood in the way of Company interests would receive short shrift. However, many of the LMS missionaries could not easily come to terms with this, in the sense that they found what was happening unbelievable and continued against the odds to assume good will on the part of Company men towards them and their mission, and also broadly speaking their benificence towards the benighted African population. Things otherwise than this were seen as mistakes or, as is recorded on this docket, errors.

9f. Who was the Secretary? The particular individual here is not particularly relevant. The point is that this was a senior administrator and presumably this role was indicated as a route to put pressure on a higher level of the Chartered Company consortium in Britain. What is conjured up is a picture of one organisational Secretary contacting another organisational Secretary about a boundary issue. Nothing could be further from what was happening in Matabeleland, and along the way the missionaries had sold their souls for the false promise of conversions.

10. What does this document add up to? It is an example of a particular kind of organisational form, although what it was called in its LMS context is not known but for ease of reference it is referred to in WWW research as a docket. What it was originally attached to, a telegram, is no longer available. Some of the headings on the docket are highly elliptical and relate to the specific organisational framework shared by both parties to the correspondence. This is also true of various of the content of the summary of the original document that is provided. Some aspects of this can be gained by contextual and more general historical knowledge, but there are aspects that are likely to remain unknowable.

11. What it refers to lies outside of the document itself and is not in a direct way accessible through it. This was morally and politically terrible, and was so for many people at the time, although seemingly not for most if not all of the LMS missionaries in the field. One of these people was the feminist writer and social commentator Olive Schreiner, with her scandalous novella about these matters, Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland, containing a photograph smuggled out by an appalled Pioneer/trooper and sent to her. It shows something of what was going on, for it is a photograph a line of African men’s bodies hanging from a tree, with a bunch of white men stood round smoking and watching them.

12. What I want to know is this: What becomes of politics and ethics in relation to events of the past which involved human suffering, if all notions of referentiality are given up? Things happened. Things were written or otherwise documented about this. Without the things that happened, the things that were represented would not have existed. It matters, for instance, that men with nooses round their necks were made to crawl along branches and jump to hang themselves; and it matters that many other appalling things happened in the same set of events. It mattered back then. And in a different way it still matters now. And certainly the reverberations of those events are still being felt and contribute to what is presently happening in Zimbabwe. Can an interrogation of documentary traces retain discernible ethical probity without also hanging on to notions of an ultimate referentiality, that things happened, no matter how difficult it is now to get to grips with this and avoid facile empiricism?


Last updated: 17 October 2016


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