Two messengers (kaffirs)…  waylaid and killed, 13 March 1852

Two messengers (kaffirs)…  waylaid and killed, 13 March 1852

Please reference as: Liz Stanley (2017) ‘Two messengers waylaid and killed’ http://www.whiteswritingwhiteness.ed.ac.uk/Traces/ Two-messengers-waylaid-and-killed/ and provide the paragraph number as appropriate when quoting.

Sunday morning
2 p.m.

I have broken this open to state that an express has ^just^ reached town from Col Percival. He had with him 1000 men, had attacked the Hottentots camp in the Fish River ?Bush – killed abt 20 – and captured 300 head of cattle a lot of horses &c. Amongst those killed was a chief of the name of ?Doda. They were bivouacked at the ?Buckfast Vley and were going to attack stock the following morning. Two messengers ^(kaffirs)^ from Water Kloof were waylaid and killed. The Graham’s Town Volunteers & substitutes are with them. Stubbs writes in that they have quite cleared the Camp in Fish River ?Bush. Some of the Hottentots called out to the Troops that they knew they were coming, that they had their papers, and knew exactly what was going on.

The post from King William’s Town has also come in, but brings little news. ?Sewani had taken 25 head of the unreadable’s cattle, which he has concealed in his country. They had been sold and realized 50/- per head. I have not time to write more as the post is closing.

1. In 1852 it is wartime on the Eastern Cape frontier, the middle of the Eighth Frontier or Xhosa War. As the note shown above indicates, as part of this a British military contingent attacked a ‘Hottentot’ (Khoikhoi, Khoi-San) camp, killed some men and captured many cattle and horses. Along the way they killed a notable chief, referred to as Doda. Also another leader, referred to as Sewani, had raided some cattle and sold them for a handsome price.

2. On Saturday 13 March – the day before information about these events arrived in Grahamstown – Robert White, a printer and publisher, wrote a dutiful letter to his uncle and business partner. This was the demagogue and politician Robert Godlonton, mockingly referred to by his critics as ‘moral Bob’. When finished, White’s letter was folded and sealed, for this was before envelopes were in regular use in South Africa. However, he opened it at 2pm the next afternoon, a Sunday, to add the scrawled message shown above, and finished it just before the post for Cape Town left that day. The information had arrived, and he wanted to share it. The transcribed text of the whole of the letter will be found at the end of this discussion.

3. Robert White (1819-1894) and Robert Godlonton (1794-1884) were business partners involved in printing and publishing in various of the Eastern Cape frontier towns. Among other activities, they published newspapers and journals in a number of these towns, including two of the now best-known, the Grahamstown Journal and the Inquirer, both mentioned in this letter. Although involved in politics and serving as a member in the Cape Legislative Council, Godlonton remained an active presence in the firm. White, among other things, acted as an intelligence-gatherer for his uncle about political matters and local events and personalities, and also helped him with ancillary business investments such as the purchase of farms and other property.

4. Most of White’s letters to Godlonton were written at times when he was away from base – a week here, ten days there – touring their businesses across the Eastern Cape and latterly also in Bloemfontein, as an assiduous manager. These letters provide a large amount of detail about what was going on in each of the places that White wrote them from. Their contents are busy and packed, filled with information to keep Godlonton up-to-date on business and political matters and also regarding ‘the state of things’ among the white community in whichever place it was that White was visiting. His other letters, a smaller number and of which that of 13 March 1852 is one, were sent to Godlonton from Grahamstown. Not surprisingly, these are of a somewhat different character, for this was Godlonton’s base too, in the political sense of this term, and also it was where their main business was located. Generally these letters are more concerned with matters connected with their business interests.

5. White’s 13 March 1852 letter starts with business matters. The first item is concerned with the Board of Commissioners, part of the structure of local government in Cape Town. Later (in the fifth paragraph) it also becomes apparent that Godlonton & White had been employed to print forms for the Commissioners to use. The second item of business is in respect of the purchase of paper of different kinds, obviously an essential for a printing firm. This includes details of current usage being provided with the request that Godlonton in Cape Town should purchase more paper if one of their business associates, also having a political involvement, William Cock, did not hear that a newspaper, the News, would be printed elsewhere. The third and fourth business items are of a ‘catching up’ kind and include the refurbishment of their business office and small news about a business connection, Shepperson and his family (with Shepperson also a business connection of the entrepreneurial shopkeeper Harriet Townsend of Cradock, who later married into the Pringle family).

6. At a number of points, the business matters in White’s letter are interspersed with comments and information about political events. This starts in the first paragraph with whether the Attorney General’s request (not specified) is reasonable or not in respect of the Commissioners. The Attorney General at the time was William Porter, who held office 1839-1865. The Board of Commissioners had been set up under an 1839 Ordinance concerned with local government, with each Commissioner representing one of the twelve districts of Cape Town, and establishment of the Board was one of the first pieces of administration enacted by Porter after his arrival.

7. In the third paragraph, White comments on something ‘fresh’. This is that that morning’s mail had brought ‘intelligence’ from military man Colonel Eyre about the actions and perceived deficiencies of the then-recently replaced ex-Governor of the Cape, Sir Harry Smith.

8. Then in the seventh paragraph, there is a comment about the ’injudicious’ criticisms made by Irving about General Henry Somerset, the commander of the British forces in the Eastern Cape. These had not been spotted by White in Irving’s regular column in the Inquirer before it was published (by their firm).

9. White’s letter winds down and closes with generalities and politenesses. The fact that there was a war going on is implicit in the body of the letter, connected with the presence of the British military forces and controversies about the conduct of the military commander Somerset and the ex-Governor Smith. However, it is not directly commented on. In most wars, some semblance of ordinary life continues. Over the long period of the Frontier Wars in the Eastern Cape, apart from in specific places and particular points in time, it continued without much hindrance for the majority of the white population. This was related to the character of the warfare being engaged in, and also what was becoming the characteristic pattern of white settlement.

10. In brief, although the white farming population lived in isolated places, increasingly people gravitated to live in the small but burgeoning towns, including Grahamstown, King William’s Town, Graaff-Reinet, Cradock and others, and nearly all of which Godlonton and White had business interests in. Also in brief, rather than the total wars of the 20th and 21st centuries, the Cape Frontier Wars were characterised more by periods of uneasy quietitude punctured by raids, in particular raids where the capture of cattle rather than the killing of people was their main purpose. White’s Sunday 2pm addition to his letter represents aspects of this, and also some new developments.

11. The news just in by ‘express’ was immediately pounced on by White, for it was related to various of the political events then afoot and which Godlonton would want to know about as soon as possible. Harry Smith’s governorship had been much criticised, as well as admired by some, but was generally thought to have been too savage in exerting reprisals against the Xhosa population. He was replaced by the British Government in March with George Cathcart. Smith then led a military contingent intent on clearing the Xhosa military stronghold in the mountainous and well defended Water Kloof, which was ruthlessly achieved.

12. The British force involved in the attack on the Khoikhoi camp is numbered in White’s note as 1000. This may have been rounded up, but certainly it involved a very large increase in the deployment of the military, part of a new strategy. It is also notable that the British military were engaged in capturing cattle and horses as well as the so-called ’Hottentots’ doing so. Indeed, rumour and the expression of official disquiet had it that Somerset and other senior officers became wealthy through this activity, for they too sold captured cattle and especially horses at a handsome price.

13. The wording of the added note is ambiguous on this, but the messenger ‘kaffirs’ who were captured and killed that it mentions could perhaps have been working on the British and settler side. The word in brackets, ‘^(kaffirs)^’, refers to Xhosa messengers. If they had been killed by the British military, there would probably have been excuses and justifications provided for this, and with a different and more euphemistic terminology used than ‘waylaid and killed’ – as with ‘quite cleared’ the Camp’ meaning slaughtering people. And this reading is supported by the fact that the term has been inserted, to indicate that they were not white messengers, suggesting that this might have been a possibility. It is possible, then, that it was the ’Hottentots’ who had done so. However, by 1852 and in the wake of the Kat River Rebellion, large numbers of Khoikhoi had joined the Xhosa rebels against the British military and settler groups. So this remains ‘possible’, rather than ‘likely’, concerning who did it, who killed these (implicitly) men who were messengers. And what this in turn hints at are the sometimes complex and also shifting allegiances that existed. It was not always a straightforward case of black against white or white against black, though demagogues like Godlonton might express it in such terms.

14. The ‘Hottentot’ forces were hidden and called out jeeringly to the British troops. This suggests a low-level intensity of fighting, that they were so close and presumably felt safe enough not to anticipate immediate reprisals if they shouted out. What they called out is both jeering and ironic, for they were shouting that they had got information on the plans and activities of the military from the papers that were being published in the frontier towns, including of course by the firm of Godlonton & White. As white settlers of retrograde views were wont to complain, there were seditious groups who had been mission-educated ‘beyond their station’ and were using reading and writing in unanticipated and untoward ways.

15. In addition, White’s note mentions to Godlonton that Sewani had not only captured cattle in raids but also sold them, with the price that was achieved being a high one. As this indicates, there were economic reasons underpinning the cattle raids and their tit-for-tat character. Different black groups raided each other’s cattle as part of the ongoing business of initiating and settling conflicts and promoting one upmanship, and the British military raided supposedly in order to restore cattle to their rightful owners, but actually with this enabling the officer elite among them to rake in the profits.

 

Full letter transcript: (Robert White to Robert Godlonton, 13 March 1852, White Cory, FM 8388–8392)

^inserted^ word
deleted word
?doubtful reading of a word
unreadable word that cannot be read

Graham’s Town, March 13th 1852

Dear Uncle,

I have got your note of the 9th inst. I showed that part of it to Mr Philipps, referring to the Commissioners. I understand that Beck has written to you on the subject, at the request of the Commissioners. Mr Shaw thought the proposition of the Attorney General’s reasonable. But I hear the Commissioners don’t think so.

Since I last wrote ?Fordred has arrived bringing with him the samples of paper. You had better purchase the fool scap as it is cheap also the ?demi and ?Double ?Crown – the ?demi we are not in want of, as we have a large supply waiting. But the ?Double ?Crown will be useful for Extras. You will see I have been using the folio ?post you sent up for some time past. The fool-scap is cheap at 10/9. If Cock has not heard from England respecting the “News” you will have to purchase more. Our consumption now is 3 reams, 12 qrs weekly.

There is nothing fresh since the publication of the “Journal”. The mail from the Governor arrived this morning bringing satisfactory intelligence from Col. Eyre. It is to be regretted the Governor did not take the steps he has now taken at the commencement of the War. He would have gained laurels both here and in England.

Paxton has finished the office –  and has done it well. I have paid him. It cost altogether, with lead &c, about £45. It does not rain in the ?shop.

You mention your being put to great inconvenience and expense thro Cock’s obstinacy. It is certainly very annoying, but there is the consolation, we have lots of work. I don’t think we have ever ^had^ more work. I have a great many forms for the Commissariat. The circulation of the Journal is increasing every week.

Shepperson and family are pretty well with the exception of two of the little ones having the whooping cough, but I believe only slightly.

I regret Irving has made the remarks respecting General Somerset, which you will find in the “Inquirer”. It is very injudicious, and especially as the General is now in command. I did not notice it until the paper was published.

I am sending two loads to Bloem fontein ?on Monday morning –  unreadable going for 15/- per unreadable.

Abigail asks to be remembered to you.

Yours very truly,
Rob White

Sunday morning
2 p.m.

I have broken this open to state that an express has ^just^ reached town from Col Percival. He had with him 1000 men, had attacked the Hottentots camp in the Fish River ?Bush – killed abt 20 – and captured 300 head of cattle a lot of horses &c. Amongst those killed was a chief of the name of Doda. They were bivouacked at the ?Buckfast Vley and were going to attack stock the following morning. Two messengers ^(kaffirs)^ from Water Kloof were waylaid and killed. The Graham’s Town Volunteers & substitutes are with them. Stubbs writes in that they have quite cleared the Camp in Fish River ?Bush. Some of the Hottentots called out to the Troops that they knew they were coming, that they had their papers, and knew exactly what was going on.

The post from King William’s Town has also come in, but brings little news.?Sewani had taken 25 head of the unreadable’s cattle, which he has concealed in his country. They had been sold and realized 50/- per head. I have not time to write more as the post is closing.

Paid
Hon’ble
Rob: Godlonton, Esq’re
Cape Town

Last updated: 29 December 2017


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