My dear Shepstone, 11 January 1857

My dear Shepstone, 11 January 1857

Please reference as: Liz Stanley (2020) ‘My dear Shepstone, 11 January 1857’ www.whiteswritingwhiteness.ed.ac.uk/Traces/Shepstone-Jan-1857/ and provide the paragraph number as appropriate when quoting.

1. Walmsley to Shepstone

Nonoti, 11 Jan [1857]

My dear Shepstone,

I see the Mercury cannot be quiet either against the Bishop, yourself or me. That thing signed by Shadwell and others is false. Out of the 12 signing it not more than three were licensed traders. Rathbone was a subject of Panda and a runaway from justice in this Colony. They state that they received the license etc without any qualification whatever, this is false, as, in the Magistrate’s office Durban their passes were signed subject to the Ordinance 7, 1856. They not only received a warning from me as John Dunn can testify, for he warned them also, but Galloway really bolted from the Zulu Country two or three weeks before the fight, and told me he had seen the armies. If I had not warned them why did they not state at the opening of the Commission when I distinctly told them “I deny the word claim as you had repeated warnings from me that you went in at your own risk and peril.”  John Dunn was not considered in the light of a Government Servant by either “Cetchwayo’s people or “Umbulazi’s”, for he told them long before he was not in Government Service. Moreover, Cetchwayo did not know John Dunn was there until a month after, but believed it to be Rathbone. Andries Gouws who has made a claim as a Licensed trader when he was not fired on the Zulus and then ran away. There was only one shot fired by an escaped convict from Maritzberg at anyone in the river. So much for the lies of the traders which I presume they will have to repeat to their Father “the Father of Lies”. John Dunn being there at all was mostly through the letter of Schreuder asking for the government to interfere and Umbulazi’s statement that he wished for peace. If it could have been effected John Dunn would have been rich in cattle now and very likely Dunn would have gone if I had said no for I could not stop him, he having a pass for trading and hunting. I was anxious about him and lent him the muskets and my own guns without which he would never have returned, and you might have seen after I knew the battle was over and some wise men were trying to persuade Mr Walmsley to run my sole anxiety was for John Dunn and the wise men irritated me till I could have cried they not understanding a word about it.

I tell you this in order that you may be quite able to reply to the Durban scamps in case they attack. The traders great friend who keeps their accommodation house Mr Schreuder is I think insane.

Very sincerely yours,

J. Walmsley

(Fynn Collection, Volume 4, 9784-5; Killie Campbell, Durban)

2. The letter, the people, the events

2.1 Why should a letter which does not involve Fynn as either writer or addressee be in the Fynn Collection? The contents of this collection of letters reflect Fynn as an organisational man, in particular when he worked for the Natal government in a number of roles; and they map the figurational connections involved over a lengthy period of time. Sometimes numbers of documents are attached to official letters sent to Fynn. This is an example. For reasons explained in the WWW overview of the Fynn Collection, a typescript has been used for this Trace rather than the original letter.

2.2 Capt Joshua Walmsley (1819-1892). The eldest son of Sir Joshua Walmsley, MP for Liverpool in Britain, Walmsley was an ex-army captain. For many years he worked as a government agent based at various points on the border between Natal and Zululand, with the task of monitoring the traffic of people and goods and collecting payments that might be due. Shepstone was in a higher-ranking position than Walmsley.

2.3 Nonoti – This is a river estuary, a tributary of the Tugela, and close to what is now Stanger. In 1856/7, Walmsley was present there either because it had a border post or because he had arrived in the aftermath of the battle discussed below.

2.4 Theophilus Shepstone – In 1848 Shepstone (1817-1893) became ‘captain-general of native levies’; in 1855 a judicial assessor in ‘native causes’; and, in 1856, when responsible government in Natal was granted, he became secretary for ‘native affairs’ and a member of its executive and legislative councils. He reported to the colonial governor, at this time Lieutenant-General John Scott.

2.5 Mercury – A long-standing Durban newspaper, now publishing as the Mercury. Walmsley is stating that a group of twelve men, not all of whom in his view were actually traders, had appeared in the paper complaining that the actions of the government agents on the spot (that is, Walmsley and John Dunn) had led to their cattle and trading goods being seized by Cetshwayo. In fact, the formal complaint was laid by a group of 21, commented on later, so the newspaper comment is separate from this.

2.6 The Bishop – The Bishop referred to is John Colenso (1814-1893), a liberal with a reputation for theological and other radicalism. At the time that Walmsley’s letter was written Colenso was a close associate of Shepstone.

2.7 ‘That thing signed by Shadwell and others’ – This is explained in the discussion below.

2.8 Richard William Shadwell (1828-1861) – A Zulu trader, Shadwell was one of the around 21 trader-hunters, with Rathbone, Galloway, Gouws and others, who made a formal complaint that the actions of Walmsley and Dunn had led to their cattle and other trading goods being seized by Cetshwayo. From the phrasing in this letter, it appears Shadwell’s was the lead name that appeared in the Mercury newspaper report.

2.9 Licensed traders – Licenses were introduced in Natal probably through Ordinance 3 of 1850. In addition to producing revenue for the colonial state, the terms of granting trading licences sought to shape or constrain the activities of the traders, whose activities potentially and on many occasions actually produced disturbances in the order of things in Zulu society. The main revenue-producers for Natal at this time were ivory and hides, both closely tied into the activities of the trader-hunters.

2.10 Ephraim Rathbone – A Cetshwayo-supporting Zulu trader, he was wrongly seen by Cetshwayo as having switched allegiance to his brother Mbuyasi. He was rescued by Dunn. Although Cetshwayo later realised his mistake, Rathbone refused to return.

2.11 Panda, now known as Mpande – The Zulu King (1798-1872). He succeeded his half brothers Shaka and Dingane, becoming king in 1840 until his death. He was the longest reigning Zulu monarch. From the earlier widespread expectation that Cetshwayo would be his heir, he later favoured Mbuyasi, which sparked off the events this letter is concerned with.

2.12 Ordinance 7, 1856 – The terms of this ordinance are specified as ‘Forbidding traders taking cattle into Umpanda’s country’. The traders largely flouted this, along with also buying Zulu cattle and hides and taking them out, which in itself produced problems for managing the relationship between Natal and Zululand.

2.13 John Dunn (1834-1895) – Dunn was orphaned in his early teens and was ‘rescued’ by Walmsley from having ‘gone native’. He became Walmsley‘s assistant in his government agent work on the Tugela. In spite of his protestations in this letter that Dunn was not in government service, it seems that tacitly Walmsley had sent Dunn to try and head off the eruption of warfare between Mpande’s sons. All-round, Dunn was seen to have interfered in these matters by the different parties concerned. However, braving the possible wrath of Cetshwayo, he later returned to Zululand to successfully negotiate the return of the traders’ cattle. Through this, he subsequently became the secretary and advisor of Cetshwayo in the latter’s dealings with both the British and the Natal settler state.

2.14 Thomas William Galloway – One of the trader-hunters in Zululand. He seems to have earlier seen the contending Zulu forces gathering and removed himself, unlike the others.

2.15 Cetchwayo – now known as Cetshwayo (c1826-1884); and Umbulazi – now known as Mbuyasi (?-1856). They were the two senior sons of Mpande and were the main contenders to be his heir. Mbuyasi was killed in the battle that Walmsley‘s letter mentions and thousands of his followers were massacred. From this point until his father’s death in 1872, Cetshwayo was de facto ruler of Zululand. In 1879, the so-called Anglo-Zulu War was fought, on the Zulu part as an attempt to resist European controls when, following other demands, Governor Frere insisted that the Zulu army be disbanded. After initial successes, Zulu forces were defeated and Cetshwayo was exiled until 1883. He died probably of a heart attack soon after he returned to Zululand from exile.

2.16 Andries Gouws – A Boer/Afrikaner name; he was probably one of the trader-hunters involved in the complaint against Walmsley and Dunn, although nothing further can be traced about him.

2.17 Hans Paludan Smith Schroeder – (1817-1882) A Norwegian who was a missionary first in the Tugela area, locating himself there on the advice of Robert Moffat, and then in 1844 in Zululand. He acted as a go-between between Mpande and British and Natal officials. Later his relationship with Cetshwayo was more fraught, as basically Cetshwayo wanted the whites gone from Zululand. Walmsley in this letter sees Schroeder as ‘insane’ probably because acting in a multiple capacity in supporting the traders, being the confidant of Mpande, and also in a letter having requested British ‘interference’.

2.18 ‘The battle’ – The battle of Ndondakusuka took place on 2 December 1856, with Mbuyasi and his forces routed and many non-combatants also massacred.

2.19 ‘Some wise men’ – The reference here has not been traced.

2.20 ‘Durban scamps’ – The reference here has not been traced but may be connected to the Mercury newspaper.

2.21 Mr Walmsley – This is Joshua Walmsley himself. Although his younger brother Hugh did visit South Africa, he was a serving army officer in India at the time.

3. The context

3.1 Dunn had been in effect adopted by, and acted as assistant to, Walmsley. In 1856 and with Walmsley’s tacit agreement, he went to mediate between the Cetshwayo and Mbuyasi factions contending who should succeed Umpande, in part because of the danger of fighting going over the frontier into Natal. This failed and he and the men with him were caught up in the battle of Ndondakusuka on 2 December 1856. Cetshwayo won in what became a rout and a massacre, and also captured over a thousand cattle belonging to the Natal/Zulu traders who had congregated around the two factions. With the authorisation of the Governor, Lieutenant-General John Scott, Theophilus Shepstone as ‘Diplomatic Agent to the Natives’ arrived to investigate because of concerns that Cetshwayo might interpret Dunn’s actions as British intervention on behalf of Mbuyasi’s Gqoza followers, provoking a possible Cetshwayo/Usuthu followers invasion of Natal.

3.2 Dunn’s involvement in the Ndondakusuka battle also led to 21 or so white traders claiming that the actions of Walmsley and Dunn, as government agents, had led Cetshwayo to seize their cattle and trading goods. On 4 December, two days after Ndondakusuka, Shepstone wrote to Governor that “a large quantity of traders property has been taken by Cetshwayo’s army; and I hear they intend to press their claims upon your attention”. The traders were using Dunn’s presence at Ndondakusuka as a pretext to obtain financial compensation from the Natal government. Twenty-one of the traders took legal advice and submitted claims to the Secretary of Native Affairs for 1670 cattle valued at circa £3680.

3.3 Intertwined with these events, the white settler community in Natal cast anxious eyes towards Zululand and its independent might, while the British Imperial presence both saw its centralised political and military structures as a guarantor of stability, and viewed its large degree of independence from British influence as problematic. In this latter regard, Cetshwayo was to a large extent pro-British and was at the time of this letter and up to the 1870s a favoured source of stability in Zululand.

4. The text

4.1 The contents of Walmsley’s letter are very busy. The focus is very much on the doings and consequences of the behaviour of errant whites, in particular the traders who are implied to be a source of the warfare that erupted, and stated to be a source of illegitimately making claims on the colonial state by impugning the activities of Walmsley himself and his assistant Dunn.

4.2 The letter is notable in treating Mpande, Cetshwayo and Mbuyasi as players in an even-handed and non-judgemental way. Opprobrium in description and comment is reserved for the Mercury, traders, Durban scamps, the ‘wise men’, and Schroeder. This raises the interesting question of whether and in what ways Walmsley’s letter might be seen as ‘raced’.

4.3 Certainly matters of race and its connections with imperialism and colonialism stand in the background, of events in an indigenous independent and powerful state interfacing with the concerns and interference of the colonial and settler presence. And certainly the activities of the traders and others come under the heading of interfering whites in a black polity. But at the same time Mpande, Cetshwayo and Mbuyasi are not described in racial terms and nor are they mentioned in a subservient position in a hierarchy of any kind. They are ‘there’ as factors to be contended with, and it is the disapproved of activities of the trader-hunters which are seen to be problematic in a number of ways. This is for specific reasons which are commented on, but largely because their activities are so potentially significant for the position and authority of Walmsley himself and also Dunn as his protege.

4.4 Insofar as there is subtext, this concerns the role of John Dunn and relatedly whether he was or was not in government service. Walmsley writes that Dunn was not and no one thought he was, and that he would have gone into Zululand even if he had been forbidden. But then phrasing later in the letter implies that Dunn was in government service – “John Dunn being there at all was mostly through the letter of Schreuder asking for the government to interfere and Umbulazi’s statement that he wished for peace” (added emphasis). This is the only mention of Schreuder’s letter, and alas no more information about it can be traced.

5. The reverberations

5.1 The events in Walmsley’s letter on one level concern a domestic matter of succession in the Zulu royal house and an obscure battle between warring contenders, and the financially, politically and morally questionable behaviour of the traders, an economic group soon to be redundant because of changes in the Zulu and Natal economies. However, these events ensured Cetshwayo’s succession and through this marked the relationship between Zululand and the European presence, and so had important long-term reverberations.

5.2 The British-provoked Anglo-Zulu War that started in 1879 was embarked upon because the independence of Zululand had become politically and economically unacceptable because of wanting to lever African people from independent circumstances and convert them into dispensable paid labour. Earlier in Natal, the presence of permanent resident black labour force was seen as undesirable and the preference was for Indian and Chinese migrant labour on short-term contracts which gave people no rights to residency. The perception of labour shortages when the structure of the Natal economy changed led this to be abandoned, although the presence of the independent Zulu kingdom provided a strong disincentive to people entering a white-controlled labour market, with people strictly speaking not Zulu claiming this as an identity.

5.3 Following the war, the British government in London refused permission for Natal to formally annex Zululand. Instead, the country was carved-up into chiefdoms which cut through clan lineages and other social markers and did not owe allegiance to the former king. In 1884 when Cetshwayo died, Dinuzulu inherited a very different Zululand from the one his father had presided over.

6. Some useful references

Charles Ballard. 1981. The role of trade and hunter-traders in the political economy of Natal and Zululand, 1824-1880. African Economic History, No. 10, pp.3-21.

Charles Ballard. 1982. “Natal 1824–1844: the frontier interregnum.” Journal of Natal and Zulu History 5, no. 1: pp.49-64.

Colin Bundy. 1988, 2008 2nd edition. The Rise and Fall of the South African Peasantry. London: James Currey. See especially Chapter 6 on Natal.

Charles Cadiz with Robert Lyon. 1879. Natal Ordinances, Laws, and Proclamations, Volume I 1843-1870. Pietermaritzburg: Vause, Slatter & Co, Government Printers.

Jeff Guy. 1994. The Destruction of the Zulu Kingdom. Pietermartizburg: University of Natal Press.

Jeff Guy. 2013. Theophilus Shepstone and the Forging of Natal. Pietermartizburg: University of Kwa-Zulu Natal Ppress

Swanson, M.W. 1976. “The Durban System”: roots of urban apartheid in colonial Natal. African Studies, 35(3-4), pp.159-176.

Last updated: 22 February 2020


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