John William Akerman to Frederick Chesson, 14 June 1876
Archive location: Bodleian Libraries, MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 18 / C123 – 71
Author(s): John William Akerman
Recipient(s): Frederick Chesson
Sent from: Natal
Date: 14 June 1876
June 14 1876
F.W. Chesson, Esq
My dear Sir,
I have to thank you for your attention to my communications and kind approval of my humble efforts. With regard to the native bill, I did not quite intend for my name to have appeared so conspicuously before Lord Carnarvon and am not sure that I have escaped persecution in consequence. A public man in this mixed class government is much in the position of a non-commissioned officer in the army. His position is never safe if he moves against the policy of fixed officials. As I may probably be in London in a short time I can better explain all this to you. Please be good enough to retain my letter on the native bill as not having kept a copy of it, I require to refresh my memory.
I address you now on another topic. You know Mr Shepstone was selected by Lord C to be the delegate for Natal at the conference. The council here not satisfied with the passed resolutions of Nov last asking for one or two delegates to accompany him ‘to aid with their advice and assistance.’ These resolutions were intended to mean that such additional delegates should have seats, but unfortunately they are not well expressed and being intended for the Cape conference only were suffered to pass quickly and unamended. These were transmitted to London to which the conference is now removed. Lord C replied that he would receive the two delegates and should the conference be sufficiently enlarged would give a seat to one. At a special session recently held at the special request of Mr Shepstone, the council decided to nominate two, otherwise one only would have been nominated and the following difficulties have occurred. The nomination gave me 13 votes and J Robinson 12. Barta 8. The council had promised in the reply to the speech that if they nominated more than one they would likewise say which of the two should have the first seat. To the surprise of everyone however and at the instigation of a nominee member who wanted Robinson to be …, they, in a sort of confusion and hurry, gave way to a resolution stating that they had named myself and Robinson but that they had not named the one, hoping that both might get seats! Hereupon the session was dissolved. Before proceeding further, I wish to show you what was the voting. This by suspension of our rule was taken by open ballot. Out of 20 who voted I received 13. of these 7 were …. Robinson’s 12 were all split votes. Had my 8 counted as … I should have stood at 20 and Robinson 12. Barta’s 8 were all split votes. Feeling dissatisfied with this finale I waited on the governor and asked as a favour that he would [justly?] state the fact of my seniority in votes, years and public life to Lord Carnarvon as of course seniority would claim the first seat. This he positively refused to do alleging that to do this was to make a nomination declined by the council, which Lord C would never do. On this subject I enclose you copies of my correspondence with Sir H. Bulwer. Also one letter which I wrote as a final reply but did not send. From it you will gather my views. I have also addressed a letter to Earl Carnarvon copy enclosed. Also I enclose an extract from the Natal Colonist showing what the public say about this. In addition to forwarding my letter to Lord C through Sir H Bulwer, I have posted a copy of it direct to his lordship to get it into his hands as early as possible. The manner in which I have been served by Shepstone in this matter I will tell you if I reach London. My position is now a most difficult one. Shepstone voted against me (3 officials …). Robinson though so many years my junior will not give way to seniority. The whole colony if polled would return me by three fourths and for this reason I undertook to accept nomination. I suffer greatly at sea, dread the voyage much and undertake the mission at great cost and inconvenience. And yet at the last moment the difficulty arises and I can assure you I would not move a yard if I am to be suspended at home and could know it. The obstruction raised by Sir HB may be constitutionally correct but I think my arguments overturn it. I am not addressing a gentleman who may think Sir Robinson to be more suitable than myself, yet I imagine he would respect the points of age and votes despite such an opinion. I am now of course in the hands of Lord Carnarvon. Should his lordship taking advantage of the unguarded works in the resolution ‘to aid and advise with Mr Shepstone’ leave the decision with him, my fate is sealed at once. If my friends in London like yourself and others, be of the opinion that it is necessary for those to have a say who are not supporters of the Shepstone policy, and that both sides should be heard they will exert their influence in what I contend for as the right direction, viz. of seniority, and that to summon me being senior is not to impose a choice on the Sec of state. I leave it in your hands. But my name must not if possible appear.
At present we do not know when the conference is to be held, though I am making preparations. I have relinquished all business and am retired yet have much of course to settle and prepare. To make my prospects of fair [play] worse Robinson leaves almost directly with his family in accordance with prior arrangements and being known to the press will leave no stone unturned to obtain priority. I cannot learn when Shepstone goes. Many thanks for the Colonial Intelligencer. I fear your Society takes a wrong view of the Putili case as I will explain when we meet.
It may be as well to destroy enclosed letters when read. This unfortunate sort of government, one chamber with … kinds of members in it will never work well.
[Enclosed Natal Colonists article]
The Legislative Council in Contempt of Authority
To the Editor of the Natal Colonist
The public will, I am sure thank you for your last leader on the subject of Delegates, containing as it does so well merited a censure on the behavior of Mr Miller. This gentleman was never remarkable for his deference to public opinion and, on the present occasion, has equally disregarded those rules which regulate all polite society when applied to any description of association or company. From his experience as a Bank Director, he knows full well that the senior by votes is accounted to be the senior, ipso facto, and very often is made the senior in this manner, purposely to give a longer duration of office. If the Council was asked by Earl Carnarvon to nominate one person out of two delegates, to sit at the Conference should both not have seats, and if the Council has, as I am informed is the case, promised to comply with such a request, then not only was Mr Miller’s resolution to avoid such a nomination, a cowardly perversion of all order and regularity on the keeping of which he so prides himself, but a direct insult to the Council. Undoubtedly Mr Hartley’s proposition that the senior member was entitled to the vote and position should have been accepted, and would have been accepted in any council freed from the presence of men of Mr Millar’s stamp.
What could have induced the Council to yield to Mr Millar on this instance? Rumor informs me that a tender regard for the feelings of the two delegates inspired the breast of this well known unselfish patriot. It was invidious, be declared, to name one before the other. Now fancy such a pretext to come from such a man as Mr John Millar! He hates doges, (so do I) because they are ungentlemanly! Having lost his man in the senior position, was it or was it not a dodge to frustrate the whole business of a special session, but pouring out whiningly such crocodile’s tears? Which, I desire to ask, was the more invidious, for the natural and usual order of things to following in proper sequence, at which no just man would cavil; or for Mr Millar to rise on his seat and single out for the representative of the Colony his neighbor, Mr Robinson, who is the youngest man almost in the Council, when so many older members olden in years, public life, and experience, sat around the table? But the Council yielded, and this the farce or dodge has succeeded.
And now if the Delegates should go, who is to nominate, for certainly one only have a seat at the conference? Will Earl Carnarvon assume this office? This is very doubtful, although no injustice would be done to any one were His Lordship to appoint the senior. If the Earl declines, will Mr Shepstone nominate? Nothing could be more unfair than this. The original resolutions speak of our Delegates as those to aid this gentleman with their advice and assistance. It is within the bounds of possibility therefore that he may be asked to choose one of the two which would, as mightily please the considerate Mr Millar as it would disgust the Natal public. Now it is well known that Mr Shepstone, who is the Imperially-chosen Delegate, did not retire from the room with the candidates named for the colonists, but remained in the Chamber during the election and voted. And his vote was against the member placed by the votes of the Council in the senior position. Is it not fair of them to infer that Mr Shepstone will endeavor to exclude Mr Akerman from the Conference?
I don’t know whether or not the public will remain content under circumstances like these, or complete the Council’s work. If I understand anything of the wishes of the public in both divisions of the Colony, they would rather see no Delegates sent than that the senior member should be superseded and disparaged. Indeed were a poll of the Electors to take place, there can be no doubt of the result by a large majority. It is not the duty of some one at least to acquaint Earl Carnarvon with the fact of the seniority by letter or petition, or ask the Governor to do it?
Another serious aspect of the subject demands a word. At much public inconvenience and expense a special session of the Council has been held for a special duty. This duty has not been discharged. By appointed two delegates in the manner done when one only can presumably sit, a total disregard of Earl Carnarvon’s wishes has been displayed; all decency outraged, and the Legislature of the Colony, so denounced for its cantankerousness, exhibited before the outside world as a collection of unworkable units. That the Council has unfortunately heeded the silly charlatanism of a Nominee Member, in committing this contempt of His Lordship’s injunction, will but increase outside surprise and reproach. It is said that Mr Millar contemplates the settlement of the precedence amongst the Delegates by themselves. Now I ask any one who knows Mr Millar to say, whether, if he were a senior Director in years, in length of service and votes, he would be likely to give way to a junior? Then why should Mr Akerman be asked to do this? He must not do so.