John William Akerman to Frederick Chesson, 2 August 1878
Archive location: Bodleian Libraries, MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 18 / C123 – 94
Author(s): John William Akerman
Recipient(s): Frederick Chesson
Sent from: Natal
Date: 2 August 1878
PMBurg Aug 2/78
My dear Sir,
Amidst a busy session I have but a few moments to spare for correspondence. I thought however it would both interest and amuse you to see what penalty a would-be reformer of native laws … has to pay in this colony. I enclose an extract copied from the ‘Natal Witness’ on which I will just explain. Dr Colenso received from you a letter containing a postscript requesting him to let me see it. This he did. His son also divulged the fact which come to the ears of young Shepstone and the Editor. I don’t think the Colensos have served me fairly in not stating in the press the whole truth and which I asked them to do, especially as it is reported that the publicity given by them to the disclosure of the postscript was intended to identify me with their views.
It has been my experience to be somewhat popular here and you will recollect how young Shepstone failed to head the poll against me. The Bishop, since his unfortunate attack on the colonists, is positively hated. To connect me with him and cause the public to believe it, it therefore the heaviest blow that can be struck at the confidence hitherto subsisting between my constituents and myself. There is not the least doubt in my own mind that young Shepstone, my colleague, is privily using the Editor of the Witness to drive me, who am almost the only man left of the little band which has opposed the Shepstonian policy, from public life. The article I enclose is a fair representation of the general views of Natalians respecting your society and so I suppose every man who is known to have a correspondent therein will be proscribed and banished if possible. I have always told you and now repeat, that so long as the Shepstonian power continues here, neither Secy of State nor any other man will be able to effect reforms in native abuses.
With regard to the Editor I must now explain. He is a newly imported one, Reginal Statham. For some months after his arrival we were very friendly but it was very misfortune to offend him, ever since which no paper can appear in any journal which she supposes to be mine, but a personal attack on me follows in the ‘Witness.’ Such is the case with the one alluded to about Carnarvon. It was anonymous and appeared in the Times of Natal. (During the whole session my presence in the Council has either been ignored, or I have been made the victim of the grossest personal attacks. This last is the severest cut of all. He has no authority whatever for asserting that I wrote any anonymous paper. Well the Shepstones are of course fully aware of the antipathy and as young Shepstone is continually seen in his company, I consider I am not wrong in the belief that Statham is being used to destroy me publicly. What the article means … the Bishopstowe interest I know not. But … is intended to imply that Mr’s Akerman, Colenso, Chesson, and the Aborigines Protection Society are leagued in an alliance (or conspiracy) to destroy Natal’s popular rights of which Mr Akerman had been thought to be the champion. The pamphlet he alludes to as one proof of the conspiracy happens to be the one that he himself favourably reviewed, but before we had our difference. The immediate occasion prompted the article was this. Relatives of Langalibalele (58 women and children) have been supported by Govt for some time until they could be located. For two years, the L. Council has voted the money without informing the governor that they would vote no more. A supplementary vote came down for money spent in 1877 (£200) and all at once and spasmodically the L.C. expunged the item. But believing it to be a breach of faith I supported the govt, explaining how the local executive were … from home and stating the delicate position of a Secy of State in native matters before a jealous English public, as told me by Earl Carnarvon. This was the reference to the Secy of State so distorted by the Witness.
I may add that during the present session native legislation has partially taken place, but retrogressively and in violation of the law in 1875. I must not however say anymore or I shall again be branded as a conspirator.
F.W. Chesson, Esq
[appended Natal Witness article]
The Witness this morning has an editorial on Mr. Akerman, in which it asks: ‘Why does he not plead for the difficulties of the Secretary of State when such a question as that of native marriages is under discussion, or when the question of Home Defence is to the fore? Why should this pleader on behalf of Colonial Ministers talk at other times of the ‘Rule of Downing-Street’, as though the name of that locality were a synonym for the infernal regions? And why, seeing that on the 19th of July he is so eager to defend his friend the ‘noble Earl’, did he, in the Times of Natal for the 1st of March last, publish, or cause to be published, a ‘communicated’ attack on the noble Earl, in which he charged him with the basest political treachery? These are questions which Mr. Akerman will no doubt be able to answer satisfactorily to himself. Another question which he will no doubt be able to answer satisfactorily to himself is this- Has he, or has he not, allowed himself, independently of the interests and wishes of his constituents, to become the faithful servant of the Aborigines’ Protection Society? We do not ask this question without reason. Not only is there the evidence of Mr Akerman’s own pamphlets and published letters to go by, but there is a report afloat, and we believe a report not without foundation, that through the medium of the Aborigines’ Protection Society, an alliance has been established between the senior member of the City and the Bishopstowe interest. It is rumored that, but the last mail from England, the Bishop of Natal received a letter from Mr. Chesson, the Secretary of the Aborigines’ Protection Society, containing certain important assurances with regard to the Zulu question; that this letter was shown first of all, before all other privileged persons, to Mr Akerman, and that it is now in his possession. Assuming this rumour to be correct – and we have good reason to believe that it is – the further question will be asked – Is the unexpected attitude of Mr Akerman with regard to the vote discussed on Friday last to be accounted for by his newly formed alliance with Bishopstowe? Of course, as a private person, Mr Akerman has a right to do whatever he pleases. But as a public person, and as the representative of a constituency which has always regarded him as a champion of popular rights in the Colony, his position, unless the report we have referred to can be explained or contradicted, is very seriously compromised. If it should be asked what possible notice could induce the senior member for the City to enter into an alliance with Bishopstowe, the answer is easy to be found.