John William Akerman to Frederick Chesson, 27 May 1878

John William Akerman to Frederick Chesson, 27 May 1878

Archive location: Bodleian Libraries, MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 18 / C123 – 95

Author(s): John William Akerman

Recipient(s): Frederick Chesson

Sent from: Natal

Date: 27 May 1878

PMBurg Natal

27 May 1878


F.W. Chesson Esq


My dear Sir,


I cut out of the ‘Mercury’ a little slip which will I think amuse you. In it you will see that Sir J.S. and family are not at all [spared?]. Many thanks for the pamphlets you send me. The last to hand is the letter of Adams. Really I do hope the British parliament will second for McArthur’s efforts, though I fear the war feeling about Russia may interfere much with any other subject of magnitude. England is going to great expense just now in S Africa. She has placed here a great man (Sir B Frere) and it will be interesting to see what she will do with these native social customs so degrading to the race, though as ‘Histoire’ says so profitable to certain whites. I shall eagerly watch the issue of Mr McArthur’s action. Write me when you can.


A great struggle (privately) going on here just now. The Shepstones are raring mad almost at the reduction of Sir J’s powers to those of a mere administrator, and withdrawal of his power to settle the Zulu boundary quarrel. So they are reported to be trying to punish Sir H Bulwer (who at the directions of the High Commissioner recently appointed a commission of enquiry…) by disparaging him and circulating reports that if war now comes Natal will be the cause of it. Some go so far as to say that this family (like Samson of old) will not fall unless they pull down the house with them; and even assert something like instigations of the Zulus to proceed to war.


For my own part I believe this family from the eldest to the youngest to be capable of anything, therefore nothing would surprise me. Every day adds to my conviction that S.E. Africa will never materially improve its natives as long as this family retains its power. I have long asserted this and believe it more and more. The whole press of the colony, through the son’s influence in the shape perhaps of mortgage bonds (their clients and money), or old associations with executive control, seems to me suborned to misrepresent public affairs in favour of Sir J.S. I never witnessed a more complete demoralization of a press, and this is saying much after my experience as a contributor to the London press. So far as Cetwayo is concerned he does what he can to insult the emissaries of Sir J.S. Why is this? My belief is that Sir J.S. has broken faith somehow with him, as he does with any one after they cease to subserve his purpose, and hence this undeniable hostility. Of course it is impossible to demonstrate in such a case by the rules of evidence what has taken place orally between these two. 


Yet it Sir J.S. did, as Magema asserts, direct the assembling of the Zulu army to war against the J.V. Boers, and afterwards refused to give all the land Cetwayo asks, this would form a potent reason for hostility. The Natal Commissioners were received by the Zulus with every politeness. But H. Shepstone the Transvaal Secy for NA, they refused to greet even in presence of the Commissioners. Amongst thinking men here the belief gains ground that Magema’s statements has much of truth in it.


At last I have read Trollip’s book and find how appropriate was my caution to you not to give heed to it. To write such a book is simple impudence. Unfortunately it influences English minds. I was proposing to write a review upon it but have written so many papers for the English press without receiving the ordinary attentions of life that I hesitate to take the trouble. Its pleasing style renders its perversions the more dangerous.


Our oppressive summer is ended at last. Not much of local news to communicate.


With kind regards

Believe me

Yours very truly

J.W. Akerman