John William Akerman to Frederick Chesson, 6 December 1877

John William Akerman to Frederick Chesson, 6 December 1877

Archive location: Bodleian Libraries, MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 18 / C123 – 90

Author(s): John William Akerman

Recipient(s): Frederick Chesson

Sent from: Natal

Date: 6 December 1877

PMBurg Natal

December 6 1877


F.W. Chesson, Esq

Secy Aborigines Protection Society



My dear Sir,


In your letter recently received you allude to the effort Sir McArthur MP is about to make in the House of Commons to bring to public notice the disreputable manner of government of the natives in this colony pursued during so many years by HM Officer here in charge of the same viz. Mr (now Sir J) Shepstone in his capacity of Secy for native affairs. The little pamphlet I left in your hands for publication has I trust to some extent supplied the material for action in a matter so affecting the honor of Great Britain which professed to take charge of the colony of Natal for the benefit of its natives. And hereon I would just say in passing that one of the offences imputed to the Boers inhabiting the Transvaal by Sir J Shepstone when he assumed the rule over them was, that ‘they had failed to exhibit the influences of Christianity and civilization to their native subjects and therefore had forfeited their claim to independence.’


In addition to facts relating to native law already in your hands you now solicit from me any further information within my knowledge, I rejoice to say that most apropos to this request I am enabled to enclose you two judicially authentic cases, both of which confirm my previous publications and assertions that ‘woman’ under native administration here is regarded as a thing of value, and whether the kaffir word for her sale or barter be ‘lobola’ (marriage gift) or ‘lenga’ (purchase) she is in reality bought and sold and her price acknowledged in the courts of law under a British regime.


Case No 1


This is contained in the extracts (enclosed) cut out of the ‘Natal Mercury.’ There is first the appeal from the new native high court (Ayliff is judge) to the combined court of appeal, both of which courts were constituted under the new native law of 1875; and in so far as the latter now gives publicity from time to time of that system which, by reticence or concealment, if not by dissemination, Sir J Shepstone has so long supported in the Colony. Such law of 1875 has done some good. We need not traverse the demands of the native litigants in this case. We have to deal with what it discloses of the native law, designated adroitly ‘customs and usages.’ And on this the leader of the Natal Mercury, which is also enclosed animadverts reasonably and forcibly. You will see that I am fully confirmed by this case in writing of ‘mortages or liens’ on native women and declaring how the time of our magistrates is taken up with the hearing of such cases. If you will kindly take the trouble to read first the appeal to the combined court where you see Judge Cadis with his English mind first comes in contact with these questions. And afterwards the leader of the ‘Natal Mercury’ you will have obtained quite sufficient data for the purpose. Cattle are claimed and the high court presided over by Mr Ayliff had decreed these as payable after a 24 years sale of women. I can assure you that this is but one of scores of cases. As the ‘Mercury’ well puts it these cases in the past never came before the public. Yet the British government was not in ignorance of the matter, though indifferent to it. For fifteen years I have been both through the legislative council and communications addressed to men in power, we wll as in the press, been calling attention to these things. But my efforts were vain and indeed discarded. Even when in London recently as a delegate I requested from the colonial minister a special interview on native affairs, but though assured that His Lordship would be very happy to listen to them the interview was always ‘unable to be held.’ The fact was, that to listen to me was to condemn Sir J Shepstone and everything must be sacrificed to avoid the condemnation. Men of though and character in South Africa regard it as one of the great reproaches of modern colonial rule that the officer, to whose maladministration in the past so much evil is justly attributed, has been selected for decoration and distinction by Her Majesty’s advisers, while those who have opposed such maladministration to the utmost, confining by their efforts it evils to a minimum, not only have been treated with indifference by the same high authorities, but not even thanked for their patriotic exertions and sacrifices for the promotion of what was right and the protection of British honor.


Case No 2


The enclosures in this case consist of a petition to the supreme court of Charles Dingeswayo, a native, to be permitted to surrender his estate. This is the colonial form of procedure. Remember likewise that though under native law in civil causes between himself and other natives, in this question of debt he comes under colonial law because a part of it is due to Taylor [Ho?] who are white men, and whose law therefore governs this particular case. Well has Justice [Connor?] as you will perceive permitted a surrender. To the petition is attached a table of assets and liabilities, confirmed by the solemn oath of the kaffir before Mr Finnimore Magistrate. It is to this table I call your special attention. The only asset be shows is fifty pounds as the value of his child when old enough to marry and to this he swears. This document is a certified document by the acting [master?] of the supreme court, Mr G.A. Read, whose signature you will observe and from whom I have obtained it on payment of office fees. Now what can more abundantly prove my assertion about the sale of women than this, where the native himself is the interpreter of the ‘custom or usage’? He does not even refer to cattle as a prospect but reduces her marriage price to cash. And this document is moreover now one of the records of our supreme court of the colony of Natal.


I don’t know that I can add just now any more arguments to those so frequently presented to you. I wish all success to Mr McArthur and his supporters herein. And I feel bound to say, in conclusion, that HM Government cannot expect any other than a repetition of this native policy in the Transvaal, a policy which has blighted cursed and defaced poor but otherwise lovely Natal, if the functionary who has so initiated and conceived it here is to be entrusted with governing power there. If I mistake not history will inscribe a page or two about S. Africa respecting its natives and Sir J Shepstone differing very widely from the persistent and studied adulation of him of the passing hour.


Faithfully yours

J.W. Akerman


To the honourable the chief justice and judges of the supreme court of the colony of Natal.


The petition of Charlie Dingeswaya, a native, now a prisoner in the goal of Pietermaritzburg under civil process.


Humbly sheweth


That your petitions is a trader and that by losses in cattle and through other misfortunes without any fraud or dishonesty on his part he hath become and is insolvent.


Wherefore he is desirous of surrendering his estate for the benefit of his creditors and he humbly prays that such surrender may be accepted and that his estate may be placed under sequestration in the hands of the master of the supreme court, and you petitioner maketh oath and saith that the annexed schedule is a true and correct statement of this assets and liabilities to the best of his knowledge and belief.


(signed) Charlie Dingeswayo

His x mark


Declared before me after interpretation at Pietermaritzburg this 21st day of September 1877.


Signed … Fennimore



Let this surrender be accepted and the estate placed under sequestration in the hands of the master.


Signed … Connor

4th Oct 1877


Schedule of assets and liabilities in the insolvent estate of Charlie Dingeswayo




Taylor and Co Debt judgement: £28.19.9

Amount of costs not known. Ukayitshana (a while man whose name I don’t know) 14.0.0





Cattle which may hereafter be derived from my infant daughter. Deficiency estimated about £50.0.0


I solemnly swear that the above schedule is correct and true to the best of my knowledge and belief.


Charlie Dingeswayo

Alias Ndoko x mark


Before me at Pietermaritzburg this 21st day of September 1877

Signed … Finnemore



A true copy


Note by JW Akerman

The insertion of the word deficiency in the margin is an evident error…