Paul Berthoud to Frederick Chesson, 28 January 1881

Paul Berthoud to Frederick Chesson, 28 January 1881

Archive location: Bodleian Libraries, MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 18 / C125 – 185

Author(s): Paul Berthoud

Recipient(s): Frederick Chesson

Sent from: France

Date: 28 January 1881

Rev P. Berthoud

Asile Evangelique

Cannes, 28th Jan 1881


F.W. Chesson, Esq

Aborigines Protection Society

17, King William Street, Charing Cross

London, W.C.


Dear Sir,


I am in receipt of your letter dated 25 C5, and of the pamphlet you kindly sent me and which I perused with great interest.


It is with much pleasure that I will give you all the information you desire, so far as I possibly can do it


Your first query is about the legislation now enforced in the Transvaal with regard to the natives. I am sorry to say, there is scarcely any legislation of that kind. Although there is a continual complaint of the scarcity of labour, the natives are not compelled to work. They may be, however, in some instances, viz. when they live upon a white man’s private land, in which case their work is understood to liberate them of paying rent.


There is a sort of pass system or rather of pass law, according to which a native cannot go out (for work or otherwise) to the neighbouring states without paying first a pass tax of five shillings. But that is all. This tax was raised with a view to get some more labour within the Transvaal territory.


Since the annexation, the government have had no time to reconsider the laws about the natives, so that the matter has not been altered. In some districts, the natives have no special organization, and look only to the magistrate. Whilst where the tribal system is still in vigour, the native captains have full power over their subjects, except in cases of death and life.


As to the connextion between the Boers and the native tribes, I can say the rule is in the hands of the stronger. Since the natives have provided themselves with firearms, the Boers have become afraid of them, and therefore they try to keep in friendly terms with the captains. But they do not always succeed, and I know of many instances where land and stock owners suffered greatly through the depredations of their black neighbours, especially in districts where the white population is scanty and the black numerous.


For the sake of the whole country and of the whole population, whether Boer, British, native, or otherwise, I sincerely hope the Boers will not recover what they term their ‘independence,’ and what I should style their anarchy. However, you made the supposition, and I will answer your question.


As you said, the Boers would still be in contact with the Zulus, the Swazies, the Bapedi (pron. Bapadee, Sekukuni’s tribe) and many other Bechuana tribes, and also the Matebele, the Amatonga or Magwamba, etc.


Their policy? I am sure they would be at a loss to say it themselves. They cannot rule the natives; this has been clearly proved in the late collisions. [Astuce?] could be their only resource, and self-benefiting will ever be their only aim, as it has always been. In general, the Boers do not care about civilizing and educating the natives: were it not for the British government’s influence and constant watching, the Boers would soon try again to enslave the black people. Even now, under the British rule, a boer jury will condemn to death a native which committed some crime, whilst it will liberate or sentence to a very small penalty any white person who may have willfully and in a cruel manner murdered a black.


The stepping in of the British government led us, missionaries, to entertain great hopes about the rising of the black races in the Transvaal. However, nothing has been done yet, because the hands of the authorities have been too full till now with more pressing business. I cannot help but deeply regretting those delays, as the evil habits have a full opportunity to spread and to get rooted in among the natives. This it is that the sale of liquors, which was unknown among them six years ago, I mean among the northern tribes, is now effected on a large scale. In September 1878, I myself called on the Colonial Secretary and informed him of the beginning of that demoralizing trade. He fully agreed that there ought to be a law to prevent the selling of liquors to the natives, but he had no time to take up the matter actively. Among the brandy sellers, some are boers, most are english, a few are kaffirs, and all can easily get the regular license from the government. The harm which has been done in that way in a few years, is vast and distressing.


But I must close this letter, and wishing it may be of some good use to you, I remain,

Dear Sir, yours faithfully

P. Berthoud