John Tengo Jabavu to Frederick Chesson, 24 October 1882

John Tengo Jabavu to Frederick Chesson, 24 October 1882

Archive location: Bodleian Libraries, MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 18 / C139 – 4

Author(s): John Tengo Jabavu

Recipient(s): Frederick Chesson

Sent from: Cape Colony

Date: 24 October 1882

Lovedale, Alice
24 Oct 1882

My dear Mr Chesson,

Pressure of time and work are the excuses I have to bring forward for the silence that has prevailed since the beginning of the year, and am afraid this state of things will last for come time to come. I am, while carrying on my work here, preparing for the Cape University Matriculation Examination, which is to take place in June next. It was this work and the heavy preparation then that has come between me and my correspondence with you on the affairs for which the APS exists to protect. No doubt, when exam is over, I may be more regular than at present. Let us hope I go up backed up by your moral support. The Cape University exams are much stiffer than the tests that pass under that name in England – at least so say all University men from that country, and the state of things has occasioned many an acrimonious controversy between the public and the body which manages University matters.

I believe, as I know nobody else who would do it, it falls to my lot to break upon you the sad news of the demise of Captian Stretch, our mutual friend, and never tiring champion of the interests of the weak, ignorant and oppressed. Mr Stretch died at Somerset East, on the 12th current, at the ripe old age of 85. And though an octogenarian, and above the allowed three score and ten, the vigour – mental and physical – that was to be seen in him could not have warranted his friends to believe that he was so near his grave, despite the fact that he often said to me that he was on the brink of his grave. These considerations then take away the usual consolation people generally fall back upon on the removal from these scenes of an old man of more than eighty. To me the late Mr Stretch was a bosom friend. It is he who stirred up in me the parhaps dormant talent of taking an intelligent – to my lights – interest in matters affecting my fellow aborigines in this part of the globe. He it was who set my steps in the way of making use of that wonderful machinery for alleviating abuse, oppression, inhumanity, corruption in Colonial Governments – a machinery by the use of which the worthy and venerable Bishop of Natal and other philanthropists, seemingly called in this colony, negrophilists, have been able to achieve what would otherwise be impossibilities. I mean, sir the Aborigines Protection Society. Probably in the Cape I am the only black correspondent of the Society and had it not been for Mr Stretch nobody would have been the only native correspondent. Our beloved friend will be remembered as a “thorough going” lover of the black people of South Africa, and, as every lover of his species must be, was interested in the good work of the APS in other colonies. Loaded as he was with the information of old age, he never put down his pen, nor allowed his tongue to rest in the self imposed, yet thankless task of championing the natives. He has now gone to him whose precepts and example he was striving to observe through good and evil report. My copy of the Aborigines Friend reached me three days ago, and I was very much struck with the entirety of the crowned heads of the Society. The names of Samuel Gurney, Colen Mackenzie are very familiar to me in connection with the cause of humanity. To these we have to add that of Charles Lennox Stretch, who could be equalled but not surpassed in his sincerity in the glorious cause of upholding the weak and oppressed.

Another event that I regard as very calamitous is the resignation of General Gordon from the command of the Colonial Forces, consequent upon what most people take to be a lamentable blunder committed by Mr …’s ministry. I need hardly say, I have been a most ardent supporter of that ministry. I supported them because they had, in their past advocacy of the true interests of the country, exhibited a foresight and common-sense that is painfully wanting in the party of gentlemen who are ranged against them. But how they managed to be at cross purposes with Gordan Pasha, a … soldier actuated in everything by the most benevolent motives, passes the comprehension of everybody – friend or foe of the … cabinet – but the Cape Argus, which, while very rabid in its … on the Pasha, would have itself recognized as performing the laudable work of throwing oil on the troubled waters, by asking the colonists to suspend their judgement till the publication of the papers pertinent on the controversy. Judging from columns and columns of solid matter on General Gordon, one might rightly say we are suffering from a Gordon mania. And no wonder, when it is remembered that the General came out here in the knowledge and with the concurrence of the Imperial government to solve for us the native question which has perplexed many a statesman and inevitably injured many a reputation. It is believed, and I also believe, that General Gordon, as in the other parts of the world, would merely have touched the cinderella with his magic cane, and down would the native question have come. This belief is to a very great extent borne out by the proposals he had already made to the government, which, be it said to their everlasting shame were treated with incurious contempt.

I herewith send you a cutting from a colonial journal, which has an article generally accepted to be the general’s side of the question. With his usual straight-forwardness that Pasha took the country into his confidence, and it is not likely any statement published by the government on its side of the question will materially affect his. We natives regard the general’s severance of his connection with the colony as a baleful misfortune, and we think most persons who know general Gordon’s antecedents will sympathize with this view.

Another matter that has engaged the attention of the colony is a little squable between the farmers of Carthcart (Kaffraria) and the government about a plot of ground that the government has decided upon locating some poor natives on, and the farmers dessented arguing that the natives were thieves, resolved, in their meeting, to resist the government if necessary by the bayonet. The government took up the gauntlet, and said they would maintain the natives there till something more definite against these people was brought forward. On the day the farmers had intended to clear natives with rifles, government very properly sent a force to protect them; on seeing whom the farmers beat a pricipitate retreat and we hear no more about the matter now.

Excuse the lengthy letter.

With very sincere wishes for your welfare, believe me, my dear Mr Chesson, yours very faithfully.

J. Tengo Jabavu


By this post I send you a copy of the Xian Express containing a report of a Boer congress held at Cradock. I do not hesitate to say that on reading it you will be struck with the enormousness of the storm that is yet in store for the aborigines here, from the confessedly strengthening Dutch party. The Society shall needs keep a sharp eye on the Boers of this colony, I fear. J.T.J.