Harold Stephens to Frederick Chesson, 6 February 1882, C148/68

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Stephens, Harold








South African Republic

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MSS. Brit. Emp. S. 18 / C148-68


Transvaal S. Africa
Feby 6th 1882

To F Chesson Esq
Secretary of the Aborigines Protection Society


I wish to direct the attention of your powerful Society to what is going on in the South West border of the Transvaal.

During the late war you may perhaps be aware that the natives almost in every case were in favour of the English government as against the Boers, and that that government had numerous and continual offers of their assistance which however they in every case declined.

The Boers on the contrary never received any like offers from the natives tho they made several overtures to the natives in certain districts to join them. Many of the native chiefs however altho they obeyed the orders of the government and did not interfere, nevertheless afforded an … and protection to the persons and property of loyalists, both English and Boers, who fled to them for protection thereby earning the hatred and hostility of the boers.

Notably among these was a native chief named Montsioa whose country lies on the S.W. of the Transvaal who have substantial protection to loyalists and whom the Boers swore to destroy as soon as they had the opportunity. When peace was being signed the Boers commandeered a body of men and attacked him being aided by a native chief named Moschete, whose assistance they obtained. This being brought to the notice of Sir Evelyn Wood he sent down commissioners who put an end to the affair for a time. Baffled in this their endeavour to be avenged the Boers have, in conjunction with Moschete, been secretly waging war on Montsioa to such an extent that that chief has had to call in the assistance of another loyal chief Mankoroane while the Boers and Moschete have called to their side a Koranna chief David Masson. And the war is now being waged with redoubled fury and ferocity.

It is difficult to give you precise information, being without telegraphic communication and generally isolated as we are, and have been, since the departure of the British government. More especially as the news that we obtain here is generally from Boer sources. But there can be no doubt that the Boers have determined to destroy Montsioa and Mankoroane and their tribes, and as they are prevented from doing it openly they do it by secretly sending in volunteers to help Moschete and Masson who they pretend are the real parties who are carrying on the war. Commandant Joubert who you may possibly remember took a … part in the late war against the English has been down to the border several times with the avowed object of stopping the Boers joining in the war but according to his own account the Boers refuse to listen to him, saying they are free to fight as volunteers. Joubert however I believe to be secretly pleased at the affair and would be heartily glad to see Montsioa destroyed. In any case however the fact remains, that whether Joubert is unwilling or unable to stop the Boers joining against him and that under the guise of volunteers they are secretly doing their best to carry out their threat of destroying him and his tribe.

Some whites, or English, from the diamond fields have joined Mankoroane and Montsioa but I am led to believe very few, in consequence of the English or colonial government having stationed police on the border, who are doing their best to prevent whites from joining in the struggle.

Mr Hudson, the British Resident, has sent down more than once to find out particulars and I have no doubt will furnish the British government with his report. But with regard to Mr Hudson I have this much to say. That he holds his position here in a great measure thro the choice of the Boers (being chosen out of a number of names sent in to them). That he is by nature an easy going gentleman who would give a good deal for a quiet life and endeavours on all occasions to avoid unpleasantness. And besides this were he to represent matters unfavourably as against the Boers he would, unsupported and isolated as he is, place himself in a very difficult, if not dangerous, position. And from recent experience of loyalists out here he would have little to gain by so doing. I think therefore under the circumstances that it would not be wise to trust altogether to his report or to consider it as an impartial one.

The latest news here is that Montsioa and Mankoroane have been driven into their strongholds having sustained heavy losses and that Boer volunteers are still flocking in against them. It is also still stated that Joubert is proposing to send men down to protect the border. This latter however I have no faith in, believing that Joubert if he does send the men down will only do so for appearance’s sake, but that there will be no endeavour really made to prevent the Boer volunteers and ammunition from being sent in as freely as ever while the men sent by Joubert will act as a blind to the British government. Horrible tales of cruelty by these Boer volunteers to native women and children have reached me but whether true or false I am unable to say except that judging from past native wars I feel entirely entitled to say are quite possible. Not long ago indeed, that is to say since the peace, a young kaffir lad was killed by a Boer for some tryffling offence, it was reported that the Boer accomplished his object by taking the kaffir’s head between his knees and twisting it round, for which he was found guilty of a common assault and received, I think, one month’s imprisonment.

To revert to the war against Montsioa and Mankoroane you will see that these chiefs and their tribes are by a combination of circumstances completely at the mercy of the Boers, who will most probably accomplish their object, unless the British government interferes without delay. Even now as I write it is reported that men are enlisting volunteers in this town to go down secretly to join in the war. England is far away and the Boer Government is near by the scene of this conflict, but it is to be hoped that the former government will have the manliness to stand up for these native chiefs who are now suffering on account of their having protected the lives and property of loyalists. Bear in mind that these chiefs cannot hold out long, as they are not supported with volunteers and ammunition as the other side, and if any enquiry is made it must be made by persons free from bias and who must go to the spot, for the natives have no newspapers or other means of influencing public opinion in their favour, while the Boers have, and will take care to make use of it.

I have endeavoured to be careful not to mention rumours as facts or enter into any political matters the former of which may be unreliable and the latter beside other object I have in view.

If not for the honour of England at any rate for the sake of humanity, I trust that the English government will act and that promptly.

I am sir,
Your obedient servant,
H. Stephens


You are at liberty to make what use of this letter you please, as long as you promise to keep my name a secret. I give you my name in confidence that it will not go further. For if it came to the knowledge of the Boers that I had written this letter it would no longer be safe for me to remain in the Transvaal. I enclose my card also. I shall forward this letter thro a friend at Kimberly, as otherwise it may be opened. In the event of your wishing to correspond with me do so privately and without anything on the outside of the envelope to show whom the letter comes from.