John Colenso to Frederick Chesson, 23 February 1875, C131/84

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Colenso, John









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MSS. Brit. Emp. S. 18 / C131-84


Feb 23, 1875

I was fortunate in getting taken on quickly from Capetown so that Mrs Shepstone, who left Dartmouth on Dec 23, and left Capetown two days before I did, reached the anchorage at Durban a few hours after our arrival during the night of Jan 27. In the morning I landed, and found that the Durbanites had been in a furious state of excitement, threatening all sorts of indignities against me. Lord Carnarvon’s 3 Despatches, all dated the same day, Dec 3, and properly numbered, has just been published by Sir B. Pine, but in such an order as to encite to the utmost the popular feeling against Lord Carnarvon, as well as myself; that is, he did not follow the order indicated by Lord Carnarvon’s numbering, viz.

136. The release of Langalibalele
137. The changes intended in the native policy
138. The recall of Sir B.P.

And publish them all at once, as evidently intended, but he published first 138 (the recall) on Jan 19, then 136 (the release) two days afterwards on Jan 21, and when he had thus contrived to influence the passions of the people to red-hot heat, at the idea of their noble Gov. being recalled and that detestable rebel released, through the secret machinations of that traitor Dr Colenso, five days afterwards on Jan 26 he published the Despatch on native policy, which immediately began to exercise a soothing influence upon the people, being the very thing they have so long desired. But all the craft of Sir B.P. and his advisers! The Gazette is published on Tuesdays in Maritzburg, and only reaches Durban on Tuesday evening, and would be hardly known in town till Wednesday morning. The fact of his recall had leaked out or must have been let out as soon as Mr Shepstone reached Natal with the Despatches on Jan 15. And on Jan 19 they held an ‘indignation meeting’ at Durban, being privately supplied with 138 and 136, of which 138 only was in the Gazette of that same day, which reached Durban that evening, but they were not supplied with 137. So the Maritzburg indignation meeting was held when 138 and 136 were both Gazetted, while 137 was still carefully suppressed. The consequence was that Sir B. got all sorts of sympathetic and complimentary addresses poured in upon him, and ‘Dr Colenso’, of course, got all manner of abuse. I don’t suppose that if these addresses are forwarded to L.C. he will think much the better of Sir B.P., especially when he knows (and I have let Mr Herbert know) the trickery by which they have been obtained. It was that Despatch on native policy on which Lord C. especially relied as a sort of healing medicine to relieve the pain which he knew would be caused by the release of Langalibalele and the general censure passed on the proceedings against him, which the whole colony almost … has been so eager in their ignorance to applaud and support. And the publication at last of that Desp. had at once the calming effect which he expected. Fortunately for me the Gazette containing it reached Durban on Tuesday …, about 24 hours before the Basuto with the ‘traitor’ anchored in the … Bay. Up to that time the denunciations of wrath against me had been furious: threats of violence were used: I was not to be allowed to land or was to be insulted on landing: and even on the Thursday morning, when I did land, my warm friend at Durban, D Lyle, sent out a note to me by two other friends (Mr Brooks and Col Durnford) to advise me to land privately, as the feeling of the colonists was so strong, and he would send his carriage to drive me immediately on landing to his house. That same morning also the Natal Mercury published a letter from D. Taylor, an old colonist and man of some position in Durban, denouncing me in the strongest terms, and recommending that all should wear mourning, that the shops should be closed, and I should be ‘sent to Coventry’ and all who had any intercourse with me. But the last Despatch had quietly done its work, as has certainly been the case since, all the local journals accepting it with approval, and only wanting to know more of the details of the future policy. And I believe that the discussions which took place that Wednesday in Durban, with the despatch in hand, had already tending to reduce the temperature: and probably an unwillingness to proceed to extremities when the moment arrived for action, by the sudden appearance of the Basuto some days before she was [expected?], may have tended to the same result. I landed on a splendid morning, was driven up to town … to D Lyle’s, without receiving any insult, but on the contrary meeting several friendly greetings from various acquaintances. Dr Taylor went about with a yard of [nape?] behind his hat; some nine shops had their shutters up for a little while; and a … innkeeper on my way to Maritzburg two days afterwards, the same who was fined 5 pounds for spitting in the face of Langa. when he was taken town to Durban ‘heavily ironed’, had two little black flags flying as I passed; and those are all the insults I received, except the incessant abuse in the newspapers, of which you will see something in the cuttings sent to England. John Robinson in the Mercury, the henchman and toadie of Sir B. Pine, has done his very utmost to excite the popular feeling against me, as you will see by his articles. And do not let him take … with you for having kept back the people. He did nothing of the kind, anymore than Bp. Elliot when he advised the country people not to pitch … and Co into the horsepond. Sir B.P. evidently put his copy of my Blue Book, sent out by Lord Carnarvon, into J.R.’s hands, and you will see what he says of it, utterly misleading the judgement of his readers, as to my having ‘maligned the colonists’, and observed a ‘farce of secresy’. The Mercury readers are all his and so are half those in the Times, and they all exhibit the same character, which corresponds precisely with what I told you about him in England. Of course, my opponents in Church matters have made use of the opportunity to try to swell the clamour against me. I do not mean Bp. … but some of their followers and some noisy members of my own flock. And a combination of political and theological partisans has succeeded in expunging my name from the list of honorary members of the Durban Club. The votes were 22 for the proposition, and 19 against: and for the present the Committee has ruled that the resolution must take effect. But, as one of their rules requires for any alternation of their laws a majority of three-forths of those present, and the Committee of the Maritzburg Club, which exchanges courtesies with the members of the Durban Club, will object, I believe, to the decision, since 57 (instead of 23) should have voted for the change in question, I think it probably that it will be overruled. But … all that the violence of the storm has already abated: and, though I am still told that many who have hitherto been my strong supporters in Church matters, will now refuse their subscriptions, I hope that this woo will end to a great extent in talk merely, though no doubt I shall lose some ground in the colony, more especially as, for want of copies of my Blue Book, I am not able to circulate it sufficiently to refute John Robinson’s falsehoods. If there are any left in your hands, please send me out some more, e.g. one or two dozen.