John William Akerman to Frederick Chesson, 16 March 1878, C123/93

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Akerman, John William









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MSS. Brit. Emp. S. 18 / C123-93


PMBurg Natal
16 March 1878

F.W. Chesson, Esq

My dear Sir,

I have duly received yours informing me of the receipt of cases from Mr W Adams; a gentleman who is moving … in native affairs. It is however uphill work. The old colonists, for the most part born and educated in Europe and possessing British interests of a period 25 to 30 years ago; (not this latter depraved one) have nearly all through death or removal disappeared. The young ones born and reared here in this atmosphere of vice and legalised degragation are unfortunately more or less tainted. At any rate they look with semi-complacence on those nudities and usages which shocked their sires. They are moreover rapidly beginning to rule the place. Hence a reformer has less chance of success with them. And then the Shepstone family is much too powerful for the good of Natal. The young Shepstones are so insinuating and exert so great an influence on officers in the army and civil service through their father’s position, and through these on society as to render a fight against such odds locally almost helpless. As I said in my pamphlet the relief must come from ‘home.’ Yet I despair of this. At the present junction John Bull cares much more for ironclads than ameliorating the position of caffre women. Notwithstanding therefore Mr McArthur’s laudable efforts I almost fear to hear their issue though I shall eagerly watch for every communication from England thereon. You will of course kindly send me the published results of those efforts in the House of Commons. My poor country!! I regret to see she has become war mad! What an amount of guilt in Royal Palace will be revealed at the great day!!

A family squabble about court precedence was the forerunner to the blatant title of Empress. Had it stopped there not much hard would have been done. But the hatred to Russia once engendered seems unable to die out. The Queen would have declared war if she dared. Because [field?] is but the tool, as I believe, of the Royal Lady. We look with intense anxiety now for every telegram. (7 days elapse between each) Our latest is Feb 19. The wire is now all but complete between Cape Town and Natal. Troops pouring in. S Africa all in ferment. Shepstone is in exceeding ill odor. Were there a good military leader the Boers in Transvaal would now fight and S would quickly bite the dirt. Even the English say he has made promises and broken them. I told Downing St he was not the man to send. In reticence concealment and foil he is a master. As an administrator under a head he is very good. But he cannot construct and for this particular post such a quality was indispensable. John Bull will have to pay through the nose or I am mistaken. Cetwayo very naturally says ‘you stopped me from attacking the Boers when they took my land. And now you take it yourselves!’ One wrong step always involves many other to recover the right one. I told them to extend British sovereignty over Cetwayo first. He was murdering right and left and was also a constant fomentor of native trouble. But John Bull, on the advise probably of Garnet Wolsely or Shepstone, through to do it cheap by a bloodless victory over scattered pastoral Boers whose country he summarily appropriated; a procedure highly commented by those quasi merchants shopkeepers and land jobbers who had property at stake there; but most unquestionably in opposition to the wishes of a vast majority of the most industrious and well to do resident inhabitants. The result is now seen in all but open insurrection and widely scattered discontent. The local paper, the [Volkolem?], boldly asserts that the removal of Sir J Shepstone and appointment of some one and show the people have confidence is the only mode of permanent settlement. But on the other hand had my plan been followed: Cetwayo under the suzerainty of Great Britain (and the claims of humanity justified the interference) then native tumults on the Cape frontier would have been avoided; the native mind in S Africa led to submission and the Transvaal would then have asked in time for the advent of the British flag. We should then have seen native cruelty and [combination?] checked (this was the excuse for taking Transvaal) and a contented people in the Transvaal.

Supposing that Cetwayo should fight what can England do if the Boers sullenly refuse to help? Or even indirectly obstruct? They say they have all been deceived or would not have submitted. Will England go to the expense of … enough without the aid of the inhabitants? I doubt it. I look with much anxiety on our position. Don’t believe all Trollop says. He could not in so few days have known anything but what was told him, of course by Shepstone. Froude has said of Natal that we have here the ten plagues of Egypt (this is justified). Why, do you suppose, was his high [mightiness?] so annoyed with little Natal as to crush it thus beneath the ponderous slander of a historian of renown? Well I will tell you. Coming one day to a roadside inn where dirty water was fetched from a somewhat distant stream (now discoloured by rain washings) he somewhat haughtily enquired why they did not dig a well and thus get pure water. (The country is level there). The innkeeper (probably partly because annoyed) replied that he could get no labour to do it and was too old himself. Then turning to Froude he asked whether he would undertake the job and on what terms? It was no doubt a rude retort, but the retribution should have fallen on the man, not on the colony. Yet I am assured that the ill temper towards Natal evident in one of Froude’s recent publications (I believe short sketches or such subjects) arose out of this frivolous event. Who know what Trollip may have met with and what he will say? Froude says, because he could only get preserved potatoes and milk instead of fresh (I get fresh every day) that the Natalians are lazy. But he does not tell the world how but 20000 whites all told furnish ox-wagon transport for hundreds of miles for merchandise … amounting to 2 millions [sterling?]. How they raise a million bushels of maize. A thousand tons of sugar. Millions of pounds of wool …. Oh no! The great and accurate historian got an affront and the colony a crusher. I allude to this to show that mischief a ‘bird of passage’ in print can do to a community. And the English listen to such men.

Another little story for you. One of the long communications which appear in the ‘Times’ lauding Sir J Shepstone and his policy … and headed ‘Pretoria Transvaal’ was written in a government office in this town!! Poor John Bull! Had I written to the ‘Times’ my letter would have been ‘not admissible.’

‘Native law of Natal’ not yet published. Will look out for it. Goodbye, this long letter deserves an ample reply. Heat most excessive.

Yours very truly
J.W. Akerman

F.W. Chesson, Esq