Robert Lester to Frederick Chesson, 8 March 1884, C140/94-95

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Lester, Robert








Cape Colony

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MSS. Brit. Emp. S. 18 / C140-94


Cradock, Cape of Good Hope
8 March 1884

F.W. Chesson Esq
Aborigines Prot. Society
17 King Wms Street Charing Cross
London, W.C.

Dear Sir,

I notice in the report of the debate on the address in the House of Commons, in reply to the speech from the throne that with reference to the Transvaal delegates, Sir Michael Hicks Beach is reported to have said, amongst other things,

‘First’ that he attached not the slightest importance to the assurances of these delegates, for all knew how former assurances had been respected.’ In saying this, Sir Michael was quite right, for those who know them as I do know them well, are quite aware that the assurance of the Transvaal Boers, a lying, thievish, and murderous lot of scoundrels, are absolutely not worth any consideration whatever. And the English government simply disgrace themselves by granting an audience to the delegates of such a set of ruffians. For my part I would much rather take the word of a London thief that he would not rob me again, than that of a Transvaal Boer. The very conditions they seek to impose on England (the 2nd) shows their real intentions. In this condition they stipulate ‘That the Republic shall not be responsible for the action of Freebooters’. This means simply that the Republic shall not be responsible for its own acts, for everybody who knows anything about the Transvaal knows that in reality there are no Freebooters at all, and that the so called Freebooters are really the citizens of this small, insignificant, dishonest, and contemptible Republic, assisted perhaps by one or two runaway English from the Cape, and perhaps also by a few Dutch from ‘the Free State’. And every body also knows that if the so called Transvaal government really wished to stop any lawless proceedings they could easily do so, and it is pretty well understood here, that instead of wishing to put a stop to outrages, the so called Transvaal government are the real instigators of such outrages. Therefore their desire not to be held answerable for the act of the men it suits them in England to call Freebooters, but who are here received by them as poor brothers, and who are in reality their own subjects and kinsmen, and well under their control. It is the Transvaal government that in reality commits or instigates the commission of all those outrages, only it suits them to say it is the Freebooters over whom we have no control, and for whose acts we don’t want to be held answerable, because if they were to acknowledge these acts as their own, they would clearly amount to a breach of the convention. For which they would be answerable to England. I say again, there are in reality no freebooters at all and never have been any. The word freebooter is only another name for Transvaal Boer Citizen, and the Transvaal government could if it liked easily put an end to all outrages, as well as the open slavery now permitted in the Transvaal. As to our Premier Mr Scanlen lately in London having promised to assist the English government in maintaining order in Stellaland, it is all nonsense. The Cape Government when it comes to the point will render no assistance whatever. The Cape Boer votes, and support, upon which Mr Scanlen alone depends, would be lost to him, and his dishonest, incapable ministry, if he did so and it is upon these votes they rely, to enable them to retain office. Mr Scanlen has already denied publicly having made any such promise since his return here, and if he had not, he would certainly have lost his seat for which he had to fight hard at the election on his return. Sir Michael Hicks Beach is reported also to have mentioned on that occasion a rumour that an effort would be made by the Freebooters (i.e. the Transvaal government) or Boers to anticipate the result of the new convention by an attack on Mankoroane in Stellaland, and this you will find by the enclosed telegram is actually what they are about to do, and will have done before this reaches you. In fact there is no trust or dependence to be placed in the rascals, and the government of England has no right to make conditions with men whose word is not worth the paper on which I now write, and who will keep faith just as far and as long as it suits them to do so, and no longer. There can be and is no doubt in anybody’s mind here, that this attack about to be made on Mankoroane is to be made at the instigation of the Transvaal Boers or government, and will be assisted by the Transvaal Boers, if not altogether carried out by them. Altho they will say it is the Freebooters of Stellaland, and not us, that are to blame. Well true, it certainly is the dagger that kills, but how about the hand that holds it. Well, in conclusion these are ‘truths’ and I do hope you will do your best for the poor natives, who have been our allies, and faithful allies too, and who are now left by us unprotected, and unassisted to the mercy of wretches, who do not know the meaning of the word mercy. One last word please keep my name out of print. 1st because I shall lost my practise if the Boer here know I am exposing the crimes of the relatives in the Transvaal and Stellaland. And 2ndly because my eldest son is in the Transvaal at the gold mines, and they would be quite capable of murdering him in cold blood out of revenge for my having written you this letter, every word of which is nevertheless true. Mr Gladstone should never have withdrawn the troops under Gen Wood, ‘that act has ruined Africa’. You may not believe me but it’s the truth so help me god.

I remain Dear Sir,
Yours truly and faithfully
Robert Lester
Senior member of the Natal bar


Address your reply to me as above at Cradock Cape.

[Enclosed newspaper clipping]

‘Cape Town

Cape Times states it is said to be certain that the freebooters of Stellaland, accompanied by a number of renegade Englishmen, are now advancing to attack Manoroane. Not known what steps will be taken to protect Chief but 58th Regt. are expecting to be ordered up.’