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H. E. Marshall

About the Coming of British Settlers and the Wars of the Black Napoleon

When the Cape became a British possession, the settlers were nearly all Dutch, and although a great tract of land had been claimed by them it was very thinly peopled. In places on the wide veldt as far as the eye could reach there was no sign of a dwelling. In other places only here and there might be seen the smoke of a lonely farm-house. There were really not enough settlers on the land to make the best use of it. So the British Parliament resolved to send out more colonists to people the wide plains of South Africa.

The wars which Britain had carried on against Napoleon for so many years had cost a great deal of money, and many of the people had become very poor. So when the British Government offered to take them to South Africa and give them farms there for nothing, numbers were eager to go. Indeed, so many wanted to go that the government had not money enough to send even a quarter of those who asked to be sent. So about four thousand only of the number were chosen.

The government did not only choose farmers, but all kinds of people, such as shoemakers, tailors, clerks, doctors, army officers, shopkeepers, and many others, most of whom had no idea of farming, many no idea of hard work. But somehow the government seemed to expect that all these people would become good farmers as soon as they reached South Africa.

Of course no such magic happened, and many of them failed. They did their best, however. They set to work at once to build their houses, and fence and plough their land. But fortune was against them. That year all over South Africa the crops failed, and many of the new settlers, after suffering great trials, gave up their land and wandered back to the towns. There many of them found that they could easily get work at their old trades, and so nearly all were able to begin life over again, and in the end make comfortable homes for themselves and families. About a quarter of those who had come out still held to their farms, and in spite of many troubles from blight, and drought, and floods, at length they too succeeded.

Most of these new British colonists settled farther east than the Boers, and their part of the country came to be called Albany, and it was by them that the town of Port Elizabeth was founded. It is now the second seaport, and still one of the most British of South African towns.

And now that the Cape was a British possession and that there were many British colonists settled there, the government at home thought that it was time to make English the language of the country.

You remember that when the French Huguenots came to the Cape the Dutch soon made them give up their own language and speak Dutch. They did not see that there was any hardship in that. But now that the Dutch themselves were treated in something of the same way it seemed to them very hard. They strove against the new law as much as they could, but it was of no use. They were allowed to speak Dutch in their own homes as much as they liked, but when they went to law, or wanted to speak with the Governor, or do anything in connection with the ruling of the land, they were forced to speak English. Thus English became what is called the "official" language of the country. Since then, however, in 1882, an act has been passed allowing Members of Parliament to speak either in Dutch or English.

The Boers did not like the introduction of the English language, but they soon had another and far greater grievance. A great deal of work on the Boer farms was done by slaves, but about this time the British people began to see that slavery was wrong, and in 1833 it was forbidden, not only in Britain but in all British colonies. Of course those who owned slaves lost a great deal of money, and although the British Government voted a large sum to help to repay the slave-owners, it was not nearly enough, and many people who had been well off became quite poor.

Many of the Boer farmers did not object to the slaves being freed, but they did want to be properly paid for their loss. The sum set aside for the freeing of the Cape slaves was so small, however, that many of the owners got very little. The money could only be paid in London, and as the farmers could not go to London to get it they had to trust to others, and often in the end received only a quarter of it. Of course it was right that the slaves should be freed, but the way it was done caused a great deal of bitterness among the colonists.

While these things were happening in the colony, beyond its borders the land was seething with war and bloodshed, for the native tribes were fighting terribly among themselves. There was a warlike and cruel Zulu chief named Tshaka who attacked and conquered all around him. He was so fierce and terrible that he was called the Black Napoleon of South Africa. This chief swept the land, killing and destroying without mercy until there were few left to kill. The country was strewn with bleaching bones, the villages were blackened ruins, their gardens trampled and deserted.

Those who escaped from the spears of Tshaka's terrible soldiers died of starvation, a few only taking refuge among other Kaffir tribes, who gave them the name of Fingoes or wanderers. A million people it was said died through Tshaka's wars, and thousands of miles of country were made a desert.

At last this fierce chieftain was stabbed to death by his own brother Dingaan, who then became head of the Zulus. But things were made little better, for he was almost as cruel and warlike as his brother had been.

There were other chiefs too who followed Tshaka's example, and fire and bloodshed desolated the land until all the wide tract from the borders of Cape Colony to the river Limpopo, and from the sea almost half across Africa, became a desert, in which scarcely a human being was to be found.

These wars were of course only among the natives themselves, but later on they came to have an effect on the colony.

Landing of British Settlers—1820

Upon this South-sea strand—

Unto the savage land

Welcome, ye little band,

Fit to brave danger.

Losses and wars will be

Fires of adversity,

Tests which ye cannot flee

Trials and sorrows.

Yours for success to fight;

Yours to defend the right;

Striving with all your might

For life and freedom.

Under benignant skies,

Fruits on the plains shall rise,

As labour's sacrifice

To the Creator.

Herds, flocks, and trade shall be

Proof of your industry,

Making prosperity

Smile upon labour.

Sons of the great and free!

Oh! let your motto be,

'God and the right for me,

Forward for ever."

Alex. Wilmot.