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German Settlers to the Eastern Cape

Sir Henry Pottinger's
British Kaffraria

Keith Tankard
Knowledge4Africa.com
Updated: 14 October 2009
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Sir Andries Stockenström's treaty system was never given a fair trial but maintained an uneasy existence until 1844 when Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland bowed to pressure from the colonists and abrogated it.

His own plan was to build a series of forts along the Buffalo River -- right through the heart of Xhosa territory. Lieutenant Governor John Hare correctly saw that such a move was provocative and he resigned in protest -- despite the fact that one of the forts would be named after him.

Hare was right. Conditions on the frontier deteriorated rapidly until, in April 1846, a servant stole an axe from a farmer and his friends refused to turn him in. The entire frontier almost immediately exploded into yet another war.

The "War of the Axe" lasted much longer than any of its predecessors, and was a heavy drain on the British Treasury. By 1846, however, a substantial change had taken place in both the Colonial Office and Southern Africa.

In the decade following Sir Benjamin Durban's recall, humanitarian sentiment had lost ground and was replaced by pragmatism. The Colonial Office was now more inclined to ratify a Governor's decision provided he was able to guarantee no further expenses.

The Whigs were now in power in Britain, while the Great Trek had placed a substantial group of the Cape's Dutch population outside the colonial borders. A different colonial policy was seen as imperative to accommodate the altered circumstances.

A new plan was formulated by Sir Henry Pottinger: the creation of a protectorate over what was being termed "Kaffraria". The Chiefs would acknowledge the Queen as their protector but would recognise their own subordination in civil and military affairs.

Sir Henry was considered the ideal person to implement the new system because of his experience in India -- and because he had no other no immediate assignment. He, however, would have preferred to return to India.

His acceptance was conditional therefore to its being a claim to a higher position in India as soon as one became available. He also demanded to be known as High Commissioner for Southern Africa. In this way, the High Commissionership was born.

As it turned out, Sir Henry was not able to implement the new system at all. Sir Peregrine had misled the Colonial Office into believing that the war was nearly over but, when Sir Henry arrived at the frontier in January 1847, he found that this was certainly not the case.

His first task, therefore, had to be ending the war but this proved impossible within the time available to him. Ironically, just as hostilities appeared to be abating, the desired promotion materialised and Sir Henry found himself en route to India.

The task of implementing the plans would be performed by the next Governor and High Commissioner. This was Sir Harry Smith -- he who had played so important a role in Queen Adelaide Province in 1835 and who now returned with a knighthood to his name.

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