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Queen Adelaide

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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Sir Benjamin D'Urban arrived as Governor of the Cape Colony in January 1834, bringing with him instructions to implement a new frontier policy.

Negotiations were still underway when, in December that year, the Xhosa tribes invaded the Colony over a wide front. Retaliation was swift, with Sir Benjamin personally supervising the campaign.

He took the initiative of invading Xhosa territory and set up his headquarters at a mission station on the banks of the Buffalo River which he called "King William's Town" -- after his good friend, King William IV.

He then annexed the territory between the Keiskamma and Kei Rivers and named it the "Province of Queen Adelaide" after King William's wife. Sir Benjamin appointed Lieutenant Colonel Harry Smith -- the officer next in rank to himself -- to control the process.

A form of martial rule was instituted -- which was almost solely of Smith's own making -- and the Province was divided into a series of fiefdoms, each under the control of a special magistrate residing at a Chief's Great Place.

Sir Benjamin, however, had overstepped himself when he created Queen Adelaide Province.

First, the Colonial Office did not want further expansion of the British Empire. Sir Benjamin also did not have the power to take this step. Indeed, he was a governor of the Cape Colony, not of any territory beyond the borders of the Colony.

But it was the brutality of the campaign which effectively brought his house crashing down because his reports were embroidered with copious references to the brutality of his military campaigns.

His anecdotes spoke of enemy soldiers senselessly slaughtered, crops destroyed, huts burnt to the ground, and women and children led away almost as slaves, words which offended the Colonial Office.

To consign an entire country "to desolation", the Secretary of State wrote, and a whole people "to famine" was "so repugnant to every just feeling and totally at variance with the habits of civilized nations".

Lord Glenelg also questioned Sir Benjamin's logic in making the Kei River the new boundary which not only created a larger area to defend but also brought the Cape Colony into contact with "new tribes of uncivilized men".

Sir Benjamin had already realised the need to revise his plans. He was a poor correspondent, however, and this proved the undoing of his plans. In June 1835 he had reported the May annexation but his second despatch containing some modified proposals reached Lord Glenelg only in January 1836.

Because he had received so little information from the Governor, Glenelg was more inclined to be influenced by other knowledgeable people who sided with the amaXhosa -- like Sir Andries Stockenström.

As a result, Sir Benjamin was instructed to surrender Queen Adelaide Province by the end of 1836 and, by August that year, Stockenström had been appointed Lieutenant-Governor of the Eastern Districts. His instructions were to dismantle the Province and create a new treaty system.

On 5 December 1836, therefore, independence was restored to the Xhosa Chiefs and Queen Adelaide Province was no more.

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