Perils in the Transvaal and Zululand
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“Dangerous work,” remarked Margetts.
“No doubt; but it was the least danger of the two. Well, I went on, walking slowly and cautiously, and by and by I got clear of the jungle, and came into some high rocky land, in the midst of which there was a Bechuana village. If it had been daylight, I should have gone in at once and claimed their hospitality as an Englishman, whom I knew they would receive kindly. But by that light I was afraid of being mistaken for a Boer, and then my reception would have been very different. It was as likely as not that I should have been speared, before I could explain the mistake they had made. I resolved to find a shelter somewhere for the night, and make my appearance among the Bechuanas in the morning.
“After looking carefully about, I took up my quarters in a cavern in the side of a long ridge of rock which overhung the village. It was December, and the night was warm, so I did not hesitate to lie down as I was on a heap of dead leaves, with which the cave was half filled.
“I was tired out, and soon fell asleep, and, I suppose, must have lain for two or three hours, when I was awakened by the noise of guns firing and men shouting immediately over my head. I started up and looked out. The dawn had just broken, and diffused a light which made it almost as easy to distinguish anything as if it had been broad day. I perceived that the village was surrounded by an armed enemy, and on a high bank on the opposite side of the village I could see a line of men armed with the long gun which the Boers then carried, while at the two ends of the village strong parties – also of Boers, for they had no black allies with them – were stationed. These, too, were armed to the teeth. I knew in a moment what had happened. The Boers had attacked the village by night, and were shooting the men down as they rushed in alarm out of their huts. There was no possibility of resistance or escape. The rocky ridge over my head was too high to have been stormed, even by trained soldiers, and these poor naked half-armed savages could not approach within ten yards of it. The bank opposite was almost as impossible to attack; but I did see two or three of the Bechuana warriors make the attempt. Some spears were flung, but they did no execution. It was simple wholesale murder, and lasted, I should think, fully an hour; by which time every male Bechuana in the village was either dead or mortally wounded. It was the most shocking sight I have ever witnessed.”
“Horrible indeed, sir?” exclaimed Redgy. “What provocation do you suppose they had given the Dutchmen?”
“Most likely none at all,” was the answer. “The Bechuanas in general are peaceable enough, but the Dutch – the Boers, that is – are bent on having slaves to work for them; and if they can’t get them by what they consider fair means, will get them by foul.”
“What do they call fair means?” asked Redgy.
“Buying them of their parents,” answered Baylen.“They will go to a village and demand the help of a number of women to work in their fields or gardens. These women, who dare not refuse, take their children with them, and then they will try to bargain for these, in order to make slaves of them. But the Bechuanas are a very affectionate people, and can very seldom be induced to sell their children. Therefore, as the Boers would tell you, they are obliged to take them by force.”
“You are joking with us, sir, are you not?” said George.
“Indeed I am not. They think that not only is it fair and right that the natives should work without pay for them, but that it is their duty to oblige them so to work.”
“On what possible grounds, Mr Baylen?”
“Because they are an inferior race, over whom the Boers have a natural right. This is no pretence. They really think so. The Boers are, after their fashion, a very religious people. They believe Almighty God has given the black races to be their servants, and that they are only carrying out His will when they reduce them to slavery. Some of them even believe that it is their mission to kill all except those who are thus kept in bondage. They liken themselves to the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land, and the natives to the Canaanites, whom they were to exterminate.”
“And their quarrel with us really is that we won’t allow them to carry out this idea?” asked Margetts.
“At the bottom I am not sure it is not,” replied Baylen. “It is certain that they would carry it out, if it were not for the English. Their usual practice is to do what they did on the occasion I have been telling you about. They circulate a rumour that an attack is going to be made upon them by some tribe. The rumour is almost certain to be false, for the Bechuanas are a very peaceable people. But as soon as the report has taken wind, they march out in force, generally taking with them a number of native allies. These surround the village, keeping the men back with their assegays, while the Boers fire in safety over their heads, until all the males have been destroyed. They then carry off the women, children, and cattle.”
“Horrible!” exclaimed Redgy. “I shall hate these Boers like poison. Why, they must be the most awful cowards, as well as hypocrites!”
“I don’t know about that, Redgy,” remarked George. “They don’t want to encounter danger, if they can help it, no doubt. But it doesn’t follow that they wouldn’t fight, if there was the necessity for doing so. They are like Wilkin Flammock in The Betrothed; you remember what he says. He was ‘ready to fight for life or property, if it was needed; but a sound skin was better than a slashed one, for all that.’ But I thought you told us, sir, that the Boers in your story attacked the Bechuana village without allies.”
“So I did,” answered the farmer. “But they knew the ground, and were aware that it would be impossible for the Bechuanas to attack them, so that there was no need for the natives to accompany them on that occasion. But to go on with my story. I told you it was a bright morning, and so it continued for nearly an hour. But after that thick clouds came up, and it grew almost dark. The Boers remained in the position they had taken up till the forenoon. But about half an hour after the firing had ceased, I heard a noise as if some one was moving somewhere near me. I looked out, and could just make out that a Bechuana woman, who had been mortally wounded by a bullet, had crawled to that spot, with an infant of a year old in her arms. I suppose she had some idea of concealing herself in the hollow of the rocks, not knowing that her hurt was to death. I crept down and took the child from her arms. She was just at the last gasp, but I think she gave it over to me willingly, fancying that I should treat it kindly. I took it back with me into the cave, and remained in concealment until the Boers had departed, which they did about the middle of the next day. I was fortunate enough to reach the farm of a friendly Hollander, who sold me another horse, and provisions enough to carry me through the most dangerous parts of the journey. The infant (which I called Matamo, from the name of the Bechuana village which I had seen destroyed) proved strong and healthy and we both reached Hakkluyt’s Kloof safe and sound.”
“And your mother?” asked Margetts.
“My mother was at first terribly disappointed about Mr Livingstone. But when she heard the tale of the destruction of the Bechuana village, and the rescue of the infant, she was so moved by pity for it, that I think she forgot everything else. She took it under her special charge. Up to the time of her death, three years afterwards, Matamo was her chief care and delight. The boy grew up strong and healthy, and has, as I told you, been an invaluable servant to us.”
“And you have well deserved that he should,” remarked Mr Bilderjik. “You have had him baptised and educated, and brought up in the Christian faith; you should add that. I would that many masters in South Africa could say the same.”
A general assent followed Mr Bilderjik’s remarks, to which, however, the farmer made no reply. A silence of some minutes ensued, which was broken by George.
“Mr Baylen,” he said, “I was much interested in the history you gave us the other day of the colony, and King Chaka and his brother Dingaan. But all that you told us occurred forty years ago. I should like to know something of what has happened since.”
“Well, the last thing I told you of, was the murder of Pieter Retieff and his followers,” said Mr Baylen, “wasn’t it? Well, the natural consequences ensued; there was war for some years between the whites and the blacks. The English settlers invaded Zululand, and carried off a quantity of women, children, and cattle. But they were attacked by ten thousand Zulus, and a hot fight followed. The English shot them down in such numbers, that they formed high banks over which their comrades had to climb. In spite of this, they advanced and overpowered their enemies by mere force of numbers!”
“Ah,” interposed Hardy, “and it would be a good job if our English generals remembered that fact. They persist in despising their enemies, and may take a lesson from the Dutchmen, who are too wise to do so. But go on, Baylen; I beg pardon for interrupting.”
“The Zulus,” resumed the other, “drove the English beyond the Tugela, overran Natal, and for the second time turned it into a desert. The colonists took refuge in an island in the Bay. There they were personally safe, but their houses and goods were utterly destroyed, and their cattle driven off. We had contrived to take away with us everything of value that could be carried off to the island, and no great injury was done to the farmhouse and buildings. But all the cattle, horses, oxen, sheep, and goats were driven away. If we had not recovered them a few months afterwards, I should have had to begin life again.”
“How did you manage to recover them, sir?” asked Margetts.
“Through my brother-in-law, Cornelius Schuylen. He had joined the main body of Dutch settlers from the Cape, and was a leading man among them, and a friend of the Dutch General, Praetorius. They found it necessary to go to war with Dingaan, and there was a pitched battle, in which the Dutch were the conquerors. I agree with Mr Rivers, that the Dutch are no cowards; but that they think that a whole skin is better than a slashed one, and they conduct their campaigns accordingly. I was present at the battle myself, having gone up to the Boer camp about my cattle. The natives outnumbered us, ten to one, I should think, and they fought as bravely as men could fight. But we gained a decisive victory, with very little loss.”
“How did you manage it, sir?” inquired George. “I have heard that the Dutch have very little discipline in their armies.”
“Very little, but their tactics are the thing. When they knew that a battle was imminent, they laagered their waggons together, and stationed their foot-soldiers in and behind them. The mounted men, of which their force principally consisted, waited at some distance until the Zulu assault on the waggons had begun. Then they opened a fire upon them with their rifles, which killed great numbers, and at last obliged them to turn off and attack them. They waited until the Zulus were almost but not quite within what was called assegay distance, and then fired volley after volley into them. When the Zulus advanced nearer, they galloped off to a little distance, and fired as before, repeating the manoeuvre until the blacks were obliged to retire, with immense loss of killed and wounded, while hardly a man on their own side was touched. It wasn’t much better with the Zulus on their attack on the laager. They managed to fling a few assegays into, and under, the waggons; but the Boers fired upon them, under almost complete shelter, and shot them down by hundreds. Dingaan was obliged to make peace, and restore the cattle, mine among the rest.”
“That must have been near about the end of Dingaan’s reign,” observed the Swedish clergyman.
“Yes, in less than two years afterwards the Dutch deposed Dingaan, and made his brother Panda king. Dingaan fled to the Amaswazis, and they put him to death. Panda had a long reign of more than thirty years, and during that period there was very little fighting with the European settlers. He was a different kind of character altogether from his two brothers, and loved ease and quiet. But I believe his disposition was almost as cruel as theirs.”
“You are right, sir,” said Mr Bilderjik. “He was as bloodthirsty as either of them, though he shed the blood of his own people only. He would inflict the most frightful penalties for the smallest offences. If one of his oxen was over-driven or hurt, he would order the cowherd to be impaled. Even for slighter offences than this, if the smallest thing occurred to annoy or cross him, he would sentence the offender to death, and his soldiers were always ready to execute his commands without hesitation. His barbarity drove his subjects away in such numbers, that Natal was almost peopled with them. He was a weak ruler, however, and for the last twenty years of his reign his son Cetewayo, who is now on the throne, was virtually king.”
“Cetewayo!” observed George. “Ah, I want to know about him! We hear plenty in England. There is great alarm, is there not, that he will invade this country? I heard them talking of it at Maritzburg.”
“There is great alarm, no doubt,” said the farmer, “and it is no great wonder, seeing that Natal has twice been invaded and devastated by the Zulus. But I do not myself believe that he will ever cross the Tugela, unless he himself is first attacked, and drives his enemies before him. But I should like to know what you think about him, Hardy. Living so near to him as you once did, your opinion must be valuable.”
“Yes, I lived in Zululand for several years after I left the army,” said Hardy, “and I saw and heard enough of Cetewayo during that time, to form a decided opinion about him.”
“And what was that opinion, Mr Hardy?” inquired George.
“If I remember right, the English agreed to place him on the throne, on condition that the lawless and indiscriminate shedding of human blood should be put a stop to, and that no one should be put to death, until after a trial and sentence. There are those that say that this compact was faithfully kept to.”
“And it was,” said Hardy, “so long as Cetewayo was insecure of his throne. At first this was the case, and he knew that the best hope of establishing his power lay in the support of the English. For the first few years of his reign, therefore, he did, as a rule, loyally carry out the promises he had given. But those who watched him most closely know that he never intended to be a tributary sovereign to any one. From the first he revived and developed his uncle Chaka’s military policy. He reinstated the old regiments, and formed new ones, carefully choosing men to lead them who were qualified to carry out his designs. He rebuilt the military kraals, and obliged his soldiers to live unmarried, as his uncle had done.”
“Ay,” interposed George, “as Sultan Amurath did, when he instituted the Janissaries.”
“I daresay you are right, sir,” said Hardy, “though I never heard of him. Well, the only difference Cetewayo made in his dealings with his men was that he armed them with guns. In all other respects it was the reproduction of Chaka’s army – the same enormous numbers, the same close and jealous discipline, the same absolute devotion to the king’s will, without hesitation or question. If Cetewayo had ever intended to be faithful to his engagements with the English, of what use could this enormous and costly army have been to him? It is ridiculous to say it would be needed to put down the Tongas or the Swazies, or even to resist the aggressions of the Boers. There is but one use to which he could have intended to put it, and that is to drive the white man out of the land.”
“Well, there are many, at all events, that think that,” observed Mr Baylen. “You think, then, that he is going to declare war.”
“I doubt his doing that,” said Hardy. “But I think he will provoke the English to attack him – to invade Zululand, in fact.”
“Why should he want them to do that?” asked Redgy.
“He will then fight greatly at an advantage,” said Hardy. “In fact, he thinks that he sees his way to victory. I don’t say I agree with him in that – indeed, I don’t. But there is a good deal to be said on his side. Zululand is a difficult country for an army to traverse. He knows every inch of it, and they do not. The climate is often very unhealthy to white men. Disease would probably break out among them, if he could keep them any time there, whereas his own men are thoroughly inured to it. His numbers, again, are vastly in excess of theirs, and if he could attack them when off their guard, he might inflict frightful loss upon them. All these chances are in his favour, and he knows them well.”
“In fact, he is trying to pick a quarrel,” said Redgy.
“And he may succeed,” added Hardy. “Indeed – ” He checked himself and went on, “Then as to his natural disposition – you asked me what I thought about that too. I think he is just like his ancestors, quite as merciless and bloodthirsty, and even more crafty. It was said that during the first few years of his reign he never put any one to death unless he had really been guilty of some great offence, and that there was always a regular trial and conviction. How much truth there is in that, you may judge from what I am now going to tell you.
“When I first settled in Zululand, there was a Wesleyan missionary living near me, whose name was Garnett. He was a very good man, and the people about there respected him much. He had made several converts, amongst others an Induna named Usumanzi, a man of means and some local importance. Now it is certain that Cetewayo did not like the missionaries – one can very well understand why. The entire submission to his pleasure, right or wrong, which was the first thing he insisted upon, was a thing which no Christian could fall in with. Is it not so, Mr Bilderjik?”
“Of course he could not,” assented the clergyman. “A Christian’s first law is obedience to God’s commandments, not man’s. If the two came into collision, the obedience to human authority must give way.”
“Exactly so, sir,” pursued Hardy. “Well, then, there is no difficulty in understanding Cetewayo’s aversion to the missionaries. But at the same time he knew that the missionaries were strongly upheld by the English, and that any persecution of them on religious grounds would be sternly resented. Cetewayo therefore sent a message to Mr Garnett, desiring him to pay a visit to the royal kraal. He wanted, he said, to talk to him about the good things which he taught the people. Mr Garnett was only half deceived. The king really might have been moved by some desire to know the truth. But it was far more likely that he was only pretending such a feeling, in order to get him entirely into his own power. Usumanzi earnestly advised him not to go. He said he knew that the king had been greatly provoked by his conversion, regarding him, as he did, as a valuable servant lost to him. Cetewayo would either banish him from the country, or, what was more likely, accuse him of some imaginary crime, and put him to death for it.
“But Mr Garnett resolved to go. He said there was a hope of doing a great work for his Master, and he was not to be deterred by the danger to himself. I offered to accompany him, as I thought my presence might be some protection. You see, though I was living in Zululand, I was employed by the Natal Government to collect taxes from the native chiefs every year. As an agent of the British Government, I knew Cetewayo would treat me with consideration, and possibly Mr Garnett on my account.”
“Well, you were right, I expect,” observed Baylen.
“I was to some extent,” assented Hardy. “As soon as I made it understood that I was an officer in the employ of the Governor of Natal, there was a difference in the demeanour of the councillors towards me, and Mr Garnett too. A civil reception was given us, and a good hut assigned for our accommodation. Then there followed a long delay, and at last I was told I was to be sent with letters to Sir Henry Bulwer; and the next day I set out, attended by two of Cetewayo’s soldiers. I suspected at the time – and subsequent events confirmed my opinion – that the king wanted to get rid of me, because I stood in the way of his carrying out his designs against Mr Garnett. I was no sooner gone than he was informed there was an accusation made against him of practising witchcraft. The king would inquire into the matter himself. This I learned from the Zulu who was sent with me. But what ensued I could never learn with any certainty. Mr Garnett, I believe, underwent a kind of mock trial, being charged with bewitching several persons. He was found guilty, and was sentenced to be banished from the country. Cetewayo had possibly thought that it would be dangerous to put him publicly to death. But it came eventually to the same thing. Mr Garnett set out, in company with two Zulus, who were directed to convey him to Delagoa Bay, whither his wife and children had already been sent. But he never reached his destination. His guides came back with the story that he had been killed by a lion. The general belief was that he had been murdered, and his body left to be devoured by the hyenas.
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