by Neil Parsons
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Introduction | Page 1.Extracts from documents | Page 2: Rey and previous Commissioners | Page 3: 'The Williams Regime' | Page 4: Intelligence Reporting In Colonial Botswana, 1895-1965
Illustrated talk given to the Botswana Society, Gaborone, 1988
[This talk was given to mark the publication of Sir Charles Rey's Monarch of All I Survey: Bechuanaland Diaries 1929-37 edited by Neil Parsons and Michael Crowder, published by the Botswana Society in Gaborone, and by James Currey in London.]
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Charles Rey was incredibly rude about his three predecessors as Resident Comissioner of the Bechuanaland Protectorate, Colonels Macgregor, Ellenberger and Daniel - 'a trinity of the damnedest fools Providence ever produced'. On Daniel in particular,
I disagree with Daniel on every conceivable subject - he is the damnedest old fool I have ever struck, the most incompetent bungler, and the most pig-headed ass. His mind, or what he refers to in moments of enthusiasm as his mind, works at the slowest rate that any mind could work without stopping altogether; and it invariably works wrong...When the Almighty sets to work to create a fool, he certainly turns out a finished article.
Rey despised his three predecessors for incompetence or weakness in their dealings with African chiefs and their lack of promotion of economic development. His criticisms were echoed by his contemporary Simon Ratshosa, an early Botswana nationalist and polemicist. Ratshosa also accused the B.P. administration of nepotism:'they are in many instances replaced by their sons, relatives or friends, that is, their succession is a hereditary one.'
The missionary Haydon Lewis,in 1913, had thought that B.P. administrators - Ellenberger excepted - 'should be washing clothes instead of Governing nations'; and had in 1918 remarked that the administration's sole business was to collect revenues and receive taxes.
A later Resident Commissioner, writing his memoirs in the 1960s-70s, was to agree that the administration had been 'mildly dynastic', and that its recruitment had been too much on the 'office boy' system of promotion through the ranks before 1932.
Another of Rey's contemporaries, Leonard Barnes, went further and accused B.P. administrators of reflecting the mentality of the military police force - the Bechuanaland Protectorate Police, formerly Bechuanaland Border Police - through which they were usually recruited. Mary Benson picked up this viewpoint in her 1960 biography Tshekedi Khama. It was reinforced by Jack Halpern's classic South Africa's Hostages, a study of the three High Commission Territories (Basutoland, Bechuanaland Protectorate, and Swaziland) in relation to South Africa, which appeared in the influential Penguin African Library series of paperbacks in 1965. Halpern bewailed the 'second-rateness and cheap South African recruitment' which 'bedevilled' the B.P. administration.
The recruitment of officers in London for the High Commission Territories, along the lines of other British colonial service recuits, began in 1932 as an experiment and in 1939 in earnest, and eventually staffed the senior ranks with an Oxbridge-educated administrative elite. The Picard thesis is essentially that administrative continuity into post-colonial Botswana was achieved smoothly by gradual transfer of power to a compatible local elite headed by Seretse Khama, himself an Oxbridge man who had once declined the offer of a position in the Colonial Service (to Jamaica in 1951).
Rey therefore appears to have been a break in the chain of succession of Resident Commissioners of the Bechuanaland Protectorate - the first complete outsider without police or clerical origins in the High Commission Territories, but also the last non-Oxbridge man not recuited through Colonial Service channels.
He was no military man despite his much loved title of Colonel. On the contrary he had been a career civil servant in the Board of Trade in London, before seeing service with a semi-official British trading corporation in Ethiopia. His colonelcy came with the job of Resident Commissioner - an abbreviation of the honorific title of Lieutenant-Colonel, carried by all Resident Commissioners of the B.P.(after 1902-03) in their capacity as formal commandant of the Bechuanaland Protectorate Police.
Rey can be seen as one of three personally outstanding Resident Commissioners in the colonial history of Botswana, who radically changed the nature of B.P. administration - together with Sir Ralph Williams (1901-06) and Sir Peter Fawcus (1959-65). But it is misleading to see him as completely divorced from the ideologies and administrative practices of his predesscors.
This paper will argue that Rey's career and personal predilections can be seen as a restatement, albeit in modernized form, of a 'mercenary tradition' in contradiction with a 'missionary tradition' in colonial administration - a contradiction which goes right back to the origins of the Bechuanaland Protectorate itself, and which continues to reassert itself even after Rey.
The 'mercenary tradition' in Bechuanaland administration combined the military ethos of frontier police origins with devoted service to the commercial interests of monopoly capitalism in South Africa. The first officer given the title of Resident Commissioner of the Bechuanaland Protectorate in 1891, Sidney Shippard, clearly falls within this tradition.
The origins of both 'mercenary' and 'missionary' traditions can be traced to the commissioners for Bechuanaland who preceded Shippard in 1884-85 - John Mackenzie, Cecil Rhodes, and Charles Warren. Rarely can the contradiction between colonial ambitions of commercial exploitation and imperial protestations of trusteeship, inherent in colonialism everywhere , have been so starkly contrasted as in the first two commissioners.
On the one hand there was the Reverend John Mackenzie, one of the most articulate spokesmen among Christian missionaries of the later 19th century and prime exponent of ideas of protection of 'native' interests. On the other hand there was Cecil John Rhodes, the diamond magnate whose name has become synonymous with monopoly capitalism and territorial expansion in later 19th century Africa, who stood for colonization, development and exploitation of African lands by European settlers.
Mackenzie was the first Deputy (High) Commissioner appointed for the territory called Bechuanaland in 1884 - the area north of the diamond fields of Cape Colony towards the vicinity of the Molopo river. Mackenzie was a son of poor Scottish hill farmers, who had been a missionary of the London Missionary Society in Tswana territory since 1858. He returned to London in 1882 to campaign for British protection of Bechuanaland from the depradations of Boer 'filibusters' from the Transvaal republic. He became the leading voice of a humanitarian lobby appealing to parliament for justice for the 'Bechuana'(Tswana) combined with peaceful access for British trade though Bechuanaland to Central Africa.
In February 1884 he was appointed as Britain's Deputy Commissioner for Bechuanaland, taking up the position at Kuruman, his old mission station, in April 1884. In effect he had been set up as fall-guy by Sir Hercules Robinson, the High Commissioner in Cape Town, to fail in his duty, as he was given no police or coercive powers to persuade the Boer filibusters to leave the country. Moral suasion failed, and Mackenzie was forced to resign in August l884.
Mackenzie was duly replaced as Acting Deputy Commissioner by an ally of Hercules Robinson, Cecil Rhodes. This was the only time that Rhodes was employed by the British government, albeit on a part-time basis as a diversion from money-making at Kimberley and politicking at Cape Town. He immediately dashed north to appease the Boer filibusters of Bechuanaland and to recruit their loyalties towards Cape Colony. Rhodes proved so enthusiastic in recognising the land rights of filibuster-squatters that he encouraged Boers from the Transvaal in their wars with the Tswana.
The sensational murder at Mafikeng by Boers of a British agent called Christopher Bethell fed the outcry of humanitarians and Liberal imperialists in Britain. The result was that a military expedition was despatched from England at the end of 1884, equipped with the latest technology of gas balloons and heliographic signalling, its soldiers wearing brown corduroy rather than red tunics.
Charles Warren, a Welsh relative of Christopher Bethell, headed the expedition and was appointed Special Commissioner for Bechuanaland and the Kalahari. Himself the son of an army general, Warren was a military engineer and pioneer Palestine archaeologist, who had served before with distinction in the Bechuanaland area during the later 1870s and was a firm friend of Mackenzie's. A convinced Christian as well as a Liberal, he soon clashed with Rhodes, an agnostic. Rhodes was dismissed as Deputy Commissioner in early 1885.
The Warren Expedition marched into Bechuanaland with Mackenzie at Warren's side. Boer forces melted away to re-emerge as peaceful farmers. Warren was so successful south of the Molopo that he exceeded his instructions and went north to make treaty arrangements with the Tswana states which now lie within the Republic of Botswana. Hercules Robinson, the High Commissioner at Cape Town, in Rhodes's pocket, siezed the opportunity to have Warren recalled to Britain. Warren returned to England to fight the issue unsuccessfully as a Liberal candidate at Sheffield, against a Conservative candidate backed by Rhodes, in the British general election of July 1885.
Warren and Mackenzie proposed a British protectorate over Bechuanaland under one administration from north of Kimberley to the latitude of modern Selebi-Phikwe. This was overruled by Hercules Robinson, who arranged for the division of administrative responsibilities between a colony south of the Molopo, to be called British Bechuanaland, and a protectorate north of the Molopo which came to be known as the Bechuanaland Protectorate. This division took effect at the end of a financial period on September 30th, 1885 - the day that was to be known as Protectorate Day from the 1950s onwards.
One man was appointed to the two positions of Administrator of the colony and Deputy Commissioner of the protectorate - Sidney Godolphin Alexander Shippard.
Shippard was later to proudly recall:
'Mr. Cecil Rhodes has often reminded me of a conversation he and I had in the Christ Church meadows at Oxford in 1878, when we discussed and sketched out the whole plan of British advance in South and Central Africa.'
Brussels-born and Oxford-educated, Shippard had been a judge in Cape Colony who was called to Bechuanaland from representing British claims at Luderitz Bay in South West Africa recently annexed by Germany. Based at Vryburg, the capital of former filibusters, Shippard was known for his partiality to settler and mercantile interests.
Shippard's British Bechuanaland land commission was notoriously partial to Boer filibuster claims. His Bechuanaland Protectorate minerals commission was partial to the claims of Rhodes's British South Africa Company. He was possibly in the pay of the mercantile interests headed by Cecil Rhodes - though, unlike his three successors as Resident Commissioner (Jameson, Newton, and Goold-Adams), there is as yet no convincing proof. There is, however, considerable circumstantial evidence of his assisting the companies headed by Rhodes, and his attitude to African people is reflected in his given Setswana name - 'Morena Maka'(Lord Lies). After his retirement from colonial administration, he was appointed to the board of the British South Africa Company in April 1888, where he rendered 'wise and loyal service'.
The missionary factor was partially reasserted in colonial administration by the appointment of the Reverend John Smith Moffat as Assistant Commissioner for the Bechuanaland Protectorate - resident at Shoshong and Palapye, and itinerant to Bulawayo - between 1887 and 1895. Son of the great Robert and Mary Moffat, and brother-in-law of the greater David Livingstone, J.S.Moffat bore the burden of being brought up in a famous family. But he was no friend of John Mackenzie, and was assiduously courted by the mercantile interests that wished to take hold of Bechuanaland and Matabeleland. He went along with Rhodes's trickery of Lobengula, but had a fit of conscience when Rhodes tried to do the same with Khama. Shippard and Hercules Robinson were delighted to see the back of him in 1895.
Shippard was elevated from Deputy Commissioner to Resident Commissioner of the Bechuanaland Protectorate in 1891 - an anomalous title for one resident a hundred miles south of the Protectorate's borders. At the same time Shippard and Moffat received by unilateral British diktat the basic powers of administration over an area as far north as the Chobe and Zambezi rivers.
Shippard retired in 1895 when British Bechuanaland was annexed to the Cape Colony and arrangements were being made for the Bechuanaland Protectorate to become a British South Africa Company territory, i.e. part of 'Rhodesia'.
Shippard was replaced by two Resident Commissioners to suit the purposes of planning Jameson's raid on the Transvaal. Dr.Jameson himself became Resident Commissioner of the Rolong and Lete areas south of Gaborone, which were to be the springboard for the invasion. The other Resident Commissioner, for the rump of the territory, was Hercules Robinson's former aide the barrister and soldier Francis Newton. West Indian-born, educated at Rugby and Oxford he had served with Shippard for seven years as second-in-command at Vryburg.
Newton's main achievement as R.C., while Jameson's alternative commission was revoked, was to transfer the administrative base for the B.P.from Vryburg to Mafikeng, the main police depot 12 miles south of the Protectorate - probably a temporary expedient before Salisbury or Bulawayo took charge. Newton headed a makeshift administration in the uncertain aftermath of the failure of the Jameson Raid, and eventually fell from grace because of his proven complicity in planning it.
Newton was replaced by Hamilton Goold-Adams, a Royal Scots major who had been seconded to the Bechuanaland Border Police after participating in the Warren Expedition. (The B.B.P. had meanwhile become Division I of the British South Africa Police - Divisions II and III being Matabeleland and Mashonaland.) Goold-Adams, son of an Irish sherrif, 'reserved and somewhat dour', had speculated in B.S.A. Company shares but had not been implicated in planning the Jameson Raid. It was his decision to keep the B.P. administrative headquarters at Mafikeng, and not to move into the Protectorate, which helped justify the 'North-West Frontier' forces of Colonel Baden-Powell remaining in Mafikeng for the famous siege of 1899-1900. Goold-Adams was then posted as Lieutenant-Governor to the newly conquered Orange River Colony in 1901.
Goold-Adams's successor, Ralph Williams, was one of the Welsh relatives of Christoper Bethell who had joined the Warren Expedition. He however quarrelled with Warren and supported the Conservative candidate who stood against Warren in Sheffield in July 1885, writing a book titled The British Lion in Bechuanaland to express his point of view. He then took the job of Britain's representative in the Transvaal capital, Pretoria, and continued in colonial service as Treasurer of Gibraltar and Secretary of Barbados, moving to Mafikeng in 1901.
One of Williams' first actions was to remove the Bechuanaland Protectectorate Police from the B.S.A. Police and from dual control shared between Salisbury and Mafikeng. The B.P.P. was placed directly under the command of the Resident Commissioner as its lieutenant-colonel. Williams's second major task was to establish a central secretariat along bureaucratic rather than ad hoc legal and military principles. This was achieved with the assistance of his Government Secretary, Barry May, appointed in 1904.
Williams later remarked in his memoirs:
'I think the position of the resident commissioner of the Bechuanaland Protectorate is one of the most pleasant of those in the gift of the Colonial Office...the only position within my experience in which the holder could hope to live on his pay.... We were a pure despotism and, subject possibly to active interference by either the High Commissioner or the Secretary of State, I could do what I chose. Fortunately in the interests of the country even the House of Commons forgot our existence.'
Williams' Setswana nickname, Kgosi Loratla (Chief Big Noise), conveys the character of the man as remembered by Simon Ratshosa 25 years later:
The first glance at him...you feel at once as you look into his stern but ugly face that you are in the mouth of an angry lion...He could scream like wounded elephant, tables turned up-side-down, papers thrown here and there as if by magic or a cyclone, the walls of his office shake as if by an earth tremor at the thundering order of this great chief.
He would never permit himself to be oil-influenced by his subordinate officials; to this point he was very sarcastic.
He was... severe to all those who opposed his plans and above all hetook an interest in the police that was one of his standing pride.
Or, as Williams himself put it:
My new police force was a great success, and I was never prouder of anything in my life than of my Basuto police.
In many respects Ralph Williams was somewhat like Charles Rey three decades later - a more bureaucratic embodiment of the mercenary and mercantile tradition in colonial administration. But there were also elements of the humanitarian tradition within Williams's administrative style, which Rey failed to recognise when he proclaimed Williams as a worthy predecessor.
Williams had realised that effective administration by the tiny central secretariat rested on effective cooperation with the Chiefs who ran the everyday local administration of 'tribal reserves'. He therefore supported them to the hilt against all comers. Linchwe 'returned my regard to the full', and Sebele 'was, I think, extremely fond of me'.
Williams's deposition of Chief Sekgoma Letsholathebe in Ngamiland in 1906 was therefore the exception rather than the rule which Rey took it to be - in deposing Gobuamang, Tshekedi, Sebele II and Molefi. Williams was more in the Mackenzie tradition of confidence in the potentials of African society than in the confrontational tradition of Rhodes, who had even insulted Khama in public to his face.
The next two resident commissioners fit much better into the role of stolid policemen - F.W. Panzera (1906-16) and Dr.E.C.F. Garraway (1916-17).
Colonel 'Pan' Panzera, grandson of a British consul at Naples, had entered the British army as an engineer officer, specializing as a 'submarine miner' and entering the Bechuanaland Border Police as Government Engineer and Superintendant of the Public Works Department in 1893. He distinguished himself as the commanding officer of British artillery during the siege of Mafikeng, and authored two works: Questions and Answers on Gunnery and The Officering of the Artillery Militia.
Panzera is also the most likely candidate for the official greeted in the streets of Khama's capital, Palapye, as a well-known lover. His particular obsession, however, was lady missionaries. Simon Ratshosa characterized Panzera as 'lacking of necessary controlment of the natives', but he continued to be backed up by the extremely capable Barry May as Government Secretary.
Meanwhile,the office and powers of the British high commissioner in South Africa were redefined in 1907-10 for the dual role of Governor-General, representing the British crown in the Union of South Africa, and of High Commissioner for Basutoland, Bechuanaland Protectorate, and Swaziland - which became known as the High Commission Territories. The resident commissionerships of the three territories were technically in the gift of the High Commissioner, for whom they acted in the role of lieutenant-governors, though the Dominions Office in London usually initiated appointments from the time of Rey onwards.
Garraway, the son of an Irish colonel, was appointed Resident Commissioner of the B.P. in 1916. He had qualified as a doctor at Trinity College Dublin, and had joined the Bechuanaland Border Police as a surgeon in 1891. But he found military administration more congenial than medical practice, and went on from Bechuanaland through the South African Constabulary to become Military Secretary to the High Commissioner in 1910.
According to Simon Ratshosa, Garraway cheerily told Khama that he had thrown his medicines away 'to try another profession'. Within two years of taking the resident commissionership of Bechuanaland he was transferred by the High Commissioner to take charge of the Basutoland Mounted Police.
Between Garraway's departure in 1917 and the appointment of the Panzera-like Colonel Daniel in 1928, there were two military policemen of quite a different stamp who became resident commissioners.
Panzera had been behoven to, if not craven before, mercantile interests. He had undermined and forbidden Khama's investment in a trading company - a royal attempt to secure 'tribal' state revenues for the future - at the behest of mercantile interests in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. By contrast, James Macgregor, appointed as resident commissioner in 1917, stood up for Khama against the (albeit left-wing) legal and pecuniary interests of Emanuel Gluckmann, the Johannesburg lawyer who was suing Khama on behalf of the Birwa people.
Macgregor, German-educated son of a Scots lawyer, had joined the British army in 1880, transferring to the Basutoland Mounted Police in 1884. There he developed a scholarly interest in Sesotho language and culture, and married a daughter of the Reverend D.F. Ellenberger, a Swiss missionary of the Paris Evangelical Mission. He assisted his father-in-law in writing the History of the Basuto,Ancient and Modern, translating the first volume from French into English for publication. After twenty years as an Assistant Commissioner in Basutoland, he transferred to the Bechuanaland Protectorate as Government Secretary in succession to Barry May. Five years later he was made Resident Commissioner.
"A man created by the Almighty for native interests, a man who keeps his word" was Khama's assessment of Macgregor according to Simon Ratshosa, who added that Macgregor was despised by 'some white men who liked the natives ruined'.
Macgregor was succeeded by his brother-in-law Jules Ellenberger. Born in a Lesotho cave, hollowed out from a porcupine's nest but well furnished as a home, Jules Ellenberger lived for 102 years from fourteen years before the declaration of the Bechuanaland Protectorate until eight years after the independence of the Republic of Botswana.
Educated in Cape Colony at multi-racial Lovedale College and in Paris, he joined the B.P. service as a police clerk and court interpreter at the age of nineteen. He then spent the whole of his working life as a government employee in the Bechuanaland Protectorate, based in Gaborone, Ngamiland and Mafikeng, and rising to Government Secertary in 1916 and Resident Commissioner in 1923. The eldest son of a distinguished family of scholars and university professors as well as missionaries, Jules Ellenberger was a fluent linguist thoroughly conversant with Setswana culture who, according to Simon Ratshosa, 'knew natives far better than any other official'.
Jules Ellenberger was the most direct exponent in Bechuanaland administration of the missionary and humanitarian tradition dating back to Mackenzie and Warren - a tradition obviously compatible with the paternalistic ideas of 'trusteeship' and 'indirect rule' which were being bandied about at the League of Nations and by the British after the First World War.
Ellenberger supported the Chiefs of Bechuanaland in resisting the encroachments of white settler interests intent on colonial development, which the Chiefs knew full well from experience elsewhere in Southern Africa inevitably led to the expropriation of land and white settlement, robbing them of local autonomy and inevitably hastening the incorporation of the Bechuanaland Protectorate into the Union of South Africa. Ellenberger called on his masters in Pretoria and London to abolish all concessions held by (white) commercial companies in the protectorate. The only way to stop Bechuanaland being absorbed by the Union, he argued, was by a stop on all 'development' as then conceived.
Ellenberger's philosophy appalled Leopold Amery, the new Colonial and Dominions Secretary in London. Amery had split the Dominions and Colonies into separate portfolios in 1925, with the High Commission Territories falling under the Dominions Office because of their 'inevitable' absorption by the Union of South Africa (or possibly by Southern Rhodesia in Bechuanaland's case). Amery's whole position was that the three territories should be developed by a dualistic policy, promoting both British settler enterprise and provision of native welfare facilities, so that the territories would tip the balance towards British interests when they joined the otherwise Afrikaner-dominated Union.
Privately Amery accused Ellenberger of keeping 'the natives quiet and happy...like a game reserve of wild animals' (or a human Whipsinade) in order to keep them out of the Union. In print Amery was kinder, remarking that Ellenberger was
'a fine specimen of the old type of Protectorate official...Steeped in native thought and ways his one concern was for the welfare of his proteges, but suspicious of anything that might upset their accustomed way of life. My heart, but not my head, was with him and I chose, in Colonel (Sir Charles) Rey, an active successor all out to put the Bechuana on their feet economically.'
Charles Rey was therefore deliberately chosen as a counter-weight against the 'missionary' tradition of colonial administration as exemplified by Jules Ellenberger.
But first there was an interim resident commissioner of the old 'mercenary' type - the unfortunate Colonel Daniel, backed by the even more unfortunate and according to Rey 'raving mad' C.L.O'B. Dutton as Government Secretary. (Dutton also came from the Lesotho missionary network.) Rey was obliged to understudy Daniel for six months until that memorable day, 1st April 1930, when Rey became 'monarch' in his own right.
Charles Rey was the 'new broom' who saw himself as bringing a new age to the Bechuanaland Protectorate, and his achievements as an administrator were considerable and should not be demeaned. He fell in with the modish Dual Policy, propagated by Leopold Amery as well by Lord Lugard and the Indirect Rule school, combining development of European interests in Africa with facilities for African welfare. But his interpretation of dualism was essentially that of Leopold Amery, his patron, following in the track of Governor Coryndon of Kenya, rather than the philosophy of Lugard and the'theorists' of the Colonial Office.
Amery appointed Rey, Anthony Kirk-Greene tells us, over the heads of the Colonial Office nominees for the resident commissionership - Philip Mitchell and Granville St.John Orde-Browne being names that were canvassed.
Rey by contrast came out of an essentially commercial form of bureaucratic background, in the Board of Trade and the Abyssinian Corporation, with little sympathy for the welfare measures in which he was willynilly engaged. This comes out in his attitudes towards British workers and African intellectuals despite being secretary of the Unemployment Grants Committee in London and being chairman of the Board of Advice on Native Education at Mafikeng. During his years as Resident Commissioner he also became an enthusiast for the supply of African labour to the Witwatersrand gold mines.
By the end of his career, Rey stood unabashedly on the side of colonial exploitation and settler development, calling for the incorporation of Bechuanaland into the Union of South Africa. It is this increasingly 'mercenary' aspect of Rey which helps to explain the dramatic twist in the attitude of a later Resident Commissioner, Anthony Sillery, towards the Rey Diaries.
'Rey was a distinguished man, a man of energy, ability and perception. His diaries are a faithful report of what he achieved against tremendous odds'.
A month later Sillery had developed a very different view, and wrote back:
'I have now read the Rey diaries from cover to cover and I am sorry to say that...they...show Rey as vain, egotistical, contemptuous of people, especially African people, impetuous and totally lacking in patience, and absurdly prone to dramatization. The diaries also contain inaccuracies and I suspect that Rey often raised the tension in order to show himself in a good light. Colonial administration was often a trying & sometimes, tho' rarely, even a dangerous business, but it was not like this...least of all in Bechuanaland....Much of his writing appears to me to be fantasy, not representing the real man at all.'
Sillery concluded with another point, which is all the more telling about the ethos and loyalties of colonial administration:
'Rey does not come out of the diaries as a very attractive type of colonial administrator....The world is full of people who sieze any opportunity to knock hell out of the Imperial past, and these diaries might, or rather would, furnish another rod for the back of the poor Colonial Service.'
Copyright © 1999 Neil Parsons
Last updated 19 August 1999