Half-body portrait of Jan Tzatzoe (Dyani Tshatshu), turned slightly to his right but facing forward.

Introduction to Jan Tzatzoe

with a Discussion of His Letters to the Directors of the London Missionary Society, 1 September 1838 and 8 October 1845

  • Author: Jared McDonald (University of the Free State)
  • Internal Peer-Reviewing Editor: Adrian S. Wisnicki (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
  • Date (publication and updates): 2021
  1. Overview
  2. Jan Tzatzoe’s Background
    1. Growing Up Between Two Worlds
    2. From Heir to Prize Convert
    3. Caught Up in Frontier Conflict
    4. From Prize Convert to Ambassador
  3. The Historical Context for Tzatzoe’s Letters to the Directors of the London Missionary Society
    1. Triumphant Return Home After His Journey “over the great water”
    2. Concern for His Children and Other Disillusionments
  4. Postscript
  5. Works Cited/Further Reading
  6. Page Citation
  7. Lead Image Details


Jan Tzatzoe (also Dyani Tshatshu, c.1792-1868) was a chief of the amaNtinde lineage of the amaXhosa in southern Africa who became a prize convert and missionary of the London Missionary Society (LMS). Tzatzoe spent part of his childhood at Bethelsdorp mission station, one of the first mission stations established by the LMS in the Cape Colony, where he was influenced by the controversial missionary, Johannes van der Kemp, and mentored by James Read, Sr., Van der Kemp’s assistant. Nonetheless, Tzatzoe maintained close ties with his family and people, and so became caught between the worlds of the amaXhosa chieftaincies of the eastern Cape frontier and the evangelical-humanitarian missionaries and campaigners of the LMS.

In the mid-1830s, Tzatzoe travelled to England and Scotland where he testified before the House of Commons Select Committee on Aborigines and gave addresses at churches and fundraising gatherings. As such, he was exposed to the life and culture of the colonial metropole to an extent unique among his people. However, following the War of the Axe (Seventh Frontier War) of 1846-47, Tzatzoe’s loyalty to the Crown and the cause of evangelical-humanitarianism came into question, such that by the time of his passing he was alienated from the LMS. Upon his death in 1868, he had also witnessed the entrenchment of British colonial domination over the eastern Cape and the amaXhosa.

One More Voice publishes two letters by Tzatzoe to the Directors of the London Missionary Society. The first letter was written in September 1838 and recounts Tzatzoe’s safe return to his people at the Buffalo River following his time in the United Kingdom. The second letter dates from October 1845 and conveys Tzatzoe’s concerns for his children and their education, among other disillusionments.

The Historical Context for Tzatzoe’s Letters to the Directors of the London Missionary Society

Triumphant Return Home After His Journey “over the great water”

After testifying before the Select Committee in 1836, Tzatzoe, Philip and Read, Sr. remained in the UK and revisited the Committee to observe its proceedings. As a result, the three men (Read, Jr. and Stoffels had parted for the Cape in late 1836) were present in the UK in June 1837 when King William IV died and Queen Victoria ascended the throne. Tzatzoe eventually departed for the Cape in November 1837 along with Philip and Read, Sr., and disembarked in Cape Town three months later.

In September 1838, in the first of the letters published by One More Voice, Tzatzoe wrote to the Directors of the London Missionary Society to inform them of his safe return to the Buffalo River and his people. Tzatzoe’s testimony before the Select Committee had proven impactful, as did his appearances at numerous LMS events. In the letter, Tzatzoe appears to have been aware of his heightened status, noting that he had also relayed a personal message from Lord Glenelg to the other Xhosa chiefs following his return to the Cape.

He also recounts how his people were pleasantly surprised by the warm treatment he had received “over the great water.” Tzatzoe relays that he found his wife and children “quite well,” which was a relief given his two-year absence. He also shares the news that the “Lord is blessing [H]is work” among the amaNtinde and that Brownlee has baptized “two young chiefs,” Tzatzoe’s first cousins.

Tzatzoe uses the opportunity of his writing to the Directors of the LMS to encourage them to support schooling among his people, noting that it is his conviction that education was necessary for the spreading of the Gospel. In Tzatzoe’s view, the infant, secondary, and day schools in operation among his people require better resourcing and more teachers. He also calls for more mission stations to be established in the region. In sum, the letter relays a sense of optimism about future relations between the amaXhosa and the Cape Colony, and Tzatzoe is hopeful that peace can be maintained along the frontier.

Concern for His Children and Other Disillusionments

The expansion of schooling for the amaXhosa was a cause that Tzatzoe continued to campaign for in the years after his return from the UK. This is apparent in a letter he wrote to the Directors of the LMS in October 1845, which is also published by One More Voice. In the letter, dated 8 October 1845, Tzatzoe expresses particular concern for the education of his own children. He notes that it has been his desire to send his children to a good school outside Xhosaland, perhaps owing to his own experience of being mission educated at Bethelsdorp and being conscious of the opportunities this had afforded him.

However, due to a shortage of suitable schools and his inhibiting financial situation, he continues, he is not able to provide an education for his children in the manner for which he had hoped. Tzatzoe adds that his concern for the fate of his children has been amplified by the fact that two of his sons have adopted what he termed the “customs of our heathen [ancestory].” In his view, this has done “great injury” to the cause of God and mission among his people.

Tzatzoe does not elaborate on the Xhosa customs embraced by his sons. The tone and wording of the letter, however, convey a feeling of personal sorrow and a profound sense of disappointment at the behavior of his sons. He describes his anxiety in wanting to relocate his younger children away from any possible negative influence. Such points allude to the extent to which Tzatzoe had immersed himself in his Christian faith, eschewing the traditional and spiritual practices of his people – at least in correspondence with the Directors of the LMS. More generally, the letters suggest that Tzatzoe, as a prize convert caught between two cultural worlds and with a colonial persona to uphold, was often forced to make difficult choices, sometimes between his family and his Christian beliefs.

While a tenuous peace had held along the frontier since the conclusion of the Sixth Frontier War in 1835, tensions were rising once again at the time that Tzatzoe wrote to the Directors in 1845. Part of his anxiety about the future of his children may be attributed to this wider context. The tensions erupted in the Seventh Frontier War (or War of the Axe) in mid-1846 that lasted until December 1847 (Mostert 1992).

Tzatzoe blamed the colonial government for the outbreak of the new war and joined the Xhosa forces in an early confrontation with the British at Fort Peddie. He would subsequently express his opposition to British colonial policies on the frontier, also noting his personal grievances at being unfairly compensated for his missionary work. The letter of 1845 thus foreshadows a general sense of disillusionment and frustration that would overcome Tzatzoe in subsequent years.