“The General and the Caffre Chief”

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The General and the Caffre Chief.


(From the Cape Town Mail Extra.)

Foremost in importance among the events of the past month, we have to notice the expedition of General Cathcart into the country of the Basuta chief Moshesh, and the sanguinary battle of Berea; followed by the submission of that chief and the prompt return of the troops into the colony.

Having issued the proclamation which appeared in our last summary—declaring that his object was, "not to make war, but to settle all disputes, and to establish the blessings of peace," and commanding "all chiefs and men of all classes and tribes" to remain quiet and abide by his judgment and decision—General Cathcart proceeded across the Orange River into the Sovereignty, and on the 1st of December encamped at Commissie Drift, on the Caledon River, where he was joined by Colonel Eyre, 73d Regiment, and Colonel Duff, 74th, with their respective columns; the whole force, including the column under his Excellenecy's immediate command, amounting to about 2,500 men of all arms. Here, in reply to an address presented to him by the inhabitants of Caledon, General Cathcart announced that he had summoned the chiefs Moshesh, Molitsani, Sikonyella, Moroko, and Gert Taaybosch to meet him at Platberg on the 13th, and that each of those chiefs would be compelled to pay the amount of cattle which the Commissioners, after due investigation, should think fit to award. On the 8th the camp moved forward towards Platberg, and was joined by a dctachment of the 45th Regiment, under Lieutenant Howard, with some fieldpieces; while 40 burghers, of a neighbouring field-cornetcy, turned out to protect the border, in the rear of the Governor's operations. Unfortunately, during the first day's march, his Excellency lost the valuable aid of his military secretary, Colonel Seymour, who was thrown violently from his horse, by which his left shoulder was fractured, and he had consequently to be conveyed in a cart to the neighbouring village of Smithfield.

On the morning of the 13th his Excellency arrived at Platberg, which he found deserted by the natives. In the evening two young chiefs, sons of Moshesh, came to the camp, but General Cathcart refused to see them, and next morning they returned to their father's "great place," Thaba Bossigo, accompanied by Mr. Commissioner Owen who was the bearer of the following message:—

"Platberg, Dec. 13, 1852.    

"Chief Moshesh,—When I was sent by the Queen to be Governor, and to command her army in this part of the world, six months past, I wrote to acquaint you and the other chiefs, and I told you that I would visit you as soon as the rebellion of the Gaikas and Tambookies and the Hottentots was ended. This has been done, as you have no doubt learnt, and I now visit this country as I promised, and desire to see you and the other chiefs, as my friends, at my camp at Platberg, without delay.

"My proclamation will have told you the righteous cause in which I am come and what it is my duty to do.

"As I told you in my letter, I now hope my visit to you may be in peace; but I must do justice, whether it be by war or in peace. I had been told that you are a great chief and a good man, but I find that though you were a man of good words you have not done what you promised.

"I find, not only that you have not paid the fine of cattle imposed on you by the Assistant Commissioners, Major Hogge and Mr. Owen, and which you promised to pay for the robberies of cattle and horses committed by your people and with your knowledge, up to the time of your agreement with them; but since then you and the people over whom you rule, including Molitsani and Morosi and your own son Letsea, with their people, and certain robbers called Jan Letell and Bashuli, have been stealing cattle from your neighbours, and otherwise doing them harm. Even murders have been committed by them, and this village has been plundered and destroyed. In short, the Basuta people under your rule have become a nation of thieves.

"This state of things must not be, and I have come to put an end to it, and to restore peace between you and your neighbours if I can, and if not, to put you and your people out of the way of doing them wrong, and this I must do promptly.

"I will not therefore stop to talk, but tell you now once for all, that having carefully inquired into the business, and judging as justly and as mercifully as I can what is the amount of cattle and damage you should be required to restore, I demand of you 10,000 head of cattle and 1,000 horses to be delivered over to the British resident at this place, within three days' time, in order to be restored to those from whom they have been stolen.

"If this be not done, I must go and take either cattle or other things from you and your people, and from Molitsani and his people, and if resistance be made it will then be war between us, and I must then take three times the amount of cattle, as well as kill many of your people and destroy their dwellings and kraals, which I should be very sorry to be obliged to do. But if this cattle be paid within three days, and that I am assured peace is restored, I will take the army back again in peace.

"Now, Chief, if you are an honest man, it is for you to pay the just fine, which is not more than the cattle stolen, and save yourself and your people from ruin, or else prepare for war, for on the fourth day I must bring you to account.

"You must also pay back to Sikonyella and Moroka what you have stolen from them, and be at peace with them. Carolus Batjee and his people must return to Platberg, and the boundaries fixed by Governor Sir Harry Smith must be respected.

"When all this is done, you must remain at peace with all your neighbours, and the Basutas must cease to be a nation of thieves, for if I come again it will not be to talk, but to make an end of the Basuta nation, as has been done of the Gaikas and Tambookie tribe of Mapassa.

"G. Cathcart."    

Next day Moshesh himself made his appearance, and an interview took place between him and the General, highly characteristic on both sides. The "talk" is thus reported in an official notice afterwards published:—

"Governor.—I am glad to see you and to make your acquaintance.

"Moshesh.—I am glad to see the governor, as since his arrival in the country I have been expecting a visit from him, which his letter in October last led me to expect.

"Governor.—I told you in that letter that I hoped to meet you in peace, and I still hope so, as I look to you as the Great Chief in this part.

"Moshesh.—I hope so, too; for peace is like the rain that makes the grass grow, while war is like the wind which dries it up. You are right in looking to me; that is in accordance with the treaties.

"Governor.—I will not now talk much, but wish to know whether you received my message yesterday, in which I made the demand of cattle and horses? I have nothing to alter in that letter.

"Moshesh.—Do you mean the letter I received from Mr. Owen?


"Moshesh.—I received the letter, but do not know where I shall get the cattle from. Am I to understand that the 10,000 head demanded are a fine imposed for the thefts committed by my people, in addition to the cattle stolen?

"Governor.—I demand but 10,000 head, though your people have stolen many more, and I consider this a just award. It must be paid in three days.

"Moshesh.—Do the three days count from yesterday, or to-day?

"Governor.—To-day is the first of the three.

"Moshesh.—The time is short, and the cattle many, will you not allow me six days to collect them?

"Governor.—You had time given you when Major Hogge and Mr. Owen made the first demand, and then promised to comply with it, but did not.

"Moshesh.—But I was not quite idle. Do not the papers in the commissioner's hands show that I collected cattle?

"Governor.—They do, but not half of the number demanded.

"Moshesh.—That is true, but I have not now control enough over my people to induce them to comply with the demand, however anxious I may be to do so.

"Governor.—If you are not able to collect them, I must go and do it, and if any resistance be made it will then be war, and I shall not be satisfied with 10,000 head, but shall take all I can.

"Moshesh.—Do not talk of war, for however anxious I may be to avoid it, you know that a dog when beaten will show his teeth.

"Governor.—It will, therefore, be better that you should give up the cattle than that I should go for them.

"Moshesh.—I wish for peace; but have the same difficulty with my people that you have in the colony—your prisons are never empty, and I have thieves among my people.

"Governor.—I would, then, recommend you to catch the thieves and bring them to me, and I will hang them.

"Moshesh.—I do not wish you to hang them, but to talk to them, and give them advice. If you hang them they cannot talk.

"Governor.—If I hang them they cannot steal, and I am not going to talk any more. I have said that if you do not give up the cattle in three days, I must come and take them.

"Moshesh—I beg of you not to talk of war.

"Governor.—I have no more to say; I must either leave this in peace in three days, or go to Thaba Bossigo. I therefore advise you to go and collect the cattle as quickly as possible.

"Moshesh.—Do not talk of coming to Thaba Bossigo; if you do I shall lay the blame on the boers from whom the cattle were stolen, and whom I requested to come and point out to me their cattle that I might restore them. I will go at once and do my best, and, perhaps, God will help me.

"After leaving his Excellency's tent, but before returning home, Moshesh sent to request that the day on which the interview took place might not count in the three. This request his Excellency acceded to."

After the action in which Moshesh was defeated, as described in our yesterday's impression, a messenger arrived in camp, bearing a flag of truce, and the following letter to General Cathcart:—

"Thaba Bossigo, Midnight, Dec. 20, 1852.    

"Your Excellency,—This day you have fought against my people and taken much cattle. As the object for which you have come is to have a compensation for boers, I beg you will be satisfied with what you have taken. I entreat peace from you—you have shown your power—you have chastised—let it be enough, I pray you; and let me be no
[longer 0002 longer considered an enemy of the Queen. I will try all I can to keep my people in order in the future.

"Your humble servant,                


To which his Excellency returned the following reply:—

"Camp, Caledon River, Dec. 21, 1852.    

"Chief Moshesh,—I have received your letter. The words are those of a great chief, and of one who has the interests of his people at heart. But I care little for words. I judge of men by their actions. I told you that if you did not pay the fine I must go and take it. I am a man who never breaks his word, otherwise the Queen would not have sent me here. I have taken the fine by force, and I am satisfied.

"I am not angry with your people for fighting in defence of their property; for those who fought—and fought well—were not all of them thieves, and I am sorry that many were killed. This is your fault; for if you had paid the fine it would not have happened. I now desire not to consider you, Chief, as an enemy ot the Queen, but I must proclaim martial law in the Sovereignty, to give to Commandants and Field-Cornets power to make commandos in a regular manner, and, with the consent of the Resident, enter your country in search of plundered horses and cattle that may be stolen after this time. And I expect you to assist them; for though you are a great chief, it seems that you either do not, or cannot, keep your own people from stealing; and among the cattle you sent as part of your fine there were three oxen, the property of Mr. Hain, of Bloemfontein, stolen since I crossed the Caledon river. Now, therefore, Chief Moshesh, I consider your past obligations fulfilled, and hope that you will take measures for preventing such abuses in future.

"In the meantime, as the Queen's representative, I subscribe myself, your friend,

"George Cathcart.    

"P.S.—Chief, I shall be glad to see either yourself or your sons, in the same friendly manner and in the same good faith as before the fight, at Platberg, to-morrow or next day; but I shall now send away the army, and go back to the colony in a few days' time."

Item Details

Author(s) & contributor(s): Anonymous; George Cathcart; Moshoeshoe I

Date(s): 13 December 1852; 20 December 1852; 21 December 1852; 1 March 1853

Form & transmission history: Discussions with a British colonial official and an original letter, as translated (presumably), edited, and published in a British periodical.

Original publication details: The Times (1 March 1853): 8-9

Digital edition & date: One More Voice, 2021

Critical editing & encoding: Caitlin Matheis, Adrian S. Wisnicki, Anne M. Martin

Cite this digital edition (MLA): Anonymous; George Cathcart; Moshoeshoe I. “‘The General and the Caffre Chief’” (13 December 1852; 20 December 1852; 21 December 1852; 1 March 1853). Caitlin Matheis, Adrian S. Wisnicki, Anne M. Martin, eds. One More Voice, new dawn edition, 2021, https://onemorevoice.org/html/transcriptions/liv_020063_TEI.html.

Rights: Critically-edited text copyright One More Voice. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International

Explore complete/original item: The Times Digital Archive

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