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I speak of Africa

The annexation of Natal

Most of the Boer Voortrekkers (pioneers) headed for the fertile grasslands of Natal, a region bordered to the north by the military kingdom of the Zulus. However, Retief was murdered on the orders of Dingane, the Zulu king, and fierce fighting ensued between the Voortrekkers and theimpis (warrior troops) of the Zulus. Retief’s successor as leader of the Voortrekkers, Andries Pretorius, organised his men into an effective fighting force and defeated the Zulus at the Battle of Blood River in 1838, proclaiming the Boer republic of Natal the following year.

Map of Natal from J.C. Byrne's Emigrant’s guide to Port Natal. London: Effingham Wilson, 1849 [FCO Historical Collection DT2250 BYR]Map of Natal from J.C. Byrne's Emigrant’s guide to Port Natal. London: Effingham Wilson, 1849 [FCO Historical Collection DT2250 BYR]The British government took a dim view of the establishment of an independent Boer republic, whose access to the Indian Ocean threatened British control over maritime trade routes. British troops were sent to Port Natal (now Durban) in 1842 and three years later Britain formally annexed Natal. Once again the wagons of the Voortrekkers rolled across the grasslands of the interior in search of a new home, this time to establish two new Boer republics, Orange Free State and the Transvaal.

Anxious to bolster up the white population of Natal after the Boer exodus, the British government encouraged emigration to its new possession. This pocket-sized booklet, one of a series of emigrant’s guides published by Effingham Wilson, discusses the economic potential of Natal, particularly for the growth of plantation crops, such as cotton, and the necessity of a sizeable European population to maximise this potential.

The official entrusted with relations with the African peoples of Natal and neighbouring areas was Theophilus Shepstone (1817-93), the son of a missionary; his command of African languages and flair for diplomacy enabled him to enjoy good relations with the Zulu king, Mpande, and to persuade the bulk of the African population of Natal (some 100,000 people) to move into designated reserves. Thus Natal entered a long period of peace - and segregation.

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