9. The Great Trek-2: 1837-1841: Transvaal and Natal

Chapter 9 in the series WHO STOLE THE LAND?

— The Great Trek is an epic saga in all of Western History. In Chapter 8 we addressed the leaders of the Great Trek and the first battles with Mzilikazi. The Matabele leader had twice attacked the wagon circle laagers of the Trekkers and had been defeated. He had, however, stolen all their cattle. The Trekkers had retaliated by attacking his royal kraal at Mosega and had taken a huge number of cattle, thereby restoring much of what Mzilikazi had stolen from them in the earlier Battle of Vegkop. Mzilikazi was no longer in control south of the Vaal River, but the threat he represented was obvious.

The (northward tilted) map above shows the situation by mid-1837. The Trekkers had formally bought the land between the Vet and Vaal Rivers from Makwana, and then formed their first rudimentary settlement at Winburg (“Victory City”). Makwana retained a piece of land on the Coal Stream near its confluence with the Sand River. Between the Riet and Vet Rivers was land that was no man’s property. Nothing prevented Trekkers from settling there, and some did. Before their arrival, no one had figured out how to make a living on those dry Prairie Plains, so bitterly cold in Winter, at least by African standards. Some winters it gets snow on the ground in the south. The settlements of Griqua people pretty much hugged the Vaal, Harts and Orange Rivers. Chief Moroko and his refugee group of Ba’Rolong still lived at Thaba’Nchu with Wesleyan Rev. Archbell and Chief Lepui and his refugee Ba’Thlapin still lived at the Bethulie mission station with French missionary Pellessier.

Moshesh of the Ba’Sotho was still in charge in what is today Lesotho and in the areas of the present Free State bordering Lesotho, the border of which is shown in broken blue line in the map above. Sekonyela of the Ba’Tlokwa held the northern areas of the Drakensberg mountain country. Moshesh still had his French Missionary Casalis and Sekonyela had Rev. Allison of the Methodist Church. The refugee Koranna and Khoi were still in the general area of Moshesh and Sekonyela, as described in Chapter 8. The high country of the present Eastern Free State was under Moshesh.

What the Trekkers did not know at the time, was that, since their clash with Mzilikazi, Dingane of the amaZulu had attacked1 him. In a clash that took place somewhere in the Pilanesberg near the present Sun City, Dingane had taken from Mzilikazi much cattle. The Zulu Army had also taken from him more than a hundred sheep originally taken from the Trekkers. See Chapter 7 for Mzilikazi’s comment to Moffat about Dingane; his fears had come true. Mzilikazi’s shattered but disciplined troops had followed Dingane’s army, and had retaken some of the cattle. The sheep will enter our story again below. At this point, Mzilikazi must have felt a suitably hunted man. No man on earth better deserved that status, though, given his inhuman excesses described by Moffat in Chapter 7.

♦ The End of Mzilikazi – “What Light is to Darkness”

With their numbers strengthened and Mzilikazi’s malignant presence still in position to their northwest, the key thing on the minds of the Trekkers was the destruction of  this bloodthirsty despot’s power. This was, it would seem, less of a concern to Uys and Retief, whose intended destination was Natal, as explained before.  By October 1837, Retief was preparing for a visit to the British merchants at Port Natal and to King Dingane of the amaZulu.

The three leaders were not seeing eye to eye in respect of Natal, but Uys consented to supporting Potgieter’s second expedition against Mzilikazi, who had his capital at Kapain, north of the earlier Mosega. The Trekker expedition was accompanied by some of the tribesmen from Thaba’Nchu, but it has never been clarified how many. In November 1837, in a running battle over a period of nine days, the Trekkers under Potgieter and Uys drove Mzilikazi right out of what is today South Africa.  He led his people to what would become Matabeleland in today’s Zimbabwe, the region south and east of the Victoria Falls. Theal’s summary describes it best2:

“…the punishment inflicted on Moselekatse was so severe that he found it necessary to abandon the country he had devastated, and flee to the far north, there to resume on other tribes his previous career of destruction.”

Charl Celliers3, who was on this expedition, put it more poetically:

On this occasion, the Lord our God again gave him in our hands such that we brought him down, and over 3000 of them died, so that he then left the country, and what had been his became ours“.

The battle is described in detail in AmaBhulu (Click on the image for the book on Amazon.com). The Matabele would never again clash as a nation with the Afrikaners who settled in Mzikiazi’s earlier territory. Generally good relations would be maintained between the two parties. Potgieter declared4 the claim of the Trekkers to the lands which Mzilikazi had abandoned. Theal describes the territory as follows:

“It included the greater part of the present South African Republic*, fully half** of the present Orange Free State, and the whole of Southern Betshuanaland to the Kalahari Desert, except the district occupied by the Batlapin. This immense tract of country was then almost uninhabited, and must have remained so if the Matabele had not been driven out.”

*: What was until 1994 the Transvaal Province of the country known as South Africa (from May 1910 until April 1994) and what would be the South African (Boer) Republic until the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899. Theal wrote his account in 1888.

**: The region north of the Vet River, as purchased from Makwana in Chapter 8.

In a later work5, Theal added:

“Throughout this vast region the wretched fugitives in the mountains and desert places could again breathe freely and build huts and make gardens in safety, for the terrible exterminator had at last been vanquished and expelled. What light is to darkness, what joy is to sorrow and despair, that was the victory of Potgieter and Uys to them.”

♦ The Trans-Vaal

In order to place this newly won territory on our map below, we consult Walker6, who states the territory to have been between the Vaal River (to the south), the Soutpansberg (to the north), the Rhenosterpoort (in the east), the saltpan near Litakoo (today Kuruman) to the southwest and the (Kalahari) desert to the west. The Rhenosterpoort (now largely submerged under the Loskopdam) provided a tributary of the Olifants River, and the latter seems to have been a rough eastern border for Potgieter’s envisioned claim. The nearby Drakensberg forms an equally natural boundary slightly to the east. In fact, a man whom we shall meet later as British Commissar, the Hon. Henry Cloete7, described the eastern limit as the 30th parallel (longitude), which runs roughly through the present towns of Ermelo, Belfast and Louis Trichardt. That, in fact, represents roughly the Drakensberg as eastern limit. The Soutpansberg to the north makes a sensible and quite continuous boundary. The claims of the Ba’Thlaping to the southwest were clearly being respected.

The indefiniteness of the western boundary was the real problem. Mzilikazi had driven several Ba’Tswana nations, such as the Ba’Hurutshe, Ba’Kwena and even the Ba’Fokeng into the Kalahari desert over the preceding decade. They had previously lived up and down the Marico and Harts Rivers in what would later be known as the “Western Transvaal”. In this respect, see Chapter 6. For the purposes of this present map, we confine Potgieter’s claim to the borders of the present South Africa. At the time it stretched further west. The issues on that border would flare up later in the 1800s and we’ll treat those in due course when we get there.

It is to be noted that, in the east, the amaSwazi claimed control over major swathes of the country to the east of the upper (southern) reaches of the Olifants River, even though they did not live there. They were a power to be reckoned with. Keep in mind that they had stopped even Shaka of the amaZulu. We shall shortly meet them again.

The Trekkers under Potgieter started to settle the area they had purchased from Makwana, and which they called the Winburg District. In the TransVaal area won from Mzilikazi, they formed the Potchefstroom District in the southwest and eventually the Soutpansberg District in the north and northeast. In American terms, the southwest has similarities to Western Texas, the central parts are somewhat like the area around San Antonio to Dallas, while the north is dry subtropical, which has no United States equivalent. The southeastern areas are 6,000 foot high Prairie country with heavy winter frost.

Here we leave events in the Trans-Vaal for now, turn back the clock just a little, and turn our focus back to Piet Retief and the major group of Trekkers still arriving in extended family or community groups in the Thaba’Nchu and Winburg areas. Back in the Old Cape Colony, the Tarka District was being denuded of people. Governor D’Urban had warned that it would happen. He knew these people and the respect was mutual. However, he had been dismissed by the malicious and incompetent Lord Glenelg and was in care-taking mode (See Chapter 8).

♦ Dreams of Natal

In the period preceding the Battle of Kapain, the Trekkers had formally elected Piet Retief as their Governor and Commandant-General. Gerrit Maritz had been elected President of the National Assembly. Erasmus Smit, the former London Missionary Society man, had been appointed representative of the Dutch Reformed Church. A constitution of some nine points had been agreed, of which one was that there would be no intercourse of any form whatsoever with the London Missionary Society, a body that evoked nothing but utter revulsion with these people. The history recounted in these pages should make it abundantly clear why this should have been. It is most odd to the present author that someone as informed and astute as Cory8, who recounts these decisions, records his surprise at this. This organization had been the source of almost every bad thing that had happened to these much-tried people for the previous 37 years, including the circumstances that had forced them to leave the country of their fathers. They absolutely loathed and detested the organization, and with good justification.

Other more specific rules were also made, as may be read in the same segment of Cory above,  including no molestation of the aboriginal tribes or wandering San Bushmen. They were certainly not allowed to take possession of any children of such people. Fines were determined for any such transgressions.

In mid 1837, the vanguard of the Trekkers, with Retief now formally in command, started moving9 towards the Drakensberg escarpment in the area of the present Harrismith. The hilly site known as Kerkenberg (Church Mountain – left) south of Harrismith above the Drakensberg (Zulu: Kathlamba) passes is representative of their location by October 1837. Retief’s daughter left an inscription on a rock at this place, still to be seen today.

On 4 October 1837, Erasmus Smit made an odd but profoundly important entry10 in his diary. It would eventually herald one of the most important events in the history of the country:

“I heard from Barend Liebenberg that the supreme Kafir chief, Sekonyela, on the 3rd of this month passed by in his vicinity with 50 men, 200 head of cattle, sheep, and horses, and that they here recovered the booty stolen from them by Dingaan. That this incident is of grave importance, the future will indeed teach us.”

Smit records (in the very same reference and page number) that the very next day, 5 October 1837, Retief, Maritz, and 13 other men set off for Natal to visit the British merchants at Port Natal and to meet with King Dingane of the amaZulu.

♦ The “Man who would be King”

After a difficult journey of 90 hours, as reported by Retief himself, the Trekker delegation under his lead arrived11 in Port Natal on 20 October 1837 to a great welcome. Retief promptly wrote12 to Dingane requesting an audience and stating his intention to negotiate land and friendship. The ordinary British individuals at the little settlement were elated. They knew and respected Retief from their days on the Cape Frontier. They knew he was also hugely respected by outgoing governor Benjamin D’Urban, after whom they would eventually name Port Natal. Alexander Biggar, one of the leading men at the port wrote as follows to the editor of the Grahamstown Journal13:

“The arrival of Mr. Retief and a party of emigrants at this place on the 19th instant, with a view to their final settlement, was hailed by us as a matter of no small moment. The conviction that we shall, for the future, be permitted to live in peace, and be freed from the constant, though idle threats of Dingaan, has infused a lively spirit amongst us. We can now proceed with confidence and an assurance that our future exertions will be no longer cramped by doubts of our stability, but be rewarded with the fruits of our industry”.

Their excitement was not shared by a self-styled newly-awoken14 mission-organiser, Captain Allen Francis Gardiner (left), an ex-Royal Navy man. He had arrived15 in Cape Town on 13 November 1834 and had then made his way to Dingane. He joined the men at Port Natal with an overinflated concept of his role in the community. He then returned to Britain and extracted from Lord Glenelg, the man responsible for the exodus of the people from the Cape Colony, an instruction to Governor D’Urban to appoint him16 (Gardiner)as Justice of the Peace over the 35 British traders at Port Natal.

On 13 August 1836, in a pointed attempt at thwarting the Great Trek, the British Parliament in London had enacted The Cape of Good Hope Punishment Act17. This Act extended their own jurisdiction (though not territory or protection) from the Cape northward to the 25th degree of southern latitude. This ridiculous Act allowed Britain to apply its laws to the conduct of its “SUBJECTS” outside the territories it occupied or controlled. The Trekkers were the targeted voteless and voiceless subjects who saw in this Act the Biblical Pharaoh attempting to extend his hand over the “Israelites beyond the Red Sea”. The Act also covered the appointment of Justices of the Peace outside the Cape Colony. Gardiner was now one of these odd and powerless creatures.

Port Natal (below, as per Gardiner 1836) and its group of free spirited Englishmen, being south of 25 degrees latitude, were now also covered by this Act. They resented the self-important Gardiner no little bit. They had already made this clear in a Letter of Protest to the Cape Governor18.  They had wanted Britain to declare Natal a British colony to give them some degree of protection, but, in a dispatch of 29 October 1837,  Lord Glenelg had refused19.

Reverend Francis Owen, a Cambridge Mathematics graduate and subsequently curate of Normanton, had been recruited by Gardiner on his visit to London in 1836. Owen and his family sailed with Gardiner for the Cape on Christmas Eve 1836. He arrived20 in the presence of Dingane at Nobamba, five miles from Umgungundlovo, on Saturday 19 August 1837. He was to have a home in the capital of Umgungundlovu in full view of the execution hill, Hlomo AmaBhuto. On that hill sat the little copse, Kwa Matiwane (Place of Matiwane). This was where Dingane previously (1829) had executed the amaNgwane chief, Matiwane (See Chapter 7).

Owen was witness to several executions on that spot in his first few days there. By 26 October 1837 he knew he was living under the “wing” of a murderous despot. When the Retief letter written at Port Natal arrived at Umgungundlovu on that day21, Owen was asked to translate it for Dingane. Eight days later, on 3 November 1837, Dingane sent22 a letter (written by Owen) to Gardiner in Port Natal, asking him to come and advise on the matter of the land for the Trekkers. Two days later, on 5 November 1937, Owen records Piet Retief arriving at Umgungundlovu with “three” other men. There were actually five plus an interpreter. Owen recounts festivities in honour of the visitors on the 7th of November 1837 (see the same reference).


Before proceeding further, the reader needs to be informed of one very key point. When Gardiner had originally met with Dingane, he had made a Treaty with that king that required the English settlers to extradite any deserters from Dingane’s authority23.  It was signed by Gardiner and contained the following statement:

“The British residents at Port Natal on their part engage for the future never to receive or harbour any deserter from the Zoolu country or any of its dependencies, and to use every endeavour to secure and return to the King every such individual endeavouring to find an asylum among them.”

When, later, some amaZulu did in fact turn to Gardiner as refugees or “deserters” from Dingane’s tyranny, Gardner sent them back, only to discover they were being intentionally starved. Gardiner then sent Dingane a message that read as follows24:

“If deserters must be killed, let them be killed at once; but if they are to be starved to death, we are resolved that not another individual shall be sent back.”

Dingane then promptly killed them, as Gardiner himself recounts25 in his own book.

In 1837, in any proper Court of Law, Gardiner, if put under oath, would have had to testify that he knew that Dingane executed people he believed to be “deserters”. He knew full well that ascribing such a label to any person was a death sentence at the hand of Dingane.

♦ Piet Retief and Dingane

We have already referred to the letter Retief sent to Dingane with a view to opening negotiations. We also know, from the above evidence provided, that Dingane then sought the advice of Gardiner about land to trade with the Trekkers.

On 31 October 1837, Owen prepared a first letter26 from Dingane to Retief. Owen refers in his diary to being called by Dingane to bring pen and paper27 (to write this letter), but he does not actually record anything about the contents of the letter. He presumably considered that content private. In this letter, Dingane states that he is very pleased with Retief’s letter and that he would like to return to Retief the Trekker sheep the amaZulu took from Mzilikazi. This checks with Owen recording that Dingane called for all the sheep captured from Mzilikazi to be brought at the time. Dingane also states that they took nine Trekker cattle from Mzilikazi, but that they had (somehow) all died on the way across the Highveld.

This is followed by a second letter28 on November 8, AFTER the actual Retief-Dingane meeting that had taken place from 5 November to 7 November (Retief was still at Umgungundlovu with Rev. Owen on 8 November). Dingane actually states that this letter is in response to the Retief letter of “24 October“. One assumes this refers to Retief’s first letter. In this respect, see Reference 12 below. Since Dingane was illiterate, one can realistically assume that the Cambridge University educated Owen was ascertaining the dates on any letters. Dingane then went on to make the following statement on record in the letter:

To go on now with the request you have made for the land, I am quite willing to grant it; but I first wish to explain that a great many cattle have been stolen from me from the outskirts of my country, by people with clothing, horses, and guns. These people told the Zoolas that they were Boers, and that one party was gone to Port Natal, and that they (the Zoolas) would see now what would come upon them. It is my wish now, that you should shew that you are not guilty of the charge which has been laid against you, as I now believe you to be. It is my request that you should retake my cattle and bring them to me; and if possible, send me the thief, and that will take all suspicion away from me, and I will cause you to know that I am your friend. I will then grant you your request.” (present author’s emphases)

We turn to the testimony of Daniel Pieter Bezuidenhout29, who was one of the men with Retief at Umgungundlovu. He states the team to have been Retief, Barend Liebenberg, Coenraad Meyer, Lucas Meyer, Roelof Dreyer, and himself. There was also the young English-Zulu interpreter, Thomas Halstead. Bezuidenhout confirms that the discussion with Dingane indeed centered on the matter of the stolen cattle. He testified that Retief  commented as follows:

It can be no other than Sikonyela who has done this. He is the only Kafir who has horses, and some of his people are clothed as we are.

We know that Retief knew about the Sekonyela raid, because he tells30 us so in a letter of 23 October 1837. Dingane then responded as was stated in the 8 November letter above, putting the burden on Retief to recover his cattle in order to prove the Trekkers innocent. Retief, in his turn, wrote31 to Dingane on the same 8th of November. The Letter contains the following sentence,

I now heartily thank the King for his kind and favourable answer to my requests.

He then went on to tell Dingane that he suspects that someone was likely going to try and influence him during his (Retief’s) absence while collecting the cattle from Sekonyela. He asked Dingane to tell him upon his return who those individuals might be.

Retief was clearly “smelling a rat”. It is this present author’s conviction that one of the British at Port Natal, most likely Alexander Biggar, had told Retief of the intrigue surrounding Gardiner. Biggar was hugely supportive of the Trekkers and would later join them in fighting Dingane. Gardiner must have felt very ill at ease with the arrival of the Retief delegation,considering how the delegation was hailed by the other Englishmen. Those very same Englishmen had recently denounced him (Gardiner) to the Governor at the Cape; it must have terribly stung this “man who would be king”.

The Retief party left Umgungundlovu (below, as per Gardiner 1836) on 8 November 1837. Owen records in his diary how a letter32(no live link) arrived from Gardiner the very next day that he, Owen, had to read to Dingane. Gardiner was objecting strenuously to Dingane making the land grant to the Trekkers. Owen urged Dingane to write to Gardiner and confirm he would not give the land to the Trekkers, but Dingane refused. The “missionary” was now involving himself in anti-Afrikaner politics.

On 18 November 1837, Retief wrote a letter33 from Port Natal, published in the Grahamstown Journal. It contained the following,

“…although the duty which now devolves upon me through the misconduct of Sinkanyala is by me particularly regretted, yet my hope is in God, who will not forsake those who put their trust in Him.”

We turn again to Bezuidenhout on the subject of a meeting Retief held with the Englishmen at Port Natal, where Retief stopped on the way back to the laagers in the interior. According to Bezuidenhout34, who was there, the Englishmen wanted to know what would become of them if the Trekkers settled there, and Retief told them that in recognition of them being the oldest inhabitants, each of them could select the best 6,000 morgen (about 12,000 acres) of land as farms, but they’d have to accept a government of the majority. Bezuidenhout was convinced that Gardiner then told the Zulu king that the Trekkers were “deserters from their King”.

♦ Retief, Sekonyela, and Intrigue in Paradise

On Monday, 27 November 1837 Retief arrived back at the laagers35. He had with him several Zulu captains sent by Dingane to identify Zulu cattle among the Sekonyela herd. They were certain to report back to Dingane as much intelligence about the Trekker laagers as they could obtain.

On Thursday 14 December 1837, at Umgungundlovu36, Owen was called by Dingane to write another letter to Gardiner stating that chief Isigwabana of Congella had fled under the impression that Dingane was about to kill him, but that he (Dingane) wanted Gardiner to tell Isigwabana that he (Dingane) had no such intentions. It should be noted that Isigwabana was yet another half-brother of Dingane, and therefore, in a Zulu perspective, a key threat by birth to Dingane.

That evening Owen received a curious written message from Gardiner, warning him that he and all white people were in danger from Dingane. Gardiner sent the message to various other white persons, including the American Missionaries in Natal. Significantly, no such message was sent to the Trekkers. And no missionary, English or American, deigned to warn them either.

During Retief’s absence, the Trekkers in the interior had driven Mzilikazi from South Africa, as already described above. Those families on the Drakensberg escarpment had started descending the mountains and were camping along the upper reaches of the tributaries of the Tugela River, such as the Bushmans River and the Blaauwkranz (Blue Cliff) River.

Unaware of the intrigues in Natal, the Trekker commando to retake Dingane’s cattle departed for Sekonyela’s place37 on 26 December 1837 and Retief sent Dingane a letter on the same day. Having no insight into that letter, we assume it was to advise that he (Retief) was now leaving on the commando to retake the cattle from Sekonyela. Retief followed the commando two days later. After slapping Sekonyela in handcuffs, they forced him to deliver up the Zulu cattle and they took from him some horses and guns for having tarnished their name. No one was hurt and not a shot was fired.

On 11 January 1838, Erasmus Smit reports38 news of Retief’s commando returning from Sekonyela. As per Retief’s promise, the Zulu captains were then sent back toward Dingane’s capital with the cattle. They were instructed to wait at the Tugela River. On 25 January 1838, Retief left39 for Umgungundlovu. He had planned to have with him his own son and 68 other Trekkers, along with thirty armed horse grooms of mixed descent.

According to Richard Hulley40, Owen’s artisan and interpreter, the 26 December 1837 letter from Retief had meanwhile been received by Dingane. As was his wont, the king called Owen yet again to write a letter to Gardiner. This was to ask Gardiner and John Cane to attend the meeting with the Trekkers when the latter should return. Hulley reported that he personally delivered the letter. Gardiner declined, explaining that it was too dangerous for him to attend, no reason for that fear being provided. Hulley returned to Umgungundlovu, but was delayed for eight days by (as he testifies) the Tugela River (below, as per Gardiner 1836) being in flood.

A letter dated 26&27 January 1838 from Retief to his wife, and sent from the Tugela River, arrived41 at the laager on 28 January. In contradiction to Hulley’s statement, Retief stated that the river was full but passable. We know he rapidly crossed it, based on the information in the next section. Perhaps Hulley struggled with a wagon while Retief’s party was on horses. Retief also mentioned that he had only sixty men at that point. However, the names of all the Trekkers with him would be known later, and the number totals to seventy.

By the time the delayed Hulley reached the King’s Great Place at Umgungundlovu, the events in the following section had already played themselves out.

♦ Bulala Abatagati! Kill the Wizards!

William Wood was a young Port Natal Englishman well acquainted with Dingane’s kraal and his behaviour. We shall rely on him and Rev. Francis Owen for the description of what happened when the Retief contingent arrived at Dingane’s capital of Umgungundlovu on 3 February 1838, accompanied by the young English interpreter Thomas Halstead. First we turn to an excerpt from Owen’s diary42:

February 3, 1838. — Large parties of Zulus in their war-dress were yesterday evening entering the town. This morning, when we were at family prayer, the unusual sound of muskets was heard from the west. This proved to be the arrival of the Boers, who presently entered the town on horseback, with their guns in their hands. An immense concourse of Zulus were present to receive them.

February 6, 1838. — A dreadful day in the annals of the mission. I shudder to give an account of it. This morning, as I was sitting in the shade of my wagon, reading the Testament, the usual messenger came, with hurry and anxiety depicted in his looks. I was sure that he was about to pronounce something serious. And what was his commission? While it showed consideration and kindness in the Zulu monarch towards me, it disclosed a horrid instance of perfidy — too horrid to describe — towards the unhappy men who for a few days have been his guests, and are now no more. He sent to tell me not to be frightened, as he was going to kill the Boers. […]

The reason assigned for this treacherous act was that they were going to kill him; that they had come here, and that he had now learnt all their plans. The messenger was anxious for my answer; but what could I say? […]

There!” said some one, “they are killing the Boers now!” I turned my eyes, and, behold! an immense multitude on the hill. About nine or ten Zulus to each Boer were dragging their helpless, unarmed victims to the fatal spot — where those eyes which awaked this morning to see the cheerful light of day for the last time, are now closed in death. I laid myself down on the ground. Mrs. and Miss Owen were not more thunderstruck than myself. We comforted one another.

Presently, the deed of blood being accomplished, the whole multitude returned to the town to meet their sovereign; and, as they drew near to him, set up a shout which reached the station, and continued for some time. Meanwhile, I myself had been kept from all fear for our personal safety; for I considered the message of Dingaan to me as an indication that he had no ill designs against the missionary, especially as the messenger informed me that the Boers’ interpreter (an Englishman, from Port Natal [He is referring to Thomas Halstead, who was already dead]) was to be preserved. […]

I have seen through my glass that Dingaan has been sitting most of the morning, since this dreadful affair, in the centre of his town; an army, in several divisions, collected before him. About noon, the whole body ran in the direction from which the Boers came. They are, I cannot allow myself to doubt, sent to fall, or to join others who have been ordered to fall, unawares on the main body of the Boers, who are encamped at the head of the Tugela […]

February 7, 1838. — I did not give an adequate description of the dreadful carnage yesterday. I omitted to state that many of the Boers had children with them, some under eleven years of age, as I am informed — and these were all butchered. They also had their Hottentot servants, and these were likewise slaughtered, besides their interpreter and his servant. The number of slain must have been nearer a hundred than sixty…

Author’s comment:

One wonders why Owen omitted the key events of the 4th and 5th of February from his diary, considering that he was intimately involved. This is the kind of conduct that created fertile ground for the Trekkers’ suspicions regarding his role in all of these events. His comment about “Englishman from Natal” also does not help in this regard. After all, he had already involved himself in the “politics” in that he had urged Dingane to assure Gardiner that he (Dingane) would NOT give the land to the Trekkers. With that act, he had become a British agent, rather than a missionary. Perhaps he should have remained a mathematician in England.

Owen, in this same diary entry of  6 February 1838, mentions that he had William Wood with him. In his entry of 10 January 1838, he described Wood as “a young English boy.” By William’s own account42 from 1840, he and his mother had joined his father at Port Natal in 1830. Wood senior was working for Mr. Collis. William wanted to learn Zulu, and so proceeded to Dingane’s kraal some months later. This was where Owen found him.

We turn now to William Wood’s account of the second visit of Retief to Umgungundlovu starting 3 February 1838. Here we have a young man who had, despite his few years of life, seventeen times longer experience of the amaZulu and Dingane than Owen. Furthermore, he could understand and speak isiZulu and his innocent young head had not been addled by either Dr. Philip or Captain Gardiner before arriving at Umgungundlovu. He was a young Englishman with “no axe to grind”. Wood reports44:

Dingaan gladly received the cattle; but his attention was arrested by sixty horses and eleven guns which the farmers had taken from the enemy, and he told them he must also have them. Retief, however, told him that he could not comply with this demand, as the cattle were his property, but not the guns and horses. With this Dingaan appeared satisfied, and, shortly after, told them that the cattle should also be theirs; likewise promising them a piece of land extending from the Tugela to the Umzimvubu. Retief accepted his offer, and a treaty was signed between Dingaan on the one hand and the emigrant farmers on the other. [The signing was on 4 February 1838 – see below]

On the morning of the third day [6 February 1838 – we presume he means third full day], I perceived from Dingaan’s manner that he meditated some mischief […]

After drinking some beer together, Dingaan ordered his troops to amuse the farmers by dancing and singing, which they immediately commenced doing. The farmers had not been sitting longer than about a quarter of an hour, when Dingaan called out: “Seize them!“, upon which an overwhelming rush was made upon the party before they could get on their feet. Thomas Halstead then cried out, “We are done for!” and added in the Zulu language, “Let me speak to the king,” which Dingaan heard, but motioned them away with his hand. Halstead then drew his knife, and ripped up one Zulu, and cut another’s throat, before he was secured; and a farmer also succeeded in ripping up another Zulu.

The farmers were then dragged with their feet trailing on the ground, each man being held by as many Zulus as could get at him, from the presence of Dingaan, who still continued sitting and calling out “Bulala amatakati” (kill the wizards). He then said, “Take the heart and the liver of the king of the farmers and place them in the road of the farmers.” When they had dragged them to the hill, “Hlomo Mabuto,” they commenced the work of death by striking them on the head with knobbed sticks, Retief being held and forced to witness the deaths of his comrades [and his own son] before they dispatched him. […]

About two hours after the massacre, orders were issued that a large party were to set off and attack the wagons that contained the wives and children of the murdered farmers, which were at a considerable distance from Ngungunhlovu, as Retief and his party had left them there, not wishing to bring their families into any danger.

As to the matter of the Trekkers being “deserters”, we have the following from the memoirs45 of Jane Williams, Owen’s Welsh maid at Umgungundlovu, describing the moment of the massacre,

We had just done prayers when a Kafir messenger from Dingaan came running to us, covered with perspiration, and said that we were not to be frightened, that we were King George’s children, and that the Boers were runaways from him. He also said that we would not be hurt. One of the Zulu maid servants said to me, “They are taking the dogs away to kill them.”

I leave the reader to decide who would have gained most by planting that thought in the head of Dingane. The overwhelming circumstantial evidence points to the man who would not attend because he thought it would be too dangerous; the one who had (1) the means (being in charge of communications with Dingane), (2) the motive (he wanted to ensure that Port Natal would be British and was very brazen about it), and (3) the opportunity (he was twice asked by Dingane for his advice). In the United States today, one can be convicted on such evidence.

The Trekkers would later defeat Dingane. In a leather pouch next to the bones of Retief, recognised by his clothes, they would find the signed contract for the land (verbatim authenticated copy on left).

This contract was certified46 by Evert Potgieter on 21 December 1838 at Umgungundlovu after Dingane had fled. The three Trekker witnesses, Oosthuizen, Greyling, and Barend Liebenberg were murdered along with Retief. Various parties would try to deny the existence of the contract for political reasons, particularly in the 21st century. Fortunately for the truth, William Wood confirmed the signing event, as we see above. The Hon. Henry Cloete stated on record that he saw the original when he received the government documentation of Natal. This took place when Imperial Britain brazenly took the territory from the Afrikaners a few years later.

What we have here is a properly drawn up, executed, and witnessed contract between two parties for a defined piece of country. It had witnesses from both sides and bore the witnessed mark of their illiterate king. The contract had been drawn up in a language (English) that was the mother tongue of neither party, but was that of the interpreters and the resident missionary. The remaining Trekkers, however, did not know this. They just knew that Retief was late in returning.

In Port Natal, Alexander Biggar became aware of the events a week later, on the 13th of February, and dispatched some men to warn the Trekkers on the upper reaches of the Tugela47. His son George was with those Trekkers at the time. The warning would be too late.

The Blaauwkranz Massacre

In the night of 16/17 February 1838, Dingane’s Army fell upon the unsuspecting wives, children and families of the men who had been murdered at Umgungundlovu and butchered them48. The savagery was extreme; the violence was beyond description, especially toward the women. In a few places there was some resistance, but the entire event was a complete surprise. Some of the Trekker groups had been more circumspect. At Gerrit Maritz’s laager, the only large laager attacked, the Zulu Army was met with a solid defence and devastating fire. They were beaten off with massive loss. The Zulu army disappeared with the bulk of the cattle, which had been kept outside the laager.

In total, some 600 Trekker people of all ethnicities lost their lives that night49 and the injuries were terrible. Among the dead was George Biggar. Several more died in the following days. Many were crippled for life.

Dingane, however, had committed a strategic blunder; he had hopelessly underestimated the scope of the Great Trek. In fact, his army had not even attacked the encampment of Retief at Doornkop at all, nor the 100-wagon trek encamped nearby, nor that of the redoubtable Charl Celliers (see the map on left, which is marked up from the version in G.B.A. Gerdener’s text Sarel Cilliers die vader van Dingaansdag (1925), facing p.56. The area of the tragedy is outlined in red and contained many individual family encampments with little if any defences). Far from striking a knock-out blow, Dingane had now awoken and fatally angered the agent of his own doom. A flood of Trekkers was joining from the northwest on this map.

Back in Umgungundlovu, Dingane had trouble rallying his troops50. The defensive arrangement and firepower of the typical Boer Laager, once set up, was too much for the Zulu war machine to surmount. Maritz had proved that. There was great disquiet in Zululand. And that was as it should be; there was no way on earth that Dingane’s savage Crimes against Humanity could go unpunished. In the short term, however, the Trekkers were in dire straits, and it was to get worse. Perhaps Erasmus Smit’s lament best describes the few days after the massacre51:

Ach God! Ach Lord! How severe, how great are Thy judgments upon us! The groaning of the wounded, and the anxiety and fear of others cry to heaven.

“God save the Queen!” – To the Depths of Despair

The period between 17 February 1838 and 16 December of that year was a continuous disaster for the Trekkers, but strategically their situation was being cemented by the arrival of ever more Trekkers. The April 1838 time period was quite terrible. Both the British traders at Port Natal and the Trekkers in the interior sent expeditions against Dingane, and both failed52.

In the English expedition, the father and uncle of William Wood perished, along with the leader of the expedition, Alexander Biggar’s other son. In the interior, the Trekkers sent an expedition led by Piet Uys, but this was also defeated by Dingane after initial success. In this event Piet Uys and his brave young son both perished along with several other men. The Trekkers blamed Hendrik Potgieter for the loss. He simply gathered his men and left for the Trans-Vaal; he was not a man of many words.

The failure of the English raid was followed by the Zulu Army destroying the Port Natal settlement. All the local Englishmen fled onto the brig Comet, lying in the bay. The British effort in Natal had been literally driven into the sea. On the boat sat all the English characters we have thus far met, along with some of the American missionaries. Rev. Owen had fled onto the boat in his night clothes.

On Wednesday 2 May 1838, Erasmus Smit in the Trekker laager makes the following entry53 in his diary, after learning what the Trekker men had to say who had been stuck with the Port Natal English contingent on the Comet, and who had just returned:

Further they informed us that Dingaan in a letter had asked chief Garnett [Gardiner] how he should treat P. Retief and the other Boers when they should return from Sekonyela, and that Garnett had answered that they are a people who have run away from their king, and that he can treat them as he does his own people when he has them killed for running away from him and returning…

He goes on to say that Gardiner, Stubbs and Blankenberg met with Dingaan and told Dingaan that the “Boers” were “all bad people” and he (Dingane) “should have them killed”. Smit’s information, however, was second hand. However, the impressions conveyed to him obviously came from people on the Comet, and there were at least four English people on that boat who had physically been at Umgungundlovu when the murder took place, and immediately afterwards.

The new Governor of the Cape, Napier, had assumed his duties. His response to the misery of the Trekkers was the following proclamation54, which I leave the reader to study in order to understand the morality of the British government of the time:


BY HIS EXCELLENCY MAJOR-GENERAL GEORGE THOMAS NAPIER, C.B, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Her Majesty’s Castle, Town, and Settlement of the Cape of Good Hope, in South Africa, and of the Territories and Dependencies thereof, and Ordinary, and Vice-Admiral of the same, Commanding the Forces, &c. &c. &c.

[The first paragraph announces a ban on all shipments of any goods to Ports east of Port Elizabeth up to and including Delagoa Bay in Portuguese East Africa. Another proclamation 4 days earlier put a hold on all gunpowder and arms sales within the Cape Colony in order to ensure that Cape Afrikaners could not go and help their threatened families. Then the proclamation goes further and states…]

And whereas the schooner or vessel called the Mary, is now lying in the harbour of Port Elizabeth on her voyage to Port Natal, having on board certain quantities of Gunpowder, Lead, Fire Arms, and other munitions of War, destined for Port Natal, the Sub-Collector at Port Elizabeth, and his Assistants, are hereby authorised and required to cause the said Gunpowder, Lead, Fire Arms, and other munitions of War, to be landed at Port Elizabeth, before the said vessel shall be suffered to proceed on her voyage.


Given under my Hand and Seal, at Cradock, the Tenth Day of September, 1838.
(Signed) GEO. NAPIER.
By His Excellency’s Command,
(Signed) H. HUDSON,
Secretary to Government

On the upper reaches of the Tugela, the Trekkers beat off a major attack55 by Dingane at the spot they would call Veglaager (Fight Laager). The Zulu suffered massive losses. But, another major calamity struck the Trekkers when Gerrit Maritz, the wise Graaff-Reinet wagon-builder and leader, died56 at the age of only 41. They had lost 600 of their own, they had lost Retief, they had lost Uys, they had estranged Hendrik Potgieter, and now their last leader was no more.

The Natal Trek was at its lowest ebb in terms of morale. There were only two things they were sure of: (1) Their Faith in God; and (2) the fact that they would NOT under any circumstances return to the Cape under British Authority.

Author’s Comment on Retief’s return to Umgungundlovu:

He was warned NOT TO by at least three independent individuals.

On his way back from Dingane on his first visit, Retief stopped by the American Missionary, Rev. George Champion, who warned him that Dingane was likely leading him into a trap. As I pointed out in my book, AmaBhulu, Retief was again exhibiting his naive trust in his fellow human being that had already cost him so dearly in his business life in the Cape Colony. Here, ironically, we had an actual Christian missionary warning him, and he, as an ordinary man, preferred simple faith in his fellow man.

Gerrit Maritz was so worried about the 100-man Commission that he offered to go instead with just a few men. When Retief refused that, a dismayed Maritz prophetically told him and the men of the Commission, “I say to you not one of you shall return!

Lastly, William Wood (see his more detailed account in the above reference) also warned two of the Trekkers who strolled in his direction at Umgungundlovu on the second visit. They were murdered later the same day

There is no getting around the fact that his 100-man Commission was a foolhardy miscalculation. Militarily, he (1) denuded the defences of the Trekkers at Blaauwkranz and (2) led his men and their accompanying children into a trap. Had he gone with a few men, as Maritz had suggested, Dingane would have known that he (Dingane) would not be killing enough men and might have altogether desisted from the vile deed. From the scope of the subsequent attack on the laagers, we know that Dingane had underestimated the scope of the Trek. In killing the 100 men and boys he likely thought he had destroyed the bulk of the “enemy army”. Ultimately, though, Dingane would pay for it with his kingdom and his life.

The River of Blood: Day of the Covenant

On 22 November 1838 arrived new hope in the form of Andries Pretorius57. He had visited the Trekkers before, and was now formally joining them. He had actually already set up a farm in the Sand and Modder River region in the Trans-Orange, but had hurried to the aid of the Trekkers at the death of Maritz. He rode into camp sporting a sword and pistols – every inch the military leader they were looking for, and he was soon given that exact role: “The George Washington of the Trekkers”.

At the end of November 1838, a force of Trekkers departed58 to give battle to Dingane. This time they were well-prepared. They now understood that they were up against a well-trained and very disciplined army with competent generals. Cattle would never be left outside the laager, which implied the laager had to be big enough. A laager would be drawn every night and guards posted. They had to have overwhelming firepower, and they would not be drawn into Zulu ambushes based on cattle being paraded as a lure.  They also knew that their own level of reconnaissance would have to be as good as that of the amaZulu. Furthermore, they had prepared ladder-like shooting frames which they could attach to the wagons. Guns could be fired through these, but a man could not get through. This improved on the locally cut thorn-tree boughs of the past. They also had to have a huge supply of pre-cast ammunition. More than anything else, they would need discipline and steadiness under great pressure. Jan Bantjes, the Clerk of the Assembly for the Trekkers, served as scribe for the expedition, which he duly recorded for posterity59.

They were joined by a contingent of 123 Trekkers, some Englishmen, and a collection of Zulus under Karel Landman (see the Bantjes report, p.58), who had settled near Port Natal. Alexander Biggar led about seventy of his gun-equipped amaCele60 warriors from near Port Natal. It will be remembered that Biggar had lost both of his sons in battle with the Zulu army. A collection of men of mixed descent from the Trekker camps also went with, typically as gun-loaders and horse grooms, but also as fighters in their own right. The total force comprised 460 men of Afrikaner, British, Khoi, freed slave and Zulu descent. Lastly the able little cannon, Grietjie, also went with. They finally clashed with the Zulu Army at the Ncome River, where the Trekkers drew their laager (below).

16 December 1838 is cemented in the psyche of South Africa as the Day of the Covenant. For several days before the actual battle, the expedition conducted church services in which a Vow was made to God that, if they were given victory, they would erect a Church in His name and forevermore treat the date as a Sunday. The Day of the Covenant is devoted to respecting this Vow, and is not dedicated to a victory over an enemy.

In the end, the battle was extremely intense and it could have gone either way. But Pretorius had brilliantly placed the defensive laager for the key battle. In the end, matters swung in Trekker favour when a mounted charge was made from the laager into the Zulu Army by these ordinary farmers, and the Zulu line broke. The Trekkers were not going to give any quarter after what the Zulu had earlier done. In the process, the Ncome River started turning red with Zulu blood, immortalising its new name, Blood River. More than 3000 Zulus died and there were three flesh wounds on Trekker side, the worst being one sustained by Pretorius himself. He was wounded through the hand while trying to induce a Zulu warrior to take a message to Dingane. The blow-by-blow details of the battle may be read in AmaBhulu (click on the image for the book at Amazon.com) and will not be repeated here. The image above is of the present day bronze memorial at the site of the battle. The shooting frames can be seen quite clearly.

The battle is often quoted as a striking example of Divine Intervention. But it was also a matter of knowing one’s enemy, good scouting, superb preparation, discipline, marksmanship, tactical prowess, circumspection, and timing. To this must be added the fact that the Zulu did not attack in the night, which would have been fatal for the Trekkers. The deadly nighttime fog also lifted before the battle. There is also the fact that it did not rain, which would have rapidly neutralized the muskets with their unreliable firing systems.

Dingane burned down Umgungundlovu and fled for the Umfolozi River area, nearer the amaSwazi under king Sobhuza, whom he had battled before. However, in Africa a loss such as this is usually followed by a precipitous fall in standing that leads to coups or desertion or both as alternative leaders start jockeying for the leadership role or begin to contemplate secession. At Kwa Matiwane, on 21 December 1838, the Trekkers found61 the bones of Retief and his men, so treacherously murdered on 6 February of the year. This was when they found the signed contract above in the leather pouch. The day was spent interring these remains. Many of the unfortunate men and boys were found impaled.

In a small engagement a few days later, the last Biggar fell62, along with five of his amaCele warriors and five Trekkers. Today Alexander Biggar’s name is immortalised in the mountain range, the Biggarsberg, an honour from his Afrikaner allies to an Englishmen who gave his life and both of his sons in support of their desire for Christian freedom from Imperial Britain.

On 3 December 1838, while the Trekker campaign was proceeding against Dingane, a contingent of the British Army 72nd Regiment under Major Charters, sent by Cape Governor Napier (below), disembarked at Port Natal to seize  the settlement as per a proclamation63 by Napier on 14 November 1838.

The “Pharaoh’s” Imperial Army had arrived in “Canaan”.

The infant Natal Republic

In Port Natal, Maj. Charters took possession of a small cache of the Trekkers’ lead and powder stored at the port. Upon their return from the campaign against Dingane, the Trekkers did not take up arms to oppose this theft by the British Army; cooler minds prevailed.

In faraway Britain, Napier’s brazen effort to seize Natal and impose on the British crown the burdens of yet a further colony did not carry the approval of the government. There was one single benefit to the presence of the British troops at Port Natal, though. In March 1839, Dingane sent a delegation to make peace with the Trekkers. The negotiations64 were conducted via the good offices of Captain Jervis of the British Army, who merely hosted the effort. The outcome was that Dingane agreed to cede the land originally ceded by the murderously dishonoured contract above, and to return the cattle, horses, sheep and guns stolen he had stolen the previous year. Dingane kept up a continuous process of contact, but it soon became clear that these were little more than spying efforts. The cattle he returned fell vastly short of the stolen herds.

On 24 December 1839, the British troops departed Port Natal, given Cape Governor Napier’s dejected observation65 concerning the “apparently fixed determination of Her Majesty’s Government not to extend Her colonial possessions in this quarter of the world“.  Chase66 describes the departure and the hoisting of Natal’s own flag. The Trekkers then built their little capital of Pietermaritzburg. But, as we shall see in due course, Napier (above) would not desist in his efforts to thwart the Afrikaner as a people in their dream of freedom from Imperial British rule. He just needed a suitable pretext, and the Empire excelled at fabricating those and at exploiting events as justifications for land grabs in Africa. It would eventually perfect these mechanisms to such a degree that it would disgust its very own people.

The Reigning Prince of the Emigrant Zoolas

In November 1839, a few weeks before the departure of the British Army, Shaka’s and Dingane’s brother, Mpande (left, ca. 1849), approached the Trekker government with a view to obtaining refuge for himself and his followers from his despotic brother. The record of the interview67 with him and the subsequent events is intriguing. The refuge was granted and he was formally installed as “Reigning Prince of the Emigrant Zoolas” under the overall authority of the Afrikaners, who legally owend the territory in question. This was solemnized under a formal round of musket fire by an honour guard. It was made clear that the refuge on the “wrong” side of the Tugela was temporary and that he would be required to help militarily against his tyrannical brother, Dingane, who had still not delivered the stolen cattle that he had undertaken to return as part of the above negotiations hosted by Captain Jervis.

Cultural Insert:

Given what the Zulu had done to the families of these Trekkers, the dealings of the latter with Mpande were humane in the extreme. Chase68 comments that,”Those who so predicted the sanguinary course they [the Afrikaner Trekkers] were destined to run, knew not the Boers, and we have the testimony of the American missionary, the Rev. Mr. Lindley, who visited the Colony this month of October, when he praised the piety, industry, and good feeling of the emigrant farmers, but more particularly their ‘extraordinary forbearance’ towards the Zoolahs, after such deadly provocation, and foretold from the known character of the enemy that the farmers would soon be forced into offensive measures.

The nature of these people is even more clear from the set of 18 rules they made for the Harbour of Port Natal on 6 February 1840. The 16th rule states69 , “Any vessels entering the harbour, and having slaves on board, shall, together with the cargo, be confiscated, the slaves immediately be considered as free persons, and the captain and crew placed under arrest, until such time as an opportunity shall offer to send them back to their place of residence.”

It is an international travesty that the descendants of these men should be tarred in the 21st century Media with the blemish of slavery by the present day descendants of those who in fact DID perpetrate slavery. It is a shallow man indeed who seeks absolution for his guilty conscience by falsely accusing the innocent. And this observation applies in particular to the London Missionary Society who perpetuated this sick lie, a lie that is used in the Media today to “contextualize” the torture murder of these people.

On 14 January 1840 the combined Trekker force and Mpande-Zulu army left70 on an expedition against Dingane who was somewhere in the region of the Umfolozi River. Mpande traveled in the company of Andries Pretorius, commander of the Trekkers, while the Zulu army was led by General Nonkalaza. As this combined army moved, other chiefs approached them to join the force. These included Jobe and Matuwane. Sobhuza of the amaSwazi also sent men. The joint army amounted to 350 Trekkers and some 5,000 Black warriors. Zietsman71, the Trekker Secretary of War, was particularly impressed by the dazzling war dress of Matuwane’s men, who were marching in perfect drilled order, singing the extravagant praises of Andries Pretorius, military leader of the Trekkers.

The details of the campaign are provided in Chase’s text72 . He goes to some length to show the care taken in the interest of the proper conduct of this campaign, particularly as regards protection of women and children. Dingane was duly defeated and fled across the Pongola River, his northern border, into the territory of Sobhuza, king of the amaSwazi. It has never been suitably verfied how he met his end, but one story is that Sobhuza tortured him to death. Pretorius formally declared Dingane’s lands forfeit in lieu of all the unrecovered damages he had caused the Trekkers. Interestingly, he set the northern border of these lands not at the Pongola River, but at the Black Umfolozi River and from its headwaters to the Drakensberg, the southern limit being the Tugela. He also stated that he takes ownership of that land for the Trekker community, but SEPARATELY from the land south of the Tugela bought from Dingane.

There was no demand of territory for occupation from the amaZulu as regards their classic lands east of the Buffalo tributary of the Tugela. They would be left alone in Zululand to live as they pleased, but under the overall authority of the Trekker Government. A treaty of permanent friendhsip between the Afrikaner and Zulu was declared and it was agreed that the Zulu could rely on Trekker support in war, but only if any such war had first been agreed with the Trekkers.

Mpande was formally installed as King of the amaZulu and took up his proper residence in classic Zululand, north of the Tugela, and east of the Buffalo. As a son of Senzanghakona (see Chapter 8), he had the appropriate lineage and title to the throne. The amaZulu flocked to him under the protection of the Afrikaners, even though he was regarded a lacklustre leader. Both sides would respect the resulting alliance and it would hold to a lesser or greater extent until 1994, right through a century of British domination. The Afrikaner never again fought the legitimate blood-heir to the Zulu throne, and Mpande’s son and grandson would call on the Afrikaner for help many years later. When Louis Botha, an Afrikaner, became the first Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa in 1910, one of his first actions was to release Dinuzulu, the Zulu King, from the jail where the British had put him. They had been friends since the 1880s. It is not by chance that Dinuzulu died a free man on Louis Botha’s farm.

The map below, which may be checked against that of Walker73, shows the state of affairs in northeastern South Africa in 1841, before the next episode in the turbulent history of South Africa and its life as the political football of Imperial Great Britain. The Ba’Sotho had their own land, the amaZulu had their own land, and the various amaXhosa had their own land. The Ba’Tswana and Ba’Pedi were still displaced by the depredations of Mzilikazi. The Griqua and Koranna were still where they’d been for some decades. The individual chiefs Lepui, Makwana, and Moroko were still in their individual spots on the map, as were the Batlhaping, the southernmost Ba’Tswana, in particular. Back in Pietermaritzburg, the Trekkers built the promised Church of the Covenant in that year.

The part of Africa that was destined to become South Africa in 1910 had assumed the basic shape it was eventually to have, but the northern Cape Colony was still unclear, the eastern limit of that Colony was still unsettled and subject to constant upheaval, while the country beyond the Vaal River was far from “tamed”. Its borders were rather ill defined.

In 1841, all was well in the land of Natal. But, clearly, the Afrikaners could not possibly be allowed to be successful in their dealings with the powerful amaZulu. In Cape Town, British Governor Napier had other plans…. and any pretext would do.

—Harry Booyens


1. G. Theal, History of the Emigrant Boers in South Africa, (1888), p. 83; Theal puts the clash in the April-June 1837 period. Gardiner (See J. Bird, The Annals of Natal, Vol. 1, (1888), p.325) reports on it from Natal in a letter of 9 September 1837, stating that “Dingaan’s army have (sic) just returned..” The July-August 1837 period seems more correct.

2. G. Theal, History of the Emigrant Boers in South Africa, (1888), p. 84

3. G. Theal, History of the Emigrant Boers in South Africa, (1888), p. 84 [notes] It sounds even more poetic in the original Dutch than in the English translation provided by John Bird in the Annals of Natal, Vol. 1, (1888) p.241).

4. G. Theal, History of the Emigrant Boers in South Africa, (1888), p. 85

5. G. Theal, Progress of South Africa in the Century, (1902), p. 231

6. E.A. Walker, Historical Atlas of South Africa, (1922), p. 16

7. J. Bird, The Annals of Natal, Vol. 2, (1888), p. 203

8. G. Cory, The Rise of South Africa, Vol. 4, (1926), p. 28

9. E. Smit, (Editor H.F. Schoon), The Diary of Erasmus Smit, (1972), originally in Dutch by Schoon (1897), pp. 48-60

10. E. Smit, (Editor H.F. Schoon), The Diary of Erasmus Smit, (1972), p.57

11. J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 1, (1843), p. 125

12. J. Bird, The Annals of Natal, Vol. 1, (1888), pp. 359-360; Bird puts a date of 19 October 1837 on the letter. J. Chase in his Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., (1843), p. 124, somehow puts a date of 12 April on the letter. Yet, Retief himself says he arrived at Port Natal on the 20th.

13. J. Bird, The Annals of Natal, Vol. 1, (1888), p. 326

14. J. Page, Captain Allen Gardiner of Patagonia, (No stated date),  p. 29

15. A. Gardiner, Narrative of a Journey to the Zoolu County, in South Africa, (1836), p. 2

16. J. Bird, The Annals of Natal, Vol. 1, (1888), p. 313

17. J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 1, (1843), p. 123

18. J. Bird, The Annals of Natal, Vol. 1, (1888), pp. 320-321; Protest

19. J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 1, (1843), p. 40

20. J. Bird, The Annals of Natal, Vol. 1, (1888), p. 328; Excerpt from Owen’s Diary; See also E. Stock, History of the Church Missionary Society, (1899) , p. 355

21. J. Bird, The Annals of Natal, Vol. 1, (1888), p. 331; Owen’s Diary entry for 26 October 1837

22. J. Bird, The Annals of Natal, Vol. 1, (1888), p. 333; Owen’s Diary entry for 3 November 1837

23. J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 1, (1843), p. 40

24. A. Gardiner, Narrative of a Journey to the Zoolu County, in South Africa, (1836), p. 184

25. A. Gardiner, Narrative of a Journey to the Zoolu County, in South Africa, (1836), p. 186

26. J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 1, (1843), p. 130

27. J. Bird, The Annals of Natal, Vol. 1, (1888), p. 331; Owen’s Diary entry for 31 October 1837

28. J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 1, (1843), p. 131

29. J. Bird, The Annals of Natal, Vol. 1, (1888), p. 368

30. J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 1, (1843), pp. 125-126

31. J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 1, (1843), p. 133

32. E&J Gledhill, In the steps of Piet Retief, (1980), p.188 (no online access)

33. J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 1, (1843), p. 130

34. J. Bird, The Annals of Natal, Vol. 1, (1888), p. 370; Bezuidenhout blames Gardiner and Stubbs.

35. E. Smit, (Editor H.F. Schoon), The Diary of Erasmus Smit, (1972), originally in Dutch by Schoon (1897), p. 69

36. J. Bird, The Annals of Natal, Vol. 1, (1888), p. 340

37. E. Smit, (Editor H.F. Schoon), The Diary of Erasmus Smit, (1972), originally in Dutch by Schoon (1897), p. 76

38. E. Smit, (Editor H.F. Schoon), The Diary of Erasmus Smit, (1972), originally in Dutch by Schoon (1897), p. 79

39. E. Smit, (Editor H.F. Schoon), The Diary of Erasmus Smit, (1972), originally in Dutch by Schoon (1897), p. 83

40. R.B. Hulley, Account of visit to Zululand by Rev. F Owen in 1837, South African National Archives, Pietermaritzburg, Ref. A14, Donor: H.B. Hulley

41. E. Smit, (Editor H.F. Schoon), The Diary of Erasmus Smit, (1972), originally in Dutch by Schoon (1897), p. 84

42. J. Bird, The Annals of Natal, Vol. 1, (1888), pp. 345-351

43. J. Bird, The Annals of Natal, Vol. 1, (1888), pp. 377-378

44. J. Bird, The Annals of Natal, Vol. 1, (1888), pp. 379-381

45. D.C.F. Moodie, History of the Battles and Adventures of the British, the Boers and the Zulus in Southern Africa, Vol. 1, (1888), pp. 426-427; Originally published in Orange Free State Monthly Magazine, December 1877.

46. W.J. Leyds, De eerste annexatie van de Transvaal, (1906), between pages 52 and 53

47. J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 2, (1843), p. 8

48. E. Smit, (Editor H.F. Schoon), The Diary of Erasmus Smit, (1972), originally in Dutch by Schoon (1897), p. 88

49. D.C.F. Moodie, History of the Battles and Adventures of the British, the Boers and the Zulus in Southern Africa, Vol. 1, (1888), p. 431

50. J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 2, (1843), p. 9

51. E. Smit, (Editor H.F. Schoon), The Diary of Erasmus Smit, (1972), originally in Dutch by Schoon (1897), p. 89

52. J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 2, (1843), pp. 15-16

53. E. Smit, (Editor H.F. Schoon), The Diary of Erasmus Smit, (1972), originally in Dutch by Schoon (1897), p. 108.

54. J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 2, (1843), p. 38

55. E. Smit, (Editor H.F. Schoon), The Diary of Erasmus Smit, (1972), originally in Dutch by Schoon (1897), pp. 126-127.

56. E. Smit, (Editor H.F. Schoon), The Diary of Erasmus Smit, (1972), originally in Dutch by Schoon (1897), p. 139

57. E. Smit, (Editor H.F. Schoon), The Diary of Erasmus Smit, (1972), originally in Dutch by Schoon (1897), pp. 147-148

58. E. Smit, (Editor H.F. Schoon), The Diary of Erasmus Smit, (1972), originally in Dutch by Schoon (1897), pp. 148-149

59. J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 2, (1843), pp. 56-69; Yes, for those who make much of such things, Jan Bantjes was of mixed descent.

60. J. Bird, The Annals of Natal, Vol. 1, (1888), p. 126

61. W.J. Leyds, De eerste annexatie van de Transvaal, (1906), opposite page 52

62. J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 2, (1843), pp. 68-69

63. J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 2, (1843), pp. 51-53

64. G. Theal, History of the Emigrant Boers in South Africa, (1888), p. 123. The letters covering the subject may be read in J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 2, (1843), pp. 89-93

65. G. Theal, History of the Emigrant Boers in South Africa, (1888), pp. 126-127

66. J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 2, (1843), pp. 115-116

67. J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 2, (1843), pp. 104-111

68. J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 2, (1843), p. 111

69. J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 2, (1843), pp. 118-119

70. J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 2, (1843), pp. 119-129

71. J. Bird, The Annals of Natal, Vol. 1, (1888), p. 579

72. J. Chase, Natal: a reprint of all the authentic notices, etc., Part 2, (1843), pp. 119-129

73. E.A. Walker, Historical Atlas of South Africa, (1922), map 14