THE IMPERIAL AGENT AND MILITARIST

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OWEN LANYON AND THE SOUTHERN AFRICA OF 1875

Owen Lanyon arrived in southern Africa at a particularly crucial time. In the 1870s there were vibrant new developments and a changing atmosphere in the interior. Lanyon, as will be seen, was to be caught up in, on one level, the relationships and struggle between the imperial power, the settlers, the Africans and the Boers and, on another level, the struggle for white control over the land and labour resources of the Africans and the new aggressive capitalist political economy. In a word, when Lanyon arrived, the continent was poised for change. Britain in South Africa: the situation when Lanyon stepped ashore The historiographical debate on the formative features of the frontier and in particular the racial element in this experience in southern Africa, is an ongoing one. Because an important part of this thesis is to study the implementation of imperial policy in the evolving frontier zones, the debate is outlined briefly to provide an indication of the general approach that has been adopted.

Mid-Victorian colonial policy: metropole and periphery

The hectic academic debate on the determinants and nature of British imperialism continues unabated. Its intricacies are only directly relevant for this study as far as Britain’s policies in South Africa from the 1870s until 1881 are concerned. More particularly, the concern here is the role played by Owen Lanyon in the implementation of these policies in South Africa and the possibility that he may, in some measure, have influenced their nature and course. As the imperial agent in South Africa he could provide the ‘official minds’ 33 back in London with invaluable advice about the situation in the colonies. The terms metro pole and periphery are used here to differentiate between determinants of imperialism of British origin, on the one hand, and those arising in the outlying parts of the empire, on the other. The peripheral regions were either formal British possessions, which had been annexed, or were regarded as falling informally under the British sphere of influence.

LANYON AND CROWN COLONY RULE

IN GRIQUALAND WEST When Owen Lanyon arrived in early October 1875, British presence in southern Africa was already well established, but Griqualand West, where Lanyon was to be posted, was a newly developing region. The town of Kimberley had risen, phoenix-like, from the veld with the discovery of diamonds some eight years earlier and there was a cosmopolitan feel to the bustling little corrugated-iron village. People had come to it from all comers of southern Africa and beyond, and everyone was hoping to get rich quickly. It did not have a very stable society and was hardly the kind of place for a well-bred Irish-born British official to feel particularly comfortable; he stuck out like a sore thumb in the dusty mining town. To understand the brief that Lanyon had been given by the Colonial Office, and Lanyon’s progress in what must have been a very foreign environment for the young imperial agent, it is necessary to understand how the nature of British colonial policy was evolving in southern Africa in the 1870s, and the attitude and opinions of the high commissioner, Sir Henry Barkly, who was Lanyon’s immediate superior.

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The land issue and the rise of mining capitalism

On Lanyon’ s arrival in Griqualand West the burgeoning diamond mining industry meant that he had to make a number of local policy decisions that were of major importance. Entrepreneurs were calling for a resolution of the land issue, the suspension of the limit on claim holding and decisions on the recruitment, accommodation, control and residential settlement of African labour for the mines. Competing titles to land in Griqualand West had of course been a very complicated and controversial issue from the earliest days of diamond mining. No one knew where they stood; and several land commissions and a land court in 1876 had merely served to cloud the issue even more. 136 Despite the fact that he saw himself as the protector of African rights, Southey had ignored Tlhaping claims to the land near the diamond fields. Instead, he had lofty ideas of his own – which were never realised – of building an irrigation scheme in the regions adjacent to the mines and of selling off smaller lots and capitalising the agricultural land. 137 To prevent the intrusion of foreign capital he devised his specific policy on management of the mines.

THE IMPERIAL AGENT AND MILITARIST

In a very specific sense this chapter looks at the ‘real’ Owen Lan yon, because at heart the punctilious administrator was a military man, and his militarism was the focus of the last stage of his career in Griqualand West. The Griqualand West Rebellion of 1878, which Lanyon put down with great aplomb, was the first of two armed rebellions against colonialism that Lanyon had to deal with while in South Africa. Lanyon was extremely proud that the troops under his command were not imperial troops. Instead they were volunteers from the diamond fields, men he had recruited, trained and equipped and who he personally – with the able assistance of Charles Warren – led in the successful campaign against the rebels in the rebellion of 1878. While he was involved in this military drive, his letters home reflect an enthusiasm and buoyancy that is otherwise uncharacteristic of Lanyon.

Cooperation and collaboration

While in Kimberley at the head of the Griqualand West administration Lanyon had another imperial role to fill. In the implementation of British imperial policy in South Africa – as opposed to official (and unofficial) contact with the metropole-he cooperat~d and collaborated closely with two neighbouring states in the interior and their current leaders, Johannes Brand of the Orange Free State, and Theophilus Shepstone, who annexed the Transvaal as a British colony in April 1877.48 Lanyon’s relations with Thomas Burgers of the Transvaal prior to the British takeover – in other words, from November 1875 to April 1877 – were far from cordial49 and centred mainly on the thorny issue of Boer encroachment to the west of the Transvaal, on the Keate Award territory, and on the land occupied by the Tswana people.

Growing unpopularity and a sour send-off

Despite his military achievements in Griqualand West, Lanyon had never been popular in Kimberley. He was a reserved, ungregarious man who by his own admission did not care for the company of ordinary citizens and was not well liked by the diggers. 183 He was clearly very conscientious and worked long hours pushing his pen. 184 While the legislative council was in session he also arranged to meet every evening for discussions with them, 185 and the combined effect of all this must have left little time for socialising. He did mention to his father that he enjoyed attending the opera and Kimberley’s Lanyon Theatre was named after him. 186 Apart from the three-month spell that he spent in Cape Town in mid 1877, ordered there by his doctor when he became ill from overwork, and part of which break was spent on official discussions, 187 he appears to have had very few diversions from his daily routine.

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IN THE TRANSVAAL

Fresh from Griqualand West where he had earned the praise of his imperial superiors both for his administrative efforts and his successful military campaign, Owen Lanyon embarked on a term of office of two years as administrator of the Transvaal Colony from 4 March 1879 to 8 April 1881,1 an appointment that saw the end of his southern African career and culminated in disaster and humiliation. In order to trace the vicissitudes of his career in the Transvaal it is necessary first to look back at the situation he inherited from Theophilus Shepstone, the man who had been his predecessor in Pretoria since 1877 when Shepstone annexed the region for Britain, using tactics which the Transvaal Boers later described as ‘craft, deceit and threats’ .

CONTENTS :

  • INTRODUCTION
  • I OWEN LANYON AND THE SOUTHERN AFRICA OF
  • Britain in South Africa: the situation when Lanyon stepped ashore
  • Mid-Victorian colonial policy: metropole and periphery
  • Owen Lanyon: ambitious young imperial agent
  • II LANYON AND CROWN COLONY RULE IN GRIQUALAND WEST
  • Carnarvon and his confederation scheme
  • Richard Southey’s legacy to Lanyon
  • New brooms sweep clean
  • The land issue and the rise of mining capitalism
  • Labour: control and recruitment
  • III THE IMPERIAL AGENT AND MILITARIST
  • Carnarvon ‘s agent on the diamond fields
  • Cooperation and collaboration
  • Military action and the Griqualand West Rebellion
  • Growing unpopularity and a sour send-off
  • IV IN THE TRANSVAAL
  • The situation in early 1879: Theophilus Shepstone’s legacy to Lanyon
  • Hicks Beach in the Colonial Office
  • Isandlwana: the death knell for confederation
  • Lanyon takes over in Pretoria
  • Owen Lanyon and Bartle Frere in the Transvaal
  • V LANYON IN WOLSELEY’S SLIPSTREAM
  • The administrative challenge: getting started
  • ‘Lang Jan’ and the disaffected Boers
  • Enter Wolseley with a flourish: the conquest of the Pedi polity
  • VI THE PRELUDE TO WAR
  • Lanyon and Wolseley in the Transvaal
  • The Liberal Party policy and Kimberley in the Colonial Office
  • Lanyon labours on
  • VII WAR, WITHDRAWAL AND LANYON’S RECALL
  • Collecting tax in Potchefstroom: the spark to light the powder keg
  • Paardekraal: the die is cast
  • Lanyon and the siege of Pretoria
  • British withdrawal: finding someone to blame
  • Owen Lanyon departs: his last years,
  • CONCLUSION: A PUPPET ON AN IMPERIAL STRING?
  • SOURCES

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PUPPET ON AN IMPERIAL STRING? OWEN LANYON IN SOUTH AFRICA, 1875-1881

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