Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Zulu Poll Tax Prisoners 1907-1910

The Bambatha Rebellion was the last armed resistance against white rule before the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910. In the years following the Anglo-Boer War white employers in Natal had difficulty recruiting black farm workers because of increased competition from the gold mines of the Witwatersrand. The colonial authorities introduced a poll tax in addition to the existing hut tax to encourage black men to enter the labour market.  Bambatha was one of the chiefs who resisted the introduction and collection of the new tax.  The government of Natal sent police officers to collect the tax from recalcitrant districts, and in February 1906 two white officers were killed near Richmond, KwaZulu-Natal resulting in the introduction of martial law. Bambatha fled north to consult King Dinizulu, whose exile on St Helena between 1890 and 1897 has been described in an earlier post but on returning to the Mpanza Valley discovered that the Natal government had deposed him as chief.  He gathered together a small force of supporters and began launching a series of guerrilla attacks.  In late April 1906 Colonial troops under the command of Colonel Duncan McKenzie were sent out on an expedition to confront Bambatha and once they succeeded in getting face to face with and surrounding the rebels at Mome Gorge, the British victory in the unequal battle was inevitable, given the vast disparity of forces.  Colonial soldiers opened fire with machine guns and cannon on rebels mostly armed only with traditional assegais, knobkerries and cowhide shields and Bambatha was killed and beheaded during the battle.

King Dinizulu was arrested, tried, convicted of treason and sentenced to four years imprisonment, though only served two.  An estimate of the total number of rebels that took part in the Rebellion is very difficult to arrive at but judging from the reports of Commanding Officers, the aggregate for Natal and Zululand would be about 10,000 to 12,000, of whom about 2,300 were killed.  Colonial casualties numbered only 30 killed or died and the cost of the campaign was estimated at £883,000. Bambatha’s men were destroyed by the militia with a thoroughness which disconcerted many even at the time. Winston Churchill, then an Under-Secretary in the Colonial Office in London, was scathing about the colonial reaction, and, on being consulted on the subject of a campaign medal to be awarded to the troops, suggested that it should be struck in bronze, at the colony’s expense, and depict not the head of King Edward VII but the severed head of a rebel leader.  The issue of a medal was approved by The King and was granted to those, including nursing sisters, who served between the 11th February and the 3rd August, for a continuous period of not less than twenty days, also to certain civilians, Native Chiefs, and others who had rendered valuable service. The Saint Helena Herald of 18th September 2009 has a photograph of the medal awarded to A.E. Thorpe for service during the Bambatha rebellion.

The militia’s actions still make disturbing reading now, they burned homes, looted, and shot Africans, under arms or not, with impunity.  The aftermath was equally ruthless.  The rank and file of some 4,700 prisoners were tried by their respective Magistrates and by Judges. The great majority of sentences ran from six months to two years, with whipping added.  After a number had been flogged, the Government directed suspension of all further whippings.  Special arrangements had to be made in Durban and elsewhere for accommodating the prisoners.  About 2,500 were confined in a compound at Jacobs near Durban, formerly used by Chinese labourers; 400 (for the most part with sentences of two years) in a special prison at the Point, Durban; 100 at Fort Napier, Pietermaritzburg; and the rest in various gaols.

By mid-August 1906 twenty-five Chiefs who had supported the rebels had been arrested, charged and tried by Courts Martial for a variety of offences; sedition, public violence, murder, rebellion and high treason. Sentences ranged from death, 10 years plus 500 cattle, 10 years plus 20 lashes and 20 years all of which were later reduced, though all were to be served with hard labour and the prisoners were kept in local custody.

In early January 1907 correspondence “Relating to the removal of certain native prisoners from Natal” commences with the Governor, Sir Henry McCallum, writing to The Secretary of State for The Colonies in London, Lord Elgin:
As your Excellency is aware, persistent reports are now circulating in Zululand and Natal amongst the natives there by those who have been released that all rebels are about to be released in consequence of an order received from across the sea to effect that the Home Government has told this Government that the rebels were only soldiers acting under orders of their chiefs, and they should not, therefore, have been punished.  No more dangerous course therefore could be pursued by Ministers than the adoption of any act which could give the least ground for cultivating so pernicious a belief in the native mind, whether that mind be loyal or wicked.  These reports, together with a recent one from Swaziland, induce Ministers to urge the necessity of a course of action which will demonstrate once for all to the native mind that rebellion is not a light matter or one to be followed by trivial consequences.  Ministers think it essential that under the circumstances such demonstration can only be given by the immediate deportation of the ringleaders, to the number of about twenty-five, who, as long as they are in local custody, have, and will have, opportunities which no guarding can repress of conveying to their sympathisers outside reports and messages calculated to incite to further disorder, if not to attempts to obtain release.

The Colonial Prisoners Removal Act cap. 31 of 1884 appears to Ministers to provide the machinery to meet just such an emergency as confronts this Colony at this time.  Ministers think that question of expediency in this instance can hardly be questioned and suggest that Island of Mauritius is, in respect of climate and other conditions, a locality to which exception could not well be taken.  In view of urgency of matter, Ministers would be glad if your Excellency would cable this application to the Secretary of State whilst simultaneously inquiring of the Mauritius Government by cable if it will be as good as to assist us.  As a matter of great emergency I beg for your Lordship's good offices and that with least possible delay. I am repeating this telegram to Governor, Mauritius, that he may have full information on the subject.

By January 30, it was agreed and:” Ministers beg me to inform you that satisfactory despatch has been received from Governor, Mauritius, as to taking rebel ringleaders as prisoners. They now only await approval of His Majesty's Government”.
On February 25th The Governor of Mauritius sent a telegram to London: Cases of beri-beri reported to me yesterday, five in Central Prison, two fatal; seventeen in Port Louis Prison.  Preventive measures against spread of disease by segregation and alteration in diet are being taken and inquiry being made to ascertain cause.
The Secretary of State requested: Please furnish me with your opinion as to whether the outbreak of beri-beri at the Central Gaol, reported by you in your telegram of 25th February, can be confined within limits which will secure the immunity of the Zulu chiefs who are to be entrusted to your care.  
McCallum was becoming increasingly concerned at the delay: Much regret in hearing of outbreak especially as rumours of unrest are becoming daily aggravated. Immediate deportation of ringleaders would probably put end to this. Rank and file of rebels are being employed on Public works in wood and iron temporary buildings secured by double-fenced entanglement enclosures, such as used for safe custody of Boer prisoners.  These have proved healthy and satisfactory and Ministers would like the same provided forthwith at Mauritius at cost of Government of Natal till the gaols are immune from beri-beri." Whilst discouraging credence of rumours and reports received I cannot help feeling uneasy, and shall be glad if Ministers' proposal could be approved by you and deportation of ring- leaders take place with least possible delay.
Further correspondence left the matter unresolved: Re. Your Lordship's telegram with regard to beri-beri.  After consultation with Chief Medical Officer I cannot guarantee immunity from the disease for any person in confinement in any of our prisons and I am advised that no such prison can safely be used for the purpose.  This ruled out Mauritius but McCallum had already been in correspondence with Governor Gallwey on St Helena who discussed the matter with Lord Elgin:
The Governor of St, Helena to the Secretary of State,
The Castle, St. Helena, March 21, 1907.
I have the honour to inform Your Lordship that I received a telegraphic despatch from the Governor of Natal on the 16th instant asking me whether St. Helena would receive twenty-five rebel ringleaders sentenced to various terms of penal servitude, using a portion of empty barracks as a prison ; and, if so, on what terms. Sir Henry McCallum informed me that owing to an outbreak of beri-beri in the Mauritius prisons the arrangement made to send the prisoners to that Colony had fallen through.  He further informed me that the Mauritius Government had agreed to take the twenty- five prisoners at a cost of £20 per man per annum, provided the Natal Government sent two European warders with the
I discussed the matter in Council on the 18th instant, when it was unanimously decided to receive the prisoners provided the War Office consented to the use of Ladder Hill Barracks as a prison. I accordingly telegraphed to this effect to the Governor of Natal, adding that the cost per man would not exceed £20 a year, but that the Natal Government must pay actual cost. I made this latter stipulation as this Government has no wish to make money out of the Natal Government whilst being unable to risk the smallest loss under the transaction. The actual feeding of the prisoners, including fuel, will not exceed £10 a year per man consequently the traders and farmers will benefit only to a very small extent. Every little helps, however, in these hard times.

Telegrams between McCallum, Gallwey and Lord Elgin give further comment and information:
The Castle, St. Helena, March 22, 1907. On the 17th instant, in reply to a telegram I despatched
to Your Excellency the previous day, you informed me that the following was the prisoners' diet:
Breakfast. — 12 ounces mealie meal.
Supper. — 12 ounces mealie meal.
Dinner. — 16 ounces mealie meal, or 2 lbs. potatoes.
Eight ounces fresh meat and four ounces fresh vegetables twice a week.  One ounce of salt daily.
Your Excellency further stated that if mealies were not obtainable in this Colony that you would send supplies thereof periodically. I may say at once that mealies are obtainable here. I take it that the prisoners themselves make the meal. As regards the cost of feeding the prisoners, I calculate that according to the diet laid down by Your Excellency this will not exceed £10 per man per annum, including fuel.  The cost of feeding a prisoner in the gaol here is roughly, including fuel, 1 shilling. a day. The diet, allowed, however, is quite different to the scale laid down for your prisoners. I take it that the two European warders will find themselves in everything but quarters, and the usual barrack furniture. I am not aware as to what furniture, if any, is required for the prisoners.  There is a large swimming bath close by to where they will be confined with a continual flow of water passing through. I presume the prisoners do their own cooking.  Should cooking and eating utensils and bedding be purchased?  I must apologise for troubling Your Excellency with questions of these minor details, but I have no knowledge of the Zulu nor the way he is treated when a prisoner.  Your Excellency will see that £20 per man a year should more than cover the recurrent expenditure necessary to keep the prisoners.  We have the following items with their approximate cost per annum:

Food and fuel                           £250
Medical attendance                   £50
Medicines                                 £6
Three warders at £55                  £165
Oil, wick, and matches               £5
Soap and cleaning materials      £6
Water rate                                 £4
Contingencies                           £5
Total                                         £490

I have allowed for three extra warders as there will have to be a man continually on duty day and night, owing to the nature of the buildings in which the prisoners will be confined. This Government can lend rifles for the warders' use if necessary. I take it that the prisoners do not receive anything in the way of tea, coffee, or other groceries with the exception of salt? I ask this question as the Zulus who were interned in this Colony ten years ago received coffee, sugar, and other groceries. In fact, they appear to have been given anything they asked for.

April 3. from McCallum. The situation (in Natal) is improving.  The atmosphere will be much cleared by transportation of ringleaders. Ministers inquire when they may expect your authority for their removal. 

April 16. from McCallum. Ministers would respectfully urge upon the Secretary of State necessity for giving immediate authority for the removal to Saint Helena of the native ringleaders concerned in recent rebellion. It is now over three months since the proposal for the deportation of these natives from the Colony was originally made, and the great delay which has taken place through unforeseen circumstances has been unfortunate and embarrassing. Ministers deprecate any further delay, and will be obliged if your Excellency will at once cable to the Secretary of State urging him to accelerate settlement.

There then followed the question of the warrants needed for due process:
April 20. Warrants required under the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act, Section 6, must be signed by Secretary of State for the Colonies and by Governor of St. Helena as well as by Governor of Natal before prisoners can leave Natal. Warrants will be forwarded to Governor of St. Helena duly signed by me by the next mail, which leaves on 3rd May, and he has been instructed by telegraph to sign them and forward them to you by the same steamer. We regret the delay but it is inevitable. I would further confirm my telegram to you, wherein I state that I have been informed by the Secretary of State that it will not be possible to move the prisoners from Natal until about the end of May. Lord Elgin informs me that he has sent you for signature the warrants required under Section 6 of the Colonial Prisoners' Removal Act, with a request that you will sign and forward them to me by the same steamer. In this connection I should feel obliged if, when despatching the warrants, you will give directions that they be forwarded from Cape Town overland, as this will avoid a delay of three or four days.
Ministers propose to send the prisoners under special arrangement by direct steamer from Durban, and as soon as the details are settled I will apprise you by telegram of the date of their departure, and the probable date of their arrival at St. Helena.
The delay caused by the warrants having to be signed in London, St Helena and Pietermaritzburg meant that it was the 1st June when the twenty-five prisoners left Natal on the steamship Inyati to proceed directly to St Helena. . Despite their best efforts the Colonial Office through Lord Elgin failed to persuade the Natal colonial government to treat them as political prisoners and not as ordinary criminals and on arrival at St Helena they were treated as such.

Barbara George’s article www.saint.fm/Independent/20090605.pdf quotes the St Helena Guardian of 13th June 1907 reporting their arrival.
The expected steamship Inyati, Captain White, from Natal, with 25 Zulu prisoners in charge of Cunningham and Shepherd, arrived in port on Tuesday evening at 7p.m. The prisoners on landing yesterday at 7.30 a.m. were dressed in khaki jackets and pants. Several of them had the letter L with other marks on their jackets, presumably to indicate their sentences, which range from “Life” to 10 years imprisonment with hard labour. Their ages would appear to be from 20 years to 70. They seemed in a half starved condition and could hardly walk when landed. They were marched off to Ladder Hill Barracks where the Royal Artillery Garrison were stationed, under the escort of the local police armed with rifles. Ladder Hill is to be their future abode and they will be looked after by the Troopers who arrived with them and three of our local labourers as guard. We understand their diet is to be 12 ounces of mealy meal for breakfast and 12 for supper and 18 ounces of the same food for dinner with salt, and during the week some vegetables and 1 lb. of fresh beef per man per week will be issued. To tea, coffee, milk and tobacco they will be strangers. Blankets to lie on only will be furnished to them. Whether these prisoners are to be placed to work on our roads we shall have to learn. Considering the scarcity of work for our own labourers, we hope not.  Whether making this island “known to the world” as the “Island of Historic Misfortune”, the prison for men such as the Zulus is a wise step or not, we await with interest to ascertain.

By July 1907 questions were being asked in The House of Commons. hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1907/jul/18/treatment... This exchange between Ramsey Macdonald and Winston Churchill being one such.
Mr. RJ Ramsay Macdonald: I beg further to ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies whether his attention has been drawn to the fact that on arrival at St. Helena the Zulu prisoners were in an emaciated condition and looked half-starved, and some of them were hardly able to walk; whether amongst these is the chief Tilonko, from whom a petition is lying upon the Table of this House setting forth that he was illegally condemned under an indemnity Act wider in scope than has ever been assented to by the Sovereign, and which is alleged to have been unjustly put into operation; and whether he proposes to take any action on the matter.
The Under-Secretary of State for The Colonies (Mr. Churchill, Manchester N.W.)  It was necessary to deport these prisoners under the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act, and they therefore remain in the status of convicts, but it has always been the view of the Secretary of State that the fact of their deportation would justify their receiving, while in St. Helena, liberal treatment in regard to conditions of their imprisonment, especially in the matter of dietary. He will at once call for a Report from the Governor of St. Helena on this subject, and will authorise him to make such modifications in the scale of dietary and general conditions as are possible consistently with this provisions of the law.

These Zulu prisoners were certainly not greeted with the same enthusiasm afforded by the islanders to the Boer prisoners seven years earlier, nor was their time on the island to be as fondly remembered locally as was the imprisonment of Dinizulu in 1890. There is a dearth of material written about this period and their time on the island is barely recorded.

Towards the end of 1910 the eighteen survivors amongst the twenty-five prisoners who had been sent to St Helena were granted parole. They were part of the general amnesty that was granted to about 4,500 prisoners by the Governor General during the formation of the Union of South Africa.  Seven had died on the island as the Death Register records but their graves cannot be found and are not in the burial register.  Two of the eighteen prisoners were carried on stretchers because they were seriously ill.  John Dube, the founder of the Zulu-English newspaper Ilanga lase Natal remarked that the prisoners looked very wasted although they had only served three years of their prison sentences. Most of them looked very old and could not even be recognized. In fact they no longer looked like chiefs at all, but looked like commoners.

These were the last of St Helena’s political prisoners until the arrival of the three Bahrainis in 1957 described in an earlier post..

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