British proclaim a protectorate called Bechuanaland

Date: 
January, 1885

Bechuanaland was visited by Europeans towards the close of the 18th century. The generally nomadic and peaceful disposition of the tribes rendered the opening up of the country comparatively easy. The first regular expedition to penetrate far inland was in 1801-1802, when John Truter, of the Cape judicial bench, and William Somerville, an army physician, were sent to the Bechuana tribes to buy cattle. The London Missionary Society established stations in what is now Griqualand West in 1803, and in 1818 the station of Kuruman, in Bechuanaland proper, was founded.

In about 1817 Mosilikatze, the founder of the Matabele nation, fleeing from the wrath of Shaka, the Zulu king, began his career of conquest, during which he ravaged a great part of Bechuanaland and enrolled large numbers of Bechuana in his armies. Eventually the Matabele settled to the north-east in the country. In 1821 Robert Moffat arrived at Kuruman as agent of the London Missionary Society, and made it his headquarters for fifty years. Largely as the result of the work of Moffat (who translated the Bechuana tongue to writing), and of other missionaries, the Bechuana advanced notably. The arrival of David Livingstone in 1841 marked the beginning of the systematic exploration of the northern regions. His travels, and those of C. J. Andersson (1853-1858) and others, covered almost every part of the country hitherto unknown. In 1864 Karl Mauch discovered gold in the Tati district.

As early as 1836 an act was passed extending the jurisdiction of the Cape courts in certain cases as far north as 25 S.a limit which included the southern part of Bechuanaland. Although under strong British influence the country was nevertheless ruled by its own chiefs, among whom the best-known in the middle of the 19th century were Montsioa, chief of the Barolong, and Sechele, chief of the Bakwena and a friend of Livingstone. At this period the Transvaal Boers were in a very unsettled state, and those living in the western districts showed a marked inclination to encroach upon the lands of the Bechuana. In 1852 Great Britain by the Sand river convention acknowledged the independence of the Transvaal. Save the Vaal river no frontier was indicated and so the Boers felt at liberty to assault the Bakwains (Bakwena).

With this event the political history of Bechuanaland may be said to have begun. Not only was Sechele attacked at his capital Kolobeng, and the European stores and Livingstone's house there looted, but the Boers stopped a trader named MCabe from going northward. In 1858 the Boers told the missionaries that they must not go north without their (the Boers) consent. Moffat complained to Sir George Grey, the governor of Cape Colony, through whose intervention the molestation by Transvaal Boers of British subjects in their passage through Bechuanaland was stopped. At a later date (1865) the Boers tried to raise taxes from the Barolong, but without success, a commando sent against them in 1868 being driven off by Montsioas brother Molema. This led to a protest (in 1870) from Montsioa, which he lodged with a landdrost at Potchefstroom in the Transvaal, threatening to submit the matter to the British high commissioner if any further attempt at taxation were made on the part of the Boers. The Boers then resorted to cajolery, and at a meeting held in August 1870, at which President Pretorius and Paul Kruger represented the Transvaal, invited the Barolong to join their territories with that of the republic, in order to save them from becoming British. Montsioas reply was short: No. In the following year the claims of the Boers, the Barolong, and other tribes were submitted to the arbitration of R. W. Keate, lieutenant-governor of Natal, and his award placed Montsioas territory outside the limits of the Transvaal. This attempt of the Boers to gain possession of Bechuanaland having failed, T. F. Burgers, the president of the Transvaal in 1872, endeavoured to replace Montsioa as chief of the Barolong by Moshette, whom he declared to be the rightful ruler and paramount chief of that people. The attacks of the Boers at length became so unbearable that Montsioa in 1874 made a request to the British authorities to be taken under their protection. In formulating this appeal he declared that when the Boers were at war with Mosilikatze, chief of the Matabele, he had aided them on the solemn understanding that they were to respect his boundaries. This promise they had broken. Khama, chief of the Bamangwato in northern Bechuanaland, wrote in August 1876 to Sir Henry Barkly making an appeal similar to that sent by the Barolong. The letter contained the following significant passages:

I write to you, Sir Henry, in order that your queen may preserve for me my country, it being in her hands. The Boers are coming into it, and I do not like them. Their actions are cruel among us black people. We are like money, they sell us and our children. I ask Her Majesty to defend me, as she defends all her people. There are three things which distress me very much war, selling people, and drink. All these things I shall find in the Boers, and it is these things which destroy people to make an end of them in the country. The custom of the Boers has always been to cause people to be sold, and to-day they are still selling people. 

http://www.britishempire.co.uk/maproom/bechuanaland.htm