The interaction between the missionaries of the Cape eastern frontier and the colonial authorities in the era of Sir George Grey, 1854-1861.
Weldon, Constance Gail.
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In the work of radical historians and in Xhosa tradition the Cattle Killing has become the supreme example of the deliberately destructive impact of a colonial governor, helped by missionaries, on the Black peoples of the eastern frontier of the Cape. This figure of controversy, Sir George Grey, was Governor of the Cape and High Commissioner from 1854-1861. As a civilian, he sought to pacify the Xhosa through 'civilization1 and education. To do this he enlisted the help of the frontier missionaries, who themselves desired a stable Xhosa society to aid their work. The result, it has been alleged, was the final demise of effective Xhosa resistance to the encroachment of imperial forces and white settler society. By the early 1850s the work of the missionaries on the frontier was at an all-time low. And so they certainly did hope that Grey's plans, of which the extension of education was part, would provide a long-sought breakthrough for them. But this, in turn, has led to the accusation that the missionaries acted merely as mercenary imperial agents and as a 'collaborating group' for the extension of colonial authority over the Xhosa, rather than for the benefit of their would- be converts. Because of the nature of the allegations, it seemed a significant historical exercise to investigate more closely the nature and extent of the links which the missionaries did in fact forge with Sir George Grey. It must be admitted that Grey's frontier plans, together with the steady erosion of traditional society over the years, economic distress in the mid-1850s, and the Cattle Killing dealt a deathblow to effective Xhosa resistance to colonial encroachment. Radical historians have blamed Grey and the missionaries of deliberately engineering the Cattle Killing for their own Machiavellian purposes. There is not enough evidence to convict Grey on this charge, but certainly his actions, or lack of them, during the crisis suggest that once the Cattle Killing had started he deliberately allowed it to develop to the point where the Xhosa could be more easily subordinated. It can not, with any justification, be said that the missionaries had a part either in instigating or maintaining the crisis, though they were not slow to hope for some advantage from it in the shape of a more receptive Xhosa nation driven by adversity to 'humble themselves before God1 and accept conversion. The Xhosa were deeply divided over Nongqawuse's prophecy - which was a fact that tended to work very much to Grey's advantage. He also used the crisis to break the chiefs who survived the disaster and to evict Sarhili from his ancestral land in Kaffraria Proper. On what seems to have been fabricated evidence, Grey accused Sarhili, together with Moshoe- shoe, of plotting the Cattle Killing to force the Xhosa into war with the Colony. Far from this being the case, the Cattle Killing should rather be regarded both as a millenarian movement and as a feature of a so-called 'closing' frontier. Grey had hoped to use the crisis to extend his 'civilizing' plans to Kaffraria Proper; but though his expulsion of Sarhili to beyond the Mbashe River prepared the way, he did not receive official sanction to go ahead with his plans. This, together with other setbacks to his plans, may well have led Grey to accept a transfer to New Zealand in 1861, sooner than had been expected. It has been suggested that the Cattle Killing resulted in an unprecedented advance by the missionaries, but detailed investigation of their records has shown this to be untrue. The influence attributed to the missionaries has, thus, been somewhat overrated and their links with Grey, who was essentially a man of independent and arbitrary action, exaggerated. Although their converts were few, missionaries did, however, foster far-reaching changes in traditional society. One of the most notable was the growth of peasant communities around the stations, which supplied a viable alternative to wage labour in the pre-capitalist colonial society. They also contributed to the stratification of Xhosa society and to the creation of an educated elite which would become leaders in a new industrial situation of contracting options. Grey was Governor at a time when the frontier was in the process of closing. A study of his era is, thus, relevant not only in terms of the relationship between the missionaries and the personality embodying the authority of the colonial state - and their consequent combined impact on Xhosa history but also in terms of more general frontier studies.