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2. Another Vision of Empire. Henry Rider Haggard’s Modernity and Legacy
II/ Haggard & the Imperial Dream or the end of an era

Henry Rider Haggard in Zululand: A Reluctant Imperialist?

Marie-Claude BARBIER


Cet article analyse un essai publié en 1882 par Rider Haggard, Cetywayo and his White Neighbours or Remarks on Recent Events in Zululand, Natal and the Transvaal, après un séjour de six années en Afrique du Sud. Années cruciales dans l’histoire du pays puisque s’y déroulèrent deux conflits majeurs pour les Britanniques, la guerre anglo-zouloue et la première guerre des Boers, ponctués par les traumatisantes défaites d’Isandhlwana et de Majuba Hill. De retour en Angleterre, Haggard souhaite apporter sa version des faits tels qu’il les avait vécus en tant que témoin participant. Même s’il soutient la présence britannique en Afrique du sud, il se montre très critique des choix politiques de son pays pour le Zululand, considérant que les conflits résultent d’une méconnaissance des mœurs zouloues. Il dénonce l’impact négatif de la civilisation occidentale qui, avec ses commerçants et ses missionnaires, a perverti à jamais l’identité de ce peuple. Partagé entre son admiration pour les Zoulous – qui allaient à plusieurs reprises l’inspirer dans ses romans futurs- et son adhésion à un nécessaire développement des colonies, et surtout conscient de l’inéluctabilité de la domination blanche, il suggère que l’établissement d’un protectorat britannique sur le pays serait un moindre mal.

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1In 1875, a nineteen-year-old Englishman named Henry Rider Haggard (1856-1925) left England for Natal, which had been a British colony since 1843, at a time when the Scramble for Africa was unfolding:

The “New Imperialism,” as it was later called, was characterized by an increasing sense of urgency to annex as much land as quickly as possible while there was still unexplored, unmapped, unsettled land left to be had. (Libby 3)

2He was to work as an “unpaid supernumerary” (Coan “Sir Henry” np) on the staff of the new lieutenant governor, Sir Henry Bulwer, who was a friend of his father. He stayed for six years, a time marked by various deadly conflicts between both British and Boers, and British and Zulu. On his return to England, he decided to give an account of the events of the period based on his own observations and perspective. Subsequently, he published an essay entitled Cetywayo and his White Neighbours or Remarks on Recent Events in Zululand, Natal and the Transvaal in which, despite being a supporter of British imperialism, he criticized Britain’s political choices in South Africa, and suggested that British misunderstanding of Zulu society was the cause of the conflicts. He was equally critical of the settlements of the conflicts. The Cetywayo to whom he refers was the Zulu king Cetshwayo, whose reign included the years Haggard spent in Natal. Haggard’s vision of imperialism undoubtedly evolved over the years. As remarked by Monsman, at the time Haggard wrote his essay, he had not visited the Anglo-Zulu battlegrounds (mainly Isandhlwana and Rorke’s Drift) yet, and Cetywayo was “essentially a greatly expanded version of his 1877 essays on the political and social system of the Zulus, particularly that on the Transvaal” (Monsman 39). Haggard, who, through his romances, is seen as the “mapper of his age’s anxieties and desires” (Stiebel xiii) was sensitive to his environment. His knowledge of Zulu society led him to have a vision of the Empire different from British mainstream imperialism, yet without rejecting it: “Although his optimism receded towards the end of his life, Haggard remained to the last a “firm imperial defender” (Katz 5). This article aims at deciphering who was the young Haggard of his beginnings, as he was only twenty-six years old when he published Cetywayo, his first major nonfiction contribution to Zulu fame. We will also demonstrate that Haggard’s imperial humanitarianism was not always compatible with his knowledge of the situation, and we will therefore try to see how far Haggard was a convinced imperialist and if, in some ways, he might have been a somewhat “reluctant” one.

Historical background

3Cetywayo and his White Neighbours was published in 1882, at a time when European imperialism was at its height: “By the 1880s, the decade in which H. Rider Haggard began his career as a successful author of African romances, several centuries of geographic and ethnographic "discovery," commercial trade, and Christian missionary evangelicalism was reaching its climax” (Libby 3). It was also a time when “Positive attitudes to warfare were deeply embedded in the intellectual, philosophical and cultural trends of the age” (MacKenzie 2). Haggard’s book was not only based on his personal experience of the conflicts, but he also used some official documents, particularly the blue books printed during this period. It was well received and although he sold only 150 copies, he received letters of congratulation from Lord Carnarvon and Randolph Churchill. His warnings went unheeded as we will see, but, when he had become famous in 1888, the book was reissued, with a long introduction bringing the reader up to date with the situation in Zululand and the evolution of the Wolseley settlement which Haggard had opposed. As he had foretold, the creation of 13 chiefdoms had led to civil war. In 1884, Cetshwayo had been restored, which led to more trouble and eventually to his death, and his country was finally annexed in 1887. Haggard had foreseen this development, and had he been listened to, “many thousands of men, women and children, whose bones strew the caves and whiten the veldt would to-day have been alive” (Haggard Cetywayo xlvii). This quote shows that he was a visionary forerunner as he not only gave a clever analysis of the situation, but he also had the “capacity” to anticipate the future. With Cetywayo, Haggard engaged on a path that was to turn him into the chronicler of Zulu sagas as stated by his daughter:

Rider did not know then that in his lifetime these words would come true, that he would be one of the few living men who would remember those tales told over the camp fire, by the men whose hands lay upon the savage heart of the Zulu people and measured its very beat. He had no thought that he would shape their history into books – clothing the truth in drama so that it might not be forgotten – that immortal story, that bloodstained saga of a black people. (Lilias R. Haggard 54)

4As a writer, he preserved the memory of the former glory of the Zulu people: many years later while travelling in Zululand in 1914, he visited the royal Kraal of Duguza and “the place marked by some trees where lie the bones of the mighty Chaka whose death at this very spot I have written of in Nada the Lilly” (Haggard Diary 179) and he remarked: “so little regard have the local inhabitants for his story that some while ago some shanty was actually about to be erected on the exact site of the grave. Luckily, however, this was stopped in time” (Coan Diary 179). Hence, to understand what is at stake we need to delve into Zulu history.

5Among the many ethnic groups occupying Southern Africa in the 19th century, none were more famous than the Zulu, whose reputation as fiery, murderous, and audacious warriors preceded the arrival of the white invaders. One formerly minor clan, the AmaZulu (people of the sky), founded in the early 18th century by Zulu kaNtombhela, increased its power during the reign of the formidable Shaka kaSenzangakona, (1787-1828) – whom Haggard called “the African Attila” (Cetywayo 9) for his zeal for conquest – who was to mark the destiny of Southern Africa. Because he was the illegitimate son of the Zulu king Senzangakona kaJama, his mother Nandi kaBhebbe was banished and took refuge with Dingiswayo, chief of a neighbouring tribe who, upon Senzangakona’s death in 1816, helped his protégé reconquer the Zulu kingdom. Subsequently, Shaka envisaged a pan-Zulu nation that would linguistically and culturally assimilate all the neighbouring tribes. To achieve his objective, he transformed his people into a war machine, building a professional army, the impi, to spearhead his expansionist ambitions. Haggard views him as “one of the most remarkable men who has ever filled a throne since the days of the Pharaohs” (Cetywayo 9). At its height, the army comprised 100,000 men. From then on, the highly trained Zulu warrior would be equipped with a large shield, an assegai with a short shaft, called the iklwa – to be used in fighting at close quarters – and a club, called the iwisa to knock the enemy dead. Shaka required all his subjects to perform military service, enlisting men by age groups in regiments, and even creating a women’s corps. He revolutionised military strategy, opting for attacks in “buffalo-head” formation: troops were divided into four, two wings of which comprised young warriors who formed the horns of the buffalo, while two central units, comprising more experienced fighters, were the “skull” that would break through the enemy, and eventually veterans would bring up the rear, in case reinforcements were needed.

  • 1 The disruption was exacerbated by one of Shaka’s generals, who left him in 1821 in order to conquer (...)

6That point marked the beginning of the expansionist period historians called Mfecane (the pounding): “in the face of the advancing tide of the impi, entire villages were erased, some tribes fled and attempted to settle by force on lands owned by others, while other villages were incorporated into the Zulu kingdom as they offered no resistance to Shaka.” The latter waged a brutal war, using special regiments, the impi ebuntu (red regiments), to carry out scorched-earth tactics in response to resistance. The result was that the ethnic map of Africa was completely disrupted. The elderly members of the conquered tribes were killed, while the younger men were allowed to live on condition that they enlist in the impi, abandon their name and their language and forsake their identity to become Zulu. In only ten years, Shaka carved out an empire extending from the Drakensberg mountains to the Indian Ocean. However, internal rivalry, claiming justification because of his despotic policy, led to his downfall:1 in 1828, he was assassinated by two of his half-brothers, Dingane and Mhlangana.

  • 2 Some months earlier, in February 1838, he had signed a treaty with Piet Retief, head of a convoy of (...)

7Dingane seized the throne, killed Mhlangana and the remaining members of the royal family, as well as a majority of Shaka’s former supporters, sparing only one of his other half-brothers, named Mpande (called Panda by Haggard), whom he judged to be too weak to constitute a threat. The best-known episode of Dingane’s reign is related to the great Trek and the decisive defeat of his impi at the battle of Blood River,2 when 15,000 Zulu warriors attacked a group of 470 Boers led by Andries Pretorius. After his loss, Dingane burned down his royal kraal and fled towards the north, while Mpande, whose life he had spared, allied himself with Pretorius. Together, they went into battle against Dingane, and defeated him in 1840. Dingane fled again and was killed by Nyawo and Swazi warriors. Mpande (1798-1872) then became head of the Zulu nation and maintained cordial relations with Pretorius, allowing him to occupy a portion of his territory, which the Boers named Natalia. Then, in 1843, when the British annexed the region, Mpande swore allegiance to them and maintained friendly relations with them. Mpande did not have his predecessors’ warlike temperament: “He seems to have been well content to reign in peace, only killing enough people to keep up his authority” (Cetywayo 10), commented Haggard. When Mpande died in 1872, his son Cetshwayo (1826-1884) seized the throne.

Haggard in South Africa

8When Haggard arrived in Natal in 1875, Cethswayo had been on the throne for two years. Whereas his father Mpande had found a nonviolent modus vivendi with the British based in Natal, his young successor showed much less peaceful intentions. As was the custom among the Zulu, he began by establishing a new capital which he named Ulundi (the main square) and lost no time in banishing European missionaries. He then reinforced his impi, reviving the methods favoured by Shaka, that had subsequently fallen into disuse; he modernized his army by equipping his warriors with guns, and prepared his troops for war. Haggard describes Cetshwayo’s army as “a man-slaying machine” (Cetywayo 28). One of Haggard’s biographers states that he had a “romantic” vision of the Zulu and that they were people he could understand once rid of some of their bloody customs (Pocock 21).

  • 3 Haggard was later asked to write Shepstone’s biography (see Coan Mameena 18).
  • 4 For instance, on July 13 1892, Shepstone wrote a thankful letter to Haggard for his “plucky public” (...)

9During the weeks following his arrival in Natal, Haggard busied himself at Sir Henry Bulwer’s side, and was introduced to a man who would considerably influence his perception of the Zulu. This was Sir Theophilus Shepstone, Secretary for Native Affairs, who became his friend and mentor. Shepstone (1817-1893) was a missionaries’ son and had arrived at the age of three in South Africa. He spoke several African languages, which, given his position, was a notable asset. He spent thirty years in Natal and did his best to respect tribal customs to the extent that they were compatible with his humane principles. Haggard3 gives him high praise: “There never will be another white man so universally beloved and reverenced by the natives throughout the length and breadth of South Africa” (Cetywayo 50), adding “Sir Theophilus Shepstone is a man of remarkable tact and ability, combined with great openness and simplicity of mind, and one whose name will always have a leading place in South African history” (Cetywayo 91). Even in his later writings,4 Haggard always championed Shepstone’s views and called him “my beloved chief” (Haggard Days 68).

  • 5 Haggard does not seem to know the significance of the colours of the shields. Yet they were explain (...)

10The following year, Haggard accompanied Bulwer and Shepstone on a tour of Natal and was captivated by the beauty of the landscape. One evening, as they arrived at the kraal belonging to a local chief, he noted enthusiastically: “It was indeed a sight never to be forgotten, this wide panoramic outlook, with its towering hills, its smiling valleys, its flashing streams, its all-pervading sunlight, and its deep sad silence” (Cetywayo 225). Later, Chief Phakade organized a ceremony which Haggard found most impressive. He stared, fascinated by the sight of “a compact body of warriors running swiftly in lines of four”, coming over the hill towards them, singing the war-song of the Zulus, part of them waving snow-white shields, and part waving coal-black shields.5

  • 6 It was the reproduction of an article, entitled ‘A Zulu War Dance’ published in 1877 in The Gentlem (...)

Now they come faster and faster, […] until at length there stands before us a body of some five hundred men, presenting, in their savage dress, their various shields and flashing spears, as wild a spectacle as it is possible to conceive. But it is not our eyes only that are astonished, for from each of those five hundred throats there swells a chant never to be forgotten. From company to company it passes, that wild, characteristic song, so touching in its simple grandeur, so expressive in its deep, pathetic volume. The white men who listened had heard the song of choirs ringing down resounding aisles, they had been thrilled by the roll of oratorios pealing in melody, […], but never until now had they heard music of voices so weird, so soft and yet so savage, so simple and yet so all-expressive of the fiercest passions known to the human heart. (Cetywayo 229)6

  • 7 It was called “The Transvaal”, Macmillan’s Magazine, May 1877.
  • 8 www. the.history.of.haggards. Accessed May 10, 2020.

11These weeks in Zulu company made a lasting favourable impression on him and gave him the material for his first published article.7 He also heard captivating stories from Mhlpekazi, a native man (a Swazi), attendant to Shepstone, who inspired him for the character of the valiant Zulu Umslopogaas to be found in Allan Quatermain, Nada the Lily and She and Allan. The Zulu named Haggard Lundanda u Ndandokalweni, “the tall one who travels on the heights”.8

  • 9 In 1874, Lord Carnarvon, who was one of the architects of Canadian Confederation in 1867, hoped to (...)
  • 10 Bartle Frere (1815 – 1884) was a British colonial administrator. He had a successful career in Indi (...)
  • 11 This is corroborated by G. Monsman who wrote “Haggard maintained that Shepstone did not incite the (...)

12In 1877, Lord Carnarvon,9 the Colonial Secretary, appointed Sir Henry Bartle Frere10 to the post of High Commissioner for Southern Africa, with the mandate to create a federation with the recalcitrant Boer states. On the pretext of a growing Zulu threat to the Transvaal, Bartle Frere decided to annex the territory. On 4 January 1877, with twenty-five mounted police, he went as far as Pretoria without meeting any resistance; on his way, he was enthusiastically welcomed by Boers and British alike (Cetywayo 92), and following negotiations, the Transvaal was annexed to the British Empire on 12 April. The flag was later hoisted by Colonel Brooke, with the help of Haggard who wrote: “Speaking for myself, I may say that it was one of the proudest moments of my life. Could I have foreseen that I should live to see that same flag, then hoisted with so much joyous ceremony, within a few years shamefully and dishonorably hauled down and buried. I think it would have been the most miserable” (Cetywayo 114). Not everybody shared his enthusiasm: several Boer leaders, such as Paul Kruger, Piet Joubert or Marthinus Pretorius (Andries’ son) expressed their hostility and Haggard remarked they should have shown more gratitude for the life-saving British action! And yet some time before, Haggard had suggested to Shepstone that the Transvaal be left unannexed: “Then, the Zulus and the Boers will destroy each other and the Transvaal will fall like a ripe apple into the lap of Great Britain” (quoted by Coan Sir Henry np). But an angry Shepstone showed him how wrong it would be as it would mean the death of thousands of white people.11

13The question seemed to be settled, at least temporarily; however, Zulu animosity remained intact, a potential threat for Bartle Frere who, at the end of 1878, used the pretext of border incidents to request reparations and demand that the Zulu army be dismantled. Cetshwayo’s refusal led to a British-Zulu war, lasting from January to July 1879. Meanwhile, Haggard had been appointed Clerk of the High Court of Transvaal and, though he did not directly take part in the war (his regiment was stationed in Pretoria), he followed events closely.

  • 12 Rider Haggard describes the terrible shock when this defeat was announced in Pretoria; “it is a rar (...)

14The British expected a quick victory: “The campaigns were always expected to be over in a matter of weeks and invariably led to a feverish scramble on the part of the officers to get to the scene of conflict, as to a sporting event”, wrote MacKenzie, who added: “The officers of the imperial forces certainly saw these wars as chivalric, virtually sporting events, brief and intense bouts of dragon-slaying” (MacKenzie 3). It was not to be so: as was everyone, Haggard was appalled by the major British defeat in January 1879 at the battle of Isandhlwana12- though it was somewhat attenuated by British resistance at Rorke’s Drift.

  • 13 After the end of the British-Zulu war, Bishop Colenso interceded with the British government on beh (...)
  • 14 There were eleven Zulu chiefs plus John Dunn, a white adventurer, and Hlubi, a Basuto chief allied (...)

15The war ended with the capture and burning of the Zulu capital Ulundi on 4 July. The British had the last word: Cetshwayo was deposed and sent into exile at Robben Island.13 However, Haggard totally disagreed with the way General Wolseley dealt with the aftermath of the war. “With the exception of the affair at Rorke’s Drift, there is nothing to be proud of in connection with it [the war] and a great deal to be ashamed of, more especially in its final settlementˮ (Cetywayo 29). Instead of adopting the Bartle Frere’s confederation scheme, Wolseley divided Zululand into 13 chiefdoms, headed by compliant chiefs,14 which made internal conflicts inevitable. Haggard thought it terribly wrong: “… all the blood and treasure expended on the Zulu war were made of no account”, but presumed that Wolseley had obeyed “authorities at home, who were anxious to gratify English opinion, and partly ignorant, partly careless of the consequences” (Cetywayo 35).

  • 15 In the chapter entitled “The Elephant Hunt”, Allan Quatermain and his party drive a herd of elephan (...)
  • 16 This defeat had such an impact that one of the British slogans during the second Boer War was “Reme (...)

16In fact, as early as April 1879, Haggard had resigned from his position in the Transvaal and, with his colleague Cochrane, had bought a small farm on the Hilldrop domain near Newcastle, where they moved with the intention of raising ostriches. He was there when, on June 1, he learned of the death of the Imperial prince, son of Napoleon III, and saluted his memory.15 In August 1879, he went back to England where he married Mariana Margitson and then returned to Africa in December with her. They settled at Hilldrop just at the start of the first Boer war. Indeed, though the Zulu question appeared to be settled, the problems with the Boers were not: since annexation, opposition to the British had increased, resistance had become organized, and war broke out again on December 16 1880 (it officially ended on March 23 1881). On February 27, 1881, the Boers inflicted a bitter defeat on the British at Majuba Hill.16 Haggard and his wife could hear the guns from their stoep (porch). This was the preamble to the autonomy of the Transvaal. The terms of peace were negotiated in Haggard’s home at Hilldrop, which he had rented to the two delegations. He was thus present for both the annexation of the Transvaal and its retrocession. For him, the retrocession was heart-wrenching. He deplored that “amongst the confused sound of various English opinions about the Boer rising, rose the trumpet-note of the Transvaal Independence Committee and its supporters” who are a “hydra-headed crowd of visionaries and professional sentimentalists” (Cetywayo 162). If Haggard was saddened by the retrocession, Shepstone was bitter; he had felt manipulated throughout the Transvaal episode. On July 12, 1892, back in England and ignored by the politicians, he wrote an affectionate letter to Haggard (see note 5) in which he expressed again his bitterness:

… it appears that the home government did want to undo the annexation. Nothing could have been done more easily […]. Why not have plainly told me their wish and authorized me to carry it out? We should have parted with embraces […] as it is, we have earned the hatred of the Boers and very much puzzled the native races who […] have come to look upon us as the most unreliable of friends. (quoted by Stiebel Victorian Figures 27)

17Following the retrocession, the Boers were granted autonomy under British control, which they judged unsatisfactory. What they sought, of course, was full independence, which they obtained in 1884.

18In England, Gladstone, the Liberal leader, had been returned as Prime Minister; much to Rider Haggard’s displeasure, he was a “little Englander”, hostile to imperial expansionism and the expenses created by colonialism. This was why, on his return to England, Haggard hoped to explain– from the perspective of someone having lived in the interior of southern Africa during this entire period – his critical point of view on the evolution of both conflicts. He considered that they took place under the leadership of men who had no knowledge of either the terrain or the customs of local populations, with equally unsatisfactory outcomes. At that point, he continued to hope that the retrocession of the Transvaal would not lead to its independence, and as for Zululand, he still hoped to convince the government to establish a British protectorate for the region. His attempt developed through several steps.

Rider Haggard’s evaluation of the situation

  • 17 Cetshwayo calls Shepstone my father Sompseu (Cetywayo 97).

19To clearly communicate his point of view, he analysed what had happened since Cetshwayo’s access to the Zulu throne and pinpointed the mutual incomprehension which had led to the war. The investiture ceremony took place on 3 September 1873 in the presence of Theophilus Shepstone, who had been invited with great pomp and was “standing in the place of Cetshwayo’s father, and so representing the nation”17 (Cetywayo 14). “With a view to putting an end to the continual slaughter that darkens the history of Zululand”, (Cetywayo 14) Shepstone gave a paternalistic speech which laid down the four following principles:

1. That the indiscriminate shedding of blood shall cease in the land.

2. That no Zulu shall be condemned without open trial, and the public examination of witnesses for and against, and that he shall have a right to appeal to the king.

3. That no Zulu’s life shall be taken without the previous knowledge and consent of the king after such trial has taken place, and the right of appeal has been allowed to be exercised.

4. That for minor crimes the loss of property, all or a portion, shall be substituted for the punishment of death. (Cetywayo 14)

20Haggard considered that the acceptance of those regulations by Cetshwayo only reflected his desire to please “his father Sompseu” and the Natal Government, with which he was anxious to be on good terms. He produced a sound evaluation of the situation: for the British this was an attempt, praiseworthy according to their criteria, that aimed to limit the cruelty of the Zulu, but also gave the British a humanitarian pretext for entering into war against the Zulu if they did not abide by their rules. However, what the British considered an admirable settlement, was, according to Haggard, contrary to Zulu values, which gave prime importance to the brave deeds of their warriors. Openly critical of the British authorities, he took up the Zulu cause: “The Government of Natal had no right to dictate to a Zulu king the terms on which he was to hold his throne. The Zulu nation was an independent nation and had never been conquered or annexed by Natal” (Cetywayo 15). He reminded the British that, during the reign of Mpande, there had been few examples of armed combat because the English had forced Mpande to adopt a peaceful attitude that was deemed “too philanthropic” (Cetywayo 21) for his people, thus preventing him from fighting the other ethnic groups nearby, which was contrary to the Zulu mentality. Also, when Cetshwayo ascended the throne, the army, together with the nation as a whole, began to hope that this long period of inaction was going to come to an end at last, and that the new king was going to make them once again a proud nation by applying “an active foreign policy” (Cetywayo 21). Against whom they were to be “active” mattered little: the main objective was to “wash their spears” in enemy blood. For Haggard, his compatriots had made a crucial error in refusing to understand that war was the central element in Zulu life and that everything was subordinate to it, even marriage, because, according to Shaka’s rules, a warrior who is unattached is all the more ferocious; having no home, no wife (except perhaps when he was older) and no religion, his sole raison d’être was “his career as a warrior, and the hope of earning honour and wealth thanks to his assegai” (Cetywayo 21-22). Haggard went on to quote Shepstone’s premonitory dispatch, written about a year before the beginning of the war against the Zulu: “War is the universal cry among the soldiers, who are anxious to live up to their traditions, […] and the idea is gaining ground among the people that their nation has outlived the object of its existence” (Cetywayo 21-22). And Haggard amplifies: “The engine (the Zulu military organization) has not ceased to exist or to generate its forces, although the reason or excuse for its existence has died away: these forces have continued to accumulate and are daily accumulating without safety valve or outlet” (Cetywayo 22). He considers that the British should have been aware of the impending threat:

Desirable as such a state of feeling may be in an army just leaving for the battlefield, it is obvious that for some fifty thousand men, comprising the whole manhood of the nation, to be continually on the boil with sanguinary animosity against the human race in general, is an awkward element to fit into the peaceable government of a state. (Cetywayo 22)

21In fact, according to Haggard, Cetshwayo found himself from the very beginning navigating in perilous waters: “On the one hand was Scylla in the shape of the English Government, and on the other the stormy and uncertain Charybdis of his clamouring regiments, his bored army spoiling for battle” (Cetywayo 23). A true Zulu chief was absolutely obliged to fight; it was what his people desired above all, and, at the time, he had three possible enemies: the Swazi, his undisciplined neighbours; the Boers from the Transvaal who had invaded Zulu territory; and, last but not least, the English.

22The Swazi option was the most satisfactory one and thus his first choice, but the British immediately opposed this in case the whole region flared up. Haggard acknowledged that “The Governor of Natal could not in decency sanction such a proceeding as a war of extermination against the Swazis” (Cetywayo 24), but Haggard somewhat cynically regretted that the Zulu had not nonetheless overridden the English veto, since had the Zulu gone into battle against the Swazi, “the Swazis would have suffered no doubt, but the Zulu spears would have been satisfactorily washed, and there would have been no Zulu war. As it is, Englishmen have been killed instead of Swazis” (Cetywayo 24).

23Since the British had forbidden a battle against the Swazi, Cetshwayo opted for his second choice, the Boers. The time seemed favourable because the Boers had just been beaten by the Bapedi in a conflict concerning territory, and their State was about to go bankrupt. Cetshwayo began by positioning his troops at various points along the Transvaal frontier, which gave the British a pretext for annexing the Transvaal in order to save the Boers from a Zulu invasion. Indeed, hardly had Shepstone arrived in Pretoria when he sent a message to Cetshwayo informing him that the Transvaal had become British territory and that from now on, to attack the Boers was to attack the Queen! This was a new snub for Cetshwayo who again implored “his father Sompseu” to allow him “one little raid only, one small swoop”, reminding him, “I can’t be king until I have washed my assegais” (Cetywayo 27).

24The British government remained inflexible, even though many people in England were strongly critical of the annexing of the Transvaal and Cetshwayo found quite intolerable this new British veto, coming close on the refusal to allow the Zulu to combat the Swazi:

Did I ever tell Mr. Shepstone I would not kill? Did he tell the white people that I made such an arrangement? Because if he did he has deceived them. I do kill; but do not consider that I have done anything yet in the way of killing. Why do the white people start at nothing? I have not yet begun; I have yet to kill; it is the custom of our nation, and I shall not depart from it. (Cetywayo 16)

25And he went on questioning a British right of interference:

Why does the Governor of Natal speak to me about my laws? Do I go to Natal and dictate to him about his laws? […] I do not agree to give my people over to be governed by laws sent to me by them. Have I not asked the English to allow me to wash my spears since the death of my father ‘Umpandi,’ and they have kept playing with me all this time, treating me like a child? Go back and tell the English that I shall now act on my own account, and if they wish me to agree to their laws, I shall leave and become a wanderer; but before I go it will be seen, as I shall not go without having acted. Go back and tell the white men this and let them hear it well. The Governor of Natal and I are equal; he is Governor of Natal, and I am Governor here. (Cetywayo 16)

  • 18 Haggard wrote: “It is ridiculous to say that the capture of two Zulu women in Natal and their subse (...)

26Sir Bartle Frere, aware that he would not be able to contain the aggressive Zulu for long, decided to invade Zululand, using for that purpose the troops he had been provided with to defend Natal. Pretexting “an outrage” (Cetywayo 21), a violation of the frontier that had never been sorted out18 and a refusal to respect the instructions set down by Shepstone at the time of the enthronement, he gave Cetshwayo an ultimatum that was to come into force on 11 December 1878. Given thirty days to lay down arms, Cetshwayo refused, and, on 11 January 1879, Sir Bartle Frere sent Lord Chelmsford to invade Zululand.

  • 19 “Mr Rider Haggard on the Matabele War”, The Standard, Friday, October 20, 1893.

27It is clear that the pretexts Bartle Frere used to invade Zululand after the ultimatum were insignificant, though they provided a suitable casus belli for a man determined to enter into combat, arguing that the Zulu army presented a threat to the white South African population. In England, the move was strongly criticised, but Haggard considered that had it been successful, praise would soon have overridden the qualms. In fact, the mistake Bartle Frere made was to put General Chelmsford in charge of the army, for Chelmsford was a man who knew nothing about the country or the Zulu. Moreover, according to Haggard, things could have turned out worse, since Cetshwayo could easily have invaded Natal after the defeat at Isandhlwana, which he did not do to keep on the good side of the British authorities. “In my view, it was owing to the clemency and half-heartedness of Cetewayo (sic) that all the outlying districts of Natal weren’t swept by his impis”.19

28Up to this point, Haggard had been recapitulating the chain of events that he disapproved of, but which were irreversible. But he went on to criticize the way the aftermath had been dealt with: he thought that the Wolseley settlement was a terrible error, and he still hoped to convince the authorities to remedy the situation. In his opinion, at the end of the war, the British had the choice between occupying the country and governing it for the well-being of the Zulu or allowing Cetshwayo to stay on the throne on condition he accept the terms of the ultimatum. Unfortunately, General Wolseley was, like Chelmsford, little aware of Zulu ways. He chose to divide the realm into thirteen regions to prevent any possibility of the inhabitants being reunited under a single chief and he appointed chiefs who were favourable to the British but who, Haggard pointed out, had no legitimacy in the eyes of their own people. This resulted, as Haggard had predicted it would, in bloody conflicts. To avoid this bloodshed, Haggard suggested that the British should turn Zululand into a British Protectorate.

A reluctant imperialist

29Haggard was clearly a supporter of British imperialism, with a paternalistic touch. He justified it thus: “When the strong aggressive hand of England has grasped some fresh portion of the earth’s surface, there is yet a spirit of justice in her heart and head which prompts the question, […] as to how best and most fairly to deal by the natives of the newly-acquired land”, and the answer is that the natives “are allowed to stay and share the rights and privileges of British subjects” (Cetywayo, annex 7, a Zulu war dance). But he came to realize that facts can be quite different: “I am aware that it is generally considered that the white man has a right to the black man’s possessions and land, and that it is his high and holy mission to exterminate the wretched native and take his place. But with this conclusion I venture to differ” (Cetywayo 175). Deploring the fact that natives were treated like second-class subjects, he stood as a defender of the Zulu, voicing courageous opinions that found but few echoes amongst the British in Natal (except for Bishop Colenso and his supporters). He denounced the fact that “The average white man detests the Kafir, and looks on him as a lazy good-for-nothing, who ought to work for him and will not work for him, whilst he is quite incapable of appreciating his many good points” (Cetywayo 50). And he wrote a vibrant pro-Zulu plea:

So far as my own experience of natives has gone, I have found that in all the essential qualities of mind and body, they very much resemble white men, with the exception that they are, as a race, quicker-witted, more honest, and braver, than the ordinary run of white men. […] I cannot believe that the Almighty, who made both white and black, gave to the one race the right or mission of exterminating, or even of robbing or maltreating the other, and calling the process the advance of civilisation. (Cetywayo 175)

30During the retrocession of the Transvaal, which he did not agree with, arguing that he was interested in the well-being of the native populations and empathised with their suffering, he went as far as suggesting that the Zulu should have been consulted about the process since “they were twenty times as numerous as the Boers on the territory”, and that “as they were the original owners of the soil, they were entitled to some consideration in the question of its disposal, and consequently and incidentally, of their own” (Haggard, The Last Boer War, Ch.VI np).

  • 20 “For Haggard, however, the increasingly rapid acquisition of colonial territories in Africa was cau (...)

31Yet, this was not a recognition of the Zulu ownership of the land versus its occupation by European colonists, but a question of who, of the British or the Boers, was preferable for the Zulu. He said the Zulu should have been asked whether they were in favour or not of the retrocession because he considered they might have preferred a more benevolent British rule to brutal Boer rule. And thus, the righteous imperialist takes over from the reluctant imperialist. Like some sort of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Katz 108), Haggard goes back and forth from a pro imperialist standpoint, to a more critical one and vice versa which includes the end of an era of mystery and adventure20 but also a staunch defence of the black population’s rights:

It seems to me, that on only one condition, if at all, have we the right to take the black man’s land; and that is, that we provide them with an equal and a just Government, and allow no maltreatment of them, either as individuals or tribes: but on the contrary, do our best to elevate them, and wean them from savage customs. Otherwise, the practice is surely indefensible. (Cetywayo 175)

32This is a pro domo plea: only British governance can act for their betterment and therefore in their interest, because though they are “quicker-witted, more honest, and braver” than the white people, they are unfit for civilisation:

Civilisation […] when applied to black races, produces effects diametrically opposite to those we are accustomed to observe in white nations: it debases before it can elevate; […] take the average Zulu warrior, and it will be found that, in his natural state, his vices are largely counterbalanced by his good qualities. In times of peace he is a simple, pastoral man, leading a good-humoured easy life with his wives and his cattle, perfectly indolent and perfectly happy. He is a kind husband and a kinder father; his hospitality is extended alike to white and black; he is open in his dealings and faithful to his word, and his honesty is a proverb in the land. (Cetywayo 223)

33Yet of course, Haggard continues, thus justifying a British protectorate, it is different in time of war: If “the thirst for slaughter comes upon him, he [the Zulu] turns into a different man. When the fierce savage spirit is once aroused, blood alone will cool it” (Cetywayo 223). But, even in these circumstances, he recognises their virtues: “If he is cruel, he is brave in the battle; if he is reckless of the lives of others, he regards not his own; and when death comes, he meets it without fear” (Cetywayo 223).

34Haggard is split between the fact that he considers that “by intellect and by nature, he [the Zulu] is some five centuries behind” (Cetywayo 222) whereas, at the same time, he can be excused because, beginning with the arrival of the first Europeans, white civilisation has corrupted him. “Hand in hand the missionary and the trader have penetrated the locations” (Cetywayo 222) and they have both brought evil. “A Christian may be a good man in his way, but he is a Zulu spoiled” (Cetywayo 223), said Cetshwayo; as for the traders, they are men who, “in defiance of the law, supplied the natives with those two great modern elements of danger and destruction, the gin-bottle and the rifle” (Cetywayo 223). This is the reason why, the harm having been done and there being no going back, Haggard favoured the setting up of Zululand as a Protectorate as the best way to preserve the Zulu. But in this case, it was no longer a question of consulting them, as he had advised at the time of the retrocession of the Transvaal.

  • 21 H. Arendt stated that race and bureaucracy were “two new devices for political organization and rul (...)

35In a way, one can assume that Haggard was “trapped” in the colonial enterprise as he was both an actor and a victim of this ideology. Indeed, Hannah Arendt remarked that the administrator - or the civil servant in Haggard’s case - who had lived “by the honest, earnest boyhood ideas of a modern knight in shining armor sent to protect helpless and primitive people [and who had] fulfilled his task, ‘for better or worse’ was not necessarily aware of the implications of racism and bureaucracy on foreign peoples.”21 She even noticed that “no one who, in one way or the other, was implicated in their perfection ever came to realize the full range of potentialities of power accumulation and destruction that this combination alone provided” (Arendt 186). This can obviously apply to Haggard who wrote his first essay at a young age and was much impressed by his first experience of the Dark Continent.


  • 22 MacKenzie adds: “They fitted perfectly a number of cultural and literary traditions of the period – (...)
  • 23 He was encouraged in that by letters of congratulations such as that of Lord Carnarvon, who wrote t (...)

36On arriving in South Africa in 1875, Henry Rider Haggard found a pre-imperialist situation: the “3 Bs” as the historian Joseph Ki-Zerbo called them – the Bantu, the Boers and the British – occupied the land; tensions already existed between them and the major conflicts that Haggard was to witness were looming on the horizon. Those conflicts became inevitable when economic and political problems emerged with greater clarity. The discovery of diamonds in the Transvaal heralded the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and the coming scramble for Africa forced the British to consolidate their presence in this part of the world. From the start, Haggard had a vision of an ever-expanding empire: after the episodes of Isandhlwana and Rorke’s Drift, he spoke of “the drama of the building up of a great Anglo-Saxon empire in Africa - an empire that within the next few centuries may well become one of the mightiest in the world” (Coan Sir Henry 60). He probably shared the belief among dominant classes that colonial campaigns “were an atavistic form of war, shorn of guilt by social Darwinian and racial ideas, and rendered less dangerous by the increasing technological gap between Europe and the rest of the world” (MacKenzie 3).22Yet he was torn between his belief in the righteousness of British interference23 and the way the Zulu people he admired had been dealt with, considering that if the British had understood how their society functioned, the Anglo-Zulu conflict and the first Boer War could have been avoided. Haggard’s anticipation that it would be a great blunder to despise Zulu military skills and tactical intelligence is matched by his idea that they should remain within the British realm: “In the future Haggard imagines, the Zulu people may have progressed to a higher stage of civilization, but in an extraordinary turn, they remain dependent on a European structure, this time for their own historical memory” (Lewis 82-83).

37As we have demonstrated, from a political point of view, Cetywayo and his White Neighbours did not have the impact Haggard expected and, thus, he failed in conveying his ideals and doubts about the colonial project. But the “reluctant” part of his “imperialist self” found an embodiment in the creation, only three years after the publication of Cetywayo, of Allan Quatermain in King Solomon’s Mines. The character may have been invented as a remedy for this apparent failure. Allan, “the most romantic figure on the imperial scene” (Katz 109), is somehow his “second self”, “an innocent eye” questioning the British attitude regarding the land and native question while expressing the jingoistic views of his contemporaries (Monsman 53). This aspect is all the more important as Quatermain, “accompanied” Haggard throughout his life (or vice versa) and changed over the years. What we know for sure is that, more than a century later, Haggard’s essays and fiction still give us a remarkably interesting insight into the complexity of that time and raise issues that remain topical.

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Arbousset, Thomas. Excursion missionnaire dans les Montagnes bleues. Edited by Alain Ricard, Karthala-IFAS Paris, 2000.

Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. Harcourt Publishers Ltd, College Publishers, 1973.

Coan, Stephen. “Sir Henry Rider Haggard and the Anglo-Zulu War in Facts and Fiction.” The Journal of the Anglo-Zulu War Historical society, December 2001. np. Accessed April 6th 2020.

Coan, Stephen (ed.). Diary of an African Journey. The Return of Henry Rider Haggard. New York University Press, 2000.

Coan, Stephen & Tella, Alfred, editors. Mameena and Other Plays: the Complete Dramatic Works of H. Rider Haggard. University of Natal Press, 2007.

Chrisman Laura. Rereading the Imperial Romance: British Imperialism and South African Resistance in Haggard, Schreiner and Plaatje. Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press, 2000.

Fauvelle-Aymar, François-Xavier. Histoire de l’Afrique du Sud. Seuil, 2006.

Fauvelle-Aymar, François-Xavier. Chaka, roi des Zoulous. Anacharsis, 2004.

Guy Jeff. The Destruction of the Zulu kingdom: the Civil War in Zululand, 1879-1884. Ravan Press, 1982.

Haggard, Henry Rider. Cetywayo and his White Neighbours or Remarks on Recent Events in Zululand, Natal and the Transvaal. [1882] Kessinger Publishing, no date.

Haggard, Henry Rider. Nada the Lily. Longman, 1892.

Haggard, Henry Rider. [1896] “Black Heart and White Heart: A Zulu Idyll.” Accessed 3 March 2020.

Haggard Henry Rider. The Days of my Life. Vol.1. Longmans, Green & Co, 1926. A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook No.: 0300131.txt, 2003. Accessed 12 January 2020.

Haggard, Henry Rider. The Last Boer War. [1899]. The Project Gutenberg eBook, Accessed 3 March 2020.

Haggard, Henry Rider. “The Zulus: The finest Savage Race in the World.” Pall Mall Magazine, June 1908.

Haggard Henry Rider. “The Transvaal.”. Macmillan’s Magazine, May 1877. Retrieved from: British Library Newspapers,

Haggard, Lilias. The Cloak that I Left: A Biography of the Author Henry Rider Haggard. Hodder and Stoughton, 1951.

Katz, Wendy R. Rider Haggard and the Fiction of Empire, A Critical Study of British Imperial Fiction. [1987]. Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Ki-Zerbo, Joseph. Histoire de l’Afrique noire. Hatier, 1972.

Lewis, Spalding. “Romancing the Zulu: H. Rider Haggard, "Nada the Lily", and Salvage Ethnography.” English in Africa, August 2012, vol. 39, no. 2, South African Literary History Project: The End of Empire and the Making of Modern South Africa, pp. 69-84. Accessed 12 January 2020.

Libby, Andrew. “Revisiting the Sublime: Terrible Women and the Aesthetics of Misogyny in H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines and She.” CEA Critic, Fall 2004, vol. 67, no. 1, Fall 2004, pp. 1-14. Accessed 12 January 2020.

MacKenzie John. “Introduction Popular imperialism and the military.” Popular Imperialism and the Military, 1850-1950, edited by John MacKenzie. Manchester University Press, pp. 1-24.

Monsman, Gerald. H.R. Haggard on the Imperial Frontier, The Political and Literary Contexts of His African Romances. ELT Press, University of North Carolina, 2006.

Pocock, Tom. Rider Haggard and the Lost Empire: A Biography. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1993.

Stiebel, Lindy. Lives of Victorian Literary Figures VII: H. Rider Haggard. Routledge, 2009.

Stiebel, Lindy. Imaging Africa: Landscape in H. Rider Haggard’s African Romances. Greenwood Press, 2001.

Teulié, Gilles. “Géographie identitaire et espace sud-africain dans l’œuvre de Henry Rider Haggard.” Perceiving & Representing Space in the English-Speaking world, edited by Claire Omhovère. Presses universitaires de Nancy, 2011.

Teulié, Gilles. “Les guerriers zoulous et la bataille d’Isandhlwana (1879) : Henry Rider Haggard ou l’ambivalence d’un mythe victorien” in La Fabrique de la race. Regards sur l’ethnicité dans l’aire anglophone, edited by Michel Prum. L’Harmattan, 2007, pp. 155-174.

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1 The disruption was exacerbated by one of Shaka’s generals, who left him in 1821 in order to conquer Southern Africa by brute force: Moselekatse (or Mzilikazi) went to the south-west, dispersed the Sotho on the border of the Vaal, and settled between the Vaal and Orange territories, before moving further north.

2 Some months earlier, in February 1838, he had signed a treaty with Piet Retief, head of a convoy of Voortrekkers, by which he ceded a small area of his territory. Two days later, he had invited Retief and his men to lay down their arms and to join him in festivities. Dingane then had them all murdered, after which his army attacked and massacred the remainder of the convoy, 55 men, women, and children who were camped in the vicinity. The other convoys continued their way, led by Andries Pretorius, Retief’s successor.

3 Haggard was later asked to write Shepstone’s biography (see Coan Mameena 18).

4 For instance, on July 13 1892, Shepstone wrote a thankful letter to Haggard for his “plucky public” approval of his action in Africa at a time, he says, when it was not “fashionable to look upon either myself or my work with much approval”.

5 Haggard does not seem to know the significance of the colours of the shields. Yet they were explained years before by the French missionary Thomas Arbousset: “Les treize premiers régiments sont composés de Zoulous aguerris appelés Emétlopés, les Blancs, car leurs boucliers sont blancs, tandis que les treize suivants, moins expérimentés, sont appelés Eméniamas, les Noirs, car leurs boucliers sont noirs ou roux, … Au cours des attaques, les Noirs passent devant, sous le commandement de chefs blancs qui sont autorisés à tuer les fuyards” (Arbousset 15).

6 It was the reproduction of an article, entitled ‘A Zulu War Dance’ published in 1877 in The Gentleman’s Magazine.

7 It was called “The Transvaal”, Macmillan’s Magazine, May 1877.

8 www. the.history.of.haggards. Accessed May 10, 2020.

9 In 1874, Lord Carnarvon, who was one of the architects of Canadian Confederation in 1867, hoped to establish a similar entity in South Africa, and had contacted the Orange Free State and the Transvaal to propose a federation; his offer was turned down by the Boer leaders.

10 Bartle Frere (1815 – 1884) was a British colonial administrator. He had a successful career in India before being appointed High Commissioner for Southern Africa (1877–1880).

11 This is corroborated by G. Monsman who wrote “Haggard maintained that Shepstone did not incite the Zulus to threaten invasion of the Transvaal so that the Boers would accept British protection; nor was Shepstone cynical enough to allow the Zulus and Boers to go to war so that the British could mop up afterwards; rather, from the highest principles of humanitarianism (so Haggard believed), Shepstone quickly annexed the region to prevent a Zulu invasion and avoid a slaughter that might as well have spilled over into the rest of southern Africa - specially, Natal and the Cape” (Monsman 40).

12 Rider Haggard describes the terrible shock when this defeat was announced in Pretoria; “it is a rare man who has not lost a son, a brother, or a friend”. Shepstone himself had lost a son (he thought he had lost three). Haggard added: “By the Boers, however, the news of the disaster was received with great and unconcealed rejoicing” (Cetywayo, chapter 4). He referred to the battle three times in his novels, The Witch’s Head (1884), Black Heart and White Heart (1896), and Finished (1916).

13 After the end of the British-Zulu war, Bishop Colenso interceded with the British government on behalf of Cetshwayo and secured his liberation and return to Zululand in 1882, where he died two years later.

14 There were eleven Zulu chiefs plus John Dunn, a white adventurer, and Hlubi, a Basuto chief allied to the British in the war.

15 In the chapter entitled “The Elephant Hunt”, Allan Quatermain and his party drive a herd of elephants into a “dried water track, with steep banks, a place very much resembling the one in which the Prince Imperial was killed in Zululand”.

16 This defeat had such an impact that one of the British slogans during the second Boer War was “Remember Majuba”. The Boers had had only one death and a few wounded to mourn.

17 Cetshwayo calls Shepstone my father Sompseu (Cetywayo 97).

18 Haggard wrote: “It is ridiculous to say that the capture of two Zulu women in Natal and their subsequent murder, or the expulsion on political grounds of a few missionaries, justified us in breaking up a kingdom and slaughtering ten thousand men” (Cetywayo 21).

19 “Mr Rider Haggard on the Matabele War”, The Standard, Friday, October 20, 1893.

20 “For Haggard, however, the increasingly rapid acquisition of colonial territories in Africa was cause for alarm. Geographic exploration, capitalist expansion, and technological progress threatened to turn the world into what James Buzard calls "the beaten track", and to turn would-be explorers and adventurers into nothing better than bourgeois tourists. The threat that the world was rapidly becoming smaller and that opportunities for heroic adventure were diminishing - that there was nothing left to see or do - complicated earlier Victorian confidence in British imperialism and gave rise to fears that adventure, mystery, and conquest were part of an increasingly distant past” (Libby 3-4).

21 H. Arendt stated that race and bureaucracy were “two new devices for political organization and rule over foreign peoples” and she added that they “were discovered during the first decades of imperialism. […] Both discoveries were actually made on the Dark Continent” (Arendt 186).

22 MacKenzie adds: “They fitted perfectly a number of cultural and literary traditions of the period – the enthusiasm for knightly virtues, the adventure tradition of heightened moral absolutes, a fascination with individual heroic action in the service of the state, and the developing dominance of martial conventions in the new journalism, music illustrations and juvenile literature” (MacKenzie 3).

23 He was encouraged in that by letters of congratulations such as that of Lord Carnarvon, who wrote to Haggard about Cetywayo: “The English public was so deceived by misrepresentations of the annexation of the Transvaal that the real history was never understood; and the humiliating surrender of it was accepted in partial ignorance at least of the facts… I am grateful to anyone who has the courage to say what really did occur” (12 May 1888, Columbia collection, quoted by Katz, 12).

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Marie-Claude BARBIER, « Henry Rider Haggard in Zululand: A Reluctant Imperialist? »e-Rea [En ligne], 18.1 | 2020, mis en ligne le 19 novembre 2020, consulté le 15 avril 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Marie-Claude BARBIER

Maître de Conférences honoraire ENS Paris-Saclay
Although MC Barbier’s PhD was in Canadian studies, after 1995 her research interest evolved, to focus on South Africa. More recently, her research has focused on the role of French and British missionaries in 19th-century Lesotho, Zambia and Botswana. In 2016, she published the first biography in French of David Livingstone.

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