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Natalia Republic


Natalia Republic

Natalia Republic



Capital Pietermaritzburg
Languages Dutch, Zulu, English
Religion Dutch Reformed Church
Government Republic
Prime Minister Andries Pretorius
Historical era The Great Trek
 •  Established 12 October 1839
 •  Battle of Blood River 16 December 1838
 •  Alliance with Zulu January 1840
 •  Annexed by Britain 12 May 1843

The Natalia Republic was a short-lived Boer republic, established in 1839 by local Afrikaans-speaking Voortrekkers shortly after the Battle of Blood River. The republic was located on the coast of the Indian Ocean beyond the Eastern Cape, and was previously named Natália by Portuguese sailors. The republic was conquered and annexed by Britain in 1843. After the British annexation of the Natalia Republic, most local Voortrekker Boers trekked north into Transorangia, later known as the Orange Free State, and the Transvaal.


  • History 1
    • European settlement and setbacks 1.1
    • Battle of Blood River 1.2
    • British at Port Natal 1.3
    • Overthrow of Dingane 1.4
  • Natalia's government 2
    • Internal affairs 2.1
    • Territorial policy 2.2
    • British and Dutch influences 2.3
  • Transfer to colonial government 3
    • Napier takes charge 3.1
    • Annexation 3.2
    • Extent of the colony 3.3
  • Aftermath 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6


European settlement and setbacks

Natal cotton field (c.1885).

Long inhabited by varying cultures of indigenous Africans, the region was colonized and renamed in their language by the Portuguese. The first Europeans to settle the country were emigrant Boers from the Cape Colony, led by Piet Retief (c. 1780-1838). He was of Huguenot descent. Passing through the almost deserted upper regions, Retief arrived at the bay in October 1837. During this journey, he chose a site for the capital of the future state which he envisioned. He went to the capital or kraal of the Zulu king, Dingane, to obtain a cession of territory for the Dutch farmers. Dingane consented on condition that the Boers recover cattle stolen by the Tlokwa chief. Retief managed that and, with the help of the Rev. F. Owen, a missionary living at Dingane's kraal, he drew up a deed of cession in English. Dingane and Retief signed it on 4 February 1838.

Two days later, Dingane ordered the execution of Retief and all of his party, 66 whites and 34 Khoikhoi servants. The Zulu king commanded his impis to kill all the Boers who had entered Natal. The Zulu forces crossed the Tugela the same day, and the most advanced parties of the Boers were massacred, many at a spot near where the town of Weenen now stands, its name (meaning wailing or weeping) commemorating the event. Other of the farmers hastily laagered and were able to repulse the Zulu attacks; the assailants suffering serious loss at a fight near Bushman River. In one week after the murder of Retief, the Zulus killed 600 Boers - men, women and children.

Hearing of the attack on the Boers, the British settlers at the bay sent a force to help them. Robert Biggar commanded 20 British and a following of 700 friendly Zulus and crossed the Tugela near its mouth. On the 17 April, in a desperate fight with a Zulu force led by Nongalaza KaNondela, the British were overwhelmed and only four Europeans escaped to the bay. Pursued by the Zulus, the surviving inhabitants of Durban took refuge on a ship then in harbour. After the Zulus retired, fewer than a dozen Englishmen returned to live at the port; the missionaries, hunters and other traders returned to the Cape.

The Boers had repelled the Zulu attacks on their laagers; joined by others from the Drakensberg, about 400 men under Hendrik Potgieter and Piet Uys advanced to attack Dingane. On 11 April, they were attacked and with difficulty cut their way out. Among those slain were Piet Uys and his son Dirk, aged 15.

Battle of Blood River

Toward the end of the year, the Boers received reinforcements. In December 460 men set out under Boer General Andries Pretorius to take on the Zulus. Andries Pretorius selected Jan Gerritze Bantjes (1817-1887) as his scribe and secretary in recording events of the campaign and coming retaliation battle with the Zulus. Bantjes wrote in his journal the daily progress of the commando when they started out 27 Nov.1838. until they reached their selected battle site over two weeks later the 15.Nov. 1838. They avoided being led into a trap as happened on the previous attempt to attack the Zulus in April which ended in disaster. On the journey, they had small skirmishes with various kraals but the main Zulu army had not arrived yet to attack. Boer and Zulu scouts were constantly monitoring each other's whereabouts. On Sunday 09.December as Bantjes wrote in his journal, the Boers congregated under a clear sky to sing appropriate psalms and celebrate the Sabbath, taking a vow which became known as the "Day of The Vow or Covenant" that "if the Lord might give us victory, we hereby deem to found a house as a memorial of his Great Name at a place where it shall please Him", and that they also implore the help and assistance of God in accomplishing this Vow and that they write down this Day of Victory in a book and disclose this event to our very last posterities in order that this will forever be celebrated in the honour of God."

On Sunday 16 December 1838, while laagered near the Umslatos River or Hippo Pool, they were attacked by more than 30 000+ Zulus and outnumbered more than 60 to 1. As Bantjes wrote in his journal - "Sunday, December 16 was like being newly born for us - the sky was clear, the weather fine and bright. We hardly saw the twilight of the break of day or the guards, who were still at their posts and could just make out the distant Zulus approaching. All the patrols were called back into the laager by firing alarm signals from the cannons. The enemy came forward at full speed and suddenly they had encircled the area around the laager. As it got lighter, so we could see them approaching over their predecessors who had already been shot back. Their rapid approach (though terrifying to witness due to their great numbers) was an impressive sight. The Zulus came in regiments, each captain with his men behind (as the patrols had seen them coming the day before) until they had surrounded us. I could not count them, but I was told that a captive Zulu gave the number at thirty-six regiments, each regiment calculated to be "nine hundred to a thousand men strong." The battle now began and the cannons unleashed from each gate, such that the battle was fierce and noisy, even the discharging of small arms fire from our marksmen on all sides was like thunder. After more than two hours of fierce battle, the Commander in Chief gave orders that the gates be opened and mounted men sent to fight the enemy in fast attacks, as the enemy near constantly stormed the laager time and again, and he feared the ammunition would soon run out.

With the power of their firearms and with their ox wagons in a laager formation and some excellent tactics, the Boers fought off the Zulu. After three hours, the Boers had killed an estimated 3,000 Zulus and had only three of their men wounded, among them Pretorius. Jan Gerritze Bantjes kept his journal of the entire campaign and the Battle of Blood River. The Zulus withdrew in defeat, many crossing the river which had turned red with blood and thereafter known as the Battle of Blood River. The Boers celebrated the Day of the Covenant every year on 16 December and most of them credit the victory to God.

British at Port Natal

Returning south, Pretorius and his commandos found that the British had annexed Port Natal (now Durban) on 4 December with a detachment of the George Napier, had invited the emigrants to return to the colony, he had stated his intention to take military possession of the port. He wanted to prevent the Boers from establishing an independent republic on the coast with a harbour through which access to the interior could be gained. Napier withdrew the Highlanders on Christmas Eve 1839.

Overthrow of Dingane

After the battle, Pretorius took advantage of dissension in the Zulu kingdom to ally himself with Mpande, brother of the Zulu king Dingane. Dingane's attempt to extend his kingdom north to compensate for losses to the Boers had failed. He was defeated by the Swazi people in 1839, leading to discontent with his rule. In exchange for cattle and territory Pretorius agreed to support Mpande's bid to overthrow Dingane. A Boer force supported Mpande's Zulu impi in the invasion. At the Battle of Maqongqo, Dingane was crushed and was put to flight with what retainers chose to follow him into exile. Pretorius took 36,000 head of cattle and proclaimed a large tract of land extending from St. Lucia Bay to be part of the Natalia Republic. According to Maxwell Shamase,

On 14 February 1840 Pretorius issued a proclamation whereby the territory from the sea next to the Black Mfolozi River, where it ran through the double mountains, close to the origin and then next to Hooge Randberg in a straight line to the Drakensberg, St. Lucia Bay inclusive was declared as border between KwaZulu and the Republic of Natalia. On the banks of the Klip River the Voortrekkers received about 36 000 head of cattle looted after the Maqongqo battle. They received an additional 15 000 head of cattle from Mpande as a token of allegiance.[1]

Natalia's government

Internal affairs

Meantime the Boers had founded Pietermaritzburg, named in honour of leaders Piet Retief and Gerrit Maritz. They made it their capital and the seat of their volksraad.

Legislative power was vested in the volksraad (consisting of 24 members), while the president and executive were changed every three months. For issues of importance, a meeting was called of het publiek, that is, of all who chose to attend, to sanction or reject it. "The result," says the historian Theal, "was utter anarchy. Decisions of one day were frequently reversed the next, and every one held himself free to disobey any law that he did not approve of.. .. Public opinion of the hour in each section of the community was the only force in the land." (History of South Africa 1834 - 1854, chap. xliv.).

Territorial policy

The Zulus continued to exist as a distinct and numerous people with their own dispensation within their own territory to the north and east, in the region known as Zululand.

The settlers were in loose alliance with and in quasi-supremacy over the Boer communities that had left the Cape and settled at George Napier an acknowledgment of their independence by Great Britain.

Sir George did not give an answer but was sympathetic to the Boer farmers. He was disturbed when a commando force under Andries Pretorius attacked the Xhosa in December 1840. The national government declined to recognize Natalia's independence but proposed to trade with it if the people would accept a military force to defend against other European powers. Sir George communicated this decision to the volksraad in September 1841.

British and Dutch influences

The Boers strongly resented the contention of the British that they could not shake off British nationality though beyond the bounds of any recognized British possession, nor were they prepared to see their only port garrisoned by British troops. They rejected Napier's overtures.

In December 1841, Napier announced his intention to resume military occupation of Port Natal, citing the Boers' attack on the Xhosa. In February 1842 the settlers responded, with a document written by J. N. Boshoff (afterwards president of the Orange Free State). The farmers complained about the lack of representative government, and concluded by a protest against the occupation of any part of their territory by British troops.

Soon after, the Boers were encouraged in their opposition to Great Britain. In March 1842 a Dutch vessel sent out by G. G. Ohrig, an Amsterdam merchant who sympathized with the farmers, reached Port Natal. J. A. Smellekamp concluded a treaty with the volksraad assuring them of the protection of the Netherlands. The Natal Boers believed the Netherlands to be one of the great powers of Europe, and were firmly persuaded that its government would aid them in resisting Great Britain.

Transfer to colonial government

Napier takes charge

The British government was still undecided as to its policy towards Natal. In April 1842 George Napier that the establishment of a colony in Natal would be attended with little prospect of advantage, but at the same time stated that the pretensions of the emigrants to be regarded as an independent community could not be admitted. Various measures were proposed which would but have aggravated the situation.

Napier took the initiative however, and dispatched Captain J. Charlton Smith with a garrison to occupy Port Natal. They arrived on 4 May 1842, much to the vehement demands from the Boers that the British should leave. Captain Smith (according to his Dispatch of 25 May 1842), who had hitherto been at pains to avoid hostilities and in favour of conciliation, on receiving an "insolent" letter demanding that the force he commanded should immediately quit Natal, followed up the removal by armed men of a quantity of cattle belonging to the troops deemed it absolutely necessary that some steps should be taken in order to prevent a repetition of such outrages. He therefore determined, after mature consideration, to march and attack their camp at the Congella. A Royal Artillery boat was fitted with a howitzer and the sergeant in charge of the boat was given instructions to drop down the channel to within 500 yards of Congella and await the troops in order that they might form under the cover of its fire, aided by that of two six-pounders which accompanied Captain Smith's force. To Smith's mortification, the boat failed to arrive until it was too late to be of any use and, besides, took up a position too distant for her fire to be of much effect. Though Smith was informed the Boers (the Emigrant Farmers) suffered severe losses in the action, the result for Smith's force was a disaster and the loss of life very severe. Smith retreated to his camp, where he was besieged until 26 June 1842, when Lieutenant-colonel A. J. Cloete's relief force arrived in the war ship Southampton.


Finally, in deference to the strongly urged views of Sir George Napier, Lord Stanley, in a despatch of 13 December, received in Cape Town on 23 April 1843, consented to Natal becoming a British colony. The institutions adopted were to be as far as possible in accordance with the wishes of the people, but it was a fundamental condition "that there should not be in the eye of the law any distinction or disqualification whatever, founded on mere difference of colour, origin, language or creed."

Sir George then appointed Mr Henry Cloete (a brother of Colonel Josias Cloete) a special commissioner to explain to the Natal volksraad the decision of the government. There was a considerable party of Natal Boers still strongly opposed to the British, and they were reinforced by numerous bands of Boers who came over the Drakensberg from Winburg and Potchefstroom. Commandant Jan Mocke of Winburg (who had helped to besiege Captain Smith at Durban) and others of the "war party" attempted to induce the volksraad not to submit, and a plan was formed to murder Pretorius, Boshoff and other leaders, who were now convinced that the only chance of ending the state of complete anarchy into which the country had fallen was by accepting British sovereignty.

Extent of the colony

In these circumstances the task of Mr Henry Cloete was one of great difficulty and delicacy. He behaved with the utmost tact and got rid of the Winburg and Potchefstroom burghers by declaring that he should recommend the Drakensberg as the northern limit of Natal. On 8 August 1843 the Natal volksraad unanimously agreed to the terms proposed by Lord Stanley. Many of the Boers who would not acknowledge British rule trekked once more over the mountains into what became the Orange Free State and Transvaal provinces to seek their freedom and independence. At the end of 1843 there were not more than 500 Dutch families left in Natal.

Cloete, before returning to the Cape, visited Mpande and obtained from him a valuable concession. Hitherto the Tugela River from source to mouth had been the recognized frontier between Natal and Zululand. Mpande gave up to Natal all the territory between the Buffalo and Tugela rivers, now forming Klip River county.


Proclaimed a British Colony of Natal in 1843, it became a part of Cape Colony in 1844. The power of the volksraad did not truly end until 1845, when an effective British administration was established under Martin West as lieutenant-governor. After the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, the British defeated the Zulu army, and annexed Zululand to Natal in 1893. One of the four founding provinces of South Africa, it is now KwaZulu-Natal. This province is still home to the Zulu nation, which forms the majority of the population and Zulu is, together with English and Afrikaans, an official language. The province also has a large ethnic Indian population, as well as Boer-descended residents in the north and ethnic British descendants, mainly in the cities.

See also


  1. ^ Shamase, Maxwell Zakhel, "The reign of King Mpande and his relations with the Republic of Natalia and its successor,the British Colony of Natal", University of Zululand Institutional Repository
  • Timothy Joseph Stapleton, Faku: rulership and colonialism in the Mpondo Kingdom (c. 1780-1867), Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 2001, ISBN 0889203458, p. 64
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