The Commissions of WC Palgrave: Special Emissary to South West Africa, 1876-1885 – ELP Stals


The Commissions of W.C. Palgrave: Special Emissary to South West Africa, 1876-1885 — E.L.P. Stals [Editor]
The Commissions of W.C. Palgrave: Special Emissary to South West Africa, 1876-1885 — E.L.P. Stals [Editor]
Condition : Good.
Van Riebeeck Society, Second Series No. 21, 1991, Hardback with removable protective plastic wrap – Africana – 441pp.

In the early 1870s, South West Africa (then known as the Transgariep and today as Namibia) was torn by internecine warfare and threatened with impending invasion and colonisation by foreign countries. In desperation, several local leaders requested incorporation into the relatively peaceful Cape Colony, with the promise of equal representation in the Cape Parliament. The Cape Government commissioned Palgrave to investigate, and Palgrave recommended that South West Africa be incorporated into the Cape and its inhabitants granted equal political rights.

Palgrave’s five missions to Hereroland and Namaland between 1876 and 1885 coincided with and were regulated by the British and Cape authorities’ views with regard to the expansion of imperial interests. The Cape Prime Minister John Molteno concluded that the final decision would depend on the views and wishes of the various nations of South West Africa. A delegation must immediately depart to consult them and report back.

Palgrave was appointed as “Special Commissioner to Hereroland and Namaland”.
William Coates Palgrave was born in England and arrived in South Africa at the beginning of 1859. He became interested in metals, minerals and precious stones and in 1860 reached the Herero country in South West Africa, where he stayed and occupied himself with prospecting and hunting. He earned himself a good reputation amongst local Herero leaders as well as the European inhabitants of Hereroland (mainly missionaries). He left South West Africa in 1869 and later became a civil servant in the newly created Province of Griqualand West where, at the age of 40 years, he got married in the new diamond field town of Kimberley. His earlier stay of some eight years in South West Africa had been invaluable preparation for his task as Special Commissioner.

Palgrave’s commissions were increasingly undermined by the growing tension between the local Cape government and the British Empire. The Cape began to have serious strategic reasons for wanting to secure South West Africa. It correctly predicted the invasion of this area by European imperialist power (in this case, Germany), and it wished to protect the flank of the new Kimberley diamond fields. On the other hand the British Government took a broader view of the burden of a vast colonial empire and found it inopportune to commit itself.

Palgrave departed for his 5th and final commission in 1884. On return found out that the British Government recognised the German occupation.
The Palgrave Commission’s failure was due primarily to ill-advised interference in the affairs of Southern Africa by the British Colonial Office in London, whose obstruction of the commission led to German colonisation of South West Africa.

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