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Henry Bartle Frere

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Henry Bartle Frere

Sir Henry Bartle Frere
Commissioner of Sind
In office
Monarch Victoria
Preceded by Richard Keith Pringle
Succeeded by Jonathan Duncan Inverarity
Governor of Bombay
In office
Monarch Victoria
Preceded by Sir George Russell Clerk
Succeeded by William Vesey-FitzGerald
High Commissioner for Southern Africa
In office
Monarch Victoria
Preceded by Sir Henry Barkly
Succeeded by Henry Hugh Clifford
Personal details
Born 29 March 1815
Clydach, Monmouthshire, Wales
Died 29 May 1884 (aged 69)
Wimbledon, London, England
Nationality British
Alma mater East India Company College

Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere, 1st Baronet, GCB, GCSI, (29 March 1815 – 29 May 1884) was a British colonial administrator. He had a successful career in India rising to become Governor of Bombay. However, as High Commissioner for Southern Africa, his attempt to impose a British confederation on the region led to the overthrow of the Cape's first elected government and to a string of regional wars, culminating in the invasion of Zululand and the First Boer War. He was recalled to London to face charges of misconduct and was officially censured for acting recklessly.


  • Early life 1
  • Family life 2
  • India 3
    • Commissioner in Sindh 3.1
    • Governor of Bombay 3.2
  • Africa 4
    • High Commissioner for Southern Africa 4.1
    • Attempt to federate Southern Africa 4.2
    • Resistance from the Cape and the Xhosa 4.3
    • Outbreak of Zulu and Boer Wars 4.4
    • Outbreak of the Basotho Gun War 4.5
    • Recall 4.6
  • Death 5
  • Memorials 6
  • Biographies 7
  • Popular culture 8
  • See also 9
  • Notes 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12

Early life

Frere was born at Clydach House, Clydach, Monmouthshire, the son of Edward Frere, manager of Clydach Ironworks and Mary Ann Green. His elder sister, Mary Anne Frere was born circa 1802 in Clydach, and his younger sister Frances Anne Frere was born circa 1819 in Clydach. He was the grandson of John Frere and a nephew of John Hookham Frere; William Frere; Bartholomew Frere; James Hatley Frere; and Temple Frere – canon of St Peters, Westminster. He was educated at the East India Company College the precursor of Haileybury and Imperial Service College.[1]

Family life

On 10 October 1844, he married Catherine Arthur (born c.1821 in Honduras), daughter of Paddington, Middlesex; and Eliza Frederica Jane Frere, born c.1857 in Wimbledon, London.[2]


After leaving the East India Company College Frere was appointed a writer in the Governor of Bombay. Two years later he became political resident at the court of Raja Shahji of Satara; on the rajah's death in 1848 he administered the province both before and after its formal annexation in 1849.

Commissioner in Sindh

In 1850 he was appointed chief commissioner of Sindh. In 1851 he founded the modern Indian postal service. In 1857, he sent detachments to Multan and to Sir John Lawrence in the Punjab in order to secure those locations during the Indian Mutiny. His services were fully recognized by the Indian authorities, and he received the thanks of both houses of parliament and was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB). Sir Bartle Frere, as the commissioner of Sindh issued a decree in 1851, making it compulsory to use Sindhi language in place of Persian in Sindh. The officers of Sindh were ordered to learn Sindhi compulsorily to enable them to carry on day-to-day work efficiently. A committee was constituted (1853) under Asst. Commissioner & Chief of Education Department comprising equal number of Hindu & Muslim members which unanimously decided on the use of Persio-Arabic Sindhi script with slight modifications. Sir Bartle Frere not only gave Sindhi language one script but he even published different Sindhi books related to various streams of the literature, which encouraged impetus to Sindhi writers to move quickly with literacy.

Governor of Bombay

He became a member of the Viceroy's Council in 1859, and in 1862 was appointed Governor of Bombay, where he continued his policy of municipal improvements, establishing the Deccan College at Pune, as well as a college for instructing Indians in civil engineering. His order to pull down the ramparts of the old Fort allowed the city to grow, and the Flora Fountain was commissioned in his honour. During Frere's administration his daughter, Mary Frere, collected Old Deccan Days (1868), the first English-language field-collected book of Indian folklore.[3]

In 1867 he returned to England where he was made GCSI, and given honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge;.[4] He was also appointed a member of the Council of India.


Henry Bartle Frere, by Spy in Vanity Fair, 1873

In 1872 the foreign office sent him to Zanzibar to negotiate a treaty with the sultan, Barghash bin Said, for the suppression of the slave traffic. In 1875 he accompanied the Prince of Wales to Egypt and India, with such success that Lord Beaconsfield asked him to choose between being made a baronet or a Knight Grand Cross of the Bath. He chose the former, but the queen bestowed both honours upon him.

High Commissioner for Southern Africa

Southern Africa in 1878, on the eve of the confederation wars, with the Cape Colony in dark pink.

In 1877, Frere was made High Commissioner for Southern Africa by the London-based Under-Secretary for the Colonies Lord Carnarvon, who continued to support the imposition of the unpopular system of confederation upon the southern Africa region. Frere accepted the position, on a salary double that of his predecessor, and on the understanding that successful implementation of confederation would result in him being appointed the first British Governor-General of a federated southern African dominion.[5]

Attempt to federate Southern Africa

The idea of melding the states of southern Africa into a British

Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain

Government offices
Preceded by
Richard Keith Pringle
Commissioner in Sind
Succeeded by
Jonathan Duncan Inverarity
Preceded by
Sir George Clerk
Governor of Bombay
Succeeded by
Sir William Fitzgerald
Preceded by
Sir Henry Barkly
Governor of Cape Colony
High Commissioner for Southern Africa

Succeeded by
Sir Hercules Robinson
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New title
Granted by
Queen Victoria
(of Wimbledon)
Succeeded by
Bartle Compton Arthur Frere

External links



  1. ^ Rootsweb, Mary Anne Green
  2. ^ Rootsweb. 1871 census – Frere household in Wimbledon
  3. ^ Richard Mercer Dorson 1999, p. 334.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Roy Digby Thomas 2009, p. 113.
  6. ^ a b Francis Reginald Statham 1881.
  7. ^ Reader's Digest Association South Africa 1992, p. 182.
  8. ^ Noël Mostert 1992, p. 1247.
  9. ^ Vertrees Canby Malherbe 1971.
  10. ^ Martin Meredith 2008.
  11. ^ Noël Mostert 1992.
  12. ^ Anon 1878.
  13. ^ Alexander Parker 2011, p. 64.
  14. ^ The Martini-Henry Rifle and the Anglo-Zulu War, 1879 at the Wayback Machine (archived March 18, 2013)
  15. ^
  16. ^ John Martineau (1895) The life and correspondence of the Right Hon. Sir Bartle Frere Vol. 1
  17. ^ John Martineau (1895) The life and correspondence of the Right Hon. Sir Bartle Frere Vol. 2
  18. ^ Percy Alport Molteno (1900) The Life and Times of Sir John Charles Molteno Vol. 1
  19. ^ Percy Alport Molteno (1900) The Life and Times of Sir John Charles Molteno Vol. 2
  20. ^ Damian P. O'Connor 2002.


See also

He was played by Sir John Mills in Zulu Dawn. His portrayal in the film is negative.

Popular culture

A more recent work on Bartle Frere's life, The Zulu and the Raj; The Life of Sir Bartle Frere by D. P. O'Connor,[20] examines details of Frere's life and motives more fully than was permissible in Victorian times when Martineau was writing. In particular, O'Connor points to Frere as a leading thinker on imperial defence. He sets the Zulu war in the context of the overall global crisis, contingent on the 1877 Balkan War, which was widely expected to result in war between Britain and Russia. Frere was sent to South Africa to turn this vital area into a secure bastion on the route to India, but was distracted from the task by the routine instability of the South African theatre.

His Life and Correspondence, by John Martineau, was published in 1895.[16][17] For the South African anti-confederation view, see P. A. Molteno's Life and Times of Sir John Charles Molteno (2 vols.,London 1900).[18][19]


Frere Hall in Karachi was built in his honour. The city also named a road, street and town after him. In 1888, the Prince of Wales unveiled a statue of Frere on the Thames embankment. Mount Bartle Frere (1622m), the highest mountain in Queensland, Australia is named after him, as is a boarding house at Haileybury. A road in Parktown, Johannesburg, is also named after him. (Frere Road was also the home of Nadine Gordimer, the Nobel Prize-winning author). In Durban, two roads honour him: Frere Road which later transforms into Bartle Road. Freretown, a district of the Kenyan city of Mombasa, is also named after him.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in May, 1877.[15]

Henry Bartle Frere's Statue on the Thames embankment.


Upon his return Frere replied to the charges relating to his conduct with regard to Afghanistan as well as South Africa, previously referred to in Gladstone's Midlothian speeches, and was preparing a fuller vindication when he died at Wimbledon on 29 May 1884. He was buried in St Paul's Cathedral.


The disaster of Isandlwana was compounded by the humiliating defeats of the First Boer War. He was replaced by Sir Garnet Wolseley, charged with having acted recklessly, and censured by Whitehall.[6]

In 1880 Frere was recalled to London to face charges of misconduct. When Gladstone's ministry first came into office in the spring of 1880, Lord Kimberley originally had no intention of recalling Frere. In June, however, a section of the Liberal party memorialized Gladstone to remove him, and the prime minister complied (1 August 1880).


Memorial to Sir Bartle Frere in the Cape Lantern newspaper.
Remains of the Frere Bridge over the Orange River at Aliwal North. The bridge was opened on 21 July 1880, shortly before Frere's departure from the Cape.

The resulting war led to British defeats such as that at Qalabani, and ended in 1881 with a stalemate and a treaty that favoured the Basotho (This rebellion is a primary reason why Lesotho is now an independent country, and not part of surrounding South Africa). At the same time as the Basuto Gun War broke out, unrest flared up once again among the Xhosa of the Transkei.

Frere pushed "The Peace Protection Act" (1879), during the Xhosa Wars, and decreed that all those of African descent had to be disarmed. The Basuto Gun War (1880) followed, as the Basothos rebelled at what they saw as a racist and high-handed ruling. Premier John Gordon Sprigg's unpopular attempt to enforce this disarmament of the Basotho was aggravated by his setting aside of Basotho land for white settlement.

Basutoland, home of the Basotho people, had been under the nominal control of the Cape Colony since 1872. However the Cape government had allowed the Basotho leadership to keep much of their traditional authority and independence. As allies and trading partners of the Cape, the Basotho were also well-equipped with firearms.

The Basotho King and ministers.

Outbreak of the Basotho Gun War

The Zulu trouble, and disaffection brewing in the Transvaal, reacted upon each other most disastrously. The delay in giving the country a constitution afforded a pretext for agitation to the resentful Boers, a rapidly increasing minority, while the defeat at Isandlwana had badly tarnished the reputation of the British Empire in the region. Owing to the Xhosa and Zulu wars, Sir Bartle had been unable to give his undivided attention to the state of things in the Transvaal until April 1879, when he was at last able to visit a camp of about 4,000 disaffected Boers near Pretoria. Though conditions were grim, Frere managed to win the Boers' respect by promising to present their complaints to the British government, and to urge the fulfilment of the promises that had been made to them. The Boers did eventually disperse, on the very day upon which Frere received the telegram announcing the government's censure. On his return to Cape Town, he found that his achievement had been eclipsed—first by 1 June 1879 death of Napoleon Eugene, Prince Imperial in Zululand, and then by the news that the government of the Transvaal and Natal, together with the high commissionership in the eastern part of South Africa, had been transferred from him to Sir Garnet Wolseley. Meanwhile, growing Boer resentment at Frere's policies erupted in December 1880 into the disastrous First Boer War. The First Boer War, with the humiliating British defeats at Bronkhorstspruit, Laing's Nek, Schuinshoogte and Majuba Hill led to the independence of the Boer Republics and the final end of Carnarvon's confederation scheme.

Cetshwayo was unable to comply with Frere's ultimatum – even if he had wanted to; Frere ordered Lord Chelmsford to invade Zululand, and so the Anglo-Zulu War began. On 11 January 1879, British troops crossed the Tugela River; fourteen days later the disaster of Isandlwana was reported, and that was enough for the House of Commons to demand that Frere be recalled. Beaconsfield supported him, however, and in a strange compromise he was censured but asked to stay on. Frere had severely underestimated the Zulus, whom he had characterized as "a bunch of savages armed with sticks."[14]

The Zulu Kingdom under King Cetshwayo remained independent of British control but Frere impressed upon the Colonial Office his opinion that if confederation was to succeed, Cetshwayo's forces had to be eliminated and Zululand annexed. While Carnarvon remained as Colonial Secretary in London the view had support but his replacement, Sir Michael Hicks-Beach strongly wished to avoid any war in southern Africa. Frere nonetheless used the delay in mail between London and Cape Town, to time his letters so as to circumvent the Colonial Office's opposition to war. Frere then sent Cetshwayo an impossible ultimatum in December 1878, effectively declaring war.[13]

Sir Henry Bartle Frere in the 1880s.

Outbreak of Zulu and Boer Wars

Frere appealed (February 1878) and received the authority from the British Colonial Office to overthrow the Cape's elected government. He then asked his political ally, Mr John Gordon Sprigg, to form a puppet ministry. This unprecedented move solved his constitutional hindrances in the Cape, but was overshadowed by a growing set of conflicts across Southern Africa and Lord Carnarvon's resignation in early 1878.[12]

The Transkei Xhosa were subjugated and annexed early in 1878, by General Thesiger and a small force of regular and colonial troops.[11]

In September 1877 a minor tribal conflict erupted on the Cape frontier, between the Mfengu and Gcaleka tribes. The Cape government viewed the dispute as local, but Frere immediately traveled to the frontier and declared war on the neighbouring independent state of Gcalekaland. Frere saw the dispute as an opportunity to annex Gcalekaland for the planned confederation. Frere also shared Carnarvon's concerns that the continued existence of independent African states posed an ever-present threat of a "general and simultaneous rising of Kaffirdom against white civilization". The 9th Frontier War resulted.[10]

However Frere soon encountered strong political resistance against the unpopular confederation project. In particular, the local Cape government took a non-interventionist approach towards the neighbouring Boer and Black African states of southern Africa. It was also relatively liberal in its domestic politics. Its formal response to Carnarvon's confederation model, conveyed to London via Frere's predecessor Sir Henry Barkly, had originally been that any federation with the illiberal Boer republics would endanger the rights and franchise of the Cape's Black citizens, and was therefore unacceptable.[8] It now resolutely opposed British confederation as being an imperialist attempt to override the Cape's constitution and extend British control over the whole of southern Africa. They also saw that confederation would entail a British invasion of the remaining independent states of the region, such as Zululand and Transvaal, and they correctly predicted war and instability.[9]

The new governor was initially welcomed by the local (Molteno-Merriman) government of the Cape Colony, which was by far the largest and most powerful state in the region.

Pro-imperialist cartoon showing Sir Bartle Frere vanquishing the "negrophilist" liberals of the Cape government, represented by MP Saul Solomon.

Resistance from the Cape and the Xhosa

Timing was a key factor in the ensuing events, as the different states of southern Africa were at the time still suspicious and resentful after the last bout of British imperial expansion. The Afrikaners resented the recent annexation of the Transvaal, did not support confederation, and would successfully rebel in the First Boer War. The various Black South African states were also suspicious of this new effort towards British expansion. The ill-advised policies of both Frere and his local ally John Gordon Sprigg ended up causing a string of wars across Southern Africa, culminating in the disastrous Anglo-Zulu and Boer Wars.[7]

Through Frere's elevation, Lord Carnarvon sought another attempt at implementing the ill-fated and locally unsupported confederation scheme, that was met with fierce resistance by all the local groups involved. South Africans resented the perceived high-handed manner in which it was being imposed from London with little accommodation and knowledge of, or concern for, local conditions and politics. Cape Prime Minister, John Molteno, advised that that under current conditions confederation was ill-suited to and badly timed for Southern Africa. It would lead to a lop-sided confederation with resulting instability and resentment. He advised that full union status was a better model, but only at a later date and once it was economically viable.


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