The Retrocession of the Transvaal (1881) gave a strong impulse to this movement, and encouraged President Kruger in his persistent efforts since that date to foster it. A friend of the late General Joubert,—in a letter which I have read,—wrote of Mr. Kruger as “the man who, for more than twenty years past, has persistently laboured to drive in the wedge between the two races. It has been his deliberate policy throughout.”
I always wish that I could separate the memory of that truly great man, Mr. Gladstone, from this Act of his Administration. Few people cherish his memory with more affectionate admiration than I do. Independently of his great intellect, his eloquence, and his fidelity in following to its last consequences a conviction which had taken possession of him, I revered him because he seemed like King Saul, to stand a head and shoulders above all his fellows,—not like King Saul in physical, but in moral stature. Pure, honourable and strong in character and principles, a sincere Christian, he attracted and deserved the affection and loyalty of all to whom purity and honour are dear. I may add that I may speak of him, in a measure also as a personal friend of our family. I have memories of delightful intercourse with him at Oxford, when he represented that constituency, and later, in other places and at other times.
I recall, however, an occasion in which a chill of astonishment and regret fell upon me and my husband (politically one of his supporters), in hearing a pronouncement from him on a subject, which to us was vital, and had been pressing heavily on our hearts. I allude to a great speech which Mr. Gladstone made in Liverpool during the last period of the Civil War in America, the Abolitionist War. Our friend spoke with his accustomed fiery eloquence wholly in favour of the spirit and aims of the combatants of the Southern States, speaking of their struggle as one on behalf of liberty and independence, and wishing them success. Not one word to indicate that the question which, like burning lava in the heart of a volcano, was causing that terrible upheaval in America, had found any place in that great man’s mind, or had even “cast its shadow before” in his thoughts. It appeared as though he had not even taken in the fact of the existence of those four millions of slaves, the uneasy clanking of whose chains had long foreboded the approach of the avenging hand of the Deliverer. This obscured perception of the question was that of a great part, if not of the majority, of the Press of that day, and of most persons of the “privileged” classes; but that he, a trusted leader of so many, should be suffering from such an imperfection of mental vision, was to us an astonishment and sorrow. As we left that crowded hall, my companion and I, we looked at each other in silent amazement, and for a long time we found no words.
As I look back now, there seems in this incident some explanation of Mr. Gladstone’s total oblivion of the interests of our loyal native subjects of the Transvaal at the time when he handed them over to masters whose policy towards them was well known. These poor natives had appealed to the British Government, had trusted it, and were deceived by it.