Orange Free State General

January 19, 2015 Orange Free State

The Orange Free State was an independent Boer sovereign republic in southern Africa during the second half of the 19th century, and later a British colony and a province of the Union of South Africa. It is the historical precursor to the present-day Free State province. Extending between the Orange and Vaal rivers, its borders were determined by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1848 when the region was proclaimed as the Orange River Sovereignty, with a seat of a British Resident in Bloemfontein.

In the northern part of the territory a Voortrekker Republic was established at Winburg in 1837. This state merged with the Republic of Potchefstroom which later formed part of the South African Republic (Transvaal).

Following the granting of sovereignty to the Transvaal Republic, the British recognized the independence of the Orange River Sovereignty on 17 February 1854 and the country officially became independent as the Orange Free State on 23 February 1854, with the signing of the Orange River Convention. The new republic incorporated both the Orange River Sovereignty and the traditions of the Winburg-Potchefstroom Republic.

The Basutoland difficulties were no sooner arranged than the Free Staters found themselves confronted with a serious difficulty on their western border. In the years 1870–1871 a large number of foreign diggers had settled on the diamond fields near the junction of the Vaal and Orange rivers, which were situated in part on land claimed by the Fi Griqua chief Nicholas Waterboer and by the Free State.

The Free State established a temporary government over the diamond fields, but the administration of this body was satisfactory neither to the Free State nor to the diggers. At this juncture Waterboer offered to place the territory under the administration of Queen Victoria. The offer was accepted, and on 27 October 1871 the district, together with some adjacent territory to which the Transvaal had laid claim, was proclaimed, under the name of Griqualand West, British territory. Waterboer’s claims were based on the treaty concluded by his father with the British in 1834, and on various arrangements with the Kok chiefs; the Free State based its claim on its purchase of Adam Kok’s sovereign rights and on long occupation. The difference between proprietorship and sovereignty was confused or ignored. That Waterboer exercised no authority in the disputed district was admitted. When the British annexation took place a party in the Volksraad wished to go to war with Britain, but the wiser counsels of President Brand prevailed. The Free State, however, did not abandon its claims. The matter involved no little irritation between the parties concerned until July 1876. It was then disposed of by the 4th earl of Carnarvon, at that time secretary of state for the colonies, who granted to the Free State payment “in full satisfaction of all claims which it considers it may possess to Griqualand West.”

Lord Carnarvon declined to entertain the proposal made by Mr Brand that the territory should be given up by Great Britain. One thing at least is certain with regard to the diamond fields — they were the means of restoring the credit and prosperity of the Free State.

In the opinion, moreover, of Dr Theal, who has written the history of the Boer Republics, the annexation of Griqualand West was probably in the best interests of the Free State. “There was,” he states, “no alternative from British sovereignty other than an independent diamond field republic.” At this time, largely owing to the exhausting struggle with the Basutos, the Free State Boers, like their Transvaal neighbors, had drifted into financial straits. A paper currency had been instituted, and the notes, known as “bluebacks”, soon dropped to less than half their nominal value. Commerce was largely carried on by barter, and many cases of bankruptcy occurred in the state. But as British annexation in 1877 saved the Transvaal from bankruptcy, so did the influx of British and other immigrants to the diamond fields, in the early 1870s, restore public credit and individual prosperity to the Boers of the Free State. The diamond fields offered a ready market for stock and other agricultural produce. Money flowed into the pockets of the farmers. Public credit was restored. ” Bluebacks ” recovered par value, and were called in and redeemed by the government. Valuable diamond mines were also discovered within the Free State, of which the one at Jagersfontein is the richest. Capital from Kimberley and London was soon provided with which to work them.

 

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