THE IRISH IN SOUTH AFRICA
By A. MILLIARD ATTERIDGE.
The tide of emigration from Ireland has set chiefly towards America and Australia. In South Africa, therefore, the Irish element among the colonists has never been a large one. But, despite its comparatively small numbers, it has been an important factor in the life of South Africa. Here, as in so many other countries, it has been the glory of the sons of Erin to be a missionary people. To their coming is due the very existence of the Catholic Church in these southern lands.
When Dr. Ullathorne touched at the Cape on his way to Australia in 1832, he found at Cape Town “a single priest for the whole of South Africa,” an English Benedictine, who soon afterwards returned to Europe in broken health. Few Irish immigrants had by that time found their way to the Cape. They began to arrive in numbers only after the famine year.
The founder of the Catholic hierarchy in South Africa was the Irish Dominican, Patrick R. Griffith, who, in 1837, was sent to Cape Town by Gregory XVI. as the first Vicar Apostolic of Cape Colony. His successors at the Cape, Bishops Grimley, Leonard, and Rooney, have all been Irishmen, and nine in every ten of their flock have from the first been Irish by birth or descent. In the earlier years of Bishop Griffith’s episcopate there was a large garrison in South Africa on account of the Kaffir wars. Many of these soldiers were Irishmen. At Grahamstown in 1844 the soldiers of an Irish regiment stationed there did most of the work of building St. Patrick’s Church, one of the oldest Catholic churches in South Africa. They worked without wages or reward of any kind, purely out of their devotion to their Faith, giving up most of their leisure to this voluntary labor.
Ten years after Bishop Griffith’s appointment, Pius IX. separated Natal and the eastern districts of Cape Colony from Cape Town, and erected the Eastern Vicariate Apostolic. Once more an Irish prelate was the first Bishop–Aidan Devereux, who was consecrated by Bishop Griffith at Cape Town in the Christmas week of 1847. The great emigration from Ireland had now begun, and a stream of immigrants was arriving at the Cape. Bishop Devereux fixed his residence at Port Elizabeth, and of his four successors up to the present day three have been Irish. Bishop Moran, who went out to Port Elizabeth in 1854, was consecrated at Carlow in Ireland by Archbishop (afterwards Cardinal) Cullen. The third Vicar Apostolic was Bishop Ricards, and the present bishop is another Irishman, Dr. Hugh McSherry, who received his consecration from the hands of Cardinal Logue in St. Patrick’s Cathedral at Armagh.
Until the discovery of the diamond deposits in what is now the Kimberley district, some forty years ago, the Irish immigrants had chiefly settled in the ports and along the coast. But among the crowds who went to seek their fortunes at the diamond fields were large numbers of adventurous Irishmen. The mission church established at Kimberley became the centre of a new bishopric in 1886, when the Vicariate of Kimberley, which for some time included the Orange Free State, was established, and an Irish Oblate, Father Anthony Gaughran, was appointed its first bishop. He was succeeded in 1901 by his namesake and fellow countryman, the present Bishop Matthew Gaughran.
The gold discoveries on the Witwatersrand about Johannesburg produced another rush into the interior in the days after the first Transvaal war. A great city of foreign immigrants–the “Uitlanders”–grew up rapidly on the upland, where a few months before there had been only a few scattered Boer farms. Irishmen from Cape Colony and Natal, from Ireland itself, and from the United States formed a large element in the local mining and trading community. They were mostly workers. Few of them found their way into the controlling financier class, which was largely Jewish. The Irish were better out of this circle of international gamblers, whose intrigues finally produced the terrible two years’ bloodshed of the great South African war. Many engineers of the mines were Irish-Americans. Huge consignments of mining machinery arrived from the United States, and many of the engineers who came to fit it up remained in the employ of the mining companies. Until after the war, the Transvaal and Johannesburg had depended ecclesiastically on the Vicar Apostolic of Natal, but in 1904 a Transvaal Vicariate was erected, and once more the first bishop was an Irishman, Dr. William Miller, O.M.I.
We have seen how Irish the South African episcopate has been from the very outset. Most of the clergy belong to the same missionary race, as also do the nuns of the various convents, and the Christian Brothers, who are in charge of many of the schools. Of the white Catholic population of the various states of the South African Union, the greater part are Irish. There are about 25,000 Irish in Cape Colony in a total population of over two millions. There are some 7,000 in Natal, I,500 in Kimberley, and about 2,000 in the Orange River Colony. In the Transvaal, chiefly in and about Johannesburg, there are some 12,000 Irish. A few thousand more are to be found scattered in Griqualand and Rhodesia.
As has been already said, the total numbers are not large in proportion to that of the population generally, and they belong chiefly to the industrial and trading classes. The most notable names among them are those of prelates, priests, and missionaries, who have founded and built up the organization of the Catholic Church in South Africa. But there are some names of note also in civil life. Sir Michael Gallwey was for many years Chief Justice of Natal; the Hon. A. Wilmot, who has not only held high official posts, but has also done much to clear up the early history of South Africa, is Irish on the mother’s side; Mr. Justice Shiel is a judge of the Cape Courts; Eyre and Woodbyrne are Irish names among the makers of Rhodesia; and amongst those who have done remarkable work in official life may also be named Sir Geoffrey Lagden, Sir William St. John Carr, and the Hon. John Daverin. Lagden was for many years British Resident in Basutoland, the Switzerland of South Africa, where the native tribes are practically independent under a British protectorate. Griffith, the paramount chief of the Basuto nation, has been a Catholic since 1911. Sir Geoffrey’s tactful policy and wise counsels did much to promote the prosperity of this native state, and during the trying days of the South African War, he was able to secure the neutrality of the tribesmen.
In the Boer wars, Irishmen fought with distinction on both sides. General Colley, who fell at Majuba in the first Boer War, was a distinguished Irish soldier. Another great Irishman, General Sir William Butler, has written the story of Colley’s life. Butler himself was in command of the troops at the Cape before the great war. If his wise counsels had been followed by the Government, the war would undoubtedly have been avoided. He refused to have any part in the war-provoking policy of Rhodes and Chamberlain, and warned the Home Government that an attack on the Dutch republics would be a serious and perilous enterprise. When the war came, England owed much to the enduring valor of Irish soldiers and to the leadership of Irish generals. One need only name General Hart, of the Irish Brigade; General French, who relieved Kimberley, and who is now (1914) Field-Marshal and Commander-in-Chief of the British army in France; General Mahon, who raised the siege of Mafeking; Colonel Moore, of the famous Connaught Rangers, now (1914) commandant and chief military organizer of the Irish National Volunteers; and, finally, Lord Roberts, who took over the chief command and saved the situation after the early disasters. Lord Kitchener, who acted as Roberts’s chief-of-staff, succeeded him in the command, and brought the war to an end by an honorable treaty with the Boer leaders, is a native of Ireland, but of English descent, and he passed most of his boyhood in Ireland, in Co. Kerry, where his father had bought a small property. I used to know an Irish Franciscan lay brother who told me he had taught the future soldier “many games” when he was quite a little fellow.
Of the regiments which took part in the war none won a higher fame than the Munster and the Dublin Fusiliers and the Connaught Rangers. It was in recognition of their splendid valor that the new regiment of Irish Guards was added to the British Army.
But the majority of Irishmen sympathized with the Boer republics, and many of them fought under the Boer flag, of these were legally British subjects, but many were naturalized burghers of the Transvaal, and many more were United States citizens, Irish-Americans from the Rand gold mines. There were two small Irish brigades under the Boer flag, those of McBride and Lynch (the latter now a member of the British House of Commons), and an engineer corps commanded by Colonel Blake, an American. At the first battle before Ladysmith it was one of the Irish brigades that kept the Boer guns in action, bringing up ammunition under a rain of shellfire. During the Boer retreat and Roberts’s advance on Pretoria, Blake’s engineers were always with the Boer rearguard and successfully destroyed every mile of the railway as they went back. Blake had served in the United States cavalry, had learned mining while on duty in Nevada, and had then gone to seek his fortune at Johannesburg. The great leader of the Boer armies, now the Prime Minister of the new South Africa which has happily arisen out of the storm of war, has Irish connections. Louis Botha lived before the war in the southeast Transvaal, not far from Laings Nek, and near neighbors of his were a family of Irish settlers bearing the honored name of Emmet. The Emmets and the Bothas were united by ties of friendship and intermarriage, and one of the Emmets served with Louis Botha during the war.
The Irish colonists of South Africa keep their love for faith and fatherland, but, as in the United States, they have thoroughly and loyally thrown in their lot with the new country of which they have become citizens. Few in number though they are, they are an important factor in the new Dominion, for their national tradition inspires them with civic patriotism, and their religion gives them a high standard of conduct and puts before them, as guides in the work of life and the solution of the problems of the day, the Christian principles of justice and charity.
Government Census Returns, South Africa; Catholic Directory for British South Africa (Cape Town, since 1904); The Catholic Magazine, Cape Town; Wilmot and Chase: History of Cape Colony (London, 1896); Theal: History of South Africa (5 vols., London, 1888-1893); for the war period, the Times History of the South African War, and the British Official History.