In our file on Richmond history we have a 1997 Natal Mercury article by Graham Linscott about violence in the area.

In the article he quotes Anthea Jeffery’s The Natal story: 16 years of conflict where she describes ‘The Battle of the Forest’ in 1991 when ANC youths took AK47s and grenades from their hiding-places in timber plantations and in a ‘firefight of unprecedented proportions’ twenty-three IFP members died,

In clashes over the next three days a further 30 were killed. She also mentions that police evidence before the Goldstone Commission estimated that 22 000 tons of armaments had been smuggled into the country by the ANC, much of it into Natal via the Transkei.

Linscott poses the question as to whether Richmond (on the route to the Transkei) could have ‘some sort of secret arms dump’, known only to the ‘wrong’uns’, be they Third Force or ANC, pointing out that the investigator Bushie Engelbrecht drove in an armoured car, after warnings that ‘they’ might otherwise ‘take him out’ with a rocket launcher.

Rocket-launchers, Linscott avers are not the average weapons employed by the criminal classes, or used in faction fights.

There is a strong element of deja vu in this cutting. The Richmond district in the 1850s and early 1860s was very much in the forefront of the illegal gun trade. At this period the Magistrate’s letter books give the impression that the area was like the Wild West, with the magistrate trying to prevent the trade, mainly into No Man’s Land and Pondoland, beyond Natal’s southern border. Initially, the magistrate, Arthur Caesar Hawkins, had no white constable, no field cornets, and only six African policemen, so whenever he wanted to effect an arrest he had to swear in special constables.

The gun-runners, chronologically as they appear in the letter books are:

Joseph Harcourt

John Ogle (son of Henry Ogle, one of Natal’s first settlers).

Peter Bennett McKay (who came to Natal in 1850 as a servant to James Arbuthnot and family).

William Ling (a Richmond storekeeper, also known as the father of Natal cricket. Ling later went to Kimberley, where he again caused trouble for the authorities as one of the leaders of the dissatisfied gold-diggers. He also became known as the father of Kimberley cricket).

The first instance mentioned in the letter books dates to 1857 when Harcourt’s wagon was detained en route to the border with 20 lb of gunpowder (10 lb was the absolute maximum any party leaving the colony could export, however many members in the group), six guns, and no trading licence. Harcourt was prosecuted, and the powder, wagon and oxen were forfeited to the Crown (later he successfully petitioned for the return of the latter two).

Hawkins went on overseas leave in April 1860, and Capt. Walter Lloyd acted as magistrate during his absence. Lloyd’s first letter, written that month concerns the capture of two Africans carrying powder for John Ogle.

The pace then quickens with incidents in July and October. Then in November Lloyd reported to the Colonial Secretary that since the Supreme Court reversal of the sentence against two gun traders (these were not caught in the Richmond district), the trade had increased to a large extent. Two days later a most revealing letter was penned. Lloyd stated that on the previous night, at about 10 pm a wagon had arrived at ‘Payne’s’, close to Richmond (presumably William Payn of Glen App), and he believed it was laden with guns and powder. ‘My reasons for this suspicion are that last night I found upon enquiry that most of the white inhabitants in the village with the exception of the Government officials and Mr Wright [John Wright, hotelkeeper and storekeeper] were absent, and this coupled with the arrival of the wagon after nightfall. It is a notorious fact that these illicit dealings are carried on with the assistance of armed parties who accompany Caffres carrying the goods to safe places for the purposes of being removed at future periods as circumstances permit’. He stated further that there was no doubt that a number of Africans in the Division were armed and were supplied with powder by the white traders, and was convinced this was one strong reason why the Africans would not seize other Africans carrying firearms or bring him any information on the subject. From this letter and others one gets the impression that Lloyd felt that Richmond society was riddled with gun traders, eg. on reporting the capture of a large haul, he wrote of ‘the amount of villainy carried on by the honest inhabitants of Richmond who are dreadfully hurt even seeing their wagons looked into’.

Ten days after the wagon incident at Payn’s, Lloyd reported another success – ten guns complete and two stocks, being carried in two parcels by Africans who were accompanied throughout by Harcourt. The black constable arrested him too, but he escaped through the instrumentality of Ling, his ex-partner. The policeman told Lloyd he was afraid of the two white men together. The guns were wrapped in newspapers, some of which were addressed to ‘Richard Gelder, Durban’ (Gelder was a merchant). The guns were all quite new, double-barrelled and of a very superior kind. They were also unstamped (from Jan. 1858 all firearms in the Colony had to be registered at the nearest magistracy, where they were stamped. Also, all guns imported into the Colony had to be registered and stamped).

The capture of this haul, and of two others at the same time could perhaps be attributed to Lloyd’s employing 51 Africans over a two-month period in watching the ‘numberless’ drifts over the Umkomaas river.

In Jan. 1861 Lloyd reported that the trade was as brisk as ever and that horses were now chiefly used instead of African bearers, although a few trustworthy Africans were still being employed. In the same letter he told the Colonial Secretary that a number of the regular Richmond traders were down in Durban at the moment, no doubt for the purpose of collecting guns and ammunition. He suggested a likely way to catch some of ‘these fellows’ would be to have the Berea road and the Isipingo road carefully watched for a few nights. If the measure was carried out with secrecy he believed it would be very successful for a short period.

Examples of deterrent actions used during these years, other than those already mentioned included the employment of African spies to search the African traders, a reward of £1 per gun to any person, black or white, who caused firearms to be seized, and the ‘stringent’ punishment of Africans caught carrying guns for white traders.

In his report on the state of his division for 1862, made early in 1863, Hawkins maintained he was unable to report any diminution in the illicit trade in firearms with Africans across the border. The enormous profits realised would always induce some reckless men to embark on it, and the thorough organization of the illicit traders rendered it almost impossible to check the traffic without a body of white police. He recommended that a few men of the new mounted police force be stationed at the Umzimkulu drift for the purpose of checking this trade. The native police, he averred, were of little avail where white men were concerned.

Hawkins’s suggestion was followed, and with the establishment of a mounted police camp near the Umzimkulu drift, the references to the gun trade in the Richmond magistrate’s letter books becomes far less frequent.