Frere, Henry Bartle Edward (DNB00)
FRERE, Sir HENRY BARTLE EDWARD, commonly called Sir Bartle Frere (1815–1884), statesman, belonged to a family associated for centuries with the eastern counties of England. His grandfather, John Frere [q. v.], was second wrangler in Paley's year (1763), was elected M.P. for Norwich, and at his death left seven sons, of whom John Hookham Frere [q. v.] was the eldest. Edward, the second son, was father of Henry Bartle Edward Frere. Edward Frere (1770–1844) married, 28 July 1800, Mary Anne, eldest daughter and coheiress of James Greene, esq., M.P. for Arundel in 1759, and had by her nine sons and five daughters. Henry Bartle was the sixth son. Born at Clydach, Brecknockshire, on 29 March 1815, he was sent at an early age to the grammar school at Bath. In the narrow range of subjects there taught Frere gained distinction, and he entered Haileybury in 1832. In this college he showed capacity for a wider scope of study. At the end of the first term he stood second on the list of scholars, and during the following term he gained the highest place, which he retained until the end of his course. In 1834 he received his appointment to a writership in the Bombay civil service. At this time the normal length of the voyage to India was from four to five months. But Lieutenant Waghorn's successful journey by Egypt having shown that the bowstring is shorter than the bow, Frere applied to the court of directors for permission to find his way to India by the same road. After some hesitation the directors granted the request, having learned that Lord William Bentinck proposed to send a steamer to Suez, which on its return voyage was to meet at Socotra a vessel carrying the mails to Bombay. In May 1834 the young civilian sailed from Falmouth, but on arriving at Malta found that the steamer was not expected at Suez until August. He was thus enabled to spend a month with his uncle Hookham Frere, then living in Malta on account of his wife's health. There he studied Arabic under the guidance of the well-known Dr. Wolfe, who on his departure vouched for him that he knew enough Arabic ‘to scold his way through Egypt.’
Frere finally left Malta in a Greek brigantine for Alexandria, where he joined four other travellers who were taking the same route. He journeyed with them laboriously to Cairo, and thence to Thebes and Carnac, whence they struck across the desert on camels to Kosseir, on the Red Sea. Here, following the example of Waghorn, they embarked in open boats and reached Mocha, viâ Yambo and Jeddah. At Mocha they engaged passages for Bombay in an Arab dhow laden with pilgrims. After many dangers and a narrow escape from starvation they landed at Bombay on 23 Sept. The very unorthodox manner of arrival on Indian soil placed Frere under the necessity of proving his identity. He quickly settled down to the study of Hindustani, Marathi, and Gujarati, and, having in 1835 passed in all these languages, was appointed assistant to the collector at Poona. He devoted himself with characteristic zeal to his duties, and showed the same enthusiasm when subsequently detached to assist Henry Edward Goldsmid [q. v.] in investigating the system of land assessment of Indapore. Thoroughly to carry out the work it was necessary to investigate the extent and nature of each holding, and the result of this minute investigation was to prove that the assessments were much too high, and to convict the native collectors of extortion and oppression in collecting the land taxes.
In those days native officials were still frequently imbued with the traditions of oriental misgovernment. Many of their victims instead of complaining threw up their holdings and drifted elsewhere. Large tracts in the district were thus left uncultivated, and other farms were only imperfectly cropped. Frere and his companions proposed thoroughgoing remedies. They recommended that the rate of the land assessment should be reduced to sums easily payable by the cultivators, that security of tenure should be granted to every holder of land, and that more strenuous efforts should be made to check corruption on the part of the native officials. These recommendations were acted upon, and a most beneficial change produced. The people regained confidence. The spare land was eagerly taken up, and the district became one of the most prosperous in India. The obvious effects of this policy led to its wide extension throughout the Bombay presidency, as well as to Sind, Mysore, and Berár. Frere's zeal and ability thus gained for him promotion to the post of assistant revenue commissioner. This office he held until 1842, when he was appointed private secretary to Sir George Arthur [q. v.], the newly arrived governor of Bombay. Frere's new duties entailed considerable responsibility, more especially because Arthur had no experience of Indian administration. Upon Sir Charles Napier's annexation of Sind, the governor had to co-operate in the consolidation of the province. He was ably supported by Frere, who thus early gained an insight into the administration of the presidency. On 10 Oct. 1844 Frere married Miss Catherine Arthur, the second daughter of the governor, and shortly afterwards went home on sick certificate. On his return to India after an eighteen months' leave, he served for a time as assistant commissioner of customs, and was then appointed political resident at the court of the rajá of Sattara. The position of Sattara was defined by a treaty made on the conquest of the Marathá territory in 1818. Pertâb Sahib, the then rajá, a descendant of Sivaji, who established the Marathá power in 1644, was the nominal ruler, but for several generations the imperial authority had been allowed to fall into the hands of the peshwas or mayors of the palace. By the treaty of 1818 the greater part of the southern Marathá territory was annexed by the East India Company, Sattara being especially reserved for the rajá. Four years later the district was handed over to him, and a resident was appointed to his court. From being a mere puppet in the hands of the peshwa he had thus become a reigning sovereign. But he had grown disaffected to his benefactors, and had been at last sent as a state prisoner to Benares. Shahjí, his brother, was appointed to succeed him. Frere was nominated to Sattara during the reign of Shahjí, and for two years and a half he devoted his energies to improving the condition of the people. He directed especial attention to the improvement of the roads and the means of irrigation, and it was at his instigation that a tunnel, the first ever constructed in India, was made connecting a fertile valley with the town of Sattara. In 1847 Pertâb Sahib died, having adopted an heir who was inclined to put forward pretensions to the rajáship. Meanwhile Shahjí was in bad health, and having no male issue was desirous of adopting a son and successor. In the beginning of April 1848 the rajá told Frere of his intention. He hoped that the government would sanction a handsome provision from the Sattara revenues for the support of the child whom he might take under his protection, and begged Frere to obtain the consent of the government to his adopting a member of the Bhonslay family as his son. Frere agreed to submit the rajá's request to the government, but warned him that the previous sanction of the court of directors might be necessary. This warning did not prevent the rajá from making the adoption a few hours before his death. Frere, who was absent at the time, having left at the rajá's earnest request to press his wishes on the government, hastened back to Sattara at the risk of his life, for the people were fanatically excited at the political position, and without the escort which the governor wished him to take. For nine months he administered the province, being careful in the meantime to avoid recognising in any way the adopted son. By the old treaty of 1818 the government of India had definitely ceded Sattara to the rajá, his heirs and successors, and Frere was of opinion, therefore, that they were in honour bound to recognise the title of the adopted son to the throne. This was strongly the opinion also of Mountstuart Elphinstone [q. v.] and Captain Grant Duff, the negotiators of the treaty, and of Sir George Clerk, the governor of Bombay, but the governor-general and the majority of his council took an opposite view. Lord Dalhousie recorded it as his strong and deliberate opinion that ‘the British government is bound not to put aside or to neglect such rightful opportunities of acquiring territory or revenue as may from time to time present themselves,’ and therefore should not give effect to the device of the Hindoo law for sustaining the succession by adoption. These views were supported by a majority in the court of directors, and Sattara was consequently annexed as British territory. Though Frere had not hesitated to urge officially an opposite opinion, he was selected as the officer most competent to discharge the duties of commissioner in the newly annexed province. In the exercise of his new powers he promoted cultivation by introducing cotton seed from New Orleans and sugar canes from Mauritius. He reformed the sanitary condition of the towns and villages, and provided them with abundant supplies of good water. He established suitable encampments for pilgrims, inaugurated municipal boards, introduced a system of popular education, and provided for the preservation of ancient monuments. He held that an essential condition of progress was the full power of the people to appeal to principles of justice. The judicial system of British India was, he considered, ‘too refined and elaborate, and too difficult of access for general utility in ordinary cases.’ ‘A system of law,’ he wrote, ‘is to the social system of a country as the skin rather than the clothing to the animal frame; not only an appendage which may be made to fit, but one which must grow with the frame and accommodate itself naturally to the peculiarities and even the deformities of the body to which it belongs.’
In 1850 the chief commissionership of Sind, vacant by the resignation of Mr. Pringle, was in the appointment of the government of Bombay. The territory, nearly as large as England and Wales, was bordered on the west by some of the most turbulent tribes in existence; the inhabitants were idle and debauched, and in the case of the Sayyids violent and revengeful; and the country was still in the throes of annexation. An important party in the Bombay council desired the appointment of a military man accustomed to deal with turbulent populations; but Lord Dalhousie, the governor-general, deemed a civilian better fitted for the post. Lord Falkland, the governor of Bombay, decided to appoint Frere, and his colleagues threatened to resign if the appointment were not ratified. In a minute on the subject Lord Falkland wrote: ‘The commissionership of Sind requires an union and balance of qualification which, in my opinion, are not possessed in a like degree by a member of the civil service senior to that gentleman [Frere], who is a civilian of sixteen years' standing, and whose firmness of purpose, mild disposition, and conciliatory manners cannot but insure for him in the exercise of his official functions the ready co-operation and respect of the military authorities.’ Never was a forecast more happily fulfilled. Frere found his province distracted by factions and the people grossly ignorant. The dispossessed amirs claimed the sympathy of their former dependents as victims of foreign usurpation. Frere's first care was therefore to deprive the amirs of claims to commiseration by pensioning them off. Twenty-two families were thus treated, and by timely courtesy and consideration were converted into loyal supporters of the British government. He next turned his attention to the development of the province. He improved the harbour at Karàchi and gave municipal institutions to that and nineteen other towns. He established a library and museum at Karàchi, and, after the manner of Warren Hastings, ordered every deputy-collector in the province to forward each season specimens of the raw products of their districts for exhibition in the museum. He improved and multiplied the roads and canals, built bungalows, baths, and places of shelter for travellers, and caused a topographical survey to be made of the province. He established village schools, a written language, and a judicial code. He built barracks for the troops and opened recreation grounds for the public. He thus gradually converted the people into an industrious and law-abiding peasantry. His attention was equally demanded by the political condition and social requirements of the tribes on the western frontier. He might either ignore them or endeavour to impress upon them a recognition both of the strength and amiable intentions of the British government. The first course would save immediate trouble, but in case of an outbreak in India would leave Sind exposed to a possibly hostile force on the frontier. It is needless to say that Frere adopted the second alternative. He opened relations with the khan of Khelat and established fairs at Sukkur and Karàchi, to which the frontier tribes were invited. The institution of these fairs is in accordance with the best traditions of oriental policy. The Chinese have long held similar gatherings on the Tibetan frontier, and with most beneficial consequences. The tribes mixed in the bazaars with the Sindis, and learned to respect the justice of English rule and the weight of English power. In Frere also they found a firm and just governor. With an even hand he punished the predatory hillman and the overbearing British subject. In cases of outrages committed by the tribesmen he demanded from the chiefs the rendition of the culprits alone and abstained from all retaliatory measures on the tribe generally. The consequence of this policy was that the culprits became outcasts among their own people, and in some instances surrendered to the British authorities, finding themselves cut off from the society of their fellow-men. At the end of five years, spent in teaching the native races industry and forethought, and in introducing into their midst the arts of civilised life, Frere came to England (1856) for the benefit of his health. After a well-earned rest of a year he returned to his post and was met on his landing at Karàchi in May 1857 with the news of the mutiny. Frere recognised the vitally serious nature of the outbreak, and at once called for a return of the British forces in Sind. It appeared that for the control of this vast territory there were only 1,350 sabres, four native infantry regiments, one Belooch battalion, three batteries of artillery, one European regiment, and a depôt of another. But Frere felt that when the Punjab was in danger this force was too large a one to be kept in Sind. His rule had been so successful that he could answer for the internal peace of the province, and he felt that, as he afterwards wrote, ‘when the head and heart are threatened, the extremities must take care of themselves.’ He therefore at once sent off his only European regiment to Mooltan, and by so doing secured this strong fortress during the worst days of the mutiny; at the same time he despatched a steamer to intercept the 64th and 78th regiments, which were on their way to Sind from the war in Persia, and to order them on to Calcutta. As the mutiny spread he directed a battery of artillery and a detachment of the 14th native infantry to march to the support of General Roberts at Guzerat. He further sent a portion of the remaining corps of Europeans into the south Marathá country, and the Belooch battalion to the further help of Sir John Lawrence in the Punjab. The removal of these several regiments left Frere only 178 European bayonets in Sind. And they were enough, though mutinies broke out at Shikarpur, Hyderabad, and Karàchi. Without exception these outbreaks were put down at once, and so slight a hold did the poison of disaffection get in Sind that at Karàchi the leaders in the revolt were tried by a court-martial composed of native officers, who dealt out exemplary punishments to the accused. But Frere was able to do more than give away the force he already had. He was able to create regiments, and when all natives were generally distrusted he raised troops who were as loyal as Europeans throughout the crisis. In the midst of all the work which was thus thrown upon him he found time to visit the khan of Khelat, and thus laid the foundation of an alliance which finally led up to the cession of Quetta and to the frontier treaty negotiated by Sir F. Goldsmid in 1872. Nor did he shrink from protesting with all the force of his influence and knowledge against the proposal of Sir John Lawrence to retire from Peshawur. While that fortress, Lahore, and Mooltan were in our possession, we were, he held, ‘lords of the Punjab,’ and he maintained that it would be better to stand at Peshawur a siege like that of Jellalabad than retire from it. He had time also to review in his own mind the acts of the Calcutta government, and a memorandum he then wrote on the constitution of the Indian army is as thoughtful and comprehensive as if written in the most peaceful leisure. Throughout the anxieties of the time he never for an instant relaxed his efforts for the development of the province. In April 1858 he turned the first sod of the railway from Karàchi to Kotri; in the same year the Oriental Inland Steam Company commenced to run steamers between Karàchi and Mooltan, and in the following year the Eastern Narra canal was opened.
Frere's great services were recognised by men on the spot. ‘From first to last,’ wrote Sir John Lawrence, ‘from the first commencement of the mutiny to the final triumph, that officer [Frere] has rendered assistance to the Punjab administration just as if he had been one of its own commissioners. … The chief commissioner believes that there is no civil officer in India who, for eminent exertions, deserves better of his government than Mr. H. B. E. Frere.’ In England the value of his services was also cordially recognised. His name was especially mentioned in the vote of thanks passed by both houses of parliament.
In 1859 Frere received for the second time the thanks of both houses of parliament for his services during the mutiny, and at the same time he received the knight commandership of the Bath. He was in the same year appointed a member of the council of the governor-general. Up to that time the members of the council had always been chosen from the Bengal services, and the tradition was broken for the first time in Frere's favour. The news of his promotion came like an announcement of disaster to the people of Sind. From Shikarpur to Karàchi came expressions of deep regret from both native and foreign residents. From being a comparatively desolate and barren country it had become under his rule a fruitful and well-watered land. Trade had been developed and fostered, and the revenue had risen in eight years from twenty-three to forty-three lakhs of rupees. Six thousand miles of road were opened out and the Rohree supply channel was constructed, which irrigated many thousand square miles of territory. He gave proprietary rights and fixity of tenure to landowners who had previously held their possessions only at the will of their rulers. He secured to the people generally the enjoyment of their lives and property. He improved the postal service of the province and issued for use in Sind the first postage-stamps ever printed in India.
Frere, from being an almost independent ruler, now became a unit in a body whose deliberations were criticised on all sides, and whose decisions he could only affect to the extent of his influence and vote. Frere had always kept his mind open to the great problems of Indian policy, and was not unprepared to face the enormous difficulties of his new office. The finances were in terrible disorder. During 1859–60 the expenditure had exceeded the income by 9,000,000l., and the enormous addition to the military budget entailed by the mutiny appeared even likely to increase; the antagonism between the races was extreme, the whole military organisation unhinged. The disorder of the finances had induced the English government to appoint James Wilson [q. v.] to undertake the reform of the exchequer. From the first Frere worked cordially with Wilson, though not always agreeing with him in details. He heartily supported the steps he adopted for the reduction of expenditure, and especially turned his attention to the cost of the army, which threatened to become an uncontrollable burden. After all possible reductions the imposition of new taxes became necessary, and Frere supported Wilson in introducing the new income tax, which was strenuously opposed by large sections of the native community. The main credit for this and other financial measures of the time must of course belong to Wilson. Frere, however, did much of the work, and had charge of the exchequer in the interval between Wilson's death and the appointment of his successor, Laing. He again discharged the same duties for six months during the enforced absence of Laing from illness. A short experience of the governor-general's council convinced him that a radical change was necessary in both the supreme and local governments. The council, as it was then composed, was in his opinion manifestly insufficient for the work it had to do. The official section of the community was alone represented, to the exclusion of the mercantile classes and the natives. In the presidencies this anomaly was even more apparent. Bengal was governed by three hundred foreigners, all of whom were crown officials. The consequent bitterness of feeling was a continual irritant. Frere's strong sense of justice revolted against this inequality, and in season and out of season he urged on the authorities the necessity of reform. He held, with Lord Canning, that the existing executive councils should be supplemented by legislative bodies, in which the non-official classes of the presidencies should be represented. He urged strongly also the justice of employing native gentlemen in the administration of affairs. The equity and wisdom of these reforms were, when set forth, so apparent that they were successfully carried out, and the benefits resulting from them are now universally acknowledged even by those who at the time were opposed to them. The advocacy of these measures, which originated with Lord Canning, was ably conducted by Frere, who was at this time Lord Canning's confidential and trusted adviser on all matters connected with India. It was due also to Frere that the unreasonable unpopularity of Lord Canning was greatly abated. He was able to enter into explanations on points of Lord Canning's administration impossible for Canning himself, and his genial hospitality to Europeans and natives served to break down prejudices and restore confidence in a way that no official acts or complacence could ever have done. In 1860 he accompanied Lord Canning on a visit to the north-west provinces, on which occasion the governor-general invested Scindia, Holkar, the nizam, and others with the Star of India as a reward for services rendered during the mutiny. Frere also introduced measures for the encouragement of the cultivation of cotton, tobacco, and indigo, and promoted in every way in his power the extension of roads and the construction of irrigation works.
In 1862 Frere was appointed governor of Bombay. Upon hearing this news Canning wrote: ‘I do not know when I have read anything with such unmixed pleasure. God grant you health and strength to do your work in your own noble spirit and energy.’ By the European community in Bombay it was recognised as a compliment that one of the foremost men in India should have been sent to rule over them, and by the natives his appointment was ‘hailed with heartfelt satisfaction.’ One of the first measures he carried out was to throw down the ramparts of Bombay, which stood as barriers against the sea breezes, and covered a space of ground daily becoming of more value. The sanitary advantages gained to the town by the demolition of these useless works became at once apparent, and as a financial measure it more than exceeded the expectations formed. The land fetched in the market 180 rupees a square yard, and on part of it were erected rows of public offices, designed by Gilbert Scott, which were then incomparably the finest modern buildings in the East. Municipal institutions, which always held a prominent part in Frere's administration, early gained his attention, and to him is due the municipality which now governs the city, and which in the first year of its existence was instrumental in reducing the death rate by two thousand. He established the Deccan College at Poona, as well as a college for instructing natives in civil engineering. He commenced the buildings of the Bombay University, and instituted English and vernacular schools in various parts of the presidency. He founded schools for the female children of soldiers and for the orphans of natives, and he developed the system of grants in aid, which insured the existence of many of these struggling institutions. He promoted the improvement of the harbour of Bombay, co-operated in establishing direct telegraphic communication with England, and lent support to the railway from Bombay to Rajputana, Delhi, and other parts. The development of these excellent works was chiefly due to Frere. But the circumstances of the time contributed largely to their success. The American war had suddenly raised the price of cotton and thrown an enormously increased business into the hands of the Bombay growers and merchants. The sudden inrush of wealth produced a feverish desire for speculation. Many new companies were started, and their shares rose to enormous premiums. One of the most rational undertakings was the ‘Back Bay Company,’ which undertook the reclamation of the land covered by the shallow water of the bay. The shares advanced to an absurd price. On the condition that a site should be provided on the reclaimed land for the terminus of the Baroda Railway, the Bombay government took four hundred shares. The government of India refused to sanction this transaction, and the shares on which 200,000l. had been paid up were sold in the market for 1,060,000l. When high mercantile authorities were carried away by this excitement, it is not surprising that Frere should have partially adopted their view, or that the directors of the Bank of Bombay, among whom were always two ex-officio members of the government, should have sanctioned advances to individuals whose business profits at the time were admitted to be enormous. At length the bubble burst. In June 1865 the restoration of peace in America caused the price of cotton to fall as suddenly as it had risen; a panic followed, and the speculative companies collapsed. The market was instantly flooded with paper, and the bank authorities, becoming alarmed, called in their advances. The history of the bank during this period was one series of disasters. In 1863, at the beginning of the speculating mania, a new charter was conferred upon the bank, and this charter unfortunately omitted several checks and safeguards which had been enforced under the older act of 1840. The choice of secretary was made unwisely, and under the weak administration of this gentleman, and the careless supervision of the directors, the conduct of the business of the bank was mainly conducted by a native broker named Premchund Roychund, who drew unlimited advances for himself and his friends without either offering or being asked for the proper security. Rumours of the reckless conduct of the bank managers were current in London and Calcutta before they reached the ears of Frere on the spot. Twice Sir Charles Wood, the secretary of state for India, wrote warning Frere of the state of things, and the Indian government repeatedly addressed him on the same subject. On receipt of Sir Charles Wood's letters Frere gave the government directors stringent orders to see that the charter was on all points complied with, and, with a view to checking the superabundant speculation, he brought in a bill for the abolition of ‘time bargains,’ and forbade the members of the civil service to gamble in shares. But the inquiries of the Calcutta government as to the condition of the bank did not receive so ready a response, and it was not until a commission was appointed that the government of Bombay consented to allow the required information, which they regarded as unduly inquisitorial, to be given. Nothing, however, that was done was able to check the ruinous career of the bank. Having been of late managed on the Scottish system, it had been customary to make advances on personal security only. Finding, however, when the crash came, that it was impossible to recover at once the moneys lent out, the directors demanded securities for the amounts, and were compelled in many instances to receive as such the shares of wrecked companies. Though the failure of the bank was staved off for a time, it came at last. In January 1866 a petition was presented for winding up its affairs, when it was found that 1,889,933l. of the paid-up capital was lost. The ruin wrought by this failure was widely spread. Frere's conduct during the crisis has been adversely criticised; but the crash was inevitable. No individual action could have averted it.
Throughout this trying period Frere never relaxed from his philanthropic labours. With the able help of Lady Frere he inaugurated female education at Bombay. During the five years that Frere was at Bombay, Government House was freely thrown open to native gentlemen and their wives.
In 1867 Frere, having been appointed a member of the Indian council, returned to England. The crown conferred on him the order of G.C.S.I., and Oxford gave him the honorary degree of D.C.L. He became a member of the council of the Geographical Society, of which he was appointed president in 1873, and in 1872 he was elected president of the Asiatic Society. The university of Cambridge conferred on him the degree of LL.D. in 1874. But it was in matters directly affecting the government of India that his main interest was centred, and in various papers in periodicals and letters to the ‘Times’ he urged on the public the views which his deep insight into Indian character had enabled him to form. He took a statesmanlike view of our intercourse with Afghanistan, as appeared from a letter to Sir John Kaye which was much misrepresented in the party controversies of later times.
Stanley's visit to Dr. Livingstone had called public attention to the slave traffic in Africa, and Frere was sent by the foreign office in 1872 to Zanzibar to negotiate a treaty with the sultan, Sayd Burgash, for the suppression of the trade. The sultan undertook to do his utmost to put a stop to slavery in his dominions. On his return from this mission Frere was sworn in as a member of the privy council. The freedom of the city was conferred upon him (1874), and constituencies vied with each other to induce him to represent them in the House of Commons. His position on the Indian council, however, made it impossible for him to stand as a candidate. In 1875 he accompanied the Prince of Wales to Egypt and India, and by his knowledge of Indian society and Indian personages proved himself a most useful ‘guide, philosopher, and friend.’ A baronetcy and a G.C.B. awaited him on his landing in England (24 May 1876).
The successful confederation of the British colonies in North America with the Dominion of Canada had suggested to Lord Carnarvon, then colonial secretary, the idea of carrying out a similar system of confederation in South Africa. There was much to be said for the scheme in theory, and of all men Frere was best fitted by his successful dealing with similar difficulties in India to undertake such a work, had it been then practicable. It might reasonably be expected that he would be able to induce the inhabitants of South Africa to join a confederacy which would give to the inferior races all the protection and advantages of English rule, while preserving to them their national existences. Accordingly in 1877 Frere was appointed governor of the Cape and high commissioner for the settlement of native affairs in South Africa. But on landing at the Cape, Frere found that he had been set down at the very waters of strife. In the Cape parliament party feeling had reached a pitch which was well-nigh becoming dangerous to the state; the Transkei Kaffirs under Kreli were threatening the eastern colonies; the annexation of the Transvaal by Sir Theophilus Shepstone, which was publicly proclaimed twelve days after Frere's arrival at the Cape, was giving rise to agitation and unrest, and the Zulus were mustering armies which threatened the peace of Natal. As at the close of the first session of parliament the Kaffir affair presented itself as the most pressing question of the hour, Frere went to King William's Town and across the Kei at the risk of his life, with the intention of meeting Kreli to discuss the question in dispute, and explain the good will of the British government. Kreli made no response to this overture, and subsequently suddenly attacked the Fingoes, who were under British protection, in revenge for an outrage committed on some of his followers in a drunken brawl. The white settlers became alarmed with good reason. In their interest, as much as in that of the Fingoes, it became imperatively necessary that peace with the Kaffirs should be restored as speedily as possible, and Frere placed the matter in the hands of Sir Arthur Cunynghame, the general commanding. Meanwhile the conduct of some of the leading members of Frere's cabinet became openly and unconstitutionally obstructive. The position, complicated by the alarm of a savage war, was intolerable. Frere dismissed his cabinet, and Sir Gordon Sprigg, the leader of the opposition, accepted the seals of office as premier. From this time the war progressed favourably, first under Sir A. Cunynghame, and afterwards under General Thesiger, and a peace was finally brought about in 1878, after a trying succession of bush fights and rough skirmishes.
Tranquillity having been thus restored, Frere returned to Cape Town after an absence in Kaffraria of seven months. By the Sand River convention of 1852 the British government had guaranteed to the Boers the management of their own affairs, and engaged to respect their territory. The republic, however, had become greatly disorganised; the laws were not enforced, and the taxes had fallen into arrears. In 1876 the public debt amounted to 300,000l.; the confusion was chaotic, and neighbouring tribes were becoming dangerous. Sir Theophilus Shepstone was sent by the English government to report on the condition of affairs in the Transvaal. He came to the conclusion that the continued existence of the republic was dangerous to the welfare of ‘her majesty's subjects and possessions in South Africa,’ and in virtue of the power given to him formally annexed the state in April 1877. No resistance to this measure was made by the Boers. The president, Mr. Burgers, ordered the people to be loyal to their new ruler, and directed the state secretary to hand over the keys of the government offices to Sir Theophilus Shepstone. Little change was necessary in the personnel of the government, for nearly all the office-holders transferred their services to the new administration. A considerable section of the people dissented, and the president gave expression to the views of the malcontents by a protest against the annexation, while at a meeting of the late executive it was resolved to send Mr. Kruger and Dr. Jorrisen to London to lay the case of the non-annexationists before the colonial office. On their way through Cape Town the delegates had an interview with Frere, who gave them little encouragement, being convinced that they only represented a small and politically mischievous minority. Lord Carnarvon, acting on the opinions of Frere and Shepstone, returned an unfavourable answer to the memorial. In April 1878 the Boers despatched a second embassy to London, armed with a petition against annexation, signed by 6,591 qualified electors out of a total of 8,000. Considerable suspicion existed at the colonial office as to the way in which their signatures had been obtained, and Sir Michael Hicks Beach, the new colonial secretary, returned a similar answer to that given by Lord Carnarvon. A deputation to Frere in July 1878 met with no better success.
Meanwhile Cetewayo, who had been installed on the Zulu throne by Sir Theophilus Shepstone on the death of his father Panda in 1872, was beginning to threaten the Transvaal. An old controversy about a piece of disputed land lying between Zululand and the Transvaal furnished a ready excuse for gratifying his warlike instincts. The Boers asserted that this ground had been given them by Cetewayo in payment for the rendition of two of his half-brothers who had fled to the Transvaal for refuge, and that the gift had been confirmed by Panda, the king. Cetewayo replied that the grant had never been ratified by his father, and was therefore invalid. After the annexation, a commission decided, without going very thoroughly into the merits of the question, that as the gift made by Cetewayo was not shown to have been confirmed by the king, it must be held to be null and void. By the direction of the government, Frere went to Natal to revise the proceedings of the commission. He satisfied himself that, though the finding was technically correct, it was in equity too favourable to the Zulus. The position was one full of difficulty. Had he reversed the award, the Zulus would have regarded the act as one of hostility, while to confirm it absolutely was to leave the white settlers on the territory at the mercy of Cetewayo. Frere therefore confirmed the finding of the commission, with the proviso that the lives and properties of the white settlers should be strictly respected and secured to them.
Cetewayo had already taken umbrage at the arrival of troops in Natal, caused by the threatening attitude of the Zulus. A reassuring answer was returned to a message sent by him; and this was accompanied by the award of the commission as modified by the high commissioner. Frere at the same time reiterated the demand for satisfaction for certain outrages committed on British subjects, and asked for assurances that Cetewayo would carry on his government in the spirit of the promises he had made when he was crowned by Sir Theophilus Shepstone. Frere specially demanded full satisfaction for the murder of two black women and for the detention of two English surveyors. He further required that the king should introduce a settled form of government into the country; should abolish the existing military system; should put a stop to the compulsory celibacy insisted on in certain regiments in the army; should receive a British resident at his capital; and should protect missionaries and their converts. Thirty days were given to Cetewayo to consider these terms, and, as at the end of that time no answer was received from him, Frere, considering that the use of that suasion which had been enjoined upon him by the English government was no longer possible and must yield to force, placed the matter in the hands of General Thesiger. It was this which constituted the disobedience to orders of which Frere was afterwards accused, and on this point Sir Henry Taylor, who was no mean authority on such matters, gives his verdict against him in a judicial letter addressed to Lord Blachford, and published in his ‘Correspondence,’ 1888. It must be admitted that the outrages complained of would not under other circumstances have been considered of an unpardonable nature. Cetewayo had already declared that he was unable to find the murderers, and had offered to make a money recompense to the relations of the murdered women. The surveyors thought so little of their detention that they made no complaint of the treatment they had received for a week after the event. Frere, in fact, had other reasons. ‘The die for peace or for war,’ he said, ‘had been cast more than two years ago,’ when the Zulus assumed their existing hostile attitude. It only remained, therefore, for General Thesiger to take such measures as he might deem advisable to protect Natal against the expected invasion of the Zulus. He had under his command about seven thousand men, many of whom were raw recruits, and more than half of whom were Kaffirs, while the Zulu hosts numbered fortyfour four thousand warriors. He had to decide between standing on the defensive behind the Tugela, or to cross the river and carry the war into the enemy's country. The Tugela, which was unusually high, was an obstacle to the Zulus; but Thesiger was unwilling to trust to the protection of so uncertain a barrier, and he determined, therefore, to advance into Zululand. The campaign began with the catastrophe at Isandlwana (22 Jan.) and ended triumphantly at Ulundi (4 July). Frere's responsibility ended when General Thesiger crossed the Tugela (11 Jan.) But he was not the man to throw off all participation in measures because his responsibility in them had ceased. When the news of Isandlwana reached Natal, he was still on the spot, and he exerted himself to the utmost to calm the panic which took possession of the settlers in anticipation of the momentarily expected invasion of the victorious Zulus. He directed measures for the defence of the colony, and appealed to England for reinforcements. So soon as he learned that fresh troops were on their way, he started for the Transvaal, whence disquieting rumours had reached him of the attitude of the Boers. Already the Boer forces were collected in camp, and every day it was expected that they would take the field. Accompanied by a small staff and an escort of twenty-five men, Frere rode 350 miles, a part of the way being through Zulu territory, to the Boer camp. He had left his escort at the frontier, and presented himself at the gate of the encampment, attended only by his staff (12 April). In spite of opposition and threats he rode into the camp, and invited the ringleaders to meet him in Pretoria to talk over their grievances. These he found to be genuine and great. The promises made by Sir T. Shepstone, ‘upon the strength of which the inhabitants of the late republic were willing to give a peaceable trial to the new order of things,’ had not been fulfilled, and the Boers found that they had given up their independence in exchange for delusive benefits. On condition that the Boers dispersed, Frere undertook to represent their complaints to the English government, and to urge the fulfilment of the promises which had been made to them.
Meanwhile in England the time for the general election was approaching. Many causes combined to make the Zulu war a favourable subject for attack. Frere was unsparingly assailed. The government met this by a despatch censuring Frere for his conduct in relation to the Zulu war, and announced what they had done in the House of Commons before informing the high commissioner of the fact. By this strange and happily unusual course it happened that a Reuter's telegram first made Frere aware of the reflections which had been cast upon his character. Fortunately he had already come to terms with the Boers before the arrival of the telegram. In striking contrast with the estimate formed of his conduct of affairs by English politicians, the inhabitants of the districts through which he passed on his return to the Cape vied with each other in doing honour to one who was ready to sacrifice himself for the good of his country, and who was willing to risk his life to save his countrymen from the horrors of war. His journey southward was one continued ovation, and on arriving at Cape Town his horses were taken from his carriage and he was drawn by the populace to Government House. But bad news was awaiting him. On 1 June the Prince Imperial had met his death in Zululand, and almost at the same time the news arrived that Frere had been superseded in the office of high commissioner by Sir Garnet Wolseley, who was on his way to take command of the forces in South Africa. Frere, who remained governor of the Cape, was officially informed that this arrangement was intended to last for six months only, but when at the end of the Zulu war Wolseley was succeeded by Sir George Pomeroy Colley [q. v.], the same high office was continued to him to the exclusion of Frere. Many of Frere's friends were surprised that the slights thus put upon him did not cause him to resign his post. But Frere had not gone out to Africa for his own advantage, and so long as he believed he had work to do and power to do it, he felt bound to remain at his post. ‘What,’ asked a friend, ‘will remain when you are superseded in the midst of your great work?’ ‘My integrity,’ was the answer.
In the following spring Mr. Gladstone directed much of his oratory in Midlothian against Frere's conduct in South Africa, and charged him with having advocated an invasion of Afghanistan. In a remarkably temperate and able paper Frere urged on the colonial secretary the justice of contradicting this statement, for his position as an official rendered him unable publicly to justify himself. The contradiction, however, was not given, and it was left to Frere after his return to England to reply to the charges in a correspondence with Mr. Gladstone.
In July 1880 Frere was recalled, and he returned to England to find that the exigencies of party strife had estranged from him men who sat on both sides of the speaker's chair. Conscious of his integrity he was able to regard with comparative indifference the coldness with which he was received by politicians. With outwardly unruffled content he settled down quietly to the life of an English gentleman, and, as had always been his wont, used his best endeavours to do good to those about him. To raise the fallen, to instruct the ignorant, and to help the needy were objects which he had pursued throughout his career, and it came, therefore, as a familiar employment when he found himself advocating from platforms in England the claims of charitable institutions, educational establishments, and religious societies. During this period he was chosen for the third time president of the Royal Asiatic Society. The last letter he penned was one resigning this office. In his last year the university of Edinburgh conferred on him the degree of LL.D. On 29 May 1884 Frere died, after an illness of some weeks' duration. He was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral. His wife, a son, and four daughters survived him. The son, Bartle Compton Arthur, succeeded as second baronet. A statue of Frere was erected on the Thames Embankment by public subscription, and unveiled by the Prince of Wales in 1888.
To those who merely knew Frere as an acquaintance, his unvarying kindness and chivalrous courtesy will probably be considered as his leading characteristics; but those who had a deeper knowledge of his character will recognise that these outward graces were but the reflection of the brave, constant, unselfish, and religious nature of the man. Repeatedly he risked his life in the cause of duty, and it is not too much to say that in everything he did his last thought was of himself.
Frere was not an author in the sense of having written any large independent works. He, however, published separately a number of lectures delivered before societies, papers from scientific journals, speeches, and letters. Among the most important of these were: ‘Report on the Nature and Effects of the “Thugg Duty,”’ 1838?; ‘The Scinde Railway,’ 1854; ‘Correspondence with the Revs. Gell and Matchett relative to certain Inscriptions on the Wall of a Shop in Hyderabad,’ 1858; ‘A Letter … on the reorganisation of the Indian Army,’ 1858; ‘Indian Missions,’ 1870; ‘Christianity suited to all Forms of Civilisation,’ 1872; ‘Eastern Africa as a Field for Missionary Labour,’ 1874; ‘On the impending Bengal Famine,’ 1874; ‘Correspondence relating to the Recall of Sir Bartle Frere,’ 1880; ‘The Union of the various portions of South Africa,’ 1881; ‘Afghanistan and South Africa: a Letter to the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone … regarding portions of his Midlothian speeches,’ 1881. He wrote also a memoir of his uncle, Hookham Frere, which is prefixed to the ‘Works of J. H. Frere,’ and an introduction to ‘Old Deccan Days,’ written by his daughter, Miss Mary Frere. He contributed several articles to ‘Macmillan's Magazine’ on Zanzibar, the Banians, and the Khojas, an article to the ‘Quarterly Review’ on Turkey and Salonica, and two articles to the ‘Fortnightly Review’ on the future of Zululand and the abolition of slavery in India and Egypt.
In religious opinions Frere was a strong churchman. But he was no bigot, and on several occasions he checked missionaries in their too zealous efforts to assert Christianity in defiance of the beliefs and prejudices of the natives of India.[Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, obituary notice, 1884; Celebrities of the Day—Life of Sir Bartle Frere, 1882; Sir Bartle Frere's Speeches and Addresses, 1870; Proceedings of the Legislative Council of India, vol. vi. 1860; Report of the Bombay Bank Commission, 1869; Parliamentary Papers, South Africa; Recreations of an Indian Official, 1872; Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, vol. iii.; Miss Colenso's History of the Zulu War, 1880; Greswell's Our South African Empire, 1885; Nixon's Complete Story of the Transvaal, 1885; private letters. A life by Sir W. W. Hunter is in preparation.]