oa Historia - Sir George Russel Clerk and the abandonment of the Orange River Sovereignty, 1853- 54 : room for another view

Volume 36, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0018-229X



This article seeks to re-evaluate Sir George Russell's Clerk's role in die abandonment of the Orange River Sovereignty in 1854. It draws on hitherto unused private papers which reveal, inter alia, that a serious leg injury offsets criticism of his attitude and work. The article also places Clerk in the wider context of his experience as an administrator in British India, especially among the Sikhs of the Punjab and the Cis-Sutlej States. This raises the distinct possibility that he was handpicked as Special Commissioner because he had held strong views which were suited to the South African situation. With a firm belief in the integrity and preservation of Indian societies, he was cynically critical of the prevailing attitudes, principles and practices of British administration. He denounced gratuitous extension of Empire, extolling the virtues of non-annexation, restoration of deposed rulers and non-intervention in the affairs of Indian states. These high principles came into play in South Africa (and were publicly recognized in later life). There are distinct similarities between his perception of Sikh and Boer societies, to the point of attributing ""nationalism"" to both. Even the final legal and constitutional settlement of 1854 reflects die pervasiveness of indirect rule with which Clerk was entirely familiar because of his service in India.

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