Bechuanaland Protectorate

Cape Colony Botswana British Bechuanaland

Bechuanaland Protectorate

1885 map showing the Bechuanaland Protectorate prior to the creation of the crown colony of British Bechuanaland and the Heligoland–Zanzibar Treaty
1885 map showing the Bechuanaland Protectorate prior to the creation of the crown colony of British Bechuanaland and the Heligoland–Zanzibar Treaty
StatusProtectorate of the United Kingdom
CapitalMafikeng (1885–1965)
Gaborone (1965)
Common languagesEnglish (official)
Setswana, Kalanga, Northern Ndebele widely spoken
Congregationalism (Christian mission churches of the London Missionary Society/LMS); Anglicanism, Methodism, Badimo
Resident Commissioner 
Historical eraNew Imperialism
31 March 1885
• Expanded
• Independence
30 September 1966
1924712,247 km2 (275,000 sq mi)
• 1924
CurrencyPound sterling (1885–1961)
South African rand (1961–66)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Tswana people
Today part of Botswana
 South Africa
Source for 1924 population:[1]
An 1887 map showing the Crown colony of Bechuanaland (shaded pink) and the Bechuanaland Protectorate (pink border). This was prior to the extension northward to include Ngamiland in 1890.

The Bechuanaland Protectorate (/bɛˈwɑːnəˌlænd/) was a protectorate established on 31 March 1885, by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Southern Africa. It became the Republic of Botswana on 30 September 1966.[2]


Scottish missionary John Mackenzie (1835–99), a Congregationalist of the London Missionary Society (LMS), who lived at Shoshong from 1862–76, "believed that the Ngwato and other African peoples with whom he worked were threatened by Boer freebooters encroaching on their territory from the south." He campaigned for the establishment of what became the Bechuanaland Protectorate, to be ruled directly from Britain.

Austral Africa: Losing It or Ruling It is Mackenzie's account of events leading to the establishment of the protectorate. Influenced by Mackenzie, in January 1885 the British cabinet decided to send a military expedition to South Africa to assert British sovereignty over the contested territory. Sir Charles Warren (1840–1927) led a force of 4,000 imperial troops north from Cape Town. After making treaties with several African chiefs, Warren announced the establishment of the protectorate in March 1885. In September that year the Tswana country south of the Molopo River was proclaimed the Crown colony of British Bechuanaland. Mackenzie accompanied Warren, and Austral Africa contains a detailed account of the expedition. [3]

Bechuanaland meant the country of the Tswana and for administrative purposes was divided into two political entities. The northern part was administered as the Bechuanaland Protectorate and the southern part was administered as the crown colony of British Bechuanaland. British Bechuanaland was incorporated into the Cape Colony in 1895 and now forms part of South Africa.[4]

The northern part, the Bechuanaland Protectorate, had an area of 225,000 square miles (580,000 km2), and a population of 120,776.

The British government originally expected to turn over administration of the protectorate to Rhodesia or South Africa, but Tswana opposition left the protectorate under British rule until its independence in 1966.

The Bechuanaland Protectorate was technically a protectorate rather than a colony. Originally the local Tswana rulers were left in power, and British administration was limited to a police force to protect Bechuanaland's borders against other European colonial ventures. But on 9 May 1891 the British Government gave the administration of the protectorate to the High Commissioner for South Africa, who started to appoint officials in Bechuanaland, and the de facto independence of Bechuanaland ended.[5]

The protectorate was administered from Mafeking, creating an unusual situation, the capital of the territory being located outside of the territory. The area of Mafeking (from 1980 with the incorporation into Bophuthatswana Mafikeng, since 2010 Mahikeng), was called 'The Imperial Reserve'. In 1885, when the protectorate was declared, Bechuanaland was bounded to the north by the latitude of 22° south. The northern boundary of the protectorate was formally extended northward by the British to include Ngamiland, which was then dominated by the Tawana state, on 30 June 1890.[6] This claim was formally recognised by Germany the following day by Article III of the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty, which confirmed the western boundary of the British protectorate of Bechuanaland and the German protectorate of South-West Africa and also created the Caprivi strip inherited by modern Namibia:[7]


In Southwest Africa, Germany's sphere of influence is demarcated thus:

  1. To the south by the line that commences at the mouth of the Orange River and continues up its northern bank to its intersection point with the 20° east longitude.
  2. To the east by the line that commences at the aforementioned point and follows the 20th degree of east longitude to its intersection point with the 22° south latitude. The line then traces this degree of latitude eastward to its intersection with the 21° east longitude, follows this degree of longitude northward to its intersection with the 18° south latitude, runs along this degree of latitude eastward to its intersection with the Chobe River. Here it descends the thalweg of the main channel until it meets the Zambezi, where it ends. It is understood that under this arrangement Germany shall be granted free access from its protectorate to the Zambezi by means of a strip of land not less than twenty English miles wide at any point. Great Britain's sphere of influence is bounded to the west and northwest by the previously described line and includes Lake Ngami.

British officials did not arrive in the Ngamiland region until 1894.[8]

The Tati Concessions Land Act of 21 January 1911 transferred new eastern territory to the protectorate:

From the place where the Shashe River rises to its junction with the Tati and Ramokgwebana Rivers, thence along the Ramokgwebana River to where it rises and thence along the watershed of those rivers,

This territory was originally claimed by Matabeleland. In 1887 Samuel Edwards, working for Cecil Rhodes, obtained a mining concession, and in 1895 the British South Africa Company attempted to acquire the area, but three Tswana chiefs visited London to protest and were successful in fending off the BSAC. This territory forms the modern North-East District of Botswana.


The most powerful ruler was King Khama III, who had strong support from the British government, and was especially popular among evangelicals in Britain. He collaborated closely with the British military, and kept his vast, but underpopulated lands independent from intruders from South Africa.[9]

Khama's eldest son, Sekgoma II, became chief of the Bamangwato upon Khama's death in 1923. Sekgoma II's eldest son was named Seretse. Throughout his life Khama was widowed and remarried several times. One wife, Semane, birthed a son named Tshekedi.[10]

Sekgoma II's reign lasted only a year or so, leaving his son Seretse, who at the time was an infant, as the rightful heir to the chieftainship (Tshekedi was not in line to be chief since he did not descend from Khama's oldest son Sekgoma II).[clarification needed] So in keeping with tradition, Tshekedi acted as regent of the tribe until Seretse was old enough to assume the chieftainship. The transfer of responsibility from Tshekedi to Seretse was planned to occur after Seretse had returned from his law studies overseas in Britain.

Tshekedi's regency as acting chief of the Bamangwato is best remembered for his expansion of the mephato (regiments) to build primary schools, grain silos, and water reticulation systems, for his frequent confrontations with the British colonial authorities over the administration of justice in Ngwato country, and for his efforts to deal with a major split in the tribe after Seretse married a white woman, Ruth Williams, while studying law in Britain.

Tshekedi opposed the marriage on the grounds that under Tswana custom a chief could not marry simply as he pleased. He was a servant of the people; the chieftaincy itself was at stake.[11] Seretse would not budge in his desire to marry Ruth, and he did, while exiled in Britain in 1948. Tribal opinion about the marriage basically split evenly along demographic lines - older people went with Tshekedi, the younger with Seretse. In the end, British authorities exiled both men (Tshekedi from the Bamangwato territory, Seretse from the Protectorate altogether). Rioting broke out and a number of people were killed.

Seretse and Ruth were allowed to return to the Protectorate and Seretse and Tshekedi were able to patch things up a bit between themselves. By now though, Seretse saw his destiny not as chief of the Bamangwato tribe, but rather as leader of the Botswana Democratic Party and as President of the soon-to-be independent nation of Botswana in 1966. He would remain Botswana's President until his death from pancreatic cancer in 1980. The story of Seretse and Ruth forms the basis of the 2016 film A United Kingdom.[12]


The Bechuanaland Protectorate was one of the "High Commission Territories", the others being Basutoland (now Lesotho) and Swaziland. The High Commissioner had the authority of a governor. The office was first held by the governor of the Cape Colony, then by the Governor-General of South Africa, then by British High Commissioners and Ambassadors to South Africa until independence. Consequently,[clarification needed] administration was headed in each territory by a Resident Commissioner, who thus had approximately the same functions of a Governor but somewhat less authority.


The Chief Justice was the Chief Justice of the High Commission Territories (Basutoland, Bechuanaland Protectorate & Swaziland).[13] From 1951 the Chief Justices were:

Incumbent Tenure Notes
Took office Left office
Walter Harragin 1951 1952
Harold Curwen Willan 1952 1956
Herbert Charles Fahie Cox 1957 ?
Peter Watkin-Williams 1961 1964

Postage stamps

Stamp with a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, 1953

Bechuanaland postage stamps were issued from 1888 to 1966. Overprinted stamps were issued until 1932, when the first stamps inscribed "Bechuanaland Protectorate" were issued. On 14 February 1961 the South African rand was introduced, necessitating the surcharging of the existing definitive stamps until new ones were issued.

Gallery of postage stamps

Revenue stamps for British Bechuanaland

See also


  1. ^ "The British Empire in 1924". The British Empire. Retrieved 7 November 2017.
  2. ^ "Botswana profile". BBC News. 9 August 2012.
  3. ^ Mackenzie, John (1887). Austral Africa: Losing It or Ruling It; Being Incidents and Experiences in Bechuanaland, Cape Colony, and England. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington,- via World Digital Library. Archived from the original on 12 April 2018. Retrieved 19 June 2014.
  4. ^ Morton, Fred; Ramsay, Jeff, eds. (1987). The Birth of Botswana: A history of the Bechuanaland Protectorate from 1910 to 1966. Gaborone, Botswana: Longman Botswana. p. needed. ISBN 978-0-582-00584-6.
  5. ^ Morton & Ramsay 1987, p. needed
  6. ^ "Builders of Botswana: The Northern Border". Daily News. Botswana. 8 March 2002. Archived from the original on 19 April 2002.
  7. ^ "Anglo-German Treaty [Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty] (July 1, 1890)" (PDF). German History in Documents and Images, Volume 5. Wilhelmine Germany and the First World War, 1890-1918. Washington, D.C.: German Historical Institute.
  8. ^ "Builders of Botswana". Daily News. Botswana. 7 September 2001. Archived from the original on 24 February 2002.
  9. ^ J. Mutero Chirenje, Chief Kgama and his times c. 1835-1923: the story of a Southern African ruler(1978).
  10. ^ Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.; Professor Emmanuel Akyeampong; Mr. Steven J. Niven (2 February 2012). Dictionary of African Biography. OUP USA. pp. 355–. ISBN 978-0-19-538207-5.
  11. ^ Harragin; et al. (1 December 1949), Report of the judicial enquiry Re Seretse Khama of the Bamangwato tribe, JSTOR 40979736
  12. ^ "A United Kingdom". Film. British Council. Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  13. ^ "Bechuanaland Colonial Administrators c.1884-c.1965". Retrieved 27 February 2016.