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Transvaal Annexation Commission

Reference Code: GBR/0115/RCS/Y3055H

Scope and Contents

142 x 101 mm. A cabinet print with identifying captions on the reverse. The print is a permanent photograph of some kind but the precise process has not been identified. The print shows a formally posed group portrait of Sir Theophilus Shepstone and his staff during the annexation of the Transvaal in April 1877. The attribution of this photograph to H.F. Gros is from Rider Haggard's ‘The days of my life' (2 vols. London 1926) where a photograph of the group (Vol. I, facing p.73), taken against a different background but evidently on the same occasion, is there credited to him. That photograph is also used in 'H. Rider Haggard: a voice from the infinite' (1978) by Peter Beresford Ellis and is there dated May 24 1877, the day Haggard and Colonel Brooke hoisted the British flag for the first time in Pretoria: the presence of the Union Jack beside the group would tend to support this dating. Item 9/1 in the catalogue of 'Historical Exhibition: Pretoria’ (1855-1955) is a photograph described as being taken at Ulundi House on May 24 1877: this is probably another copy of the same photograph. Accompanying the photograph is a slip of paper (in the same handwriting as that on the reverse of the print) identifying the positions of the various figures in the group. These are:

Standing (from left):

Inspector Philips, Natal Mounted Police: later commanded N.M.P.

(Sir) Melmoth Osborne (1834-1899) Arrived in Natal 1849; Zulu interpreter to Magistrate at Verulam 1852; appointed sub-accountant, Ladysmith 1862; Magistrate and administrator of Bantu law at Newcastle 1868; secretary to Shepstone during Transvaal Annexation 1877; Colonial secretary to the Transvaal 1877; Resident at Nhlazatshe 1879; Chief Magistrate of Zululand 1887.

(Major General) Edward Thomas Brooke, Royal Engineers, served Crimea 1856, New Zealand 1863-5; hoisted British flag at Pretoria with Rider Haggard, May 24 1877; retired 1886.

Captain James - no information.

Seated (from left):

William Boaze Morcom (1846-1910) Arrived Natal 1861; Press work in Pietermaritzburg 1866-72; Clerk to Natal Legislative Council 1873; Clerk to Natal Attorney General 1876; Private Secretary, Legal adviser and financial confidant to Shepstone during Transvaal Annexation 1877 and became State Attorney to the Transvaal; Crown prosecutor during Zulu trials of 1888; Attorney General of Natal 1889-93; M.P. for Pietermaritzburg 1897-1910; Minister of Justice in Hine’s Administration 1903.

Joseph Henderson (1825-1899) Arrived Cape Town 1848 (from Rio de Janeiro); Chairman Fire Assurance and Trust Co.; Director Natal Bank 1856-74; 1884-99; Chairman 1861-71; Member of first Legislative Council 1857 and promoter of first railway schemes in Natal; treasurer to Shepstone on Transvaal Annexation 1877.

(Sir) Theophilus Shepstone (1817-1893) Interpreter to Sir Benjamin D’Urban during Sixth frontier War 1834-5; in command of the Mfengu Trek 1835; accompanied Major Samuel Charles on Natal Expedition 1838; resident agent and J.P. to Mfengu people at Peddie 1835-45; appointed diplomatic agent to the Bantus 1845; Secretary of Native Affairs 1856-76; Member of three Government Commissions on Bantu resettlement between 1846-52; appointed Special Commissioner to the Transvaal 1876; Head of Transvaal Annexation Commission 1877.

Dr. Lyle, Medical Officer with the Transvaal Annexation Commission 1877.

F. Fynney, Interpreter with the Transvaal Annexation Commission 1877.

Lying on ground at front of group:

(Sir) Henry Rider Haggard (1856-1925) Secretary to Sir Henry Bulwer, Governor of Natal 1875; on Annexation Commission staff and hoisted the British flag over Pretoria May 24 1877; Secretary to Secocoeni Commission; Master, High Court of the Transvaal 1878; Lieutenant and Adjutant Pretoria Horse 1879; Barrister, Lincoln’s Inn 1884; travelled around world as member of Dominions Royal Commission 1912-17; visited overseas dominions as Honorary Representative of Royal Colonial Institute 1916; Vice President of Royal Colonial Institute 1917; Member Empire Settlement Committee 1917; Member of East Africa Committee 1924; Author ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ (1885), ‘She’ (1887), etc., etc.

Annexation of the Transvaal:

Following the annexation of Natal in 1843 and the extension of the British influence over the Orange Free State, the Transvaal remained one of the last outposts for the fiercely independent Boers, especially after a commando of Boers under Pretorius, who had come south to encourage the annexed Boers to resist British rule, was defeated at Boonplaats in 1848. The Transvaal itself would have seemed like a likely target for British imperial expansion had not another Xhosa war diverted the attention of the authorities. As it was, the Transvaalers were offered their independence by the Sand’s River Convention of 1852, although it was not until 1864 that a Republic, with Marthinus Pretorius as President and Paul Kruger as Commandant General, was formally constituted.

Even under a central authority the small republic compromised little with the march of events in South Africa and retained a stoutly individual outlook, largely shut off from the outside world both physically and psychologically. Several factors led to the loss of this independence: the discovery of diamonds in Griqualand West (which was made a Crown Colony in 1873 and formally annexed to the Cape in 1880) and the knowledge that there existed untold mineral wealth in the Transvaal itself (see Y3055B) heralded an influx of outsiders wholly unwelcome to the Boers (laws were even passed forbidding the passing of information about possible mineral deposits except to the government). This encroachment ultimately led to the resignation of Pretorius who was unable to control these events. In 1872 Thomas Francois Burgers was elected President and his progressive determination to make the Transvaal a modern power in South Africa, both depleted the Treasury and alienated the population.

These circumstances coincided with the Colonial Secretary Lord Carnarvon’s dream of South African Federation and together effectively sealed the fate of the young republic. With the passing of the Natal Act in 1875 (largely masterminded by Sir Garnet Wolseley) which increased crown authority, particularly over Native Affairs, the Transvaal’s position became more precarious still. Sir George Colley was sent to the Transvaal and discussed federation with acting President Joubert and the ignominious campaign against Sekukuni organised by Burgers in June 1876 gave the forces of federation the necessary pretext of acting in defence of European security against a growing threat.

Sheptone’s mission when he was appointed Special Commissioner to the Transvaal in late 1876 was, publicly at least, to come to an agreement with the Transvaal authorities and to represent their best interests in the increasing confusion. Privately his instructions were less nebulous, his orders being to annex the Transvaal. The annexation in fact took place, with surprisingly little trouble. Shepstone declared that he would forego annexation if Burger made certain reforms, which, with the President’s lack of popular support, he was unable to carry through. Kruger took no part in the proceedings, evidently realising the inevitable: the annexation was formally declared in Pretoria market square on 12 April 1877 and on 24 May, the Queen’s Birthday, Rider Haggard and Colonel Brooke hoisted the Union Jack over Pretoria.


  • Creation: 1877


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Biographical / Historical

H. Ferdinand Gros was of Swiss origin. He arrived in South Africa circa 1869. On 16 July 1870 he was advertising that the ‘Photographic Salon will resume again' in the 'Burgherdorp Gazette'. In the 'Diamond News' on 9 March 1872 he announced that he was taking over the studio of Weber and Gros and that he would soon open a 'Superb Salon' at New Rush (Kimberley). The New Rush studio was advertised for sale in 'Diamond News' 13 April 1872. However, this sale appears not to have happened as in 'Diamond News' on 8 October and 10 December 1872 he was still advertising the New Rush studio. He visited the goldfields at Pilgrim's Rest and Mac Mac ('Diamond News' 9 May 1874 and 13 February 1875). He also visited Lydenburg goldfields. In 1877 he set up the 'Photographic Gallery' at the corner of Church Street and van der Walt Street, Pretoria. In 1877 he photographed the Transvaal Annexation Commission at Ulundi House, Pretoria. He also photographed scenes in Pretoria during the First Boer War, these were later bound in to the limited edition (200 copies) of 'News of the Camp' (1880-81). He photographed Chief Sekukuni in 1879. Circa 1888 he made a photographic tour of the Transvaal. He returned to Europe in 1895 and his Pretoria studio was taken over by J. Perrin.


1 item(s) (1 image)

Language of Materials


Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Good condition.

Existence and Location of Copies

CN 1113. This file is available on microfiche: Africa, fiche number 179.

Related Materials

For a note on the career of Gros, see introduction to Y3055A.


This collection level description was entered by WS using information from the original typescript catalogue.


Gros, H Ferdinand, fl 1860-1909, photographer

Includes index.
2006-09-28 16:45:41+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

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