1902 Encyclopedia > Orange River Free State

Orange River Free State

ORANGE RIVER FREE STATE, an independent republic adjoining the Cape Colony, South Africa (see vol. v., Plate I.), is bounded on the N. by the Vaal river, S. by the Orange river, E. by the Caledon river and Drak-ensberg mountains, and W. by a line dividing it from Kimberley and the diamond fields of Griqualand West. The area is 70,000 square miles, and the population in 1880 was 133,518. Of this total 61,022 were whites or of European extraction (mostly Dutch), and 72,496 coloured or of native races.

The country, which has an average elevation of 4500 feet above the sea, consists of a series of extensive undulating plains, bounded or diversified by detached rocky hills. These plains slope from the central watershed northward and southward respectively to the Vaal and Orange rivers, and are intersected at various intervals by the Wilge, Rhenoster, Valsch, Vet, Modder, and Riet rivers, empty-ing their waters into the Vaal river, and by the Caledon, which joins the Orange river. The southern and eastern districts are covered with luxuriant grasses, affording excellent pasturage for stock. In the 'western districts the grasses are gradually being supplanted by a dwarf bush vegetation. The river-banks are fringed with willow, mimosa, and other indigenous trees, and shrubs and trees of larger growth are found on the eastern mountain ranges; but generally the country is woodless, and to remedy this Government offers premiums for the encouragement of tree-planting. The geological characteristics are similar to those of the inland districts of Cape Colony. The south-western portion is an extension of the Karroo or lacustrine formation of South Africa, consisting of sandstone and shales intersected by intrusive igneous rocks. In this formation occurs the diamond mine of Jagersfontein, near the village of Fauresmith, which has been worked for several years past. The north-eastern part, again, con-sists of sandstones and carbonaceous shales resting con-formably on the Karroo formation, and containing horizon-tal coal-seams, classed as of the Triassic period. The coal outcrops in the Kronstad and Heilbron districts are being utilized. In the Drift deposits along some river-beds, such as the Sand, Caledon, and Vaal rivers, there are accumu-lations of pebbles, consisting of agate, jasper, chalcedony, carnelian, white quartz, garnets, and occasionally diamonds.

The climate is salubrious, and specially remarkable for its dryness. Thousands of wild game formerly occupied the plains of the state, but their numbers and variety have of late greatly diminished, and some have been entirely exterminated. The lion, giraffe, elephant, and rhinoceros are no longer found. But in a few districts there may still be seen considerable herds of antelopes, such as the springbok, blesbok, and wildebeeste or gnu. The resources of the state are agricultural, pastoral, and mineral. The principal occupations of the inhabitants are the breeding of cattle, horses, goats, merino sheep, and ostriches. Agri-culture is attended to on a larger or smaller scale accord-ing to the capabilities of the various farms, and vineyards, and orchards are planted on many properties. The staple articles of export, however, are wool, skins, ostrich feathers, and diamonds, all of which are shipped from the seaports of the Cape Colony and Natal.

Bloemfontein, the capital and seat of government, is situated about the centre of the state, in 28° 56' S. lat. and 26° 18' E. long. It is an agreeable town, with a population of about 3000, and has a handsome range of public offices, where the volksraad or assembly of the people meets, a high court (consisting of a chief-justice and two puisne judges), a municipal burgher council, two banks, two newspapers, two hotels, clubs, a college, schools, and several churches, including tue Dutch Reformed church, the Anglican church with a resident bishop, and Wesleyan, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic churches. The Dutch language is officially used in the volksraad and the courts of justice, but English is spoken by the community generally.

The other towns or villages of the state are—Fauresmith, Eden-burg, Philippolis, Jacobsdal, Boshoff, Winburg, Hoopstad, Kron-stad, Heilbron, Frankfort, Harrismith, Ladybrand, Ficksburg, Bethulie, Bethlehem, Smithfield, Bouxville, and Wepener.

At the commencement of this century the country was inhabited by sections of aboriginal tribe -Bushmen, Korannas, and Bechuanas ; and soon afterwards a number of Griquas from the north-west of the Cape Colony came in among them. A chronic state of warfare prevailed between these races. In 1824 nomad farmers from the Colony, seeking pastures for their flocks, crossed the Orange river and settled in the territory. These were fol-lowed in 1835-36 by large bodies of Dutch Boer emigrants who left the Colony in order to be beyond British control. They formed a rude government for themselves, and in attempting to exercise authority came into collision with the Griquas, who claimed pro-tection from the Colony, with which they were allied by treaty. The British governor, Sir P. Maitland, intervened in 1845, assisting the Griquas with troops, and defeating the Boers at Zwart Koppies ; and, to prevent further collisions, a resident was appointed. In 1848 Governor Sir H. Smith visited the territory, and came to the conclusion that peace could not be maintained among the mixed .elements forming the population without the establishment of a regular government. He therefore issued a proclamation, after-wards confirmed by the crown, annexing the territory to the .empire under the name of the Orange River British Sovereignty. Thereupon some of the Boers, under their leader Pretorius, took up arms and expelled the British magistrates ; but a military force was brought against them by Sir H. Smith in person, and, after a :short but sharp encounter at Boomplaats, the Boers were defeated, .and the crown's authority re-established and maintained from that time until towards the close of 1853. During this period many Europeans and colonists of European descent took up their abode in the sovereignty. But disturbances again occurred, arising from long-standing disputes between the native tribes ; and, in order to chastise the most powerful of them—the Basutos—for certain acts of outrage, Governor Cathcart in 1852 moved a large military expedition against their chief, Moshesh, and the battle of the Berea was fought, after which the chief, on behalf of the tribe, gave in his submission. After this expedition the British Govern-ment resolved to withdraw from the territory. Sir George Clerk was deputed as a special commissioner to carry out the abandon-ment of the country ; and, notwithstanding the protests of many inhabitants, he formally handed it over to a body of Boer delegates in terms of a convention entered into on the 23d February 1854. They were released from their allegiance, and permitted to consti-tute an independent republican community of their own, under the title of the "Orange River Free State." Since that time the government has been in the hands of a president assisted by an executive council, with a volksraad or congress elected by the people, exercising all legislative functions.

In the south-eastern portion of the State, and entirely surrounded By it, is a small independent native territory, of which the principal village is Thaba-Nchu, where 10,000 of the Baralong tribe reside, peaceably ruled by their chief according to their own laws.

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