Henry Bartle Frere: Wikis


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Portrait of Sir Henry Bartle Frere by Sir George Reid

Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere, 1st Baronet, GCB, GCSI, (March 29, 1815–May 29, 1884) was a British colonial administrator.


Early life

Born in Clydach (specifically Clydach House), home of the manager of Clydach Ironworks (Frere's Father) in Brecknockshire, he was the son of Edward Frere and a nephew of John Hookham Frere, known for Anti-Jacobin activism and for his transliterations of Aristophanes.


After leaving the East India Company College, the precursor of the later Haileybury and Imperial Service College, Bartle Frere was appointed a writer in the Bombay (now Mumbai) civil service in 1834. Having passed his language examination, he was appointed assistant collector at Poona (now Pune) in 1835, and in 1842 he was chosen as private secretary to Sir George Arthur, Governor of Bombay. Two years later he became political resident at the court of the rajah of Satara; on the rajah's death in 1848 he administered the province both before and after its formal annexation in 1849.

Commissioner in Sind

In 1850 he was appointed chief commissioner of Sind. In 1851 he founded the modern Indian postal service. In 1857, he sent detachments to Multan and to Sir John Lawrence in the Punjab in order to secure those locations during the Indian Mutiny. His services were fully recognized by the Indian authorities, and he received the thanks of both houses of parliament and was made KCB.

Governor of Bombay

He became a member of the Viceroy's Council in 1859, and in 1862 was appointed Governor of Bombay, where he continued his policy of municipal improvements, establishing the Deccan College at Pune, as well as a college for instructing natives in civil engineering. His order to pull down the ramparts of the old Fort allowed the city to grow, and the Flora Fountain was commissioned in his honour. In 1867 he returned to England where he was made GCSI, and given honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge;[1] he was also appointed a member of the Council of India.


In 1872 the foreign office sent him to Zanzibar to negotiate a treaty with the sultan, Barghash bin Said, for the suppression of the slave traffic. In 1875 he accompanied the Prince of Wales to Egypt and India, with such success that Lord Beaconsfield asked him to choose between being made a baronet or a Knight Grand Cross of the Bath. He chose the former, but the queen bestowed both honours upon him.

In 1877, Frere was made High Commissioner for Southern Africa by Lord Carnarvon, who hoped that within two years Frere would be the first governor of a South African dominion. The region was in such a state, however, that during his first year Frere had to cope with a Xhosa War and a rupture with the Cape (Molteno-Merriman) ministry. The Transkei Xhosa were subjugated early in 1878 by General Thesiger and a small force of regular and colonial troops. Frere dismissed his obstructive cabinet and entrusted Mr (afterwards Sir) Gordon Sprigg to form a ministry. This solved the constitutional problems, but was overshadowed by Lord Carnarvon's resignation in early 1878, just as discontented South Africans were increasingly supporting the Zulu leader Cetshwayo. Frere impressed upon the colonial office his belief that Cetshwayo's army had to be eliminated, an idea that was generally accepted until Frere sent Cetshwayo an ultimatum in December 1878 and the home government realized the problems inherent in a native war.

Photo of Sir Henry Bartle Frere in the 1880s.

Cetshwayo was unable to comply with Frere's ultimatum-even if he had wanted to; Frere ordered Lord Chelmsford to invade Zululand, and so the Anglo-Zulu War began. On January 11, 1879, British troops crossed the Tugela River; fourteen days later the disaster of Isandlwana was reported, and the House of Commons demanded that Frere be recalled. Beaconsfield supported him, however, and in a strange compromise he was censured and begged to stay on. Frere wrote an elaborate justification of his conduct, which was adversely commented on by the colonial secretary (Sir Michael Hicks Beach), who "did not see why Frere should take notice of attacks; and as to the war, all African wars had been unpopular." Frere's rejoinder was that no other sufficient answer had been made to his critics, and that he wished to place one on record. "Few may now agree with my view as to the necessity of the suppression of the Zulu rebellion," he wrote. "Few, I fear, in this generation. But unless my countrymen are much changed, they will some day do me justice. I shall not leave a name to be permanently dishonoured."

The Zulu trouble, and disaffection brewing in the Transvaal, reacted upon each other most disastrously. The delay in giving the country a constitution afforded a pretext for agitation to the malcontent Boers, a rapidly increasing minority, while the reverse at Isandlwana had lowered British prestige. Owing to the Xhosa and Zulu wars, Sir Bartle had been unable to give his undivided attention to the state of things in the Transvaal until April 1879, when he was at last able to visit a camp of about 4,000 disaffected Boers near Pretoria. Though conditions were fairly grim, Frere managed to win the Boers' respect by promising to present their complaints to the British government, and to urge the fulfilment of the promises that had been made to them. The Boers did eventually disperse, on the very day upon which Frere received the telegram announcing the government's censure. On his return to Cape Town, he found that his achievement had been eclipsed—first by the June 1, 1879 death of Napoleon Eugene, Prince Imperial in Zululand, and then by the news that the government of the Transvaal and Natal, together with the high commissionership in the eastern part of South Africa, had been transferred from him to Sir Garnet Wolseley.

Remains of the Frere Bridge over the Orange River at Aliwal North. The bridge was opened on 21 July 1880, shortly before Frere's departure from the Cape.
Henry Bartle Frere's Statue on the Thames embankment.

When Gladstone's ministry came into office in the spring of 1880, Lord Kimberley had no intention of recalling Frere. In June, however, a section of the Liberal party memorialized Gladstone to remove him, and the prime minister weakly complied (August 1, 1880).


Upon his return Frere replied to the charges relating to his conduct with regard to Afghanistan as well as South Africa, previously referred to in Gladstone's Midlothian speeches, and was preparing a fuller vindication when he died at Wimbledon from the effect of a severe chill on May 29, 1884. He was buried in St Paul's Cathedral.


Frere Hall in Karachi was built in his honour. The city also named a road, street and town after him. In 1888, the Prince of Wales unveiled a statue of Frere on the Thames embankment. Mount Bartle Frere (1622m), the highest mountain in Queensland, Australia is named after him, as is a boarding house at Haileybury. A road in Parktown, Johannesburg, is also named after him. Frere Road in also the home of Nadine Gordimer, the Nobel Prize-winning author. In Durban, (KwaZulu-Natal), there are two roads which honor him: the first, Frere Road, transforms a little later to Bartle Road.


His Life and Correspondence, by John Martineau, was published in 1895. For the South African anti-confederation view, see P. A. Molteno's Life and Times of Sir John Charles Molteno (2 vols.,London 1900).

A more recent work on Bartle Frere's life, The Zulu and the Raj; The Life of Sir Bartle Frere by D. P. O'Connor, examines details of Frere's life and motives more fully than was permissible in Victorian times when Martineau was writing. In particular, O'Connor points to Frere as a leading thinker on imperial defence. He sets the Zulu war in the context of the overall global crisis, contingent on the 1877 Balkan War, which was widely expected to result in war between Britain and Russia. Frere was sent to South Africa to turn this vital area into a secure bastion on the route to India, but was distracted from the task by the routine instability of the South African theatre.

Popular culture

He was played by Sir John Mills in Zulu Dawn. His portrayal in the film is somewhat negative. He is depicted as a corrupt, greedy, deeply racist administrator who casually orders the invasion of Zululand after issuing his unfair, biased, impossibly demanding ultimatum.


  1. ^ Henry Bartle Frere in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  • Robert Fruin: A word from Holland on the Transvaal question. A reply to Sir Bartle Frere and an appeal to the people of England. By Dr. Robert Fruin, Professor in the University of Leiden. Utrecht: L. E. Bosch und son, 1881
  • John Martineau: The life and correspondence of the Right Hon. Sir Bartle Frere, Bart., G. C. B., F. R. S., etc.. London: J. Murray, 1895
  • Percy Alport Molteno: The life and times of Sir John Charles Molteno, K. C. M. G., First Premier of Cape Colony, Comprising a History of Representative Institutions and Responsible Government at the Cape and of Lord Carnarvon's Confederation Policy & of Sir Bartle Frere's High Commissionership of South Africa. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1900
  • Rekha Ranade: Sir Bartle Frere and his times: a study of his Bombay years, 1862 - 1867. New Delhi: Mittal Publ., 1990, ISBN 81-7099-222-2
  • Phillida Brooke Simons: Apples of the sun : being an account of the lives, vision and achievements of the Molteno brothers, Edward Bartle Frere and Henry Anderson. Vlaeberg: Fernwood Press, 1999. ISBN 1-874950-45-8

See also

Government offices
Preceded by
Richard Keith Pringle
Commissioner in Sind
Succeeded by
Jonathan Duncan Inverarity
Preceded by
Sir George Clerk
Governor of Bombay
Succeeded by
Sir William Fitzgerald
Preceded by
Sir Henry Barkly
Governor of Cape Colony
High Commissioner for Southern Africa

Succeeded by
Sir Hercules Robinson
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New title
Granted by
Queen Victoria
(of Wimbledon)
1876 – 1884
Succeeded by
Bartle Compton Arthur Frere

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

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