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Colony of Basutoland


Royal anthem:  God Save the Queen (1884–1901; 1952–1966)
God Save the King (1901–1952)

Status Crown Colony under partial local rule
Capital Maseru
Government Constitutional monarchy
Resident Commissioner  
Marshal Clarke
Alexander Giles
Paramount Chief  
Letsie I
Lerotholi Letsie I
Letsie II
Nathaniel Griffith Lerotholi
Simon Seeiso Griffith
 1960–1966 (afterwards as King of Lesotho)
Moshoeshoe II
18 March 1884
4 October 1966
30,355 km2 (11,720 sq mi)
348,848 [1]
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Flag of the Cape Colony (1876-1910).svg Cape Colony
Lesotho Flag of Lesotho (1966-1987).svg
Today part of Lesotho

Basutoland was a British Crown colony that existed from 1884 to 1966 in present-day Lesotho. Though the Basotho (then known as Basuto) and their territory had been under British control starting in 1868 (and ruled by Cape Colony from 1871), the Cape Colony was unpopular and unable to control the territory. As a result, Basutoland was brought under direct authority of Queen Victoria, via the High Commissioner, and run by an Executive Council presided over by a series of British Resident Commissioners.


It was divided into seven administrative districts: Berea, Leribe, Maseru, Mohale's Hoek, Mafeteng, Qacha's Nek and Quthing.

Basutoland gained its independence from the United Kingdom on 4 October 1966 and was renamed the Kingdom of Lesotho.



Between 1856 and 1868 the Basotho engaged in conflict with the Orange Free State. [2] Their king, Moshoeshoe I, sought British protection. [2] On 29 August 1865, he wrote to Sir Philip Wodehouse, the Governor of Cape Colony: [2]

I am giving myself and my country up to Her Majesty's Government under certain conditions which we may agree on between your Excellency and me.

In July 1866, after referring to the former letter, the Chief said: [2]

All those things I have given up into your hands the last year..., they are still yours. I still continue to be the humble servant of Her Majesty.

Eventually, in January 1868, the Governor received a document dated 9 December 1867, signed by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, authorizing the annexation of Basutoland to the Colony of Natal (not to the Cape as Wodehouse had wished). [2] On 12 March 1868, a proclamation declared the Basotho to be British subjects and Basutoland to be British territory. [3] It was not in fact annexed to Natal but rather placed under the direct authority of the High Commissioner for South Africa. [2]

Postage stamp with a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, 1963 1963 Basutoland R1 mohair.jpg
Postage stamp with a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, 1963

Three years later, it was annexed to the Cape Colony by Act No. 12 of 1871 of the Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope, confirmed by Order in Council of 3 November 1871. [2] Cape Colony rule proved unpopular with the people, leading to the Basuto Gun War of 1880–1881.

By an Order in Council dated 2 February 1884, and brought into force on 18 March 1884, [4] royal assent was given to a Cape bill repealing the Act of 1871. Basutoland was thus brought under the direct authority of the Queen, with legislative and executive powers vested in the High Commissioner. [2]

As a Crown colony

Moshoeshoe had been succeeded as paramount chief by his son, Letsie I, and he in turn was succeeded in 1891 by Lerotholi Letsie I. These chieftains acted in concert with the British representative in the country, to whom was given the title of resident commissioner. The first commissioner was Sir Marshal James Clarke. The period of warfare over, the Basotho turned their attention more and more to agricultural pursuits and Christian missionaries entered the territory. Trade increased, and in 1891 Basutoland was admitted to the customs union, which already existed between Orange Free State, Cape Colony and British Bechuanaland. When Alfred Milner visited Basutoland in 1898, on his way to Bloemfontein, he was received by 15,000 mounted Basotho. The chiefs also attended a large meeting at Maseru. On the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899, these same chiefs proclaimed loyalty to the British Crown. They remained passive throughout the War and the neutrality of the country was respected by both armies. One chief alone sought to take advantage of the situation by disloyal action, and his offence was met by a year's imprisonment. [5]

In pursuance of the policy of encouraging the self-governing powers of the Basotho, a national council was instituted and held its first sitting in July 1903. In August 1905 the paramount chief Lerotholi died. In early life he had distinguished himself in the wars with the Boers, and in 1880 he took an active part in the revolt against the Cape government. Since 1884 he had been a loyal supporter of the imperial authorities, and carried a reputation for high diplomatic gifts. On the 19th of September following Lerotholi's death, the national council, with the concurrence of the imperial government, elected his son Letsie II as paramount chief. The completion in October 1905 of a railway connecting Maseru with the South African railway system proved a great boon to the community. During the Bambatha Rebellion in 1906 the Basotho remained perfectly quiet. [5]


Executive branch

Basutoland's Executive Council members were the resident commissioner, who presided, three ex-officio members and four council members from the Basutoland National Council, appointed by the resident commissioner, one by the Paramount Chief and three nominated by the Council itself, selected by secret ballot.

Legislative branch

The legislative council, known as the Basutoland National Council, consisted of a non-voting President appointed by the Resident Commissioner, four official members (ex officio), twenty-two Chiefs, forty elected members elected by District Councils, and fourteen nominated members appointed by the Resident Commissioner on the nomination of the Paramount Chief. The Resident Commissioner had the right to address the council.

The Commissioner had authority to make laws by Proclamation on certain subjects, such as external affairs, defence and the public service. These matters were excluded from the powers of the National Council, but the Commissioner was required to lay a draft of any Proclamation before the council and to consider their observations. The Constitution made special provision regarding particular objections made by the council.

Paramount Chief

There was a College of Chiefs of Basutoland whose function related to matters pertaining to the offices of the Paramount Chief, Chief and Headman. Their decisions and recommendations were submitted for acceptance to the Paramount Chief. They were subject to review by the High Court.

The Constitution vested a number of functions in the Paramount Chief. In exercising these, he was required in most cases to consult either with the Executive Council or with the Resident Commissioner, a Council member of the Executive and a member of the Basotho Nation appointed by himself.

Land in Basutoland was vested by the Constitution in the Paramount Chief in trust for the Basotho Nation, subject to lawfully acquired rights.


Considering the extensive area of uninhabitable mountain land it contained, the territory supported a mediocre population. The inhabitants increased from 128,206 in 1875, to 348,848 in 1904. Women outnumbered men by about 20,000, which was, however, about the number of adult men away from the country at any given period. The majority lived in the district between the Maloti Mountains and the Caledon River. The great bulk of the people were Basotho, but there were some thousands of Barolong and other natives. The White inhabitants in 1904 numbered 895. Maseru, the seat of government, had in 1904 a population of about 1,000 including some 100 Europeans. [5]


British Resident Commissioners

Took officeLeft office
Sir Marshal James Clarke 18 March 188418 September 1894Afterwards Resident Commissioner in Zululand, 1894
Godfrey Yeatman Lagden 18 September 18941895
Sir Herbert Cecil Sloley 1895
Godfrey Yeatman Lagden 18951901
Sir Herbert Cecil Sloley 19021903
James MacGregor1913
Sir Herbert Cecil Sloley 19131916
Robert Thorne Coryndon 19161917Afterwards Governor of Uganda, 1918
Sir Edward Charles Frederick Garraway 1917Apr 1926
John Christian Ramsay Sturrock Apr 1926Mar 1935
Sir Edmund Charles Smith Richards Mar 1935Aug 1942Afterwards Governor of Nyasaland, 1942
Sir Charles Noble Arden-Clarke Aug 1942Nov 1946Afterwards Governor of Sarawak, 1946
Aubrey Denzil Forsyth-Thompson Nov 194624 October 1951
Edwin Porter Arrowsmith 24 October 1951Sep 1956
Alan Geoffrey Tunstal Chaplin Sep 19561961
Alexander Falconer Giles 196130 April 1965

Chief Justices

The Chief Justice was the Chief Justice of the High Commission Territories (Basutoland, Bechuanaland Protectorate and Swaziland). [6] From 1951 the Chief Justices were:

Took officeLeft office
Walter Harragin19511952
Harold Curwen Willan19521956
Herbert Charles Fahie Cox 19571960
Peter Watkin-Williams19611966

Related Research Articles

Lesotho Country within the border of South Africa

Lesotho, officially the Kingdom of Lesotho, is an enclaved country surrounded entirely by South Africa. It is by far the largest of the world's three independent states completely surrounded by the territory of another country, with Vatican City and San Marino being the other two. Additionally, it is the only such state outside the Italian peninsula, and the only one that is not a microstate. Lesotho is just over 30,000 km2 (11,583 sq mi) and has a population of about 2 million. Its capital and largest city is Maseru. The official languages are Sesotho and English.

History of Lesotho Historical development of Lesotho

The history of people living in the area now known as Lesotho goes back as many as 40,000 years. The present Lesotho emerged as a single polity under paramount chief Moshoeshoe I in 1822. Under Moshoeshoe I, Basutoland joined other tribes in their struggle against the Lifaqane associated with the reign of Shaka Zulu from 1818 to 1828.

Politics of Lesotho

Politics of Lesotho takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic constitutional monarchy, whereby the Prime Minister of Lesotho is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of Parliament, the Senate and the National Assembly. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Maseru Capital and largest city of Lesotho

Maseru is the capital and largest city of Lesotho. It is also the capital of the Maseru District. Located on the Caledon River, Maseru lies directly on the Lesotho-South Africa border. Maseru had a population of 330,760 in the 2016 census. The city was established as a police camp and assigned as the capital after the country became a British protectorate in 1869. When the country achieved independence in 1966, Maseru retained its status as capital. The name of the city is a Sesotho word meaning "red sandstones".

Orange Free State Independent Boer sovereign republic in southern Africa between 1854 and 1902

The Orange Free State was an independent Boer sovereign republic under British suzerainty in Southern Africa during the second half of the 19th century, which ceased to exist after it was defeated and surrendered to the British Empire at the end of the Second Boer War in 1902. It is one of the three historical precursors to the present-day Free State province.

Moshoeshoe II of Lesotho King of Lesotho

Moshoeshoe II, previously known as Constantine Bereng Seeiso, was the Paramount Chief of Basutoland, succeeding paramount chief Seeiso from 1960 until the country gained full independence from Britain in 1966. He was King of Lesotho from 1966 until his exile in 1990, and from 1995 until his death in 1996.

Sotho people

The Sotho people, or Basotho, are a Bantu-language family ethnic group of Southern Africa who speak Sesotho. They are native to modern Lesotho and South Africa. The Basotho have inhabited the region since around the fifth century CE and are closely related to other Bantu-language family speaking peoples of the region.

Moshoeshoe I King of Lesotho

Moshoeshoe was born at Menkhoaneng in the northern part of present-day Lesotho. He was the first son of Mokhachane, a minor chief of the Bamokoteli lineage- a branch of the Koena (crocodile) clan. In his youth, he helped his father gain power over some other smaller clans. At the age of 34 Moshoeshoe formed his own clan and became a chief. He and his followers settled at the Butha-Buthe Mountain. He subsequently became the first King of Lesotho from 1822 to 1870.

Mohales Hoek

Mohale's Hoek is the capital city of Mohale's Hoek District in Lesotho. It had a population of approximately 40,040 in 2016.

Mohales Hoek District District in Lesotho

Mohale's Hoek is a district of Lesotho. Mohale's Hoek is the capital city or camptown, and only town in the district. In the southwest, Mohale's Hoek borders on South Africa, while domestically, it borders on Mafeteng District in northwest, Maseru District in north, Thaba-Tseka District in northeast, Qacha's Nek District in east, and Quthing District in southeast.

The Gun War, also known as the Basuto War, was an 1880-1881 conflict in the British territory of Basutoland in Southern Africa, fought between Cape Colony forces and nationalist Basotho chiefs over the right of the Basotho people to bear arms. Although a military stalemate, the final settlement favored the Basotho and led to the splitting of Basutoland from the Cape Colony.

Free State–Basotho Wars

The Free State–Basotho Wars refers to a series of wars fought between King Moshoeshoe I, the ruler of the Basotho kingdom, and the white settlers, in what is now known as the Free State. These can be divided into the Senekal's War of 1858, the Seqiti War in 1865−1866 and the Third Basotho War in 1867−68.

Moshoeshoe may refer to:

'Mantšebo was the ruler of Basutoland from 1941 to 1960, as the regent for her stepson, the future Moshoeshoe II.

Religion in Lesotho

Christianity is the dominant religion in Lesotho, which is estimated to be more than 95 per cent Christian. Non-Christian religions represent only 1.5% of the population, and those of no religion 3.5%. The non-Christian people primarily subscribe to traditional African religions, with an insignificant minor presence of Islam, Judaism and Asian religions.

Lesotho requires its residents to register their motor vehicles and display vehicle registration plates.

Subdivisions of Lesotho

Administratively, Lesotho is divided into ten districts, each headed by a district administrator. Each district has a capital known as a camptown.

Lesotho–South Africa border International border

The border between Lesotho and South Africa is 909 kilometres (565 mi) long and forms a complete loop, as Lesotho is an enclave entirely surrounded by South Africa. The border follows the Caledon River, the drainage divide of the Drakensberg mountains, the Orange River, the Makhaleng River, and a series of hills joining the Makhaleng back to the Caledon.

Morosi was a Baphuthi chief in the wild southern part of Basutoland. He led a revolt against the Cape Colony government in 1879, in defence of his independence south of the Orange River. The British refused to help the Cape Government. However, Letsie, the paramount chief and first son of Moshoeshoe, and many of the Sotho ruling establishment, rallied to support the Cape forces, and the rebellion was put down after several months of arduous fighting. He was beheaded and his body mutilated by Cape troops.


  1. Census of the British empire. 1901. London: HMSO. 1906. p. 160.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Roberts-Wray, Sir Kenneth (1966). Commonwealth and Colonial Law. London: F.A. Praeger. p. 830.
  3. Tylden, G. (1950). The Rise of the Basuto. Juta. p. 107.
  4. S.R.O. & S.I. Rev. III, 79
  5. 1 2 3 Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Basutoland". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  6. "Bechuanaland Colonial Administrators c.1884-c.1965" . Retrieved 27 February 2016.

Wikisource-logo.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Basutoland". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

Coordinates: 29°31′00″S27°48′00″E / 29.5167°S 27.8000°E / -29.5167; 27.8000