Orange River Convention

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Orange River Convention (1854)
TypeRecognition of independence and self-government
Signed23 February 1854
Location Bloemfontein, Orange River Sovereignty
Expiration6 April 1872
(some parts earlier)
SignatoriesBritish government and representatives of the Boer communities in the Orange River Sovereignty
Language English
Wikisource-logo.svg Orange River Convention (1854) at Wikisource

The Orange River Convention (sometimes also called the Bloemfontein Convention) was a convention whereby the British formally recognised the independence of the Boers in the area between the Orange and Vaal rivers, which had previously been known as the Orange River Sovereignty. This resulted in the formation of the independent Boer Republic of the Orange Free State (OFS).


Lead up to the convention

During the Great Trek the Boers moved out of the Cape Colony seeking autonomy from British control. However, the expanding interests of the British colonial government soon caught up with the Boers when they annexed Natal in 1845. [1] After settling across the Orange River, relations between the Boers and different groups between the Orange River and the Caledon River were extremely strained; particularly between the Boers and the Basotho. Sir Harry Smith, the governor of the British Cape Colony at the time, decided to annex the area and set out clear boundaries. The land between the Vaal River and the Orange River was annexed on 3 February 1848 and was officially proclaimed as the Orange River Sovereignty . The Basotho lost a vast amount of land due to this annexation and the Boers were enraged by this process. Major Henry Douglas Warden was subsequently forced out of Bloemfontein in June 1848 by a Boer group led by Andries Pretorius. In August 1848, Sir Harry Smith arrived with his army and fought the Boers in the Battle of Boomplaats. The British came out victorious and one of the boundary lines created after this battle was called the Warden line. This line divided territory between the British and the Basotho and stretched from Cornetspruit and the Orange River through Vechtkop to Jammerbergdrift on the Caledon River. This action led to a conflict between the two groups where Moshoeshoe I defeated the British in a battle known as Battle of Viervoet in 1851. [2] The British government retracted their decision for annexation, claiming it was too expensive and difficult to maintain. In addition, the Boers wanted independence and threatened to side with Moshoeshoe I in a war against the British. The Boers were asked to send a delegation to a meeting with the British special commissioner Sir George Clerk in August 1853. This meeting was aimed at establishing some form of self-governance in the Orange River Sovereignty. When they could not agree, the Boers sent two members of their original delegation to England to try and convince the government to alter their decision. [2]


First Raadsaal where the Bloemfontein Convention was signed First Raadsaal Bloemfontein.jpg
First Raadsaal where the Bloemfontein Convention was signed

On 30 January 1854, a royal proclamation was signed abandoning and renouncing all dominion in the Orange River Sovereignty. On 23 February 1854, the Orange River Convention officially recognised the independence of the area which was called the Orange Free State. The convention made no mention of Moshoeshoe I or what the boundaries between the Basotho and the Orange Free State would be. The convention was signed in a building now known as the First Raadsaal by Sir George Clerk, on behalf of the British government, and twenty-five representatives of the Boer people. The first two presidents of the Orange Free State Republic were later sworn into office in this building which later became a prominent symbol in Apartheid era education in South Africa. [2] [3]

For nearly 50 years following the Convention the Boers had the right to govern themselves independently of Great Britain. It also temporarily halted the expansionist policies of Sir Harry Smith beyond the frontiers of the Cape Colony. [4]


By signing the Convention, the British renounced control not only over the Boers but also over the Basotho and the Griqua. Earlier British treaties with African chiefdoms in the area were nullified and the Boers were permitted access to gunpowder and firearms while Africans were not. [5] [6] Both the Sand River Convention and the Orange River Convention were seen as a turning point in the history of South Africa which contributed significantly to the circumstances which led to the two Anglo-Boer Wars.[ citation needed ]

Related Research Articles

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.

History of South Africa South African history

The first modern humans are believed to have inhabited South Africa more than 100,000 years ago. South Africa's prehistory has been divided into two phases based on broad patterns of technology namely the Stone Age and Iron Age. After the discovery of hominins at Taung and australopithecine fossils in limestone caves at Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, and Kromdraai these areas were collectively designated a World Heritage site. Native or indigenous South Africans are collectively referred to as the Khoisan, the Khoi Khoi and the San separately. These groups were displaced or sometimes absorbed by migrating Africans (Bantus) during the Bantu expansion from Western and Central Africa. While some maintained separateness, others were grouped into a category known as Coloureds, a multiracial ethnic group which includes people with shared ancestry from two or more of these groups: Khoisan, Bantu, English, Afrikaners, Austronesians, East Asians and South Asians. European exploration of the African coast began in the 13th century when Portugal committed itself to discover an alternative route to the silk road that would lead to China. In the 14th and 15th century, Portuguese explorers traveled down the west African Coast, detailing and mapping the coastline and in 1488 they rounded the Cape of Good Hope. The Dutch East India Company established a trading post in Cape Town under the command of Jan van Riebeeck in 1652, European workers who settled at the Cape became known as the Free Burghers and gradually established farms in the Dutch Cape Colony.


Basutoland was a British Crown colony that existed from 1884 to 1966 in present-day Lesotho. Though the Basotho and their territory had been under British control starting in 1868, 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.

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

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.

Orange River Colony

The Orange River Colony was the British colony created after Britain first occupied (1900) and then annexed (1902) the independent Orange Free State in the Second Boer War. The colony ceased to exist in 1910, when it was absorbed into the Union of South Africa as Orange Free State Province.

First Boer War

The First Boer War, 1880-1881, also known as the First Anglo-Boer War, the Transvaal War or the Transvaal Rebellion, was a war fought from 16 December 1880 until 23 March 1881 between the United Kingdom and Boers of the Transvaal. The war resulted in a Boer victory and eventual independence of the South African Republic.

Boer Republics Former countries in southern Africa

The Boer Republics were independent, self-governed republics in the last half of the nineteenth century, created by the Dutch-speaking inhabitants of the Cape Colony and their descendants, variously named Trekboers, Boers and Voortrekkers in mainly the middle, northern and north eastern and eastern parts of what is now the country of South Africa. Two of the Boer Republics achieved international recognition and complete independence: the South African Republic and the Orange Free State. The republics did not provide separation of church and state, and initially only the Dutch Reformed Church, then also other churches in the Calvinist Protestant tradition, were allowed. The republics came to an end after the Second Boer War which resulted in the British annexation and later incorporation into the Union of South Africa.

Andries Pretorius South African politician

Andries Wilhelmus Jacobus Pretorius was a leader of the Boers who was instrumental in the creation of the South African Republic, as well as the earlier but short-lived Natalia Republic, in present-day South Africa. The large city of Pretoria, executive capital of South Africa, is named after him.

Sotho people

The Sotho people, or Basotho, are a Bantu 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 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 to 1822–1870.

Martinus Theunis Steyn

MartinusTheunis Steyn was a South African lawyer, politician, and statesman. He was the sixth and last president of the independent republic the Orange Free State from 1896 to 1902.

Smithfield, Free State Place in Free State, South Africa

Smithfield is a small town founded in 1848 in the Orange River Sovereignty. The town situated in a rural farming district, and is the third oldest town in present-day Free State,.

Josias Philip Hoffman

Josias Philip Hoffman was a South African Boer statesman, and was the chairman of the Provisional Government and later the first State President of the Orange Free State, in office from 1854 to 1855.

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.

Battle of Boomplaats

The Battle of Boomplaats was fought near Jagersfontein at 29°50′53.47″S25°38′56.54″E on 29 August 1848 between the British and the Voortrekkers. The British were led by Sir Harry Smith, while the Boers were led by Andries Pretorius. The British were victorious after one Boer opened fire too early and betrayed their position.

Orange River Sovereignty

The Orange River Sovereignty (1848–1854) was a short-lived political entity between the Orange and Vaal rivers in Southern Africa, a region known informally as Transorangia. In 1854, it became the Orange Free State, and is now the Free State province of South Africa.

Thaba Bosiu

Thaba Bosiu is a sandstone plateau with an area of approximately 2 km2 and a height of 1,804 meters above sea level. It is located between the Orange and Caledon Rivers in the Maseru District of Lesotho, 24 km east of the country's capital Maseru. It was once the capital of Lesotho, having been King Moshoeshoe's stronghold.

Lesotho–South Africa 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.

Bloemfontein City Commando

Bloemfontein City Commando was a light infantry regiment of the South African Army. It formed part of the South African Army Infantry Formation as well as the South African Territorial Reserve.

The Battle of Naauwpoort Nek refers to a clash between the Trekboers and Basotho warriors on 29 September 1865. Naauwpoort lies immediately to the north of the Free State town of Clarens.


  1. "Convention Bloemfontein". 3 August 2011. Archived from the original on 22 December 2017. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
  2. 1 2 3 "Happy 170th birthday Bloemfontein: From British spy post to judicial capital". South African people News. 19 December 2016. Archived from the original on 2 June 2017. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
  3. "Bloemfontein Convention Signed". South African History Online. SAHO. 22 February 2017. Archived from the original on 2 July 2017. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
  4. Ballard-Tremeer, Beverly (19 December 2016). "Sand River and Bloemfontein Conventions". Britannica Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on 22 December 2017. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
  5. Fage, JD; John, E; Roland, Anthony. The Cambridge history of South Africa, Volume 5. Cambridge. p. 381.
  6. Olson, James S; Shadle, Robert (1996). Historical dictionary of the British Empire. Westport: Greenwood Press. p. 145. ISBN   0313279179.