Basutoland was a British Crown colony established in 1884 due to the Cape Colony's inability to control the territory. It was divided into seven administrative districts: Berea, Leribe, Maseru, Mohale's Hoek, Mafeteng, Qacha's Nek and Quthing. The colony 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.


Unofficial flag (1951-1966)

StatusSovereign State 1822-1884 Crown Colony under partial local rule 1884-1966
GovernmentConstitutional monarchy
Paramount Chief or Monarch 
Moshoeshoe I (before Basutoland became a British colony)
 1870-1884 (independent period of Letsie I’s reign)
Letsie I
Victoria (after Basutoland became a British colony)
Elizabeth II
Marshal Clarke
Alexander Giles
Paramount Chief (Post-Colonization) 
 1884-1891 (non-independent period of reign)
Letsie I
Lerotholi Letsie I
Letsie II
Nathaniel Griffith Lerotholi
Simon Seeiso Griffith
 1960-1966 (afterwards as King of Lesotho)
Moshoeshoe II
 British territory
12 March 1868
3 November 1871
18 March 1884
4 October 1966
30,355 km2 (11,720 sq mi)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Cape Colony
Today part ofLesotho

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


Between 1856 and 1868 the Basuto 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]

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, and 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]

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 Basuto Nation appointed by himself.

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


Considering the extensive area of uninhabitable mountain land it contained, the territory supported a large 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 Basuto, but there were some thousands of Barolong. The White inhabitants in 1904 numbered 895. The seat of government was Maseru, on the left bank of the Caledon, with a population of about 1,000 including some 100 Europeans. There were numerous mission stations throughout Basutoland, to several of which Biblical names have been given, such as Shiloh, Hermon, Cana, Bethesda, and Berea.


British Resident Commissioners

Incumbent Tenure Notes
Took office Left office
Sir Marshal James Clarke 18 March 1884 18 September 1894 Afterwards Resident Commissioner in Zululand, 1894
Godfrey Yeatman Lagden 18 September 1894 1895
Sir Herbert Cecil Sloley 1895
Godfrey Yeatman Lagden 1895 1901
Sir Herbert Cecil Sloley 1902 1903
James MacGregor 1913
Sir Herbert Cecil Sloley 1913 1916
Robert Thorne Coryndon 1916 1917 Afterwards Governor of Uganda, 1918
Sir Edward Charles Frederick Garraway 1917 Apr 1926
John Christian Ramsay Sturrock Apr 1926 Mar 1935
Sir Edmund Charles Smith Richards Mar 1935 Aug 1942 Afterwards Governor of Nyasaland, 1942
Sir Charles Noble Arden-Clarke Aug 1942 Nov 1946 Afterwards Governor of Sarawak, 1946
Aubrey Denzil Forsyth-Thompson Nov 1946 24 October 1951
Edwin Porter Arrowsmith 24 October 1951 Sep 1956
Alan Geoffrey Tunstal Chaplin Sep 1956 1961
Alexander Falconer Giles 1961 30 April 1965

Chief Justices

The Chief Justice was the Chief Justice of the High Commission Territories (Basutoland, Bechuanaland Protectorate and Swaziland).[5] From 1951 the Chief Justices were:

Incumbent Tenure Notes
Took office Left office
Walter Harragin 1951 1952
Harold Curwen Willan 1952 1956
Herbert Charles Fahie Cox 1957 1960
Peter Watkin-Williams 1961 1966


  1. Census of the British empire. 1901. London: HMSO. 1906. p. 160.
  2. 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. "Bechuanaland Colonial Administrators c.1884-c.1965". Retrieved 27 February 2016.

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

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