The Basuto Prince


 King Letsie III of Lesotho (formerly Basutoland) was educated at Ampleforth continuing a family tradition of British education, which had begun over a century ago.  He is the great-grandson of one of the outstanding characters in the history of South Africa, Moshesh I or Moshueshue. This King was unique among African leaders of his time in preserving the independence of his people in the face of constant pressure from the neighbouring Boer republics. He taught his Bantu people to use rifle and horse to counter Boer tactics and finally sought British protection against his enemies by a successful personal appeal to Queen Victoria, using the phrase, “We are as fleas on your blanket”.

King Moshoeshoe of the Sotho -Lesotho- from the Natal Archives

In the year 1850, Moshueshue sent messengers to Bishop Gray, the first Anglican Bishop of Capetown, asking him to send missionaries to Basutoland. The Bishop replied sympathetically saying that he would do so as soon as possible. This eventually led to the sending of two of Moshueshue’s sons to the Anglican school which had been set up in Bishop Gray’s residence in Capetown. One of these, Jeremiah Libopuoa Moshueshue, was converted and baptized and later he helped with the translation of the Bible into the Sotho language. By 1861 money had been raised by the Hereford Missionary Society to send four of the most promising pupils to St. Augustine’s College, Canterbury, which had been founded in 1844 to provide training for missionary priests:  one of these was Jeremiah.  Their arrival in June 1861 is possibly the earliest visit of a Basuto to England and certainly they were the first to be educated here.

The Vicar of Welshampton at that time, Rev. T.M.B.Bulkeley-Owen, was a supporter of the African mission work and in 1862 was visited by Bishop Gray in order to offer him the newly-formed Bishopric of Orange River. The Rev. Bulkeley Owen wrote later:

“Feeling myself most unfit for this responsible office, I declined it.”

His refusal was doubtless influenced by his deep involvement with spiritual renewal in his own parish, and the building of the new church designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, the first stone of which had been laid on All Saints Day 1861.  However, this visit was to have unique and historic consequences, for the Rev.

Elizabeth Sims

Bulkeley-Owen invited two of the African students, Prince Jeremiah Libopuoa Moshueshue and Samuel Lefulere Moroka, to stay in Welshampton for the consecration of the new church on July 29th 1863.

Several members of my family were present at the service, memories of which have been passed down via Elizabeth Sims, a teacher at the village school for over thirty years who could vividly recall the event.  As they were leaving the church Elizabeth Sims, then eight years old, went up to Jeremiah and touched his hand. He then took her by the hand and walked with her to the lych gate.

These events were to have an unhappy sequel for Jeremiah, whose health had been delicate while in England, developed typhoid fever after being caught in a storm while walking along the canal.  Despite all attempts to save him, he died on 26th August 1863 at Welshampton Vicarage and it wasdecided to bury him in the village churchyard, beside the new church. A former student, Mr. Charles Roberts, who was staying with the Rev. J. D. Day, Vicar of Ellesmere, at the time, sent the following account of the funeral to the warden of St. Augustine’s College:

“The procession was formed in the following manner: First the choristers in surplices of Welshampton Church, next the clergy also wearing surplices, Mr. Bulkeley Owen, the Priest walking immediately before the corpse.  Samuel, who was leaning on my arm bore his affliction manfully. While taking our places in the church (lately consecrated) the organ pealed forth Handel’s incomparable “Dead March” adding to the effect of the scene. In fact the whole service was conducted in the most fitting and proper manner.

After it was over the choristers dropped bouquets of flowers which they carried in their hands upon the coffin and thus the ceremony was completed.

Considering the great pressure of the harvest a large number of the villagers were present at the funeral. But the next day the constant crowd of quiet gazers round the grave showed, what was more than once expressed in words, the great interest that they felt in the visitor from a distant country who had been laid to rest in their churchyard.  The new grave is covered with flowers by the hands of Mr.Owen’s servant, the same that had nursed poor Jeremiah through many nights of suffering.”

Jeremiah Moshueshue’s funeral was the first to be held in the newly consecrated church.  A headstone designed by Drayton Wyatt was put up to mark his grave by the warden of St. Augustine’s College, Canterbury and a Wellingtonia tree planted at the wish of his father, King Moshueshue. Eventually a memorial window was placed in the church by Rev.G.Whitfield of Pudleston near Leominster, who was described by the Rev.Bulkeley-Owen as one of Jeremiah’s kindest friends. The window depicts St. Philip baptizing the Ethiopian (Acts 8,26-40) and it overlooks the font in the northwest corner of the church, the corner closest to the grave.

Some time elapsed before the sad news reached King Moshueshue of Basutoland.  When it did he entrusted one of his subjects, who was about to leave for England in charge of a collection of wild beasts, to discover the whereabouts of the grave of his son and to pay his respects on his behalf.   Eventually when the wild beast show was passing through the village, the lion cage broke down quite close to the lych gate of Welshampton Church. When the young Basuto who was in charge saw Miss Sims with her class in the playground of the school he asked the name of the village. On being told he asked if a Basuto prince was buried here, she and the school children then conducted him to the grave where he remained kneeling in prayer for some considerable time.

For many years Jeremiah’s grave was beautifully kept in splendid isolation under the north west angle of the church shaded by the large Wellingtonia tree and the story recounted by Miss Sims to successive generations of school children.  Miss Sims retired from teaching in 1913 and her last surviving pupil died in March 1998.  In recent years the tree has been removed and other graves have surrounded that of Prince Jeremiah. One of them is the grave of Miss Elizabeth Sims who was visited by Bishop Woods of Lichfield shortly before her death in 1942.  The Bishop wanted to hear her recount this remarkable story.  She requested to be buried next to the “Black Prince”. Her wish was granted.

Over the years people from Lesotho have visited the grave, most notably in recent times by Mr. Qhobela Malapo, a great great great grandson of King Moshoeshoe.

On March 12th 1990 Dr. Kenneth Tsekoa, the High Commissioner of Lesotho interrupted his official visit to Wales to visit Welshampton.  So it was that on this occasion, as had happened to one of his fellow countrymen over a century before, the children welcomed him to Welshampton School and escorted him to place flowers on the grave of Prince Jeremiah

Rev D and High Comm

In May 1999 the Queen Mother of Lesotho, Queen Mamohoto, her second son, Principal Chief Prince Seeiso Seeiso, Ladies in waiting and palace officials, paid an official visit to the grave.  This consisted of prayers and a hymn in Sotho, the language of Lesotho, and the laying of bunches of flowers.  Finally they each left a small stone, brought from Lesotho, on the grave.

Queen Masenate Mohato Seeiso, Oct. 6th 2010

The most notable visit in recent times was that of Her Majesty Masenate Mohato Seeiso, Queen of Lesotho. On October 5th 2010 she was welcomed by all 72 pupils of Welshampton school as well as the Churchwardens, parish councillors and school governors. Perhaps the most moving moment of this visit was when the schoolchildren gathered round the Prince’s grave and sang the national anthem in Sotho the language of Lesotho.  Yet another event, organized by Ellesmere Rotary Club in October 2015 saw the Welshampton schoolchildren and those of Maelor School Penley welcome pupils from St Saviour’s School in Leribe.

This unique and much treasured corner of Welshampton’s churchyard has been the subject of much curiosity over the years.  It has silently but surely borne witness through the dark days of apartheid and racial strife to the truth of the text carved on the headstone “Ye are all one in Christ Jesus”, and that Prince Jeremiah Lebopona Moshueshue’s untimely death was not in vain.

Christopher Jobson

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