As lieutenant-governor of the Eastern Cape, Stockenstrom had a full mandate from the Colonial Office to implement an entirely new frontier policy based on treaties and mutual respect rather than reprisals and mutual hatred. The colonial government stationed diplomatic agents in the Ceded Territory and the Xhosa chiefs stationed reliable councillors to watch the drifts (river-crossings) for stolen cattle. The key to the cattle-theft problem, Stockenstrom believed, was to force the farmers to take proper care of their own cattle. Colonial cattle, actually stolen and promptly reported, were reclaimable under the treaties and the chiefs were responsible for returning them to the farmers. Archival records show that when the treaty system was implemented by enlightened officials like C.L. Stretch, the diplomatic agent at Block Drift (later the town of Alice), the Xhosa chiefs did honour their treaty obligations and stolen cattle were indeed returned.
But although Stockenstrom was lieutenantgovernor, D’Urban was still governor, and most of the frontier officials were D’Urban men. The settlers had a redoubtable and articulate spokesman in the editor of the Grahamstown Journal, Robert Godlonton, who weekly fulminated against the treaty system, asserting that its regulations were unworkable and that it enabled the Xhosa to steal colonial cattle with impunity. Stockenstrom was vilified as an unscrupulous careerist who had sold out the settlers for his private benefit.
Enlightened colonial officials were in short supply on the Eastern frontier and, in any case, the question of stolen cattle was merely a cover for the real question – land. The settlers had passed through Xhosaland during the campaign of 1834–1835, and had liked what they had seen. ‘The appearance of the country is very fine,’ wrote one settler, ‘it will make excellent sheep farms.’ Two years later, Queen Victoria ascended to the throne. The Imperial era was about to begin in earnest. American Indians and South Sea islanders were dying like flies of European diseases, as the Khoikhoi had done before them. Science itself seemed to proclaim the inevitable victory of the white race, as did settler leader J.M. Bowker in his notorious ‘springbok speech’:
The day was when our plains were covered with tens of thousands of springboks; they are gone now, and who regrets it? Their place is occupied with tens of thousands of merino . . . I begin to think that he too [the Xhosa] must give place, and why not? Is it just that a few thousands of ruthless worthless savages are to sit like a nightmare upon a land that would support millions of civilised men happily?
Stockenstrom could do little about the Grahams town Journal but he could not tolerate disloyalty in his senior officials. He sued the Civil Commissioner of Albany for libel, but lost and subsequently resigned. Napier, the new governor, was unable to maintain Stockenstrom’s system and the next governor, Maitland, unilaterally imposed entirely new treaties on reluctant chiefs. Tension rose and when a Xhosa named Tsili stole an axe from a trader in Fort Beaufort in March 1846, he unwittingly set off a train events that commenced with the War of the Axe and ended some twelve years later with the complete and final destruction of the Xhosa nation.