Karl Peters
Karl Peters was a German
The Germans are a Germanic ethnic group native to Central Europe. The English term Germans has referred to the German-speaking population of the Holy Roman Empire since the Late Middle Ages....

 colonial ruler, explorer, politician and author, the prime mover behind the foundation of the German colony
German colonial empire
The German colonial empire was an overseas domain formed in the late 19th century as part of the German Empire. Short-lived colonial efforts by individual German states had occurred in preceding centuries, but Imperial Germany's colonial efforts began in 1884...

 of East Africa
German East Africa
German East Africa was a German colony in East Africa, which included what are now :Burundi, :Rwanda and Tanganyika . Its area was , nearly three times the size of Germany today....

 (in today's Tanzania
The United Republic of Tanzania is a country in East Africa bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, and Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique to the south. The country's eastern borders lie on the Indian Ocean.Tanzania is a state...

). A proponent of Social Darwinism
Social Darwinism
Social Darwinism is a term commonly used for theories of society that emerged in England and the United States in the 1870s, seeking to apply the principles of Darwinian evolution to sociology and politics...

 and the Völkisch
Völkisch movement
The volkisch movement is the German interpretation of the populist movement, with a romantic focus on folklore and the "organic"...

movement, his attitude towards the indigenous population made him one of the most controversial colonizers already during his lifetime.


He was born at Neuhaus
Amt Neuhaus
Amt Neuhaus is a municipality in the District of Lunenburg , in Lower Saxony, Germany.- History :In the course of the eastern colonisation the area of today's Amt Neuhaus became a part of the Duchy of Saxony...

 an der Elbe
The Elbe is one of the major rivers of Central Europe. It rises in the Krkonoše Mountains of the northwestern Czech Republic before traversing much of Bohemia , then Germany and flowing into the North Sea at Cuxhaven, 110 km northwest of Hamburg...

 in the Kingdom of Hanover
Kingdom of Hanover
The Kingdom of Hanover was established in October 1814 by the Congress of Vienna, with the restoration of George III to his Hanoverian territories after the Napoleonic era. It succeeded the former Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg , and joined with 38 other sovereign states in the German...

, the son of a Lutheran clergyman. Peters studied history and philosophy at Göttingen, Tübingen and in Berlin
Humboldt University of Berlin
The Humboldt University of Berlin is Berlin's oldest university, founded in 1810 as the University of Berlin by the liberal Prussian educational reformer and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt, whose university model has strongly influenced other European and Western universities...

 under Heinrich von Treitschke
Heinrich von Treitschke
Heinrich Gotthard von Treitschke was a nationalist German historian and political writer during the time of the German Empire.-Early life and teaching career:...

. In 1879 he was awarded a gold medal by the Berlin Frederick William University for his dissertation on the 1177 Treaty of Venice
Treaty of Venice
The Treaty or Peace of Venice, 1177, was an important peace treaty between the papacy and its allies, the north Italian city-states of the Lombard League, and Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor...

 and habilitated with a treatise on Arthur Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer was a German philosopher known for his pessimism and philosophical clarity. At age 25, he published his doctoral dissertation, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which examined the four separate manifestations of reason in the phenomenal...


East Africa Company

Instead of pursuing a university career, Peters worked with a dutch family selling sweets in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 after his studies, where he became acquainted with British
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

 principles of colonization and imperialism. When he returned to Berlin he founded the Society for German Colonization
Society for German Colonization
The Society for German Colonization was founded on March 28, 1884, by Dr. Karl Peters. The goal of the Gesellschaft für Deutsche Kolonisation was to acquire German colonial territories in overseas countries.In the autumn of 1884 Dr. Peters proceeded, together with Count Joachim von Pfeil und Klein...

 (Gesellschaft für Deutsche Kolonisation) pressure group for the acquisition of colonies. In the autumn of 1884 he proceeded with two companions to East Africa, and concluded in the name of his society treaties with the chiefs of Useguha, Nguru, Ijsagara and Ukami. Returning to Europe early in 1885, he formed the German East Africa Company
German East Africa Company
The German East Africa Company was an organization established at the start of the German colonization of East Africa. This company, in short, was responsible for the activities in the new colony such as setting up leadership, future explorations, and the development of the region.In 1888, the...


Two new devices for political organization and rule over foreign peoples were discovered during the first decades of imperialism. One was race as a principle of the body politic, and the other bureaucracy as a principle of foreign domination. ... Race was the Boers' answer to the overwhelming monstrosity of Africa -- a whole continent populated and overpopulated by savages -- an explanation of the madness which grasped and illuminated them like 'a flash of lightning in a serene sky: "Exterminate all the brutes."' This answer resulted in the most terrible massacres in recent history, the Boers' extermination of Hottentot tribes, the wild murdering by Carl Peters in German Southeast Africa, the decimation of the peaceful Congo population ..."

What kind of people left their homeland to go to the German colonies in Africa?

"The superfluous men, 'the Bohemians of the four continents' who came rushing down to the Cape, still had much in common with the old adventurers. They too felt 'Ship me somewheres east of Suez where the best is like the worst,/Where there aren't no Ten Commandments, an' a man can raise a thirst.' The difference was not their morality or immorality, but rather that the decision to join this crowd 'of all nations and colors' was no longer up to them; that they had not stepped out of society but had been spat out by it; that they were not enterprising beyond the permitted limits of civilization but simply victims without use or function.

The full impact of the African experience was first realized by leaders of the mob, like Carl Peters, who decided that they too had to belong to a master race. African colonial possessions became the most fertile soil for the flowering of what later was to become the Nazi elite.

The German
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

 government under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck
Otto von Bismarck
Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg , simply known as Otto von Bismarck, was a Prussian-German statesman whose actions unified Germany, made it a major player in world affairs, and created a balance of power that kept Europe at peace after 1871.As Minister President of...

 fearing the impact on the relations with the British was originally opposed to these plans and had refused any backing when Peters set out. Bismarck refused a second time when Peters returned to Germany in the closing days of the Berlin Congo Conference demanding an imperial charter. Peters, however, blackmailed the Chancellor successfully by threatening to sell his acquisitions to King Léopold II of Belgium
Leopold II of Belgium
Leopold II was the second king of the Belgians. Born in Brussels the second son of Leopold I and Louise-Marie of Orléans, he succeeded his father to the throne on 17 December 1865 and remained king until his death.Leopold is chiefly remembered as the founder and sole owner of the Congo Free...

 who was eager to expand his Congo
Congo Free State
The Congo Free State was a large area in Central Africa which was privately controlled by Leopold II, King of the Belgians. Its origins lay in Leopold's attracting scientific, and humanitarian backing for a non-governmental organization, the Association internationale africaine...

 Empire. As Bismarck's National Liberal
National Liberal Party (Germany)
The National Liberal Party was a German political party which flourished between 1867 and 1918. It was formed by Prussian liberals who put aside their differences with Bismarck over domestic policy due to their support for his highly successful foreign policy, which resulted in the unification of...

 allies in the Reichstag
Reichstag (German Empire)
The Reichstag was the parliament of the North German Confederation , and of the German Reich ....

 parliament were pro-colonial minded anyway, he finally gave in to "the stupid guy" and the charter was made out. This constituted the necessary backing for further expansion on the East African mainland in the following years. In 1888 Peters achieved an agreement with Sultan Khalifah bin Said of Zanzibar
Khalifah bin Said of Zanzibar
Sayyid Khalifa I bin Said Al-Busaid, GCMG, was the third Sultan of Zanzibar. He ruled Zanzibar from March 26, 1888 to February 13, 1890 and was succeeded by his brother, Ali bin Said Al-Busaid....

 who leased his coastal dominions in what was to be Tanganyika
Tanganyika , later formally the Republic of Tanganyika, was a sovereign state in East Africa from 1961 to 1964. It was situated between the Indian Ocean and the African Great Lakes of Lake Victoria, Lake Malawi and Lake Tanganyika...

 to the German East Africa Company.

In the same year Peters undertook an expedition from the east coast of Africa, avowedly for the relief of Emin Pasha
Emin Pasha
Mehmed Emin Pasha — he was born Isaak Eduard Schnitzer and baptized Eduard Carl Oscar Theodor Schnitzer — was a physician, naturalist, and governor of the Egyptian province of Equatoria on the upper Nile...

, actually to extend the sphere of German influence in Uganda
Uganda , officially the Republic of Uganda, is a landlocked country in East Africa. Uganda is also known as the "Pearl of Africa". It is bordered on the east by Kenya, on the north by South Sudan, on the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the southwest by Rwanda, and on the south by...

 and Equatoria
Equatoria is a region in the south of present-day South Sudan along the upper reaches of the White Nile. Originally a province of Egypt, it also contained most of Northern part of present day Uganda including Albert Lake...

. This expedition was not sanctioned by the German government and was regarded by the British authorities as a filibustering
Filibuster (military)
A filibuster, or freebooter, is someone who engages in an unauthorized military expedition into a foreign country to foment or support a revolution...

 (in the 19th century sense of the word) exploit. Reaching Uganda in early 1890, Peters concluded a treaty with Kabaka Mwanga II of Buganda
Mwanga II of Buganda
Danieri Basammula-Ekkere Mwanga II Mukasa was Kabaka from 1884 until 1888 and from 1889 until 1897. He was the thirty-first Kabaka of Buganda.-Claim to the throne:...

 in favour of Germany.

He had to leave Uganda hastily on the approach of an expedition led by Frederick Lugard, the representative of the Imperial British East Africa Company
Imperial British East Africa Company
The Imperial British East Africa Company was the administrator of British East Africa, which was the forerunner of the East Africa Protectorate, later Kenya. The IBEAC was a commercial association founded to develop African trade in the areas controlled by the British colonial power...

. On reaching Zanzibar
Zanzibar ,Persian: زنگبار, from suffix bār: "coast" and Zangi: "bruin" ; is a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania, in East Africa. It comprises the Zanzibar Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of the mainland, and consists of numerous small islands and two large ones: Unguja , and Pemba...

 he learned that his efforts were useless, as on 1 July 1890 the Heligoland–Zanzibar Treaty between Germany and the British Empire had been signed, whereby Uganda was left in the British sphere and Peters' agreement with Mwanga became null and void. Meanwhile the power of his company had collapsed when the coastal population rose in the Abushiri Revolt
Abushiri Revolt
The Abushiri Revolt was a so-called insurrection in 1888-1889 by the Arab and Swahili population of the areas of the East African coast which were granted to Germany by the Sultan of Zanzibar in 1888...

 against the implementation of the lease agreement between the Sultan and the Germans. The German government had to intervene by sending troops under Hermann Wissmann
Hermann Wissmann
Hermann von Wissmann was a German explorer and administrator in Africa.-Early life:Born in Frankfurt an der Oder, Wissmann was enlisted in the Army in 1870 and was commissioned a Lieutenant four years later. Wissmann served Mecklenburg in Füsilierregiment No. 90 posted at Rostock...

, suppressed the insurrection and took over the company's possessions as a colony.

Nevertheless on his return to Germany Peters was received with great honours, and in 1891 published an account of his expedition entitled Die deutsche Emin Pasha Expedition, which was translated into English. He also endorsed the foundation of the Alldeutscher Verband in protest against the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty.


In 1891 he went out again to East Africa as Reichskommissar
Reichskommissar , in German history, was an official gubernatorial title used for various public offices during the period of the German Empire and the Nazi Third Reich....

 (Imperial High Commissioner) for the Kilimanjaro Region
Kilimanjaro Region
Kilimanjaro is one of the 26 regions in Tanzania. The capital of the region is Moshi. Kilimanjaro region is home to Mount Kilimanjaro.Kilimanjaro Region is bordered to the North and East by Kenya, to the South by the Tanga Region, to the Southwest by the Manyara Region, and to the West by the...

 in Moshi
Moshi is a Tanzanian town with a population of 144,739 in Kilimanjaro Region. The town is situated on the lower slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro, a volcanic mountain that is the highest mountain in Africa....

, however subordinate to Wissmann, and in 1892 was one of the commissioners for delimiting the Anglo-German boundary with the British East Africa Company in that region. In the same time Peters by his brutal behaviour against the local population provoked an uprising which was to cost him his office. He used local girls as concubines and, when he discovered that his lover Jagodja had an affair with his man-servant Mabruk, he had both of them sentenced for theft and treason and hanged by a drumhead court-martial and their home villages destroyed. The incident, at first not reported by Peters, provoked resistance by the local Chaga people and again necessitated costly military action.

Peters was recalled to Berlin and employed in the Imperial Colonial Office from 1893 to 1895, while official accusations were brought against him of excesses in his treatment of the native population. In a sitting of the Reichstag on 13 March 1896 August Bebel
August Bebel
Ferdinand August Bebel was a German Marxist politician, writer, and orator. He is best remembered as one of the founders of the Social Democratic Party of Germany.-Early years:...

, chairman of the Social Democratic Party
Social Democratic Party of Germany
The Social Democratic Party of Germany is a social-democratic political party in Germany...

, finally made the killings public, citing from a self-exculpatory letter by Peters to Bishop Alfred Tucker
Alfred Robert Tucker
Alfred Robert Tucker was the Bishop of Uganda from 1897, the inception of the diocese, until 1911.- Early days :Tucker was born in 1849 and grew up in the Lake District in England. Following in the footsteps of his family, he became an artist, exhibiting at the Royal Academy.- Church life :In...

. Peters denied the authenticity of the letter but had to admit the executions. After three investigations had been held he was, in 1897, dishonorably deprived of his commission for misuse of official power, losing all his pension benefits.

He evaded the final sentence and further criminal prosecution by removing to London, where he occupied himself in schemes for exploiting parts of Rhodesia
Rhodesia , officially the Republic of Rhodesia from 1970, was an unrecognised state located in southern Africa that existed between 1965 and 1979 following its Unilateral Declaration of Independence from the United Kingdom on 11 November 1965...

 and Portuguese East Africa
Portuguese East Africa
Mozambique or Portuguese East Africa was the common name by which the Portuguese Empire's territorial expansion in East Africa was known across different periods of time...

. In the interests of a gold mining
Gold mining
Gold mining is the removal of gold from the ground. There are several techniques and processes by which gold may be extracted from the earth.-History:...

 company he formed, Peters explored the Fura district and Macombes country on the Zambezi
The Zambezi is the fourth-longest river in Africa, and the largest flowing into the Indian Ocean from Africa. The area of its basin is , slightly less than half that of the Nile...

 river, where in 1899 he discovered ruins of cities and deserted gold mines of the medieval Kingdom of Mutapa, which he identified as the legendary ancient lands of Ophir
Ophir is a port or region mentioned in the Bible, famous for its wealth. King Solomon is supposed to have received a cargo of gold, silver, sandalwood, precious stones, ivory, apes and peacocks from Ophir, every three years.- Citations :...

. He returned in 1901 and gave an account of his explorations in Im Goldland des Altertums (The Eldorado of the Ancients) (1902). In 1905 he again visited the region between the Zambezi and Sabi
Save River (Africa)
The Save is a 400km river of southeastern Africa, flowing through Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The river has its source in Zimbabwe, some 80 km south of Harare, then flows south and then east, from the Zimbabwean highveld to its confluence with the Odzi River...



Besides the books already mentioned and some smaller treatises Peters published a philosophical work entitled Willenswelt und Weltwille (1883), and a disquisition on early gold production entitled Das goldene Ophir Salomo's (1895), translated into English in 1898.

Among colonial minded circles he was feted as a national hero. In 1914 he was able to return to Germany, after Emperor Wilhelm II by personal decree had bestowed upon him the right to use the title of an Imperial Commissioner again and had given him a pension from his personal budget, while the sentence by the disciplinary court remained in force. Peters was officially rehabilitated by personal decree of Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 20 years after his death when the Nazis had discovered him as an ideological relative. A propaganda film "Carl Peters
Carl Peters (film)
Carl Peters is a 1941 German anti-British propaganda film, directed by Herbert Selpin and starring Hans Albers.It depicts Karl Peters, one of the founders of German East Africa....

by Herbert Selpin
Herbert Selpin
Herbert Selpin was a German film director and screenplay author.-Biography:Herbert Selpin was born on May 29, 1902 in Berlin. After his medical studies in the same city, Selpin worked as a dancer, boxer, librarian, and art seller before he obtained, in the mid-1920s, an internship at the Ufa film...

 was released in 1941, starring Hans Albers
Hans Albers
Hans Philipp August Albers was a German actor and singer. He was the single biggest male movie star in Germany between 1930 and 1945 and one of the most popular German actors of the twentieth century.- Life and work :...

. A number of towns in Germany had streets named after Peters but in recent years some of them received changed names after a debate on his legacy.

Critical voices among Social Democrats, Catholic
Centre Party (Germany)
The German Centre Party was a Catholic political party in Germany during the Kaiserreich and the Weimar Republic. Formed in 1870, it battled the Kulturkampf which the Prussian government launched to reduce the power of the Catholic Church...

 and Free-minded politicians called Peters a butcher and a national shame. The Austrian
Austria-Hungary , more formally known as the Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown of Saint Stephen, was a constitutional monarchic union between the crowns of the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary in...

 Africanist Oscar Baumann
Oscar Baumann
Oscar Baumann was an Austrian cartographer with a keen interest in ethnography.He attended classes on natural history and geography at the University of Vienna, and in 1885 was part of an Austrian exploratory expedition of the Congo Basin headed by Oskar Lenz. However, he had to leave the...

 referred to him as "half crazy". While the East African indigenous people called him as Mkono Wa Damu (Swahili
Swahili language
Swahili or Kiswahili is a Bantu language spoken by various ethnic groups that inhabit several large stretches of the Mozambique Channel coastline from northern Kenya to northern Mozambique, including the Comoro Islands. It is also spoken by ethnic minority groups in Somalia...

 for "Bloody Hand"), one of his constant nicknames in the German critical press was Hänge-Peters ("Hangman-Peters").

External links

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