Gustav Adolf von Götzen

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Gustav Adolf von Götzen
Gustav Adolf von Götzen.jpg
Born (1866-05-12)12 May 1866
Scharfeneck Castle, Kingdom of Prussia, German Confederation
Died 2 December 1910(1910-12-02) (aged 44)
Hamburg, German Empire
Nationality German

Count Gustav Adolf von Götzen (12 May 1866 – 2 December 1910) was a German explorer and Governor of German East Africa. He came to Rwanda in 1894 at the head of a troop of 620 soldiers, becoming the second European to set foot in Rwanda, after Dr Oscar Baumann, and later became the first European to cross the length of Rwanda. Götzen was the first governor of German East Africa.

Early life[edit]

Götzen was born into a comital family at their main residence, Scharfeneck Castle, back then in the Kingdom of Prussia, German Confederation. In present-day Poland and now called Sarny Court and Park, the castle and the adjoining summer palace, as well as the castle chapel in which he may have been baptized, still exist despite decades of disrepair in the communist era.

Götzen studied law at the universities of Paris, Berlin and Kiel between 1884 and 1887. He then joined the army, and became (in 1887) a Lieutenant in the 2nd Garde-Ulanen regiment. Between 1890 and 1891 he was stationed in Rome and it was from there that he made his first African trip, in a hunting expedition to Mount Kilimanjaro.

In 1892, having been made an officer in the War academy, Götzen travelled to Asia Minor with Major Walther von Diest.

The expedition of 1893/94[edit]

From 1885, Karl Peters had begun claiming areas of East Africa for Germany. The Tanganyikan coast proved relatively easy, but conquest of the inland areas of the colony - right up to the Belgian Congo - was more difficult as large parts were still unexplored. For this reason, Götzen led an expedition to claim these hinterlands. He took with him Georg von Prittwitz and Hermann Kersting.

The party set off from Pangani, on the Tanganyikan coast, on 21 December 1893. After travelling through Maasai areas, they eventually arrived, on 2 May 1894, at Rusumo Falls on the Kagera river. By crossing the river, they became the first Europeans to set foot in Rwanda since Dr Oscar Baumann's 1892 expedition, at the time one of the most organised and centralised kingdoms in the region, but nominally already part of the German colony. They travelled right through Rwanda, meeting the mwami (king) at his palace in Nyanza, and eventually reaching Lake Kivu, the western edge of the kingdom.

After encountering and climbing some of the Virunga Mountains, Götzen decided to continue west through the Congolese jungle. With great effort, they managed to reach the Congo river on 21 September, which they then followed downstream, eventually reaching the Atlantic Ocean on 29 November. In January 1895, Götzen returned to Germany.


Between 1896 and 1898 Götzen worked as an attaché in Washington, D.C., and he served as an observer with Col. T. Roosevelt during the Cuba campaign. Afterwards joined the general staff of the army in Berlin, where he was promoted in 1900 to the rank of Captain.

Governorship and Maji Maji Rebellion[edit]

Due to his knowledge of local conditions, Götzen was appointed governor of German East Africa in March 1901, but soon had to deal with a huge crisis in the colony.

There had already been rebellions by the native population in the 1880s and 1890s, and in 1905 Götzen was faced with outbreak of the Maji Maji Rebellion, which quickly took over about half of the colony. This was similar in severity to the Herero Wars taking place in German South-West Africa, but was noticed less by the German public. Götzen sent for reinforcements, and suppressed the rebellion by force. Götzen's troops lost 15 Europeans and 389 African soldiers, according to official data. Estimates of the numbers of Africans who died in the famine following the uprising range from 75,000, to 100-120,000, to 300,000, depending on the source consulted.[1]

In 1906, Götzen gave up the governor's post due to ill health.

Later years[edit]

Götzen continued to be actively involved in furthering German colonial policy, in particular as a member of the German colonization and administration company for colonies. In 1908 he became the Prussian envoy in Hamburg.

He died on 2 December 1910 in Hamburg.


The German passenger ship Graf von Götzen was named after Götzen and used as part of Germany's war effort on Lake Tanganyika in World War I. She was scuttled in July 1916 off the mouth of the Malagarasi River to prevent her falling into the hands of the Belgian troops. In 1924 on instructions from Winston Churchill, salvage operations by the Royal Navy succeeded in refloating the ship and in 1927 she returned to service as the M.V. Liemba and is still running today as a passenger cargo ferry.[2]

Writings by Götzen[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Reinhart Bindseil: Ruanda im Lebensbild des Offiziers, Afrikaforschers und Kaiserlichen Gouverneurs Gustav Adolf Graf von Götzen (1866–1910). Mit einem Abriss über die zeitgenössischen Forschungsreisenden Franz Stuhlmann, Oscar Baumann, Richard Kandt, Adolf Friedrich Herzog zu Mecklenburg und Hans Meyer. Berlin 1992. ISBN 3-496-00427-4


  1. ^ Walter Nuhn: Flammen über Deutsch-Ostafrika. Der Maji-Maji-Aufstand 1905/06. Die erste gemeinsame Erhebung schwarzafrikanischer Völker gegen weiße Kolonialherrschaft. (“Flames over German East Africa: The Maji Maji Uprising of 1905/06, the first uprising of African people against white colonial rule”) Ein Beitrag zur deutschen Kolonialgeschichte (“A contribution to German colonial history”). Bernard & Graefe, Bonn 1998, ISBN 3-7637-5969-7.
  2. ^ Article in the BBC

External links[edit]