Gustav Adolf von Götzen

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Gustav Adolf von Götzen
Gustav Adolf von Götzen.jpg
Born(1866-05-12)12 May 1866
Died2 December 1910(1910-12-02) (aged 44)

Gustav Adolf Graf von Götzen (12 May 1866 – 2 December 1910) was a German colonizer and Governor of German East Africa. He came to Rwanda in 1894 becoming the second European to enter the territory, since Oscar Baumann’s brief expedition in 1892, and later, he became the first European to cross the entire territory of Rwanda. Götzen was later governor of German East Africa (1901–1906).

Early life[edit]

Count von 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 Castle, 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.

Von 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, Carl 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 group 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, the group entered in the Kingdom of Rwanda, at the time, it was one of the most organised and centralised kingdoms in the region. Götzen became the second European to set foot in Rwanda since Oscar Baumann's 1892 expedition. His group 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. While Götzen was there, he fell in love with the American widow of William Matthews Lay (1845-1893), May Loney (1857-1931), and married her. She bore him a daughter, Wanda Luise von Götzen, in 1898.[1][2] Afterwards, he 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.[3]

On the 14th of June 1906, Götzen later returned to Germany after submitting a report to the Foreign Office outlining what he believed were the causes of the Maji Maji Rebellion. The Foreign Office keen to avoid a colonial scandal, accepted Götzen's report and he retired ostensibly on the grounds of ill health.[4]

Later years[edit]

Götzen's diplomatic career was almost at an end after his work as Governor. In early 1907 he was offered the minor post of a Prussian envoy to Hamburg in which his duties would involve mostly accompanying the Kaiser through the city. This lighter amount of work gave Götzen the opportunity to publish a book (DEUTSCH-OSTAFRIKA IM AUFSTAND, 1905/06(GERMAN EAST AFRICA IN REBELLION, 1905/1906)) in which he attempted to justify his involvement in the Maji Maji Rebellion and the causes which prompted his response to quell the rebellion, this was later published in 1909. Götzen still took an interest in the colonial politics of the German Empire, being an active member of the committee for the German Colonial Society until his death on December 1, 1910 in Hamburg, this was due to the count of ill health. His wife outlived him by over two decades being later buried together at the Ohlsdorfer Cemetery in Hamburg.[5]


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.[6]

Writings by Götzen[edit]

  • Gustav Adolf von Götzen (1895). Durch Afrika von Ost nach West. D. Reimer. p. 1. Gustav Adolf von Götzen.. Berlin (1895)
  • Deutsch-Ostafrika im Aufstand 1905/06. Berlin (1909)

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. ^ "Graf Gustav ADOLF von Götzen".
  2. ^ German East Africa in Rebellion, 1905/06 (Deutsch-Ostafrika im Aufstand, 1905/06): The History of the Maji Maji Rebellion in Tanzania, written by the German Colonial Governor, Count Gustav Adolf von Götzen; translated into English 2019 by John East
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ East, J. (2019). German East Africa In Rebellion, 1905/06. Online.
  5. ^ (East, 2019)
  6. ^ Article in the BBC

External links[edit]