A rescue programme for the Matsieng Royal Archives, Lesotho (EAP279)

Aims and objectives

The Royal Family of Lesotho has been based in Matsieng since just after the 1858 war, when Matsieng was established by the second Lesotho king, Mohato (Letsie 1). Matsieng is near Morija, the original missionary settlement in Lesotho dating from 1843, where King Letsie 111 was born. The royal family has been based at Matsieng continuously since the founding of Matsieng, which has been a 'royal hub' of the Basotho kingship and chieftainship. The documents that have accumulated at Matsieng cover material dating from the early 19th century. The collection includes records of historical, political, legal and economic significance:

  • records on chieftainship and succession to high office
  • court proceedings and judgements
  • boundary disputes and resolutions
  • traditional marriage systems and records
  • inheritance documentation and disputes
  • official speeches
  • correspondence (of national and international significance, as it includes official communications between Lesotho and the UK, and diplomatic contacts with many other countries)
  • books and serials
  • official administrative records covering the colonial period
  • records of public works
  • financial records of governmental divisions

Most of this material is unique. Repatriation of the Royal Archives material will allow a much more comprehensive, complete and coherent record to be established, documenting the national history of Lesotho from the early 19th century.

The material was in poor storage at the Royal residence in Matsieng, Lesotho. The ceiling then collapsed leaving the materials exposed to rain. The University Archives arranged 'emergency repatriation' in December 2007 and January 2008. The material is all paper, though in a range of physical formats: papers in folders, paper assembled with treasury tags, ledgers and other bound record books, and many stacks of individual papers.

The University has fumigated the material and re-boxed it, with box-level content listing. About 20% of the material may be too damaged to scan; about 40% is damaged but copying should be possible.

This project will scan all the documents from Matsieng that can be scanned. The files will be organised by a database, with detailed cataloguing in the archive's existing system. Additionally, each document will exist as a PDF of one or more scans, accessible from a digital library using the Greenstone (open source) software. The University will host one copy of the digital library, the Internet Archive will also host the collection, and the full data will be available to the British Library.

Funding from other sources will cover the organisation and documentation of the Matsieng papers and their physical storage at archival standard.


Through this project 30,050 records have been digitised, 6,138 are on bewys while 23,912 are on chieftainship. The records date from 1912. Further damage to records has been prevented since the researchers can now use the digital copies instead of the original material.

The project team gained a better understanding of digitisation and acquired skills in listing records. With the material now catalogued, the records are easily accessible to researchers. The National University of Lesotho has acquired the scanning equipment.

The original archival material is still temporarily housed at the National University of Lesotho Library for safekeeping. The Matsieng Royal Archives building is being rehabilitated, with the construction work due to be completed by the end of May 2012. Thereafter the records will be relocated to Matsieng hopefully by July 2012.

Scanned copies of the records have been deposited with the British Library, The National University of Lesotho Library and the Matsieng Royal Archives.

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as: