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The German Legion

Keith Tankard
Knowledge4Africa.com
Updated: 14 October 2009
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In 1855 Sir George Grey attempted to settle a dense population of British military pensioners in British Kaffraria, hoping they would help defend the territory and convert the amaXhosa in black Englishmen.

His plan was to attract about 5000 soldiers and their families to the region but there were few volunteers and so the plan was scrapped.

The Colonial Office, however, had another idea. The Crimean War was about to end. Those were still the days of mercenary armies and Britain had been conscripting soldiers from Germany.

The British-German Legion had been trained but had not yet seen conflict, and now were to be disbanded. What would be done with the soldiers?

The most cost-effective plan -- for Britain at any rate -- was to send the soldiers to South Africa. After all, had Sir George not said he wanted military settlers? True, he had expressed a desire for married men but surely unmarried legionnaires would be the next best thing?

The Governor was given little option. In January 1857 the German soldiers began to arrive at East London, the port for British Kaffraria. From there they were transported by wagon to their new homes, places with German names like Stutterheim, Berlin, Potsdam and Breidbach.

Many went to King William's Town. Some stayed near East London, settling in two villages to be known as Panmure and Cambridge.

The legionnaire scheme, however, was generally a failure. Most of the soldiers were much younger than the pensioners whom Sir George had envisaged. Moreover, they had joined the army to fight and not to farm.

The fact that most were unmarried was also a major problem but one which could not be solved because there were simply not enough single women in British Kaffraria.

In any case, few of the White families living in British Kaffraria would wish to see their daughters married to these soldiers whom they looked upon with disdain.

Sir George's response was to seek further immigration. This time he earmarked German peasant families, hoping to divert many of those who were heading for the United States.

The Colonial Office, however, had other ideas, namely to send unmarried women to British Kaffraria so as to provide the German soldiers with wives.

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