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The Kennaway Trail looks at

Getting Ready
for the reception

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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Early in September, about a week after the Lady Kennaway had set sail, Lieutenant-Colonel John Maclean, the Chief Commissioner for British Kaffraria, was instructed to take steps to distribute the immigrant women as soon as possible after they had landed.

By mid-September a committee had been formed in King William's Town. It consisted of three clergymen and three influential businessmen and was chaired by Henry Barrington, President of the Criminal Court for British Kaffraria.

Labouchere's argument that the Irish women would help alleviate the Legionnaires' need for wives was treated with scepticism by the Reception Committee.

"Their introduction so far as the Germans are concerned will be a failure," Barrington wrote, "for I do not think they will marry such lazy beggars -- had they houses & gardens & pigs to shew it might have been very different.

"I do not suppose the drunken profligate white labourers here much wish to encumber themselves with wives," Barrington continued, "tho' some few will in time -- I suppose the soldiers will be on the look out, but they have no great inducements to offer."

Ultimately, when the women arrived at King William's Town, the Reception Committee did its best to discourage such marriages, which they considered would be an "imprudent" act.

Barrington was similarly sceptical concerning the general prospects for the Irish women. A tolerably decent white woman could get 2 per month, he said, but if 200 came to British Kaffraria then wages would fall so that it would be doubtful whether they would receive more than fifteen shillings each.

At the outside, there were 150 families in King William's Town and none of these would want more than one white servant. East London and the British Kaffrarian outposts would be able to absorb only a few.

Barrington's secretary, James Parker, was advised to proceed to East London to bring the women through to King William's Town. At the same time ladies' sub-committees were formed at East London and King William's Town to meet the immigrants on arrival.

These sub-committees were to arrange accommodation and assist the immigrants with advice. Moreover, interested parties in King William's Town were invited to register their applications for servants with the secretary.

In the meantime, the people of Grahamstown attempted to muscle in on the action. Before arrangements had been set in motion at either King William's Town or East London, a committee had already been established in Grahamstown to receive and arrange employment for the immigrants.

The Committee went so far as to inform Maclean that he should organise transport from East London to Grahamstown for about 200 of them, with their attendants, and also requested that he would be pleased "to cause the necessary steps to be taken for receiving them on their arrival" at the port.

The letter infuriated Maclean. He objected to the attitude of the Grahamstown committee and to the manner in which they "instructed" him in his duties. The letter was, he said, "to say the least of it a very cool one, and the tone strange."

He pointed out, moreover, that Grahamstown had the wrong idea. They were supposed to take only as many women as could not be absorbed in British Kaffraria. In any case, he believed that committees should be formed in Queenstown, Fort Beaufort and Alice so that what he called the "boon" could be absorbed on the Frontier.

The King William's Town committee arranged for 14 double cottages in the Pensioner Village to accommodate the women. In addition, four marquees and eight bell tents, as well as kettles, tables and benches were supplied by the Ordnance Department. Transport was provided by the Commissariat Department at East London.

Further accommodation was arranged at East London so that the immigrants could be housed for the duration of their stay at the port. Since the majority of the immigrants would be Catholics, it was also decided to have a Catholic priest meet them at East London as they disembarked after their two month voyage.

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