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German Settlers to the Eastern Cape

Military pensioners

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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At the centre of Sir George Grey's plan for British Kaffraria was the settlement of thousands of military pensioner families: middle-aged men with wives, and preferably with children.

They would bring stability to the region. As soldiers, they would increase the military strength in British Kaffraria. As settlers, they would stimulate trade and agriculture, while creating employment for the amaXhosa. The increase in the English population would in turn foster cultural assimilation.

Linked to the plan would be the introduction of Church of England missionaries to weave their magic: proselytising the amaXhosa, creating schools where English would be taught, inculcating the Christian value of hard work.

Sir George wanted an initial settlement of about 1,000 families. Each household would be given one acre of land "immediately contiguous to the military posts" upon which they would have a two-roomed cottage. Gradually more such villages would be created at the other military posts in British Kaffraria.

The result, Sir George speculated, would be a massive increase in the region's military capacity which would "altogether prevent hostilities from ever again breaking out".

There were, however, few volunteers -- although not surprising given the conditions of enrolment which were curiously shortsighted and aimed at cutting costs wherever possible.

First, the plots were too small to enable them to make a living either from agriculture or animal husbandry. Second, it was taken for granted that the pensioners would have to support themselves as labourers, yet employment was limited to no more than five miles from home.

Cottage and land would be rent free but all equipment and livestock had to be purchased. The soldiers would also have to perform military exercises for twelve days each year, and to muster for church service every Sunday.

Probably the most telling obstacle lay in the ownership of the cottages. If the pensioner remained for seven years, the cottage and property would become his. If he should die before then, however, the cottage would be handed over to another pensioner whereupon his family would be evicted.

It is not surprising therefore that less than 100 volunteers responded, nowhere near 1,000 that the Governor claimed would be needed for the initial stage and far short of 5,000 for the total plan.

The Colonial Office unilaterally cancelled the scheme. Instead, the Secretary for War -- Lord Panmure -- spoke of another idea: to send out thousands of soldiers of the British German Legion which was soon to be disbanded at the conclusion of the Crimean War.

Sir George had said that he desperately wanted soldiers. Then let him have the Legion -- except, of course, that few of the legionnaires would be married and the Governor had expressly stipulated that he needed middle-aged and wedded officers, not young bachelor soldiers.

But why quibble over finer details especially when Lord Panmure -- and, indeed, the War Office itself -- had a major problem that needed solving: what to do with thousands of legionnaires who could not be sent back to Germany?

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