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German Settlers to the Eastern Cape

The plot starts
to unravel (already!)

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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The transport ships began to leave Portsmouth after 11 November 1856. There were seven in all.

The first two to sail were the Culloden and the Sultana -- almost together -- followed a week later by the Covenanter, Stamboul and Mersey. Another week would elapse before the Abyssinian left. Last to go was H.M.S. Vulcan carrying Baron von Stutterheim and his entourage.

The six sailing vessels would take a circuitous route, chasing the trade winds across the Atlantic Ocean, turning south along the coast of Brazil until they headed east once more to Cape Town. The ships would anchor at Table Bay where they took on fresh supplies and water.

While they were at Table Bay, Sir George Grey went out to inspect each vessel personally, counting the number of legionnaires as well as their wives and children. What he saw filled him with a sense of foreboding.

Baron von Stutterheim had been the last to leave England. Nevertheless, there was no doubt he should arrive first in Cape Town because the Vulcan was, after all, a steam ship and could therefore take the direct route down the coast of Africa.

He was therefore charged with delivery of a most important despatch from the Colonial Office which would inform Sir George that the plans had changed and that there would be only 2,362 soldiers instead of the initial promise of nearly 8,000.

The despatch also informed him of a suggestion from Lord Panmure that perhaps some 2,000 German peasant families could be recruited in the place of the missing legionnaires. They would also be able to teach the soldiers how to farm and would, of course, have wives and children with them.

The document should have reached Sir George before the troopships arrived but the Vulcan was delayed at Sierra Leone when a number of desertions happened. First to go were two legionnaire wives, followed by a sergeant. The subsequent search was immensely time-wasting.

Sir George therefore discovered for himself the radically reduced number of settlers. Furthermore, when he undertook a headcount of the women, he found to his dismay that only 361 soldiers were married and not the majority, as he had been told. How could a settlement work with so few women?

An interesting incident nevertheless took place while Sir George was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Baron. On board the Sultana was Lieutenant Colonel Adolph von Hake, the oldest legionnaire by far. Sir George spent many hours with him, whom he referred to as a "nice old gentleman".

They spoke primarily of the settlement and it is from von Hake that we are able to learn that Sir George was now contemplating a neo-feudal colony, with the top officers becoming land-barons possessing plots of 600 acres or more each. They would then employ the privates as some form of military peasantry.

It is unfortunate for the future of the settlement that none of these discussions were formally documented, and none were therefore acted upon. Instead, the entire scheme became hijacked by the bureaucratic Chief Commissioner of British Kaffraria who had a personal axe to grind.

Lieutenant Colonel John Maclean had been Sir Harry Smith's right hand man in Queen Adelaide Province and again in British Kaffraria but he did not see eye-to-eye with Sir George Grey. Moreover, he had been the most senior military officer in the Crown Colony till the Legion arrived.

He was then trumped by no less than a Major-General, one full Colonel and two Lieutenant Colonels -- men with equal rank to his own. Although these officers carried greater military clout, Maclean nevertheless controlled the land settlements and he used this to flex his diminished muscle.

He refused to give any officer more than ten acres of land and never put up the promised land sales which would offer them an abundance more -- thus destroying forever the concept of neo-feudalism. Because of this, the military settler scheme limped from the very day the soldiers arrived in British Kaffraria.

Nevertheless, long before that happened, Sir George fretted in Cape Town, seeing boatload after boatload of bachelor soldiers -- men who, because they lacked wives, had little chance of achieving any of the Governor's goals for British Kaffraria.

Eventually the Governor was able to join the Baron for the voyage to East London and the two men huddled in planning, trying to salvage the wreck of Sir George's plans. They plotted reduced villages, and perhaps even full pay instead of half to keep the soldiers from running away in search of women.

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