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German Settlers to the Eastern Cape

The legionnaires arrive
in British Kaffraria

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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The first ship to arrive at East London -- on 12 January 1857 -- was the Culloden. She anchored in the roadstead since only small vessels could cross the sandbar into the Buffalo River, and then three surfboats transported passengers and cargo to shore.

The soldiers camped in a tented village overlooking the Buffalo River mouth, close to the small hamlet of East London. There was very little for the soldiers to do but idle the day away and party through the night -- and, of course, become a general disturbance to the town.

By the time that the second vessel arrived, it was realised that there would be too many soldiers for the good of the local people, and they would soon start disrupting life at the port whose civilian population in 1857 was, after all, still only 153. Over 2,000 German soldiers could therefore only cause mayhem.

It was decided that they needed to be transported as soon as possible to the British Kaffrarian military headquarters at Fort Murray, some three days' march away. The women and children would ride on ox wagons together with the baggage, while the soldiers would walk the entire distance.

The legionnaires now realised that British Kaffraria was nothing like Germany and that the stories they had been told were no more than lies. What struck them immediately was the heat, and the lack of proper roads. Forts too were not the stone castles they were used to but were rude earthen constructions.

Fort Murray itself was a stone affair, designed as a large quadrangle with high walls on all sides, and officers' quarters and a stable within. There was no room for the Legion inside and so the soldiers had to make do outside the walls in a town of white tents.

Life was leisurely, and rules relaxed. The soldiers entertained themselves with trips to the nearby King William's Town, or with hunting. Brass bands began to strike up, while Sergeant Major Eiffe-Hundertmark found a printing press at the Mount Coke mission to publish his weekly German newspaper Germania.

The popular Captain Heinrich Ohlsen was murdered while withdrawing regimental salaries. Since his wounds were inflicted by a spear, it seemed that local tribesmen were the murderers -- although years later Captain Carl Munther, his legionnaire companion, confessed to the deed on his deathbed.

In the meantime, Sir George Grey and Baron von Stutterheim began a hurried tour of the land, directing where the new villages were to be established. The Legion was then broken up into three regiments and, by the middle of March, the first companies began to leave Fort Murray.

The 1st Regiment under Colonel James Wooldridge was assigned to a line of villages above the Keiskamma River, with headquarters at Wooldridge. The 2nd Regiment under Colonel Adolph von Hake was stationed in the centre of British Kaffraria, with Berlin as his headquarters.

The 3rd Regiment under Colonel Edward Kent-Murray was stationed in the Amatole Mountains, with its headquarters at the old mission station of Dohne Post -- or what the amaXhosa call Cumakala. This was renamed Stutterheim in honour of the Baron who chose that village as his personal headquarters.

After two months, Fort Murray was almost empty and Lieutenant Colonel Maclean had his headquarters to himself a once more. The soldiers had also ceased to be known as legionnaires but had now taken the simple designation "German military settlers".

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