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German Settlers to the Eastern Cape

Wooldridge's
Keiskamma settlement

Keith Tankard
Knowledge4Africa.com
Updated: 14 October 2009
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Colonel James Wooldridge's 1st Regiment was the first to leave Fort Murray. Indeed, by March 1857, most of his companies had already been located in tents at Pato's Kraal, now renamed Wooldridge in honour of their leader.

By Mid-April, the military surveyors had moved in and marked out the villages, following the ridge of the Keiskamma River from Peddie to the coast. Peddie was already established as a military centre but other "towns" were placed at Tovi, Mandy's Kraal and at the Keiskamma River mouth.

New names were selected. Apart from Wooldridge, Tovi became known as Bell while Mandy's Farm was named Bodiam to honour Sir George Grey's boyhood town near the Sandhurst Military Academy. The village at the river mouth became Hamburg after the German seaport.

Because these were the first settlements, they served as guineapigs to the rest. Orders, however, were contradictory: Colonel Wooldridge believed that the men were primarily soldiers who were becoming settlers, whereas the Baron saw them as settlers who had been soldiers.

Initially, the Colonel's command prevailed and he was able to order his men as soldiers to help each other. Houses were therefore constructed quickly. The officers' lodgings naturally were the first to benefit. Indeed, as early as August, Captain Valentine's brick house had already reached roof height.

Wooldridge himself built a temporary cottage in addition to a large construction that contained two kitchens, a coach-house, a harness room and stables. A portion of this building was already being fitted up for his family until he could turn his attention to his residential house.

The temporary houses were nothing more than huts with sod walls and thatch roof, but brick yards were springing up at all the villages for building the permanent structures. Hamburg was the exception because the soil there did not lend itself to making bricks and so they brought in stone from the nearby hills.

Disunity, however, quickly began to creep in as the men began to argue with one another as to how they should be working. This discord probably emanated from the Baron himself who believed that the men should no longer be ordered around as soldiers because they were now indeed settlers.

There were other problems with the Keiskamma settlements. The siting of the villages was done for military expediency, not because of their proximity to water and wood. As a result, several of the villages had only brackish water, while the forests were located a considerable distance away.

The surveyors were themselves inexperienced soldiers who simply superimposed the same grid pattern for each village, even if this was inappropriate. Bell, for instance, had its main street straddling a rocky spur so that building became well-nigh impossible.

Hamburg was clearly the most attractive village, with an abundance of water and a wooded kloof along the river. The soldiers had soon purchased a boat for themselves which netted fish in abundance. There was no prospect of trading with the nearby villages, however, because of the lack of transport.

Wooldridge's 1st Regiment was nevertheless the most successful in establishing its settlement.

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