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German Settlers to the Eastern Cape

Colonel Adolph
von Hake

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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Lieutenant Colonel Adolph von Hake was the oldest member of the British German Legion to emigrate to British Kaffraria. He had joined the Legion as a cavalryman in the 1st Light Brigade but, by then, his military career had already spanned almost fifty years.

This would have placed him in his late sixties when he arrived as a military settler to take charge of the 2nd Regiment, with his headquarters at Berlin. Sir George Grey, who had met him aboard the Sultana when the troopship was anchored at Table Bay, referred to him as a "nice old gentleman".

Von Hake had hardly arrived in Berlin, however, when the Secretary for War demanded that he be summarily dismissed for "gross acts of disobedience and insubordination" -- although Lord Panmure spoke only vaguely of some "mutinous conduct" that had happened at Browndown in October 1856.

Lord Panmure was nevertheless horrified that an officer "so utterly disqualified for holding any place of trust in the corps" could be allowed to proceed with the military settlers. At this point it would have seemed that the "nice old gentleman" would indeed be dismissed.

Baron von Stutterheim, however, came to his defence. The Baron had personally been to Browndown to investigate and quell any excitement which existed amongst the soldiers -- probably on account of von Hake's being a popular commander and his men being incensed by his arrest.

Those who had misbehaved were duly court-martialled, and von Hake had been left languishing in a military prison. It was then, however, that the Duke of Cambridge himself had stepped in and had taken the decision to have von Hake "severely reprimanded" but released.

It is only at this point that the exact details of von Hake's insubordination emerged. On the day in question, the Baron had ordered him not to move his Detachment from Gosport to Browndown until the next Detachment arrived to take its place.

Colonel Wooldridge, however, ordered von Hake to move immediately which he refused to do because it contradicted the command from the Baron who, after all, was senior in rank to Wooldridge. The entire episode could therefore be explained as a simple clash of instructions.

The Baron begged Sir George Grey to intervene. Since von Hake had already served his punishment, it would be unfair to inflict yet another penalty on him, which punishment would have thrown him into the arms of destitution -- and he being a soldier with a blameless 50 year career.

Von Hake, the Baron said, was the one officer who was most able to carry out the mission of the military settlement -- and he was a great favourite of the men. His dismissal would therefore create dissatisfaction amongst the soldiers which ought to be avoided as much as possible.

Sir George Grey in turn argued that, if von Hake were to be dismissed while in British Kaffraria, it would be an infinitely greater punishment than if he had been dismissed while still in England. Indeed, the punishment would be disproportionate to the "crime" committed.

It was perfectly clear to him that von Hake's offence amounted to little more than a confusion of commands in which he had no option but to appear insubordinate either to the Baron or to Colonel Wooldridge. But, he said, conditions in British Kaffraria itself were on a knife-edge.

With Captain Ohlsen having just been murdered, tensions were high. It would clearly dampen the spirits of officers and men alike if von Hake were now to be dismissed. And there are times, Sir George wrote, "in which men's Spirits require to be rather cheered than depressed".

The Governor chose therefore not to act upon Lord Panmure's order for von Hake's dismissal and it is because of the "nice old gentleman" being in command at Berlin that we have some of the most interesting information on the material quality of the settlement there.

His reports were eloquent, containing details about the physical nature of the land surrounding his headquarters. He would also reveal the major challenges facing the settlement at large, and would highlight the leading crises confronting the military settler scheme.

Lieutenant Colonel von Hake would die in Berlin in August 1858, just 19 months after his arrival in British Kaffraria. He had been a stalwart soldier and an invaluable leader in the British Kaffrarian military settlement -- but a man who had come within an inch of total ignominy.

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