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German Settlers to the Eastern Cape

(& Cambridge)

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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A camp had initially been planned for East London itself although the reason is unclear. Indeed, the coast had long been fairly stable in a military sense. It is possible, however, that the unrest caused by the Cattle Killings was destabilising the road between East London and King William's Town.

The task of finding a suitable site fell to the Deputy Surveyor General for British Kaffraria. He explained in a memorandum that the area around East London was "well adapted to building and agricultural purposes" and so a village could have been laid down with ease.

There could be "no objection", he wrote, to establishing the military village on the west bank opposite Fort Glamorgan -- the area that today is occupied by the Mercedes Benz factory. He nevertheless had to gain the consent of the military authorities but found them not prepared to alienate the land.

Another idea was then put forward: to build the village on the east bank, despite its lack of water and its overall inferior position. In March 1857, therefore, instructions were issued that the land on the ridge to the east of the Buffalo River be surveyed and divided into 25 lots for the new village.

By mid-April, soldiers under the command of Major Julius Kessler were stationed there. The village was named Panmure to honour Lord Panmure, Secretary for War. Further inland, another site was chosen -- called Cambridge, after Prince George, Duke of Cambridge and head of the British army.

Very soon, however, Major Kessler was complaining that the site for Panmure was unsatisfactory because there was no water to be found within several miles of their plots. Although there were two wetlands nearby, the water was brackish and suitable only for animals.

Lieutenant George Pomeroy Colley, who had been tasked with the laying out of the villages, decided that it was advisable to settle the men at Cambridge until another site could be chosen. And so the search began for an alternative location for Panmure.

A spot near Fort Jackson was suggested but Colley pointed out that there was a general absence of water along the entire western side of the road to King William's Town. The ground to the east of the road, on the other hand, was most precipitous where it overlooked the Nahoon River.

Eventually this failure to find water caused them to settle again on the original Panmure site. The fact that some of the legionnaires had already built their mud huts there was possibly a deciding motive. Construction work on the village began in earnest in July 1857.

The soldiers at Panmure, however, proved generally to be a tardy group of men who built temporary mud huts for themselves just anywhere, and in total defiance of the surveyor. Major Kessler himself appeared to be most uncooperative.

"I can do nothing," Colley complained. "Major Kessler doesn't care whether the village is marked out or not, & when I consulted him about where the men's gardens were to be he didn't care where I put them. The only thing he cared about was that he should choose the two best lots for himself."

This careless attitude soon led to other problems. Several legionnaires discovered that they had built their huts on land which had not been assigned to them. Indeed, several military settlers urgently requested extra land so that they could actually own the plot on which they had already built.

Nevertheless, the Panmure group of legionnaires was not generally a lasting asset to the port -- and their numbers declined rapidly after 1859. By 1865 only nine of the original 135 still remained, of whom two were Heinrich Meise and Conrad Selzer.

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