Go to the Labyrinth of East London Lore

German Settlers to the Eastern Cape

The Lady Kennaway

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
(Contact the Project Coordinator)

It is with great sadness that we have to announce that the creator of The Labyrinth of East London Lore, Dr T., has passed away. Helping people through his website gave him no end of pleasure. If you had contact with him and would like to leave a message, please send us an e-mail here.

Charles Brownley -- Special Magistrate to Ngqika -- explained that the critical lack of women could be a major reason for the failure of the military settlements. Those who had wives, he said, also had adequate homes and were making "every endeavour to render themselves comfortable".

The exact opposite was true for the majority who were not married. Indeed, the essential link between the settler and his family had always been the core of Sir George Grey's frontier proposals. The near total lack of females on the frontier "would be disastrous to the whole community," he wrote.

"Great immorality" would result from it and, with no wives to tie the men down, it would be impossible to detain the soldiers in their villages as ordinary settlers. They would "roam the whole country" in search of females "and would be frequently murdered" by the native population.

The only solution was to keep the soldiers under arms and tied down by military discipline until such time as a sufficient female population could be sent out. That, however, would entail keeping the soldiers on full pay instead of half pay which would be fine for one year but it could not last forever.

It was imperative, Sir George wrote, that females be sent to the colony. He therefore appealed to the Colonial Secretary to take up Lord Panmure's suggestion of sending at least 1,000 German peasant farmer families to the colony.

The Colonial Secretary rejected this entreaty. He accepted, he said, the importance of "endeavouring to maintain a due proportion of the female sex" but this could not be done by sending out German families. Instead, they must look to an immigration scheme for single women to be sent to British Kaffraria.

The solution was to look to Ireland where there were many "strong, healthy young women of perfectly good character" who "could be readily obtained". Indeed, he expressed his firm belief that there would be no difficulty in finding "large numbers" of respectable young women willing to emigrate to the colonies.

"An Emigration of that kind," he wrote, "must have a far greater effect on the proportion of females to the community than a much larger one composed of married couples and their children." At least there was logic in that provided of course that sufficient women could be found.

"A ship" would therefore be chartered and Sir George must make immediate preparations for the women's reception. Steps should also be taken to aid them in finding employment until their marriages to the legionnaires would absorb them into the British Kaffrarian population.

The Colonial Secretary's letter must have caused a chill to course through Sir George's veins. He had instructed that "a ship" -- a single ship -- be chartered. At the absolute outside, therefore, he was making arrangements to send only 400 women to become wives for 2,000 bachelor soldiers!

Nevertheless, by mid-August 1857, arrangements appeared to be were well under way for the female immigration scheme. The aging Lady Kennaway had been selected for the voyage and the required party had been recruited to the maximum that the ship could carry.

And then came the hitches.

Attempts had been made to obtain women "from among the ordinary working population" in Ireland but the inducements which they were able to offer were not sufficient to obtain the required numbers within the appointed time. They were forced, therefore, to turn to the inmates of the Union Workhouses.

The full complement for the Lady Kennaway was eventually obtained by selecting some English artisans and their families. A few Irish agricultural families and about 20 more single women "from the ordinary population" of Ireland were also enlisted.

The Lady Kennaway duly sailed from Plymouth Sound at noon on 5 September 1857, bearing her load of 231 emigrants. Of these, only 153 were single women. The rest consisted of 42 artisans and their wives, as well as 36 children.

The Lady Kennaway episode did nothing to alleviate the need for women. Indeed, it was far- fetched to expect just 153 women to become wives to 2,000 bachelor soldiers. In any case, the soldiers had absolute nothing to offer them and so, in the end, very few actually found such an Irish wife.

The incident nevertheless went into the annals of East London history when, just four days after the last emigrant had disembarked, the ship was caught by a massive gale and went ashore in the Buffalo River mouth. It became a total wreck.

See also:

Contact: The Project Coordinator