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German Settlers to the Eastern Cape

The resignation of
Baron von Stutterheim

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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In the middle of October 1857, Baron von Stutterheim resigned as Commander of the military settlers and announced his "speedy return" to Germany. He cited "very sad news" from his family as his reason for leaving. Is there any other reason, however, why he should have chosen to resign?

The Baron was at the heart of the military settler scheme. Indeed, his decisions would make or break the project. A mere six months had now passed since their arrival in British Kaffraria and the settlement was its most critical phase. More than ever, the Baron's hands were needed at the helm.

Why did he not rather take extended leave and then return to British Kaffraria just as soon as the family crisis had been dealt with? This was now the beginning of the age of steamships. He could therefore have journeyed to Germany and back in the space of just a couple of months.

The Baron had led a chequered life, and much of it under a cloud. Even after he had been approached to command the military settlers to British Kaffraria, he found himself regularly at odds with the Duke of Cambridge -- Commander of the British army -- who certainly did not like him much.

"I fear matters are not going very well with the German Legion for the Cape," the Duke wrote to Lord Panmure, "and I fear our friend the Baron has made rather a mess of it and disobliged all parties. If this state of transition is to last much longer, I confess, I fear serious mischief may come of it."

The Duke did not elaborate much but it was very clear that the Baron was at the heart of all problems.

"Stutterheim has managed to offend the officers I am afraid and they have consequently not worked kindly for him," the Duke wrote. "There has been much rioting at Colchester, and at Brown Down there has been a most unpleasant occurrence, and hence my great anxiety to get the Colonists away."

It is clear that friction between the Baron and his officers was carried over into British Kaffraria. Top officers disagreed with his manner of operations. Both Colonel Wooldridge and Lieutenant Colonel von Hake had serious problems with his orders but military discipline prevented disobedience.

The full import of the friction between the officers and the Baron only surfaced in November 1857 when Matthew Jennings -- Resident Magistrate at East London -- reported to Chief Commissioner Maclean that several officers disagreed with the Baron's manner of conducting the settlements.

The officers pointed to the Baron's style which, they said, had seriously impaired their chance of success, yet the Baron would pay no heed to their protests. By August 1857, independent inspectors too had started to ask questions about the Baron's style of management.

They were concerned in particular about his ignoring of fundamental military principles by allowing the rank-and-file too much freedom. Colonel Wooldridge explained how he had attempted to follow a more military regimen but had been forced to abandon the practice due to lack of support "from on high".

By October, rumours were reaching the Special Magistrates in British Kaffraria that all was not well in the military villages under their jurisdiction. Major cracks were appearing. Stories abounded which Lieutenant Colonel Maclean mulled over for some time.

Yet it was not something which could be ignored indefinitely without bringing the wrath of the Governor down upon himself. It was for that reason therefore that Maclean at last drafted a questionnaire which he sent to all the Special Magistrates to determine the truth behind the rumours.

The responses were devastating. The military settlement was indeed cracking. It was only a matter of time before it imploded. Drunkenness was on the increase. Houses were not being built, gardens not cultivated. Most settlers were openly admitting they would leave as soon as their military pay ended.

The settlement could still be saved, observed the East London magistrate, but only with the introduction of a strict new regime by which the settlers would be forced by military discipline to do their work. They were, after all, primarily soldiers and were drawing full military pay.

There lay the crux of the problem. They were soldiers who would be settlers, whereas the Baron saw them as settlers who once had been soldiers -- but they were indeed still drawing full military pay.

The Baron himself could not but have seen the writing on the wall but it was impossible for him to turn matters around at that stage. Furthermore, various critical incidents in the Baron's life indicate his inability to confront responsibility but rather that he tended to flee when confronted with crises.

He therefore now took what he thought to be the honourable route: to fall on his own sword. He tendered his resignation while offering family concerns as his excuse.

In many ways, it was the only honourable thing for him to do. Without his bowing out, the military settlement itself was doomed. The Baron believed, of course, that Colonel Wooldridge would automatically be promoted to the position of Commander. Wooldridge would save the settlement.

This, however, did not happen. Sir George Grey made the worst of all possible decisions: he ignored Wooldridge and placed the settlers under the control of General Sir James Jackson, Commander of the Imperial Army in southern Africa. The ex-legionnaires suddenly became soldiers once more.

The Baron had in the meantime returned to Germany and settled in Braunschweig before purchasing an estate in Silesia. He then became heavily involved in an expensive social life and in gambling. This bankrupted him and forced him to leave his estate.

He was offered a commission in the Prussian army but turned it down because he believed he was worth more than was being offered. His love for gambling continued and eventually, broken by bankruptcy, he committed suicide in 1872 -- just 14 years after resigning his commission in British Kaffraria.

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